Mike Moustakas home runs were rarities in 2013.... Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Is Mike Moustakas the Answer at Third Base for the Kansas City Royals?

While most of the chatter heading into this offseason revolves around the re-signing of Ervin Santana and the question of what to do about right field or second base…I think there is a group of fans (myself included) that are almost more curious about what the Royals have planned for third base in 2014.

Yes, we do have hotshot prospect Mike Moustakas in place. But…he’s not a prospect anymore, and he isn’t much of a hotshot either, it appears. Three seasons into his big league career, Moustakas has totaled nearly 1,500 plate appearances (1,493) in 374 games. His career totals at this point are anything but impressive for a corner infielder, with a .244 AVG, .296 OBP, and .385 SLG (that’s a career .681 OPS). The light hitting Alcides Escobar, known not for his on base or slugging ability, but for his slick fielding , has a career .637 OPS. That places Moustakas in the realm of a light hitting middle infielder. Not good.

Looking at third basemen from the 2013 season, according to Fangraphs, Moose ranks 15 of 21 in third base WAR (comparing all major league qualifying third basemen) with a 1.1 WAR, with most of his value coming in the field. Who was worse than Moose? Matt Dominguez (barely), Alberto Callaspo, Mark Reynolds, Trevor Plouffe, David Freese, and the 74-year-old Michael Young all rated worse than Moustakas.

Moustakas’ offensive value was a -16.6 for 2013. That is his combined batting and base running value above or below average. Obviously, he was very much below average, and has been since coming to the major leagues (-8.8 in 2011 and another -8.8 in 2012). His glove has been his one redeeming quality with a UZR of 15.8 in 2012 and 7.6 in 2013. That’s fine…but in the end, the defense isn’t offsetting his lack of offense enough to make him a valuable third baseman. 2012 wasn’t so bad (3.1 fWAR) mostly due to his 20 home runs, but his slash line was still a pitiful .242/.296/.412.

Looking a little deeper, at team stats per position for 2013, the Royals ranked 20th in the majors at third base with a total fWAR of 0.9 (this of course includes ALL third base play for the team). They ranked 21st at second base with a 1.2 fWAR and ranked 8th in right field with a 4.9 fWAR. So where is the real problem here? Would it be nice to have an everyday right fielder? Sure…but if a combination of Justin Maxwell and David Lough can give us top 10 production at that position, isn’t the more glaring hole at third base??

Who would’ve guessed Moustakas’ real value would come from his glove work? Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

I guess the answer to that last question depends on what you think Moustakas will do moving forward. Fangraphs has their first set of projections already available courtesy of steamerprojections.com. Moustakas is projected to have his best slash line yet, although one that is still not overly impressive. Moose is projected at .256/.311/.423, with 17 home runs and 30 doubles. His offensive value is placed at -1.7 (a career high), defense at 8.2, and fWAR at a 2.6. If every other third baseman in the major leagues has roughly the same output as in 2013, this would jump Moose past the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Martin Prado, placing him just behind Nolan Arenado (who posted a 2.7 fWAR for the Colorado Rockies this year).

Is that enough? If we focus on upgrading other areas, would that slight improvement be enough of a boost to an offense that needs to score more runs in 2014? If the Royals can hang on to Santana (or at least find a suitable replacement) and upgrade at second base and/or right field, can the team get by with a third baseman whose only value (so far) seems to be with his glove? Or is the real solution sticking with our right field platoon, Emilio Bonifacio at second base, and finding a suitable third baseman?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate completely giving up on Mike Moustakas any more than I am sold on Bonifacio or Maxwell/Lough. But Moose’s struggles are just as concerning to me as the question marks at second base and right field. Yes, Moose is still young, and it wasn’t all that long ago he was a top-notch prospect, but Dayton Moore better at least have a viable second option for third base for 2014 if this team is serious about taking that next step.

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  • jimfetterolf

    I think Gordon is the second option at 3rd, which fixes the problem of Lough-Dyson-Maxwell in the OF. Unless Moose buys into the coaching and starts taking a more professional approach to the plate and his swing, it should be Omaha for several months until he turns into a line-drive hitter using the whole park. His current hitting style won’t work at the K, a poor man’s Adam Dunn, but he is fixable.

    Personally, I think the Royals a stronger team with Gordon at 3rd, Lough in left, Cain in center, Maxwell in right, and Dyson as 4th OF. Bonafacio with Colon in the wings has possibilities, so I’m not in full-desperation mode. Not even too scared of losing Santana at this point with Smith, Duffy, Ventura, Dwyer, Chen if they can’t sign Santana, and even Paulino and Mendoza in the mix with Zimmer on a short horizon.

    Of course, I’ld take the team we finished with into next year and take some extra money and try to extend Shields, Hosmer, and a few others like Duffy and maybe even Gordon if we can’t get someone who will reasonably win another four games and not require over-payment in money and years..

    • Bob Ellis

      I think Alex Gordon to 3B should be a last resort “Break Glass In Case of Emergency” option…in 2805 innings at 3B, he put up a -4 UZR, and the last time he played there was 2010…which means he’s probably much worse now. I’m not sure the value he gives as a gold glove candidate in LF, along with his offense, is worth losing by moving him to 3B and letting him be a below average defender which might then mess with his head at the plate.

      I like the outside the box thinking…I’m just not sure I want to diminish an all-star left fielder’s value by putting him back at a position where he played so poorly he was generally thought to be a lost cause at one point.

      That scenario also assumes that Lough and Maxwell are capable of being valuable as full-time players…which I’m not sold on just yet. I think with the team on the verge of a poststeason appearance, the move of Gordon to third would just lead to more questions than answers.

      • jimfetterolf

        I’m sold on Lough, Maxwell has possibilities, and Dyson is a good enough 4th, so losing Gordon at the second least important defensive position wouldn’t be much of a problem, especially as Lough is a fine defensive OF whose arm would play best in left while Maxwell has the tools and is learning the K, which has challenged other OFs.

        As for Gordon’s defense at 3rd, two of those years he battled injuries, including a hip problem and broken thumb, so I think he would be better now. With his bat if he can just be an average 3B we should pick up a couple of extra wins at 3rd for a couple of years until Cuthbert and Dozier are ready. If Moose fixes his mechanics in Omaha, it won’t even have to be that long and I do think Moose is as fixable as Hosmer was, the main thing needed is an attitude adjustment and starting ’14 in Omaha might be good motivation. Third was a hole this year, as bad as 2nd and RF before Bonafacio and Lough. Two down, one to go, then all we have to worry about is Esky going oppo and Gordo not getting another concussion and Cain staying healthy and Billy giving up on being a singles hitter. The team was good this year in spite of under achievers, so no panic.

        • Bob Ellis

          Lough was very valuable defensively, no doubt about it. However his OBP was nothing to write home about at .311…his SLG was .413 for an OPS of .724. Not terrible by any means…with his defense he’s got value, as evidenced by his 2.4 fWAR in less than 100 games this year.

          • jimfetterolf

            At the K with fly ball pitchers, that type of defense knocked an easy half run off of both Santana and Shields’ ERA. He hits a little, good base runner with speed, doesn’t have split issues, and had a good minor league record, did quite well at Wilmington, a similar park to KC. I think his OBP will come around, he seems to see the ‘zone well, certainly looks good enough to not spend $16m on a Beltran with terrible defense. Choo might be a better possibility, but I don’t see him coming to KC unless badly overpaid. I think Lough holds down the fort until Bonafacio comes up and frees up money for pitching and extensions of youngsters.

          • Eric Akers

            I think we would have to overpay to get Choo, because it looks like he is going to become overpaid very soon anyway. It looks to me like he is out of our price range.

            I have thought about Billy Butler being able to move to third. He has played some third base, and I think his defensive flaws wouldn’t show up any more than Wilson Betamit’s.

          • Michael Engel

            No. No no no. No Butler at third. No way, no how. Never happening.

            He was drafted as a third baseman – nine years ago. And he was moved off of that to try left field back in 2005. And now, let’s be honest, he’s a big guy. He’s lucky to be average at first (which I think he could probably be for a while if pressed into action). Adding the necessary range for third…no chance, no way.

            Granted Betemit was pretty awful, too, but I really think Butler would be significantly worse at third.

          • Brian J.

            I agree. Butler sucks at first base. The idea of him playing third again makes me sad

          • jimfetterolf

            It would be worth a try just for deep back up and maybe to motivate Billy a little, get his head back in the game, but “Wilson Betamit” gave me a brief anxiety attack when I saw the name. I think a fat 62 year old cripple like me could probably play 3rd better than Betamit :) As I recall George Kottaras has also played some 3rd, might be a possibility to get his OBP and SLG in the game more often.

            I think we are all agreed that Moose needs some work and I like the idea that we are looking in-house for a solution. Wonder if Dyson could learn 3rd, quick, good arm, would maybe fix the five-man OF problem we’ll have to face next year.

            Agree on Choo, I think he’ll go high and long and don’t think he’ll be enough improvement over Lough/Maxwell to justify the cost of re-signing Santana or extending Shield. For what Choo will cost we could probably get Tim Hudson and Josh Johnson for a one year rental. With Santana re-signed and Shields extended, that gives the chance for a dominant rotation this coming season without blocking Zimmer and one of Duffy or Ventura.

            For context, I’m assuming a $90m-$95m payroll this year as possible if players can be acquired who will get us to the low to mid 90s in wins. I think management is confident that 86 wins was not a fluke and that the current team is capable of 90 wins with no changes, so there will be little sense of desperation and zero chance of another trade of prospects for a short-term veteran.

  • Jacob Meysenburg

    Projecting what the Royals will do in preparation for next year is such a difficult thing because there’s solid evidence to believe that A: This year’s team was much better than their record indicated. B: The pitching will regress a bit and C: The offense should progress. Obviously, the second base and third base production need to be more significant this year if the Royals can expect to succeed.

    Does Moose need some time in Omaha? Yes, I think the Alex Gordon treatment would be much better for Moose than what’s happening right now. Maybe the Royals could get Rickie Weeks on a Santana-type reclamation project and give Bonifacio some time at third. There’s a lot of positional flexibility on this team right now with Bonifacio and Gordon’s ability to play third (though I think that’d be more of an emergency option given Gordon’s success in the outfield) so they can afford to give Moose some time in AAA.

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  • Cris47

    You bring up a good point about Moose. It’s been pleasant watching him field, but a definite disappointment watching him bat. But to already predict what he is going to do next year is pure ka-ka. He might as well not show up; the 2014 season is already over for him. Forecasts such as these are not only ridiculous but not helping anyone except their own inflated egos.

    Hopefully, this Venezuelan League, or whatever it is, will help Moose hone his batting skills. By sending him there, the Royals are acknowledging that they have a problem with his performance. This shows they’d like to keep him but that they also acknowledges he has to improve himself at the plate.

    I guarantee that no one is more disappointed in Moose’s 2013 performance at the plate than Moose. I’m sure Eskie is suffering a bit of the same wonderment over his batting downfall from 2012.

    Talking about career averages in whatever doesn’t cut it for me. Career stats don’t cut if for me. Most of them I don’t know what you guys are talking about, anyway, when you throw around all those acronyms. There are likely a few of us, just a few, I’m sure, who would like sportswriters to talk in plain English instead of stats that, for me, are meaningless.

    Stats do not define a baseball player. What’s in his head does. Obviously, to me, at least, something is amiss in Moose’s head when he steps to the plate. Is he trying to do to much? Is he trying to live up to the hype that has been thrown at him since he was a top prospect? This has nothing to do with his bat or his arms, his stance, maybe—it sometimes helps to change one’s stance—but the attitude he takes to the plate.

    I’m sure Moose has the skill set to be a very product at-the-plate honcho. He certainly has the physique. There just needs to be some mental adjusting, I think, to bring out the real “Moose” in him.

    Peace, brother.

    • Michael Engel

      A question: If a player means to, in his mind, hit a home run in a big spot, but he in fact grounds out, does his intent and desire in his mind to hit that homer trump the actual result?

      I slightly agree that there’s an attitude and approach issue that can be fixed, but “stats do not define a baseball player”? Then how do you know who’s actually a good player or not?

      Should we not keep a score on the scoreboard because what’s in a team’s head might not fit with what runs actually score? Seems that’s what you’re saying here.

      As for stats in general, there can be some concepts and terms that not every fan cares to look at or dig into, but it’s information, and I’d say that more information and more ways to look at a question is a good thing. You don’t have to know the exact calculations to get the concept, and the way it comes out is that, relative to his peers, Moustakas’s value at the plate – in which he’s failed to get a hit more than 75% of the time (.244 career batting average), made outs in more than 70% of his plate appearances (.296 on base percentage) – is lower than most to this point. Those numbers come from two and a half years of time as a big league hitter. At what stage do the numbers start to mean something?

      Let’s say you run a company and you have a guy who comes into work every day for 2.5 years and he’s always performing worse than most of the workers around him. He’ll have a good month or two, but generally, over the course of your time knowing him, he’s fallen short of expectations. At what point do you say “given the current pattern, I can’t see how, without significant changes, he improves”?

      He’s not worthless, and it’s too soon to give up on him. But he’s been a disappointment, and watching him hit and looking at the results of those plate appearances both agree with that.

  • Galileo

    Okay, I’m reaching here. But what would you think of a slick-fielding third baseman with the following line:

    .265/.308/.461 — .768, 34 2B, 21 HR and 72 RBI in 495 AB.

    Because that’s what you get if you graft the first half of Moustakas’s 2012 season onto the second half of his 2013. I think he has the potential to reach or exceed that over the course of a season. He needs to have an alternative waiting in the wings to motivate him, but I think he can do that.

    Can we give him another season to pull it together and pick up a hard-hitting 3B prospect currently at AA to groom as an alternative?

    • Michael Engel

      Certainly, I’d take that. Especially if the alternative is what Moose has done so far. He’s always been streaky, even back in the minors, but that line would be a lot more palatable. It’s attainable if he can be more consistent over the course of the year.

      Not only would another option at third be able to give him a little more competitive boost to keep the job, it would provide some help for the Royals in the event that he continues to be pretty bad. Last year, they stuck with him for so long because they really didn’t have much choice with nobody really equipped to be another option at third full time. Right now it’s waiting on Cheslor Cuthbert, who’s only reached Double A and probably won’t be in Omaha until mid-2014 (unless he just blows up right away). Behind him would be Dozier, who might rise quickly, but this year is probably way to quickly to hope for.

      Regardless, they won’t be replacing him this year, so there’s at least one more year to see what he can do.