May 31, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) bats during the game against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Texas won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
This is the part where I point out that Mike Moustakas is struggling. Nothing you haven’t heard before or seen with your own eyes.
Moustakas has always had the reputation of being a slow starter. He would often struggle at a new level in the minors, then, at a certain point, he would turn it on and overwhelm that level’s pitching. Then he’d move on to the next level, struggle, flip the switch and dominate. In 2011, he debuted in Kansas City on June 10, and after 53 games, he’d bottomed out at a .182/.237/.227 line. In his next game, he went 3-3 and started a 15 game hitting streak. After three hitless games, he then finished the year with a stretch of 18 games in which he hit in 15.
It seemed like this was the hot streak that indicated that he had turned it on. He hit four homers in the last two weeks of the season. When he opened up 2012, it looked like the pattern would hold. He had a .909 OPS after April, an .820 OPS after two months. He looked every part the solid third baseman the Royals expected him to be.
He finished the year struggling again, but it was commonly thought that a July knee injury had a lot to do with it, even if Moustakas wouldn’t admit it.
Now, we know that Moustakas is struggling. With the exception of a week in May when he hit homers on three consecutive days, he’s been miserable at the plate. He has more infield popups in 56 games in 2013 (14) than Joey Votto has in his entire 797 game career (11). Some have said that this is just another early season struggle and he’ll work out of it, but it’s simply not. Over the last 365 days, Moustakas has a .617 OPS. Shoot, at this point, I’d love to have a .617 OPS from him.
The Royals won’t send him down. They’ve preached patience, stated that they know he’s still got his confidence, and it all sounds nice. At this stage, though, if Moustakas can hit .184 and not lose his confidence, he’s either got the self-esteem of the Dos Equis guy, he isn’t paying attention to his performance, or the Royals are feeding a line and don’t want to admit they have a problem. Now, with George Brett in the dugout, they’re likely to keep Moustakas in Kansas City to give him more time with Brett. Meanwhile, they’ll sit him against righties or pinch-hit for him late in games.
Does that seem like a very valuable player for a team that’s creeping back towards .500 and contention?
Ned Yost provided a sound bite earlier this year about a third baseman tree, suggesting that it’s difficult to find a replacement. I think, though, that for a span of a month, you could find some combination of Irving Falu, Miguel Tejada, Elliot Johnson or someone from outside the organization to eat up a month’s worth of at bats. Had they gone that route back around the time when Yost talked of plucking players off of trees, Moustakas could have made adjustments in Triple A, renewed his confidence, and been back in Kansas City ready to get back to contributing. The Royals went 8-20 in May. It’s not like a third baseman committee could have worsened that record.
We’re nearly halfway through the season. Other teams have sent down struggling players. The Mariners sent Jesus Montero and Dustin Ackley down because they weren’t producing. For Ackley, they had said that they wanted to give him a mental break. With Montero, they cited the hope for a short-term demotion today working better for him long-term. The Mets sent Ike Davis down to get him an opportunity to work on his swing without worrying about the outcome.
Their hitting lines were similar to Moustakas’s when they were sent down:
- Davis: .161/.242/.258
- Ackley: .205/.266/.250
- Montero: .208/.264/.327
- Moustakas: .184/.249/.284
It’s well past time to do something.