I'm the guy who wrote an entire software package to statistically prove that Omar Infante, a perfectly respectable MLB player, should not be featured in the second slot in the lineup, which is the second most important spot. He simply wasn't good enough and that sport should go to a better offensive player. But after only 26 games, it is clear that Omar brings something to the Roys that they sorely lack, and he has been the MVP of the team so far. I can only hope that the other players try to emulate him in so many ways:
- He hits the ball in the air. Although his HR/FB ratio is only ~6%, he has a stellar line drive percentage at 24.4% which leads the time by a wide margin. Plus, he actually does have a home run, which is more than Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Lorenzo Cain can say. His ISO of 0.128 isn't going to win any awards, but it's more than respectable. And for a second baseman on a team with an overall ISO barely north of 0.100, he's a power hitter.
- He has some semblance of plate discipline. His walk rate is 7.5%, slightly below league average but better than the team average of 7.1%. But more importantly, he only swings at pitches outside the strike zone 23% of the time. Only Jarrod Dyson has better self-control (14.3% ... !!!). League average is 29% and KC is sitting, surprisingly, only slightly higher than that at 30%.
- His approach maximizes the value of a low strikeout hitter. I've been less than impressed with KC's penchant for having the lowest K-rate in the league (since it has never translated into any run production), but Infante's 8% K-rate is once again the best on the team by a wide margin. The reason the Roys low K-rate doesn't equate offensive production (much discussed on FanGraphs) is that they swing at lots of junk and make contact with ALL of it. This is the major reason the Royals have the 8th highest GB/FB ratio in MLB at 1.52. Infante has a high contact rate when he swings outside the zone, but since he refrains from doing it as much as his teammates, he's able to post a wRC+ of 105 that isn't BABIP fueled (0.284).
Last, and I'm sure we all feel this way, it is so refreshing to see actual major-league play from second base in Kansas City. Infante doesn't lead the team in WAR, but given that our previous second basemen never posted a positive WAR in years before his arrival, he gets an extra boost from just being competent in all areas of his game. His fielding, baserunning, and hitting have all been above average.
It's been reported that Escobar has tried to emulate Infante's approach to baseball this year. That doesn't mean it's true, or that there's actual cause and effect, but Esky has recaptured some of his 2012 magic (BABIP-inflated it may be, he does have a 7.5% walk rate and the second-highest LD% among team regulars). All I can hope for is that Perez---and even Hosmer---sees his teammates' success and wants to tag along as well.
Did KC management seek him out because of his approach at the plate? It's so opposite the approach they seem to have fostered in all their home-grown talent (and many other FA signings), that I have to conclude that they simply looked at a ranked list of 2BFAs, ordered by reputation, and thought Well, we can't sign Cano, so who's next after him? Hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day....