Writer’s note: I realize it’s a team sport, but nothing sends a message to a team more than maintaining a 2-year grasp on futility.
In 2007, Kansas City Royals current third baseman, Mike Moustakas, was acknowledged as the team’s No. 1 prospect, the No. 18 overall prospect in Major League Baseball, the best power hitter in the Royals system, the best infield arm and the best hitter for average.
Among his recurring accolades, Moustakas was again rated the best power hitter in the Royals system in 2008, 2009 and 2010. To add to the expectations, in the 2010 Texas League he was rated best power prospect, best defensive third basement, most exciting player and best batting prospect. For the second overall pick in the first round of 2007, and a Scott Boras client who was awarded a $4 million signing bonus, Moustakas had sure lived up to the “can’t miss” label associated with his draft ranking.
Now, more than ever, the Royals desperately need all that potential to come to fore. So far, the team has only seen glimpses since the “Moose” was turned loose on Majors pitching in 2011. In 2012, Mike Moustakas hit .242, but stroked 34 doubles and 20 home runs. He had an OPS of .708 and the team and its fans figured that was a good platform for seasons that could only get better. In 2013, his batting average dropped to .233. His monthly average splits for that year are a study in a schism of pure failure and acceptable success. Combining April, May and September, Moustakas was 45-240 (.187 batting average). Combining June, July and August, he was 65-232 (.280).
A batting average of .280 is an acceptable figure for a third baseman, especially if there are power numbers to go along with it, such as the ones Moose demonstrated in 2012. But a .280 average is not his norm. He is a career – albeit a short career so far – .241 hitter. There are so many splits that demonstrate the ineptitude of his career .241 batting average. But Royals fans know – and General Manager Dayton Moore knows – that the guy who hit .394 and .429 in 2013 and 2014 Spring Training seasons, respectively, can erase the ineptitude of all his poor stat splits if he just does one thing – gets hits. The cynic in the bleachers, however, is rewarded more and more and each day in thinking that Moustakas will eternally be known as the MVP of March.
Manager Ned Yost, when pressed early to make judgement about Mike Moustakas’ poor start (4-36, .111 through Sunday), said it wasn’t fair to clearly evaluate a player until he had reached 100 at bats. Now a third of the way there through ten games played, Moustakas is on his way to collect nine hits by the time he reaches that benchmark. By then, he is tracking to have three runs batted in.
To get his batting average to the aforementioned .280 mark in 100 at bats, Moustakas will have to go 24-64 (.375). If he does, it’s conceivable Moustakas could have nine runs batted in. The 100 at-bat total would represent one-sixth of the season. Take those nine RBIs and do the math to project his season total. For him to swing the bat at a .375 clip, however, just to get to a respectable batting average by 100 at bats, seems idyllic at best. For Moustakas to continue to scorch the ball at a higher clip than .280, one that could raise his RBI total above 70 for the year is, frankly, far-fetched.
Last year, Yost famously said in response to Moustakas’ hitting woes that “Maybe…I can go to the third base tree and pick another third baseman…Obviously, third basemen who can hit and hit with power, they must grow on trees.”
Finding another third baseman last year was not an option. Overcoming the lack of productivity from that bat in the order proved to be impossible. In one of the six months in 2013 – equivalent to a player’s 100 at-bats – the Royals sunk themselves. When the Royals went 8-20 in May, they effectively took themselves out of the race, never to catch up.
This is what Yost and Moore are proposing the Royals do with Mike Moustakas – effectively take him out of the race. Because by the time 100 at bats rolls around, in about 17 games from now, Yost and Moore may very well be searching the sprouts on that “third base tree.” To hope that Moustakas blossoms by then is a chance they are willing to take, even though in order for the team to be competitive in the American League, production from corner infielders is a necessity, not a luxury.
If Mike Moustakas’ average is still hovering at the century mark after 70 at bats, how much more of the season will Yost and Moore continue to play without a productive third base bat?
Someone better start watering that tree.