Witt Jr. leaves the yard but the rest of the lineup remains dormant. The bullpen is taxed. And Heasley manages to sum up the season.
Jonathan Heasley walked behind the mound, leaned over and lost his lunch. He did this not once, but three times over the course of two innings.
If you were looking for a moment to sum up Royals baseball in 2022, it was behind the mound at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday. The 7-3 loss to the Diamondbacks was, on the surface, unremarkable. Just another defeat in a year that has now seen 75 of them. Except this one was just…brutal to view. Those of us who stuck the game out to the bitter end were probably feeling a bit like Heasley by the time the ninth inning came to a merciful conclusion.
Heasley was pitching relatively well before his night was short-circuited by a weak stomach. There was traffic all night for him on the bases—he allowed four hits and four walks in under five innings—but he was successfully navigating the danger. Still, this is something that’s happened to him before. Last year, he lost it during a shutout for the Double-A Naturals.
Thank goodness for Uncle Hud on the broadcast. “Three pukes and you’re out,” is about as good as it can possibly get.
The Royals’ offense is scuffling. This isn’t news, nor is it surprising. We saw this happen early in the season and, after a promising start from the rookies, it’s happening again. Although because it’s the rookies, I can’t get caught up in the ineptitude at the plate. Yet we can’t deny that it’s been difficult.
Since the Dodgers rolled into town at the end of the previous homestand, the offense has scored just 29 runs in 12 games. That’s 2.4 runs per game. That’s not anywhere good enough.
This ineptitude has been, for the most part, a total team effort.
Thank goodness for Vinnie Pasquantino and…rechecks the table…Ryan O’Hearn. Oh my.
Pasquantino has been carrying this team offensively. He’s the only hitter over this stretch of 12 games who has scored at least five runs and driven in five. And we now get to see how it goes without Vincenzo as he’s on the DL with right shoulder discomfort.
As for the rest of the offense, the wRC+ column—which is how the above table is sorted—tells you all you need to know. Most of the bats have not only been below league average over the last week and a half, but they’ve also been below average by a decidedly large margin.
The above is not to criticize, rather it’s to explain what’s happening. The Royals aren’t scoring runs because the bats as a group are failing to produce. But if you look at the names on the table, you’ll see that of the 13, eight are rookies. This is the deal we made. If you play the kids, you have to expect them to take their lumps from time to time. And this is certainly a time where they’re taking their lumps. And even though Tuesday’s defeat was borderline unwatchable, I’d much rather it be unwatchable with the kids than with a group of veterans looking longingly at the contenders, wishing they were anywhere but Kansas City.
The question to ask is: Will it get better? Will this offense improve? (That’s two questions, but you get it.)
Honestly, the jury is still out on that one. Pasquantino, who looks like an absolute hitting machine, aside, you have to feel good about Bobby Witt, Jr. I mean, I strongly dislike the fact that he’s not walking, but with a monster home run last night, it’s looking like he’s breaking out of his funk.
Yeah, he’s going to be fine.
In fact, Witt’s rolling wOBA chart from Baseball Savant feels a bit descriptive. It’s like we’re seeing from all the rookies on this club as a collective offense.
A slow start. A recovery. A few hot streaks and a few slumps. Then a big dive. Witt is ascendant once again and, because this is baseball, I’d bet the Baby Royals as a group will find the accelerator pedal and punch it to the floor fairly soon. Sure, I wish that Witt’s offensive profile was more Julio Rodríguez or Adley Rutschman but I continue to maintain the Royals shortstop (or is he a third baseman?) will be just fine. His progression features a few more bumps along the way.
Pratto is the one I’m worried about going forward. His 50 percent strikeout rate is quite something and you’d have to say that feels low for what we’ve seen from him. He just looks lost at the plate.
He’s supposed to have a good idea of the strike zone, but he’s still getting used to major league pitching. Pratto is really chasing.
It’s like he knows that the pitches in the lower inside and outside areas aren’t his pitches, so he’s laying off. But the pitches even further in and off the plate, he can’t resist. The bad news about expanding the zone like that is on the lower pitches off the plate when Pratto swings, he’s completely missing over three-quarters of the time. That will help that strikeout percentage soar. It’s not what you want.
At some point, you have to wonder if he needs a total reset. A few weeks back in Omaha to get his mojo back at the plate could do him wonders. Time is short, though. If the Royals are serious about this, the time to act is now.
While the offense has been struggling, the bullpen can enter into some kind of “Hold my beer!” mode. The Royals bullpen isn’t good. In fact, it’s bad. Very bad. Like worst in the majors bad.
On nights when Dylan Coleman is unavailable (presumably after throwing 29 pitches the day before) and Scott Barlow could be, but probably shouldn’t be, used, the pickings for Mike Matheny are slim. Let’s toss Amir Garrett’s name in the mix here too, who began serving his suspension for throwing some water on a “fan” in Chicago.
That’s how you end up watching Josh Staumont and Luke Weaver struggling to throw 88 pitches over the final three innings of the game. By my guesstimation, only Brad Keller was available and even then the Royals were probably not wanting to use him given he threw 26 pitches on Sunday.
Staumont was spotted by the Bally’s cameras rubbing his shoulder in the dugout after he was removed. That was after a 42-pitch outing which was most he’s ever thrown in his major league career. Oh, and his average fastball velocity was down a tick from his 2022 average.
As Emmanual Rivera was collecting another couple of hits while batting second, the Luke Weaver appearance was just further deflation. Weaver has been decidedly unimpressive since joining the Royals while Rivera is hitting .296/.397/.611 with a 181 OPS+ in his 15 games with Arizona. As we spent another evening watching Hunter Dozier at third, it feels like this was a trade that will continue to confound. Again, looking at the rolling wOBA table from Witt above, it’s not like this is Rivera’s true talent level. He’s not going to produce 81 percent above league average over the course of a full season. Although I do have a high degree of confidence he would be more valuable than Dozier. Except Dozier is owed $17.25 million over the next two seasons.
Sometimes, even when the Royals look prepared to move forward, they still manage to take a step back.
I still can’t get too worked up over the Rivera for Weaver trade. I mean, we know the royals bullpen is garbage and they were trying to get a piece to help it out. Now, it hasn’t worked….which hasn’t helped but its still hard for me to get too worked up on it. Rivera had his chance here. He’s a replacement level player and a depth piece. I’m glad he’s finding some success somewhere else and maybe a change of scenery is what he needed. But I doubt he continues this into next year. I just don’t think it is going to be a trade that makes any difference either way next year. I think the issue everyone has is that it just means they are playing Dozier.
I guess I’m more surprised the Keller wasn’t available last night. Seems odd that he wouldn’t be after having Monday off. How can you pay a reliever 6M+ next year that needs two days off? Either they already know they are going to non-tender him, or they are probably going to have him back in the rotation next year. Just seemed weird.