Mike Moustakas’ Problematic Popups

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t much new information coming out during this time of year, so let’s talk about something we already know. Mike Moustakas hits a lot of popups. Everyone knows this. If you’ve watched him bat in his major league career, you know this, without even looking up the numbers. But here are the numbers anyway.

In 1,993 plate appearances, Moustakas has an infield fly ball rate of 17.4%, which is the 6th highest rate in all of baseball since his 2011 rookie year. That means that almost 1 out of every 5 fly balls he hits is a popup, and since he hits a lot of fly balls, he hits even more popups. Moose has hit 117 popups in his career. Alex Gordon has hit 87 popups in his career, and he’s been playing since 2007.

A popup is almost always an out, which means players who hit a lot of popups will tend to have lower batting averages on balls in play. Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs just did some research to calculate an expected BABIP based on how often a player pops up, and that study seems relevant to the Royals third baseman.

Cistulli found a correlation between BABIP and popup per batted ball, so let’s see what Moose’s expected BABIP should be based on that. The chart at the bottom of the linked post shows that players with a popup per batted ball rate of 7.25% should have a BABIP of .250, and as the popup rate goes down, the BABIP goes up.

In his career, Moustakas has a popup per batted ball rate of 7.73%. That’s bad. That number is bad enough that Cistulli didn’t even include it in the chart.

However, Moose has been able to post a BABIP above the expected line, even if it’s still below average. His career BABIP is .260, well below the league average mark of nearly .300. In 2014, his BABIP was all the way down to .220, although that may have had more to do with teams employing shifts than his infield fly ball rate.

In fact, Moose had the lowest IFFB% of his career last season, at 15.1%, and he hit fewer popups (24) than he had in any other season. His season obviously was awful, but his propensity for popups seemed to fade some in 2014.

Consider this: on September 14, Moustakas hit one infield fly ball. That would be the last popup he would hit for the rest of the year. Not just the regular season, but the playoffs as well. In the 96 plate appearances following that game on the 14th, Moose did not hit a single popup. He put the ball in play 75 times, and none of those balls were infield flies.

And yet, his BABIP still looked terrible. He had a .242 BABIP in the last couple of weeks in the regular season – an improvement compared to the rest of his season, but still very bad – and his postseason BABIP was .184. Granted, the postseason BABIP was low partially due to his 5 home runs, but it’s still interesting to see such a low BABIP in a time when Moose avoided popups. Overall in his career, Moustakas has a higher BABIP than expected based on his popup rate, but in the most recent sample, his BABIP was much lower than expected.

So what does it all mean? Maybe something. Probably nothing, other than the usual Weird Things Happen in Small Sample Sizes. Moose’s swing produces popups proficiently, so I’m guessing that will continue to be a weakness of his in the future. But it’s January, and there’s not much happening, so fascinating observations are all we’ve got right now. Come back soon, baseball.

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