A Chilly Reception for Mike Moustakas

Among the plethora of blue-chippers that the Kansas City Royals can call their own, Mike Moustakas was by most accounts the most anticipated Royal prospect to arrive on the major league stage (with due respect to Eric Hosmer). His 36 home runs and 124 RBI over 118 minor league games in 2010 had fantasy managers salivating for a call-up. After making mincemeat out of opposing minor league pitchers early this season, the Royals didn’t waste any additional time. He immediately singled in his first major league at-bat, hit a 391-foot home run off Joel Pineiro in his fourth at-bat, and it seemed the Moustakas era was off and running. But that’s pretty much the entirety of the good news.

What has gone wrong? Well, just about everything.

He has just over 200 plate appearances in the big leagues, and he has yet to flash the tremendous bat that he demonstrated over four quick years in the minors. Although June wasn’t too terribly unkind to him as he posted a .263 batting average and .354 OBP, he still struggled in the power department with a .316 slugging percentage, and it only got worse from there. July and August represented the lowest slugging percentages for all qualified third basemen, and by a great distance, at .223 and .128, respectively. To illustrate just how much Moutakas has struggled, his current wOBA stands at .218 which is lower than even Chone Figgins.

His triple slash stands at .184/.242/.232, and he currently holds a 28 wRC+. Twenty Eight.

While his hit trajectory distribution isn’t particularly alarming, his HR/FB rate sits at a laughable 1.5% in large part due to a truly ridiculous 27.3% IFFB rate. Indeed, it’s tough to hit the ball out of the park when it doesn’t clear the infield. That 27.3% leads all position players in infield fly balls and if it remains that high, it would qualify for the worst IFFB rate since Adam Everett hit 28.2% of fly balls to the infield in 2007 (although he at least slugged .316 that year). So Moustakas is obviously either lifting the ball or simply having trouble squaring it up. Is he getting unlucky? Perhaps a bit. He currently has a BABIP of .214 but his expected BABIP based on his hit trajectory is .241. But .241 isn’t really anything to get too excited about, even if it does suggest a few balls haven’t quite squeaked through when they should have.

His swinging strike rate and his strikeout percentage are within an expected range for Moustakas at about a league average 8.3% on the SwStr% and 15.3% K%, but he is having incredible difficulty with off-speed pitches. He is currently more than five runs below average per 100 pitches on the slider, which qualifies for worst among all position players and he’s three runs below average per 100 pitches on the change. Although, it should be noted that it’s not just the off-speed pitches that he’s struggling with as he currently isn’t close to league average on any single pitch type.

I’ve read where Moustakas isn’t “making the right adjustments,” according to his coaches, in whatever particular form they believe that to be. But what is clear is that his ability to make contact on off-speed pitches has only grown worse over the course of his time in the major leagues as his whiff rate has ballooned from his first month to his second month at this level:

The worst examples are his whiff rates on sliders and curves that went from roughly 12% over his first month to 23% and 25%, respectively. He’s not getting any more comfortable at the plate the more they trot him out there, and I certainly hope they have a sports psychologist on the payroll in KC to ensure that this debacle doesn’t negatively impact the immense potential that Moustakas has.

The good news for Moustakas owners is the team appears committed to letting him try to hit his way out of this funk, and given their place in the standings and his plus defense thus far, that’s understandable. What remains to be seen of course, is whether he can at least partially right the ship and have some modicum of momentum headed into 2012. He only has 200 plate appearances and we know that’s a sample too small to draw conclusions from on most offensive statistics, and certainly those kicked around in this post. In fact, he will likely not reach enough plate appearances this season for most important statistics to reasonably stabilize.

For fantasy baseball purposes, keeper league managers will have an interesting decision if you have other well established third basemen already on your team. Others will most certainly have Moustakas on your radar as a good later round value pick.

Chances are, his rookie season will be a little blip on the radar of a highly successful major league career, but this most certainly wasn’t the introduction Mike Moustakas or the Kansas City Royals envisioned.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

7 Responses to “A Chilly Reception for Mike Moustakas”

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  1. justin says:

    Not a huge surprise for someone who can’t hit lefties, doesn’t really walk, and put up the majority of his great numbers at home in an extreme hitters park at NW Arkansas. Tremendous raw power has a way of making people look better than they are. I think he’s got a good shot at being an above average every day player, but the Moustakas hype machine was acting like he was the second coming of Mike Schmidt.
    His rawness and obvious holes made him a perfect candidate to struggle as a rookie (and maybe for his first few years).

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    • KB says:

      Doesn’t really walk? At every level once established he walked at about an average rate – 7-8%. He also controlled the strike zone just fine with a mid teen strike out rate. What has been forgotten is that Moustakas struggled at every level before getting it. This is just par for the course for him and he will adjust. I expect him to be more than just above average.

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      • Michael Barr says:

        The only thing that really resembles this season is the month of July in 2009 when Moustakas was 20 years old in the Carolina league, hitting a little below .200 but he still hit 4 HR’s on the month. The rest of the season was pretty consistent. He raked at AA in 2010, and still hit well in his promotion to AAA, hitting about .250 with 4 HR’s in July over 77 AB’s and then exploded in August. I just don’t see a trend of struggle-dominate that would suggest this is his M.O. and there was never a period of 200+ at bats where he was so totally inept.

        His walk rate and K rate is in line with his minor league numbers, but justin is correct that he struggled in the minors vs. LHP (.222 BA at AAA and .237 BA in ’09).

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      • Paul says:

        You clearly have not seen him play. I also assumed based on the walk rate and the low strikeout rate that he controls the strike zone well. Wrong. He has exceptional hand-eye coordination and the ability to square really bad pitches. That’s actually the problem. He absolutely swings at everything. This is not a case of a guy not knowing the strike zone. It’s worse than that – he simply does not have a trigger, he is geared to swing at absolutely anything that is thrown up there. Because of the ability to make contact with terrible pitches that no hitter should ever swing at (especially in on his hands), he pops out repeatedly to the shortstop. He doesn’t strike out a ton because of that exceptional ability and because he never gets to two strikes.

        The worst part is the Royals’ approach. Ned Yost says “he’ll figure it out.” Really? He clearly has no idea what to figure out because his approach has only gotten worse. Mike Moustakas is the symbol for a glaring weakness in the Royals’ “process” – they have zero ability to develop power hitters. Want more evidence than Billy Butler? Or the four years they watched Alex Gordon struggle before finally coming up with a plan to fix him? Moustakas’ approach is terrible, but he has huge problems mechanically. His swing path will not allow him to hit anything above thigh high. His weight distribution is terrible. He gets around the ball instead of through it.

        Go ahead and keep Moustakas if you want. Like George Brett after his rookie year, he is going to need to be completely broken down and rebuilt to have any modicum of success in MLB. Despite the Royals’ inability to do so, I’m actually optimistic about this because Moose is a Boras client. I really hope they hook him up with someone this winter that can fix him, because he has a lot of ability and is a great kid. Right now, he’s a total disaster and it’s pointless for him to be taking ABs away from Yamaico Navarro, who has made lots of adjustments in the past two years and deserves a shot to play every day.

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      • Jerome S. says:

        Moustakas has a 36.9% O-Swing%, a 72.7% Z-Swing, and a 51.6% Swing%.

        None of those are particularly great, but he’s not Vlad Guerrero. He’s not even Robinson Cano.

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  2. Everett says:

    I picked him up just before he was called up with the hopes of him being a keeper as a 25th round pick. I probably should’ve dropped him a month ago, but haven’t brought myself to do it yet.

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  3. My last name is also Moustakas, and having lived in Kansas City, the most understated ethnic-prejudicial town, out of the South, where people smile while they stab you in the back, I can understand how basic negativism can taint any other remarks about those with Greek surnames. Fuck those uncultured WASPs. KC
    was the worst uncultured town I’ve ever had the displeasure in which to reside.
    Unless your name is Hall, or Smith, or Quackenbush, pack up and move to greener pastures.

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