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The Royals have a hitting problem

Hunter Renfroe #16 of the Kansas City Royals in action against the New York Mets during the eighth inning at Citi Field on April 14, 2024 in New York City. The Mets won 2-1.
Hunter Renfroe #16 of the Kansas City Royals in action against the New York Mets during the eighth inning at Citi Field on April 14, 2024 in New York City. The Mets won 2-1. | Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

The pitching scouting has resulted in a number of terrific wins over the past couple of years, but the offense still lags behind.

Before last night’s game, the Royals were 19-13, second in the surprisingly competitive AL Central, fourth in the AL for overall record, and best in the sport at +50 run differential. By all of those measures, and many others besides, this is a very good team that seems primed to compete for a post-season birth all year long.

We talked a bit last week about how the starting rotation might be benefitting from some good luck, but whether lucky or not it’s impossible to deny that, up until now, the results of the team’s pitching have been very good. One of the reasons the team’s run differential is so good is that the pitching hasn’t allowed a true blowout, yet, and has allowed the fewest runs per game out of any team in baseball.

A lot of the credit for that belongs to the current front office. Cole Ragans, James McArthur, Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, and John Schreiber have all proven to be excellent acquisitions up to this point. Even Chris Stratton, Tyler Duffey, Nick Anderson, and Matt Sauer have proven useful at points. The only duds have been the exceptionally bad Will Smith and Jordan Lyles. Led by GM JJ Picollo, the team has essentially overhauled the entire major league pitching staff via low-to-mid-range free-agent deals and under-the-radar trades. It’s been nothing short of a master class in player scouting, acquisition, and development.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the offense.

Amazingly, the team offense is still considered slightly above the league average with 4.62 runs per game. But a lot of that is still residual from when the offense was setting everything on fire during their seven-game winning streak against the truly terrible White Sox and an Astros team that essentially had no pitching when they came to Kansas City. Since then, they have averaged only 4.15 runs per game over the last 19 games. It may not seem like a huge difference, but it would be enough to drop them to a below-average offense.

Even more concerning is that the offense has largely been carried by two men: Bobby Witt Jr. and Salvador Perez. Outside of those two players, the rest of the offense could be considered streaky at best. At worst, there are some players who have absolutely not contributed offensively at all. Garrett Hampson, Hunter Renfroe, and Adam Frazier have unequivocally been the three worst batters in this lineup. You might recognize those three players as the only hitters the team added over the past off-season.

For everything they got right on the pitching side, the hitting acquisitions have been an abject disaster. The scouting on them was so bad that the Royals gave Hunter Renfroe a player option that will allow him to collect even more money next season if he’s bad this season when even internet slobs like me could tell that the best deal he should have gotten was a couple million guaranteed to see if he could bounce back. Garrett Hampson had some traits that made him make a lot of sense at $2 million for one year, namely speed and defensive versatility, that when matched with his seeming offensive breakout in 2023 made that deal make sense on paper, but which has absolutely not worked out for the Royals. Adam Frazier is a guy who not only seemed done as a player and someone who might deserve a minor league deal and a non-roster invite, but a guy who specifically didn’t make sense in Kansas City where they already had a left-handed hitting second baseman who wasn’t hitting well enough but had a good reputation defensively.

I constantly hammered Dayton Moore for his processes, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t do the same thing for Picollo. Moore’s front office led the team to back-to-back World Series appearances including one victory, but it did so on a flawed process which saw them flub draft after draft, deal more value away from the team than they received when he made the big winner trade acquiring James Shields and Wade Davis, and offer big money deals to players like Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios when they seemed more like bounce-back hopefuls.

The hitting problem is not critical, at least not yet. The streakiness of the Royals current group of hitters means that we can expect them to get hot again at various points throughout the season. Beyond that, even this “bad” version of the lineup is scoring more than four runs a game on average. Compare that to the past two seasons in which a bad stretch for the offense meant getting shut out for multiple games in a row. Additionally, Picollo’s front office is already in far better shape than Moore’s. Their ability to identify, acquire, and develop pitching talent on a budget has been nothing short of miraculous.

This isn’t a crisis, but that just means the Royals need to figure out what’s going wrong now and fix it before it becomes one.

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