The era of Bobby Witt Jr. has begun.
If there’s a dream to dream about the 2022 season it’s that Whit Merrifield turns back into the Whit of old, Bobby Witt Jr. turns into the 25-25 fantasy monster he has the potential of being, and the two of them flood the bases all year long.
In 2019 the Royals selected Witt No.2 overall behind Adley Rutschman. At the time I was hoping Rutschman would fall to the Royals because I preferred the switch-hitting catcher from college with power and plate discipline, to the high school player that may strike out a lot. Boy was I silly.
Witt looks to be the type of athlete you dream of getting in the upper parts of the draft. Elite body control, elite explosive traits, elite running speed, elite arm, elite level power. If you were to Weird Science a player, you’d more likely than not end up with Robert Andrew Witt Jr. as your finished product.
What you’re looking for after the traits are the high level plays; the plays that no ordinary talent could make and that make you move to the edge or your seat and text your buddies “Bob”.
That’s what (we hope) Bobby Witt Jr. is. We hope he’s the one word text to your thread of hometown friends. The same way “Pat” is used as an adjective and a noun all in one, and your pals know exactly what is meant when that text comes through their 5G.
The play he made in the 10th inning of a 0-0 game in just his 19th major league inning was the “Bobby” text type of play. It was the Patrick Mahomes comeback at Denver in his first career start with Anthony Sherman as his feature back. The type of play the alphas make when they know the game is one the line and their team needs them to be the Guy.
The Royals haven’t had this type of ballplayerTM in a long time, possibly my lifetime. For all of Adalberto Mondesi’s physical traits he has none of the instinctive. Eric Hosmer used to run the bases like he was the last batter of the inning allowed in a little league game. With Witt, it looks like we finally have our Guy. He can make the spectacular plays in the field, and turn on the 94 mph runner on his thumbs for a double down the line.
The beginning of every season brings with it new optimism about what could be. There’s excitement to see what adjustments and improvements the players made in the offseason, and anticipation to see the highly regarded prospects and what they’re capable of.
In Witt Jr., the traits say he’s a star. He’s about the smoothest runner I’ve ever seen on a baseball field. He has the arm to make any play, and the power (hopefully) to completely alter games. If Royals fans are witnesses to the early stages of a star being born, the city will embrace the player unlike any that have worn the Royals uniform is a long, long time.
For Witt’s stardom to matter, and to make sure the team continues to ascend the way we hope Witt will, other players will need to step up as well. Like…
Brad Keller had a day.
I’ve always been a fan of Keller’s, just not a fan of his pitch usage, which is either his choice or the organizations overall view of pitching. (I’m betting it’s the latter).
For all the advancements the Royals have made in hitting development in the minor leagues, they’re still stuck in the Bill Fischer era of pitching archetypes. Keller, unfortunately for him, got selected into an organization that views a 6’5, big bodied pitcher with natural run and sink as the perfect “ground ball pitcher”, and he’s been placed in that box ever since.
Saturday’s start against the
Indians Guardians was the type of Keller pitch usage I’ve been dreaming of for three years. Instead of being sinker heavy against lefties, he scrapped that for more typical 4-seam/changeup approach the majority of the league has gone to over the past few years.
You’ll also see from the chart the risk you play by being a sinker heavy pitcher. By design, sinkers are made to induce contact — there aren’t many Roy Halladay’s walking the planet that can get swings and misses with their sinker — so naturally the more contact = more baserunners. You’d think an organization that has access to the same numbers everyone else has would come to the conclusion that allowing contact is bad; swings and misses are good. But here we are.
If Keller stays on this track I’m excited to see what’s next. He’s never been a guy with great command, so pitching more to the top of the zone (thereby actually using his height to his advantage) instead of flipping the contact coin with sinkers down, should help him quite a bit.
Let’s hope, the Royals need a pitcher to actually show some progress because…
Three of the first four pitchers the Royals selected in the 2018 draft pitched in Sunday’s 17-3 loss. Three guys, you would assume, should be leading the way and taken a leap over Keller (a previous 8th round Amateur and subsequent Rule 5 draft pick) by this point.
The pedigree of these three and lack of performance alone should leave Royals fans with far more questions about the state of the organization than have confidence The Process 2.0 will actually work.
Instead of playing internet psychologist and speculating about the mental fortitude of the athletes, maybe it’s time we ask what an organization with a history of non-development for its pitchers is doing to all its young, high draft capital talent, that they can’t get any usable production out of them.
I’ve long been a proponent that bad coaching has hurt more players than good coaching has ever helped. And when the evidence is against an entire organization that’s been in charge for a decade-and-a-half, I think it’s appropriate to stop taking shots on the athletes themselves and start asking questions of the philosophy in charge.
Kowar’s struggles are not a one-off. Singer’s struggles are not a one-off. Bubic and Daniel Lynch’s struggles are not a one-off. It would seem inconceivable the Royals have simply swung-and-missed on drafting for so long, versus the Royals just not understanding how to get the most out of, and develop their pitchers.
There’s no panic just three games into the season, but there is concern.
Royals offense continues its trend of swing first, ask questions later. And hope for hard contact. In what will come as a shock to no one, the Royals are the only team in baseball that has yet to hit a homerun. I’ll pause while you contain your surprise.
While there’s (hopefully) bats on the way that can actually work a count and hit the ball in the air past the infield, they’re nearly all blocked by a veteran making lots of money, or in the middle of a multi-year contract. The Dayton Moore special.
I don’t believe much in using run differential as a proxy to how good a team truly is, but when your first 3 games leave you staring at a 7-18 runs margin against a division opponent that’s supposed to be behind you in the rebuilding process, notice needs to be taken.
If the offense can’t string together a good week facing the back end of the Indians rotation and the Tigers, the calls to get the young bats up in place of the veterans that aren’t performing are going to start. If they haven’t already.