I get it, I really do. Radio personalities are supposed to ask questions, analyze and then either move onto the next question or beat that same one into the ground. If a team is winning or has won, they can do no wrong, and if they’re losing, they ride the line of being imbeciles.
It’s the radio game, and most know it as you can’t earn ratings if you’re not talking in hyperbole about anything in this country. Soren Petro says it perfectly, the front offices are in the “get it right biz” and he’s part of the crowd making the judgment along with the fans. It’s a fine line to walk talking in hyperbole and making judgments, but it’s also why they’re currently making some ridiculous statements about Adalberto Mondesí. I don’t want to disparage 810 WHB as I’m a listener and love the shows they provide, but they are starting to stretch the Mondesi hyperbole a bit thin.
On The Border Patrol on Tuesday morning, Nate Bukaty had some suggestions for what the Royals could do with Adalberto Mondesí.
”I’d rather see them with the lineup they have right now.”
“I’d like to see Mondesí go the outfield.”
“Put him in the outfield rotation.”
I get it, I was part of the problem believing Mondesí would be the best talent since Carlos Beltrán. He was pushed too early by the front office, and they likely babied him by promoting him so early and often. He hasn’t lived up to the bill and has been incredibly frustrating through the injuries and struggles. That stuff aside, that hyperbole of positive fluff on the front office side and the backlash it created has formed a cloud over what he is. After all, Adalberto Mondesí is a very good defensive shortstop who can tap into some power and steal plenty of bases. Yes, he’s often injured, but on the pure skill of defense, power, and speed, he’s the best shortstop the Royals have likely had since Jay Bell.
Separate the words from what we have seen from Mondesi since he finally earned the starting job in 2018. Offensively his .265/.296/.444 line is still weighted by a strong 75-game output in 2018 due to injuries, but it’s eerily close to Salvy’s .259/.292/.484 line. It’s not a fantastic line, but there is power in there and puts him at a 95 OPS+, which says we could see more out of him, but it’s not exactly crippling the team. It’s nearly the same production that Sal has put up in that time, and I don’t hear people asking for Perez’s benching.
Like Sal, the major value he brings to the table is his ability to play good defense at one of the most challenging positions on the field to defend. He has lived up to that bill when on the field, if you believe the numbers. According to the Fielding Bible, Mondesí was at -6 runs saved in 2018 (28th among shortstops with 500 innings), +5 (11th) in ‘19, and +4 (6th) in 2020 the last three seasons, so we know he’s a plus defender at the top position on the field. In comparison, those numbers are significantly better than Alcides Escobar, who some believe was a plus defender at the position. As Soren Petro put it on The Program, “There will be no crap talking about Alcides Escobar in my presence.”
Bukaty would continue by asking “Tell me why this is a bad idea?” to play Lopez over Mondesí at shortstop. Well, according to Fielding Bible, there is some evidence that Nicky Lopez was the best second baseman defender in the league last year. That’s outstanding, But those same stats also state he’s a -12 run saved defender at shortstop in his 64 games there since ‘19. That’s before an error on Tuesday opened the floodgates to a rough inning.
That’s a small sample to bash on his defense that much, but he’s also been -2 Outs Above Average according to Baseball Savant, and Fangraphs has him negative in the defensive metrics this season at shortstop. Offensively he’s getting on base at a .353 clip heading into Tuesday’s game, which is a positive, and if he could maintain that, it would be the highest OBP by a Royals shortstop since Jay Bell in 1997. I wonder how realistic that is? Considering his average was .239 with a .324 slugging percentage? Pitchers will start to challenge Lopez, and he’s going to have to earn that OBP.
How much of this call for Nicky is about Nicky, the person? Mondesí is a quiet and shy guy with practically no media interaction. On the other hand, Nicky has an engaging personality who will talk with the media whenever asked. Mondesí has been on the hype train for years, which I was a part of since seeing him in Arizona at instructs as a 16-year-old. On the other hand, Lopez is a grinder, a fifth-round pick who had to go level to level and shove his way up.
Players can earn credit from the media and get hyped based on those personalities. It’s natural to take it easy if that player is nice and willing to help you do your job. I think we’ve seen that with Eric Hosmer. He was a good player in KC with some ups and downs, but he’s a one-time All-Star (via the fan vote) and a slightly better-than-average hitter according to the metrics. His availability to the press clouded over some issues defensively and offensively. He was hardly someone that a small market team should give a $100+ million contract because he’s good at interviews.
So setting all this hyperbole aside, what is Mondesí? He’s an oft-injured shortstop that is the best defender the organization has had at shortstop in quite some time. He’s a streaky offensive player that provides power, and he’s a good base stealer. He provides more power, speed, and defensive skill than Nicky Lopez but gets on base at a worse clip. Still, mix it all up when he’s healthy and there is no doubt he should get the call to play the position. Lopez is a valuable commodity that can help on the bench and give days off because of Mondesi’s oft-injured status. If Bobby Witt Jr. is ready at some point, we can examine all these factors again, but it’s time to put the hyperbole aside and remember that Mondesi is the best option to play shortstop in 2021.