Before we get into Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling, I want to give a quick shout out to Chris Owings for the inspiration of this article. I’m tired of watching Owings bat and Whit Merrifield play RF to have to make room for him. The Royals have a real solution for right field. It’s just three hours away up I-29.
Brett Phillips was pretty bad at the plate in 2018. He posted a 49 wRC+ in 147 PA between Milwaukee and Kansas City, struck out in over 40% of his PA, mustered just two home runs, and appeared helpless against fastballs that were any decent. With all of that being said, Phillips still was able to produce 0.5 fWAR, and Baseball Reference actually had him down for a full 1.0 WAR, in just 51 games. That means, according to Baseball Reference, Phillips was on pace for a three-win season given regular playing time thanks to his elite defensive skill-set.
Bubba Starling has not worked out the way most Royals fans had hoped. After signing for over $7M back in 2011, Starling’s professional career has sputtered to the point that we still haven’t seen him in Kansas City. With that being said, Starling is off to a blistering start to 2019 and he’s starting to beat down the door to the big leagues.
Bubba Starling now leads all qualified Royals minor leaguers in batting average at .358. His BB/K ratio is a respectable 0.5. .151 ISO. Hell, he's even stolen 5 bases. I don't know if he will ever be a 3-win player in the big leagues, but we're damn sure going to find out soon.— Royals Farm Report (@RoyalsFarm) April 23, 2019
The Royals have preached speed and defense to us all off-season and insist on running Jorge Soler out in right. They are currently giving Chris Owings and his -0.2 fWAR self every day playing time. I’m tired of watching Whit Merrifield have to play out of position on a daily basis. His versatility is awesome when it’s NEEDED. Merrifield doesn’t NEED to play right field for Chris “36 wRC+” Owings any longer.
The 2019 solution for RF seems simple. If the Royals are serious about trying to win, if they’re serious about valuing speed and defense, if they care at all about putting butts in seats, they ought to start platooning Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling in right field.
We know what Phillips can do in the outfield and Starling is pretty dang good himself. Phillips can’t hit lefties to save his life and, while I don’t think it ought to be a strict platoon between Phillips and Starling, getting their defense involved in right field while maximizing offensive efficiencies would go a long way to make this team watchable.
The one caveat I have to all of this is a man named Terrance Gore. Gore is currently playing out of his mind at the big league level and, after months of people telling me he wouldn’t make the Opening Day roster, has receipts for your concerns littering the Royals box scores.
In all seriousness, Gore is obviously not as good as his current run would suggest, but he’s been a usable piece on a bad team that legitimately brings excitement to the game. His elite speed and ever developing defensive abilities in the outfield are exactly what the Royals claim to be all about. As long as Gore is playing like this, and as long as the Royals are willing to play him occasionally, I’m okay with Phillips and Starling continuing their development in Omaha.
That’s the problem though. Gore has just four starts to date and if he were to start too much more than that, he probably gets exposed by big league pitching. The Royals need a legitimate, every day option(s) patrolling right field and they currently haven’t been able to piece anything meaningful together. The defense that Phillips and Starling alone would provide a boost to this team and especially this pitching staff. The offensive production may not be huge, but we know Phillips is capable of hitting for some (perhaps very) occasional power and Starling is in the middle of his best offensive stretch in years.
Phillips and Starling aren’t going to magically fix this team, but they would sure go a long way in making them more watchable, and certainly more athletic.