The KC Royals Case for Paulo Orlando
By Colby Wilson
The KC Royals had Paulo Orlando, but brought Jorge Soler aboard anyway. They didn’t have to.
KC Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando could be forgiven if he felt a little cheated.
After posting the best season of his late-blooming career in 2016, the Brazilian could have expected to go into camp with a real shot at snagging the starting job in right field for the KC Royals.
After hitting .302 in 128 games, thanks in no small part due to the large chunks of time missed by Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain, the 31-year old—who didn’t break into the bigs until age-29, after more than 1,000 career minor league games—looked set to become the third consistent piece patrolling the outfield in Kauffman Stadium, alongside Cain and Gordon.
Then Jorge Soler—all muscles and power and career 27.6 percent strikeout percentage—was acquired for Wade Davis, and all that kind of went out the window.
This obviously won’t necessarily preclude Orlando from becoming a major contributor—given Gordon’s injury history (and Cain’s, and even Soler’s for that matter), a quality fourth guy to hold the fort in their stead would be pretty useful. But it limits his chances going forward, and I’m not sure it should.
How sure are we that, at this point in his career, Jorge Soler is a better player than Paulo Orlando?
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Hitting-wise, most of the numbers turn out favoring Soler, as often happens to for hitters who bash the living snot out of the ball. He dwarfs Orlando in HR/FB rate (16.0 percent to 7.8), hard hit balls (35.1-29.7), ISO power (.176-.134) wRC+ (106-92) and Weighted Runs Above Average (8.6 to a ghastly -3.3) for their respective careers, which seems unfair given their age discrepancy until you remember that in terms of actual big-league experience, Orlando has played a whopping four more games than Soler for his career. Give Soler the nod in OBP (.328-.307) and pitches per plate appearance (3.99-3.48) for their respective careers.
Orlando gets the edge practically everywhere else though. Where Soler’s power is awe-inspiring, Orlando’s command of the zone results in better contact rates (77.8-68.6), zone contact (87.2-81.5), out-of-zone contact (63.3-46.7) and fewer swinging strikes (12.1-14.6). Orlando has plus-wheels (17 steals for his career, four for Soler), strikes out far less (21.4-27.6) and even owns the slight advantage in line-drive rate (22.0-21.9).
And look—we can sit around and debate how accurate metrics are when it comes to defense until we’re blue in the face. The bottom line is that every single metric out there that measures such things—UZR/150, UZR, Defensive Runs Saved, Range Rating—says that Orlando has been one of the 25 best defensive outfielders in baseball the last two seasons, and Soler has been among the 25 worst. We can all go back and forth over what we value, but they all peg Soler as a below-average—to be generous—fielder.
If the KC Royals are insistent that Soler be a part of the everyday lineup, the best bet might be as designated hitter. Because Paulo Orlando—defensive whiz, diamond in the rough, serviceable hitter—is the right fielder the pitching staff deserves.
All stats current through Opening Day.