Jorge Soler breaks Royals single-season home run record
Royals slugger Jorge Soler rewriting the franchise’s record book seemed inevitable given the mixture of his strength and the raw power in his swing, but that doesn’t make it easy. It also doesn’t mean that it came without trepidation.
After all, the Royals traded away one of the top relief pitchers in Major League Baseball and one of the heroes of their back-to-back World Series appearances and the 2015 championship in Wade Davis in order to get Soler from the Cubs.
Soler has admitted that the fact he was traded for Davis weighed on him and stuck with him as he struggled through injury-shortened seasons and tried to make a mark on the organization that displayed so much faith in him and gave up so much to get him.
The fact that Soler passed his former teammate and another hero of the World Series teams, Mike Moustakas, to break the franchise record for home runs in a season serves as vindication for Soler.
When it was suggested he’d proven he was worth what the Royals gave up to get him, Soler replied, “I feel good. Thank God. And I think the organization feels pretty good, too.”
This season, Soler has established himself as one of the best power hitters in the majors, and one of the best to wear a Royals uniform. He entered Wednesday with a season slash line of .255/.348/.542 to go with his 39 home runs, 27 doubles and 100 RBIs in 139 games.
He’s become markedly more consistent in the second half of the year. Since the All-Star break, Soler has batted .287 with a .422 on-base percentage and a .634 slugging percentage, proof that he’s learned to adjust to the way pitchers have attacked him.
“Right around the All-Star break I wanted to get more disciplined,” Soler said. “I was striking out too much. When I got to two strikes I was an easy out. They weren’t throwing me strikes and I was swinging at stuff out of the zone. I went home and decided I needed to walk more and be more disciplined. That’s what I’ve done.”
Before the break, Soler struck out in 29% of his plate appearances and walked in 7.4%. Since the break, Soler has struck out in 21% of his plate appearances and walked at 17.4% clip.
“He’s up there with the best power hitters I’ve ever seen,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Again, he’s going to be more than a power hitter. He’s just starting to scratch the surface of what he’s going to do. Thirty-nine homers is really special. It’s a franchise record. But he’s got 100 RBIs. That’s 100 RBIs he got on that three-run homer (Tuesday) too, and we’re still at September 3rd. He’s going to be a prodigious run producer.”
Power in perspective
Earlier this summer with Soler’s march to history underway, Royals leadoff hitter and All-Star Whit Merrifield spoke to just how awe-inspiring Soler’s accomplishments have been and how they’re still undervalued because of one huge factor: Kauffman Stadium.
“He’s not getting the recognition that he should, and it’s not apples-to-apples with what he’s doing compared to what other guys are doing because he has to play in this park for half of his games,” Merrifield said. “This park takes away a lot of homers. It just is what it is.”
Kauffman’s field dimensions measure 330 feet down the lines, 387 feet in power alleys and 410 feet to straightaway center.
The division rival Detroit Tigers play home games at Comerica Park, which measures 345 to left field, 330 to right, and 420 to center. The big difference comes in the left-center and right-center power alleys. Left-center field measures 370 feet (17 feet shorter than Kauffman) and 365 to right-center field (22 feet shorter than Kauffman).
This season, Soler has blasted six homers at Comerica in 43 plate appearances (38 at-bats).
MLB home run leader Cody Bellinger plays 81 home games per season in a ballpark where the center field wall is 15 feet shorter than Kauffman Stadium, while the left-center and right-center gaps are 12 feet closer.
New York Mets slugger Peter Alonso (44 homers), Milwaukee Brewers star Christian Yelich (43) and Angels star Mike Trout (44) all play in smaller parks than Soler.
Merrifield, who has hit 12 of his 16 home runs this season on the road, also insisted that ballpark size affects at-bats in ways statistics don’t measure.
“You could put a spray chart up anywhere you want, and you can say he would of hit six more homers if he was playing in Houston or New York or Cincinnati or wherever,” Merrifield said. “That doesn’t factor in the approach change when he steps in the box in a place like Cincinnati and knows he can hit a ball to right field, doesn’t have to catch it perfectly, and it’ll still be a homer. Here, he can’t do that.”
Park Factor as calculated by ESPN.com rates Kauffman Stadium as the second-worst stadium in the majors for batters to hit home runs this season through Sept. 3. It ranked behind only San Francisco’s Oracle Park.
Baseball Prospectus breaks down home run factor by ballpark and separates right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters. It’s rankings put Kauffman Stadium as the worst ballpark for a right-handed batter to hit home runs. Left-handed hitters home run factor in San Francisco’s Oracle Park ranked the worst in the majors.
Somehow Soler has thrived in a place that’s largely recognized as a Death Valley for potential home runs.
“Everyday I go out for early BP to watch him swing,” Yost said. “He’ll hit balls that I think ‘OK that ball is not going out,’ and it goes over the second wall. I think that balls not going out because he had so much loft to his drives. He’s so strong. It’s like is that ball going out? Boom, it’s in the fountains. I’m amazed every day with the display of power he puts on in batting practice. For me, I enjoy watching it.”