Top Notes From the Kansas City Royals ZiPS Projections for 2024

The Royals have made several significant additions this offseason. What does ZiPS have to say about their outlook for the upcoming season?

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 18: Jose Ramirez #11 of the Cleveland Guardians attempts a steal as Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals covers second base during the game at Kauffman Stadium on September 18, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Kansas City Royals were one of the worst teams in baseball last season. With a 56-106 record and a -183 run differential, their ineptitude was on full display, even though they played in the least competitive division in the league.

Despite poor overall results, the Royals’ season was not without a few promising developments. Chief among them was the emergence of Bobby Witt Jr., who came into his own as a true superstar in his sophomore campaign. Needless to say, he will be the single most important piece in Kansas City’s ascension to contention.

On the pitching side, midseason acquisition Cole Ragans blossomed into an ace down the stretch. Over the final two months of the season, he made seven quality starts, helping the hapless Royals to victory in six of his outings. The 26-year-old lefty looks to be a solid piece of the club’s rotation for years to come.

Royals GM J.J. Picollo has spent the past few months adding veterans to complement his young core. While he didn’t sign any stars, the executive spent a combined $109.5 million on Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, Hunter Renfroe, Will Smith, Chris Stratton, Adam Frazier, and Garrett Hampson to raise his team’s floor.

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Picollo isn’t making a genuine push for the AL Central title, but clearly, he doesn’t want to lose another 100 games.

So, how can we calibrate our expectations for the Royals this coming season? The 2024 ZiPS projections are a great place to start.

What Is ZiPS?

ZiPS is a player projection system created by writer and sabermetric analyst Dan Szymborski, currently of FanGraphs. He has spent the past twenty years developing and refining the design. Here’s a quick summary of how the system works, courtesy of

ZiPS is a system of player projections developed by FanGraph’s Dan Szymborski… ZiPS uses past performance and aging trends to develop a future projection for players. On FanGraphs, the projections are updated daily and predict each player’s numbers over the course of the remainder of the season… Obviously, no one is claiming that every ZiPS prediction will come true, but it is widely regarded as one of the most accurate predictors in the industry.”

sZymborski Projection System (ZiPS)”

Over the first few months of the offseason, Szymborski slowly published the ZiPS projections for every team, accompanied by an in-depth write-up. In November, he published the first set of projections for the Royals. Here are some key takeaways.

Royals ZiPS: Position Players

  • Bobby Witt Jr. is a star, but you already knew that. Not only does Witt have the best projections among Royals players (duh), but ZiPS has him posting the third-highest fWAR among all shortstops. That puts him ahead of superstars Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor, thanks to better defense than the former and better offense than the latter. With another Gold Glove-caliber season at short, Witt could easily surpass his already-elite projections.
  • Maikel Garcia is a defensive stud. ZiPS has Garcia leading all AL third basemen in defensive value. Across MLB, only third base wizard Ke’Bryan Hayes is ahead of him. Thanks to his stellar glove, Garcia projects to rank second among Royals position players in fWAR – despite his dismal offensive projections (.261/.318/.362, 84 wRC+).
  • The rest of the lineup is uninspiring. After Witt and Garcia, no position players project for more than 1.8 fWAR. Keep in mind, an average regular is worth about two wins above replacement. Two more hitters project for above-average offense (Vinnie Pasquantino and MJ Melendez), but they also project to be the two least valuable defenders on the squad.
  • ZiPS doesn’t love the free agent acquisitions. The Royals added three position players on the free agent market: Hunter Renfroe, Adam Frazier, and Garrett Hampson. Unfortunately, none of them projects to have much of an impact on the lineup. Renfroe’s bat took a big step backward last year, and while the Steamer projection system thinks he’ll bounce back, ZiPS isn’t so confident. Conversely, ZiPS isn’t buying Hampson’s breakout season at the plate in 2023. As for Frazier, most of his value comes from his ability to play good defense at second. Although ZiPS doesn’t think he’ll be nearly as bad as he was last year (-4 DRS, -15 OAA), the system doesn’t think he’ll bounce back enough to compensate for his meager bat.

Royals ZiPS: Pitching Staff

Starting Pitchers

  • Cole Ragans: solid if unspectacular. ZiPS likes Ragans, but the system hasn’t fully bought in on last year’s breakout sensation. His projected 4.04 ERA and 4.01 FIP look disappointing next to his 2.64 ERA and 2.49 FIP with the Royals in 2023. Yet, if I told a fan last summer that Kansas City would get a 26-year-old starter capable of leading the team in ERA and fWAR in exchange for half a season of Aroldis Chapman, they’d have been thrilled. Ragans doesn’t need to be an ace to be a valuable cog in the starting rotation and a building block for the future.
  • ZiPS doesn’t love the free agent acquisitions. Sound familiar? ZiPS likes the pitching additions more than the position players, but still, neither Seth Lugo nor Michael Wacha projects to be a difference-maker. The two former Padres project for 1.0-1.5 fWAR with ERAs in the mid-fours. Those would be adequate numbers for a Royals team in need of innings. At the same time, those projections represent a step backward for a pair of pitchers who combined for 5.4 fWAR and a 3.40 ERA in 2023.
  • Strikeouts will be hard to come by. Only one Royals starter, Ragans, projects for a strikeout rate above average, and even then, he barely squeaks past last year’s 22.1% league-average mark. In an age when strikeouts are more valuable than ever, Kansas City is playing a dangerous game.

Relief Pitchers

  • Will Smith and Chris Stratton were solid pickups. I shudder to think what this bullpen would look like without its two biggest free agent additions. Smith and Stratton project to be two of the three most valuable arms in the ‘pen, the other being trade acquisition Nick Anderson. Neither Smith nor Stratton is likely to duplicate their 2023 seasons (when they were each worth 1.1 fWAR), but they should be able to eat innings without letting games get out of hand.
  • ZiPS is cautiously optimistic about Nick Anderson. Anderson is a bit of a wild card. He was terrific in his rookie and sophomore seasons, posting a 2.77 ERA and 3.0 fWAR in 81.1 IP. Then he missed most of the next two years with an elbow injury. He looked solid when he got back on the mound in 2023, but a shoulder strain kept him out for most of the second half. His projected 4.06 ERA might seem high compared to his career 2.93 ERA, but if he can stay on the field all year with an ERA below 4.00, it would be impossible not to call his season a success.
  • This bullpen could really use a fearsome reliever. Smith, Stratton, and Anderson are capable MLB arms. They’re the kind of guys almost any team could use in the ‘pen. However, when those are your three best relievers, your bullpen isn’t going to strike fear into the eyes of any opponents. On the bright side, at least the Royals won’t blow too many saves – because they won’t find themselves in very many save situations to begin with.

Royals ZiPS: Final Thoughts

The projections don’t sugarcoat it: The Royals are not a good baseball team. Their floor should be significantly higher this season, but they haven’t done much to raise their ceiling. Their bullpen is pitiful, their rotation is dreary, and their lineup lacks star power behind Witt.

The AL Central is such a weak division that the Royals could still contend if enough of their players reach their 80th-percentile projections while their rival teams falter. It’s unlikely, but stranger things have certainly happened. Still, Royals fans should brace themselves for the disappointment of their eighth consecutive losing season.

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