by John Unrein
Jorge Soler helped the Kansas City Royals make Major League Baseball history this past season. His 48 home runs allowed the organization to have their first American League Home Run Champion.
Soler shattered the past Royals record Mike Moustakas set of 38 home runs during the 2017 season. Moose had previously broken a landmark that stood for 32 years when he surpassed the 36 home runs struck by Steve Balboni during the 1985 season.
The Hank Aaron Award is given every year to best overall offensive performer in each league. The award was introduced in 1999 to mark the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. Aaron along with a panel of fellow Hall of Famers will combine with a fan vote to determine this year’s winner for each league.
Soler will be competing for this prestigious award with other notable American League names like Mike Trout, Alex Bergman, DJ LeMahieu, and Nelson Cruz. The winners of the 2019 Hank Aaron Award will be announced during the 115th World Series. Bringing home this prestigious award would be a first for any Kansas City Royals player. Being first is not something lost on Soler, as he topped Rafael Palmeiro for hitting the most home runs in a season by a Cuban born player.
What makes Soler’s contention for this award so impressive is not that he has battled injuries in previous years in staying healthy (he played in all 162 games in 2019). And that he lacked significant protection in the lineup to avoid being pitched around until late in the season when Ned Yost moved him to the number two spot in the batting order sandwiched between names like Merrifield, Gordon, or Dozier. Nor that his OPS (on base plus slugging percentage combined) at .922 was the highest of the 27-year old’s major league career.
Perhaps what makes Soler’s season so special was that he played 82 games at Kauffman Stadium. The home of the Royals ranks second in overall fair territory at 118,500 square feet per FanGraphs. The only other ballpark that’s larger in Major League Baseball is Coors Field with 119,200 square feet. Adding to Soler’s extraordinary season is that he hit 21 of his 48 home runs within the confines of Kauffman Stadium.
FanGraphs cites that “Playing surfaces of the new generation of ball parks have generally contracted in size. There appears to be little argument about that – and the data supports it. The trend is thought to have played a role in the increasing rates of home runs due to tighter ballpark dimensions.”
Modern baseball stadiums have greater amenities, less obstructed views, and wider concourses. However, they are also much more hitter friendly and pitcher adverse. That’s what makes Soler’s season so sensational. He hit almost half of his home runs at Kauffman Stadium.
Adding to Soler’s remarkable season would be the plate discipline he developed as the season progressed along with the exit velocity of baseballs coming off his bat. Kansas City’s right fielder and designated hitter had a 107.3 MPH exit velocity during the 2019 season per MLB Statcast, good for the 13th best overall average in all of baseball.
This propels Soler higher into elite company. His 117 Runs Batted In or RBI’s don’t hurt either. Many of these were sparked by the right-hand batter’s ability to lay off balls that were down and away in the strike zone during the second half of the season. Soler’s 73 walks were also the highest of his career. No doubt they were helped by his 679 plate appearances.
Soler’s power is special. Yost was on record this season with saying the organization is not sure on the ceiling for his offensive potential. He definitely broke through any impeding barriers this season. It will be interesting to see what lies next for Soler and the Royals, including whether a contract extension will be in the works this offseason.