Baseball is a funny game. The Royals were getting dressed for their own funeral on Saturday. They won on Sunday, but it was the finale of a 2-4 homestand. They had lost nine out of 11 and had fallen out of first place. Three days later and the Royals are riding a four game winning streak. They are back in first and – catch this fact – they own the best record in the American League.
After a couple of close games to open the series in Minnesota, the offense came to life on Wednesday. Well, most of the offense. It seems Omar Infante is doing his best to keep his game in reverse. Since his six game hitting streak ended on May 22, Infante has five hits in his last 55 at bats. All five hits are singles. Oh, he has one walk. It’s a brutal offensive performance that, except for that six game stretch in mid-May, has been roundly awful.
We’ve seen enough. It’s time for the Royals to permanently remove Infante from the lineup.
To determine just how awful Infante has been in a historical context, I ran a report at the Baseball Reference Play Index. I limited my search to players whose primary position was second base and further narrowed it by searching for those who had an on base percentage less than .226 and a slugging percentage less than .300. Those are Infante’s current numbers through Tuesday. Oh, I also set a minimum number of plate appearances to 175.
On thing you can quickly glean from the list is that Infante is the best of this ragged bunch. He should be, since I set the parameters for OBP and slugging at his current numbers. Everyone else would fall below his level of performance. Another thing to note is that as much as the Royals fanbase actively loathed Chris Getz, he’s not on this list. Minor miracles and all that. The other, main thing that should leap off this page of the Interweb is that most of these players had their playing time either limited or cut short due to their overall offensive ineptitude.
We are at the point where the Royals are going to be giving the lion’s share of the playing time to a historically bad player at his position. Now, if this were the Old Royals, we’d just nod our heads collectively and say, “Same old Royals.” Except this isn’t the Old Royals. It’s not even a reasonable facsimile. This is a team with the best record in the American League and it’s a team with designs on another October run. Infante alone can’t derail this effort. He’s simply one of nine guys in the lineup. But he can certainly kill more than his share of rallies or otherwise negatively impact the game from an offensive standpoint.
It’s not as if the Royals don’t have options. Christian Colon has spent this season collecting a major league paycheck and service time. For his efforts, he has been allowed to swing the bat in anger 74 times and posted a slash line of .269/.329/.313. That’s not great, but that’s a helluva lot better than the production the Royals have been getting at the position.
The Royals (who, if they are being honest, are the last defenders of Infante) will cite Infante’s glove as reason enough to keep him around. There is some validity to the argument that his defense is worthy of discussion. To this point, Infante has saved four runs at second according to The Fielding Bible. That’s tied for seventh among fielders at the keystone. His plus/minus rating is at +5, meaning he has fielded five more balls than would be expected of him at the position. Again, that gets him on the leaderboard, ranking seventh among all second basemen. From the limited opportunity we’ve had to see Colon in the field, he doesn’t impress. The question the Royals have to ask themselves: Is the team better off with Colon’s bat in the lineup or Infante’s glove? Does the sum of the team improve if you replace Infante with Colon?
I think the answer is yes. I think Colon’s defense may be below average at second base, but Infante has become so inept offensively, replacing him with a corpse could be a net gain. The Royals? I’m not sure they’re at that point yet. And I think it’s easy to figure out why that is.
You want to identify the main reason Infante is still haunting the lineup? How about he’s only in year two of a four-year deal. He’s set to pocket $7.5 million this year, $7.75 million in 2016 and another $8 million in ’17. (And he can also make an extra $500,000 if Royals fans somehow get him voted to the All-Star Game. I say it’s worth it. But I have a twisted sense of humor.) Oh, and then there’s the requisite Royals option for $10 million for 2018 with a $2 million buyout. So we’ve got a player who is firmly in his decline years and the Royals are on the hook for $24.75 million for the remainder of his contract.
There isn’t a perfect offensive stat to encapsulate his offensive decline, but wOBA can come close enough. From Fangraphs, we can see just how Infante has stumbled at the plate in recent seasons.
Yes, there is an uptick in 2013, (it’s actually the best year of his career) but with below league average numbers in all other seasons since 2010, it’s safe to say that the ’13 season was an outlier. And it just so happens that was the year before Infante hit the free agent market and signed with the Royals. Rotten timing. A horrific contract results and the Royals are on the hook for a player who is no longer worthy of a spot on a major league roster.
(It’s weird how these contracts happen. The Royals bought on Infante’s career year and thought they would get a couple more years like that at the plate. A year later, the Royals bet against Kendrys Morales and his declining numbers. One deal worked out. The other deal… Not so much.)
Every team has a weak link. No team is perfect from one through nine. And the Royals collectively are good enough to cover for someone who isn’t pulling their fair share. At this point, given the depths Infante has fallen offensively, it’s time for the club to give him an extended break. Christian Colon may not be the long-term answer, but he’s a better option today than Infante. That’s pretty clear. And benching Infante won’t turn this team into some offensive juggernaut. That’s not the goal. The goal is simple: Try to field the best players at their position. Right now, there’s no way Infante is the best option for the Royals at second base.
The contract limits the Royals options. It’s toxic enough, no one will trade for him unless the Royals eat a sizable portion. It’s large enough the team certainly won’t release him. The only thing the Royals can do is put him on the bench. Hopefully, he would accept his demotion with some grace. The bench is the only place the Royals can stash him so he stops hurting the team. This needs to happen soon.