The Return of Mike Moustakas

If there was one thing that made me sad, as far as the third base position is concerned, in 2016, it was a decided lack of Mike Moustakas. A long-time favorite of mine that had finally established himself among the more reliable options at the hot corner, Moose was only able to notch 113 plate appearances before a torn ACL at the end of May put an end to his season far too early. As we crawl ever closer to the spring, Moustakas’ return is one thing that I’ll be keeping an eye on when the Kansas City Royals arrive in Arizona.

It’ll be interesting to see how Moustakas transitions back into regular playing time at third base after recovering from an injury of that severity. With a shade under eight months of recovery by the time the season rolls around, one would expect that he’ll be back to full strength when the games begin to matter. And given the trends that he was displaying in 2015 and to start 2016, there isn’t any reason to think that he can’t pick up right where he left off and turn in a strong return in 2017.

First, let’s take a look at that ever-so-small sample from 2016:

.240 .301 .801 .260 11.5 8.0 110

Obviously you’d like the average and on-base to be far higher than each of those respective figures was in that minuscule sample. But don’t forget about the fact that Moustakas posted a BABIP of just .214 across those 113 PAs. And that’s with a hard hit rate of over 37%. The guy just hit into some unbelievably bad luck. But there are some positive trends there as well. For one, his strikeout rate continues decline while his walk rate has been rising steadily over the past few seasons. Perhaps most notably, though, is that power. Even in the small sample, .260 represented far and away his highest ISO in his career, with those seven home runs by the end of May setting him on what would have been a pace toward a new career high in that regard.

There’s plenty to like, even in a sample that small. But the positive trends have been there for Mike Moustakas over the last several years. It wasn’t long ago that many were ready to close the book on his MLB career, at least as a player of any sort of impact at the third base position. As recently as 2014, Moustakas spent time at Triple-A in a season in which he reached base at a paltry .271 clip.

But this is the dawning of a new era for Moustakas. His 2015 trends, and some of what we saw in that tiny 2016 sample, indicate that big things could be on the horizon for him in 2017. Here’s a big ol’ barrel of those trends in a neat little table:

Swing% Contact% SwStr% K% BB% Hard%
2014 48.3 84.4 7.5 14.8 7.0 31.7
2015 47.2 85.0 7.1 12.4 7.0 31.5
2016 42.1 86.2 5.8 11.5 8.0 37.4

Followed by a neat little graph:


Each figure represents the same trends, just in a different format. But there are some very positive signs here for Moustakas as he moves into the 2017 season. Anytime your walk rates are consistently increasing and your strikeout rates are decreasing, you’re probably in good shape. Not only that, but his contact rate is rising as well. Only three players at the third base position had a higher Contact% than Moose did in 2015, and only two qualifying third basemen had a higher figure in that regard across a full season than he did in his 113 plate appearances.

Say what you want about a small sample size, but there’s something to be said for that type of command of the strike zone as a hitter. Not only has the walk rate improved and the K-rate declined, but we’re seeing it throughout his approach at the plate. Moustakas only hacked at 22.2% of pitches outside of the strike zone last season. Only eight players in all of baseball that qualified posted a lower O-Swing%. And among those hitters, only Ben Zobrist posted a lower SwStr% and higher Contact% than Moustakas did in his brief campaign. Toss in his ability to make solid contact, where his Hard% would have had him 32nd in all of baseball and eighth among third basemen, and there are certainly some elements of his game that favor a true “breakout” for Moustakas in 2017.

One other notable trend? His ability to hit to the opposite field. This was something that was noted with decent regularity during what many considered to be his “breakout” in 2015. That rate went from 21.4% in 2014 all the way up to 27.4% in 2015. His brief appearance in 2016 saw him go for an Oppo% of 30.8%. Even if he didn’t sustain a figure that high for the remainder of the year, it does help to show his development as a hitter, and a willingness to work with those pitches that he can drive the other way.

We’ve thrown a lot out here that featured a small sample size, but when you consider the trends that he displayed in 2015 leading into that appearance in 2016, however brief, it’s hard not to get excited about what Mike Moustakas could potentially be and do in 2017. He’s a guy who has developed as a hitter to the point where he now can control the zone in a way that he was unable to before 2015. He continues to strike out less, walk more, and make solid contact on his way to establishing himself as a true power threat at the hot corner. He’s a very exciting quantity heading into 2017.

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Cliff B
Cliff B

Strikeout rate stabilizes at 60 PA, walk rate at 120 PA, and ISO at 160 AB. His 2016 numbers are a small sample, but they do carry some weight.