I get stressed out just thinking about Scott Kingery, so let’s not beat around the bush.
What could go wrong for Scott Kingery in 2021?
I’m going to start with what could go wrong, because, let’s face it, most of us are presuming the worst about Kingery right now.
The short answer: He plays as poorly as he did in 2020, and ends up on the bench or in AAA
The long answer: Scott Kingery hasn’t been good for a long time. On August 31, 2019, Scott Kingery was batting .274/.334/.493 on the season. Then, in September, he hit .191/.232/.393. The following season, Kingery hit even worse: .159/.228/.283. Now, in Spring Training, Kingery is hitting .111/.172/.259. That’s somehow even worse than he was in 2020, when he was arguably the worst offensive player in the National League (lowest wRC+ in the NL, min. 100 PA).
In Kingery’s defense, he has an excuse for each of these poor performances. At the end of 2019, he was dealing with a vision problem, and he has since received a contact lens prescription to solve it. In 2020, he was dealing with the aftereffects of a bad case of COVID-19. Right now, it’s just Spring Training and Kingery only has 30 plate appearances. But the thing is, after a year and a half of excuses, Kingery starts to lose the benefit of the doubt. He hasn’t been a competent major league hitter in a long time. I think there’s still a chance Kingery will find success this season, but until he shows real signs of improvement, I’m not getting my hopes up.
If Kingery does continue to hit this poorly, there are two possible outcomes: he becomes a benchwarmer, playing only when Didi Gregorius or Jean Segura need time off, or he gets sent down to AAA. It’s hard to say which one would truly count as the “worst-case scenario” for Kingery. A demotion to the minors would be pretty drastic, and it would only happen if he was performing really poorly. On the other hand, it might actually be more helpful for Kingery to get regular at-bats in the minors than it would be for him to ride the bench. If Kingery gets sent down to AAA, it would show that the Phillies still believe he has room for growth.
What could go right for Scott Kingery in 2021?
The short answer: He plays as well as he did in 2019.
The long answer: Scott Kingery was a very solid player in 2019. He put up 2.8 fWAR and 2.8 bWAR in 126 games at six different positions. His offensive production was only league average (.330 wOBA, 101 wRC+), but he combined that with elite speed and the ability to play competent defense all around the diamond. If he could just be that guy again for the next few seasons, he’d be more than deserving of his six-year $24 million contract.
But can Kingery rediscover his 2019 success? It’s certainly not impossible. He has genuine explanations for his poor performance as of late, and there is reason to be optimistic going forward.
September 2019: Blurry vision
His vision problems were a real issue, and it’s undeniable that blurry vision would make it harder to play baseball. When the vision problems were really flaring up in September of 2019, Kingery’s walk rate dropped and his strikeout rate skyrocketed. In 2020, with his contact lens in, his walk rate and strikeout rate both improved.
- March-August 2019: 7.2% walk rate
- September 2019: 5.2% walk rate
- 2020 season: 7.3% walk rate
- March-August 2019: 28.7% strikeout rate,
- September 2019: 32.3% strikeout rate
- 2020 season: 28.2% strikeout rate
This is a positive sign that his contact lens really did help his hitting, and it makes me less concerned about his offensive struggles at the end of the 2019 season.
2020 Season: COVID-19
Kingery’s 2020 season was, to put it politely, a pile of flaming hot garbage. But everything that happened in 2020 needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and for Kingery that is especially true. His COVID-19 caused him to showed up late for summer camp, and he was still dealing with the aftereffects of his illness heading into the season. Specifically, he said he was suffering from shoulder/back pain, shortness of breath, and increased fatigue.
We can’t know for sure how much COVID-19 was to blame for his horrible performance, but it certainly seems like it was the culprit. The main reason Kingery was such a terrible hitter in 2020 was that his power was absolutely sapped, and back pain and fatigue could very well have played a role in that. Kingery was making contact at roughly the same rate in 2020 (68.6% contact rate) as he was in 2019 (69.9% contact rate). His strikeout and walk totals were similar too. His power numbers, however, plummeted. His Hard Hit% dropped from 45.9% in 2019 to 32.9% in 2020. His average exit velocity went from 88.2 MPH to 85.3 MPH. His slugging percentage dropped from .474 to .283. His expected slugging percentage went from .426 to .390. That last one isn’t a huge drop, but it’s still significant. It’s the difference between being a perfectly average hitter and a pretty bad one.
On a positive note, Kingery’s power numbers started to pick up over the final weeks of the season. In July and August (76 plate appearances), Kingery’s Hard Hit% was 28.3%. his HR/FB was 4.5%, and his SLG was .183. But in September (48 PA), Kingery’s Hard Hit% was 42.3%, his HR/FB was 16.7%, and his SLG was .452. In those September plate appearances, Kingery looked quite similar to the hitter he was in 2019 (.320 wOBA, 99 wRC+ in Sept. 2020). This is a good sign, and hopefully, after a full offseason of rest, Kingery is no longer tied down by the aftereffects of COVID-19.
Spring Training 2021: They’re just Spring Training numbers!
Yes, Scott Kingery is playing very poorly this spring. But he’s only played 10 games so far! That’s a minuscule sample size. On top of that, he’s just getting back into the groove of things following the most difficult season in recent history. He’s also been experimenting with his swing, and he’s getting used to his new physique (he lost fifteen pounds over the winter). Sure, it would have been great if Scott Kingery came into training camp and immediately started crushing the ball, but plenty of players struggle in Spring Training and still go on to play perfectly good seasons.
So where does all this leave us?
Scott Kingery has completely valid excuses for his poor performance in September 2019, all of 2020, and now, Spring Training 2021. The last time he played a normal, healthy season, he was an above-average super-utility player, and he can be that guy again. I’m not saying I’m confident about him going forward, but it is completely possible that Scott Kingery will play 120+ games and put up 2-3 WAR again this season.