In Signing Scott Kingery the Phillies Show the Complicated Process of Building a Young Core

On Sunday, the Phillies announced both that Scott Kingery would be on the opening day roster and that they had agreed to a 6 year deal with 3 options years. There is a lot going on in that statement, both for the Phillies and Scott as baseball entities, and for the two of them as financial entities.

It is probably best to start with the ugly part first, the financial aspect of this contract. For the Phillies, they guarantee Kingery the most money ever to a player with no MLB service time and a contract that is at least market compared to other early pre-arb contracts. In theory, the Phillies are taking on a lot of risk here. Kingery has some flaws, flaws that are why he is a good, but not top in the game prospect. The problem is there is no actual risk. The Phillies are paying $8M in the 6th year of this deal, which is a tiny bit of money in relation to their overall revenues and not a huge overpay if Kingery is just a solid utility bench player by that point in his contract. Kingery’s profile plays well into this as well. He is a good defender with great speed, and a good feel for contact. On its own, he is a fine utility infielder. His question marks are in his power and on base abilities. He has answered a lot of questions about whether his power is at least average, but the questions on his approach still remain. He does not have a long track record of struggle, he just lacks the upper minor league track record of success (it is a small sample size when talking about walk and strikeouts rates). The Phillies take on very little risk here, and the upside of this deal is that they just locked up an All-Star caliber player for his entire prime, for less than $7M AAV over the course of the 9 years of the deal.

The problem is that the current CBA places all of the risk on Scott Kingery. Before this deal, Scott Kingery had no guaranteed money coming his way. At best he would have opened on the major league roster and made the major league minimum during his time in the majors, and then had two more years of the minimum and 3 years of arbitration, with each of those years non-guaranteed. At worst he would have made pennies in AAA for a few weeks before than facing the same thing, but with 4 years of arbitration. By taking this deal, Kingery gives up substantial future earnings potential in exchange for guaranteeing life changing money for himself. It is not a fault of Scott, it is a product of the CBA and the team’s control over the player’s future.

Now the end results of all of this is that Scott Kingery is a member of the Philadelphia Phillies for up to 9 years if the team wants him. Based on his past and other members of the Phillies core, the long term position for Kingery should be at second base. For now that position is occupied by Cesar Hernandez. Second base is not the only position that is occupied, it is the whole diamond. The Phillies have tried hard to prepare for this with Kingery playing all over the field this spring. He is playable at shortstop, third base, and all three outfield positons, but he is not going to be a defensive asset at any of those positions right now (he should be a positive in left field and possible center field). The Phillies already have 4 outfielders needing playing time, so with everyone healthy, he is unlikely to see much time in the outfield. It is unlikely that everyone stays healthy all year, and Kingery’s flexibility will allow Kapler to patch any holes. Until then, he will probably see 3-4 starts at a week and a lot of pinch hits and in game substitutions.

That is the playing time side of the equation, but what about what happens on the field. Kingery has strong wrists and a good swing. He has seen his strikeout rate balloon at times, but his ceiling there because of his swing is probably in the low 20%s, and I suspect he is close to the 20% mark in his rookie year, and long term settles in more in the 15%-17% range. The biggest question about Kingery is his aggressiveness at the plate. In Reading, this past season Kingery posted a 8.8% BB% and played under control, but just like his first trip to Reading in 2016, Kingery’s first taste of AAA saw his walk rate plummet. The same thing happened this spring, with Kingery rarely drawing a walk. Given his power, it would benefit Kingery to be more selective, and with his speed the extra trips to first base would translate directly to more stolen bases. The difference between Kingery being an impact player and just a good player will be whether Kingery is a low or moderate walk player or if he can earn free passes at an above average rate.

When it comes to making impact with the ball, Kingery has made the biggest difference since being drafted. When the Phillies first picked him, Kingery was a low power slap hitter who specialized with hitting the ball down the lines for doubles. Kingery is still small, but he is much stronger, and like many players he has made some changes to his swing to drive the ball more than hitting grounders and letting his legs do the work. When it comes to current raw power, Kingery probably only has above average raw power, but he maximizes it with his hit tool. When combined with the juiced ball, Kingery should hit close to 20 home runs a year at his peak. In addition to the home runs, Kingery still can pepper the gaps with doubles, and because of his legs, triples. His legs are probably Kingery’s best tool, and he is a plus plus runner who still needs some work on stealing success, but could steal 30+ bases a year as well as stealing some infield hits and grabbing extra bases on the base paths.

Unless Kingery’s approach makes a giant jump forward in the majors, it is reasonable to think that he could put up a line with a little less average, power, and BABIP luck than Nick Williams’ 2017 line of .288/.338/.473. That would give the Phillies another above average hitter, and when combined with Kingery’s speed and defense, a potent member of the roster. Long term, the Phillies would like to see more on base and less strikeouts than what Nick did out of Kingery. Even if Kingery does stumble offensively, he should be good enough defensively at second base long term to be a valuable player.

Without going back to the CBA inequalities, the Phillies have brought another exciting prospect and building block up to their major league roster. It isn’t just about 2018 for the Phillies and Kingery, he is part of the process of building joining the young core of Hoskins, Crawford, Alfaro, Altherr, Williams, and Nola has the Phillies look to return the playoffs.

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  1. dason

    March 27, 2018 11:13 PM

    Matt (and lot of prospect types) seem to put a lot of effort into being unhappy about things that used to make people happy. It’s draining even to read.

    • schmenkman

      March 28, 2018 05:05 AM

      When I get up in the morning I like to know whether I won the lottery the night before, rather than just assume I did. This is excellent analysis.

  2. Romus

    March 28, 2018 08:50 AM

    Hope he measures up closely to some of his projected comps I have seen over these last few years…Dustin Pedroia to name one.

  3. Bob Garber

    March 28, 2018 09:24 AM

    Interesting article. I disagree with Winkelman. Most hits in preseason, nice power display, speed and defense. I think he has potential to be a close Chase Utley….

    • Wawa Mike

      March 28, 2018 10:12 AM

      Bob, I don’t like to label a player as the next anybody. Having said that, I will say that Kingery has a lot of the same intangibles that Utley had. His desire, and baseball instincts come to mind. I believe that the Kingery that we see to start the season will be much different than the one who finishes the season. It’s really a great time to be a Phillies fan.

    • jackm

      March 28, 2018 11:26 AM

      If we have to assign a borderline-HOF comp, go with Pedroia. Kingery will never have Utley’s prime-time pop, but that shouldn’t make you think he can’t be an all-star.

      Look at basic measurements:
      Pedroia – 5’9”, 175 lbs
      Kingery: 5’10, 180 lbs

      P: Drafted in 2nd round from Arizona State
      K: Drafted in 2nd round from University of Arizona

      Both: Meteoric ascents through respective MiLB systems, power not initially thought of as a carrying tool, high-average batter.

      Hell. Give me Pedroia’s career, injuries and all, and I’ll be more than happy with Kingery.

    • Chris S

      March 28, 2018 12:35 PM

      Comparing a player to Utley only sets you up for being disappointed when he inevitably doesn’t live up to Utley. Utley would have been a first ballot HoF if not for his chronic knee problems. He would have also been in the discussion of top 5 2B to ever play the game (he currently sits 11th in WAR all-time according to Fangraphs).

      All that to say, I hate player comparisons.

  4. Steve

    March 28, 2018 12:06 PM

    “The problem is that the current CBA places all of the risk on Scott Kingery. Before this deal, Scott Kingery had no guaranteed money coming his way.”

    Why should anyone in the world be garunteed money?

    When you get a job you sign a contract with your employer. Kingery signed the contract right next to Klentak. Both sides should be content, or they shouldn’t have signed.

    Now don’t get me wrong, do I think MiLB players should be paid more? Absolutely.

    Do I feel bad for a rookie making 6 figures to play baseball and take care of his body? Nope.

    Do I feel bad that a player must stay in the league for 3 or 4 years, again making at least 6 figures before they have a chance to become a millionaire in arbitration? Nope.

    Kingery and the Phillies are both bound by the CBA and they made what they felt was the best decision for each of them at the time.

    Also, the Phillies did assume some risk. Kingery’s floor is not a 7mm utility infielder at the end of the deal. His floor could be out of the league by the end of his contract, just ask Dominic Brown. Will that 24m cripple the organization long term? Of course not, but it’s still a risk because they made a commitment when they didn’t have to because they held all the leverage.

    • Romus

      March 28, 2018 02:33 PM

      Logically well put.

    • awh

      March 28, 2018 11:08 PM

      Steve, once again I’m with you on this.

      Do I like the fact that younger, more productive players don’t get paid near their worth? No, I believe they should be paid more, but I don’t lament it either, because an MLB rookie is still paid very well relative to most other people in society. Besides, no one forces them to play baseball.

      Guaranteed money before the deal? How many people in other professions get guaranteed money at all, much less at the age of 23? Now Kingery has some – a lot of it – and no one forced him to sign the contract. How many of his classmates at the University of Arizona will make $24 million in their entire careers, much less the next 6 years? If Kingery worked until he can collect Social Security at age 67 he’d make $545,454 per year for the next 44 years to collect that 24MM. Kingery, OTOH, will have that money in 6 years time and still be able to earn more money for the next 38 years after that.

      So, yes, I think the MLBPA dropped the ball in the last CBA, because teams are paying more attention to aging curves and are clearly trying to stay away from paying players into their mid-30s, and they PA didn’t focus any attention on trying to get MLB minimums higher or to kill teams’ ability to keep guys down for the extra year of control, so the current CBA definitely favors ownership.

      The transition to paying players while they are younger will take a while and the PA is going to have to get really tough the next time through. But the problem is this isn’t 1973, when the MLB minimum was set at $15,000 per year in the CBA ($87,670 in 2018 dollars), and the average salary was $36,566 ($207,880 in 2018 dollars) . The MLB minimum is over 500K, the average salary is approximately $4.4MM, and are guys making $4.4MM going to want to go on strike for a whole season and give that up? The answer is “not likely”, and that is what the owners are counting on to keep the PA at bay in future negotiations.

      It will be interesting to see how things unfold.

  5. John Salmon

    March 28, 2018 04:05 PM

    It’s odd to see this called a bad deal for Kingery. Doesn’t the contract in essence split the difference between him being an All Star and being Jon Singleton? Yes, the money isn’t any real risk for the Phillies. But no one knows what Kingery will do. Simple reality. He literally has not played a major league inning.

  6. John

    March 28, 2018 07:01 PM

    What is with the fascination with walks. If Kingery can hit 280 with 25 bombs, 40 doubles and 90 RBI I don’t care if he ever walks. Mashing the ball, especially with 81 games at CBP is how you win.

    • Romus

      March 28, 2018 07:18 PM

      John……ahhh….he batting average. Simply put, the best hitters are always considered to be those who possess the highest. Every year, the best hitter in the game is generally considered to be the person who has the highest BA. But is the BA as important to OBP, on base percentage? Without a doubt, batting average is important. It shows a hitters ability to reach base on a swing, a vital part of baseball. But in comparison. Every inning, there are three outs that the defense must make in order to end the inning. OBP shows the odds that a hitter does not make one of these three outs. It is calculated by counting BBs as well as hits, so prolific walkers will often display a high differential between BA and OBP.
      When a hitter puts the ball in play, the MLB average to get a hit is slightly above .300. The upper tier of hitters can average around .340, which is how they manage to consistently hit above .300 year in and year out. What this number means is that a ball hit in fair territory (many swings do not hit the ball fair) has nearly a 70% chance of being an out. This is where the walk comes into play. Hitters who are patient enough to work counts and take pitches are much more susceptible to walks than those who chase every first or second pitch in the at bat. The odds of reaching base after taking 4 balls is obviously 100%. Essentially, hitters must be lucky in order to get a hit, while drawing a walk guarantees them to reach base. This is why the walk is such a vital part of baseball overlooked by many.

      • Steve

        March 28, 2018 07:28 PM

        Also with speed being one of his best attributes, we want him on base as much as possible. Great obp guys can get upwards of .400, I don’t know that we’ll ever see .400 batting avg season again.
        To your point, yes .280 25 and 80 would be excellent, and typically the more you slug, the more tolerant everyone is of a mediocre obp. Kingery is not profiled to be a slugger though, rather a high contact with some pop.

        The interesting thing to me is this. If his hit tool plays as we hope, will pitchers start to pitch around him, or at least stop challenging him directly. If this happens he will either sink (by chasing these fringe pitches and making weaker contact) or swim (by developing a more patient approach, accepting some more walks, and crushing the pitches in his zone).

      • awh

        March 28, 2018 09:31 PM

        “If this happens he will either sink (by chasing these fringe pitches and making weaker contact) or swim (by developing a more patient approach, accepting some more walks, and crushing the pitches in his zone).”

        Hmmmm, which current Phillies player has a approach like this?

      • John

        March 30, 2018 09:33 AM

        Understand but you will find that the big hitters usually are at the top in getting walked anyway. I hate to see a player with power potential look at what might be the only straight fastball they’re going to get in an effort to get a walk . It takes four walks to equal one home run. The hardest part of hitting is trying to mash a ball with two strikes, in most cases it makes you a defensive swinger. Game one, perfect example. The Phillies got the lead on patient at bats and walks but Atlanta bashed them into submission. Three bombs is hard to overcome.

      • Steve

        March 30, 2018 10:45 AM

        Yes, pitchers tend to not throw straight fastballs over the plate to power hitters. Therefore one of two things typically happen.
        1) Some hitters learn to recognize and lay off the pitches that are out of the zone or designed for weak contact. Their walk rates go up, and when pitchers finally do challenge them, they get their chance to hit the ball hard. Think Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera.

        2) Some hitters never learn to lay off the off-speed, out of the zone pitches that Major league pitchers are capable of throwing regularly. They chase, they strike out, they make weak contact, they don’t walk much. They still mash the pitches over the plate, but they don’t see them as much because pitchers know they can get these hitters out without throwing hittable pitches. Think Gallo, Odor, Franco.

        I would argue that the power is very comparable between these two groups of players. The difference is the first group can control the strike zone well enough to force pitchers to throw them more hittable strikes than the second group.

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