Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Since the position battles in spring training don’t appear to be all that exciting, I’m going through the Royals’ lineup to get an idea of how opposing pitchers will look to attack each player this season. I use data from Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant, and Fangraphs to figure out what pitches each hitter loves to see, and what pitches give them nightmares. So far, I’ve gone over the profiles for Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and Salvador Perez. We’ve now reached the seventh spot in the order, and the player who has probably gotten more ink than any other Royal this offseason, Mike Moustakas.
Moustakas, as you are surely aware, was a bad hitter in 2013. He was a bad hitter in most situations, against most pitches. Despite his awful season, there are still some interesting bits of information to take from it. One might expect a hitter like Moustakas to be most successful against fastballs, but last year, Moose struggled against hard stuff, to the tune of a .257 average and a .376 slugging percentage. That includes a .229 average and .314 slugging percentage against sinkers, which runs contradictory to the idea of a fly ball hitter like Moose preferring to face ground ball pitchers. That being said, Moustakas was much better against sinkers in 2012 (.302 AVG, .576 SLG) and 2011 (.350 AVG, .583 SLG), so hopefully his production against that pitch last season will turn out to be an anomaly.
Breaking balls gave Moustakas quite a bit of trouble in 2013 (.175 AVG, .282 SLG). This should come as no surprise. Breaking balls have also given Moustakas quite a bit of trouble throughout his career (.191 AVG, .281 SLG). This also probably comes as no surprise. What may come as a surprise is the fact that Moustakas actually held his own against sliders last year (relatively speaking), as he posted a slugging percentage of .438 and an isolated slugging percentage of .209. Similarly to his performance facing sinkers last year, his numbers against sliders will likely regress in 2014. In Moose’s 2012 season, he hit just .141 with a .200 slugging percentage, and in 2011, it was the same story (.191 AVG, .238 SLG). Facing curve balls, Moustakas has never had a ton of success, but he was downright atrocious last year, as he hit .149 with a .170 slugging percentage. In most sabermetric circles, that .021 ISO is considered to be below average. Interestingly enough, he was actually better against curves from lefties than he was from righties.
With so many struggles against so many pitches, how did Moustakas put up a stat line that wasn’t on par with Neifi Perez? Surprisingly, Moose did fair well against offspeed pitches, and changeups in particular. Against those pitches last year, he hit just .236, but he also posted a slugging percentage of .491. Against right-handed pitchers, he did even better, hitting .255 with a .529 slugging percentage. That one pitch seems to have been the thing that allowed Moose to post a platoon split that was merely “bad,” and not “one of the worst things my eyes have ever seen in the history of the sport.”
Getting back to Moose’s struggles – and let’s face it, we can’t really turn in any direction without finding them – we see that pitchers were much more aggressive when they got ahead of him last season. In 2012, opposing lefties threw breaking balls over 50% of the time when they were ahead in the count. Last year, though, they threw breaking balls 38% of the time in those situations, instead opting for fastballs 55% of the time. If a hitter is doing so poorly against fastballs, like Moustakas was, why mess around with secondary pitches? In that same vein, Moose saw first-pitch fastballs from lefties far more often last year than in 2012, once again showing that southpaws didn’t have much concern with the Royals’ third baseman.
This season, in order for Moustakas to become a productive hitter, he’s going to have to get back to hitting fastballs with authority. If he’s not punishing fastballs, pitchers don’t have to go to their secondary stuff as often, and even though Moose did alright against a couple non-fastballs, that likely won’t always be the case. Moustakas will need to show that he’s capable of doing damage against fastballs, which will force pitchers to try and throw their other pitches for strikes. If he can be a bit more selective at the plate, he’ll put himself in more situations in which he can succeed, which will hopefully mean more success for this Royals lineup.