We’re still in the Opening series of the season, but the Royals are 2-0, and there is a lot to be excited about, especially after their 11-4 victory over the Rangers on Saturday.
And there may not be a Royals hitter who has been more exciting than Michael A. Taylor, which is saying something considering this Royals team has scored 25 runs in two games (i.e. it’s been a total team effort for Kansas City). Acquired on a modest one-year $1.75 million deal this off-season after being non-tendered by the Washington Nationals this Winter, Taylor was initially seen with some skepticism by jaded Royals fans. After all, the Royals at the time had younger, higher upside outfielder options (especially Edward Olivares and Franchy Cordero, pre-Benintendi trade), and Taylor’s strikeout issues made Royals fans wonder if this was a classic “Dayton Moore” move in the sense that Moore was banking on “potential” rather than a player’s history of “production.”
However, Taylor has done nothing but impress since donning the Royals blue. This Spring, Taylor hit .333 and posted a 1.053 OPS which included two home runs and nine runs scored in 48 plate appearances in Cactus League play, according to Baseball Reference. And so far this year, Taylor is tied with Whit Merrifield for the lead in home runs with two, as he added another one today that went 458 feet and had an exit velocity of 111.4 MPH, according to Savant. Here’s a look at the blast below:
So, is this Taylor outburst a sign of a possible trend in 2021? Or is it simply a hot two-game streak against a clearly bad team with inferior pitching?
Let’s take a deeper look at Taylor’s profile and his past two games:
Taylor’s pitch selectivity
One of the things to notice from Taylor’s first two games of at-bats is his ability to lay off pitches outside the strike zone, especially on the outside. Here is a look at his pitch result chart from Opening Day:
And now, let’s take a look at his pitch result chart from Saturday’s contest:
Of the eight pitches he saw outside and away, he only chased two of them, and one he made foul contact on. Thus to only see one whiff on those eight pitches is a promising sign, especially for a hitter who has a history of strikeout issues like Taylor.
To his credit, Taylor seems to be zeroed in on pitches in the middle and middle-in early on this season, and that has produced results for him. While he isn’t necessarily chasing, he has been a much more aggressive swinger than usual through the first two games. He is posting a 56.3 percent swing rate through two games, which is nearly 10 percent higher than his 2020 mark, according to Fangraphs. However, his aggressive approach has produced results, as he is not letting hittable pitches go by, which he had a tendency to do during his Nationals days.
Here’s a look at his batted ball result chart from Opening Day:
And now, let’s take a look at that batted ball result chart from Saturday’s game:
Taylor is certainly being more aggressive at the plate thus far in 2021 with the Royals. However, he is being aggressive in a selective fashion, going after pitches he knows he can hit and drive. Thus, this will be a development for Taylor for Royals fans to watch out for over the course of the season. If he can maintain this “aggressive-selectivity” (I know, it sounds weird), he could be on the cusp of producing something similar to what he did in 2017 (104 wRC+ in 432 plate appearances), which would only delight Royals fans as well as manager Mike Matheny.
Taylor’s sneaky power and potential
Taylor does not have the build of Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier or Salvador Perez, and thus, it’s easy to sleep on Taylor’s power. Furthermore, the Royals have not had much success offensively with hitting from the center field position since Lorenzo Cain left after the 2017 season, as John Jay, Brian Goodwin, Brett Phillips, Bubba Starling, and Billy Hamilton failed to offer any kind of offensive production, let alone power.
That being said, Taylor, despite his speed and defense, which compares similarly to the players listed above, may be more of an anomaly offensively. When digging deeper into his Stacast metrics, Taylor has demonstrated some signs of lingering power potential prior in Washington, and it will be interesting to see if that come to fruition in Kansas City in 2021.
Last year, in Washington, Taylor posted a barrel rate of 15.4 percent, which would have been the second-best barrel rate of any Royals hitter last season, according to Savant. The barrel rate was nearly double his 2019 mark, a sign that Taylor could break out with more at-bats. What’s interesting about Taylor’s barrel rate was that it boosted primarily because of an increased launch angle, which improved from 8.9 degrees to 12.4 degrees from 2019 to 2020, respectively. This made up for a decrease in in exit velocity on batted balls from 2019 to 2020, as it went from 91.5 MPH to 89 MPH. Thus, Royals fans had to wonder what could happen if Taylor’s exit velocity boosted back up to his 2019 level.
So far, Royals fans have seen that boost, as Taylor currently has an average batted ball exit velocity of 93.2 MPH, which in turn has led to a barrel rate of 33.3 percent, which currently ranks him in the 95th percentile in regard league-wide barrel rate. Furthermore, Taylor flexed his power potential on Saturday, as he ranked up there among Rangers and Royals hitters when it came to batted ball exit velocity as well as distance, as evidenced in the image below:
The fact that he is producing exit velocities and batted ball distances up there with Joey Gallo, Jorge Soler, and Salvy could show that 2021 is an encouraging sign that his power is developing and could be another weapon in his arsenal as a player in Kansas City.
Taylor may be 30 years old, which seems old for a breakout (especially for how long he has played professional ball). However, it seems like he may be finally maturing as a hitter. He has made some adjustments by removing a leg kick from his stride and replacing it with a toe tap, as Alec Lewis of the Athletic pointed out this morning on Twitter:
That change in approach, which has been in development for a couple of seasons now, has not only made him better when it comes to laying off on bad pitches out of the zone (especially away), but it also has seemed to help him tap into his raw power at the plate.
Granted, it has only been one series of games, but right now, the early returns on Taylor are good, especially offensively at the plate.
Let’s hope he can continue to boost this Royals lineup in the lower end of the lineup, which could be even more valuable when Adalberto Mondesi and Hunter Dozier return to the batting order.
Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports