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Hok Talk: Royals Midterm Grades

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If I was teaching this class I’d be tempted to pass out answer sheets in hopes of saving my job...

Kansas City Royals v Washington Nationals
Hunter Dozier is the star pupil
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Royals just came back from their traditional midterm break. Only Whit Merrifield met the criteria necessary to stick around and help out during the break. For a while it looked like Hunter Dozier might join him but it didn’t end up working out. But now that everyone has returned to class it’s time to hand out those midterm grades. When you’re dealing with students in a performance course rather than pure knowledge you have to grade based on the talent they came to the class with so these grades reflect what was expected of them as well as how they’ve performed. Even with that caveat, the performance has generally been so poor that I almost wonder if the team should be graded into the pavement, instead.

Catchers

Martín Maldonado - D - Maldonado was brought in not for his bat but for his glove and veteran knowledge. Maldonado has hit about as well as he usually does, so far, which is...fine. But his ability to frame seems to have completely vanished. In 2017, when he won his gold glove, he earned 23.8 FanGraphs Framing. Every other year he’s earned at least 6. So far this year he’s on pace for less than 2. The Royals might be able to find a trade partner for him due to his reputation and recent offensive surge, but they might also just be stuck with him.

Cam Gallagher - C+ - No one seriously thought Gallagher could hit and he’s not proved anyone wrong on that front. What he HAS done is proven to be a pretty decent framer in his own right; he’s already got more than four times the FRM of Maldonado in a fraction of the innings. Gallagher is cost-controlled and good enough defensively that he’ll probably be able to stick as a major league backup for a good long while. He almost certainly will never hit well enough to be more than that.

Infielders

1B - Frank Schwindel - F - The hope was that he could hit lefties well enough to platoon with Ryan O’Hearn, but it was never a strong hope. Those hopes were dashed both by his inability to hit and by the Royals’ refusal to play him in favor of veterans Lucas Duda and Chris Owings. He left the org and signed a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers at the end of May.

1B - Lucas Duda - F - This signing never made sense. And every day he remains on the roster while batting under .200 makes even less sense.

1B - Ryan O’Hearn - F - O’Hearn set the fanbase on fire with his debut in the second half of 2018. Unfortunately, despite some peripherals that suggest bad luck and perhaps because of others that suggest a failure to maintain his approach, he has been pretty miserable for the big league team this year and ultimately got demoted to AAA Omaha.

2B - Whit Merrifield - A- - He’s not been quite as good as last season. He lost some of his baserunning ability somewhere along the way but has made up for it with additional power. Unfortunately, he’s not nearly as good a defender in the outfield - where he’s spent a large chunk of his time - as he is at second base and it’s hurt his value a bit. This isn’t entirely his fault, but I sure would like to know where his baserunning smarts went because he appears to have kept his speed.

2B - Nicky Lopez - D - The jury is still out on him, 48 games isn’t a lot to base an opinion on, but so far all of his weaknesses - a complete lack of power chief among them - are on display. His strengths - an ability to avoid strikeouts and earn walks - has proven to be greatly reduced at the major league level. It possible he’ll be able to adjust before long and turn things around but walk rates and strikeout rates typically stabilize pretty early and his are both worrisome given his other hitting talents.

SS - Adalberto Mondesi - B+ - Mondesi has shown that all the hype around his defense was not unfounded. His speed, likewise, was not overestimated in the slightest. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to maintain the offensive breakout he enjoyed at the end of last season. He’s doing OK, but last year many fierce arguments were had where one side took the position that suggesting Adalberto Mondesi might be about as good as Tim Anderson was insulting to Mondesi. As it turns out Mondesi has a 90 wRC+ so far this year, not terrible for a middle infielder but not amazing either, and Anderson is currently carrying a 121 wRC+. Of course, Anderson is 26 now and Mondesi is still only 23. And even with the difference in their offensive outputs, Mondesi has a slight edge in fWAR 2.1 to 1.7 over Anderson.

3B - Hunter Dozier - A+ - Dozier has had a tremendous breakout and while he didn’t maintain the pace he set when he first stopped hitting balls directly at outfielders he’s still hitting more than well enough to justify his position on any major league roster.

UT - Chris Owings - W - Chris left because he was failing miserably and it was obvious to everyone that he wasn’t going to be able to get his grades back up to anything resembling a reasonable level. Taking a W might be better than taking an F but it’s unclear if he’ll ever receive another opportunity for an education at the major league level.

3B/1B - Cheslor Cuthbert - I - Cheslor Cuthbert came up hot as heck and convinced everyone to trust in his ability to hit again. He’s cooled off pretty drastically since then, though. He’s only played in ~30 games so far, though, and maybe he’ll turn it around again.

And maybe I’ll grow wings and fly myself to the equator to hang out with my unicorn pals.

Outfielders

LF - Alex Gordon - B+ - Alex has been significantly better than we had any right to hope after the disaster of the past three seasons. If only he’d been this good in 2016 the Royals might have had three playoff teams. Probably not, but maybe!

CF - Billy Hamilton - F - Billy was given an opportunity to play in Kansas City because they thought he was better than his previous five full seasons had shown him to be. Instead, they’ve found that he’s actually worse.

RF/DH - Jorge Soler - C - All of the following are true: Jorge Soler is on pace to break the Royals’ single-season home run record, Jorge Soler is on pace to earn more fWAR than he’s ever earned in an entire season, and Jorge Soler has been - at best - an average major league baseball player. Yes, he’s hit a bunch of home runs. But that’s all he’s doing. His batting average is 25 points lower than last season before his injury. His OBP is nearly 50 points lower. I guess that makes it more impressive that his Slugging Percentage is actually higher but the end result is a wRC+ of 108 which doesn’t justify rostering a guy who can basically only DH or just kind of be in the outfield. Whatever it is he’s doing out there I don’t think I’d call it “playing”.

OF/PR - Terrance Gore - C - Terrance Gore gets a passing grade because he had a few hot hitting games. The real reason he was here was to swipe bases and he inexplicably failed at that far more often than anyone could reasonably have expected. He had only three extra-base hits and two of them came in his first start of the season. When you only get 58 PA a single game can make a huge difference in the stats.

Pitchers

Brad Keller - B- - Royals fans were convinced Brad Keller was an ace. Maybe he will be, someday. But for now, he’s just a promising young starter who probably tops out in the middle of the rotation. The biggest concern is the drastic rise of walks allowed by the young hurler. If he can get those back under control he might get somewhere, yet.

Jakob Junis - D - For two years Jakob Junis was a perfectly cromulent starting pitcher. He wasn’t amazing, but he could hold his own at the back of a rotation. This year he’s seen his walks rise by a large amount and it has cost him dearly.

Homer Bailey - A - He hasn’t been particularly good if we’re being honest, but compared to how good he was expected to be he’s done terrific. He’s actually a viable trade candidate. Good job, Homer.

Danny Duffy - C - Danny Duffy has been slightly better than last year. That’s enough to keep him in the rotation for now but when the Royals signed him to his current deal they expected him to be the ace of the staff. Instead of he should probably be the third or fourth best starter on a competitive staff.

Jorge López - F - Despite his stuff and impressive strikeout rate he has found absolutely no success either in the rotation or the bullpen.

Glenn Sparkman - C - Glenn has met his projections just about exactly. He’s not good, but he’s not Scott Elarton or Sidney Ponson, either.

Heath Fillmyer - I - He’s only pitched 15 innings so far this year at the big league level. They were bad innings, but it’s not enough to judge him on.

Ian Kennedy - A - Ian has actually been pretty dang solid in the bullpen. To the point that people seriously talk as if he might be traded. He won’t be, but it’s nice to dream.

Jake Diekman - C - Diekman has struck out a ton of guys. He’s also walked a ton. If you want an idea of what Josh Staumont might look like at the big league level it’s probably slightly worse than Diekman’s results. Diekman has enough talent and some peripherals that suggest he’s been better than his results - check out that 3.75 FIP - so he might still get traded. That would be good.

Scott Barlow - D - It’s funny, he was a dominant force for a few weeks. But in the end, he’s aiming to not pass the class. His ERA ballooned all the way to 6.19 before he got demoted back to AAA. Not good.

Brian Flynn - A - Where on earth did his 2.82 ERA come from? He’s been doing quite well out of the bullpen for the Royals.

Richard Lovelady - I - Lovelady wasn’t doing too terribly before he got demoted. I’m not at all sure why him and not several of the others.

Brad Boxberger - F - He got cut. His 5.40 ERA shows that he wasn’t as bad as fans thought he was, but he wasn’t doing well enough to get traded. So.

Kyle Zimmer - I - He only pitched two big league innings. He’s walking WAY too many even in AAA, but at least he’s pitching.

Kevin McCarthy - F - There were always some questions about whether McCarthy could maintain his success without strikeouts. But this year he’s done his best to answer them by striking out almost half as many as before and walking nearly twice as many. It’s not gone well at all.

Jake Newberry - I - He’s been so up and down it’s hard to say much about him. He has a respectable 3.66 ERA but a horrible 6.00 FIP. Need more information.

Wily Peralta - F - His 4.78 ERA could be worse, especially in this bullpen, but the -0.3 fWAR tells you exactly how useful he’s been to the Royals.

Tim Hill - F - Would you believe his ERA is actually lower than last season? 4.50 to 4.53. Unfortunately, he’s striking fewer people out and walking more than twice as many. That’s just not going to cut it. Yeah, he’s only pitched eight innings total but those numbers are pretty atrocious.

Ned Yost - D - Yeah he’s played veterans when we’d rather see rookies but that’s an artifact of roster construction as much as anything else. Don’t complain to me about his bullpen usage. He hasn’t any good choices to make, there.

Dayton Moore - F - The Boxberger, Diekman, and Bailey signings all made sense. The Hamilton signing made less sense but you could kind of see it as being reasonable if you squinted. The Gore signing made almost no sense. The Owings signing would have been fine at a fraction of the price and a plan to play him sparingly unless he showed them a reason to do otherwise. At $3M and a plan to play him nearly every day, it was utterly incomprehensible. And cutting Brian Goodwin to put, what was at the time, a third first-baseman on the roster in the form of Lucas Duda was sheer insanity. Why do they have Tim Hill and Kevin McCarthy in the big leagues instead of Richard Lovelady? Why is Wily Peralta still here? Why is Lucas Duda still on this roster?

So yeah, the Royals are pretty dang bad. But maybe I’m a harsh grader? I’m sure you all have your own thoughts about these grades so feel free to leave them in the comments below.