The Best Defense Is A Good Offense

Because Dayton Moore just can’t help himself, he agreed to pay actual real-life dollars to a position player with a career sub .300 OBP and 79 OPS+. Old habits are hard to break.

Yesterday it was announced the Royals had agreed to a two-year, $9M contact extension with centerfielder Michael A Taylor.

The Royals have three of the worst hitters in baseball this season — Carlos Santana, Hunter Dozier, Michael Taylor – and instead of walking on the third after committing to the other two before 2021, they have willingly decided it was best to bring all three back for 2022, a season when the number of bodies they have ready to play outnumbers the positions available for them to play.

What’s most frustrating about this signing is the utter predictability of it. I knew this was coming. You knew this was coming. The Royals since Dayton Moore took over have vastly overvalued defense, rather than prioritizing scoring more runs and pitchers that strike more batters out.

Defense is visual. When a player makes a great running catch or throws a runner out on the bases, the reaction is visceral. Defense, like strikeouts, leaves more of a psychological impression on the viewer than a practical one. That’s the reason the positive of one diving catch can be more memorable than the negative of going an entire week of games and only getting on base six times.

Taylor has been the best defensive outfielder in baseball this year according to Fangraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average, but only 1.9 fWAR in 138 games and 512 plate appearances. The reason? He’s last among qualified outfielders in wOBA (.288), 42nd out of 46 in OBP (.298), 45th out of 46 in wRC+ (79), and 45th out of 46 in SLG (.360).

The only way this extension makes sense is if you believe Taylor is an ascending player, and that’s a big leap of faith.  None of the offensive numbers above are different than his career averages: career .292 wOBA v .288; career .293 OBP v .298; the same career wRC+; career .387 career SLG v .360.

However, Taylor’s defensive runs above average this year is a 220% increase on his last full season, which was 2018. Any decrease at all in Taylor’s defense in 2022 and 2023 (at ages 31 and 32) turns him back into the perfectly replaceable, replacement level player he’s been throughout his career previous.

Additionally frustrating about this two-year commitment is the Royals again locked in a veteran player when there is younger one in the system that is near equal to him.

#MyGuy Kyle Isbel has a .4 fWAR in 27 games, 80 plate appearances. 20% of the overall value as Taylor in just 15% of the games played. Isbel will be entering his age-25 season in 2022, and ~3.5 million dollars cheaper.

But the point isn’t the relative wins above replacement between the two; the point is this is precisely the time to be playing Kyle Isbel everyday as he is the ascending young, cheap player with on-base skills this lineup is sorely lacking (drink), while Taylor is the has-already-peaked-player they’ll be paying 8-times more.

We’re already being sold that this signing is an attempt to help a pitching staff. I’d listen to that if 1. The Royals didn’t have one of the worst offenses in baseball because of hitters like Taylor and scoring more runs would go a long way to help your young pitchers as well, and 2. The Royals should only assume they will have fewer balls in play over the next two seasons as the pitching improves.

Major sports teams make moves like this too often and the Royals do it more often than most. They’re so worried they won’t have A GuyTM to play centerfield they’re willing to overpay for the least important part of the game while ignoring they have someone who is at minimum 80% of the player for 12% of the cost already in their system. (I think Isbel is at worst, his equal, because runs are good, but you get the point)

If the Royals were going to go the veteran centerfielder route for 2022, they would have been better off finding this off-season’s Michael A Taylor equivalent in free agency or trade, instead of committing two years to a player that contributes so negatively on offense.

Oh, and, this:

Michael A Taylor: 138 games, 512 PAs: 1.9 fWAR

Brett Phillips: 116 games, 292 PAs: 1.8 fWAR