Appointment Viewing: On the Royals’ Rising Watchability

Why I'm setting time aside to watch Kansas City Royals games.

Fairly recently, my wife started watching the Netflix series The Crown. I have no vested interest in anything happening. I hardly understand the intricacies of the politics therein. Yet, when it’s on, I find myself unable to pull my eyeballs away from the television. I don’t know if it’s of good quality, and I’m absolutely positive that it’s not accurate. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I’m into it.

This scenario is not entirely unlike my relationship with the Kansas City Royals. I have a steady rotation of teams I watch regularly. That list doesn’t typically involve the American League Central (save Detroit, where I can now absorb the dulcet tones of one Jason Benetti). However, while there is still some navigation required in understanding what this club actually is, the Royals have become appointment viewing. Let me explain.


What Makes a Viewing Experience?


The desire to tune into a Major League Baseball team on a regular basis is a fairly subjective decision. First and foremost, it’s a matter of loyalty. The average fan is catching their preferred team’s broadcast and might maintain an eye on other parts of the league, even if active viewing isn’t occurring.

If you’re going to watch a team outside of your own, the objective determination centers around stars and quality. You want to watch big name players. The Arizona Diamondbacks are a very fun team to watch, but they don’t have the star power to grab attention in the way that some other West Coast clubs do. At least for the average fan.

The typical fan wants quality on top of it, too. Even with Mike Trout in Anaheim, the team hasn’t done enough in recent years to find their way into the odd viewing rotation. Eventually, the Chicago White Sox will call up Colson Montgomery, but you’re not watching that team for anything but him. Once that plate appearance ends, you’re moving on. If you’re going to tune into a team with any regularity, you want them to at least be a competent franchise.

This is, of course, an oversimplification of the average fan’s viewing habits, and without any sort of data to support it, either. For me personally, though, there are a few other things to be taken into account.

The first is defense. If you have followed my writing here to even the most moderate of degrees, you know defense is what I’m looking for. I’m looking for those individual defensive standouts, but also those teams that work as a collective.

Secondary to defense is a more unquantifiable energy factor. Some good teams have bad energy. Some bad teams have good energy. I’m still working on my quest to quantify vibes, but any team that can generate energy on offense, defense, and on the mound at any given moment is a team worth watching. You don’t necessarily know how to define it, but you know it when you see it. That typically requires a blend of steady veterans and youth, the latter of which inject that energy. High velocity stuff on the mound. Speed and power combinations in the lineup. It all feeds into that energy.

As such — and perhaps somewhat shockingly — the Kansas City Royals present us with exactly the kind of formula that we’re looking for in the watchability game.


A Star Is Was Born


I’d be lying if I said that the premise of this article wasn’t borne out of a desire to gush about Bobby Witt Jr. Last year represented his true breakout, after all, but the lack of competitiveness out of the Royals didn’t help to garner buzz in the way that it should have.

Witt finished Top 30 in batting average (.276), slugging percentage (.495), and ISO (.218). His 30 homers landed him in that same standing, while he was also third in the league in steals (49). He was above the 90th percentile in many of the “expected” stats and 100th percentile in baserunning value & sprint speed.

Defensively, his star rose even higher. His 14 Outs Above Average placed him eighth out of all position players, while his Fielding Run Value (10) sat him in the Top 15. It’s that blend of power, speed, and defense that make him a must-watch commodity on his own.

Luckily, he doesn’t have to be a solo act at this point.


Establishing Quality Over Quantity


One of the more notable trades of the 2023 season was the one that sent Aroldis Chapman from Kansas City to the eventual champion Texas Rangers. In moving the formerly elite closer, the Royals were able to add Cole Ragans to headline their pitching staff. He made a dozen starts with his new club, posting a 2.64 ERA, 11.2 K/9, and a 1.074 WHIP. All of those represented career-bests from what had been an uneven time in Texas, with an inconsistent role.

That comes in addition to their trade of José Cuas to the Chicago Cubs. It was a move that netted them Nelson Velázquez, a solid corner outfield bat who was forced out of the Chicago outfield picture. He’s done nothing but hit since arriving, including a .261 ISO and 137 wRC+. Even with the latter’s massive strikeout rate, the acquisitions of both Ragans and Velázquez helped to shift the perception surrounding this Kansas City team at the conclusion of the 2023 season.

Given the way the offseason shook out, the Royals were able to draw more positive attention to themselves. In an unusually stagnant winter for the league at large, Kansas City was one of the more active squads. They added Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha to the rotation. Nick Anderson and Chris Stratton headlined a small army of relievers brought in. Hunter Renfroe was signed as a free agent bat.

The moves were perceived — and may very well still be — as ones that make the organization competitive in a bad division, but not ones that move the needle in the larger context. That perception, however, fails to take into account the in-house growth we’ve seen thus far.

Maikel Garcia doesn’t have the on-base skills of his left side counterpart, but he does possess power potential (.197 ISO thus far) and speed (23 steals in 2023), along with upper tier defense that makes him an exciting compliment to Witt on the Kansas City infield. MJ Melendez provides a similar brand of power and speed, plate discipline notwithstanding. Multiple offensive players with flashy upside? Sign me up, Kansas City Royals.

Brady Singer looks like the pitcher we thought he could be a couple years ago. Through three starts, his strikeouts are back up (8.84/9), walks are back down (1.96/9), and he’s abusing the infield dirt to the tune of a 65 percent GB%. Alec Marsh isn’t overpowering hitters, but has doubled his Soft% against (over 18 percent in three starts) and isn’t walking anybody. As a fifth starter, he helps this starting group to run far deeper than we might’ve expected.

Lest we forget Vinnie Pasquantino, either. After an injury-shortened 2023, he’s already shaken off a slow start to turn in really steady offensive production. His 9.4 K% is the seventh-lowest figure in the league, with a 12.5 BB% to boot. He’s already demonstrating growth in the power game as well, with an early .218 ISO. Even a slight uptick in power makes him an absolute necessity to this lineup, given the strong plate discipline.

Between that trio and their pair of notable ’23 deadline additions, that’s a group of five demonstrating a level of growth we may night have anticipated. Small sample, sure, but each had a much more uncertain future a year ago.


Back to the Analogy


Circling back to The Crown, and the mystery over exactly what I’m watching while simultaneously enjoying myself: I don’t know if the Kansas City Royals are a good baseball team. Their bats sit Top 10 in the league in runs, K%, and ISO. Their pitching staff features the league’s third-best ERA (2.86) and are allowing both walks (7.9 percent) & hard contact (28.3 percent) at one of the 10 best rates among their big league counterparts. These are good things.

I also know that five of their wins have come against the White Sox. And another three came against a Houston team working themselves out of some early April woes. They’re also struggling to maintain a regular on-base presence, which isn’t ideal when a large part of your secondary offense is the steal. It’s also April. Can Lugo and Wacha — both off to excellent starts — maintain it into the summer? Can Singer?

Ultimately, though, the biggest question should be: Does it matter?

The Kansas City Royals have an established superstar who has a bit of room for additional growth. They have really fun secondary pieces, both in the power and speed games. They’re grading out among the league’s best on defense. There are personalities (note that I’ve reached almost 1,400 words and haven’t even mentioned Salvador Pérez) that make them easy to engage with. Above all, they appear competent. Playing in the AL Central works in their favor, of course. But even if they aren’t a team ready for genuine contention, they have the pieces in place to make them a really fun team to watch. Given that there aren’t as many of those around the league as we’d like, we should appreciate that about these Royals.

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. When not wasting away on the husk of Twitter/X, Randy is a high school English teacher & a baseball and golf coach.

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