The KC Royals are starting to have more logjams in the outfield with the recent call-ups of Samad Taylor and Dairon Blanco. With these call-ups, one particular player may have to take a backseat as a bench bat or get sent down to the minors.
That KC Royals player is MJ Melendez, who is in a rough sophomore slump
Starting with the basic numbers, Melendez had a slash line of .211/.294/.350 with an OPS of .644 through Wednesday. For comparison, in Melendez's first season his slash line was .217/.313/.393 with an OPS of .706. But as it goes with these deep dives, the slash line doesn't tell the whole tale. Let's get into some other stat comparisons from last year.
A couple of stats stand out in comparing Melendez's two seasons. Those stats are wRC+, wOBA, and ISO. Last season, he put up a 99 wRC+, .315 wOBA, and an ISO of .176. This season he has a 76 wRC+, .285 wOBA, and an ISO of .138. All of those are pretty notable and substantial drops in production. The weird part, though, is his 2022 BABIP (read: luck) was .258, which is pretty unlucky, while this year he has a .293 BABIP. So, what changed for that to happen?
The obvious change isn't really on Melendez as the shift was a key factor in his low BABIP last season. His plate discipline numbers suggest Melendez made a lot more contact last season—his zone contact percentage was 79.3 and his chase contact percentage was 53.7. This year is a different story for Melendez's contact rates—his zone contact percentage is 70.1 and his chase contact percentage is 45.6. To add insult to injury, his whiff rate went from 27.8% last year to 36.9% this year.
Another factor is a weird trend that followed Melendez early in his career. It lies within his swing/take profile and it's a doozy to look at. To put it simply, Melendez struggles with pitches in the heart and shadow of the zone with swings and takes. His heart and shadow swing/take run totals from last year and this year are not good. In fact, Melendez has produced only one(!!!) positive swing run in his career, the rest have been negative. This is a bad conundrum to be in as a hitter because he provides good take-run value outside the zone, but can't provide much value when the pitch is hittable.
Another reason, and the last key one, that Melendez has struggled this season is he hasn't hit the four-seam fastball well. Looking at his run value chart, Melendez has a -6 on the four-seamer. He is only hitting that pitch at a .177 rate and slugging it at a .304 rate, although the expected numbers say he should be a lot better against that pitch. Where does that leave Melendez right now?
Well, there are options for him. The first, and probably most reasonable option, is to send him down to Triple-A Omaha for a bit so he can fix some things with his approach. Second, the Royals can just use him as a bench bat who can be an emergency catcher if necessary, even with some bad left-right splits against righties. And third, they can just play him almost every day and hope he gets out of his slump.
Melendez is having a bad sophomore season, one considerably worse than a preseason Kings of Kauffman projection, and if the Royals are going to call up more players, specifically outfielders, then it's probably time to send him down to Omaha so he can work on things at the plate. He is only 24 and still has potential, but his issues at the plate are not getting better in the major leagues and he needs an adjustment to fix that.