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Crown Jewels: Second Half Success, A New Stadium and a Weekend Preview
The Royals have played better in the second half and it's helped to create the offseason blueprint. Plus, the stadiums were revealed and the Royals head to Seattle.
A lot has been made of the Royals playing competitive games. I wrote it on Monday. The broadcast has been harping on it. Let me get one thing straight. It’s a start. The fact that they’ve only played three games all month where they didn’t have the tying or lead run at the plate in the ninth is really encouraging. If you extend that to the eighth, it’s only two games. They’re still 9-13 for the month, so they just aren’t getting over the hump enough, but I feel like they’re close enough for me to say that I think they’re at least closer than it felt like for the first three or four months of the season.
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They have plenty of work to do. They need to figure out if the hot second halves for some of their players is the real thing or a mirage. With Vinnie Pasquantino returning next season, the question they need to ask is if they have two bats or four or five heading into next season. That can make a big difference toward team construction as well. If they can’t hit beyond a couple of guys, it makes it a lot harder to run with a guy like Kyle Isbel in center field. If they can, you can live with Isbel (though as my friend Alex Duvall as tweeted, he’s been much more below average than bad for awhile) hitting at the bottom of the lineup and playing outstanding defense in center.
Progress, though, is progress. The starting pitching has been pretty good since the break. The bullpen has been pretty bad. The defense has been excellent. The baserunning has been mostly good. If the 102 wRC+ from the offense is for real, you’ve got the basis of something really good. If it’s not, well, that makes things tougher. I’m not saying anything we haven’t discussed a million times, but these are all questions that the Royals need to find the answers to as they approach the 2023/2024 offseason. I’ll write about this a lot over the next few months, but I believe they need to sign as many as three starters this winter and should be trying out some of their starting pitching options right now out of the bullpen to see what they have.
Second Half Successes (and Failures)
The Royals are 15-23 in the second half, which is good for a .395 winning percentage and a 64-win pace over the course of a full season. But they’ve also played to a run differential of just -10. That Pythagorean record is 18-20, which is a 77-win pace. Neither is good enough, but one is a lot more encouraging than the other. I wrote about the close games and all that, and it’s pretty clear that if the Royals had any semblance of a bullpen, they’d be much better. How much better? They’ve lost seven games they led or tied at some point after the sixth inning. Go 4-3 in those games and they’re 19-19 in the second half. And 4-3 isn’t good in those situations.
So it’s pretty clear what a top priority needs to be for this club this winter. They need to fix the bullpen. So I’ll start there. Not everyone has been bad in the second half. Taylor Clarke has actually been pretty solid with a 4.09 ERA, but a 2.63 FIP. He’s under team control for two more years and he was a guy who teams were really interested in before imploding. If Clarke is one of your three best relievers, you’re in trouble. If he’s a middle reliever, you can have a good bullpen with him there. John McMillon has looked great in three innings of work. It’s only three innings, but it’s exactly what he did in the minors too. and, well, that’s about it. I think guys like Carlos Hernandez and Austin Cox are probably keepers in the bullpen, but neither has had a good second half.
In the rotation, Alec Marsh has pitched a lot as a bulk reliever and he’s been pretty solid in that role, so it’s hard to know exactly how to classify him, but I think he’s putting himself in position to be a part of the future. Otherwise, Cole Ragans has been fantastic, as we know, and Brady Singer has been generally good too. As for the rest, well, they need starters too.
The fun part of this exercise is the position players. Here are some highlights:
Bobby Witt Jr.: .336/.369/.658, 12 HR, 34 RBI, 10 SB, 175 wRC+
Dairon Blanco: .326/.396/.558, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 10 SB, 159 wRC+
MJ Melendez: .295/.338/.518, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 128 wRC+
Freddy Fermin: .295/.309/.523, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 117 wRC+
Nelson Velazquez and Matt Beaty also both have a wRC+ of 113 or higher in limited time. I’m a bit surprised there wasn’t more, but a guy like Drew Waters has a 10.7 percent walk rate in 121 plate appearances. Michael Massey has a .189 ISO in 140 plate appearances with some tough luck. Maikel Garcia is hitting .281, but just with next to no power. Isbel has hit .275 with a low strikeout rate, but he’s stopped walking entirely. Ultimately, I feel pretty good about the direction of the offense, especially when you factor in Pasquantino.
Getting Melendez right is arguably the most important thing for this team moving forward. They can utilize that bat for now, but I maintain that he’s a player who is part of a trade moving forward to gain talent back. You weren’t getting nearly enough for him with how he hit in the first half, but if he can do this, he’s bringing back a valuable return at some point. I wrote about Blanco yesterday and I still think he’s a fourth outfielder, but the numbers are really good too.
I’ll obviously go in depth on the Royals offseason and what it should entail, what I’d do and all that as we get to the actual offseason, but when you see what they’ve done in the second half, I think their marching orders are pretty clear.
Stadium (Kind Of) Coming Into Focus
I’m a couple days late with this, so apologies, and I have to say that the stadium discourse honestly bores me, so I haven’t written a ton about it. But when the team unveils two plans for a new home for the team we follow so closely, I suppose I should write a little something about it. I thought the images shared were a bit on the bland side, but it was nice to be able to see the vision in both the East Village location and the North Kansas City location. I’ll get to the breakdown here in a few.
I do want to note a couple of things. Part of what is so exhausting to me about the conversation is that it never gets very far before someone makes a comment about fixing the team first. Look, I get it. The 2023 Royals stink and that doesn’t help the cause. But a new stadium should theoretically be about 40-50 years of Royals baseball, and won’t even start until 2028. What is on the field today has literally nothing to do with a new stadium. The idea that intelligent adults can’t multitask is something that drives me nuts on other topics as well. The organization can work to build a better team on the field while they drive toward a stadium. The two worlds of building can coexist.
The other part is the public funding aspect. Asking taxpayers to foot the bill sucks. I don’t think any stadium should be funded with taxpayer dollars. I believe I’ve written this before, but that is a sports problem and not a Royals or John Sherman problem. It doesn’t make it okay. But it makes it a much bigger issue than just something with this particular stadium vote. If you’re against any public funding for stadiums/arenas, that’s totally fair. I think it’s a fair criticism, but I want to be sure it’s directed properly because this is a problem everywhere.
I also don’t care to cite the economic numbers the team is giving out because enough people have debunked them that I’m not going to spout them as if they’re gospel. I think the vote is going to be a bit of a tricky one that I think will ultimately pass in either location, but might be a touch harder in Clay County because they both won’t be attached to the Chiefs and it’s asking for more money from a small population base.
The renderings are somewhat interesting. Everything you see is from kcballparkdistrict.com.
There has been a lot of conversation around the lack of a crown in the renderings. I agree. They need to figure out a way to keep the iconic crown scoreboard or something like that. I also think it’s important to stress that these are renderings and I was told by someone who I think is in the know that you shouldn’t spend too much time nitpicking each individual detail. A lot can change with that.
With this proposal, they are on a much tighter footprint of about 27 acres between 9th St. and 14th St. north and south and Cherry and Charlotte St. east and west. There will be retail and local restaurants that they’re currently calling the Cherry Street Experience and is supposedly going to work together with Power and Light. I think it’s a cool enough looking area.
North Kansas City
This is a bit more spread out, covering around 90 acres and it’s about three miles or so from the downtown site. With this version, there’s an amphitheater and some other mixed use development around the stadium. It’s in a spot of North Kansas City that is pretty industrial now but isn’t too far from some actually cool areas. It runs north and south from Armour Road to 16th St. and east and west from Erie St. to I-29.
Personally, I like the look of this but the location of the East Village better. For my money, I guess I’m fine with either place, but the North Kansas City location probably offers more in terms of fan experience once you’re at the ballpark district and it’s not far from downtown.
I don’t really have a huge opinion either way on this. The Royals are leaving Kauffman Stadium somehow, so that ship has sailed. I wish either spot could have a different orientation, though far more stadiums face the way both of these will than I had realized. Ultimately, wherever the stadium is, we’ll get used to it. In a few years, it’ll just become where we go to watch the Royals. It’ll be weird at first but get more normal feeling as time passes.
A Weekend in Seattle
Are you ready for three super weird games? Of course you are, it’s Royals vs. Mariners. That, of course, means that they’ll be the most mundane games of all time. Seattle finds themselves not only in the thick of the Wild Card race, holding one of the three spots but only a game out of first place in the American League West. They’re a ridiculous 26-12 since the break and 24-8 since they were under .500 just a bit more than a month ago. We just saw them, so we all know what they bring to the table.
They can really pitch and their offense has heated up because Julio Rodriguez has gone nuclear. Since the start of the Royals series, he’s hit .537/.568/.781 with 13 RBIs in eight games. He was hitting .255/.318/.433 when the Mariners came to Kansas City. He’s up to .277/.337/.461. I guess squaring off on the opposite side of Witt did wonders for his season. He’s only 2 for his last 9 after having four straight games with at least four hits, so maybe he’s cooling back down, but he’s carried that team lately, though he did miss a couple of games with a stomach issue, so maybe he’s just not quite 100 percent.
The Royals will see Bryce Miller for the first time to open the series. Miller, like seemingly every Mariners starter, throws hard and throws strikes. He has a fastball that averages 95 MPH and gets a whiff on about a quarter of swings. His slider isn’t the wipeout pitch that I thought it would e, but it’s effective. He can be beaten, but he’s tough. He’s only struck out two in each of his last two starts, so I’m curious to see if something is going on there, but he’s had his troubles with left-handed bats comparatively with eight of the 13 homers he’s allowed and a .769 OPS. That means we’ll likely see Beaty in the lineup.
For the final two games, the Royals will get a repeat of Logan Gilbert and Luis Castillo. We all know how tough those two can be and the Royals will counter with Brady Singer against Miller and then Jordan Lyles and Alec Marsh (either as a starter or in the bulk role) to round out the series. Playing spoiler is fun and they have a chance to put a dent in some hopes, but after that last series in KC, I can’t say I have any idea how this one is going to turn out.