Whenever a team gets a new player, the player puts on a jersey and hat, smiles, gets his picture taken and says he’s glad to be there. The team’s general manager puts his arm around the new player and says the team is glad to have him.
On Tuesday, that team was the Kansas City Royals, and that player was Jorge Soler.
A new-player news conference is a nice photo opportunity but not overly informative, so let’s dig into the numbers and see what we can learn about the Royals’ new right fielder. (Remember: for a guy who has three years in the big leagues, we’re working with a fairly small sample size. Soler has played in 211 games, with 765 plate appearances and 682 at-bats.)
And away we go.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Most people at the Soler news conference were talking about his power and agreed the Royals could use some.
But power in Wrigley Field might not translate into power in Kauffman Stadium. Wrigley is deeper at the foul poles, but Kauffman is deeper everywhere else. A home run that lands in the first few rows of the left-center gap in Chicago is a warning-track out in Kansas City.
Soler has 27 career home runs and last season hit 12 in 227 at-bats. But if you’re thinking that Soler would hit 30 homers if he had 600 at-bats, it probably won’t work that way. Presumably, the Cubs sat Soler against the guys he didn’t hit well against, and Soler hit those homers while playing his home games in a smaller park.
In 2016, only three American League teams allowed fewer home runs at home than the Royals, and no American League hit fewer home runs at home. A lot of home runs turn into long fly-ball outs in Kauffman Stadium, and that’s the reason the Royals emphasize line drives and plugging the gaps.
Most of the time, power and strikeouts go hand-in-hand. To hit home runs, most guys have to pull the ball; to pull the ball, guys have to start their swing earlier. And when a player starts his swing earlier, that player gets fooled more often. Soler struck out in 211 of his 682 career at-bats, which is about 31 percent of the time ... and that’s a lot.
After the Royals won the 2015 World Series, Rusty Kuntz said they had shown the value of getting the ball in play and making the other team play the game. That year, the Royals struck out 973 times, fewer than any other American League team. In 2016, the Royals struck out 1,224 times; they got away from their “get-the-ball-in-play” formula and it cost them.
Unless something changes in 2017, Soler will be part of the problem, not part of the solution.
In 211 career games, Soler has stolen four bases in five attempts. That would be a pretty good day for Jarrod Dyson.
Soler will get to work with the best base-running coach in the big leagues (Rusty, you owe me), so maybe Soler can learn to do a delayed steal or figure out another other way to become some kind of threat on the base paths. That gets the man at the plate more fastballs.
But once again it appears Soler will not do much to improve that part of the Royals’ game.
Right fielders have the longest outfield throw (right to third base), so they generally need a strong and accurate arm. A quick internet search reveals that some observers think Soler has a “top-notch” arm, but I wanted to talk to Kuntz for his opinion.
I texted Rusty, but when he gave me his cell phone number he said he was happy to do so because he didn’t plan on answering ... and so far Rusty has kept that promise.
According to Rustin Dodd’s story, Dayton Moore has called Soler’s defense average. But you don’t have to spend too much time on the internet to find stories suggesting it’s below average. And Soler has trouble running routes on fly balls — not what you want in a park the size of Kauffman.
In 2015, the Royals’ pitching staff had the third-lowest ERA in the American League, and if I counted right, only one team gave up fewer unearned runs.
The Royals emphasized pitching and defense and it paid off. Talk to scouts from other teams, and they would say the Royals’ athleticism stood out; Kansas City had good athletes all over the field.
On the surface, Soler appears to be just the kind of player the Royals have avoided in the past: a guy who isn’t fast, has problems on defense and strikes out a lot.
But that’s the past; sometimes a club is interested in a player because it believes its coaches that can fix the flaws in his game. On the other hand, sometimes a club is interested in a player because he has a club-friendly contract.
And sometimes it’s both.
It will be interesting to see if the Royals can turn Soler into their kind of player, because right now he doesn’t appear to be their kind of guy.
Maybe Kuntz can fix that.