Does the Khris Davis situation shed any light on what the Royals will do with Soler?

Today, the Texas Rangers made a big roster decision, as they designated DH/Outfielder Khris Davis for assignment. This off-season, the Rangers traded longtime shortstop Elvis Andrus to the Oakland Athletics for Davis in an unexpected move that was pretty much an exchange of players in the twilight of their careers. Andrus isn’t doing much with his bat in Oakland, as he is posting a slash of .214/.259/.273 in 201 plate appearances. That being said, Davis particularly struggled in the Lone Star state, as he posted 67 wRC+ in in only 22 games and 61 plate appearances. Considering the Rangers are firmly in last place in the AL West at 23-38, and were expected to undergo a rebuilding process anyways in 2021, it makes sense that new general manager, and former Royals hero, Chris Young would part ways with Davis sooner rather than later.

While the Rangers’ move on the surface doesn’t seem to affect the Royals in any way (they were not involved in the Davis-Andrus trade), it has generated some discussion among Royals fans in regard to what the Royals should do with Jorge Soler, who is currently posting a wRC+ of 64 in 212 plate appearances, as well as a fWAR of -1.0, according to Fangraphs. Granted, Soler did show some life last night, as he hit a mammoth home run off the Angels’ Dylan Bundy, which definitely gave Royals fans some flashbacks to 2019:

While Soler did go yard last night, it does seem like patience with him is wearing thin with Royals fans, and a lot are clamoring that if the Rangers can cut bait with Davis, then the Royals can do the same with Soler. Thus, I wanted to take a look at both Davis and Soler’s respective situations, and how they are similar and how they differ, which perhaps could give some light into whether the “Royals rabble” is legitimate, or simply misguided venting, which has been common lately with Soler and Adalberto Mondesi, unfortunately.

How Davis and Soler’s situations are similar

The two biggest similarities between Davis and Soler are as follows:

  1. They are both recent home run champs who rely heavily on their power for overall value.
  2. They will both be free agents after the 2021 season and were most likely not going to be re-signed by their respective clubs this Winter.

When it comes to point number one, it seems like many Royals fans have been pointing out that Davis and Soler’s profiles as players are quite similar. Davis was the AL Home Run Champ in 2018, as he blasted 48 home runs for Oakland, which was his final year of three straight 40-plus home run seasons for the Athletics. Considering Oakland Coliseum’s pitcher-friendly confines, his power display was no easy feat, especially in the post-steroids era. Soler also displayed extraordinary power in a pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium, as his 48 home runs in 2019 not only set a Royals team record (no previous Royal in the club’s history had ever touched the 40-home run mark), but it also set a record for Cuban-born players as well.

That being said, after record-breaking seasons in 2018 and 2019 for Davis and Soler, respectively, both sluggers have fallen on hard times, as Royals Review pointed out:

David Lesky of Inside the Crown also brought up the similarities between Davis and Soler, though Lesky was unsure if the Royals would act as quickly as the Rangers. Nonetheless, he did recognize that many Royals fans felt that the time to move on from Soler is now, and it may be more realistic after the Davis news:

What’s interesting to note is that Davis and Soler have both demonstrated high-walk and high-strikeout approaches, and that their actual performance at the plate this year haven’t really matched up well with their expected performance via Baseball Savant.

For Davis, he is posting a .262 wOBA this year, which is pretty mediocre. On the other hand, his xwOBA is .323 and his xwOBACON (expected weighted on base average on contact) is .384. He is also posting a hard hit rate of 43.2 percent, which isn’t elite, but is still 11.5 percent better than his mark last year in his final season with the A’s.

Soler profiles similarly to Davis when it comes to actual and expected performance, as well as hard hit rate. Like Davis, Soler is posting a .262 wOBA this year. However he is posting a xwOBA of .327, a xwOBACON of .431, and a hard hit rate of 53.3 percent, with the latter mark ranking him in the top five percent of the league. Granted, Davis has been better at drawing walks (13.1 percent to Soler’s 9 percent) and avoiding strikeouts (26.2 percent to Soler’s 30.2 percent), but Soler has been much better when it comes to creating hard contact, which is important for a power hitter.

In addition, their xwOBA zone charts are uncannily similar, which shows why it makes sense that Davis and Soler get compared to one another often.

Here is Davis’ xwOBA zone chart this year:

And let’s take a look at Soler’s xwOBA chart this year:

As one can see, there are a few areas where Davis and Soler differ: Soler is worse in the middle up and middle down areas, while Davis hasn’t been as good in the lower part of the zone, especially middle and away. That being said, based on contact, both Davis and Soler should be producing more than what they currently have this season.

In addition to being power bats with strikeout issues who have gone through rough patches lately, both Davis and Soler entered 2021 in the final years of their current deals. In fact, that was a big reason why the Rangers acquired Davis: he was a temporary option who could provide some pop to the lineup, and I’m guessing Young and the Rangers figured that he could perhaps generate some trade value by the July deadline if he performed. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out, and I’m guessing with the emergence of Adolis Garcia, Davis became an expendable commodity.

As for Soler, he’s been with the Royals since 2017, as the Royals acquired him from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Wade Davis, who was entering the last year of his deal in 2017 (Davis eventually signed in free agency with the Rockies the following year). However, Soler, despite his breakout in 2019, had not come to an agreement on an extension the past two off-seasons, and it wasn’t out of the question to think that Dayton Moore and the Royals front office didn’t necessarily see Soler as a long-term option in Kansas City after 2021. Therefore, both Davis and Soler were sluggers with something to prove in 2021, and unfortunately, their respective starts haven’t helped their free agent cases for the 2022 season (and Davis’ case just became more difficult after being designated for assignment).

Why their cases are ultimately different

Davis and Soler are in a similar boat when looking at their situations with those two factors listed above in mind. That being said, their situations deviate greatly after those two similarities, and thus, it is likely that Moore and the Royals will not follow the path that the Rangers did with Davis anytime soon.

First off, Davis and Soler have a five-year age difference between them, as Davis is 34-years-old, while Soler is still only 29. Davis has been struggling since 2019, which was his age-32 season. We have actually seen Davis’ skills in decline the past three years on a barrel rate and exit velocity end. Let’s take a glimpse at Davis’ barrel and exit velocity rates over his career, and notice how things get worse in both categories post-2018:

After being a 17 percent barrel rate guy from 2016-2018, Davis saw two sub-10 percent barrel rate seasons in 2019 and 2020. The same proved to be true on an average exit velocity end as well. From 2016-2018, he rated in the top 10 percent of the league when it came to exit velocity, as he didn’t see that mark dip under 92 MPH over that time span. However, starting two years ago, his EV dipped to 90.2 MPH in 2019 and 87.7 MPH in 2020, which were concerning declines for the analytically-friendly A’s. While Davis did boost his barrel rate back into double digits, and his EV to 90.2 MPH this year, they still weren’t strong enough marks to merit a spot on the roster, especially with his defensive limitations.

Now, let’s take a look at Soler’s barrel rate and exit velocity numbers from Savant:

Notice how Soler’s best seasons on a barrel rate and exit velocity end have come over the past three seasons. Yes, his barrel rate is slightly down at 13.3 percent, but it is still higher than any mark pre-2019. Thus, this isn’t a situation like Davis. Where Davis suddenly saw a dip in power skills after his record-setting season in Oakland in 2018, Soler has only seen his power skills continue to maintain at those 2019 levels. In fact, his 93.1 MPH exit velocity is the highest of his career, which means that if Soler makes the proper adjustments in terms of pitch selection and launch angle, he could be back to producing like 2019 very soon (hopefully Monday night’s game was a sign that he is starting to do so).

The second big difference between Davis and Soler is that Davis was currently playing on a last place team that wasn’t planning to compete in any way in 2021. Davis was simply acquired, honestly, as a trade piece who could be flipped during the year. When it became obvious that it was going to be a challenge for the Rangers to get anything in return for him, they decided to part ways, especially with a lot of younger, more promising players being blocked by Davis in the lineup. There is no reason Davis should be in the lineup when there are guys like Garcia, Willie Calhoun, and Joey Gallo on the roster who provide similar, if not better, power profiles, as well as more long-term value to the Rangers organization.

On the other hand, Soler has been a crucial part of this Royals roster and lineup the past three seasons. While Davis had no connection to Texas prior to 2021, Soler has been a fan favorite and offensive producer for the Royals from 2018-2020 in various ways. From 2018-2020, Soler has been worth 5.1 fWAR to the Royals. Over that same time span, Davis has been worth 1.5 fWAR, and that’s including his breakout year in 2018. Moore and Mike Matheny know that to compete for a playoff spot, they need Soler to produce. The same expectation wasn’t ever beset on Davis in his brief time in Texas.

Furthermore, the Rangers are terrible. They are clearly looking ahead to 2022 and beyond, and they are looking to find and player guys who can have long-term value to this organization for the next few seasons. The Royals on the other hand are trying to compete for a playoff spot, and are in a decent spot at 29-29, which puts them in third place in the AL Central. Granted, a shot at the division crown looks tough at this point, even if it is early in the season. But a hot June and/or July could catapult the Royals back into the Wild Card race, and Soler, and Hunter Dozier, who had a solid game on Monday, will be key to such a run happening. Yes, there is some exciting talent in Edward Olivares and Kyle Isbel, who is currently back in Omaha after opening the year with the Royals. However, while those two will have more long-term value to the Royals, they won’t have as big of an impact on the Royals’ playoff chances as a productive Soler.

Of course, “productive” is the key word. If another month passes, and it’s mid-July, and Soler is still a sub-.600 hitter? Well, that may be tougher for the Royals to stomach. The Royals certainly have been disappointed after a rough two months of production from Soler. But a rough four months? Well, then it will probably be easier for the Royals to part ways with Soler, especially since it is becoming clear that he may not fit into the Royals long-term plans due to his limited defensive ability.

The DFA of Davis should not open an immediate door for the Royals to do the same with Soler. Yes, they are similar players with some similar milestones. But they are in different situations, which is good for the Royals. The Royals front offices does not need to be making extreme decisions like the Rangers. The Royals are .500 and still in the hunt, not 15 games under .500 like the Rangers. Impatient Kansas City sports fans, who seem to be coming out in droves because they don’t have Chiefs stuff to talk about, are being ridiculous right now, and though it isn’t easy watching Soler struggle, he is the best option in the lineup for now if the Royals truly want to win.

Davis and Soler will probably both be on the free agent market this Winter…

I’m guessing (or at least hoping) that Soler will at least finish the 2021 season with the Royals before he becomes a free agent.

Photo Credit: Ed Zurga-Getty Images

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