As a 23-year old in the major leagues, Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals hit an impressive 55 extra base hits in 2012. That was the 9th best number among major league third basemen. His 36 extra base hits before the All-Star break was 4th among major leagues 3-baggers, and he only trailed Miguel Cabrera in the American League. Unfortunately, he only pounded out 19 extra base hits after the break.
Injuries to his knee and groin in the second half certainly sapped some of his power. Moustakas never complained and played at less than 100% for several weeks. If it was just his power numbers that sagged, then it could all be written off as a result of those injuries, but it wasn’t just the power production. His numbers plummeted across the board. His first half slash line looked healthy at .268/.327/.490/.817. In the second half, his slashes plummeted to awful levels – .211/.261/.325/.586. Just to put into perspective how terrible those stats are, Angel Berroa‘s career slash line was .258/.303/.374/.677, and Chris Getz‘s career slashes are .257/.314/.316/.630! While these comparisons are unfair because Moustakas’ numbers were produced over just 287 plate appearances and not whole careers, it does give a good picture on just how badly Moose struggled in the second half.
A closer look at his numbers show Moustakas was terrible on the road and against left-handers all season. He also had a dismal .274 Batting Average on Balls In Play, which is connected to an abysmal line drive rate of only 16%, and he walked only 6.4% of the time (needs to be around 10%). He struck 124 times but only coaxed 39 walks. Mike Moustakas must improve his hitting across the board if the Royals can realize their full potential on offense, and Moose can find a home in the middle of their line-up.
The good news is that Moustakas has a history of being a little slow to adjust at each progressive level through the minor leagues. The bad news is that he already has over 900 at bats at the major league level and should have made his adjustments already. Maybe he did. His 2012 first half numbers, including 15 home runs, are encouraging. Maybe his numbers did suffer because he was playing hurt. If this is the case, Royals fans should expect a return to the first half skill set displayed last season.
There are several things for Moose to work on. His BB% is too low at 6.4%; he needs to show much more patience at the plate to push that number closer to 10%. He needs to lift his line drive rate to the 19-20% range. In 2012, Moustakas was an extreme fly ball hitter, getting the ball in the air 50% of the time when he put it in play. This is a good number for a home run hitter but an inordinate number of these fly balls were infield flies. According to beforeitsnews.com, Moose was second in the majors with an infield fly rate of 14.8%. If Moustakas could get just 4 percent of those infield fly balls to level out into line drives, his fly ball rate would still be a good for a power hitter and his batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, line drive rate, and batting average on balls in play would all increase drastically. In a season with 560 at bats, this is about 22-25 fly balls turning into line drives, which have a much higher chance to fall for base hits. To put it another way, last season, nearly 15% of all balls Moustakas put into play had zero chance to be base hits. Things were even worse in his 2011 rookie year when his infield fly rate was a crazy 17.2%. These are very extreme numbers but this should be something Moustakas can correct with some coaching and some adjustments in his swing. If he cannot turn this particular trend around, he will have a lot of trouble reaching his full potential as a hitter.
On a positive note, Mike Moustakas’ defense has been a pleasant surprise. Moose was never touted as a good glove man through his minor league career but his 2012 performance on defense was outstanding. While it is always difficult to accurately quantify defensive stats, Moose’s numbers speak for themselves in comparison to his peers. Moustakas had the 7th most errors among third basemen in the majors in 2012 but…he was 1st in Total Chances with 454, 29 more than Chase Headley, who was the only other 3B over 384 TC. He was tied for first in Put Outs with 127, 2nd in Assists with 312 (only three behind the leader), and was involved in an amazing 41 double plays, 10 more than second highest third base man. His Fielding Percentage was 5th, and his Range Factor (PO+A/Inn) was easily the highest in the majors at 2.95. Brett Lawrie (2.90)was the only other 3B with a RF over 2.61. These numbers indicate that Moustakas should have won a Gold Glove in 2012.
Moose’s first half power is also a reason to think he can become an elite power hitter. His 15 home runs and 21 doubles in the first half are both very good numbers. The key is to repeat that kind of production over a whole season. If Moustakas can iron his issues (poor walk rate, outrageous infield fly ratios), and can continue his sparkling defense, he can develop into an All-Star caliber player for the Royals. At 24 years old, that is not out of the question. Mike Moustakas has a legitimate chance to be a powerful force in the middle of the Royals line-up for years to come and another reason why fans should have some hope for the future.