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Mike Moustakas’ trigger happy approach

There are a few players in every league who get touted from draft day for their prospect pedigree, who maintain headlines even when they haven’t yet reached their potential. The Royals, in the mid and late 2000s, were a pretty miserable franchise, but they had a stacked prospect pipeline that gave many fans hope for the future.

Outside of Eric Hosmer, there was really no bigger prospect in their farm than Mike Moustakas, a power and contact hitting third baseman with elite defensive skills to boot. Prospect fans were salivating over his development,  as well as KC fans and just baseball fans in general.

Of course, it took a little longer for Moose to figure things out than others (we can’t all be Aaron Judge after all). His first three years in the majors saw wRC+ numbers of 84, 90, and then 77. He turned 25 in the 2014 season and he was still hitting slowly, was sent down for a bit for rehab and readjustment where he raked, but came up and hit for just a 75 wRC+, a career worst.

Just when things were seemingly over for the post hype prospect, 2015 brough better fortunes for him (as well as his World Series team) with a 123 wRC+, and he has stayed over 110 the next two years as well. He didn’t show much power in 2015, but has so the past two seasons, yet his contact has gone up and down. What we now see is a guy who is finally fantasy relevant not just in 20 team AL only leagues – instead, an elite third baseman even with stacked competition.

Moose spent most of 2016 on the shelf with injuries, but what we saw when he came back in 2017 is a different hitter. He’s been forgoing the long ball for more contact, which help enable his breakout, but this past year he went yard 38 times, almost double his career best. Despite a slow start to his career, he has been a wizard with his plate discipline, keeping his strikeouts in the low teens and walking at an average rate. In 2017 he forgot about that, swinging more freely with his highest strikeout rate since 2012, and the same for his whiff rate at 10.8%.

These are inherently not tremendous things to do, but they can be made better with the results and a reason, and both exist with Moose. He has swung more openly to hit longer, but his batting average at .273 is still close to his breakout year, and it happened with a huge drop-off in BABIP (.263). Now, Moustakas is hitting for a lot of the three true outcomes, which don’t affect BABIP, but a mark that low screams regression, which means better batting average heading forward.

On top of this, we saw a change towards a more fly ball happy approach, something that works well with power hitters, unsurprisingly. His 45.7% mark is the best in five years from him, up from his 41.4% in 2015. To also help out, Moose has been pulling 43.7% of his batted balls, up a large margin from his last 39.2%.

It seems like he would have had a completely mammoth season, but Moustakas fell a little short in some regards. It’s already mentioned above how his batting average was bad luck, but there also seems to be some human error he needs to correct. Moustakas has been a career fastball masher, with 2015 being worth 18.1 runs above average on the heater. But this past season he was worth 0.1 runs below average, one of the largest swings in the entire league. It seems pretty obvious that he should be able to improve there, as he’s crushed the fastball in years past, plus his usage and velocity wasn’t any different this past year than in others.

Mike Moustakas is an interesting player heading into the free agent market, with a lot of down years and some recent injuries scaring some teams off. But Moustakas has reinvented himself into a great power hitter, and the best may be yet to come. His average should improve with better BABIP luck, plus he should be hitting the fastball much better than he did last year.Not to mention he could be on a new team with a more hospitable home park.

Even though some people are being cautious, don’t be afraid to dive right in on him. Moustakas is the real deal, and he may just be getting even better. Several weeks ago Kenny Garvey touted him as someone to sell high on. I can see the logic behind this, but I can also see significant short-term value for those teams in a win now mode. If you are not in rebuild mode and are in need of a cheaper third baseman outside the top-tier, target Moose.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.

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