Growing Pains


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

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?