Phillies need to stop using Scott Kingery like a Swiss army knife

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Playing Kingery where he best fits on defense should help fully unlock his impactful offensive potential

 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is time for the Philadelphia Phillies to stop using Scott Kingery like their own organizational Swiss army knife.

Over the course of his first two big-league seasons the Phillies have used Kingery at seven different positions. He has seen action everywhere but at first base and behind the plate.

In his rookie campaign of 2018, Kingery became the starting shortstop and was used at all seven of those positions, including a 1.1 inning stint on the mound.

This past season, Kingery became the starting center fielder, and was used at six different positions by manager Gabe Kapler. At least he didn’t make another mound appearance.

The “Inside Edge” defensive statistics at Fangraphs are a wonderful tool. They take what can be the sometimes difficult to measure defensive values of a player and help better evaluate what is actually happening on the field.

To help make my argument that Kingery is not helping the Phillies at any of the three positions at which he has been most utilized by the club – center field, shortstop, and third base – I examined his performance using those Inside Edge tools.

I also examined the defensive performance of the Phillies incumbent second baseman, Cesar Hernandez, and took a look back at Kingery’s minor league performance when he was last used at that position on a full-time basis.

CENTER FIELD

Kingery saw most of his playing time in center field with the Phillies this past season. He appeared there in 479.1 innings over 65 games, 57 of those as starts.

A look at the Inside Edge statistics for the 42 players during the 2019 season who played at least 450 innings in center field, Kingery grades out as below average.

He handled all of the 121 chances which were rated as 90-100%. In other words, chances where it was deemed “certain” or “nearly certain” that he should have handled them successfully.

However, when those chances became 60-90%, which are considered as “likely” to be handled successfully, Kingery handled just 75% of those, ranking 34th of the 42 players with at least 450 innings.

When things got even tougher, Kingery rarely made the sensational grab, coming up with just two of seven (28.5%) chances rated in the 1-40% range for success.

What this says to me is that Kingery is young and athletic enough to catch all of the fly balls that he is absolutely supposed to catch. The easy, lazy fly balls to center, or the balls where he just has to glide under them a bit.

However, he is not naturally skilled enough or experienced enough at the position to make most difficult plays, and even has trouble with chances considered likely – routine to a natural center fielder. While he doesn’t usually kill the Phillies out there, he isn’t helping.

THIRD BASE

The position at which Kingery saw his second highest number of games came at the hot corner. He appeared in 41 games, making 37 starts, for a total of 306.1 innings.

There were 44 players in Major League Baseball who saw at least 300 innings at the position. Again, Kingery grades out as below average.

For those 90-100% plays, the “almost certain” or “certain” group, his 96.2% handled successfully may seem solid at first blush. However, it ranks him just 27th in MLB at the position.

When you get to the 40-90% level, chances deemed as either “about even” or “likely” to be handled, Kingery made just 12 of 20 total plays successfully.

Again, this shows me that he handles most of the balls hit right at him and gets the ball over to first base successfully. But coming up with the more difficult plays at third base, even some deemed likely for a more experienced player or one with a stronger arm, is about a 50/50 proposition for him.

SHORTSTOP

Kingery was the Phillies primary shortstop in the 2018 campaign, playing 199 games there and making 101 starts. This past season, with the trade for Jean Segura, Kingery saw just 18 games and made 12 starts at short.

In total, Kingery has played 1,006.1 innings at the shortstop position over the last two seasons combined. There were 32 players in Major League Baseball who saw at least 1,000 innings at the position during that same period.

Of the plays rated in the 90-100% range at shortstop, or again, “certain” or “near certain” to be handled successfully, Kingery came up with a 96.9% success rate. That ranks 22nd of the 32 players.

Once again when things get just a bit harder, Kingery drops. In the 60-90% range he ranks just 24th at handling these “likely” to be made plays.

Below 60%, Kingery didn’t get many chances at shortstop, which to me speaks to his lack of defensive range at the position. He handled 11 of his 22 chances rated as either “unlikely” or “about even”, exactly 50%.

SECOND BASE

Kingery’s natural position, the Phillies have simply not allowed him to play it in the big-leagues. That is for one simple reason alone – management has been unreasonably married to Hernandez at the position.

Over the combined 2018-19 seasons, Hernandez has played in 331 games at the keystone position, making 308 starts and appearing there for a total of 2,726.1 innings. He has been the definition of an everyday second baseman, usage-wise.

For plays rated in the 60-90% range, or “likely” to be made, Hernandez’ 69% success rate places him at just 22nd among the 27 players with at least 1,000 innings at second base. He is just 19th in the 90-100% range. At the lower 40-60% range as well as in the more “unlikely” 10-40% range, Hernandez ranks 18th in both.

Kingery, meanwhile, was a 2017 Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award winner during a season split between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

That year, Kingery recorded a .989 fielding percentage in 113 games. It was the highest mark registered among all second basemen in Minor League Baseball. He handled 529 combined chances and helped to turn 75 double play over his time with the two levels.

Kingery slashed .304/.359/530 that year across the two levels. He produced 26 home runs, 63 extra-base hits, 65 RBIs, 103 runs scored, and 29 stolen bases in 603 plate appearances.

I have been saying it for two years now – second base is Scott Kingery’s best position. It is his natural position. More than that, he has proven to be outstanding at the position. I believe that allowing him to settle in there would help unlock his full, impactful offensive potential.

The Phillies have been holding second base for an average player when they have a potentially outstanding one in-house, right under their noses.  That needs to change this off-season.

In my opinion, club management has been negligent in their handling of Kingery. The time to trade Hernandez away and hand the Phillies second base position to Kingery is long past. If it doesn’t happen now, the ramifications should contribute to the end of Matt Klentak’s time as general manager.

 

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