Which Royals hitters have had the biggest (and least) impact on winning in 2019?

Last night was a rough loss for the Royals, as they lost 3-2 to the Detroit Tigers in the last game at Kauffman Field in this series before they play the rubber game in Omaha today. The loss to the Tigers stung because it was classic 2019 Royals in a nutshell: out hit the Tigers (8-5), got a solid pitching performance from Danny Duffy (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 99 pitches), but they didn’t get enough timely hits (Soler was the only one responsible for driving in the Royals runs) and the bullpen failed to come through once again.

I noticed that the Royals in this game went 2-for-10 with RISP, and the bottom of their lineup (hitters 6-9) went 1-for-15 in the game. Both factors undoubtedly contributed to the negative outcome of the game. With this being known, I wanted to see which Royals hitters had a positive impact on winning and in the clutch this year, and which ones have failed to come through. I decided to split up posts, doing one on hitting and another on pitching, just to make things easier to digest.

All the data comes from Fangraphs’ Win Probability section on the Royals team page. However, I converted them into Google Sheets just because it embeds easier on this blog. Also note, that when it comes to Win Expectancy, these numbers ONLY take into consideration OFFENSE. I’m sure you could debate certain players’ defense would increase or decrease their impact on winning, but that is a study for a different time.

Criteria for study on Royals hitters’ impact on winning

I decided to look at three factors in this article: WPA (win probability added); WPA/LI (win probability divided by Leverage index which roughly translates as “context neutral wins”); and clutch factor (I linked some articles that help go into depth into these categories). I feel these three categories had the most impact in terms of Win Expectancy stats as WPA looks at the overall impact a player has on a team’s winning; WPA/Li looks at a player’s impact on winning regardless of context; and clutch looks at a player’s impact on a team’s winning in high leverage situations, which is important because I think that’s something we focus a lot on as fans (who delivers in the clutch).

Before I go to analyzing the data, let me say this: I understand Win Probability numbers are difficult to digest. In fact, Win Expectancy stats are probably better to look at in terms of past performance rather than as an indicator of future performance. Studies from the SABR community have demonstrated to us that clutch, for example, is a highly variable stat that can dramatically differ for a player from year to year (which we will go into in a second because there’s one player that really sticks out). However, I think analyzing these numbers are important to kind of get a glimpse of who has had a positive impact on the Royals in 2019 so far, and who have left some to be desired in terms of actually helping the Royals win.

Just for context on the graphs, green means good/above average; yellow means average; red means poor or below average on the graphs.

What do we see with WPA?

In terms of the overall picture of Win Probability (not taking things into context), Dozier and Gordon have had the most impact on winning this year, as they are nearly a run above average when it comes to WPA (0 is usually league average). That is not surprising as Dozier and Gordon have had the most impact on the Royals in terms of batting stats, as they both lead the Royals in offensive runs above average (16.3 for Dozier; 7.6 for Gordo) and first and third respectively in terms of wRC+ (158 for Dozier; 119 for Gordo).

Cuthbert has been on a tear to start the year, as he actually has a higher wRC+ (156) than Gordon. However, the sample size is a lot smaller than Gordon, so it’ll be interesting to see if Cuthbert’s above average WPA. In fact, WPA doesn’t take into consideration pinch hitting or pinch running (that’s where WPA/Li comes in), so of course Gore has a higher than average WPA, as he usually comes in to pinch run in key situations. However, despite him coming into play in big moments, the WPA should be higher than 0.11 since he usually is in advantageous situations to begin with when he enters a game.

The ones that have had the most negative impact on winning are a bit predictable, as Nicky Lopez (-1.17), Ryan O’Hearn (-1.26), and Martin Maldonado (-1.29) are the bottom three when it comes to current Royals (Chris Owings is no longer on the team). However, one surprisingly low one of note is Whit Merrifield, who has the fourth worst WPA mark on the team at -0.79. We will talk more about where Whit hurts the Royals the most in another section, but it’s disappointing to see Whit hasn’t helped as much as expected this year when it has come to turning Royals losses into wins in terms of offense.

What do we see with WPA/Li?

This is where the numbers start to change a little bit. Notice how Gore goes from having a positive impact on winning to a negative impact when you take away context from Win Probability. And on the flip side, the biggest risers were Whit and Jorge Soler, who are negative WPA hitters overall, but positive when it comes to WPA in context neutral situations (0.34 and 0.46, respectively). We also see a dramatic 180 from Adalberto Mondesi, who is 0.32 better than average when looked at in a context neutral basis, but is a -0.42 player in terms of overall impact (WPA). I think some of you may know where this is going, but it goes to show you that when situation isn’t taken into account, Whit, Soler and Mondesi have had a mostly positive impact on the Royals.

Not surprisingly, Dozier and Gordon were not affected with context being neutral, as they still ranked at the top. Cuthbert was slightly worse, but not considerably so, as he still is rated an above average player when it comes to WPA/Li. Unfortunately, Maldonado and O’Hearn still ranked at the bottom of current Royals in this category, which makes their lack of positive impact on the Royals lineup even more evident.

What do we see with Clutch?

Ah…everyone’s favorite talking point: who has and who has not come through in the clutch. Of course, clutch is such a small sample size stat, but when it comes to firing up a fanbase, nothing is more igniting than “who is better in the clutch.”

Unfortunately, three of the Royals’ better hitters (Mondesi, Soler and Whit) rank near the bottom of the team in terms of producing in the clutch (-0.74, -0.89 and -1.18, respectively). Thus it’s not surprising that the Royals sit in the basement of the AL Central when three hitters they depend on so heavily this season have failed to come through in high leverage situations.

One of the biggest knocks on Soler this year from the Royals fanbase has been that he doesn’t come through in situations when the Royals need it. Yes, he has 17 home runs, but in their eyes, it comes when it doesn’t matter. While I think that shouldn’t bury Soler’s season and outlook for the remainder of 2019 by any means, the numbers unfortunately don’t support him. He actually is second-to-last in terms of clutch, as he 0.89 runs below average when it comes to impact in the clutch this year. So, for Soler haters (I am not one of them; I’m a #SolerPower guy through and through), this may be fuel for the fire.

Mondesi is not a surprising one, as he has his flaws as a hitter in the sense that his contact rate and batting eye have been a bit suspect this year. However, Mondesi is still young, and he has already taken some big strides this season in terms of stepping up on the offensive end. It’s totally plausible that once Mondesi makes the necessary adjustments, he may be able to reverse his fortunes in the clutch by the end of this season or even next season.

One surprising one on the negative end is Whit, who is rarely talked about when it comes to failing to come through in the clutch. Whit is 1.18 runs BELOW average this year when it comes to WPA impact in high leverage situations. That is not good for a player who may be one of the most important players on this Royals roster. Of course, to show the volatility of this clutch statistic, Whit actually LED the Royals in clutch situations a year ago, so this isn’t an indicator of whether Whit IS or ISN’T a clutch player overall, but he is just struggling in clutch situations this season.

On a positive note, the most surprising one at the top is Billy Hamilton, who is subpar when it comes WPA (-0.3) and WPA/Li (-0.73), but has actually been the second-best Royal in terms of coming through in clutch situations (0.43). Hamilton has been getting a lot of heat for failing to produce much at the plate (63 wRC+; .593 OPS) and unintentionally blocking Bubba Starling in Omaha (yeah…like anyone saw Bubba doing what he’s doing this year before Spring Training; Bubba will be up soon enough Royals fans; chill out). However, as you can see, Hamilton has actually been one of the more positive Royals when it comes to coming through in high leverage situations in 2019.

What do the Win Expectancy numbers say overall about the Royals?

In many ways, the Royals’ Win Expectancy numbers have confirmed a lot of our suspicions: the Royals overall have struggled to have much of an impact on winning (hence the 21-46 record), and certain players haven’t been as clutch as we wish they would be (Soler being a prime example). That being said, I think there are certain players that the Royals should give more credit to (Hamilton) and ones we should be harder on (Whit and Maldonado). In fact, one of the biggest outcomes I came away with from this analysis is that the Royals should really examine the catching position for the remainder of 2019. While we all knew replacing Salvador Perez would be a challenge, it’s painfully obvious the Maldonado is having an inverse impact on winning when it comes to offense. In fact, not only is he in the bottom of nearly every category, but he is also worse in every category than backup catcher Cam Gallagher. Now, I’m not saying Gallagher is a significant upgrade (I mean we all figured this year would be a wash at the catcher position without Salvy), but I do wonder if Gallagher would have a more positive impact on the Royals winning games this year than Maldonado for the remainder of 2019.

So those are the numbers. Again…this is a post more of PAST analysis rather than FUTURE, so I don’t want this to be seen as a “this is who is going to come through in the clutch!” kind of piece. It’s totally possible Whit and Soler can turn around their fortunes in the clutch category, and it’s totally plausible that Hamilton does a 180 as well. But, I think these numbers give us some good context for us as Royals fans in terms of which Royals have had the most positive and negative impact in terms of winning (and losing) games in 2019.

And if you need one more tidbit from this data, I will say this: if you vote for one Royal for the All-Star game, vote for Hunter Dozier…just imagine what the Royals’ record would look like if he wasn’t on this team this year.

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