That KC Royals Manager Mike Matheny has forgotten more about baseball than average fans may ever know is a given. Such is the result of a life spent in the professional game, including 16 seasons as a minor and major league catcher, parts of 10 others as a big league manager who won three division titles and a pennant, and more than a year spent in the Kansas City front office before succeeding Ned Yost in the Royal dugout.
But even the most knowledgeable managers make mistakes, some obvious and glaring, some so inconspicuous as to escape casual fans’ detection.
And some managerial miscues are difficult to characterize, perhaps because they’re born of reasons we don’t understand and never will.
Such may be the case with Matheny’s curious insistence on playing Ryan O’Hearn, the once but only briefly promising first baseman-outfielder whose continuing presence on Kansas City’s roster is baffling. In this, his fifth season with the Royals, he’s hitting .105, a feat made possible only because he raised his average 42 points by going 1-for-3 in Monday’s 6-1 loss to Baltimore. He’s failed to reach the Mendoza Line twice in his five campaigns; not since 2018 has he been reliable at the plate.
Yet he plays.
Mike Matheny needs to stop writing Ryan O’Hearn into the KC Royals’ lineup.
Lest there be any mistake or misunderstanding, O’Hearn isn’t solely accountable for Kansas City’s awful offense. No one can be at such monumental fault, not when the Royals are, as they prepare to test Texas’ pitching tonight, hitting .220, an unacceptable mark that puts them in the American League’s bottom five.
Nor is O’Hearn to blame for his club’s Monday defeat. Indeed, had KC starter Carlos Hernández not imploded in the fifth inning and allowed the Orioles to score all six of their runs, O’Hearn could have been a huge reason the Royals won—his first inning RBI single gave KC a 1-0 run that it held until Hernández gave it up.
But much of the problem with O’Hearn lies behind that first frame RBI.
It was his third of the year, and the hit that produced it was his second.
He was 1-for-16 before the game began; like his Monday hit, the other was a single. Despite having power—he clubbed 12 homers in 44 games as a rookie in 2018, 14 in 105 a season later, and nine last year in 84 contests—O’Hearn hasn’t homered since Aug. 4 of last season.
But, courtesy of Matheny’s lineup crafting, there he was Monday batting fourth. Cleanup. For a club starving for runs.
It’s a spot suited for O’Hearn’s power, but only when he displays it regularly, which is unfortunately something he stopped doing long ago. He’s hit there four times this season and is 2-for-13 (.153).
Simply put, players hitting .105 have no business batting cleanup. O’Hearn appears headed for a season worse than his 2019 and 2020 campaigns, when he hit .195 each year.
At the very least, Matheny needs to stop relying on O’Hearn. And his bosses, Senior Vice President for Baseball Operations and General Manager J.J. Picollo and President of Baseball Operations Dayton Moore, need to find him someone with a better bat.
Mike Matheny and the Royals should finally move on from Ryan O’Hearn.