It’s a sweltering July afternoon in Las Vegas. As you step out of your air-conditioned car, a wave of heat envelopes you. You hurry toward the oasis that is the nearest casino. As you swing open the heavy glass door of the lobby, a welcoming rush of cold air greets you. Moving inside your senses are assaulted by a barrage of flashing lights, the sound of slot-machines and hundreds of conversations. The lingering smells of smoke and capitalism fill the air. You stroll over to the nearest blackjack table, ready to make your fortune. A friendly dealer wishes you good luck as she exchanges chips for the hard-earned money you hand her. Luck? You don’t need luck… you have system – A foolproof system.
Confidently you place a $50 bet. The cards come out – Jack/King for you and a Queen showing for the dealer. As she flips over her other card your heart sinks… an Ace. Okay, okay, that’s fine. It was just bad luck, it’ll be alright. The second hand you get over eager, hit on 15 and bust. The third hand, not wanting to repeat your mistake, you stay on 16 and the dealer gets 20. It’s been a minute and 45 seconds and you’ve lost 150 bucks. The question is, do you play that 4th hand?
This is about where I am with Yoan Moncada. I bought into the hype of a potential 25 HR, 50 SB season as much (or more) than anyone I know. I’ve gambled and lost on him three straight seasons: A huge FAAB in 2016, a reach in a draft in 2017, and valuable keeper dollars in 2018. In that vastly overwritten, and mostly pointless, introductory scenario, I would contend that the best option would be to not play that fourth hand of blackjack. Step away from the table, regroup, have a drink, maybe catch a show – I’m a big fan of Penn & Teller’s performance. There’s always going to be another hand to play, or in our case, a player to gamble on.
Not a lot of people were paying attention to this, but Moncada came very close to breaking the single season strikeout record last year. He was punched out 217 times in only 149 games, just six away from the 223 of Mark Reynolds’ fabled 2009 season. The comparisons between those two seasons stop with that unbelievably high strikeout totals. In 2009 Reynolds hit 44 HR, scored 98 runs and had 102 RBI. In 2018 Moncada hit 17 HR, scored 73 runs and had only 61 RBI. Reynolds slashed a respectable .260/.349/.543 while Moncada posted a disheartening .235/.315/.400. To top it off, Reynolds swiped 24 bags to Moncada’s 12.
My point is that if you are going to put up with all those strikeouts, you should at least get something in return. If we look at the average counting stats of the 10 strikeout leaders behind Moncada in 2018 (A group that includes Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt and Javier Baez) we get 32.7 HR, 91.4 RBI, 87.4 R, and 8.4 SB. Chris Davis and Chris Taylor join Moncada as players in this group who fall significantly short of these averages, which certainly doesn’t instill confidence that a breakout season is on the horizon. The Steamer projections concur that this won’t be the season we have been waiting for.
It’s not that I don’t want Moncada to succeed, it’s that he hasn’t given much indication that he is ready to take his game to the next level. There were some changes in his batted ball numbers that showed forward progress, but nothing that would warrant a strong endorsement given his contact struggles.
Compared to his 54-game sample in 2017, Moncada increased his line-drive rate from 24.8% to 27.9% and upped his fly-ball rate from 24.8% to 27.1% (accounting for an increase in launch angle from 12.3 to 15.0). This coincided with a substantial drop in ground-ball rate from 46.4% to 38.4%. Perhaps most importantly, Moncada squared the ball up more in 2018 with his solid-contact rate rising from 3.2% to 8.2%.
When Yoan makes contact he does damage – 55 of his 136 hits last season went for extra bases. The gamble is on whether he can cut his 33.4% strikeout-rate. Fortune may favor the bold, but I’m going to sit this hand out.