Kansas City Royals' best-case and worst-case scenario for 2024

Mar 17, 2024; Surprise, Arizona, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (7) bats against
Mar 17, 2024; Surprise, Arizona, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (7) bats against / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Based on the record, there’s little reason to expect much from the Kansas City Royals, and few will. After all, they lost a franchise record 106 games in 2023 and haven’t had a winning season since the glory days of 2015.

Yet the Royals enter the 2024 season in an enticing position. They have not one but two potentially brilliant stars in the making, plus a young supporting cast with reams of potential. In the wide open AL Central, that’s just enough to lay open the possibility of a turnaround for the ages.

Kansas City Royals' Best-Case Scenario for 2024 Season

Any positive speculation concerning the 2024 Royals begins with Bobby Witt Jr., the team’s 24-year-old third-year shortstop. As a rookie, Witt showed enough to finish fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. Last season, he became a front-rank force, producing an .813 OPS and an impressive 4.4 WAR. Only his defense lagged.

If Witt continues to ride his personal development jetstream -- say, with a .300 batting average, and neutral-to-positive defensive performance -- he’s worth several additional games alone. Who’s to say he can’t? He’s still a couple years away from attaining his age-predictive peak.

Consider also Cole Ragans, a pitcher who arrived via a midseason trade with the Texas Rangers. Given a chance to start in a non-pressure environment, Ragans blossomed. He was 5-2 in a dozen late-season starts with a 2.64 ERA, averaging six innings per start and more than a strikeout per inning. Just 26, Ragans will be Kansas City’s Opening Day starter.

Given Kansas City’s 56-106 record last season, it should come as no surprise that most of the rest of the team’s everyday lineup needs an upgrade if Witt and Ragans don’t prove to be exceptional players on a nondescript team. But that could happen.

While the rest of the core of the offense—MJ Melendez, Vinny Pasquantino, Kyle Isbel and Michael Massey – all lagged at the plate in 2023, all are on the developmental side of 27, and all projected as minor leaguers to have legitimate potential. If most break through, the offense will vastly improve on its 2023 rank of 23rd in runs scored per game.

And they don’t have to improve much to make an impact in the impotent AL Central. Last season, only the Twins, among divisional rivals, had a better offense than Kansas City.

Pitching is the big question mark. With Ragans on board for a full season, the onus is on Brady Singer. A 2015 second-round pick, Singer followed a breakthrough 2022 – 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA in 24 starts – with a breakdown in 2023, 8-11, 5.52 in 29 starts. If Singer can merely return to his 2022 form, the Royals will have two solid starters at the top of their rotation, which is two more than they started last year with.

Kansas City Royals' Worst-Case Scenario for 2024 Season

Beyond Ragans and Singer, Kansas City’s pitching plans rely on veteran journeymen. That’s problematic, and they’ll be needed, because the Royals ranked third from the bottom in runs allowed per game last season.

Behind Ragans and Singer, the rotation features Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo and Jordan Lyles, the latter demoted from team ace after going 6-17, 6.28 ERA in 31 starts.

Wacha, 32 and pitching for his sixth different team in six seasons, has put together two strong campaigns following three ordinary ones. Lugo, a former Met, was 8-7 with a 3.57 ERA in 26 starts for San Diego.  That was the first season since 2017 that Lugo was anything resembling a full-time starter, so workload and track record are both issues.

As noted earlier, Kansas City’s lineup is populated by system products – Massey, Isbel, Melendez, Pasquantino – who share two common traits: they’re all young and they all haven’t done it yet. What if they don’t?

Not one of the four hit above .247 last season, only Pasquantino produced an OPS above .713, and they ran up 359 strikeouts, a 20 percent whiff rate. That would be acceptable for a bunch of power hitters, but they averaged just 11 home runs between them.

Veteran Hunter Renfroe has been signed as a free agent to help, but Renfroe only batted .233 last season, so it’s not at all clear that he’s the answer. Another veteran, Salvador Perez, is back at catcher, but he’s 34 now and his catching duties are wearing on him; Perez’s offensive productivity has declined annually since 2020.

Most realistic scenario for 2024 Kansas City Royals

It could all magically come together for the 2024 Royals. There are a lot of potentially powerful points on this team that profile as on the uptick. Obviously the AL Central is an ideal place for such a team to find itself.

To find the record for biggest season-to-season rebound by a 105-loss team, you have to go back to 1989, when the Orioles made a 32-game leap. That tied an all-time record set by the 1936 Boston Braves. But just two years ago, the Orioles improved by 31 games, although they still missed the playoffs by three games.

So there’s room to dream, but that would be asking the virtually impossible for the 2024 Royals. More likely is a run that ends up a few games short of .500. If some of those young regulars mature into legit contributors, even that would set a solid stage for 2025.

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