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2022 Season in review: Kyle Isbel

It was good. It was also bad. Maybe we have a fourth outfielder in the making.

Seattle Mariners v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Kyle Isbel went into 2022 trying to find his way to an everyday spot in the outfield. At the end of the season, it is a bit of a mixed bag for how his year went. Defensively he showed a lot of promise, but offensively he regressed a bit. Next year is going to be a pivotal year for Isbel as the Royals look to start solidifying their lineup around the young players that they see as establishing themselves as the core of the team.

2022 was Isbel’s first real run at the pro level. He did get into 28 games in 2021, where he hit about league average and kept his head above water defensively, but this season he was up on opening day and ready to contribute. Unfortunately, the bat did not look league-average this year. He finished with a 67 wRC+ hitting .211/.264/.340, significantly lower than his prior year performance and projections. Most of his problems stem from hitting the ball on the ground too much. His 2022 launch angle average dropped from 19 to 10.6 and his ground ball rate jumped from 35.3% to 43.1%.

Some players can hit the ball on the ground and use speed to get a lot of extra singles. That is not Kyle’s game. He is not slow by any means, but he is pretty middling in sprint speed for an outfielder clocking in at the 68th percentile. He’ll need to get the ball in the air more again next year to reclaim some of his power. The other thing he needs to do is walk more. Throughout the minor leagues he was walking between 7 and 11% of the time, and his first short stint in the majors was in that zone at 8.4%, but in 2022 it dropped all the way to 5.8%.

Enough with the bad, on to the good. Kyle Isbel showed himself to be a very competent outfielder this season, with the typical sample size issues with defensive stats as something to keep in mind. Though Isbel is not particularly fast, he seems to do everything else in the outfield very well. He was 72nd percentile in arm strength, so pretty solid, and 100th percentile in outfielder jump!! If he really is the best in baseball at getting a jump on the ball, that would be a great foundation for any outfielder to have. Due to that, OAA and RAA ranked him very highly in all three outfield spots, and he was the seventh-highest outs above average in baseball even though he only played in 106 games. UZR liked him less than Statcast, but still saw him as a plus defender in left and right field, and he was 9.1 Def which is quite good though not elite.

There are a couple of other things to keep in mind with Isbel. The 2023 caveat du jour is that left-handed batters may benefit from the new shift rules. He was shifted 56.8% of the time this season, and his wOBA with no shift was .290 versus .247 with the shift. Also, the first projections out have his hitting bouncing back almost to league average. He is going into his age-26 season, so heading into the traditional peak years for a player. If he is a league-average hitter, Isbel could be an everyday player if he can truly hold down center, though I assume Drew Waters is getting the first shot at becoming the future at that position. His bat just might not ever play in a corner even if the defense is a big plus there.

At the very least, Isbel looks like a very good fourth outfielder to have around for the next half-decade. I’m not sure the Royals should hope for much more than that, but that is a useful thing to have. Jarrod Dyson was a nice player to have around during the last cycle of good Royals play. Personally, I want to see another solid year out of him defensively before I am convinced that’s what he is. This season was not enough to really guarantee Isbel is a big leaguer for the long term, but I think the picture of his role is starting to solidify a bit.


What grade would you give Kyle Isbel for his 2022 season?

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  • 0%
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    (144 votes)
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    (69 votes)
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