Grading the KC Royals: What to give Ryan O’Hearn?

(Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images) /

The story of Ryan O’Hearn’s five-year career with the KC Royals is one at once too familiar and too painful.

It began with O’Hearn bursting onto the Kansas City scene just past the 2018 season’s midpoint. He homered 12 times, had 30 RBIs, hit a respectable .262 with a .353 OBP, and headed into the winter a potential star.

But nothing about O’Hearn’s successful introduction to big league baseball foretold the bitter disappointments to come. Today, O’Hearn isn’t a star, nor has he ever been. He’s reached double-digits in homers only once since 2018 and hit only one this season. That first-year .262 average remains his best—he batted .195 in 2019, .195 again in 2020, .225 last season, and .239 this year, although the latter mark really didn’t seem that high.

Through it all, O’Hearn has somehow survived and remains on Kansas City’s roster. But he’s not, and looks like he’ll never be, what the Royals hoped for after his promising 2018 season.

How he performed in 2022 tends to support that prognosis.

Once again, Ryan O’Hearn didn’t have a good season with the KC Royals.

O’Hearn’s 2022 was too much like the three seasons it followed. Yes, he hit .239, 14 points better than he did a year ago, but .239 isn’t what the Royals want or need from him, and his .219 career average remains far too low. His lone home run represents the lowest total of his career—he hit more (two) even in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when he played 25 games fewer than he did this year.

His 16 RBIs also constitute a career low.

Giving credit where credit is due, though, O’Hearn played 26 times in the field and didn’t make an error in 81 chances. He also emerged early in the campaign as a decent pinch hitter, almost uncannily so considering the four-year slump he’s been in. He went 11-for-30 (.367), and it was as a pinch hitter that he collected his only homer and six of his 16 RBIs.

If grading him involved only those factors, he’d get a B+, perhaps even an A.

But evaluating O’Hearn necessarily depends on more than a commendable, but limited, defensive effort and a good bat off the bench. Without his pinch-hitting, he would have batted .201, and while improving to .239 shouldn’t be ignored, it remains insufficient.

We’ll give O’Hearn a D+ for the season.

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Ryan O’Hearn seemed to improve a bit this season, but not enough to earn an average grade.