2023 Kansas City Royals MLB season predictions, odds and preview

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Kansas City Royals 2023 Season Preview

Flags fly forever. That’s what I’d keep telling myself if I was a Kansas City Royals fan. Since winning the 2015 World Series, the Royals have not had a single winning season. They’ve had two seasons with over 100 losses and came close last season with a record of 65-97. For an organization with two playoff appearances since 1985, losing is nothing new, but it sure looks to be a long, slow climb to respectability, let alone prominence this time around.

 

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Homegrown talent is the focus at this point. Of the 13 position players projected by RosterResource to be on the Opening Day roster, eight were drafted by the Royals and another was an international free agent signing. On the pitching side, only three players are Royals draftees and one is Zack Greinke, whose circuitous career brought him back home for the twilight of his career.

Wins and losses are irrelevant for the Royals this season. The 2023 campaign will be defined by Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, Nick Pratto, Michael Massey, MJ Melendez, Maikel Garcia and the development of the young pitchers at the Major and minor league levels.

Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.

2023 Kansas City Royals Odds

(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 8, click for updates)

World Series: +20000
AL Pennant: +10000
AL Central: +3000
Win Total: 69.5 (-105/-115)
Make Playoffs: Yes +1100 / No -2000

Kansas City Royals Offense

At first glance, this offense wasn’t as bad in 2022 as I thought it was. Of course, it wasn’t very good either, but there are some reasons to be optimistic. Pasquantino had a nice start to his career with a 137 wRC+ in 298 plate appearances, including 10 homers, which put him fifth on the team, despite playing about 40% of an MLB season. He also showcased some outstanding plate discipline with an 11.7% BB% and an 11.4% K%.

Melendez also walked at a strong 12.4% clip, but he also struck out well over 24% of the time. However, Melendez had a 69th percentile Hard Hit% and a 72nd percentile Barrel% as a rookie, which are solid numbers. What hurt his value were some horrific framing numbers, but the bat was there and he’s a good complement to Pasquantino with a nice combination of power and patience.

Outside of those two guys, the Royals have very little of those two things in one neat and tidy package, but they aren’t devoid of talent. I was a little surprised to see that they ranked right around league average in Hard Hit% and exit velocity. They were 28th in HR/FB%, something that I think could be improved given the underlying contact quality and some of the hitters that will play full-time this season.

Pratto hit seven homers and walked over 10% of the time in his 182 PA, but also struck out over 36% of the time. Salvador Perez hit 23 homers, but he virtually never walks. For a team that doesn’t have a ton of contact quality, and lost Andrew Benintendi and Whit Merrifield via trade, there aren’t a ton of redeeming qualities with the majority of the offensive players. Hitting 20 homers with a low OBP won’t get it done.

The guy under the microscope is Witt, who got off to a simply miserable start in April with a .216/.247/.311 start, but slashed .259/.301/.445 the rest of the way. Like most Royals, he didn’t walk much, but he did bang out 20 homers and post a 106 wRC+ after the slow start. That slash line won’t get it done long-term, but Witt, who posted a 143 wRC+ with 33 HR between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021, is slated for a better year this season.

Massey has been an above-average hitter at every level in the minors and went from Double-A to MLB last season. One big positive with the current state of the Royals is that they don’t hold guys back. Witt debuted at 22 after 160 minor league games. Pitchers Kris Bubic and Brady Singer were used during the 2020 COVID year, with Bubic jumping from High-A and Singer from Double-A. Pasquantino only spent parts of three seasons in the minors. They’re moving guys up the chain aggressively to get them to the Majors and contribute as quickly as possible.

To be fair, they’ve mostly focused on college players in the MLB Draft, including 2022 ninth-overall pick Gavin Cross, who could be another fast-tracked player after playing at Virginia Tech. Massey was the third position player from the 2019 draft to make his debut. He and Pasquantino were both college guys. Witt, the son of a former MLB pitcher, was taken out of Texas high school ball.

Anyway, back to Massey, he’s been a high-average guy with good pop at every level and has worked around a little bit of a strikeout issue. He had 17 barrels in just 131 batted ball events last season. Young hitters can be prone to slumps, but these are young hitters who don’t have to adjust to the new MLB pitch clock rules and this lineup has more upside than I expected.

I’m not saying it will necessarily be good, but the talent level from Opening Day will be a lot higher. Depth is a huge concern, though.

Kansas City Royals Pitching

I am way less excited about the pitching staff. The rotation is composed of guys that the Royals are just looking to use and abuse before moving on. The lone exception is Brady Singer, who was low-key excellent last season. Otherwise, you’ve got the swan song for Zack Greinke, journeyman Jordan Lyles, former bulk reliever Ryan Yarbrough and failed prospect Brad Keller in a walk year.

The hope here for the Royals is for the guys on expiring contracts to be good enough to be worth decent prospect lottery tickets at the Trade Deadline. Teams can always use arms, especially if they are moderately effective. The bullpen doesn’t stand out either, but I’ll get to that shortly.

Singer ran a 3.23 ERA with a 3.58 FIP over his 153.1 innings of work. After spending some time in Triple-A early in the season so the Royals could do some next-level service time manipulation, Singer had an ugly month of June but, he rebounded really nicely over the final three months of the season. From July 1 through the end of the year, Singer had a 2.63 ERA with a 3.25 FIP over his final 99.1 innings. He struck out over a batter per inning and had the best command of his career from a home run standpoint. Also, as a 50% GB% guy, you would think the performance of Witt at SS would have hurt more than it did, but he limited damage.

After Singer, though, this rotation doesn’t impress me at all. Greinke had a 3.68 ERA, but a 4.78 xERA and a 4.03 FIP. He didn’t walk anybody and kept the ball in the park. He finished on a high note with a 1.91 ERA over his last 28.1 innings. He’s still crafty with a kitchen-sink arsenal, but his upside is very limited. He also posted the highest Hard Hit% and average exit velocity of his career, so I’m not a stockholder for 2023.

The success that Lyles experienced last season was a byproduct of the Orioles and the changes to Oriole Park. He had a 5.25 ERA with a .275/.333/.500 slash and a .359 wOBA in his 96 road innings compared to a 3.47 ERA with a .277/.329/.399 slash and a .320 wOBA at home. Camden Yards became a good pitcher’s park because of the altered dimensions and wall height in left field. Lefties hit .278/.347/.500 overall with a .365 wOBA, but they batted .307/.380/.620 with a .423 wOBA on the road. For reference, Yordan Alvarez had a .427 wOBA and Paul Goldschmidt had a .419, so lefties as a group were somewhere between those two guys against Lyles.

Yarbrough was really effective in 2020, but he’s been objectively poor the last two seasons and is probably an average pitcher at his absolute best. Like Lyles, his home park factor has been an advantage, particularly the last two seasons, where he was decidedly worse on the road. He had a .288 wOBA against at home in 2021, but a .359 wOBA against on the road. He was limited to 80 innings in 2022, but he had a .334 wOBA against at home in 31 innings and a .353 wOBA against in 49 innings on the road.

Keller has poor K% and BB% numbers to go along with way too much hard contact against. Over five seasons, he’s been average, but he’s been a below-average pitcher the last two seasons. He was saved by a decent 2020 facing only Central Division teams in a bad offensive year for the majority of the teams.

The Royals have a lot of fringe arms like Daniel Lynch, Jonathan Heasley and Bubic, but I think they’re hoping to see some progress from guys like Alec Marsh, Jonathan Bowlan and Jackson Kowar. While the position player crop shows a lot of promise, there aren’t a lot of high-upside arms in the org. I think this year’s goal is to either develop some or try and find some via trade.

The bullpen had a couple of bright spots last season. Scott Barlow was excellent in the closer’s role with a 2.18 ERA and a 3.62 FIP, but it was a revolving door. There were 14 different pitchers with at least 13 appearances and only three with at least 48. None of the part-time guys really shined. Dylan Coleman proved to be a good high-leverage arm with plus velo that led to a 2.78 ERA, but that was really about it.

Aroldis Chapman is the big name that the Royals brought in, but I have no idea what to expect from him. He’s 35, erratic and has battled multiple injuries. He’s a good gamble for a team like KC, though, especially because he could net a big return at the Trade Deadline if he is good.

Miscellaneous Notes

Some teams will be impacted more by the new schedule and the shift rules. The Royals are going to be hit by both. They could be a decent offense, but they have a terrible pitching staff and that doesn’t bode well for them leaving the AL Central more frequently. Kansas City also has a low-strikeout pitching staff and more balls in play with the new rules are bad.

The Royals were 39-42 at Kauffman Stadium last season, but just 26-55 on the road. That was just an anomaly. It wasn’t an advantage at home or anything. They were -64 in run differential at home. They should’ve lost even more games.

Player to Watch

SP Zack Greinke: Greinke had a lot of ugly signs last season. He was in the 39th percentile in average exit velo, 31st in Hard Hit%, 3rd in xBA, 1st in K% and 2nd in Whiff%. He only struck out 12.5% of batters. The “xStats” aren’t always predictive because there are a variety of factors in play, but Greinke certainly got fortunate in higher-leverage plate appearances. He preyed on hitters’ aggressiveness for his highest K% when men were in scoring position. He also had his lowest batting average on balls in play against. I’m not saying he’s a total fade, but there are a lot of red flags in the profile.

Kansas City Royals Season Win Total Pick

If the Royals lineup takes a step forward, this is a team that could slug its way to some victories. If it does not, this could be a team that finishes around the A’s. The ceiling is absolutely capped and the floor is pretty low here as well, which usually pushes me towards a bet on the under, but I’m a little intrigued that the Royals also completely cleaned house in the dugout. Former Guardians assistant hitting coach and Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro takes over as manager and brings a new coaching staff with him, including former Guardians bullpen coach Brian Sweeney as the team’s new pitching coach.

While I wouldn’t call them reliable, they do have Major League-caliber arms in the rotation, which is more than I can say for last season when they were led by 27 starts each from Lynch and Bubic, who each had ERAs north of 5. The same was true of the 21 starts from Heasley.

For now, the Royals are a stronger lean to the under, and I could see myself making this a bet by Opening Day. One piece of advice I can definitively give you is that I’m looking to bet overs in their games. I think this offense will be improved and the pitching, while better, will still be below average, especially when it warms up in the late spring and summer.

Stronger Lean: Under 69.5