The Monday Rant: Who They’ve Always Been

The Royals week on offense last week couldn’t have better summarized the franchise if it tried.

Struggling to score runs for 15 years to start the season, they scored more than their season average three times, including a 7-run outburst on Saturday, only to go 1-2 in those games and score a grand total of 3 runs in the other three games of the week.

The Royals now sit at the bottom of the AL Central, 29th in all of baseball in runs scored, and are staring at 13 of their next 18 on the road, 9 of those against teams with a winning record.

Patience and trusting the process only works if you’re willing to accept 8 years of abject futility in between a couple .500 seasons and a lottery ticket shot at a playoff run. Otherwise you’d have to view this lineup under the lens that is required: that an unbearable, bottom-ten-in-baseball offense is a feature of the Dayton Moore roster building strategy, not a bug. 

Since Dayton Moore’s first full season running the Royals in 2007, no other team has had as many qualified batters finish in the bottom 10 (worst 10, to better put it) in all of baseball in offensive production. No other team is close.

Using Fangraphs wRC+ metric as the measurement, 18 times the Royals have had a qualified batter finish in the worst 10 in all of baseball. The next closest team has had only 11. Only three times in Dayton Moore’s tenure have the Royals not had a player finish a season as one of the 10 worst hitters in baseball.

YEARRoyals BOTTOM 10 wRC+ (qualified batters)

Looking deeper into the seasons without a worst-10 finish we find it actually could have been much, much more:

2008 – no qualified batters in the worst 10, but Ross Gload and John Buck both finished with 418 at-bats (84 at-bats short of qualification) and 73 and 75 wRC+ respectively. Both would have been in the worst 10.

2010 – Jason Kendall was 10 at-bats short of qualification with a 69 wRC+, good for third worst in all of baseball

2019 – Billy Hamilton was a 44 wRC+ in 305 PAs, Nicky Lopez 56 wRC+ in 402 PAs, Ryan O’Hearn a 68 wRC+ in 370 PAs, and Adalberto Mondesi was 81 wRC+ in 443 PAs. The only reason they didn’t have four of the worst hitters in baseball in 2019 was because Hamilton was so awful they had to move on, Mondesi got hurt and was terrible after returning from his injury (.250/.277/.388), Lopez was called up in May, and O’Hearn was demoted in early June with a line of .188/.286/.333.

It gets worse.

Not only do the Royals develop and play (frequently, a topic we’ll get into next week) hitters that produce among the worst in the entire game, they target and acquire those same players from outside the organization as well.

Twelve players have qualified as one of the worst 10 hitters in all of baseball and later gone on to be acquired by the Royals. That list is:

  • Jason Kendall
  • Jeff Francoeur
  • Yuniesky Betancourt (TWICE!)
  • Emilio Bonifacio
  • Alex Rios
  • Clint Barmes
  • Alcides Escobar
  • Melky Cabrera
  • Chris Owings
  • Michael A. Taylor
  • Maikel Franco
  • Billy Hamilton (coming off 4-straight bottom 10 finishes)

Not only did the Royals acquire players that were previously among the worst in baseball at offense, nine of them were acquired with the full intention of being every day players. Not platooned as a way of getting the most out of their abilities, every day.

And now that we’re in Year 16 of Moore running the franchise, you would expect the rate of worst hitters in baseball to decline, not increase. It hasn’t.

If you split the tenure into two parts, 2007 through 2014 and 2015 through 2022, you’ll see in the first 8 years under Moore’s leadership the Royals only had 7 hitters qualify among the 10 worst in the game.

The second eight years under Moore, including the World Series championship season of 2015, has seen the Royals line up 11 of the worst hitters in baseball, and no other franchise has more than 6 during that same period of time. That doesn’t include the 2019 season mentioned above, and the four players that most likely would have had their names appear on this list.

Could things turn around in 2022 for the Royals? Sure, anything is possible. But at this point any optimism that they will is based more on hope and/or fandom, and not anything objective we’ve seen over the past decade-and-a-half.

The Royals hitters currently in the worst-10 in baseball are Mondesi and Whit Merrifield at -13 (2nd worst) and -8 (3rd worst) wRC+ respectively. Either of these two look like long shots to pull themselves out of the worst-10. Mondesi is batting .201/.245/.362 with a 33.7% strikeout rate and a 63 wRC+ over his last 187 PAs, and Merrifield has a 72 wRC+ (.261/.288/.348) over his last 392 PAs. They’re both trending in the wrong direction.

Knocking on the door is Bobby Witt Jr. (14th worst) and Carlos Santana (16th worst). One would have to hope Witt’s potential will click and he won’t finish on this list, but Santana did last year and is continuing that trend again this year.

When viewing the start to this season for the Royals and whether or not fans should be optimistic that the offense can turn things around to take full advantage of the caliber of defense and the quality of bullpen, just remember the front office in charge of who the hitters are and how much they play. There’s not much evidence to prove this team will ever produce on offense, even despite acquisitions like…

The Good

Andrew Benintendi is off to a great start to his season, at least in terms of batting average.

Through the seasons first 14 games he’s hitting a league-high .388 with a .434 OBP and .490 SLG. It’s confusing why he’d be the guy to drop down in the lineup when manager Mike Matheny did a lineup re-shuffle early last week, but…well we know how good the Royals are at offense.

The Royals are going to have a big decision to make on Benintendi as he’s in the last year of his contract. He’s one of two viable hitters in the lineup the other team has to gameplan for, and he’s one of only two currently in or near the big leagues you can reasonably assume will get on base at an above league average rate.

So what should the Royals do, trade or sign Benintendi for the long term? The toughness in the decision stems from what you’re willing to pay for an outfielder that is likely just a little above league average hitter (career 108 OPS+), that will be 28 years old, and with skills that really should be replaceable on the open market despite your team’s history in doing so.

On the one hand there are plenty of potential bats on the way that provide more of a power upside, which this organization desperately needs. On the other Benintendi provides you a higher floor of production, which this organization needs as well.

If it were my money, I’d move on and try to continue to restock my prospect pool with tools I don’t currently have, like power at the plate and strikeouts on the mound.

The Royals however don’t tend to operate this way. Once they get a player that fits their “mold” of good contact and good defense they don’t often let them go. And they’ll be in need of some dependable production from somewhere in the lineup because…

The Bad

Adalberto Mondesi continues to be one of the most disappointing talents to ever put on a Royals uniform. I’m not sure how you could view it any other way.

Through the 2022 season’s first 14 games, Mondesi has struck out 20 times in just 51 plate appearances. That number is staggering. Over his last 420 plate appearances he’s batting .232/.272/.392 for a 77 wRC+ and a 31.7% strikeout rate. Again, staggering.

What takes the disappointment to another level is that, when healthy, he plays every day. There’s no change. Well, there’s no change with anyone in the lineup that never hits, but Mondesi in particular continues to be used in an every day role when 1. he’s been an above average hitter in his career against lefties and below average against righties, and 2. he’s been absolutely dreadful since the beginning of last season.

Mondesi has two years of arbitration remaining so that’s two years of club control left. There’s little chance the Royals move on from Mondesi despite having an obvious shortstop replacement currently on the roster in Lopez, but what’s worse is there’s little hope they’ll even change his usage in order to get more out of that spot in the lineup.

You can still dream a dream about the potential of Mondesi given his tools and athleticism, but it’s more likely at this point he’s just who he’s always been.

*photo credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports