Over the weekend there was a bit of uproar at one point because Paulo Orlando was not leading off. This might be because he and Cheslor Cuthbert are the only players who seem to be hitting the baseball, lately. While everyone else - including even Cuthbert, the last couple of weeks - struggles, Paulo has displayed some of the Royals Devil Magic from the last couple of years.
A lot of people were adamant when Brett Eibner and Whit Merrifield were hitting the ball all over the place that there was a reason they were 27 year old rookies and that they wouldn’t be able to sustain it. That turned out to be true. This is almost certainly even more true for a 29 year old rookie like Paulo. A look at the numbers through Saturday morning:
The 2015 stats are included for comparison. Paulo was not a very good hitter, last year. His wRC+ is much higher this year, which seems promising. But look at that BABIP. Words like 'unsustainable' were being thrown around a lot at the end of May when his batting average was .376. His batting average has now dropped 50 points, but his BABIP is still unsustainable. There's little enough time left that it it might not catch up to him this year, but he, the Royals, and everyone else should brace for a huge drop off next season. While his slugging percentage hasn’t gone down much, it’s being buoyed by that same unsustainable batting average; check out the difference in the ISO. There's nothing that seems to justify the jump in BABIP, he's not hitting the ball any harder nor is he hitting any more line drives. Despite the decent looking slash numbers, Paulo might actually be a worse hitter, though much luckier, than he was last year.
The ISO, not coincidentally, is about the only thing the projection systems believe is sustainable. They all project him to regress quite a bit. The only good news there is that they expect him to regress defensively, too. Last year he carried a 14.3 UZR/150 in right field and a 45.8 in center field, though he was only in center for 27 innings so that one probably would have gone down, anyway. This year he has -5.4 and -9.4 UZR/150 in right and center respectively. Those are atrocious numbers, especially for a guy who has been occasionally used as a late inning defensive replacement, this year.
Unfortunately, while advanced defensive stats are notoriously unreliable with less than a season's worth of data, these results mostly pass the eye test. Compare him to other frequent outfield defensive replacement, Jarrod Dyson; he has a weaker arm, he often takes longer to get a read, and he more frequently takes bad routes to the ball. It’s particularly odd because the eye test and the metrics agreed he wasn’t terrible and might even have been really good in the outfield, last year.
Orlando's base running is in serious decline, too. This is a major problem for a player who claims speed as his best tool. Even last year he was not a good base stealer; he was only successful 50% of the time. His positive base running was mostly due to his ability to take extra bases. This year his stolen base percentage is much better, but his overall base-running (captured in the BsR stat) is down. The problem is two-fold; he isn't successfully taking bases as well as he did last year and he's not beating out or avoiding double plays like he did last year. Both can be blamed in part because he's hitting more ground balls, but not entirely. The other problem with his base-running which does not appear to be accurately captured in base running stats is just how worthless his stolen bases have been.
Of his nine stolen bases this year, only one was worth more than 1.5% WPA The combined -WPA of the two caught stealing plays far outweighs the +WPA from the successful steals. Either Orlando can't steal when it's important or other teams just aren't even really trying to catch him when it isn't.
Paulo has another problem that cannot be seen in stats alone. He plays too hard. You didn’t think that was even possible, did you? Well check this out:
Perhaps it should be said that Paulo doesn't think enough, rather than that he plays too hard. In the above scenario if Paulo plays that more conservatively the tying run scores but the go ahead run stays at first base. Maybe the Royals still lose this game, but their odds would have been much better.
How much better? One Win Expectancy calculator says that the home team with a man at third and only one out in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth is an 83.61% chance to win for the home team. Move that runner back to first and it's 66.49%. Paulo's decision there cost the Royals ~17% Win Expectancy. Very, very bad.
MLB.com won't embed the other example of Paulo's poor decision making, but you can watch it here. You probably also remember it, since it was only a couple of days ago. Paulo Orlando was thrown out trying to steal third in a one run game. Ned Yost defended his guy after the game, but the Toronto announcer in that clip say it all, "Orlando, for no reason whatsoever, took off for third!" Let's go back to that calculator:
The situation before Orlando ran was runner at second with one out and the home team down by one.That's a 27.84% chance for the home team. Put the runner on third with 1 out and that's 40% chance for the home team. Remove the runner and add an out And that's a 3.67% chance for the home team. The math doesn't support the attempted steal at all; Orlando risked ~24% WPA for an opportunity to add ~12%.
So Paulo can't run effectively, he can't field, he can't throw, he can't hit for power, and his high average is carried by a BABIP that defies all reason. So is the answer that Paulo is a horrible baseball player? No. He is a perfectly serviceable fourth outfielder, at least for another season or two. But if the Royals are counting on him to drive their offense again next season, they're probably going to be in trouble.