In fantasy, there are certain truths that we as owners have grown to expect and rely upon. Power comes from the corners, speed comes from the middle and the outfield is a nice blend of the two. So when it came to drafting a third baseman, you had a choice — invest heavily for one of the marquee names and get your 30-40 bombs or take a more economical approach and pay less for a 20-25 home run guy and shuffle your remaining bid dollars or picks around to create a more well-balanced but still powerful roster. When Mike Moustakas smacked 20 home runs in his first full season in 2012 and posted a .171 ISO, we were given another economical option, but one who also had the potential to to produce even more. With solid power numbers in the minors, he had some hype to him but considering he was only a 20-home run guy, the price tag wasn’t too high. Until, of course, that power you paid for never arrived.
While you never want to write off a young player, and by young I mean in terms of experience, you have to look at Moustakas’ third year as one of heavy disappointment. His rookie campaign was decent and in his sophomore year, though he struggled with strikeouts and batting average, the power he showed gave hope that the third base position was getting itself another solid hitter. It’s not that expectations were too high, but after hearing about an offseason spent tweaking his mechanics and making changes in his approach at the plate, it was assumed that Moustakas would take his game to the next level. Alas, we all know what happens when we assume.
Moustakas did, in fact, change his approach at the plate and while he was being more selective overall, he was also being more aggressive with pitches inside the zone and doing a better job of laying off the ones outside. Unfortunately though, his adjustments took him to the complete other end of the spectrum and instead of mashing everything into the dirt as he did in 2012, he was popping everything up in the air. We expected him to find a happy medium, but if you look at the splits in his batted ball data, you can see that it took him well into July to fix the issues. At that point, the former 20-homer guy had just six long balls to his credit and while he was striking out less, his average was still in the toilet. Some looked at his woeful .228 BABIP at that point and cited bad luck, but in truth, with a fly ball rate of 44.5-percent that was accompanied by an infield fly-ball rate hovering close to 18-percent, it was more bad mechanics than it was bad luck.
He began to correct the problem during the second half, but while he increased his line drive rate from 16.4 to 22.6-percent, he maintained a similar fly ball rate and only cut the infield pop ups down by a small amount. He did produce a higher ISO, but he also struck out significantly more. Coupled with poor contact rates he was still only batting .259 in the second half despite a much more favorable .302 BABIP. The adjustments he was trying to make weren’t significant enough to fix his season and given the difficulties he’s now had over these last two years, the hope for a complete turnaround in 2014 is a bit dimmer than it was heading into last season.
Sure, there was the balky knee and the calf problem — they both could have affected his swing — but the real concern is his tendency to overcompensate when he’s struggling. By going from one extreme to the other and never quite settling in on a happy medium, Moustakas is just making it harder on himself. He needs to understand that a cold spell doesn’t require a complete overhaul, just a few minor tweaks. There is still plenty of hope that things click for him and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see him return to the 20-homer plateau. But given what we’ve seen, those 20 homers are likely to continue coming at the expense of a whole lot more.