Sure, it’s only fourteen games into the 2013 baseball season but should the Kansas City Royals be worried about the slow starts by youngsters Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas? If not, when does Kansas City start to be nervous? Much of the Royals projected future success hinges on the development of these two players into stars, or at least into above average major leaguers.
Eric Hosmer debuted in 2011, performing in such away as a 21-year old as to lead Royals’ followers into believing he was a star in the making. He played in 128 games and had 523 at bats. He hit 19 home runs and drove in 78 on a way to a .293/.334/.465/.799 slash line. Hosmer failed to ever really get it going in 2012, only hitting 14 home runs and 60 RBI in 152 games and 598 at bats. His slash last year was much worse than his rookie campaign – .232/.304/.359/.663, totally unacceptable for a middle of the line-up, corner infielder. This season’s stats are hardly better, except for OBP. His slash over his first 33 at bats is .242/.359/.273/.632. Most worrisome is that he has only been able to produce one extra base, a double.
On KC Kingdom’s sister site, Kings of Kaufman, Brian Henry did an interesting article on Hosmer’s pitch selection. Henry showed definitively that Hosmer is being much more selective at the plate this season. He isn’t swinging at pitches outside the strike zone near as much in 2013 as he did last year (25.8% this season, 33.5 in 2012). This trend is generally a good thing. In theory, Hosmer should be making better contact since he is not laying wood on pitchers’ pitches. For whatever the reason, Hosmer just isn’t getting any power on his swings. He isn’t driving the ball. At some point, if he continues to swing at pitches in the strike zone, his power should return. He is too big a guy and too talented of a hitter to be just a singles hitter. While it is frustrating waiting for him to develop, there is still hope that improvement is just around the corner for Hosmer.
The picture is less optimistic for Mike Moustakas. His slash line for his 2011 rookie season looks like this – .263/.309/.367/.675. Although he seemed to take a step forward early in 2012, his numbers dropped badly in the second half. His final slash was .242/.296./.412/.708. These numbers indicate that his power was developing but that was an illusion. All of the gains in Slugging Percentage and OPS were from the first half. Take at look at these first half/second half splits in SLG and OPS .490/.325 slugging and .817/.586 OPS. The Royals brushed this off during the off season by claiming it was all due to injuries Moose suffered in late July. From the look of things thus far in 2013, he must still be injured. His slash for this season is .178/.245/.222/.467. His numbers wouldn’t be fitting for a weak hitting utility infielder. He has no home runs and only 1 RBI thus far.
A look at Moustakas’ swing heat maps (Henry used Baseball Heat Graphsin his Hosmer post) is interesting. Against righties, he is swinging at everything high in the zone and everything belt high and outside the zone – in other words, he is chasing. Against lefties, he is laying off the high stuff and is swinging at everything low and inside. Against all pitchers, he is not being aggressive enough of on pitches in the middle of the plate.
Several weeks ago, KC Kingdom took a look a Moustakas’ infield fly rate, which is one of the worst in the majors. Moose is becoming an extreme fly ball hitter (41.2% in 2011, 49.8% in 2012). It is even worse so far in 2013 – 60.5%. These number would be great if his Home Runs per Fly Ball Ratio was 10-12% as it should be (4.2% in 2011, 9% in 2012, 0% in 2013 – totally unacceptable numbers). He also has shown a propensity for hitting infield flies. Of all balls hit in the air (fly balls and line drives) by Moustakas, 17.2% were infield flies in 2011, and 14.8% in 2012, the second highest rate in the majors. This season, that rate is 20.7%. If Mike Moustakas is going to take any kind of step forward, these numbers have to improve, and very quickly. He is not going to be a productive major league hitter if these tendencies continue.
One other thing to mention is that Mike Moustakas’ defense is much better than advertised when he was coming through the minors. Moose has not let his offensive shortcomings affect him in the field. Eric Hosmer, on the other hand, is a much worse defender than we were led to believe. Based just on my eye test (I am NOT a scout or talent evaluator), Hosmer appears to be fundamentally unsound around the bag. When he swipes at balls in the dirt, I cringe, even when he catches them. Moose has been exciting to watch in the field; Hoss not so much.
The question remains – when do we as fans start to panic a little about the futures of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas? When do the Kansas City Royals start to become alarmed? Well, I can tell you that I am starting to get a little nervous about both. There has been more bad than good with both so far in their brief careers. Keep in mind that both are still quite young – Moustakas is 24, Hosmer 23. They still have time to recover, make adjustments, and develop into the stars we all hope they will be. If the Royals are going to compete for a post season spot this season, these two players need to turn it around and quickly. The Royals do not have anyone to back them up in the minors. If they have not started to produce by the second week of May, the Royals will be in trouble and the nervousness will be full scaled panic by then. Kansas City made the investment in their starting rotation, and it has paid off so far, but if these two guys, who are needed in the middle of the line-up, continue to struggle, the pitching improvement probably won’t be enough to get them into the playoffs.