Diving Into Three Concerns After the Royals’ Rough Opening Series Against the Twins

To be honest, my expectations aren’t really all that high, to begin with when it comes to this 2023 Royals squad.

I basically have projected them to win about 74 to 75 games, but that is coming from a rose-colored lens of knowing this group of Royals players way too well. If one looks at any major projection systems out there, whether it’s ZiPS or PECOTA, the Royals actually project to be worse than their 65-97 record in 2022.

I am not necessarily ready to believe in those ZiPS and PECOTA projections just yet.

Three games of a 162-game season is an awfully small sample, and we have seen teams struggle out of the gate, whether it’s for a week or month, and look better over the remainder of the year. And Royals fans have also seen the inverse, as strong Opening Series performances proved to be fool’s gold in 2021 and 2022.

Nonetheless, getting swept by the Minnesota Twins, a division rival, isn’t exactly the greatest feeling, especially with all the excitement about this young group of players and their potential for 2023 and beyond.

Let’s take a look at three things that stood out from this Royals’ rough opening series against the Twins, and what Royals fans should be paying attention to regarding the upcoming Blue Jays series, which begins immediately on Monday.

Royals Young Hitters: Short-Term Pressing? Or Long-Term Issues?

For the Royals to match my 74 or 75-win projection, they would need to have solid seasons at the plate from Bobby Witt, Jr., MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Michael Massey. The four pretty much carried the offense at various times throughout last season, but hitting consistency was an issue for all four of them, as they all had their individual peaks and valleys at some point in 2022.

Unfortunately, it was a series to forget for all four young Royals hitters. In the three-game series, the group only totaled two hits, which happened to be a single from Pasquantino in Saturday’s 2-0 loss, and a double for Massey in the ninth inning of Sunday’s 7-4 loss.

A big issue for the group of four hitters has been their approach at the plate, as they have been more aggressive than usual, and that has not really produced a lot of tangible results in the first three games of the year.

Here’s a look at the pitch description charts for the four hitters from Sunday’s afternoon finale at the K. Let’s start with Massey and Pasquantino.

And now, let’s take a look at MJ and Witt’s pitch description charts

The common thread from their charts is this: a lot of chases out of the zone, and an inability to do damage with pitches thrown inside the strike zone.

That’s a concerning trend, especially for a group of hitters who are expected to be major contributors to this lineup, not just this season, but long-term as well.

On the other hand, is this a classic sign of nerves and eagerness to produce in big moments (especially with RISP) having a counterintuitive effect in this opening series? Or is it a sign of a flawed hitting approach that produces in the upper levels of the Minors, but fails to transition into consistent results in the Majors?

It will be interesting to see if that group will be a little more relaxed at the plate in this upcoming series with the Blue Jays, especially with the Opening series now behind them, and a lot fewer fans to be expected in attendance at the K for the Monday through Thursday contests.

How Long Will Dozier Stay in the Lineup?

Dozier has been a polarizing player for the Royals fanbase over the past two years, especially after signing a contract extension before the 2021 season.

In 2021, Dozier posted an 81 wRC+ in 144 games, and last season, he only slightly improved with a 90 wRC+ mark in 129 games, according to Fangraphs. To make matters worse, Dozier has been a sieve defensively at the hot corner, and it’s a big reason why he has accumulated a -2.1 fWAR over the past two seasons.

This season, a strong Spring and some reported changes with the swing spurred some hope that Dozier would be able to bounce back slightly enough to perhaps generate some trade interest, similar to how Carlos Santana did last season. Dozier has been on the block since the offseason began last year, but his rough past couple of seasons have prevented any kind of trade from happening before the start of the 2023 season.

It seemed like the plan was for Dozier to begin the year at third base and perhaps get on a heater for the first month or two, and then perhaps get traded to an org that was looking for someone who could provide some pop as a utility player (Texas was a widely rumored destination). Unfortunately, Dozier failed to do much of anything in this series, as he went 0-for-7 with two strikeouts and zero walks. The only time he reached base was through a fielding error on Saturday.

To make matters worse for Dozier and his outlook in Kansas City, the Royals got solid performances from Edward Olivares and Matt Duffy, both of who had two hits and a home run each in Sunday’s loss.

Olivares doesn’t directly affect Dozier because Olivares plays in the outfield and it seems like the Royals are intent on keeping Dozier solely at third this year. However, he takes away possible at-bats from Dozier, especially since Olivares may have earned at least a few more starts after today’s solid performance.

As for Duffy, he directly affects Dozier, as Duffy is not only a better defensive option in the infield overall, but he appears to be a better hitting solution at the hot corner for now after his Royals debut on Sunday.

Will Quatraro and JJ Picollo continue to give Dozier more opportunities in the lineup to somehow salvage the possibility to trade Dozier in the next couple of months? Or will Quatraro change the course and trust Duffy, who Quatraro has strong ties back to when Duffy played in Tampa Bay back in 2018 and 2019?

I guess Royals fans will see how Quatraro utilizes both Duffy and Dozier in this upcoming Toronto series.

Coleman and Keller Lone Concerns of Royals Pitching Staff So Far

The Royals pitching staff, both starting and relief, did well overall against the Twins in the three-game slate, even with Sunday’s contest which saw the Twins score seven runs.

Royals starters Zack Greinke and Jordan Lyles pitched well enough to keep the Royals in both of their respective starts. Additionally, Aroldis Chapman looked absolutely sensational in his Royals debut, as he struck out the side while pumping 100+ MPH fastballs with regularity.

The only pitchers who could be causes for concern are Brad Keller and Dylan Coleman, who showed promise at times, but also some signs of extreme shakiness in their respective outings.

For four innings, Keller looked like the “good” Keller of old, which Royals fans have seen at times since he was acquired in the Rule 5 draft in 2018. Here’s a look at what his player breakdown chart looked like after four innings, via Statcast data.

That being said, things went off the rail for Keller in the fifth, as he struggled to gain command of his slider, and he ended up walking three batters to load the bases with two outs. Thankfully, Amir Garrett was able to come in and get that out and avoid any run damage at the time (though he did proceed to give up a home run to Joey Gallo in the next inning).

Despite not getting dinged in the fifth, Keller could’ve had a great day where he went five innings of work with one walk and six strikeouts. Instead, his line looks similar to what he has done in years past, which was four walks to six strikeouts, a K/BB ratio of 1.50, not exactly a sterling mark.

David Lesky of Inside the Crown said this about Keller and it makes a lot of sense after his first outing of 2023, which had some promising highs and some discouraging lows, all in an afternoon’s span.

Keller will continue to get a few more opportunities to show Quatraro and the Royals coaching staff that he belongs in the rotation. However, if he has more outings like this one or worse, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Keller transition to the bullpen sooner rather than later.

As for Coleman, I had my concerns about him in the Spring, and I talked about them a little in my Opening Day reflection post. Coleman didn’t do much to quiet the concerns on Sunday, though he did have a big strikeout of Carlos Correa to end the sixth inning after Garrett got into some trouble.

Coleman came out for the next inning to help keep the Royals in the game. Despite the positive momentum built from striking out Correa, he ended up giving up three runs on three hits, which included a three-run home run from Gallo, his second of the game, which pretty much dashed the Royals’ hopes of winning this contest.

For the year, Coleman is sporting an 11.57 ERA with two walks and only one strikeout in two appearances and 2.1 IP.

To make matters worse, he has seen a decline in velocity in his four-seamer so far this year, as he is only averaging 94.5 MPH on the pitch, which is three MPH slower than a season ago, according to Savant.

Below is a look at how Coleman’s pitch velocity fared against Twins hitters on Sunday:

Coleman had only two pitches clock in over 95 MPH, and one of them was absolutely crushed by Gallo. For a guy who struggles with control, not having his best stuff on his primary pitch is a big red flag, especially for a Royals team that may be in a lot of close games to begin the 2023 season.

I thought Coleman deserved a spot in the bullpen to begin the year, despite his high number of walks allowed in the Spring, mostly due to his strong finish to 2022.

That being said, he will need to show not only better command of his four-seam fastball and other pitches but some gains in velocity as he sees more innings on the mound, especially in April.

Failure to do either of those things could result in him being optioned to Omaha and a call-up for perhaps Josh Staumont or Josh Taylor, who both failed to make the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training.

Photo Credit: Kyle Rivas/Getty Images


3 thoughts on “Diving Into Three Concerns After the Royals’ Rough Opening Series Against the Twins

  1. We went our to first game today. Great day to be at the park, even if the attendance was depressing and the performance wasn’t incredibly encouraging. I absolutely feel like the young guys are pressing, and it will only get worse until each of them finally breaks out. Also have no idea why Vinnie bunted, but it’s good to see some things never change, like the Royals’ inexplicable love of bunting. But hey, I got Dennis Leonard’s autograph, so that was pretty cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a beautiful day and that’s awesome you were webla to be there. Them pressing seems to be my impression as well. I think even Vinnie showed that. I think he was desperate to get anything going and he made a poor decision to bunt (and not a good one either). I don’t think it was called in any way, just an attempt by Vinnie to get this young group going.

      I think people underestimate how difficult it can be for a player to shoulder a lot of that pressure to be a main producer in the lineup. And I think they are feeling that and they are getting out of their approach and what they have been working on this Spring and offseason.

      Toronto could continue to be rough, but I think getting away from the K could be a good thing for the guys, and I could see them fixing things a bit away from KC and then come back, ready to go.


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