Back in December of 2016 the Royals traded away top closer (and human/robot hybrid) Wade Davis straight-up for a young outfielder named Jorge Soler from the Cubs. The move was highly controversial among Royals fans. Many believed it was a solid move to trade one season of Davis for several of Soler, and others believed the return to be far too light for a pitcher who arguably had the best 2-3 season run of any relief pitcher in history.
Soler struggled to stay healthy in 2017 and 2018, appearing in 96 games and accumulating exactly zero fWAR over the time, but being under contract through the 2021 season there was some hope that he would eventually become the middle-of-the-order power bat he was projected to be.
Finally, the 2019 season came. In terms of raw numbers, Soler smacked 48 home runs (shattering the old Royals record of 38 and out-pacing the entirety of the AL while playing half of his games at the K), scored 95 runs (41st best in baseball) and knocked in 117 RBIs (7th best).
Compared to his 61 games in 2018, he had the same batting average (.265) and on base percentage (.354), which is strange but not unheard of (Khris Davis, anyone?). His K% and BB% remained within one percentage point of the previous season, however his slugging percentage went up a whopping .103, from .466 to .569.
Maintaining that consistency while adding significant “pop” to your bat is impressive, and the results speak for themselves. His wRC+ (a stat which measures production vs the rest of the league with 100 being average) is 136, good for 20th in baseball. His 3.6 fWAR is tied for 45th in baseball despite being hit with the DH penalty. Among players who DH primarily, he is 3rd in WAR and 4th in wRC+.
The season was not a straight line of success for the slugger, however. Through June 1 he had an OBP of .290 with a rRC+ of only 98. He was walking at only a 6% clip while striking out 30.3% of the time. His struggles came to a head on April 21st against the Yankees, where he struck out in all five of his at bats (earning the not-coveted “platinum sombrero”). There was much dismay after that game that the Royals had severely lost the Wade Davis trade.
From July 1 to the end of the season, however, Soler turned it up to a whole different level. During the last three months he hit at a staggering .301/.409/.649 clip, a 170 wRC+, and hit 26 home runs, making him the sixth-best hitter during that span in baseball.
I don’t want to speculate on what might have changed from the first half to the second half, but if Soler is able to maintain some of the gains he achieved from the second half for the entire season, he could be one of the best hitters in the game, period.
It’s hard to label the 2019 season as anything short of a complete success for Soler. Simply recreating this season each year would be amazing, but there is still some indication that Soler has room to improve, which is extremely exciting. If he can stay healthy, the 2020 season could be massive for the young slugger. Given that, it may behoove the Royals to look at locking him up for a few extra years via extension. A bat like his doesn’t come along every day, so when you have a chance to lock it up you have to at least consider it.
What grade would you give Jorge Soler for his 2019 season?
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