Three Royals Hitters to Be Optimistic About After Rough Opening Home Stand

The Royals lost 6-3 in the Thursday afternoon series finale with the Toronto Blue Jays, which brings the Royals’ record to 1-6 for the year. After a lot of optimism and hope in the preseason, the Royals sit firmly not just in last place in the AL Central division, but also in all of baseball, as they are tied with the Washington Nationals when it comes to the worst record in MLB as of Friday.

It is easy to focus on the negative after such a rough homestand to open the 2023 season. It has been especially hard to be optimistic about the hitting of this Royals squad, which has failed to muster much in the first seven games of the Major League season. While the Royals did have eight hits and score three runs on Thursday, most of that production came after the Blue Jays pulled starter Kevin Gausman, who pretty much mowed the Royals down through six innings.

While the hitting has been inconsistent, to put it mildly, there have been some players so far through seven games that Royals fans should still be optimistic about, despite their rough individual and the offense’s overall slow start to begin the 2023 campaign.

Let’s take a look at three Royals hitters who Royals fans should still be optimistic about for the upcoming 2023 season, and who could be due to turn it around soon in a major way, hopefully during this road trip that begins in San Francisco tomorrow.

Edward Olivares, OF

Right now, it is very difficult to find much optimism with any of the Royals hitters when looking at their stat line through seven games. As of Friday, the Royals rank 30th in all of baseball in team wRC+ with a 50 mark, according to Fangraphs.

However, one hitter who has put up some respectable numbers has been Edward Olivares, who is not only hitting .267 this year, but also posting a wRC+ of 130 in 16 plate appearances. In terms of couting stats, has hit a home run and collected three RBI, which included one yesterday in the Royals’ 6-3 loss on Thursday afternoon.

Olivares hasn’t produced a walk this year, but he is hitting the ball hard and still generating more contact than ever. According to his Statcast metrics, via Baseball Savant, he is averaging 93.3 MPH on batted balls so far this year, and his whiff rate of 17.9 percent is down seven points from a season ago.

While he still remains a free-swinger this year and has a tendency to chase (35.5 percent chase rate this year), his swing rate is 49.1 percent, which is roughly 2.1 percent down from his 2022 percentage. So it appears as if he is being a bit more judicious at the plate this year, which has correlated into positive overall results through the first seven games of 2023.

Overall, these improvements show that Olivares is continuing to get better as a hitter, especially when it comes to contact quality, and finding pitches that he can do damage against.

The only concern right now is that his launch angle is only 1 degree, meaning that he’s not getting a whole lot of loft under the balls he makes contact with.

Granted, he does hit a lot of line drives, which do have a high percentage of success when it comes to base hits (especially with Kauffman Stadium’s spacious confines). That said, he also has hit a lot of groundballs, and hasn’t hit a single flyball this year, according to Stacast data.

Olivares’ power has matured as he has gotten more at-bats at the Major League level, as his hard-hit rate has grown from 27.8 percent in 2020, his rookie season in San Diego and Kansas City, to 38.9 percent in 2022 to 58.3 percent this year. While it’s unlikely that it will stay that mark for the remainder of the season, the odds are strong that Olivares will continue to set a new career-high in hard-hit rate, based on his early trends at the plate.

And if he can get a little bit more launch under the ball?

Well it’s possible that Olivares could be a 20-homer threat, as long as he gets the plate appearances this year (which seems likely considering the Royals’ need for offense so far this year).

Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B

The numbers don’t look good for Pasquantino, who was a sensation as a rookie for roughly half of a season in 2022.

In 72 games and 298 plate appearances, Pasquantino hit .295 with a wRC+ of 137, according to Fangraphs. He also hit 10 home runs, collected 26 RBI, and posted an insane BB/K ratio of 1.03, highlighted by a walk rate of 11.7 percent. It’s not a surprise that Vinnie was one of the most hype “dark horse” first baseman in many fantasy drafts, as his combination of plate discipline and power give fantasy baseball players the idea that he could be another Joey Votto type.

That being said, Vinnie’s start to 2023 has been anything but “Votto-esque” and more “Royals Carlos Santana-esque” if anything.

Through seven games and in 21 plate appearances, Pasquantino is only hitting .143 with a wRC+ of 39. He’s only collected one extra base hit so far this year, and his average exit velocity on batted balls is down from 91.2 MPH in 2022 to 88.3 MPH in 2023.

Vinnie didn’t barrel the ball as much as one would think for a guy with his stature, as his barrel rate last year was only 8.8 percent. So far this year, he hasn’t barreled a single ball, and his hard-hit rate is down 5.7 percentage points at 41.2 percent. Add that with an increase in strikeout rate from 11 percent in 2022 to 16 percent in 2023, and there is plenty for Royals fans to be concerned about when it comes to Vinnie’s outlook in his sophomore season.

Here’s why Royals fans need to not just panic yet: his plate discipline is still solid, and he got off to a slow start last year as well.

Even though his strikeout rate is up by five points, his walk rate is also up by five points as well. Thus, his BB/K ratio, despite the increase in whiffs, is similar (1.00) to his mark in 2022. That is a positive sign that despite his struggles to find hits (his BABIP is only .176), he still hasn’t wavered too much from his trademark patient approach.

That patient approach can be seen in his pitch description chart this season, via Savant.

Now, Vinnie hasn’t been perfect by any means. So far, his chase rate is 32.8 percent, which is six points higher than last year, according to Savant. And as you can see by the chart above, pitchers are attacking Vinnie in the lower away part of the strike zone, and not throwing in the zone as frequently as a season ago. Pasquantino is seeing a zone rate of only 39.6 percent this year, which is far lower than the 47 percent zone rate he saw in 2022.

Thus, it may be a situation where Vinnie is simply too anxious, and itching for a hit, which is causing him to chase pitches he normally would lay off last year. Once the BABIP spikes up, and he strings together some more base hits, it is likely that the chasing will regress, which in turn will have positive effects on his K rate and overall line.

In addition, this slow start may just be an annual thing for Vinnie, as it is for a lot of hitters at the Major League level. While Vinnie hasn’t been doing well at the plate in his first seven games, let’s take a look at his monthly advanced splits in 2022, and notice what the first couple of months looked like for Vinnie when he made his MLB debut last year.

Notice how Pasquantino didn’t really “turn it on” until August, as the batting average and power looked kind of mediocre in the end of June and July. Furthermore, he was also hurt by a .256 BABIP in the month of July, which weighed down his overall numbers during that first full month of play for him at the MLB level.

Lastly, notice the high K rate of 16.7 percent in July, which mirrors closely to the K rate we are seeing right now from Vinnie.

While it was 16.7 percent during that month, it plummeted to 10.1 percent in August and 7.1 percent in September/October. And as a result, Pasquantino became a much more productive hitter overall, and a mainstay in the cleanup spot of the Royals’ batting order down the stretch in 2022.

It may be a slow month for Pasquantino as he adjusts to what pitchers are throwing him. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see Vinnie get going in May and start to live up to those lofty preseason projections many Royals fans and bloggers had for him this winter.

Bobby Witt, Jr., SS

It hasn’t been a stellar start for Witt at the plate in 2023. Despite having the most plate appearances on this Royals team (29), he is only hitting .154 with a 39 wRC+, according to Fangraphs. In addition, he continues to be aggressive at the plate, as his first-swing percentage has increased from 33.2 percent in 2022 to 37.9 percent so far this year, according to Stacast data.

That being said, while Witt hasn’t exactly gotten off hot out of the gate to begin his sophomore campaign, he has shown some promising developments through seven games, especially in regard to his batted ball data and plate discipline.

Even though Witt hasn’t barreled a ball yet this year, his average exit velocity is up from 89.7 MPH in 2022 to 93.3 MPH this year. His hard-hit rate of 52.4 percent is also 3.8 percentage points higher than a year ago, which shows that Witt is hitting the ball hard, even if the results have been meager thus far.

One interesting number that will be key to pay attention to with Witt in this upcoming series is his 20.4 degree average launch angle on batted balls this year. The launch angle is kind of high, and a sign that while Bobby is hitting the ball hard, he is getting too under it, which produces more fly outs rather than extra base hits, especially in a park as big as Kauffman Stadium.

Those launch angle issues are also evident in Witt’s radial chart, via Savant, which shows Witt is getting under a lot of batted balls, and that hasn’t exactly produced results through seven games.

What’s interesting to note is that Witt is getting pitches to hit, especially if Royals fans take a look at his pitch results chart. Unfortunately, the issue is that he’s not connecting properly with the ball (either getting to under or over it), and thus, he’s not doing damage with those pitches like he should.

Witt has struggled with pitches up in the zone, so I’m not surprise that he hasn’t done much with those pitchers in the upper 1-2-3 zones this season. But Witt has also struggled on pitches in the middle of the strike zone, which wasn’t really the case for him a season ago.

Here’s a look at his zone wOBA chart from a season ago, and notice how it contrasts to all the gray (field outs) dots in the pitch result chart this season.

Notice in that zone four and five areas he produced a wOBA of .415 and .400 a season ago. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really produced in thos areas this season, as this is what his zone wOBA chart looks like in 2023 through three games.

That is going to change, especially when he makes slight adjustments and gets to hit in more favorable weather conditions where the ball is more likely to fly.

Here’s an example of Witt getting a pitch from Minnesota’s Joe Ryan in that sweet spot zone of his on the inside, and yet, it only produces a long fly out to deep center field.

Expect Witt’s launch angle to neutralize in the coming weeks, and balls to fly a bit more as a result.

As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to think that Witt could get on a heater soon, and be a force at the top of the Royals lineup (which in turn will help them in the win column).

Photo Credit: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


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