2022 American Association Season Review: Kansas City Monarchs
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier takes a look at the Kansas City Monarchs in the 11th installment of the 2022 American Association season review.
The Kansas City Monarchs Season in Review
The Kansas City Monarchs were looking to repeat as American Association champions, and put together one of the most dominating regular seasons in American Association history. However, the club fell short in the playoffs, falling to the eventual champions.
Tale of the Tape
(League ranking listed in parenthesis.)
Record: 65-35 (1)
Home Record: 36-14 (1)
Away Record: 29-21 (T-2)
Average: .293 (1)
Homeruns: 165 (1)
Runs Scored: 696 (1)
On–Base Percentage: .384 (1)
Slugging Percentage: .505 (1)
Stolen Bases: 112 (T-6)
ERA: 4.40 (1)
Strikeouts: 967 (1)
Saves: 27 (2)
WHIP: 1.38 (T-1)
Shutouts: 6 (T-3)
CG: 1 (T-7)
Fielding Percentage: .980 (5)
Errors: 70 (T-4)
A Recap of the 2022 Kansas City Monarchs Season
The Kansas City Monarchs finished with one of the most dominating seasons statistically that the American Association has ever seen. They were first in team ERA and in batting average. The club set an American Association record for home runs in a season (165), easily blowing away their mark from the previous year. They also scored the most amount of runs in the league, 104 more than the team who finished second, the Cleburne Railroaders.
Kansas City finished as the only team in the league that had a winning record in every month, starting in May when they set the tone with a 12-6 record, second only to the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, who were 12-4. The club hit 31 home runs to go along with a .306 batting average and a 3.02 ERA, the only team in the league who had an ERA under 4.40.
The Monarchs lost the first two games of the season to the Sioux City Explorers, then rattled off victories in five of their next six games. After taking two of three from the Chicago Dogs, the club split a four-game set with the Gary SouthShore RailCats, then closed the month with five straight victories.
It was clear that this team was going to be something special, as David Thompson, Jan Hernandez, Gabriel Guerrero, and Willie Abreu were putting up unreal power numbers. Thompson hit seven home runs in the month to go along with a .369 batting average and both Abreu and Hernandez hit six homers. However, it was the pitching staff that was the story early on, as only one member of the staff had an ERA above five. Matt Hall was dominating to start the year, posting a 1.06 ERA in three starts.
The Monarchs had an unreal June, going 15-10 as the club hit 58 home runs in just 25 games. That gave the team 89 long balls through the first 43 games of the season and there was serious talk that this club was going to hit near 200 home runs. Hernandez blasted 12 homers and Matt Adams led the league with 13 during the month. The former Major Leaguer also drove in 34 runs.
Hall continued to dominate, going 2-0 in his two starts before the San Francisco Giants purchased his contract. Matt Hartman split time between the starting rotation and the bullpen, and was great in both roles, going 2-1 with a 1.48 ERA. The starting staff did begin to show some blemishes, as three of the five starters had ERAs over five and reliever Brandon Koch gave up nine earned runs in 11.0 innings pitched. However, the offense was so good that no one worried about an underperforming pitching staff.
The consistency of this team was what was driving them, as they lost three games in a row twice during the month, but that was the longest losing streak of the season for the team, dropping three in Sioux City (June 14-16) and three to the Railroaders at home (June 28-30). The club had a seven-game winning streak that finished in the early part of June (May 27-June 3), then won six straight (June 5-12) and added a four-game winning streak (June 19-23) it was consistency that made this club very difficult to beat.
In July, the team rolled into the All-Star break and came out of it on fire, going 18-7 overall. Hernandez went on the disabled list with an injury and Guerrero shocked everyone when he opted to retire at the All-Star game. However, Thompson continued to roll, hitting .361 with 17 RBI and 19 runs scored in 24 games. He also won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star game. J.C. Escarra began to swing a hot bad as well (.343, 3 HR, 12 RBI), and Hall returned after the break, going 1-1 with a 1.17 ERA and four starts.
Despite the losses of both Hernandez and Guerrero, the team looked like it would be okay. However, some of those blemishes were starting to become a little more prominent. Adams struggled, hitting four home runs while posting a .202 batting average, and four of the five starters had ERAs over five. That included Justin Donatella, who had returned to the team in June, going 1-1 with an 8.10 ERA in eight appearances, but he moved into the rotation in July and was completely ineffective, giving up 15 runs in 11.2 innings before his season was over.
The Monarchs had a six-game winning streak to close out the month (July 24-30), carrying that momentum into August. Kansas City went 17-11, hitting 37 more homeruns while posting a 4.86 ERA, fourth best in the American Association. Hall was absolutely dominant, going 5-0 with a 0.87 ERA in five starts and Alex Valdez came on to take over the closer’s role, posting a 1.69 ERA in five appearances. That appeared to be the one Achilles’ heel for Kansas City, as a committee had tried to close out games, but stumbled in late July through August. Valdez appeared to be the answer.
The Monarchs pitching staff got plenty of offense of support. Jacob Robson and Ryan Grotjohn returned to the team. Manager Joe Calfapietra also signed former Major Leaguer Mallex Smith. All looked well for the team.
Despite all of the impressive statistics, the Monarchs entered the final four-games of the year in second place in the West Division, trailing the RedHawks. After dropping the first game of the series, they were two games behind the Fargo-Moorhead, but swept the final three games to take the top record in the division. Valdez saved two of those contests and only Jordan Martinson struggled out of the bullpen in the final series.
Kansas City took on the Lincoln Saltdogs in the first round of the playoffs. Kansas City got a dominating performance out of Hall in Game 1, as he allowed one hit in seven innings, striking out eight. A leadoff single to Justin Byrd in the bottom of the first inning was the only hit allowed and a two-out walk in the third was the only other baserunner to reach. Kansas City scored a run in the top of the first on a homerun by Grotjohn and looked like they put this game away in the seventh when they scored four more runs, as Pete Kozma added a two-run double. A passed ball brought home Gio Brusa and Kozma scored on a single by Smith. The Monarchs shut down Lincoln until the ninth when the team rallied against McGrane, scoring two runs and had two on with one down, but Valdez closed out the contest to earn his first postseason save.
Two nights later, Kansas City returned home and put this game away early. Kansas City scored two runs in the first, then added two more in the third on a two-run homer by Darnell Sweeney. Lincoln battled back with three runs in the top of the fourth thanks to a pair of homeruns, but a grand slam by Sweeney in the bottom half of the inning put this contest away. The bullpen combined to tossed five scoreless innings, including two from Martinson, who earned the victory.
The Monarchs then traveled to Fargo, earning a 5-2 victory in Game 1 of the West Division Championship Series. Kansas City took the lead in the top of the fourth on a fielder’s choice by Brusa and Hall shut down the RedHawks through the first five innings. However, Fargo-Moorhead scored an unearned run in the sixth thanks to an error and took the lead in the seventh on an RBI single by John Silviano. It looked like the RedHawks would grab the first game of the series, but the Monarchs tied the contest in the top of the ninth on a single by Kozma and Escarra hit a three-run homer to give Kansas City a 5-2 victory.
It seemed almost a foregone conclusion that the Monarchs were going to the American Association Championship Series, returning home with two opportunities to defeat the RedHawks to advance. Kansas City had the best home record during the regular season and held a 3-1 lead through the first three innings. However, the RedHawks scored seven runs over the final four frames, scoring in every one of those innings to earn an 8-5 victory. The bullpen gave up five runs in three innings.
That set up the dramatic Game 3 where Peyton Wigginton dominated, tossing six shutout innings. The Monarchs found themselves trailing after giving up two in the third and single runs in the fifth and sixth. They finally scored in the eighth, but Alex DuBord shut the door in the ninth to end the season for Kansas City.
What Went Right
There is a great deal that went right for Kansas City. Despite not winning the championship, this team had a season for the ages. Manager Joe Calfapietra continues to prove himself to be among the elite managers in independent baseball, building a club that finished first in virtually every major offensive and pitching category. The team set a league record for homeruns and never had a losing streak longer than three games. It was a beautifully built team.
Thompson and Hernandez both had spectacular seasons. Hernandez finished with 24 homers in 73 games while Thompson hit 19 in the same number of games. Six players who appeared in at least 48 games hit over .300. The pitching staff was also very good. Despite some blemishes, they had the best ERA in the league, as well as the best WHIP.
What Went Wrong
There were really two problems for this team. It started with the bullpen. McGrane finished with 17 saves, a very impressive number, but struggled from August on, finishing with a 5.17 ERA. He was not alone, as several others tried to fill this role with little success. Koch performed well in August, but this is definitely an area that needs a serious upgrade for next season.
Injuries took their toll on the Monarchs as well. Adams season was over after 80 games, and Hernandez and Thompson both appeared in 73 contests. That is three players who were on their way to 25+ homer seasons, with Adams likely hitting well over 30. While every team has issues with injuries, losing three of the best players in the league is going to take its toll.
Team MVP: David Thompson
The season for Thompson ended on August 14, when he was injured in a 7-0 victory over the Lincoln Saltdogs. At the time, Thompson was hitting .346 with 71 runs scored, 39 extra-base hits, 19 homers, and 63 RBI in 73 games. He even had 15 stolen bases, second best on the club. Plus, he was a star at the All-Star game, winning the Home Run Derby.
He could have very well been the American Association MVP had he remained healthy for the remainder of the year, as Thompson was spectacular from start to finish. He hit .369 in May, clubbing seven homers, then follow that up with a seven homer, .297 average performance in June. In July, Thompson hit only three homeruns, but hit .361 with 19 runs scored and 17 RBI in 24 games. Plus, he posted a .439 on-base percentage. In August, he was hitting .362 before going down, scoring 10 runs and driving in nine in 12 games.
Top Pitcher: Matt Hall
Hall was chosen as the American Association Pitcher of the Year by the Minor League Sports Report and This Week in the Association, so it would only make sense that he would be the top pitcher for Kansas City as well. Hall had a record-setting performance, finishing with a 1.09 ERA in 14 starts, the lowest ERA in league history. He went 10-2 in 14 outings, finishing in second in victories, reaching the mark despite missing a month while he was with the Giants organization.
The numbers for the left-hander were ridiculous. He allowed more than one run in just two of his 14 starts, giving up to two Milwaukee on July 20 and three to Winnipeg on August 25. In seven of his appearances, he did not allow a run at all, and had four outings where he struck out at least 10, including 12 against Lincoln on August 20.
What to Expect in 2023
Joe Calfapietra is the manager of this team, so you know they are going to continue to be in the race for the top record in the American Association. They will be considered a favorite to win the Miles Wolff Cup because Calfapietra has built that kind of reputation. This team is always looked at as a club that will have at least four or five of the top 25 players in the league, and will be a team that will batter the pitching staff of opponents night after night.
The one area where the Monarchs need to make a dramatic improvement is in the bullpen. This has been the Achilles’ heel to the club over the last four seasons. They have been able to overcome that in previous years, but that was not the case in 2022. Valdez will be with the team for the entire year (unless his contract is purchased), which should make this bullpen better, but they need a group that can shut down opponents, especially come playoff time.
American Association Transactions
Chicago: Released OF Charlie Tilson and INF Stevie Wilkerson
Milwaukee: Released RHP Jake Matthys
Winnipeg: Signed INF Dayson Croes, INF Jordan Howard and OF Javeyan Williams
By Robert Pannier