Scott Kingery needs to prove himself in 2021 if he wants to stay a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that he will do so.
As plenty of people have been pointing out these days, 2021 will be a make-or-break season for Scott Kingery. He’s played in the majors for three seasons now and he has yet to find any consistent success. If he struggles again next season, Kingery will probably be playing for a different organization in 2022.
Luckily for Scotty JetPax, there is reason to believe that he will rebound in 2021. He might never live up to his prospect pedigree, but he can certainly be a valuable contributor to the major league team. Here’s why.
He was better than you think in 2019
The narrative surrounding Kingery often seems to be that he has been bad for three seasons straight. However, he was actually quite good in 2019. He put up 2.8 fWAR and 2.8 bWAR in 126 games played at six different positions. His offensive numbers weren’t flashy, but they were about average (101 wRC+). That level of offense combined with excellent base running and strong defense all around the diamond added up to a very solid player.
Scott Kingery also dealt with a vision problem at the end of the 2019 season. He complained of blurry vision in his right eye, and eventually he decided to sit out the final days of the season. His vision problems may have been the cause of his offensive troubles in September, 2019. If you remove his September numbers from his 2019 statline, his season looks even better: .274/.334/.493 with a 112 wRC+. He now wears a contact lens, so his vision should not be an issue going forward.
COVID-19 almost certainly affected his 2020 numbers
We cannot say for sure that COVID-19 was the cause of Scott Kingery’s poor season in 2020. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that it was not a significant factor.
Scott Kingery dealt with a terrible case of COVID-19 in June of last year. In August, he mentioned that he was still dealing with the aftereffects of the illness. Kingery himself was careful never to blame the virus for his struggles, but he did say that he was dealing with increased fatigue. Kingery’s poor stat-line in 2020 was largely due to declines in his base-running, his defense, and his power. All of those are skills that would be particularly hindered by fatigue.
Defensive statistics from the shortened 2020 season should be taken with a grain of salt. The same goes for base running metrics. I should also mention that Kingery’s base-running decline was partly because he had fewer opportunities to run the bases, since his OBP dropped by nearly 100 points. Nevertheless, his poor defensive and base-running metrics are one of the reasons his WAR dropped so precipitously in 2020, so they are worth mentioning.
Offensive rate statistics stabilize more quickly than most other metrics, so they provide a better sense of Kingery’s true level of play in 2020. Kingery’s HR% and HR/FB both dropped significantly last year. However, his plate discipline actually improved; his walk rate went up and his strikeout rate went down from last season. His batted ball statistics show a similar trend. His Hard Hit % dropped from 45.9% in 2019 to 32.9% last year. However, his overall contact rate did not change very much. Kingery was making contact with the same amount of pitches in 2020, but he was not hitting them nearly as hard. Clearly, Scott Kingery’s power was absolutely sapped in 2020.
However, his power actually improved in the final weeks of the season. In July and August, Kingery’s Hard Hit% was 28.3%. His HR/FB was 4.5% and he slugged .183. Then, at the beginning of September, Kingery spent two weeks on the injured list dealing with back spasms, which may have been connected to his COVID-19. From the date of his return until the end of the season, Kingery’s Hard Hit% was 42.3%, his HR/FB was 16.7%, and his slugging percentage was .452. Those numbers are very similar to the ones that Kingery put up in 2019. This is a good sign that Kingery was beginning to get over his fatigue and play more like his former self.
One last dreadful statistic that Kingery put up in 2020 was his .200 BABIP. That number is incredibly low, and it suggests that some of Scott Kingery’s struggles in 2020 were simply caused by bad luck in a small sample of games. We can expect his BABIP to regress towards the mean (i.e. improve) next season. Fatigue can also cause a low BABIP, because sprint speed and Hard Hit% are two of the driving forces behind maintaining a high BABIP. Therefore, Scott Kingery should have a much higher BABIP next season, which means many more hits.
Nobody knows yet how long it takes to fully recover from the lasting effects of COVID-19, so we can’t say for sure how well Scott Kingery will play in 2021. However, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Kingery will come into the 2021 season healthy and well-rested. He has another season’s worth of experience playing multiple positions, so he should be more comfortable no matter where the Phillies play him on the diamond. While he’s no longer a hotshot young prospect, he’s still only 26 years old.
2020 was a difficult year for everyone, and 60 games is already a small sample size. It would be hard to form an impression of any player after such a strange season. Scott Kingery had to deal with COVID-19 and was only able to play in 36 games in 2020. Therefore, it really doesn’t make sense to judge Kingery too harshly for his performance. The Scott Kingery we saw in 2019 is much more likely to be the Scott Kingery we see in 2021. And that Scott Kingery is exactly what the Phillies need.
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