Right field has always been a difficult position for the Kansas City Royals to get consistency out of. They've tried and failed with Jeff Francouer, Justin Maxwell, Nori Aoki, Alex Rios, Paulo Orlando, and Reymond Fuentes. After dealing Wade Davis this offseason, it appeared the Royals might actually be getting a star-caliber right fielder in Jorge Soler. But injury and ineffectivness put that on hold. The next audition would belong to Jorge Bonifacio.
For an offense that was off to a historically bad start, Bonifacio was a gift from above. For the month of May, he held a 116 wRC+. Other than Mike Moustakas, he hit more home runs than any other Royal for the month. This caused him to force the hand of the Royals, with Jorge Soler being optioned to AAA.
The month of June hasn't been as kind to Bonifacio. He hasn't been unbearable, but his .220 batting average for the month of June has caused his numbers to fall a bit. He's looked far from his May form.
We’ve seen it far too often. A player coming up from the minors, excelling in the majors, and then falling flat on their face. Cough, cough, 2016 Whit Merrifield.
After peaking offensively in May, Bonifacio has been on a general decline since then. This 15-game rolling wRC+ visualizes it.
I went ahead and tried to look and see if pitchers were handling Bonifacio differently. From early glances at pitch heat maps, it looked like opposing pitchers were pitching him more up and outside.
It’s pretty easy to figure out why too. Using this simple breakdown of the strike zone from Baseball Savant, I conducted some research.
In zones 1, 4, and 7, Bonifacio is raking with a .370 batting average. In zones 3, 6, and 9, he is less than ideal with a .237 batting average. Explains his decrease in production in June.
This seemed to be an obvious hole in Bonifacio’s swing that pitchers caught on too, as I mentioned above. So, no surprise, pitchers are pitching him differently.
What can we expect the rest of this season?
Let's just say... the projection systems aren’t all wowed by Bonifacio, ZIPS in particular. They estimated his play for the rest of the season 27% below league average, fueled by an increasing K% and decreasing BB%. ZIPS projects him to hit .229/.286/.380 the rest of the way with a 27.5% strikeout rate. But ZIPS also has trouble translating minor league numbers to the Majors sometimes.
If there will be a rough patch for Bonifacio this season, it almost promises to be driven by plate discipline issues, as it is in most cases. A player that whiffs in 23.9% of plate appearances as Bonifacio did last year in the Pacific Coast League will strike out a lot in the next level up - unless he makes adjustments.
What this means
Without a question, Bonifacio is the man in right for the Royals, as he should be. He's earned it, and frankly the Royals lack many better options at the moment. Jorge Soler is hitting the cover of the ball in AAA. At this point, however, he should be more of a threat to Brandon Moss’s playing time. Maybe Bonifacio can avoid regression I hope he does. But as history suggests, a rough patch is on the way. And another struggling hitter is the last thing this Royals lineup needs.