The 2020 “Royalty” Awards: Who was the Royals’ Offensive MVP?

With the Royals season being over, it makes sense that many Royals fans are looking back and seeing what players stood out the most during this shortened, COVID-affected season. Instead of doing one massive post where I would hand out awards to a variety of players, I decided to focus each post on a different award, where I would look at two runners up, and then focus on the eventual award winner and why he deserved it based on his 2020 overall performance. Granted, I know some people may wait until after the postseason to do awards, but with the Royals not in the playoffs, I figured it would be best to get started on the honors (though I think this incremental approach would at least be a little different).

Since this is the first full Royals season of this blog’s existence (it only had partial seasons in 2018 and 2019), I decided to bestow a name on the awards given on this site by calling them the “Royalty” Awards. Yes, it’s not the sexiest award name, but I figured it connected with the Royals well enough so that general baseball fans would be knowing that I would be focusing on Royals players and honors, and not just general baseball ones.

So without further adieu, let’s take at the first “Royalty” award of the 2020 season which is the Offensive MVP.

2nd Runner Up: Maikel Franco, 3B

The Royals’ decision to acquire Maikel Franco after the Phillies non-tendered him this off-season was a questionable one to say the least. Considering incumbent third-baseman Hunter Dozier generated some All-Star buzz in 2019, as well as a lackluster 2019 in Philly both at the plate and in the field , Franco didn’t seem like he would move the needle much in Kansas City, even in an abbreviated season. Unfortunately, the deal felt much like the Chris Owings acquisition in 2019, which worked out disastrously, as Owings was released after roughly a month with the Royals.

However, Franco proved to be a surprise for the Royals, especially at the plate. While his defense was pretty inconsistent (though it did get better over the course of the season), Franco proved to be a much needed force at the dish in the middle of the Royals order, especially with Jorge Soler and Dozier missing time. Franco played in all 60 games in 2020, and accumulated 243 plate appearances. He posted a triple slash of .278/.321/.457 and hit 8 home runs, drove in 38 runs, and finished with a wRC+ of 106, which was 36 points higher than 2019 and his highest number in that metric since 2015 (when it was 129).

Franco misses out on the MVP award because he was a bit too streaky and had a tendency to chase and miss far to often. He decreased his BB/K ratio from 0.56 in 2019 to 0.42 in 2020, but that metric stabilized over the course of the year, which makes one wonder what Franco could have done over a full 162 game slate. Even though he doesn’t get the Royals’ top offensive “Royalty” honor, he certainly deserves credit for a bounce back season, and being one of the more dependable offensive players for the Royals as well, which is not what a lot of Royals expected from him when he was acquired last Winter.

1st Runner Up: Whit Merrifield, OF/2B

Whit continues to be a model of consistency for the Royals. While Royals fans will debate fervently on whether or not he should have been traded or not this past off-season, the fact of the matter is that Whit is the Royals’ most professional player, and should take Gordo’s role in 2021 as the quiet, but respected clubhouse leader. That being said, Whit may be a more polished offensive hitter than Gordo, as Whit led the AL in hits in 2018 and 2019, something that Gordo never did during his 14-year tenure in Kansas City (don’t recall “two-hit Gordo” ever being a thing).

At the beginning of the year, most Royals fans would have expected Whit to run away with this award. However, a 1-for-26 slump at the end of August and beginning of September hurt his statline, and he ended up putting up a more pedestrian line than in seasons past. Though he played in all 60 games (as expected) and accumulated 265 plate appearances (a team-high), he only posted a triple slash of .282/.325/.440 and a wRC+ of 106, his lowest mark since 2017, which was his second season in the Major Leagues.

Granted, Merrifield did hit 9 home runs and stole 12 bases, which gives hope to Royals fans that he can be a 20-20 guy in 2021 and beyond. Furthermore, even though he posted an identical BB/K ratio (0.36) to 2019, he actually lowered his strikeout rate by 4.6 percentage points, which shows that Whit is controlling the strike zone better than ever (and it also explains how he broke out of his slump: balls starting finding holes again). This season may have been a regression at the plate for sure, but if this year was a full 162 game slate, it is likely that 2020 would have been similar to 2019, but maybe with more power and stolen bases to boot.

Whit may be the most dependable Royals hitter going forward, but his slump around mid-season hurts him from earning the Offensive MVP in 2020. It’s a shame that 2020 wasn’t a full season, because if it was, it is possible that Whit could have done some special things at the plate, and perhaps solidified his case that he could be a potential Royals Hall of Famer in the future if Moore decides to keep, and not trade, Merrifield anytime in the near future.

Offensive MVP: Salvador Perez, C

I know: Salvy only played in 37 games, and accumulated only 156 plate appearances. Some may argue that since Whit and Franco played all 60 games that either of those two would be more worthy of the award.

And yet, when Royals fans look at the overall metrics, it’s hard to award the Royals’ Offensive MVP to anyone but Salvy.

Remember, Salvy missed a WHOLE SEASON in 2019. He missed a lot of early Summer Camp due to COVID. By the time Salvy debuted in 2020, he pretty much had missed nearly a season and a half “time-wise” (not game-wise). It would have been understandable if Salvy would have struggled or been inconsistent in 2020. Just having Salvy’s presence on the field and in the clubhouse was good enough, and if he could be even slightly above average at the plate, that would have been enough for Royals fans, especially considering the revolving door at catcher Royals fans had to witness in 2019 (Martin Maldonado; Cam Gallagher; Meibry Viloria; and Nick Dini all saw time behind the dish).

However, Salvy proved that he was not only back at the plate this year, but that perhaps he may have matured as a hitter. After seeing hitting instructor Mike Tosar in Florida along with Jorge Soler and Franco this off-season, Salvy put up one of the best offensive seasons of his Royals career. He posted a triple slash of .333/.353/.633 and wRC+ of 162 in only 156 plate appearances. Furthermore, the 30-year-old Venezuelan also led the Royals with 11 home runs and was second in RBI with 32, even though he ranked 8th in total plate appearances for Royals hitters.

And Salvy’s performance also stood out not just on this Royals team, but among other catchers in the league as well. Of MLB catchers who had a 150 or more plate appearances in 2020, Salvy led in WAR (1.9), wRC+ (162), ISO (.300), and was tied for first for home runs with J.T. Realmuto of the Phillies. Salvy is not just a “Silver Slugger” at the catcher’s position this year, but one could argue, if he had 8-12 more games under his belt, he could have been a legitimate AL MVP candidate as well.

Salvy’s future will be interesting to follow in KC over the next 2-4 years. He’ll be eligible for free agency after the 2021 season, and owner John Sherman and Moore will have a tough decision to make in terms of what to do with him. The Royals have some interesting catchers waiting in the wings in MJ Melendez and even Sebastian Rivero, who has been getting a lot of positive buzz from Royals Player Development people after a solid showing at the Alternate Site in KCK. Will the Royals give Salvy an extension by or shortly after 2021? Or will they part ways and build around 1 or 2 of their young catchers, who may never quite live up to Salvy’s legacy as a Royal?

At this point, it seems like it would be more plausible to see the former scenario than the latter, especially after Salvy’s “Royalty” Offensive MVP campaign in 2020. Let’s just hope Salvy can stay healthy (he struggled to do so this year) and continue this production over a 162-game slate in 2021.

Because if he does continue to produce (even at a slightly regressed level; a 120-130 wRC+ would be highly encouraging), then that could make a big difference on the Royals’ chances in the AL Central and playoff race in 2021 and beyond.

So without much debate, Salvador Perez earns the First Annual “Royalty Offensive MVP” award on this blog.

And honestly, it wasn’t even a close race. Royals fans would be insane to argue for anyone but Salvy for this honor.

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