This 2020 Kansas City Royals season continues to get weirder, especially after the Royals have won six in a row to now stand at 20-28 after their season sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates at Kauffman Stadium this past weekend. What’s even more head-scratching is looking at this stat below, shared from Alec Lewis, the Royals beat writer from “The Athletic”:
Of course, this makes Royals fans wonder: if the boys in blue had just held their own against the White Sox, would they be competing for a playoff spot at this point in the year? Hindsight is always 20-20, but it has to be mentioned that Mike Matheny and the Royals will be kicking themselves this off-season for not performing better against the South Siders from Chicago in 2020.
That being said, despite the sobering stat, this much is certain: the Royals are playing some of their best baseball of the season. And they are doing this despite a wave of changes roster-wise. Jorge Soler is on the IL and seems unlikely to return this year. Furthermore, the Royals leading up to Saturday’s game made this transaction, which came as a slight (but not totally unexpected) shock to the Royals faithful:
No, the Matt Reynolds DFA or Nick Heath call up are not surprising. And though the Kelvin Gutierrez activation is surprising to an extent (most thought he was out for the whole season when he went on the 60-day DL), this is not the move that jumps out the most.
The move that seemed to catch a lot of Royals fans by surprise was the decision to demote Ryan McBroom, who was posting a 106 wRC+ and .784 OPS this season in 34 games and 79 plate appearances. What makes things even more surprising is the fact that the Dayton Moore decided to keep Ryan O’Hearn, who is only posting a 69 wRC+ and .623 OPS in 35 games and 116 plate appearances. If anything, on the surface, the Royals should’ve demoted O’Hearn and kept the other “Ryan” (McBroom) instead.
And thus, one has to wonder what McBroom’s future will be with the Royals beyond this season, and whether or not the Royals gave him a fair shake during the shortened 2020 MLB campaign. With that being said, let’s take a look at McBroom’s metrics this year, and if the decision on McBroom is a singular move, or could perhaps cause a domino effect where O’Hearn and other Royals currently on the 40-man roster could be affected by season’s end.
There’s no question that the Royals took a flier on McBroom when they acquired him from the Yankees organization a year ago. McBroom struggled to break through at the Major League level in the Yankees farm system, even though he mashed in Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre with a .315/.403/.574 slash and 26 home runs in 482 plate appearances. The Royals acquired him toward to end of the 2019 campaign, and they immediately gave him some playing time, as he posted a .293/.361/.360 slash in 23 games and 83 plate appearances in September in Kansas City.
This year, McBroom broke out in Spring Training, and with O’Hearn having to sit out due to a positive COVID test, McBroom made the Opening Day roster. However, McBroom struggled to find consistent playing time, especially once O’Hearn returned from the IL. After starting the first two games of the year, McBroom last started at first base on September 2nd, and for the most part has been utilized as simply a pinch hitter off the bench.
That being said, despite spending most of the season on the pine, McBroom seemed to find success as a reserve. Three of his five home runs this season have come in pinch hitting role, including this big one below against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium:
In fact, McBroom has more home runs as a pinch hitter (3) than O’Hearn (2) has all season (and O’Hearn has nearly 40 more plate appearances this McBroom). Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be enough for McBroom to keep a roster spot at the big league level, as McBroom’s “cooling off” offensively, and the emergence of Hunter Dozier as the Royals’ regular first-baseman, seemed to doom McBroom’s current spot on the roster.
That being said, while McBroom had the better triple-slash as well as more home runs, how much better was McBroom than O’Hearn this year?
Well, when looking at metrics on a deeper level, that becomes a little bit more complicated.
While McBroom certainly showcased power this year, McBroom also displayed huge problems with strikeouts, plate discipline, as well as making contact and hitting the ball hard consistently, according to Statcast data. Despite a 12.8 percent barrel rate and an increase in exit velocity on batted balls of four percent from the previous year (from 84.9 in 2019 to 88.9 this year), his hard hit rate surprisingly decreased from 36 percent in 2019 to 31.9 this year. McBroom also struggled with chasing balls out of the zone, as his chase rate increased from 25 percent in 2019 to 32.1 percent in 2020. And unfortunately, his propensity to swing at pitches outside the zone often proved fruitless, as he only made contact on 41 percent of pitches he chased outside of the zone, nearly a 28 percent decrease from last year. This contributed heavily to a 12.3 increase in whiff rate (25.5 to 37.8), a 5.4 percent increase in strikeout rate (30.1 to 35.4), and a 0.14 decrease in BB/K ratio (0.28 to 0.14).
McBroom certainly showed a penchant for power in big moments, but that wasn’t enough to mask or overcome questionable plate discipline and contact skills at the plate. And while O’Hearn has fared worse than McBroom when it comes to “production” metrics (OPS, slash, wRC+), his other metrics at least show more promise or a better approach at the plate.
Case in point: O’Hearn’s BB/K ratio is 0.34 points better; his walk rate is 8.7 points higher; his strikeout rate is 6.9 points lower; his hard hit rate is 12.9 points higher; and his chase rate as well as whiff rate are 8.6 and 9.2 points lower, respectively as well. Granted, that doesn’t excuse O’Hearn’s lackluster 2020 campaign by any means, as O’Hearn continues to hit way too many groundballs for a first baseman (47.8 GB rate compared to McBroom’s 31.9 GB rate). But, take away the big moments and home runs, and McBroom has not really employed a plate approach that would maintain success long-term either this year or next. In fact, he was already starting to see regression due to that approach, as he was 0-for-his last 12 plate appearances and had not gotten a hit since September 2nd, his last start at first base.
Thus, with McBroom’s questionable plate approach and O’Hearn’s continued “groundball struggles”, it is not a surprise that Matheny opted for Dozier at first base, especially after the Royals added another outfielder to their roster from San Diego in Edward Olivares, who is much better defensively in the outfield than Doz. With Olivares off to a good start both at the plate and in the field, as well as Dozier continuing to mash at the plate (he is posting an .845 OPS after today’s game), it just seemed to make sense for the Royals to send down McBroom, especially since McBroom offers little defensive upside at either the first base or outfield positions as well.
It seems likely that McBroom will probably spend the remainder of the season at the Alternate Site barring an injury. The Royals have some roster decisions to make with the 40-man this Winter, and Kelvin Gutierrez, who has failed to get consistent playing time at the MLB level due to injuries the past couple of years, needs to prove whether or not he is worthy of a roster spot. Furthermore, outfielders Nick Heath and Bubba Starling also need playing time down the stretch in September to show who is worth keeping this Winter as well, for Moore will need to add outfielders Khalil Lee and perhaps even Seuly Matias to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. Additionally, with the Royals pretty much out of the playoff hunt, the Royals need to explore what they have on this roster, and after 79 plate appearances, it seems like the Royals have a pretty good idea of who McBroom is as a player and what he can offer this club both now and in the future.
In the end, McBroom’s career arc in Kansas City has been much like Brett Phillips’, who was traded away to Tampa Bay this year. McBroom, much like Phillips, had his moments of promise, and developed a small Royals fan cult following, but he could not put together enough at the plate consistently, or showcase enough defensively, to earn himself regular playing time. At this point, with Dozier most likely being the Royals first baseman of the near future until Nick Pratto is ready (if he ever becomes ready of course), it seems superfluous to keep McBroom and O’Hearn on the 40-man leading up to next Spring. And since O’Hearn is a homegrown guy who has at least showcased plate discipline, it seems like O’Hearn is the player in favor with Royals brass, even if he hasn’t matched McBroom’s production this year. It’s unfair in some ways, and it seems likely that O’Hearn will not last much longer than McBroom in KC either. That being said, it makes more sense to see why the Royals preferred O’Hearn over McBroom when one dives deeper into the metrics.
McBroom’s career isn’t over officially in Kansas City. That being said, it looks like the writing may be on the wall for him in the City of Fountains, and if he should be non-tendered this Winter, it seems likely that McBroom will be swiped up by another organization. Time will tell if that decision will be another Brian Goodwin-esque move (one that bites them in the butt) or one that does little to no harm to the Royals (such as Christian Colon or Cheslor Cuthbert).
Whatever happens, at least Royals fans and McBroom will have those pinch hit home runs, especially that one in St. Louis against the Cardinals.
Because after all, any moments against the Cardinals are worth remembering for Royals fans, even if it was in a lost, COVID-affected season.