Mike Moustakas Is an Elite Third Baseman
Mike Moustakas -- the man endearingly called Moose by Kansas City fans -- has had a very interesting career. The former number-two overall pick came up as the top-hitting prospect in the Royals' farm system, but struggled mightily upon his arrival at the Big League level.
He scuffled through three seasons before actually being sent back down to the Minors in May of 2014. He fought his way back to the Majors and finished the season strong, helping the Royals to the World Series while posting a .692 postseason slugging percentage. For the first time, Moustakas appeared to be living up to his potential.
In 2015, expectations were high for Moustakas and the Royals, who were hungry for a championship. Through the first four months of the season, he was again showing modest improvement, posting a .270 batting average, .407 slugging percentage, and .326 wOBA. Those numbers aren't elite, but each would have been a career-best for the third-baseman.
Then, on August 20, he homered off of Wade Miley. Two games later, he homered again. He then homered two of the next three games.
It was safe to say, the Moose was loose.
Since August 20, 2015
Moustakas didn't look back from that point on, as evidenced by his stats below. Check out his splits from August 20 on, compared to his numbers before that.
Obviously, the improvement is significant, but just how impressive are the numbers Moose has been putting up? Take a look at his numbers during that time compared with some of the elite third basemen in the league.
As far as advanced stats, no third baseman has been better at the plate than Moustakas since August 20. Nolan Arenado is the only one who really comes close, and keep in mind that Moustakas plays half of his games at Kauffman Stadium, while Arenado benefits from Coors Field.
When looking at the standard stats, Moustakas again comes out as one of the best. Kris Bryant barely edged him out in batting average, while Arenado and Josh Donaldson have more RBI. The fact that Moustakas even comes close to some of these elite names is eye-opening, though, because nobody gives him that type of attention.
Beating The Shift
So, what has happened that has turned Moustakas into one of the elite third basemen at the plate? Taking a look at his spray charts offers some insight. Early in his career, Moustakas was plagued by being an extreme pull-hitter. Opposing teams would often employ shifts against him, which led to very low BABIP and batting average numbers.
Take a look at his batted ball spray chart from 2012 to 2014 below.
As you can clearly see, Moustakas, a lefty, rarely hit the ball to the opposite side of the field. His predictability at the plate made him a very easy player to pitch to.
Now, let's take a look at Moose's batted ball spray charts from the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
He's still pulling the ball a lot, but he is also hitting the ball all over the field now. What really stands out are his line drives, represented by the red dots. He has hit far more line-drives to the opposite field than he did from 2012 to 2014. Check out his numbers while hitting to the opposite field below.
Moustakas also hit .324 when opposing teams employed a shift against him last season. It is quite apparent that he has figured out how to beat the shift.
Improvements Against Left-Handed Pitching
Another big improvement in Moustakas' game has come in his step forward against left-handed pitchers.
In both 2013 and 2014, Moustakas had a batting average below the Mendoza Line. It was to the point that Moustakas seemed doomed to become a platoon hitter, who sat against left-handed pitching. Then 2015 happened.
|2015 vs L||0.354||0.485||0.204||28.0%|
|2015 vs R||0.353||0.461||0.175||33.8%|
Also, in case you thought his 2015 numbers against lefties were boosted by an unsustainable BABIP, that's not the case. In fact, he may have had worse luck against lefties, as he had a .273 BABIP against lefties and .307 against righties.
Improved Plate Discipline
Moustakas' swinging strike rate has dropped in five straight seasons and sits at a career-low 4.6 percent this season. That is the 13th-lowest mark among all hitters this season and would have been the eighth-lowest last season.
His strikeout rate as a whole has dropped every season since 2012, as evidenced by his strikeout rate chart below (the blue line represents League Average).
His O-Swing% -- or the amount of pitches he swings at outside of the strike-zone -- has also dropped every season since 2012. In 2016, he has swung at a career-low 21.8 percent of the pitches he has seen outside the zone, which would have been the sixth-lowest mark last season.
As a whole, his swing percentage has dropped each year as well, while his contact rate has increased each season. His 89 percent contact rate in 2016 would rank as the 11th-highest mark among players last season and the top third baseman.
His selectivity at the plate has forced pitchers to throw him more hittable pitches. His Zone% -- or the amount of pitches he has seen in the strike zone -- of 44.5 percent was a career-high last season, and is up to 45.5 percent this season.
When you consider all of those factors in conjunction, it should be no surprise that Moustakas has shown so much progression. His improvement at the plate has made him a much more complete hitter, which is very evident in his improved batting average. The combination of his natural development and patience at the plate has made him a very hard out for pitchers.
Moustakas likely won't put up the raw numbers of Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, or Nolan Arenado, but considering how significantly cheaper he can be had in fantasy and daily fantasy, he is certainly an attractive option.
If you own Moustakas in fantasy, sit back and enjoy the breakout. If not, target him liberally in trades before people catch on to just how good he is.
Through 20 games, Moustakas is on pace for 57 homers. It's safe to say that he will cool off at some point.
However, it's important that we recognize that this isn't just a 20 game sample size. Moustakas has been on an upward trajectory for years now, and has clearly made improvements in his approach at the plate that have transformed him into one of the elite third basemen in the league.
It's time that baseball fans start giving him the respect that he deserves.