Kansas City Royals Mike Moustakas Continues Reclamation Project

Mike Moustakas entered 2015 as an in-house reclamation project and responded with an All-Star campaign. Will that success continue in 2016?

As the Kansas City Royals enter Spring Training, Kings of Kauffman will release a series of articles on the 25-man roster. We will be going through each individual player, including the locks, bubble players, and a few prospects. We will progress through the roster from the top down, continuing with the projected starting lineup.

So far, we have looked at Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen, Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, Wade Davis, Salvador PerezEric HosmerOmar Infante, and Christian Colon

Today, we will be looking at Mike Moustakas

All statistics provided by Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Brooks Baseball

2015 stats – .284/.348/.470, 22 HR, 82 RBI,  1.86 ISO, 124 wRC+, 3.8 fWAR
2016 Steamer – .261/.321/.435, 19 HR, 70 RBI, 1.73 ISO, 106 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR

Projected Role – Starting Third Baseman

2015 Results

2015 was, by far, Mike Moustakas‘ best full season as a professional.

The season started off inexplicably enough, when Ned Yost put Moustakas in the two-hole to start the season.

Moustakas was coming off a torrid spring, as he usually did, but was still a career .236 hitter in just short of 2,000 plate appearances.

Moustakas opened the season with two opposite field hits, one of which was the first opposite field homer of his career, and a sacrifice bunt.

The skepticism of Moustakas slowly began to fade after a torrid April in which he hit .356. He obviously came back down to earth, but Yost’s confidence in Moustakas proved to be an auspicious move in the long term.

He would go on to set career highs in BA, OBP, SLG, HR, RBI, wRC+, ISO, and fWAR.

This production was a long time coming for both Moustakas and the Royals as his first four seasons in Kansas City were riddled with failure, leaving many fans, including me, without hope.

2015 was a do-or-die season for Moustakas, and he came through.

The exclamation point on his season (individually, so not counting the World Series win) was winning the AL Final Vote for the All-Star game in Cincinnati.

As the season continued and the Royals continued winning, Moustakas was as easy to root for as anybody. His new-found ability to hit the ball the other way was transforming him into a new hitter before our eyes, while we also followed his mother’s battle with cancer.

I wrote about Moustakas’ journey to success in 2015, while real writers in Ken Rosenthal and Vahe Gregorian shared their thoughts about Moustakas’ humbling story.

His 2015 production seemingly came out of nowhere, with his already lackluster production dwindling even more with each passing season.

There was, however, a little blip on Moustakas’ radar before 2015 that led some of us to believe Moustakas was onto something.

That blip was Moustakas’ average batted ball distance from 2013 to 2014, which jumped from 270 feet to 285 feet, good for the 11th best improvement across the league.

Mike Podhorzer of RotoGraphs put together those rankings and discussed Moustakas’ back in January of 2015.

Poor Mike Moustakas, seemingly showing progression, but the results just keep getting worse. Aside from a career high batted ball distance, he lowered his IFFB% again from mile high levels to just only like 3/4 of a mile levels, cut his strikeout rate and increased his walk rate. But his BABIP has been in free fall, overshadowing any of that progress. He still has a long way to go to return to relevancy in mixed leagues, but, 2015 AL-Only sleeper?

For those of you who don’t know, those “mixed leagues,” and “AL-Only” phrases are in reference to fantasy baseball, but the numbers are still relevant.

What Podhorzer was pointing out and was easy to miss behind Moustakas’ brutal 2014 numbers was that he was progressing.

The increase in batted ball distance, and most notably, the decline in IFFB%, signified that he was hitting the ball harder and squaring it up more often.

However, the .220 BABIP crippled him.

At the time, this hope was a stretch.

I remember ranting to my brother about how Moustakas might actually be onto something for 2015 after reading this, but despite that, still didn’t want him starting at third and definitely didn’t want him at the top of the order.

Moustakas proved that the blip was very much a real shift in his game.

2016 Outlook

The big question is whether or not that shift and that production will continue into 2016.

What the Royals fear most at this point is regression from their core. Not because the core is getting worse, but because they were that good in 2015. Moustakas is no exception.

2015 may well be the peak Moustakas, and given his porous production pre-’15, that wouldn’t surprise anybody. With nearly all his contact and batted ball numbers being virtually identical to his pre-’15 self, the only thing that stands out was hit ability to hit the ball the other way.

In fact, Moustakas’ 48 opposite field hits in 2015 represented 42% of his career hits to left field (113).

Despite the drastic bump in BABIP (.220 to .294), that figure was still below league average, which sat at .299, so it wasn’t about Moustakas just finding more holes.

Well, at least weakly hit balls finding holes. It would be hard to argue that the single most important function of Moustakas’ isn’t his ability to hit the ball the other way, which in turn, forces teams not to shift him as drastically.

As a result, more of the balls that Moustakas pulled hard found holes and were hits, when in the past, they would find an infielder, 20 feet into right field.

We see this with Moustakas’ hard hit ball percentage, which actually peaked in 2014 at 31.7%, the same season in which he posted his worst OPS.

That hard hit ball percentage remained steady in 2015 at 31.3%, but those balls were now finding holes and gaps, rather than gloves.

With all that being said, Moustakas formula to success seems pretty simple. He needs to be able to go the other way. He doesn’t need to live in left field. He still pulled the ball 39% of the time and slugged 178 points higher when he pulled the ball.

But he has to be able to go the other way to facilitate that power. Moustakas has as much pull power as anybody on the Royals, but that power is useless when he’s pulling off balls and finding defenders.

When Moustakas can go the other way, he keeps defenders honest, keeps his swing short, and most important, keeps his hands inside the ball when he pulls the ball.

Hopefully for the Royals, Moustakas can continue this approach into 2016 and be the same guy he was in 2015.

He’s off to another torrid spring start, hitting .583, with five of his seven hits being for extra bases.

Maybe Moustakas can get better? We know that he wasn’t all that lucky and that he actually didn’t hit the ball as hard in 2015 as he did in 2014.

Either way, the Royals need at least a remnant of the 2015 Moustakas if they want to World Champions again in 2016.

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