Sunday, April 14, 2013

What's Wrong with Mike Moustakas?

           As Dayton Moore’s Process matures, the Royals need their young players to develop into stars, or at least above average players, in order to make the playoffs.  Mike Moustakas, one of the most prominent alumni of the Best Farm System in the History of the Universe and Everything, is one of the young players who MUST improve for the Royals to have a shot.  There’s just one problem with that so far.  Over 1,000 major league plate appearances, Mike Moustakas’ offense has been terrible.  I’m going to show you some career numbers to back up that statement while comparing them to the league average numbers for third basemen in 2012.  Keep in mind that league averages fluctuate from year-to-year, so the comparisons might be slightly different if I compared his career numbers to all third basemen in 2011.

            I’m going to focus on things that appear drastically different from the league averages.  First, his triple slash line is .246/.298/.388.  The league average was .262/.323/.415 in 2012.  Moustakas is below average in all three categories.  Naturally, Moustakas’ BB% is below league average (6.4% vs. 7.7%), but he also strikes out less than league average (17.7% vs. 18.9%).  I can live with a lower BB% if it comes with a lower K% and more contact.

            Contact.  Therein lies the problem for Moustakas.  While Moustakas makes contact at an average rate, over his career, Moustakas has a .278 BABIP, which is far below the league average of .301.  Moustakas’ contact goes for hits less than league average, which affects his triple slash line.  The distribution of batted balls is telling.  Of Moose’s batted balls, 47.2% of them are fly balls, and the league average in 2012 was 35.0%.  Fly balls generally go for outs more often than ground balls and line drives.  As expected with a high fly ball rate, Moose’s ground ball rate and line drive rate are below league average.  If Moose hit more home runs with those fly balls, that would help his triple slash line, but only 6.9% of his fly balls go for home runs against 11.1% for the league average.

            The biggest factor I can see in the numbers affecting his offensive performance is this: a 19.4% career IFFB%.  IFFB% represents the percentage of fly balls that go for infield flies, which are just about equal to a strikeout.  The league average is less than half Moose’s rate.  Moose not only hits way more fly balls than league average, but way more of those fly balls are essentially AUTOMATIC outs.

            So, why does Moose hit so many fly balls?  Well, I am not a scout, so I can’t comment on mechanical issues with his swing.  I suspect that his swing has too many similarities to a golf swing, which would lead to more fly balls.  However, I can comment on the location of pitches at which he swings.  Baseball Heat Maps, a website by Jeff Zimmerman, an avid baseball researcher and Royals fan, has these data.  Against left handers, Moustakas generally swings at pitches he should.  Against right handers, however, Moustakas’ most concentrated swinging area is at the very high end of the strike zone, and slightly inside.  If a large proportion of Moustakas’ swings are at pitches high and inside, he is going to make a lot of weak fly ball contact.  In order for Moustakas to improve his offensive output, Moustakas must lay off high pitches against right handers and make the pitcher throw lower in the strike zone.

            This work does not necessarily invalidate previous analysis concerning Moustakas’ potential home run rate this year.  The work contained in this post is looking at past data to explain past performance, while the previous post about home run rate is using past data to predict future data.  If Moustakas hits so many fly balls, some of them are going to go for home runs, since he has power.  The Royals have new hitting coaches this year; I just hope they can spot any mechanical issues, if there are any, and fix them.  It will be up to Moustakas himself to develop better plate discipline.

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