Salvy does it again!
Perez ties the single season club record, but exits early. The Royals answer next year's center field question. Colby Wilson stops by with his take on a high-priced platoon the Royals should consider.
The strong finishing kick is officially here. What, you doubted the Royals would hit the September afterburners? Fat chance.
The Royals jumped to an early lead, gave it back and then broke a late-inning deadlock to beat Cleveland by a final of 10-5. They’ve scored 16 runs over the first two games of their final homestand of 2021. In their six previous games, beginning with the second game of the double-dip in Cleveland last Monday, they scored 14 runs total.
Naturally, the entire evening centered around one Salvador Perez. There was the outstanding…and then the exit.
Did Salvy hit a home run?
I keep asking, but I’m starting to think this is a stupid question.
Of course, Salvy hit another home run.
Again, these Perez homer gifs are absolutely mesmerizing. Look at the location of the pitch…belt-high but off the outer edge of the plate. Then look at where the ball ends up. This is Kauffman Stadium, damnit. The baseball isn’t supposed to travel there even when the pitch is a center-cut meatball. For Perez to flip it out there is just another example of his brute strength and malice at the plate.
He. Is. A. Power. Hitting. Machine.
He’s now tied with Jorge Soler for most home runs hit in a single season by a Royal. Soler’s power binge in 2019 was equally amazing. Given the history of this club and the stadium where they play, that number of 48 seemed to be secure for years to come. I certainly didn’t expect Perez to be the one to tie the record with a chance to own it outright.
Naturally, the home run gave the Royals the lead after they fell behind in another wobbly first inning. The 18th time this year one of Perez’s home runs has put his team in front. Oh, I should probably mention it was a three-run blast coming after a Whit Merrifield leadoff double and an eight-pitch plate appearance from Nicky Lopez where he drew a walk.
Let’s go to the leaderboards!
Both Toronto and the White Sox are off Thursday while the Royals finish up their series against Cleveland.
But will Salvy be in the lineup?
Perez left Wednesday’s game after the second inning when he stumbled down the dugout stairs leaving the field. The stumble came in the middle of the second inning and he tried to hit when his turn came back around in the bottom half of the second, but he didn’t feel right and left the game with what the Royals announced was a right ankle sprain.
That’s an injury that could finish the season of a mortal baseball player. But this is Salvador Perez. Not only is he a power-hitting machine, but his pain tolerance is also off-the-charts high. You know the Royals medical staff was immediately put to work following the diagnosis. Ice. Tape. Whatever it takes to get Perez to where he can swing the bat. It was a bad fall but would you be surprised if he was back in the lineup on Thursday? I sure wouldn’t.
The night started as a celebration, but ended on a bit of a down note. We know what Perez means to this city and this fanbase. But he means just as much to his own team. If he can put a little pressure on that back leg and swing a bat, he’ll be in the lineup.
Royals answer next year’s center field question
Prior to Wednesday’s game, the Royals announced they signed center fielder Michael A. Taylor to a two-year contract extension worth $9 million. He will earn $4.5 million in 2022 and $4.5 million in 2023. He can receive up to $250,000 in plate appearance bonuses in each of the next two years.
By the time the 2021 season comes to a close, Taylor will set career-high for games played and plate appearances. In every season since 2015 when he set those career highs, save one, he has finished with a wRC+ between 69 and 79. His outlier season came when he posted a 104 wRC+ in 2017. Currently, Taylor is hitting .244/.298/.359 with a 79 wRC+. His career averages are .239/.293/.387 with a 79 wRC+. (wRC+ is weighted runs created plus. Scaled to where 100 is average, this means Taylor is 21 percent worse than a league-average hitter.) The Michael A. Taylor we saw at the plate this year is who he is as a hitter…Decidedly below average with a little bit of pop and the ability to swipe a bag while getting on base a little under 30 percent of the time.
That’s not great. But that’s not where his value lies. The Royals extended Taylor because of his ability to pick it (and throw) in the spacious acreage of Kauffman Stadium’s center field.
Baseball Savant has Taylor at 15 Outs Above Average and 13 runs prevented, best among major league center fielders. (He’s tied for lead in runs prevented with Harrison Bader of the Cardinals.) Savant’s defensive metrics grade Taylor as an excellent defender ranging to both his left and his right.
The Fielding Bible grades Taylor at 20 Defensive Runs Saved. Again, that leads all center fielders in the majors by a wide margin. Bader is second in DRS among center fielders with 15. The Fielding Bible has Taylor’s arm as saving six runs, again the most in the majors.
With just a handful of games remaining, Fangraphs has Taylor at 1.9 fWAR with obviously all of that coming from his defensive contributions. He has to be the front-runner for the Gold Glove in center for the AL. He’s been that good on defense.
We know the Royals value athletes and we know they value players who can cover the space in the outfield at The K. Had Taylor exited the club via free agency, it would’ve left the team with limited options. The market was already thin at the position. The in-house options would’ve been Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares who are unconvincing at the position or perhaps Adalberto Mondesi or Whit Merrifield, who have more defensive value elsewhere. They grabbed Taylor last year to plug a hole that’s existed since the departure of Lorenzo Cain. Taylor isn’t Cain’s equal at the plate, nor is he as graceful while patrolling the outfield, but the defensive value is awfully high. With no one on the horizon to fill the spot to the front office’s satisfaction, Taylor is retained to continue to fill that hole.
The money is right for a player who struggles with the bat but shines with the glove. As is typical, the Royals probably overpaid with that second year, but it’s not an egregious amount. If Taylor completely tanks in that second year and loses a couple of steps in the outfield, $4.5 million isn’t going to break the bank.
However, to carry a player in the lineup with an unproductive bat like Taylor’s, they’ll need above-average production at other spots to cover. That means sustained quality from Perez and Lopez. That means reversing, or stalling, the decline of Merrifield. And that means a full season of Mondesi, the September production from Andrew Benintendi and the as-promised arrival of Bobby Witt Jr. It’s always risky to bet on improvement across the board.
Taylor will be worth it for his glove alone. The front office will need to make sure he has help around him in the lineup.
Three Take Thursday: Weird September is here, the bullpen is bringing the heat and an option for a platoon at first.
I’m a bit off my feet this week, darlings. New job, weird baby hours, way more time with Denny and the rest of the radio gang than I’m accustomed to having. Does it help that the mounting injuries and general late-season doldrums of a sub-.500 team have hit hard as the season nears the finish line? Dear reader, it does not! But between the rapid transactional flurries, the ongoing Edward Olivares debacle (going before an international human rights tribunal soon) and Salvador Perez’s overall Salvy-ness, there is plenty to care about if you are so inclined. As I am and so are you!
Take One: Weird September is the best September
Okay, not best but you get what I’m going for here.
The phrase “Playing out the string,” implies, by nature, a sort of forlorn march to the end. We are playing baseball games at this point not out of the traditional nature of competition—to be the best, to make the postseason, to prove something to someone—beyond the fact that games remain on the schedule and that’s the whole enterprise. The schedule gets quirky—like, playing Cleveland in Cleveland on Monday and hosting Cleveland in Kansas City on Tuesday. Staff days happen. September heroes emerge, bloom and are forgotten in a month—I think of Brandon Finnegan in better times and Justin Huber in… other… times. Weird things happen when you aren’t in a race. You can be overrated or written off entirely for next season based on how a team heading firmly toward 85-plus losses performs when its role is nothing more than spoiler for the last 25-plus days of the season.
The point is that the Royals could afford to ramp it up a little on this front. I liked the staff day. I love the home-and-home with Cleveland. Mix in some hotfoots. Give Ryan O’Hearn zero days off just so the brass can be absolutely certain he can’t be part of the franchise’s future. Let Rusty Kuntz call pitches for a day, just to see what happens. Make September Baseball Weird Again.
Take Two: All of a sudden there are electric arms
It’s not that 2018 was a bad year—it was, but bad years happen all the time, to half of baseball. It’s that the bad year saw the Royals woefully outgunned in the velocity department. According to StatCast, the Royals threw 11 total pitches 99 miles per hour or above for the entirety of the 2018 season. Thirty-nine individual pitchers brought that sort of heat at least 11 times by themselves that season, including some of the greats—Trey Wingenter, James Norwood, Mike Foltynewicz, the best and brightest.
The game has evolved. So have the Royals, to the point where Dylan Coleman hit 99 or better nine times just in his debut appearance last Tuesday night. Where Josh Staumont and Carlos Hernández do this regularly. Where plus-plus velocity is becoming the expectation, particularly from the bullpen, where Coleman, Staumont, Jake Brentz and Ronald Bolaños are—or will live for a little while—and where Noah Murdock and Will Klein will hopefully join up in the not-too-distant future.
Velocity is no guarantee of anything—ask Trey Wingenter, who I didn’t know was a real person until I started writing this—but it’s a lot more fun to watch. No offense to the Kevin McCarthy’s and Jake Newberry’s of the world—okay, maybe some offense—but wouldn’t you rather have the smoke? I know I prefer the smoke.
Beats the heck out of Kevin McCarthy.
Take Three: Hunter Dozier and Carlos Santana could make an incredible(y expensive) first base platoon in 2022.
Accept the part where they’re going to be here. Just accept it. Your life improves once you do. It’s the Royals equivalent of giving up smoking or joining a gym; you lose five pounds just by accepting that neither is going anywhere so they might as well be as useful as we can make them.
Between the two, each of them makes up half a functioning big-leaguer. Both can field the position. Neither has a completely unwieldy contract that would deter a would-be suitor if one came calling, and both could potentially perform at a level to start next season to render the other superfluous or, more hopefully, attractive to another team.
Dozier can’t hit lefties. Santana can’t hit righties. The argument, I suppose, is at this point in their career neither of them can hit nearly as well as we all hope Nick Pratto can, but unless something sends the competitive timeline into overdrive between now and next April, there’s no reason to push him into the fold right out of spring training, and if that happens you pay Santana to go away, park Dozier on the bench and go flag-chasing again.
Here’s the 2021 split data on the duo.
It bears out over the longer-term too. Dozier’s numbers since 2019 are a little more comparable across the board—this isn’t a brag, he’s barely above 100 in wRC+ either way—but his slugging (.454) and ISO (.202) are both up significantly against righties over that time. Santana is even more pronounced—barely league-average (102 wRC+, .728 OPS) against righties and highly productive (125 wRC+, .839 OPS) against southpaws.
Again: in a perfect world, Pratto comes to camp next season white-hot, someone decides they want one or the other of Doztana (Sanzier?) and the Infield of the Future (Pratto, Bobby Witt Jr., Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi/Whit Merrifield?) becomes the Infield of the Present. We get the world we get though, and if we must trudge through it with Dozier and Santana on the roster, then maximize their skillsets and keep other, better players on the field more often. By my count, Dozier and Santana have started 124 games together in 2021; if they get close to that number again next season, the dreams of a competitive Royals team in 2022 are probably just that—dreams.
More on the late inning rally
The Royals took the lead in the seventh in what was a very special inning. First, Lopez led off with a double. He advanced to third when Cam Gallagher, the replacement for Perez, laid down a sacrifice bunt. It was the first time a third-place hitter in the Royals lineup laid down a sacrifice since Eric Hosmer in 2015. (I was not surprised when reminded of this fact.)
Then came the contact play.
I wish I could tell you why the Royals continue to insist on deploying this madness. I’m sure it has something to do with a lineup that’s rather anemic once you move past Andrew Benintendi. Still, the Royals ran into yet another out at the plate. It was the 21st time they’ve been gunned down at home in 2021, the second-most in baseball. (The Yankees have been thrown out at home 22 times this year.)
Fortunately, Dozier was there to save the day. Following a Santana walk (also a good thing given that Santana’s walk rate is down over the season’s second half), Dozier launched one perfectly tucked in the left field corner. With Benintendi and Santana running with two outs, both scored easily, allowing Dozier to motor to third. He came home on a wild pitch to add a little insurance to the total.
Just one of those September nights at The K.
It’s another major league debut as Angel Zerpa will get the call and the start. The Royals haven’t officially added him to the roster as of this writing, but they will need to send someone down to make room. Edward Olivares is already in Omaha, so your guess is as good as mine. Zerpa will face Shane Bieber. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 CDT.