Is Mike Moustakas Breaking Out?

No, I’m not talking acne which would obviously bring up a whole different debate. I’m simply posing the question based on expectations, past performance and current spring totals, so get your minds off the juice and let’s get on with it…

If there is anyone in the major leagues whose current performance should make him the poster boy for the debate over how much credence we should give to spring numbers, it’s Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. Though he did hit 20 home runs in his first full season, he posted a woeful slash line of .242/.296/.412 over 614 plate appearances. Last season, he followed it up with a dismal campaign that not only saw his slash line turn to an even uglier .233/.287/.364, but also came with a power decline and just 12 long balls. But this spring things seem to be a whole lot different. Over 35 Cactus League at-bats, Moustakas is batting an impressive .486 with four home run and 15 RBI. He has a .558 on-base percentage and is slugging at a rate of .943. Crazy, right? But now the question that seems to be on everyone’s minds is whether this is an impending break-out or just another case of a hot spring ready to cool.

Looking back at Moustakas’ history, there were some interesting progressions. Some good, some bad, but collectively interesting. He had a solid rookie debut, posting a .263 average with walk and strikeout rates that looked fine for a man with limited big league experience. However, he did not even come close to showing the power he exhibited int he minors. The following year, the power was there, as evidence by the 20 homers and .171 ISO, but while his walk rate was maintained, his major spike in strikeouts (from 14-percent to 20.2-percent) caused a big decline in both average and OBP. Last year, we saw less power but a return to stronger plate discipline numbers and while his average and OBP continued to decline, some of the blame could find it’s way to a dismal .257 BABIP.

Moustakas’ troubles can be easily found in his batted ball data. Early on in 2012, he opened the year with a fairly decent distribution between his line drive, ground ball and fly ball rates. However, his infield fly ball rate was a little on the high side at 15.4-percent. It all got worse the following month when his line drive rate dropped significantly and both his fly ball and infield fly ball rate spiked. Almost everything he hit was up in the air and and a huge percentage of that never made it past the infield dirt. He made adjustments to help correct the problem, but he never found a groove until August, and by then it was almost too late.

So Moustakas spent the whole offseason changing his approach at the plate. He was going to work on more line drives and rather than continue swinging for the fences and try to specifically repeat the prior season’s home run total, he was going to concentrate on just putting the ball in play. Unfortunately, the season started up almost the same way as the year before and we saw little change from a guy who supposedly changed his approach. He continued to make adjustments, but overcompensated the other way too much and started worm-killing on a regular basis. He went from a 25.4 ground ball rate in April to one of roughly 45-percent in May and June. There was no power to be had and very few of those ground balls had eyes. Again, there was a turnaround in August, but again, it was too little, too late.

While Moustakas was playing in the Venezuelan Winter League in December, news broke that the Royals traded for Danny Valencia. Everyone knows what position Valencia plays and they also know that he wrecks left-handed pitching. Supposedly the move was to send a message, though he does make for a great bat off the bench. Well, message received loud and clear apparently as guess who spent most of the offseason changing his approach at the plate again? Yup, that’s right. Moustakas spent the whole offseason working on his swing and his batting eye and he is hoping to make a much bigger impact with his bat this season. He is hoping to regain the power he lost last year while also doing his best to hit the ball well to the opposite field. So far, so good as he looks like a completely different and much more confident hitter this spring. How well that holds once the season starts, however, is the real question.

Considering Moustakas’ sad-sack 278.28 ADP in the NFBC, he’s obviously not costing you a whole lot to acquire this season. In snake drafts, we’re looking at an 18th or 19th round pick in 15-team leagues, a 24th-round reserve pick in most 12-team leagues and in 10-team mixed leagues, he’s not even being drafted. In auction leagues, I have yet to see him go for more than just a couple of bucks late in the process. With such a small investment required, I don’t see how you don’t take a chance with him. Third base has a very significant drop-off in talent after the top-10, he’s shown 20-home run power in the past, he’s obviously continuing to work hard to fix his problems and he’s tearing the cover off the ball this spring. If he pans out then you’ve hit it big for next to nothing in cost. If he doesn’t, then you cut him and you’ve wasted nothing. There’s practically no risk involved with a big potential payout. For me, that’s a no-brainer.




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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com


51 Responses to “Is Mike Moustakas Breaking Out?”

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  1. Troy says:

    Hope, it is what every great fantasy team is built on.

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  2. Darktown Struts says:

    Ah, but his numbers last spring were even better than this year’s. For those who wish to drink the Kool-Aid, however, there is this tasty tidbit–his Ks are down significantly this spring over last. Bottoms up!

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    • Wobatus says:

      1.501 OPS this spring, 1.107 last year. His numbers were good last spring and he tanked but they are better this year.

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  3. Cuck City says:

    sLuuuuuuuuurp

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  4. costaricanchata says:

    heard that he refuses to watch tape ,
    which seems kinda thick-headed .
    can you confirm/deny ?

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    • Howard Bender says:

      I can neither confirm nor deny. I do know that he likes his standard cliches. “Just trying to but the barrel on the ball.”

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  5. yosoyfiesta says:

    I will donate auction dollars not to have Mike Moose Tacos on my team.

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  6. Ralph Libinski says:

    Sorry, but this sounds like Best Shape Of His Life 2.0.

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  7. jim fetterolf says:

    Eyeballs are comfortable with the new Moose, much smoother and better balanced than previous incarnations, staying back on the ball and showing better pitch recognition. It will take a few years for stats to recognize this.

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  8. I Like Baseball Sports says:

    Stop this discussion, go back and check BJ Upton’s Spring Training stats from last season, then get back to me and tell me we really needed to have this article on Fangraphs.

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    • Howard Bender says:

      Well that’s just a ridiculous statement. BJ Upton’s spring stats from last year? Please. That’s a horrible comparison. I don’t mean to come back at you like this, but telling me that a piece doesn’t need to be on FanGraphs and then you cite BJ Upton as your example? That’s like comparing apples and chainsaws.

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      • Emcee Peepants says:

        100% agree, I think he missed the part where you said he changed his approach at the plate again this year and looks like a different hitter. Upton had been on the slow train to shit salad town with his approach for a few years prior to 2013 and finally just pulled into the station. Moustakas is a young guy still figuring things out.

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      • Snidely Whiplash says:

        I’m confused…who’s the apple and who’s the chainsaw? I’m guessing bj is the chainsaw…held by the wrong end

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      • I Like Baseball Sports says:

        Whooooooosh.

        I’ll spell it out for you: Spring Training stats are indicators of absolutely nothing. Plus, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Moose ‘make changes to his swing’.

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      • I Like Baseball Sports says:

        “I think he missed the part where you said he changed his approach at the plate again this year and looks like a different hitter.”

        Is he also in the best shape of his life?

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    • jim says:

      analysis like this is why you get the big bucks

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    • Visitor says:

      I think I missed the part where Mr. Bender wrote, “Moustakas is raking in Spring Training, so obviously he will rake in the season too. Spring Training is, after all, the same as the regular season!”

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      • I Like Baseball Sports says:

        He starts off by wondering if weight should be given to his spring numbers, if they’re the start of a breakout, if they’re because of adjustments,… then explores that topic by spending the next three paragraphs explaining that this is a player that has never been able to maintain consistent swing mechanics.

        so what do you think? is mike moustakas currently, in the middle of spring training, breaking out?

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  9. Phil McCracken says:

    What about Mostsuckass in an OBP league? Whats the ceiling for his OBP? 320?

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    • jim fetterolf says:

      Moose is about a .050 isoOBP guy, maybe a little higher this year if he hits and is lower in the order, then he gets worked around to get to Cain of Escobar. .320 is probably a good guess max.

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  10. Jacks says:

    Moose posted a 1.153 OPS last spring training. 70 plus ABs. Maybe this year it’s the new approach, maybe he just excels at hitting spring cookies.

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    • Andrew says:

      I think the key here is the strikeout rate. He’s halved it from last spring, and it’s currently down around 10%. That, combined with the huge ISO and the already noted change to his approach means he’s worth a roll of the dice.

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      • nitros says:

        Andrew: I agree FWIW. The key here IMO is the K rate reduction (which is the only difference between last spring and this spring). I liked the topic of the article, but in my humble opinion the “zinger” here is K rate difference between last spring and this spring.

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      • Emcee Peepants says:

        I think the other key is that last year everyone drafted him high expecting a breakout, where this year his stock is falling in a weak position and he could be a flyer that really pays off.

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      • rotofan says:

        Because of the sample size of 35 ABs, halving the k-rate would mean 3 or 4 fewer strikeouts. Not much predictive value in that.

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  11. Jacks says:

    35 ST ABs convince you of a trend? They might hint at one, but beware of crafting a narrative out of scant evidence, anecdotes and small sample sizes. Think I’d still take Frazier over him. Maybe he’s about equal with WMB.

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  12. bcmelton says:

    It wasn’t too long ago that his 3B predecessor, Alex Gordon, was considered a bust as well. Some guys just take longer to figure it out. Of course, some never do figure it out. Worth a risk late.

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  13. Beau says:

    He went undrafted in my 12 team league and I picked him up two days ago. Worth a flyer.

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  14. Fanthed says:

    Sane analysis. The idea that spring training stats or patterns are ALWAYS meaningless seems to me as presumptuous and close-minded as the idea that ALL spring training performances will carry over to the season. If there are exceptions to a rule we might as well try to recognize them. Thanks.

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  15. Not Eric Hosmer says:

    You guys should try telling him this…………oh wait.

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  16. papasmurf says:

    When you pop the ball up 1/6 of the time you put the ball in play, your BABIP will suck. He didn’t hit the ball hard, that’s why he sucked.

    I don’t like how every time some hitter sucks, his low BABIP is brought up. It is low for a reason! It’s one thing is a hitter has a 22% LD rate and rarely pops up, but that is NOT the case here.

    Mousse sucked last year. He deserved his lousy numbers.

    Is he breaking out? I don’t know. I would bet that he isn’t. But stranger things have happened.

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  17. Anal Hershiser says:

    But spring stats are meaningless.

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  18. Shawnuel says:

    I predict Moustakas will have a big breakout…….which will lead to his being named the new spokesperson for Proactive.

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  19. Chicago Mark says:

    It’s a nice article Howard. And Moose might be worth a late round or #1 flier. BUT…..Isn’t all your discussion a bunch of small sample size numbers? I won’t go over all of it but it sure seems this way. I think I’ll take Middlebrooks or Frazier if available instead. If you read this please make a comparison of the three or maybe convince me otherwise.

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    • Howard Bender says:

      The sample size from his spring numbers is obviously small, but we have to start somewhere and look at what he’s doing with another tweak to his approach. It’s positive now, but yes, we’ll have to see what he does once the season finally begins.

      I’d be willing to give both Middlebrooks and Frazier a shot as well. Middlebrooks has stronger power potential than Moustakas but the plate discipline is really the issue for him. His strikeouts are too high, he’s not drawing much in walks, his double-digit SwStr% isn;t good and he makes below-average contact. He’s got to rein all of that in to be successful. Moose looks a little better this spring but Middlebrooks has made some slight improvement as well. But I think I might actually give Moustakas a slight edge for this year because of his plate discipline track record.

      Frazier, on the other hand, I would actually go with over Moustakas, I think. His plate discipline isn’t as bad as Middlebrooks’, but he also struggles to make good contact. However, Frazier has that real funky, unorthodox swing and he’s spent much of the offseason trying to make his swing more consistent. They’re not changing him all around, but much like a golfer, they just want him to swing the same each time. I think that’s going to help his contact rates and I could see them going up. That, with a hopefully improved BABIP, should lead to something bigger and better. He’s hit 19 HR in each of his last two seasons, so I could see him turning out closer to 25. Moose won;t hit that many and if Frazier does improve, they’re other numbers could be very similar.

      I would rank these guys Frazier, Moustakas, Middlebrooks right now. But should he show me some consistent improvements and he cuts back on the strikeouts, then I would bump him up ahead of Moose and then compare him and Frazier again.

      I would say that Middlebrooks is the bigger “name” and will see more draft attention based on that and for whom he plays while both Moose and Frazier will go later in drafts. And considering where they’re going, they’ll prove to be bigger bargains so for that, i would definitely take late-round fliers on them both.

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      • Chicago Mark says:

        Wow! That’s a great response to MY question. Thanks Howard. I’m in an auction league so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It’s a 13 team, $300 budget, 5×5 roto league. So my guess is Frazier and Midd will be rostered and Moose will still be available for $1. Anyway, thanks again.
        Chicago Mark

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  20. Fanthed says:

    Not all small sample sizes are equal. Even if most are misleading, some convey real improvement (new swing, new pitch, adjustment, growth, etc.). The winner is the one who can tell the difference. That’s not me but I would love to be in a fantasy league in which owners were absolutists in either direction with their sample-size convictions.

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  21. Fanthed says:

    Conversely, small samples can show us when a player is off. Obvious case is when a handful of games show he hasn’t recovered from an injury–or when a prospect is ready for the bigs.

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  22. MLB Rainmaker says:

    You knew this article was coming as soon as he started to hit this spring, but in general, its unlikely for hitters to change their skill level. At about the 1200 PA range, a hitters skill level solidifies. There is always room for growth due to frame and build, but K%, BB% and batted ball profiles aren’t really going to swing much.

    Moose is at that threshold — he’s got a 6% BB%,17% K%, and .274 BAPIP which profiles at a career slash of .244/.296/.385. First, given those BB, K and BAPIP rates, he likely won’t ever hit for average. Second, if you look at his splits, he’s awful vs LHPs, slashing .222/.275/.332 and a RC+ of 64 — so even if he doesn make some improvements, he’s likely not going to turn that around enough to be valuable.

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  23. pj says:

    Mike Moustakas always lights up spring training. Wake me up when it happen when the games start counting.

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  24. pj says:

    Mike Moustakas always lights up spring training. Wake me up when it happen when the games start counting.

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  25. MikeInNJ says:

    “If he pans out then you’ve hit it big for next to nothing in cost. If he doesn’t, then you cut him and you’ve wasted nothing. There’s practically no risk involved with a big potential payout. For me, that’s a no-brainer.”

    No, no, no. In deep, AL-only leagues if you snag a guy like Moustakas and he’s a bust then you have a complete liability on your hands. You can’t just cut him or reserve him and expect that you’ll have a decent replacement. It doesn’t work that way. Odds are you’ll be replacing him with another dud. Yes, he’s low-risk/high-reward in a sense, but if he stinks and you’re in a deep league it is going to hurt you.

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    • Cybo says:

      Depends on the size of your rosters. If you have the room, with the way he’s been hitting, I agree that he’s worth the gamble. No risk still a (arguably) high upside.

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  26. yoyoyo says:

    people are mostly citing just the Ks, but to me its the overall BB/K profile he’s currently displaying. Extremely small sample size, but his current bb/k is well over 1 in spring. Per his fangraphs card, he’s never had a bb/k over .62. Last spring it was 5/16 which is terrible. That would be doubly good if he’s actually making a concerted effort to draw walks instead of just going up there hacking.

    That said, per this page: http://mlb.mlb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=l_bat&sid=l135&lid=135

    Moustakas BB/K is 4/16…which is worst than last spring technically. That’s a small sample size too for the record. Judging that winter ball BB/K for a guy that’s been “working” on his swing, I don’t like what I see. Now combining the spring BB/K with the winterball BB/K I have no clue what to think.

    I think if we had audio or video of Moustakas speaking on specific mechanical/approach changes (maybe there is, and I missed it) he’s made I’d be more intrigued.

    I don’t think at this point this is a guy that it will just “click” for and he will explode. I think if he’s ever going to fully break out it’s going to be at least a two year process. That said, he can still be a serviceable 3b without even “fully” breaking out at the price he’s going. Honestly though, I’m currently more intrigued by Morneau and Kolten Wong than Moustakas at this given moment.

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  27. Sean says:

    I’m going to go with “no”.

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