Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. finished with 4.4 bWAR last season. 

I predict you’ll read that and not like it. Yes, we can get into a whole discussion over whether Baseball-Reference WAR is the “correct” WAR to use (FanGraphs has him at 5.7, Baseball Prospectus at 5.4). We’re not going to have that discussion here.

Indulge me here and let’s work off the premise that 4.4 bWAR and his -6 Defensive Runs Saved was close to “correct” even though those other sources (and Royals fans) believe he was worth more in each of those stats.

The best player in baseball in a season is usually worth between 8 to 10 bWAR.

Given Witt’s improvement from 2022 to 2023, a similar improvement from 2023 to 2024 would be a big jump. It got me wondering: What would it look like for Witt to be the best player in baseball this season? 

Or perhaps, we ask this: 

How do you do better than 30 home runs and 49 steals playing a premium position at a high level every day?

Fortunately there’s a recent shortstop season within that 8 to 10 WAR range that we can measure Witt against. That was Marcus Semien in 2019. 

Semien played in all 162 games that season. Witt played in 158 in 2023.

Let’s compare their production:

Semien ‘19 .285 .369 .522 .891 139 7 33-10 8.5
Witt Jr. ‘23 .276 .319 .495 .814 120 -6 30-49 4.4

Even though Witt has a pretty big stolen base advantage, there are large gaps when comparing their offensive numbers. Semien reached base more often and hit for more power.

For all of Witt’s excellence, he made a lot of outs as a hitter in 2023 (the 2nd-most in the AL).

That kept his OBP and the number of runs he was able to create as a hitter down even with gaudy home run and stolen base numbers. And though he hit 30 home runs, his slugging percentage ranked 20th of the 29 players who hit that many.

Dan Szymborski sent me his ZiPs projections for Witt in 2024. This is Witt’s 80th percentile projection. 

.301 BA, .345 OBP, and .542 Slug Pct. 

That’s an .887 OPS, which is almost even with Semien’s .891. That should move him a lot closer to being an 8-to-10 WAR player.

So the next question is, how does Witt go from his hitting and defensive numbers to something that puts him in the caliber of the best players of the game?

Note: For the sake of brevity, I’m going to work off the idea that Witt Jr.’s baserunning numbers (a small component of his WAR) are similar in 2024 to what they were in 2023


To reach his 80th percentile ZIPs projection, Witt needs 18 more hits, 30 more total bases, and a similar walk level compared to 2023. 

Our VP of Baseball, Bobby Scales, played 2 seasons in the majors and worked in player development for multiple major league teams.

Scales said that the thing to watch with Witt is how he learns what pitches not to swing at.

Fewer swings at pitches that cause Witt problems means more potential swings at pitches Witt could crush. 

And as Scales pointed out, every indication was that Witt was doing that last season, his second season in MLB. 

Witt’s chase rate was down by more than 3 percentage points from his rookie numbers. His rates of hitting the ball hard went up almost 7 percentage points and hitting the ball to the opposite field went up by more than 4 percentage points.

In particular, Witt closed one hole in his swing in 2023. He became a better high-ball hitter (which went hand-in-hand with being better vs. fastballs). He was choosier against those pitches (a lower chase rate) and did more damage on what he could reach (his slugging percentage against those pitches went up 201 points and his OPS nearly 300 points as his home runs jumped from 2 in 2022 to 8 in 2023).

Here are some examples (here, here, and here)

Bobby Witt Jr. vs High Pitches*

2022 2023
BA .159 .237
OPS .523 .821
HR 2 8

* SIS defines “high” as pitches that are in the upper-third of the strike zone or above it (also covering areas off the plate inside or outside that meet that height definition).

Witt also seems aware that one of his key strengths is the ability to crush the inside pitch. He was choosier against those in 2023 too and his OPS against those pitches in his 2 MLB seasons has been at least 100 points above MLB average both years (.911 and .882).

Here are some examples (here, here, and here)

Bobby Witt Jr. vs Inside Pitches

2022 2023
BA .282 .294
OPS .911 .882
HR 12 14

* SIS defines “inside” as pitches that are on the inner-third of the strike zone or further inside (also covering areas above and below the strike zone that meet that width definition)

Still, there’s a gap between the elite hitters in MLB and what Witt is right now.

The 2 areas in which Witt is weakest are pitches at the bottom of the zone and below it (low pitches) and pitches on the outer-third and further off the plate (outside pitches). 

This chart shows those numbers with MLB averages in parentheses.

Bobby Witt in 2023

Vs Low Pitches Vs Outside Pitches
BA .241 (.223) .232 (.221)
OPS .649 (.652) .643 (.635)
% Swings Missed 27% (33%) 30% (30%)
Chase Rate 32% (32%) 26% (28%)

* SIS defines “low” as pitches that are in the lower-third of the strike zone or further down, as well as areas off the plate inside or away that meet that height definition

** * SIS defines “outside” as pitches that are on the outer third of the strike zone or further outside(also covering areas above and below the strike zone that meet that width definition)

Not coincidental, last season Witt’s numbers vs breaking pitches (particularly from righties) weren’t great either. 

Here’s a few examples of Witt making outs on pitches that were down, away, or both (here, here, here, and here).

Witt’s stats against these pitches are mostly close to MLB average (though it is good to see him with a relatively low rate of missed swings vs low pitches).

And it stands to reason that pitchers will keep trying to get him out there, even as he’s gotten smarter about knowing what to hit and what to let go.

So it will be interesting to see if Witt’s game becomes one in which he spits on those pitches more (or fouls them off to extend at-bats), and waits for the pitches he can muscle up (inside or over the middle of the plate) OR if Witt can adjust to hit those pitches better and do more damage against them, without losing what he can do against pitches in other areas.

One other point: Witt’s expected stats, both via Baseball Savant and via our measures, were better than his actual year-end stats. So even if Witt just replicates his batted ball set from 2023, there’s a fair chance for better stats in 2024. So imagine what he’d be when you combine that and an improved batting eye.


Even though we may not have Witt as highly ranked as other defensive stat sources, we still have him as one of 2023s most-improved defenders. He went from -18 runs at shortstop in 2022 to -6 in 2023. He cut back on his mistakes (we call them Misplays & Errors) and he made more of what we call Good Fielding Plays (Web Gems and smart baseball plays, like keeping a ball on the infield to prevent baserunner advancement).

Bobby Witt at Shortstop

2022 2023
Good Fielding Plays 17 29
Defensive Misplays & Errors 37 35
Innings Played at SS 826 1,280

Let’s also look at Witt and Semien side-by-side defensively Remember that Semien finished with 7 Runs Saved in 2019. Witt totaled -6.

To illustrate the gap, let’s focus on one aspect of their defensive play: How they fared on getting outs on balls hit to their left. It’s the biggest difference between the two of them.

The numbers here are their plays made and opportunities (opportunities are any play with a >0 out probability), how successful they were (plays made divided by opportunities) and plays saved (our version of Outs Above Average).

On Plays To Their Left

Plays Made/Opportunities Success Rate Plays Saved
Witt 2023 151/296 51% -7
Semien 2019 157/225 70% +10

You can see there’s a pretty big gap. Semien was very good at making these plays. Witt did not rate well (a few examples here, here, and here).

Now, the point here is not that Witt needs to be better on balls to his left. It’s that – at least by our measures – Witt needs to improve somewhere. He was also -5 Plays Saved on balls hit to his right so that’s another area where he’s gotten better but rates below average.

On the positive side, Witt was a +4 on balls that our system judged were hit at him, a bump from -4 in 2022.

Again, there’s good news for Witt here. For one thing, he’s shown he can get better (we talked about this with him on the Sports Info Solutions Baseball Podcast last year). And he was our co-Defensive Player of the Month in July, a month in which he totaled 5 Runs Saved. He just needs to play at that level for an extended period of time, not just a month. 

Why I wrote this

The primary reason I wrote this piece was I was looking for a way to justify a world in which the Royals are a playoff contender. FanGraphs currently projects them for 76 wins, Baseball Prospectus for 71.

Pushing Michael Wacha and Vinnie Pasquantino up a win in their projected WAR can only do so much. The Royals need a player to make the kind of jump that gives a team a jolt.

The easiest knob to turn to accelerate the Royals to playoff-caliber status is one in which Witt goes from being the Royals best player in 2023 to baseball’s best player in 2024. That could change their win total by a decent amount.

That’s asking a lot of someone so young who is trying to live up to a massive contract extension. But if the Royals are going to make the playoffs, they’re going to need something to be above and beyond expectations. Witt being the superduperstar we’ve written about here is that thing.