This has been a weird season for the Royals. For the first time since 2006, they have lost 100 games and going into the All-Star Break, they were on pace to have the worst season in franchise history. Not only were they on pace for their worst season, but it was all but a foregone conclusion.
The Royals were pacing for 116 losses, which would not only would that have obliterated Kansas City’s previous franchise mark but would have threated Major League records.
Luckily, Kansas City got hot in the second half and looked like a halfway decent team. Their second-half record sits at 30-34 and they are 14-11 in September, needing one more win against the Indians to have at least one month of winning baseball in 2018.
I think most people who watched the 2005 Royals knew all along that this 2018 team wasn’t as bad, but baseball is weird sometimes. It is so weird that it has forced me to write about the semi-historic seasons of Ryan O’Hearn, Brad Keller, and now Adalberto Mondesi in a season in which their team’s ability to beat AAA teams was once in question.
It is odd that a 102-loss team has a rookie hitting for power like we have never seen, a pitcher who is having one of the best seasons by a Royals rookie starter in the club’s history, and now a shortstop that is hitting and running better than just about every middle infielder that has ever put on a Kansas City uniform.
But here we are. Today, we are here to talk about Adalberto Mondesi. Because that last statement is absolutely true.
One could make a strong argument that Mondesi is better right now that Alcides Escobar has ever been during his 1,243 games with Kansas City. In fact, I don’t think that anybody would even bat an eye at that statement.
Let’s put aside defense for the moment — although even that could be used against Escobar right now in this argument — and focus on Mondesi’s offensive capabilities. Here’s what I’m going to propose. Not only is Mondesi, at this moment, better offensively than Escobar ever dreamed of being, but he is also having a better offensive season, specifically as it relates to power and speed, than any Royals middle infielder ever.
Let’s start with the Escobar comparison. If you follow me on Twitter or read the recap from last night’s walk-off win, you know where I’m about to go with this. When Mondesi hit his 13th homer of the season last night, I wanted to find out how many he had hit in September. I found out that he had hit 7.
That number was bigger than I thought and it also, in all of its cruelty, forced me to check on Escobar’s career-high in home runs for a season. And I found this.
Adalberto Mondesi hit his seventh home run of September tonight. Alcides Escobar’s career-high in home runs for a season?— Ryan Heffernon (@RyanHeffernon) September 28, 2018
┻┳| •.•) Seven
In just 23 September games, Mondesi matched Escobar’s career-high set back in 2016, which took him 162 games to compile. But it’s not just the home runs. It’s his entire power arsenal.
Mondesi will go into tonight’s action with a .504 SLG%. I don’t need to tell you that Escobar has never been anywhere near that number. But I should tell you that no other shortstop in Royals history with at least 250 plate appearances has a slugging percentage as high as Mondesi’s and it’s not close. No Royals second baseman has ever had a slugging percentage as high as Mondesi’s, either.
Want to look at Mondesi’s .220 ISO? Same story.
No Royals’ middle infielder has ever hit for power as Adalberto Mondesi has in 2018.
Now, as far as his value at the plate goes, his lack of on-base skills hurts him. Similar to the Salvador Perez model, Mondesi’s power has partially been offset by a .309 OBP and an anemic 3.2 BB%.
But this is what makes Mondesi unique. In the era of home run, walk, or bust hitters making up for an absent hit tool with plate discipline, Mondesi has replaced the value lost in his on-base skills with a different tool. His speed.
Not only has Mondesi hit seven home runs in September, but he has also stolen a whopping 12 bases. The only player in baseball with more stolen bases than Mondesi? That would be Whit Merrifield. The difference being that Whit hasn’t also slugged at a near .600 clip in September.
We haven’t seen a combination of power and speed like this since Bo Jackson and as far as raw physical ability, that might go for the entirety of Major League Baseball. We have had guys who hit for power and stole bases, but we haven ‘t seen a player with the combination of raw power and speed that Mondesi possesses.
Case and point? Mondesi’s infield single and bunt single numbers.
I'm not sure we have ever seen a guy who can bunt for hits and use his speed to beat out groundballs like he does who wasn't also very dependent on that skill.— Ryan Heffernon (@RyanHeffernon) September 27, 2018
Typically, when 25% of a player’s singles are coming via bunts or infield hits, he is dependent on those hits to buoy his value. And as I noted, this was very much evident with Escobar back in 2012. But that’s not the case with Mondesi because when he isn’t bunting for a hit, he’s hitting tanks.
I can’t remember a guy who played like this. You legitimately have to pick your poison with Mondesi, because if you don’t give up an extra-base hit, he will absolutely rip you to shreds on the base paths unlike anybody in baseball.
And you have to think that this infuriates teams who have to pitch to him. With a guy who has hit seven home runs this month, an infield single would seem like a treat. Last night, a walk was certainly a better outcome than the walk-off homer Neil Ramirez was hoping to avoid.
But then, unlike most power threats, Mondesi became an unstoppable force on the bases, stealing two bases, and putting Salvador Perez in position to win the game.
Right now, Mondesi has a 1.4 fWAR in September and a 145 wRC+, despite having just a .333 OBP and a 3.8 BB%. That isn’t normal. While his power has made more headlines of late, it is undoubtedly his speed that is allowing him to flirt with a 3.0 fWAR and 120 wRC+ with such bad on-base numbers.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned his defense yet and don’t have the word count to do so.
This guy is good. This guy is really good.