Mike Moustakas was pretty bad offensively in 2013 and 2014, so what’s changed about the Royals third baseman that’s made him a .290+ batter and fixture in the #2 spot in the order for one of the league’s best teams?
Today I’m going to take a few minutes to look closer at Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals. The goal is to help fantasy baseball managers and fans alike understand what’s happened below the surface for with the former first round pick to help explain his emergence as a quality major league hitter.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals
His Time in the Minors: 2010-2012
Did you have any indication that Moustakas was going to choose 2015 to be his true breakout season as a professional hitter? Odds are you answered ‘no’ to that question… but if you happened to say ‘yes’ – that is quite the foresight.
Moustakas made his minor league debut in 2007, playing 10 games in rookie ball. Things really got going for him in 2008 when he finished with 22 HR, 77 Runs and 71 RBI in 126 games as a 19-year-old. He followed that up with 16 HR, 86 RBI and 66 Runs the following year as a 20-year-old in high-A (A+ Wilmington) but only a .718 OPS. Needless to say, the power was still quite impressive as a 19 and 20-year-old kid who appeared to be holding his own in the lower levels of the minors in the early going.
Skip to 2010 and we had his true breakout season in the minor leagues. As a 21-year-old, he went crazy for 36 HR, 124 RBI and 94 Runs across 118 games played (484 AB) for a .999 OPS. Those numbers are fact-checked (credit to baseballreference and fangraphs, as always) so feel free to rub your eyes one more time before checking again. Almost 40 bombs, over 120 runs batted in and just shy of 100 runs scored in less than 120 games? Wow. Not to mention his .322 batting average and .630 slugging percentage that year as a 21-year-old in AA and AAA.
The next year he was really just biding his time in the minors, waiting for the Royals to bring him up to the majors. It took 55 games before he was brought up to the majors, where he happened to hit 10 HR, 44 RBI and 38 Runs with a .845 OPS in that span. Very solid numbers, but definitely a step below the elite 2010 year he had across AA and AAA.
The Majors – Early Years: 2012-2014
Things didn’t go so smoothly upon his transition to the bigs, hitting only 5 HR and driving in 30 runs with a .675 OPS in his first 89 games as a major leaguer at the ripe age of 22. Not awful numbers, but certainly nothing like his 2010 breakout season in the minors suggested we would see from a superstar-to-be.
He had a better year in 2012 with 20 HR, 73 RBI and a .708 OPS – which was without a doubt looking like the best we were going to see from him if you looked at the trend over the last couple years (.651 OPS in 2013, .632 OPS in 2014).
As of July 17 (prior to when he homered off of Jeff Samardzija in the afternoon of the KC/CHW double-dip), he is sporting a .780 OPS, .297 batting average and a very healthy .353 OBP (.343 wOBA).
The New Mike Moustakas: 2015 Skill Progression
It’s easy to overlook the fact he’s still young – considering he made his MLB debut at only 22, he sits here today at 26 years old, what many consider to be the prime of an athlete’s physical abilities (i.e. peak years).
Through his first 78 games this year, he’s almost matched his 2014 total in runs scored and batted in, raising his OBP and wOBA by significant margins (+30% stronger OBP in 2015 vs 2014 and +22% wOBA).
But the real question that intrigued me (and the reason for penning this article) was to understand what adjustments Moose has made thus far in 2015 to become the hitter he is today.
So… what’s changed this year? Let’s take a look at some key production numbers.
Like I mentioned above, there is some clear significant improvement in a few areas. His OBP increased by 30%, his average has grown by 40%, he’s slugging 18% better than last year, and he’s also improved his strikeout rate considerably (a full 4 points better than 2014).
What’s interesting to see is that his ISO has actually gotten a little softer in 2015 (.130 vs .149) – which actually explains the lack of power production improvement in the HR department (with 7 HR coming into today, he’s on a similar 15-HR pace as he’s shown in the past).
Looking at his batted ball profile a little more closely, we can see he’s had a slight increase in line drive rate (20.8% vs 20.2%) but has really changed his GB/FB splits, hitting more ground balls (43.9% vs 38.6%) and less fly balls (35.2% vs 41.2%), while keeping his infield fly ball rate steady at 15.1% (2 points better than his career 17.1% mark).
But the key here is really in what he’s done with his approach to raise his average a full 85 points and OPS almost 150 points above last year’s mark.
In 2014, Moustakas was a pull-happy hitter. He hit the ball to the left side of the field at a 50.5% clip, and up the middle at a rate of 28.1%. Fast forward to 2015 and this has changed dramatically. He’s spraying the ball all over the field now, almost at an equal rate to all areas of the diamond. His pull rate is 36.7%, center rate is 31.9% and opposite rate is a full 10 points better than 2014 at 31.5% (vs 21.4%).
He’s trading off a bit of hard contact (31.7% in 2014, 27.4% in 2015) for more medium contact (46.6% in 2014, 51.9% in 2015) in an effort to use all fields. The effects of looking to pull the ball less and hit it “where it’s pitched” on the ground or a line as best as he can have really come through.
Moustakas has increased his in-the-zone contact percentage considerably (87.5% in 2014 vs 94.3% in 2015) and overall contact rate (84.3% to 86.5%).
I could go on and on here, pointing out the differences we’re seeing this year with Moose compared to a year ago (and prior)… but I think the points are clear:
- He’s changed his plate approach, looking to pull the ball less to the right side of the field.
- Making this adjustment has increased his contact rate, especially with balls inside the zone.
- He’s trading off some power for more contact (explained in the ISO drop from 2014 to 2015).
- He is truly developing into a professional hitter and tough out in the majors with a decent walk rate and elite-level strikeout rate of 10.8%.
I recently made the decision to trade for him in one of my keeper leagues (20-team rotisserie format that rewards OBP in addition to all the traditional rotisserie counting stats) based on all the above data. He doesn’t look to be the 30 home run hitter we thought he may become one day, but a future as a high-floor bat at a thin position is something that I was very happy to invest in.
I think we’re looking at a hitter in the mold of a 15 HR, 65-70 RBI, 80+ Runs, .275+ Average, .750+ OPS major leaguer.
This could also turn into a 20 HR, 80 RBI, 95 Runs, .280 Average, .850 OPS season or two if he happens to get a little lucky with HR/FB fortune… but I’m not necessarily expecting this to come to fruition.
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