Moustakas, Chisenhall and Hacking

Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas and Cleveland’s Lonnie Chisenhall are supposed to be the future of third base in the AL Central. Both are former first-round draft picks, as Moustakas was taken second overall out of Chatsworth (Ca.) High in 2007 and Chisenhall was popped at #29 out of Pitt (N.C.) Community College in 2008. And both lefty hitters ranked among Baseball America’s top 25 prospects entering the 2011 season, with Moose placing ninth and Chisenhall coming in at 25.

Unfortunately, both are also coming off pretty lousy first seasons in the major leagues. Moustakas batted .263, got on base at a .309 clip and slugged .367 in 365 plate appearances for the Royals after getting the call in June. Chisenhall, meanwhile, slashed .255/.284/.415 in 223 PA following a late-June call-up. That’s despite the Royals and Indians spotting for them against lefties: Moustakas had the platoon advantage in 73 percent of his PAs, and Chisenhall 77 percent.

A rough rookie start isn’t cause for panic for either 23-year-old. Plenty of hitters have scuffled at first in the majors before finding their footing. But for Moustakas and Chisenhall to make good on their glowing scouting reports, they’ll have to drastically improve their strike-zone judgment.

Never known for plate patience in the minors, Moustakas made up for low walk rates on the farm by making a good deal of contact and using his 5-foot-11, 230 pound frame to pound out extra-base hits:


Source: Baseball-Reference

That pop didn’t manifest in K.C., though, with Moustakas hitting just five homers and posting a .104 Isolated Power. Swinging at lots of pitches thrown out of the strike zone did him no favors. Moustakas chased 35.1 percent of pitches thrown out of the zone, well above the 30.6 average for MLB hitters in 2011.

Aside from leading to a low walk rate (six percent), Moustakas’ lack of patience likely hampered his power output. Those off-the-plate pitches rarely produce hard contact for hitters, and chasing would-be balls may have contributed to his sky-high pop up rate (21 percent, or nearly twice the MLB average). While Moose’s strike zone was from his eyes to his ankles, he seemed to have an especially hard time laying off high fastballs that often lead to balls hit up the elevator shaft:


Source: Texasleaguers.com

Chisenhall also punched out less than most hitters in the minors. While he never showed Moustakas’ level of power, he did a better job than his Royals counterpart when it came to working the count:

He hit for some power (7 HR, .160 ISO), but that decent plate approach cratered in Cleveland. Chisenhall hacked at 42.3 percent of off-the-plate pitches. In related news, he drew just eight walks (3.6 percent of his PA) — and one of those was intentional. Chisenhall also struck out 22 percent of the time, giving him a 0.16 BB/K ratio. That’s epically bad. In fact, it’s one of the 10 worst K/BB ratios of any rookie (minimum 200 PA) over the past decade:

Lowest BB/K Ratios Among Rookies, 2002-2011

Chisenhall’s problems came on fastballs high and away, and changeups fading away from him low in the zone:

There’s no reason to totally sour on Moustakas or Chisenhall based on what amounts to one full season’s worth of ABs between the two. That said, both have much to learn about in terms of getting into hitter’s counts, which would allow Moustakas to unleash his raw power and Chisenhall to spray line drives all over the field. Neither player figures to be an OBP machine, racking up walks at a Youkilis-esque pace. But there’s a baseline level of strike-zone awareness that both need to reach in order to utilize their strengths in the batter’s box.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


5 Responses to “Moustakas, Chisenhall and Hacking”

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  1. Paul says:

    All this is true, but is obscures the progress that both made throughout the season. Nobody can say they won’t revert to form or regress, because we see that all the time. I think both will have fine walk rates in the future, but when they are right they both have such great swings and hand-eye coordination that I would expect a career peak of 10%.

    Everybody was really down on Moustakas early, for good reason. I’ve never a seen a bigger disaster of a highly touted rookie. He was doing everything wrong mechanically, and swinging at everything made it far, far worse. Kevin Seitzer got him righted mechanically, and after about 100 ABs of that, he go to the point where his natural talent took over, and he had the confidence to work the count. His turnaround over the course of a half-season is truly the most remarkable thing I’ve ever seen. It took them five years to fix Alex Gordon.

    Chisenhall, on the other hand, just has a way over-aggressive approach. Mechanically, the swing is just a thing of beauty, and he is able to get tremendous extension, which you don’t see that often for any hitter, but it makes a beautiful lefthanded swing look even more so.

    Having said all that, I would not bet on these guys being fantasy options for two years. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if both of them were by next year. These two should be followed week-to-week.

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    • GLP says:

      Carrying it one thought further on Moustakas, I would like to see this evaluation done in two parts on him, one on his callup through August 15, then another for August 16 through the end of the year when he was a totally different hitter.

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      • Paul says:

        True. That would actually show how much he improved better than my observations, because he was SO bad early that there is just no way you can chalk it up to luck.

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  2. Superb post. I was checking continuously to this web site & I am so impressed! Extremely useful information, especially the middle section. I really want this kind of information. I was seeking this kind of knowledge for quite some times. Thank you & best of luck.

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  3. TribeFan in NC says:

    It’s a little distressing to see Chisenhall’s walk numbers, especially in relation to his history in the minors. Without a .350+ OBP, he becomes pretty marginal as he isn’t a 30 HR guy. But I think the Indians rushed him a little when they found themselves loooking for answers midseason. Let’s hope for some improvement next season.

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