Mike Moustakas may be in the best shape of his life

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

If you had February 1 in the first "Best Shape of his Life" story in the pool... You win!

And if you had Mike Moustakas... Well, I'm not sure I care. We could all see that one coming.

From the Star:

Mike Moustakas' off-season makeover included shedding about 10 pounds, a new coiffure - short on the sides - and a wedding, to Stephanie.

First, congrats to the Moustakases. (That plural is just as difficult as the plural of Moose. This is a no-win situation.) I know it feels like the Royals won the World Series and all, but imagine if the Royals had really won. Kind of like how Sporting KC actually won. Because it turns out, Kansas City fans have a way of taking care of their own. So Mr. Moose, your timing could have been better on that one. But congratulations all the same. If those of us in the RR family had known about these nuptials, I'm certain we would have pooled our resources to buy you some candlesticks. Or maybe a place setting. Or a silverware pattern.

Second, I suppose the loss of 10 pounds is supposed to signal that Moose is serious about reversing what has been a fairly below average major league career so far. Hey, whatever works. Personally, I'm more impressed that he travelled to Venezuela for winter baseball. And I remain skeptical about the whole idea this will make a huge difference. I'm hopeful. Yet skeptical.

Maybe dropping the weight will help his defense. Some more agility, perhaps? According to the Fielding Bible, his defense in 2013 was worth negative three runs which ranked 20th among all third basemen. The previous season, he was at +14 on runs saved, good for third best.

For a visual representation of the difference a year can make on defense, look at the fielding charts below:


Source: FanGraphs

In 2012, Moose showed good range to his left and has a nice cluster of plays made that, according to Inside Edge, Moustakas had less than a 60 percent chance of making. Compare that to last year:


Source: FanGraphs

Not as much range to his left and a much lower number of low percentage plays were made. Again, if losing 10 pounds makes him a little more agile in the field, that can be a good thing.

As for the hitting, Moose worked with Pedro Grifol in Venezuela and made some adjustments in winter league he hopes to carry over to the new season.

"That's where I got into trouble last year, trying to pull everything. Pedro told me that's not going to work. We're going to work the middle of the field, do damage up the middle."

That sounds a little... Seitzer-esque.

But Moose isn't kidding. Most of his balls in play - and his hits - were to his pull field last year.


Source: FanGraphs

To carry that a little further, he barely hit any line drives to the opposite field. His spray chart is always going to tilt more to the pull side. That's just the kind of hitter he is naturally. But there is some hope in the Royals camp he can have a little more balance and go the other way and up the middle a little more often.

But is that a good idea? I ask because Moustakas has been a really, really poor hitter when going the opposite way. Here is how he did in 2012:

Moosebbarea2012_large

Compare that to 2013:

Moosebbarea2013_large

All-Star when he pulls the ball. Tony Pena, Jr. when he goes the opposite way. What's strange about last year is, in retrospect, Moose didn't like his approach when trying to pull the ball.

"When I tried to pull it, my hips flew open, my shoulders flew, my head flew, and I had no chance of making contact."

The problem with his statement is, when he pulled the ball, he was a really, really good hitter. The charts and numbers above validate that approach. The real drag on his performance last year was when he hit balls up the middle. Nineteen singles and seven extra base hits (all doubles) when he hit the ball to center last summer, compared to 31 singles and 13 extra base hits the previous season. And in both 2012 and 2013, he was dreadful when going to left.

Last year, Noah Woodward, writing at The Hardball Times, speculated that Moose can't handle the outside pitch that he should be going with to the opposite field. His contact rates are close to league average but he is so weak on pitches on the outer half, his contact is largely benign, resulting in far too many weak fly balls (and infield pop-ups.) I think that hypothesis passes our collective eye test.

Moose is a monster when he gets a pitch on the inner half he can turn on and drive to right field. When he's worked away, the Moose turns into a mouse and is an easier out than the love child of Chris Getz and Jeff Francoeur. Maybe Grifol can work with Moustakas to eliminate that hole in his swing, but I'm skeptical. He's had two full seasons and the numbers when going to left are grim.

Moose can lose all the weight, get married and get some insane new haircut. Turns out none of that will matter if he can't figure out how to drive the pitch on the outer half.

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