September 24, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) walks back to dugout after striking out against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Growing Pains

There shouldn’t be much to complain about this year. The Royals are 10-8 right now and sitting in first place. They actually look like a pretty good team. But . . .What about those young bats?

The Royals shipped super prospect Wil Myers and his bat out for pitching, improving a well below average rotation with the hopes of young hitters, specifically Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, making their marks at the plate in 2013. We’d seen flashes of brilliance from both (especially Hosmer) and much of the high hopes for this year were pinned on the dynamic duo. So far, however, not only are the pair not hitting for power (as a corner infielder ideally should) they aren’t hitting much at all.

Brian Henry recently did a nice write-up on Hosmer and pitch selection, and followed with another piece regarding the team’s offensive woes. Hosmer hit a double and walked twice during game one versus Detroit…so I’ll throw the spotlight on Moose this time around. He’s the one I’m more concerned about at this point (although both are worrisome).

Moustakas started hot in 2012 before flaming out over the last half of the season. That slump has apparently not only carried over, but gotten worse. So what gives? To my non-trained eye, it seems like he’s flying open at the plate, not waiting on the ball, but getting out in front and making weak contact. Now…that’s just my opinion, so I figured we better look at some numbers as well.

Going over to Fangraphs for some batted ball info, we see his ground ball/fly ball ratio is low (0.39)…as he’s making weak contact and popping the ball in the air more than anything this year. He’s hitting fly balls 63.3% of the time, with a 19.4% infield fly rate. Further evidence of his weak contact (as if we needed proof) in his 12.2% line drive rate. In 2012, that rate was at 16.4%, and in more limited time in 2011 he posted a line drive rate of just above 20%.

Moving along to pitch type, it looks like pitchers are showing him less of the hard stuff as he picks up at bats. The percentage of four seam fastballs he’s seen has dropped each year, going from 42.5% in 2011 to 32.2% in 2012 on down to 23.6% so far in 2013. At the same time, he’s seen more two seamers and cutters this year…which shows the pitchers making some adjustments to Moustakas as he makes his away around the league again and again. He’s also being given less curves and change-ups, with a slight increase in sinkers and sliders.

Looking at Pitch f/x, and more specifically, pitch values/100, Moustakas showed improvement versus the four seam fastball in 2012, which (obviously) explains why he’s seen less of them. That said, he’s taken a step back against the heater this year. He’s really only handling two pitches at an above average clip in 2013 – the splitter and sinker, which he sees less than 10% of the time combined. He’s been terrible against the two seam and cut fastball, which of course is why he’s seen an increased diet of those pitches.

Given this information, the obvious conclusion is simple: pitchers are figuring what he can’t hit. Not to mention, they’re giving him less to hit. The number of pitches inside the strike zone against Moose have continually declined since he debuted. In 2011, pitchers went after him, throwing 50.9% of their  pitches inside the zone. In 2012, that number dipped to 46.4%, and now Moose sees just 43.1% in the strike zone. That said, he only swings at 32.5% of those pitches thrown out of the zone, which is a 2% improvement from last year. His contact rates have also jumped up this year. So while they aren’t feeding him as many hittable balls, he’s not necessarily chasing them any worse than he has before. While he’s improved a bit in that regard, Moose still ranks (prior to Wedensday’s game) 70 of 98 among qualified AL batters in O-Swing% (percent of outside the zone swings).

The last number I’ll throw at you is F-Strike% (first pitch strike percentage). Moustakas falls behind 0-1 in 66.1% of his at bats. In 2012, that number was 54.1%, which gives him a sizeable decline of 12% thus far.

Miguel Tejada: short term answer at third? Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

What it all boils down to, it seems, is this: adjustments are not being made, at least not by Moustakas. The opposing pitchers are most definitely adjusting. And again, to my naked eye, his swing mechanics are all kinds of messed up this year. Seems like a formula of Poor Discipline + Lack of Adjustments + Flawed Mechanics = Trouble. And if he doesn’t figure things out soon, it’s time for the Royals front office to decide whether the combo of Miguel Tejada and Elliot Johnson does less to hurt the team. If the team is better off (for now) finding a work around…maybe it’s time for Moose to head north. A few weeks in Omaha might be just what the doctor ordered.

Cubs Manager Dave Sveum recently made headlines by calling out his players (including star player Starlin Castro), saying players needed to be aware “that there are things that can be done if you don’t start performing.”

Hell…Billy Butler was sent back down at one point, why not Moose?

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Tags: Eric Hosmer Kansas City Royals Mike Moustakas

  • ArrowFan

    It seems that the cold last night was defiantly effecting the pitching for both teams. Just one timely hit and we win last night. Looking at schedule I see that we are undefended on Thursday so far this year. However we have only played one Thursday game all year:) Our team has come to play this year so any doubts about us competing for first place are gone in my mind. Lets even things up tonight boys.

    • Bob Ellis

      One timely hit and subtract the Moose error…that error killed KC last night, not to mention the 6 baserunners he stranded on top of that. I love Moose…but jeez.

      Hopefully they grab a win today and Shields can outduel Verlander. Can’t believe Moose is batting 6th again today, though.

      • Michael Engel

        Moose missed a couple of pitches, took another, that a lot of hitters would have pounced on. I think he started having some mechanical problems, struggled, and now it’s all in his head so he’s dealing with two problems.

        I’ve never seen him show the sort of frustration he did after the error. Like he got jumpy thinking about how he had to make a play, came up too soon, didn’t make it, was pissed at himself. Then he had the popup later on where he just watched it. For a player like Moose, who’s always been tabbed as a leader coming up and with a lot of composure, that’s a big shift so he’s completely out of whack. But yeah, even if he just gets the force at second on the error, the next play was a fly out and would have ended the inning with nobody scoring. Huge error.

      • Michael Engel

        Teaser for what I’ll write later today (or have in mind) – know who’s second on the team in OBP?

        Cain – .420

        Hosmer – .375

        Gordon – .370

        Shocked me when I saw that. Need more XBH though.

        • Bob Ellis

          Yeah I knew his OBP was good. my lineup right now would probably have Gordon, Escobar, Hosmer 1-2-3 honestly. Weak hits for Hos, for but he’s getting on base. Let him get on base for Billy and Cain (who I’d have batting 4-5). Then Go with Sal at 6. Moose shouldn’t be hitting any higher than 8 right now, really, if he should be hitting at all.

  • Joe Flanagan

    You can see Moose’s confidence slipping and his frustration growing daily. If this continues into mid-May, the Royals need to have him go to Omaha and get things straightened out. I’m one of the few who still believe that should have been the route taken with Hosmer last year. When these guys are 26-27-28 years old with 4-5 years experience, it’s a different thing to let them find their way back when struggles hit. But, at the age and experience level Hos & Moose currently are, I still believe it’s better to have them go down and get straightened out rather than watching them get completely lost like Hos did a year ago.

  • ArrowFan

    You guys know better than me, but what if we just gave Moose some time off? Who replaces him?

    • Michael Engel

      Probably Tejada with some Elliot Johnson.

      • ArrowFan

        I say after the road trip he gets sat for a game or two. Unless of course he goes out tonight and lights it up.

  • ArrowFan

    It does give me some confidence to know that Detroit only won because of a fielding error.