Phillies Nation Mailbag With Tim Kelly

Phillies Nation Mailbag: Are the Phillies mishandling Scott Kingery?



Each week, Phillies Nation Editorial Director Tim Kelly will answer reader questions as part of the Phillies Nation Mailbag. Questions can be submitted by tweeting at @PhilliesNation@TimKellySports or e-mailing your question to TSK@TimKellyMedia.com. 

How can the Phillies get Cesar Hernandez out of Scott Kingery’s way at second base? – @MrMediaPA1 

Scott Kingery is entering his second major league season. (Ian D’Andrea)

I’m asked some variation of this question quite frequently, and to be honest, I’m not sure why. Hernandez, 28, slashed .253/.356/.362 with 15 home runs, 60 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and 95 walks in 2018. After hitting .294 in consecutive seasons, it’s fair to wonder if Hernandez saw too many pitches for his own good in 2018, which may have contributed to his batting average dropping 41 points. So too may be the fact that he played much of the second-half of the 2018 season with a broken foot.

Kingery, a natural second baseman, slashed .226/.267/.338 with eight home runs, 35 RBIs and 24 walks in 452 at-bats in his rookie season. His -19.3 offensive WAR was one of the 10 worst marks among all qualified hitters in 2018. There’s some perception that him being moved around the diamond may have affected his offensive approach. The problem with that theory is that 374 of his 452 at-bats came at shortstop last year. He didn’t have more than 35 at-bats at any other position in 2018. Kingery will be moved around the diamond in 2019, especially if the Phillies ultimately sign Manny Machado to play third base. But because of multiple injured list stints and inconsistent performance from J.P. Crawford, Kingery was the Phillies primary shortstop in 2018. Were there  some growing pains early on? Sure, but by the end of the season, Kingery, a former second-round pick, was a pretty proficient fielder at shortstop.

If Kingery was mishandled in any way in 2018 it was pushing him into a “one size fits all” offensive approach based around seeing as many pitches as possible. Kingery hit .291 on balls that he put in play in his rookie season. His .226 batting average suggests that he simply didn’t put the ball in play enough to give himself a chance to be successful. Kingery saw 4.04 pitches per plate appearance in an unsuccessful offensive campaign in 2018, one year after he hit .304 with 26 home runs and 65 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017.

Last December, manager Gabe Kapler said that Kingery, who will turn 25 in April, felt that he got too caught up in seeing pitches in 2018. Kapler, entering his second season as Phillies manager, said that Kingery may be best served being aggressive early in counts. If he fouls a pitch off, he still could work a deeper count and force the starting pitcher to exhaust extra pitches. Or he may put the ball in play, which usually leads to good things happening.

In January, Kapler predicted that Kingery will be the Phillies most improved player in 2019. That may very well prove to be the case, but with a healthy foot, Hernandez should perform more like the player that FanGraphs rated as the seventh best second baseman in the sport between 2016 and 2017. And if both of those things happen, the Phillies will be a better team for it. And they’ll need to be a better team in 2019, given the improvements made around the rest of the National League East.

Long-term, Kingery will probably be the Phillies second baseman. But as Marwin Gonzalez, Ben Zobrist and Whit Merrifield have shown in recent seasons, it’s extremely valuable for teams to have a star super-utility player. While the Phillies have a second baseman that, at worst, is a league average player at his position, trying Kingery in that role, something that they never really got the chance to do in 2018, makes sense.

If Kingery breaks out in 2019, he’ll find his way into the lineup every game. Maybe it will be third base. It may be a little bit all over. Heck, if he’s playing up to his potential, he could usurp Hernandez at second base and push the longest-tenured Phillie into a bench role. But he hasn’t proven himself as a hitter at the major league level yet. So in an offseason with an oversaturated second base market, it made sense for the Phillies to hold onto Hernandez, and will continue to make sense until Kingery proves to be a better option.

For what it’s worth, I don’t really buy into the idea that playing a player out of position can ruin their potential to be a star player. For as hard as Rhys Hoskins worked to become an outfielder over the past two years, he just wasn’t a fit there. His -17.4 defensive WAR in 2018 was the second worst mark among all qualified fielders. Still, Hoskins has 52 home runs and 144 RBIs in his first 728 major league at-bats. His offensive production in his rookie season of 2017 was enough to convince the Phillies to move on from Tommy Joseph, and, more notably, part ways with Carlos Santana after the first year of a lucrative three-year contract this past offseason. Great players, or even very good ones, either figure out how to be effective at another defensive position or show you enough offensively to warrant moving on from the incumbent at their natural position.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. czontixhldr

    February 17, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    Tim, nice response. I, too, don’t get the “dump Hernandez” mentality of many Phillies fans.

    Kingery is a great athlete, and we all hope he turns into something special, but he hasn’t yet proven he can hit well enough to be more than a bench bat.

    Cesar, in a down year with a broken foot, far outperformed Kingery. For a team interested in winning, Cesar MUST be kept until Kingery PROVES he can displace the incumbent.

  2. czontixhldr

    February 17, 2019 at 1:32 pm

    Here’s another way to look at it:

    Cesar after the ASB with a broken foot: .228/.324/.333: .657 (285 PA)

    Kingery for the entire season: .226/.267/.338: .605 (452 PA)

    Even with a broken foot, Cesar was a better hitter last season than Kingery, and KIngery was even worse after the ASB (.572 OPS).

    Getting “Cesar Hernandez out of Scott Kingery’s way at second base” would be foolish at this point for a team trying to win.

    • Tim Kelly

      February 17, 2019 at 5:50 pm

      That’s a great stat. I may use that at some point in the future. Good work.

  3. Brian Michael

    February 17, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    I don’t disagree that Cesar was better than Kingery last year – and may be this year too. But Kingery shouldn’t have to earn a spot, the Phillies essentially said it was his when they gave him a contract before his first game. The Kingery issue has less to do with Cesar than the front office, it’s the contract + lack of PT that doesn’t make sense to me.

    • schmenkman

      February 17, 2019 at 10:16 pm

      A contract does not guarantee (nor should it) an immediate starting job. He does have to earn it.

      • Brian Michael

        February 18, 2019 at 9:58 am

        Then why did he get the contract? He’s already earned some part of what you’re looking for. But I’m not even talking about him earning it…I’m asking why did the Phillies give him a contract if he hasn’t already earned a starting job.

        • schmenkman

          February 18, 2019 at 10:21 am

          They apparently thought he was a part of their future, and they wanted to lock him in early when they could get the best deal. They did that, and even if Kingery never pans out, the cost will be negligible (in baseball salary terms).

          But the concept of “starting job” is changing too, given the increasing number of relievers that teams carry across MLB, and so smaller benches. You can be a utility player and play nearly as much as a “starter”, and that’s the role they saw for him at least for his rookie year, until Crawford got hurt.

    • czontixhldr

      February 18, 2019 at 12:03 pm

      What lack of PT? He had 452 PA last season and stunk up the joint at the dish.

      BTW, I disagree with Kapler. I don’t think Kingery will be the “most” improved.

      • schmenkman

        February 18, 2019 at 12:32 pm

        Only 2 players in all of MLB hit worse than Jetpax and were given even more playing time.

        What’s nonsensical isn’t his “lack of PT”, but the fact that they stuck with him as much as they did. Granted, Crawford’s injuries had something to do with that, and even if they wanted to send him down, they needed someone to fill in at short.

  4. Brad Ulrich

    February 18, 2019 at 2:13 am

    The Phillies gave this unproven young man a contract that was way to big. I’m not saying he is terrible, but he has a lot of work and improving to do to find an everyday spot in a lineup that has gotten better since last season. He may the most overpaid utility bench player in baseball!

    • Brian Michael

      February 19, 2019 at 9:20 am

      This reminds me of the Markelle Fultz situation a bit…

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