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Hok Talk: Hunter Dozier is a success story (relatively)

The Royals’ farm system is so thin that a league-average first-baseman qualifies as a win.

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals
Celebrate Hunter Dozier!
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Hunter Dozier has played in 24 MLB games in his career. 16 of those games have come this season. He has compiled a thoroughly average slash line of .264/.339/.396/.735. Unlike what Chase Vallot has been doing in the minors, this year, there is nothing unusual or remotely interesting about that slash line. It results in a wRC+ of 102, exactly 2% above league average. It’s almost impossible to be exactly league average but Dozier is giving it the old college try. The defensive stats are conflicted with some suggesting he’s slightly below average while others suggest he’s slightly above average which comes out to average. FanGraphs says he’s been a slight negative on the basepaths, so far, this year but he has also recorded the fastest sprint speed of anyone on the team which we’ll call a wash and therefore average.

This is significantly better than what most of even the best of the Royals current crop of prospects can aspire to. Hunter also, of course, needs to at least maintain this averageishness over the long term for it to really mean anything but a lot of the best Royals prospects won’t even see the big leagues, much less get regular starts in order to prove their value to the club because they have none. The Royals, for example, thought so little of their fifteenth ranked prospect Ryan O’Hearn that they moved Hunter Dozier to first base and then signed Lucas Duda.

Hunter’s relative success isn’t without its downside, though. For one thing, it means...

Cheslor Cuthbert’s time is almost up

Cuthbert had a “promising” debut, as well, once upon a time as a rookie replacing Mike Moustakas in the lineup every day in 2016 at the age of 23. A lot of people were sold on his ability to be useful to the team early on but there were definitely warning signs. He fell off toward the end of the year, his defense was atrocious, he never walked, and he carried a .320 BABIP. That BABIP was significantly higher than any he had achieved since 2010 at the Rookie ball level unless you count the .324 he managed in 24 games at AAA in 2016 before he got called up.

And all of that added up to a whopping 95 wRC+. 5% below league average at a position where bats are highly valued. It’s not gonna cut it is what I’m saying.

He doesn’t walk, he’s never hit for much power, and he might be even worse to have clogging your bases than Salvador Perez. Even in 2016 he was a liability on offense, defense, and on the bases according to FanGraphs. He was somehow worse by FanGraphs’ Offense stat in 2017 despite getting less than a third of the plate appearances he had gotten in 2016. The Offense stat is a counting stat like WAR; it’s harder to achieve higher numbers in either direction when you have less playing time and Cheslor managed it. He was on pace to completely shatter that 2017 mark for futility this season before he got hurt, again. Most of the projection systems think he’ll rebound to hit nearer to league average over the remainder of the season but not enough to justify giving him the at-bats when Hunter Dozier is playing acceptably well and Jorge Bonifacio should be returning in less than a month.

The Royals will probably try to hide him at AAA when he’s ready to come off the DL which will require a trip through the waivers. Maybe the Braves take a shot at him rather than pay for an actually good third-baseman; heaven knows they were willing to give Jose Bautista a shot at third and Cuthbert can hardly be much worse than that. But if he makes it through waivers he might very well never see a big league field again. I won’t celebrate that fate, but I will understand it.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum...

Cal Eldred may be a coaching genius

Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred has been getting a lot of flak for how poorly Duffy has pitched, this season, but it’s entirely possible that Eldred has little to do with that. I’ve theorized that it may be entirely Yost’s fault while others have assured us that the problems are entirely in Duffy’s head. One pitcher who has no complaints about Eldred, though, is Jason Hammel.

Hammel had a rough start to the season which mirrored the rough end to last season and everyone was beginning to wonder if it might be time to send him to the bullpen or even to just release him. But his last two starts have been terrific. He has accrued 16 of his 43 strikeouts (37%) in only 12.1 of his 65.1 innings (19%). Even more impressive is that he hasn’t allowed a single home run and only walked 2 over the span which means that even though his combined BABIP in the past 2 starts is over .400 he’s allowed only a single run. If Hammel can keep pitching like this until the deadline the Royals might be able to get something for him in a trade, after all. Not a top 100 prospect or likely anything near it but a couple lottery tickets wouldn’t be out of the question at all. One of those has got to pay off eventually, right?