As you know, it all boils down to the numbers in baseball whether you like the advanced stats or not. Whether it’s something simple like batting average or runs batted in, something regularly discussed but difficult to calculate like wins above replacement or something complex like weighted runs created plus or effective spin on pitches, baseball is a game of numbers. And on this eve of the 2021 season, let’s take a look at some of the numbers to watch with regard to the Royals and players this upcoming season.
That was Jorge Soler’s whiff rate in 2019 when he hit .265/.354/.569 and led the American League with 48 home runs. In 2020, that jumped to 37.2 percent. The guy is always going to swing and miss, but his struggles with both breaking and offspeed stuff in 2020 are a big part of what made him struggle. He didn’t identify those pitches and that caused a ripple effect with fastballs. If he can lower his whiff rate back to the 2019 levels (and obviously stay healthy), the Royals offense has a chance to be very good.
Your first reaction might be to note the nice number, but really it’s the number of inches of vertical movement on Brad Keller’s slider from 2020, which was the most movement in baseball, ahead of Dylan Cease and Garrett Richards, the only other two pitchers with vertical movement of more than 2.1 inches. While there’s ample evidence that Keller is a unicorn, it would also help if he can find a way to get more swings and misses. His slider usage increased in 2020 to 38.2 percent from 31.4 percent in 2019, but maybe he should go to it even more in whiff situations. He saw his spin rate jump from 2510 rpm to 2590 rpm, so that’s helpful, but his active spin of 45.3 could use some improvement.
The last time a team made the playoffs with fewer than 500 team walks in a full season was in 2016 when a couple teams did that. While that doesn’t seem like that long ago, the game has continued to change and move toward even more importance on patience (if that’s possible). This will probably surprise you, but the Royals have exceeded 500 walks in a season 17 different times. Of course, the last time they did it was 2002, which actually is a long time ago even if it feels like it was within the last five years. The additions of Andrew Benintendi and Carlos Santana to Soler and Hunter Dozier could get them there. Maybe.
That’s Jesse Hahn’s wOBA on contact from 2020. The league average was .370, so .105 is pretty incredible. I don’t think people are really recognizing just how dominant he was last season, and there’s a pretty good chance that he ends up the Royals best reliever again in 2021. And given that the Royals have some pretty impressive pitching depth and he’s about to become a free agent, him having a great season could net the Royals a decent haul in a trade. I’m guessing they wouldn’t move him, but that curve and slider made him a dominant reliever in 2020 and figures to be more of the same in 2021.
The team record for home runs in a season is 193, set in 2017. While the lineup is much more diverse in past seasons and they should be better even if they don’t break the team record for home runs, this is a number that should theoretically be reachable. The 13 players who figure to break camp as position players hit 196 in 2019 (Salvador Perez’s 2018 is included here since he didn’t play in 2019). That doesn’t include Kyle Isbel. So this feels like it’s certainly possible with even 200 as something that could actually happen in 2021.
At some point in the last three seasons, five different Royals have posted a sprint speed of at least 28 feet per second - Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier, Michael A. Taylor, Jarrod Dyson and Jorge Soler. Andrew Benintendi did it in 2017 and seems to be moving better than ever, so he could jump to that level. Kyle Isbel is likely to reach that level, though we don’t have any sprint numbers on him just yet. Edward Olivares did it last year as well and he has a chance to find some big league time this year, as does Nick Heath who somehow just missed it in spite of being one of the fastest players in the organization. The point is that the Royals have a pretty well rounded offense with guys who can really run, guys who can really hit for some power and guys who can actually do both. And that’s pretty fun and can make for some exciting action.