The Monday Rant: The Royals And Questionable Playing Time

Another week, another five starts for Michael A. Taylor. The Royals are 49-67, in 5th place in an AL Central crowded with four bad teams, and they are once again giving every day at-bats to known league-average at-best veterans that won’t be around much longer. The head scratching playing time decisions continue.

The process has always been about favorites; about the chosen few that are looked at as having a future whether it be justified or not, based on whatever (subjective) standard the Royals apply to their prospects and other players within the organization. The process has never been about production–about earned playing time. We’ve seen it time and time again.

Emmanuel Rivera has started 10 of the last 11 games, has reached base 10 times, and has a .542 OPS. Supposedly the only reason Rivera is playing is because he deserves an “extended look”. More likely however it’s because the Royals far outweigh the value of defense over the ability to score runs, and because Hunter Dozier is so bad at third base, he can no longer play the position without tripping over his own feet.

Dozier since returning from the Injured List on May 28th has started 63 of 67 games, has 3 (THREE!) homeruns, and a .678 OPS. He’s been one of the worst players in baseball this season. He cannot be removed from the lineup.

Ryan O’Hearn hasn’t played in just nine games since his recall on June 22. He’s started 32 of 45 and has a .270 on-base percentage and a .705 OPS, playing 14 of those games in right field for the first time in his career.

Whit Merrifield has started every game this season and is having his worst as a pro. Over his last 30 games he’s been so bad his OPS is under .600 (.583!) and he’s stopped getting on base at all (.281 OBP). Merrifield has been a tremendous pro for the Royals and has been an incredibly useful player, but if it weren’t for a completely pointless consecutive game streak, there’s no reason for him to playing every day, either.

All these players – Taylor, Rivera, Dozier, O’Hearn, Merrifield – should be getting cycled out of the lineup with at least some regularity. Circumstances dictate some exceptions for instance Dozier’s contract, or Merrifield’s history of performance, or Taylor being the best option in centerfield, but none of these circumstances justifies playing every day given the level of performance that comes with it.

But this has long been the Royals M.O. under Dayton Moore. He’s a general manager that believes in atmosphere and environment and consistency as an important tool to get the most of his roster. When he’s right, it works well. When he’s wrong, it fails miserably and there’s seemingly no digging out of the cellar unless there are multiple years of top 10 picks or a complete overhaul in player development.

Since 2007 the Royals have had just 41 players get at least 500 plate appearances. This shows how little turnover they’ve had in the lineup. For a comparison, during this same period, the Tampa Bay Rays have had 56.

The difference however is the Rays cycle through their lineup and still get production. Or rather, they Rays cycle through their lineup until they get production. Those 56 players receiving at least 500 plate appearances have an average 103 wRC+. The 41 Royals receiving 500 plate appearances? An average 89 wRC+.

27 of the 41 Royals that have received at least 500 plate appearances during the Moore era have a wRC+ below 100. 27 of the 41 hitters have been below average*. The Process does not give out playing time based on production.

*(Average fWAR is 5.9 for the Rays v 4.5 for the Royals)

In the pandemic shortened 2020 season Brett Phillips opened as a pseudo starter getting 28 plate appearances in the first 11 games, 7 starts. He slashed .280/.357/480 those 11 games with 3 stolen bases. Phillips then started just 1 of the next 7 games before being traded the best run organization in baseball for a Royals Type Player clone.

Maybe Phillips could have used that 11-game sample as a springboard, maybe not, you never really know what opportunities a player grabs ahold of, or the timing when things click.

What I do know, however, is Brett Phillips has been worth 1.7 bWAR in 229 plate appearances in 90 games this season, while Michael A Taylor has been worth 2.5 bWAR in 383 plate appearances and 105 games and is making $1MM more.

I also know that Taylor has a career per-162-game-average of .239/.294/389, 80 OPS+, 1.5 bWAR, and Phillips has a per 162-average of .205/.292/369, 81 OPS+, and 2.9 bWAR. Phillips is the better player, he’s always been a better player, but he wasn’t one of the Royals guys, so he didn’t get an extended opportunity.

The Rays are finding every way possible to mix-and-match their lineup, get production from everywhere, and are going to win 90 games for the 8th time since 2007 and have only lost 90 games once during that time.

The Royals have lost 90 games 7 times since 2007 and are on their way to do it again with old, and/or average-at-best players, that aren’t producing still getting the majority of the playing time.