Springtime is the time for optimism in baseball. And after spending all my life so far as a Royals fan, the entire process is sickening. The start of a new year is the beginning of a new hope for our team, the planting of the seeds of the idea that maybe this is our year, and, well, we’ve been through this before.
There’s some sort of taboo on being negative as we approach spring training. Managers don’t say they’re disappointed with their players. They say that they like the work that they put in over the winter and that certain guys are "looking pretty good out there." You’ll rarely, if ever, hear a manager say that one of their players isn’t in the shape that they want them, or that they didn’t work hard enough over the winter. You never hear a GM say "I wish we could’ve made one or two more moves this offseason." They are always on record as being happy or satisfied with the way their teams look. So for me to write a post saying that I think Mike Moustakas will have a good year, I must be insane or caught up once again in Spring Training optimism.
I think Mike Moustakas will have a good year.
Judge me as you will, but I’m willing to put my trust behind Moose for one more season. And it’s a good thing, too, because we’re going to need him if we want to make the playoffs this year.
We’re going to need everyone to have a good year if we are to contend this year, but Mike Moustakas is the pivotal cog in the machine. For the most part, Aoki, Infante, Hosmer, Butler, and Gordon are all proven guys. There’s a certain threshold for each of them and you’ll know that they’ll play at least "that well." We’d all like to see more offensive production from Escobar but his glove more than makes up for any shortcomings in his bat. The same goes for Lorenzo Cain to a lesser extent, but it appears the outfield is strong enough anyway that I’m comfortable that we can survive if Cain is injured or on the bench.
And that leaves Moustakas. The pitchers as well, but between the prospects and the free agents and the bullpen, you’d think that we’d be able to scrape together five serviceable guys for the rotation (I hope?). Moustakas is important because for years we’ve been told he’s one of the cornerstones of "the process" and yet he’s the only cornerstone not holding its weight. It’s not enough for him to be an above-average fielder with a great arm because the Royals spent irreplaceable time and money for a player worth more than that. Mike Moustakas needs to become the offensive player that we originally thought he would be- and I think he can do it.
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We use statistics a lot in baseball. I love statistics as much as the next guy, but while we can use statistics to tell us an awful lot of stuff that we never thought we needed to know, we can easily fall into the trap of believing everything the statistics tell us. We become too trusting of the numbers and interpret them as the not just the truth, but the whole entire truth. In that vein, some readers probably won’t like this post because I’m going to utilize the intangible. An admittedly large amount of people don't like intangibles.
But while intangibles can't be measured, they do affect the game of baseball, however. You didn’t see in the box score of that game against the Mets last year that their outfielders lost about twenty fly balls in the sun. (They didn’t even show up as errors.) Marlon Byrd isn’t any worse of an outfielder because he lost those fly balls in the sun- he just got unlucky and should maybe invest in better sunglasses.
Or sometimes you’re up by 7 and you just really don’t feel like giving any effort to chase a base hit up the middle. That’s an intangible.
With that in mind, let’s try our hand at a hypothetical situation. You’re a general manager and you need to choose one of two players to put on your roster. They are both of a similar age and experience. One has maybe slightly more talent and better stats, but doesn’t work as hard (e.g., he might not run out an infield grounder, or something like that). The other player has had poorer stats so far, but has been working very hard to improve. The stats would indicate that the first player is a better pickup- but is that the decision that you would make?
Mike Moustakas has obviously not performed up to expectations, and I think like many people, I was about at the end of my rope- we needed to see production and didn’t see it. About a week ago, though- after football season ended and the perennial Spring Training optimism prompted me to browse some recent articles on the Royals- I came across this article detailing how Moose spent his offseason.
I was aware that Moose had decided to spend the offseason playing winter ball but I didn’t think much of it. But it seems that he’s made the most of the opportunity and has been working hard to improve his performance. Now, whether the glowing compliments from his coaching staff and teammates are rooted in fact or just merely Spring Training optimism- well, that remains to be seen.
I, for one, am optimistic that it isn’t optimism. Mike Moustakas can’t be pleased with the way he played last year and it makes a lot of sense that he would do whatever he could to get better. You wouldn’t want to be the one holding your team back from contention, would you? And if that wasn’t enough of a motivator, the Royals brought in another third baseman that could potentially cut into Moustakas’ playing time. If that’s not enough to light a fire in your belly, I don’t know what is.
And perhaps most promising about this situation is that Moustakas has shown flashes of what he was supposed to be. In his first year up he hit at a relatively solid clip of .263 and had an on-base percentage over .300, which is good enough for a rookie in my book. And don’t be so quick to forget 2012, when he had a WAR of 2.9. It may be coincidence, but in that game I mentioned earlier- when the Mets dropped seemingly everything- Moustakas went 2-for-4 with a walk and a home run against a hot young rookie the Mets had called up earlier in the year. It’s certainly not the most impressive of feats, but it is somewhat reassuring that Moustakas produced in the one game that I looked up for a completely different reason.
Last year, we saw Eric Hosmer work hard after a slumping start to improve to be one of the better young hitters in baseball. Why can’t the same process (yes, I said process) work for Moustakas? I’m willing to give Moose one more year, because I do think that this year will be the year that he figures it out and performs up to the potential we saw in him as a prospect. We know what we’re getting with the rest of the lineup, and I’m willing to put my trust in Moose. And for once, I don’t think this is Spring Training optimism.