When Mike Moustakas came into the major leagues in 2011, he came with a significant amount of hype. As he closes in on 1100 career plate appearances, it’s safe to say he has fallen considerably short of that hype thus far, at least on the offensive side. With the way he finished the season last year, combined with how he started the season this year, many people were beginning to wonder if Moose needed time in Omaha. Others were starting to wonder if Moustakas would be joining the ranks of other top prospects who just couldn’t cut it in the big leagues. Coaches were looking for something they could do to help the struggling slugger who wasn’t actually slugging. And after looking at the tape, they noticed something that may have been partially to blame for the young third basemen’s difficulties.
On April 23rd, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star wrote an article in which Moustakas claimed to have been informed of a flaw in his swing mechanics by the coaches. They told him that he had been getting out on his front foot too much and not staying back in a position where he can see the ball better and have a better opportunity to drive it. I’m not a swing expert by any means, but it certainly seems like a plausible explanation for why he was hitting so many pitches in the air – both in the infield and to the outfield – over the first 3 weeks of the season. At that point, Moose had a line of .158/.226/.193, which is less than desirable for most pitchers, let alone a third baseman on an AL club with playoff aspirations.
Since the flaw was revealed to him, Moose has put up a slash line that is much more indicative of a player manning the hot corner: .308/.383/.538 with 2 HR and 3 doubles over 12 games and 47 plate appearances.
Not only has his overall production improved, but it seems like Moustakas is seeing the ball better and has a better approach. He sports career best walk and strikeout percentages, and he’s seeing more pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) since the change. Prior to April 23rd, Moose was seeing 3.27 P/PA. Since that date, the number is 3.68. Granted, that’s still not quite what you want to see, since that would only put him 61st out of 94 qualified batters in the American League. But while it may not seem like it, seeing .4 more P/PA is a significant improvement. For example, adding another .4 to the 3.68 from his recent stretch would put him in the top 20 in the AL, right around players like Joe Mauer and Dustin Pedroia. In his last 4 games, Moose has seen 4.36 P/PA. Obviously that number isn’t going to be sustainable for a player like Moustakas who has never been a guy who takes a ton of walks, but it does suggest that he has improved his pitch recognition and is finding what pitches he needs to drive, while either letting others by, or fouling them off to wait for a better pitch.
Moose also seems to be making better contact on pitches he likes. Over the past 12 games, he has a LD% of 20.6, GB% of 35.3, and FB% of 44.1. Prior to the reveal of his swing flaw, he had a LD% of 12.2, GB% of 24.5, and FB% of 63.3.
Those are staggering numbers. Like all small sample sizes, you have to take these with a grain of salt, but the fact that there has been such a dramatic shift in his batted ball percentages continues to give credence to the coaches’ theory. Moustakas is still hitting infield flyballs at a high rate, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that come down in the next couple of weeks as well, as Moose continues to heat up.
Overall, Moustakas’ line still isn’t all that pretty: .219/.294/.333, so he does have a lot of work to do. But there are signs that he may be turning it around, and with the way the rest of the offense has looked lately, the Royals are really going to need their third baseman to hit like a third baseman. Moose and his fellow corner infielder, Eric Hosmer, will need to step their offensive production up in order for the Royals’ offense to be strong enough to keep the team in contention later in the season. While the starting pitching has been great, the last few games have shown that scoring just 1, 2, or 3 runs isn’t an effective strategy for winning consistently in this league. If Moustakas can keep performing the way he has recently, that will go a long way in improving this squad’s playoff chances.