Sunday’s change to the KC Royals’ batting order was impossible to miss. To call the alteration conspicuous may not do it justice.
Jorge Soler, the part-time designated hitter, part-time outfielder whose 48 home runs smashed the team’s long-standing single-season record just two years ago, found his name in the seventh slot for the club’s game against Detroit. Manager Mike Matheny even penciled Ryan O’Hearn, dragging a .188 average into the game, above him.
As improbable as Soler’s tumble down the order might be in a vacuum, the reality of his performance explains it. Soler just can’t hit this season. Sunday’s 0-for-3 effort dropped his average to .182, and his .263 OBP proves the depth of his struggle to reach base, much less hit the home runs he’s paid to hit.
Although he’d occupied only the prime fourth and fifth lineup spots before Sunday, dropping him to seventh made even more sense considering his 1-for-18 slump entering the day. Add the facts he has only four homers so far, exactly 25 percent of his RBIs came in one game, and his 31 percent strikeout rate, and hitting him seventh in the lineup makes perfect sense.
If Jorge Soler is hitting so badly, why do the KC Royals continue to play him?
So, why have the Royals, struggling and scuffling to work themselves back into American League Central Division relevance, tolerated his quiet bat all season?
Power is the main reason. The notion of coveting that commodity always seems a bit strange for a franchise that usually ranks speed, the ability to get on base, and hitting the spacious Kauffman Stadium gaps above power. Having a big bopper is nice (think John Mayberry, Steve Balboni, and even Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew for his final big league season), but has never been truly essential in Kansas City.
Soler’s brand of power, though, is hard to resist, and those 48 homers he hit in 2019 seem to have hooked the Royals. But the truth is this: 2019 remains the only season Soler has hit more than 12 homers, and the only campaign he’s managed more than nine since KC traded away Wade Davis to get him.
Are there other reasons Kansas City sticks with Soler?