There is no other term to describe Scott Kingery’s season other than a massive disappointment. He came into spring training as a much heralded rookie from a top ranked farm system and played extremely well during the Grapefruit League schedule. He played so well, in fact, that the team invested in his future and gave him a guaranteed six year deal that can stretch to eight if all options are picked up. That raised the bar on expectations for the young second baseman, fairly or unfairly.
Unfortunately, Kingery has not lived up to those expectations this year. Coming into Tuesday night’s game, he sported a line of .230/.270/.338 to go with a 62 wRC+. He’s also had to learn a new position out of necessity, as all of the Phillies’ intended shortstops succumbed to the injury bug. While he struggled with the position due to his below average arm strength and range, anyone with eyes can see that he has improved leaps and bounds over where he was at the start of his tenure at the position. He’s not a shortstop long term by any means, but his being able to be there competently only improves the versatility he already possesses.
However, if we go back to his hitting, it’s hard to wonder if there is anything to hang onto as a glimmer of hope as we look ahead toward 2019 (note: I haven’t given up on this season...yet). Looking at his numbers, it’s just as you probably suspected - it’s kind of hard to find something. He hasn’t walked much (5.1% of his plate appearances), he’s struck out more often than we’d like to see (25.9% of the time), doesn’t have a swing that is conducive to utilizing his speed (35.5% groundball rate) and hasn’t shown the power we all saw in his minor league career. That can be chalked up to the home park where he really started to go nuts (18 HR in 317 PA during his season in 2017 at Reading), but it was still assumed he had more pop that he has shown.
So, in the face of all this negativity, what is there to get excited about Scott Kingery? Well, there are a few things that should make us as fans feel like there is hope.
The first is an adjustment he can make this offseason that he already knows how to do. Through Tuesday’s game, his splits against pitchers have been absurd.
v. RHP - .242/.285/.352, 71/17 K/BB
v. LHP - .198/.237/.315, 40/6 K/BB
That is something that he needs to correct if he is to have success in the big leagues. It’s not like he can’t either, since in 2017 his splits were almost identical (.303/.362/.500 v. RHP, .307/.352/.601 v. LHP). Granted, that’s minor league pitching, but he clearly has had success against southpaws in his career. What he’ll have to do is recognize changes in speed against him when facing lefties. Left handed pitching has attacked him with fastball varieties and changeups while same handed pitching has shown him a lot of spin this year. If he can correct these pitch recognition issues over the offseason, you’ll see a marked improvement from Kingery in 2019.
The other silver lining to his season is the fact that his patience seems to be getting better. Look at this chart from Fangraphs that shows his swinging at pitches in and out of the zone this season.
Lately, Kingery seems to be learning the strike zone a little better, swinging at fewer pitches that are out of the zone. Even as we see a little spike there are the end, that major drop off in swinging at pitches out of the zone is very encouraging. The results on the field are not there yet, but the fact that we are able to see a change in approach bodes well for his future. Keeping that O-swing% number in the mid-to-low twenties will be key to his success in the next season.
There is no arguing that Kingery hasn’t been good this year. Perhaps it’s fair to say that he really never should have been in the big leagues at all unless it was necessitated by injury, regardless of what his extension looked like. Has that stunted his growth as a hitter? Only time will tell. But these little twinkles of hope can lead us to believe the diamond is still there. There just needs to be a lot more polishing before we finally get to the finished product.