The KC Royals are in the trenches of an evaluation year again, and there are many questions circling the roster, whether it is the struggling MJ Melendez, the pitching that hasn't exactly performed the best, or even the breakout of Maikel Garcia. There are a ton of questions about this team, but the new face of the franchise is coming into his own.
Bobby Witt Jr. is steadily becoming the player we wanted to see this season.
Starting with the basic numbers Bobby Witt Jr. (BWJ) this season has produced a similar slash line to his rookie season with a .251/.293/.425, which is worse than last year, albeit very slightly. With the bat this year, there are a ton of similarities to last season, with some improvements and some unluckiness.
BWJ has walked more and struck out less this season while having a similar ISO to last season. Even his wOBA is eerily similar to last season, so what even improved with the bat? Outside of the slight improvements in walk rate and k-rate, the biggest improvement is BWJ's near 2% increase in barrel rate. Due to that, his hard-hit rate has also seen a spike, moving from 38.6% to 44.3%.
This is where things get weird, because of course they do for BWJ, as he is loved by all the expected numbers. Starting with xBA, BWJ has a .286 (top 9% in the league), which is 35 points higher than his actual average. His xBA isn't even the biggest difference from actual to expected values, as his xSLG is .509, an 84 point difference, and his xwOBA is .358 which is a 50 point difference from his actual. These numbers might be slightly influenced by his batted-ball profile.
BWJ has seen an increase in line-drive rate, going from 17.4% to 19.6%, a decrease in flyballs, and a similar ground ball rate. Another key aspect of this is his Hard%, similar to the hard hit rate from Savant, which spiked from 30.8 to 38.5 this year. So with steady improvements this year, what is the key issue with BWJ's bat?
The short answer is the streakiness of his offense as well as it not coming all together. Looking at his monthly splits on Fangraphs, we see that inconsistency. In March and April, BWJ wasn't great overall, with an inability to get on base (.266 OBP). In May, it was more of the same, but we saw him slug more with a SLG of .468 as well as an ISO of .234. In June, he turned into a contact bat as his average went up to .280 but his SLG went down to .380. Finally, so far in July, he has returned with power while not getting on base enough in a small sample size.
If BWJ can take the best of his first-half numbers, then the KC Royals could have their franchise player for years to come, but that hasn't happened yet. We haven't even talked about his defense or baserunning value yet, so let's talk about that quickly.
Starting with his defense, BWJ has seen a complete 180 from his rookie year, when he was a downright bad shortstop. He is in the 95th percentile in OAA according to Baseball Savant, and when watching him field, he looks like an above-average shortstop even with some bad errors still plaguing him. His baserunning is also a plus for him, as his BsR is currently at 3.8 and he is on pace for 50+ stolen bases.
Bobby Witt Jr. is only 23 and is steadily adjusting to the major leagues both in the field and with the bat. If he can continue building and developing his bat and defense, then the KC Royals will have the face of the franchise by the end of the year.