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MLB Article: Witt Jr. Will Rebound After ‘Down’ Year in 2022

Fairly or not, a recent list of players set to rebound in 2023 included the Royals' rookie phenom.

The Kansas City Royals' 2022 season has been just about everything but productive, although rookie infielder Bobby Witt Jr. is far from the reason why. Despite that, some folks still believe he didn't live up to expectations in his debut campaign.

In an article on MLB.com, columnist Will Leitch published a piece spotlighting one player on every team "who has had a down year, but whom you shouldn't give up on just yet." Surprisingly, Witt found himself listed as the Royals' representative. Here's what Leitch wrote about the 22-year-old: 

Is it fair for a guy’s rookie year to feel like a “down” year? Such is the pressure of the hype with which Witt came into the league. Here’s a good bet, though: These are the worst numbers he’ll put up in a season for the next 10-15 years.

Regardless of whether or not it's fair, Leitch does have a point when looking at things from his perspective. Witt came into this season as the odds-on favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year award and while he's undoubtedly put up some impressive numbers, his chances of coming away with that honor are slim to none. On that basis alone, it could be argued that Witt hasn't lived up to the hype since breaking camp with the team to begin this season. 

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He's also scuffling around a league average wRC+ (103) with a measly 4.5% walk rate entering Tuesday's play. Additionally, Witt is posting a -6.5 UZR at shortstop and has one of the lowest Outs Above Average totals among all qualified big-league infielders. With glaring holes in his offensive and defensive profiles, is Witt having a "down" year? An argument could surely be made for it, and Leitch was kind in pointing out that this should be Witt's worst season for quite some time, but this is also ignoring a ton of the good things he's done in 2022.

A quick glance at Witt's Baseball Savant page shows just how impactful his high-end traits are. Not only is he in the 68th percentile in Average Exit Velocity, but he's in the 72nd percentile in xSLG and the 100th (!!) percentile in Sprint Speed. Earlier this month, the rookie phenom became just the fifth first-year player ever to join the 20-20 club (20 stolen bases and 20 home runs) and was the fourth-fastest player to reach that mark throughout the league. Among rookies with at least 300 plate appearances this season, Witt also ranks in the top 10 in the following marks: 

  • RBI (first)
  • Stolen bases (first)
  • Home runs (second)
  • SLG (eighth)
  • ISO (ninth)

So, in summary, did Leitch make a fair and honest point? Yes and no. Through a nitpicky lens, Witt did fall short of expectations this year and does have things he needs to improve on as he closes out year one and prepares for year two. He's a great candidate to "rebound" in the sense that his progression arc should lead to him naturally improving some as a defender, possibly hitting for a better average and also making better swing decisions. Heck, he may even raise his walk rate as well. Calling this a "down" year right now doesn't seem logical now but looking back on it later on, it should age relatively well.

Truthfully, the beauty of Witt's rookie season is in the eye of the beholder. The mere fact that he was included in the article pays a massive amount of respect to how highly he was regarded entering the year. Many expected Witt to set the world on fire and instead, he may have just set Kansas City baseball on fire in the best of ways. That's just fine for someone in their first season but nationally, it's easy to see why some believe that he should've done more. At any rate, Leitch's point about Witt putting up better numbers moving forward stands. This was a very solid rookie year for Witt, and the best is almost certainly yet to come.