On Tuesday, Baseball Prospectus released their annual PECOTA Projections (which comes in a downloadable file for subscribers). Last season, I did write about some initial thoughts about the PECOTA projections for Royals players.
This time around though, I wanted to have two separate posts, with one focusing on projections in relation to Royals hitters, and the other being pitcher-focused.
After reviewing the PECOTA projections over the past couple of days, here are three good (and two concerning) surprises regarding Royals players for the upcoming 2022 season.
Good: Carlos Santana, 1B/DH
Santana had a rough first season in Kansas City, as he posted a .214/.319/.342 slash in 659 plate appearances, as well as a career-worst wRC+ of 89 and fWAR of -0.3. BP metrics were more forgiving of Santana’s 2021 than Fangraphs, as he posted a DRC+ of 104 and WARP of 0.9. That being said, those BP metrics were still career-worsts as well.
According to PECOTA, Santana is projected to be the Royals’ best hitter on a DRC+ (109) basis, and his WARP (1.8) is second only to Whit Merrifield. PECOTA projects that Santana is going to preserve his superb on-base skills, and will see a bump in batting average, as his .240 batting average projection is nearly 30 points higher than his 2021 mark.
That kind of production next season would be huge not only for Santana but a Royals lineup that needs more consistency in the middle of the lineup.
It is likely that Santana will not be a long-term option for the Royals, as it is likely that Dayton Moore and the Royals front office will be exploring a trade as soon as the lockout has ended. However, Santana has a deflated market value right now, which means a limited return for the Royals in any trade.
If Santana can bounce back and live up to these PECOTA projections, it is possible that a trade could happen sooner rather than later, in addition to a better return in the process.
Concerning: Salvador Perez, C/DH
Salvy had a legendary season in 2021 offensively, as he hit 48 home runs, which not only tied a Royals single-season record but also set the record for catchers in a single season.
Salvy’s “splash zone” home runs at Kauffman Stadium became a common sight a year ago, much-needed for Royals fans during an 88-loss season.
In terms of his line, Salvy posted a triple slash of .273/.316/.544 in 665 plate appearances, which is hands-down one of the best lines Salvy has ever produced over the course of his 11-year career in Kansas City. Furthermore, according to Baseball Prospectus, his 3.4 WARP was a career-high, even though it was significantly dragged down by a -15.8 FRAA (fielding runs above average) mark, a career-worst.
That being said, it seems like PECOTA doesn’t think that Salvy’s line is going to be all that sustainable going forward, especially in 2022.
PECOTA projects a big decline in Salvy’s triple-slash metrics, including batting average (.251), on-base average (.296), and slugging (.458). While Salvy is still predicted to hit a decent amount of home runs for a catcher (28), his projected DRC+ (101) is lower than Santana and even MJ Melendez (though Melendez has FAR fewer projected plate appearances).
Additionally, his 1.5 WARP ties him for fourth for projected Royals hitters with Nicky Lopez, not exactly a promising sign, especially after the massive extension he inked in the last offseason.
Salvy will still be a productive hitter for the Royals, and still a Top-5 offensive catcher in 2022. However, to think that he’ll do in 2022 what he did in 2021 to a tee?
Well, that may be overly wishful thinking for Royals fans.
Good: Ryan O’Hearn, 1B/UT
I know Royals fans are pretty much done in their positive expectations for O’Hearn in 2022. It makes sense honestly, especially after a season in which he hit .225 with nine home runs in 254 plate appearances. At 28-years-old, many fans are ready to move on from O’Hearn in Kansas City, especially with Nick Pratto recently added to the 40-man roster this offseason.
However, O’Hearn fares surprisingly well in the latest PECOTA projections for 2022.
PECOTA projects O’Hearn to produce a DRC+ of 95 with a .236/.309/.426 triple slash as well as 10 home runs and 38 RBI in 268 plate appearances. His DRC+ and WARP (0.4) are not much different from Hunter Dozier’s projections (93 DRC+, 0.6 WARP), even though Dozier is expected to see over double the number of plate appearances than O’Hearn in 2022.
Now, am I pushing for O’Hearn to have an everyday job in 2022?
Of course not.
However, he could be a valuable bat off the bench who could fill in at the corner outfield or first base position when the Royals are in a pinch. Furthermore, his player comparisons were pretty intriguing according to PECOTA:
Justin Smoak, Ji-Man Choi, and Yonder Alonso.
If the Royals had any of those guys (at their best part of their careers) on the Royals bench, I think Royals fans would be elated. While O’Hearn may not have their “names”, if he can provide that kind of production, it isn’t out of the question to think that O’Hearn can change the narrative about him with Royals fans this season.
Thus, Royals fans should be open to O’Hearn and his potential outlook this Spring. If he can come out at the plate hot, it is possible that he could provide some value off the bench, which would be much needed as Pratto and Melendez adjust to the Major League level.
Concerning: Andrew Benintendi, OF
Benintendi finished the 2021 season strong, as he posted a .276/.324/.442 line with 17 home runs in 538 plate appearances in his first season in Kansas City. He did this despite missing some time in the middle months of the season due to various nagging injuries.
Benintendi was the Royals’ biggest acquisition last offseason, and even though he will be a free agent after the 2022 season, it seems like he’s already been a bit of a fan favorite in Kansas City, not easy to do considering the tremendous shadow Alex Gordon left in Kansas City.
With his likable personality and a strong finish to last year, there have been numerous rumblings about a possible long-term extension for Benintendi, which unfortunately has come to a halt this offseason, due to the lockout.
That being said, if his PECOTA projections for 2022 are any indication, it may be in the Royals’ best interest to wait and see before beginning any long-term discussions with Benintendi.
PECOTA projects a .260/.331/.413 line with 14 home runs and 67 RBI in 597 plate appearances in 2022. He is also expected to put up a DRC+ of 98 and a WARP of 1.7.
While those predicted numbers are still solid compared to other Royals hitters, they are not exactly the kind of numbers one would expect for a player who is probably looking for a four-to-five year extension that could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars total.
What helps the “Long Term Extension for Benny” argument is that the projections aren’t great for the other Royals’ outfield options. Kyle Isbel is projected to put up an 81 DRC+ and 0.5 WARP in 318 plate appearances and Edward Olivares is projected for a 90 DRC+ and 0.4 WARP in 223 plate appearances. While they are projected to be better outfielders defensively than Benny (1.9 FRAA for Isbel; 0.1 FRAA for Olivares; -2.0 FRAA for Benintendi), it is obvious that the offensive value that Benny provides outweighs that.
The Benintendi extension talks will most likely be on hold temporarily, especially with it likely that MLB will be cutting it close to the start of the season when the lockout ends.
But even when those talks resume, if Benintendi produces a line close to his PECOTA projections, it may be highly possible that he will be playing in a different uniform and city in 2023.
Good: Bobby Witt, Jr., SS
Now, at the surface level, Witt Jr.’s projections are modest for the upcoming season, and some Royals content writers have already brought this up in their respective mediums:
PECOTA projects a .249/.311/.432 line with 16 home runs, 63 RBI, and 17 stolen bases in 471 plate appearances. His projected DRC+ is 98 (the same as Benintendi) and WARP is 0.6 (the same as Adalberto Mondesi and Cam Gallagher). That is a far cry from his ZiPS projections which are predicting a line of .268/.323/.454 with 21 home runs and 23 stolen bases in 569 plate appearances.
However, while some Royals fans may be “concerned” with Witt’s more modest PECOTA projections, I think it’s actually a more realistic sign of what we should expect from the rookie at the big league level in 2022.
After all, Witt has only one full professional season under his belt, due to him losing a full Minor League season in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic. And while Witt succeeded against upper Minor League level pitching, it still is at the end of the day, Minor League pitching. Witt will go through his growing pains at the plate against Major League pitchers in 2022, and there will be times when people will question his hype, especially with a bit of a free-swinging approach (he still posted 20+ strikeout rates in Northwest Arkansas and Omaha, respectively).
However, the Royals are still rebuilding in 2022. And the focus should be on continued team development, not necessarily black and white results.
If Witt debuts, posts a line like his PECOTA projections and is getting better as a player and developing his plate discipline month by month, that is a good sign for him and the Royals going into 2023. Remember, the Royals, if everything falls right, should be back on the winning track in 2023 and beyond (and hopefully for longer than the first “run” under Moore’s tenure, which spanned from 2013-to 2017).
PECOTA is still predicting Witt to be pretty good next year. After all, he is predicted to have the same DRC+ as Benintendi, and his WARP could be even better by the end of the season in 2022, as it seems like Baseball Prospectus is being pessimistic about his defensive value for next year (his -8.1 FRAA is pretty eye-popping). If Witt is even average defensively, his overall WARP numbers could be WAY higher, which will only be good for his future outlook in Kansas City.
Who knows if Witt will live up to the Rookie-of-the-Year hype, which may be tough with Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman and Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez also expected to make their debuts next season.
But the PECOTA projections are promising and a nice floor of what Royals fans should expect from Witt in 2022.
Photo Credit: Ralph Freso/Getty Images