Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman's offseason series analyzing the 2023 performances of various KC Royals players. Up today is MJ Melendez.
MJ Melendez played in 148 games and made 602 plate appearances this season. That's more games and PAs than any other Royal but Bobby Witt Jr. He’s certainly durable, but do the results add up?
It's abundantly clear that defense is not MJ Melendez’s strong suit
Melendez, a catcher in his minor league days, struggled defensively behind home plate in his 2022 rookie season. He was mentioned in trade chatter during the offseason, but rather than trade him, the Royals opted to focus in 2023 on playing him primarily in the outfield corners, and Melendez caught only 10 games.
Unfortunately, his outfield defense was hardly an improvement. He finished the season with a .970 fielding percentage and was worth -14 DRS and -11 OAA in the corners. That placed him dead last among Royals, including the defensively challenged Edward Olivares. To make matters worse, his DRS was the fourth worst in the majors, ahead of only Kyle Schwarber, Estuary Ruiz, and Jordan Walker.
In other words, there isn't a Gold Glove anywhere in Melendez's near future.
Did MJ Melendez’s bat produce the results KC fans hoped for?
His 18 home runs, 21 doubles, and 62 RBIs in 2022 shouldn't be overlooked and had some fans clamoring for more Melendez. The potential for power is always in high demand in the majors and he certainly has that.
The trouble with Melendez is he plays 50% of his games in the wrong ballpark. As pointed out here recently, Melendez has a left field fly problem. The prevailing wind tends to knock balls down for easy outs. According to Baseball Savant data, he'd hit more homers if he played for 25 other teams in their parks.
Melendez did improve his batting average this season from 2022's .217 to .235. Unfortunately, he struck out more (28.2%, up from last year's 24.5%) and walked less frequently (10.3% this year, 12.4% last season). His .316 OBP was nearly three points better. On the other hand, no qualified big league player swung and missed as much as Melendez this year.
And MLB.com Royals beat writer reported that Melendez worked on his swing over this year's All-Star Break. But he was streaky in the season's second half, mostly due to playing in certain opposing fields. He particularly liked playing at and against Boston.
Despite some better hitting in the season's final months, Melendez managed only a .235/.316/.398 line. That's simply not going to get it done for a bat-only Royal.
We gave Melendez a B last season, but he so regressed that we're giving him a C for 2023. Kauffman Stadium is doing him no favors; if the Royals can find a trade partner for him, this offseason, they should make a move.