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Season in review: Mike Moustakas

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The perenially-maligned third baseman didn't improve like we were led to believe.

Moose hits a home run on that pitch.
Moose hits a home run on that pitch.
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Moustakas had a bad year. Let's just put it all out there. He hit like Willie Bloomquist. He played solid defense at third base, but it's not like he was a ground-ball-fielding version of Lorenzo Cain sucking up all the grounders hit within 3 miles of his post. It probably helps that Alcides Escobar plays next to him.

After a season in which Moustakas hit .233/.287/.364 for a 77 wRC+, he followed it up by hitting .212/.271/.361 for a 76 wRC+. Don't say it can't get any worse. I never say such things. Despite Moose's free-swinging, uppercut, popup tendencies, he still has managed to improve his contact rate each season. Unfortunately, all that "improvement" came from making more contact on pitches outside the strike zone.

Season Z-contact% O-contact% Contact%
2012 87.1% 66.2% 77.9%
2013 88.3% 73.4% 82.1%
2014 87.5% 79.7% 84.3%

That was a big story through the season. At one point, Moustakas actually had a higher contact rate on pitches outside the zone compared to pitches inside the zone. You can't be a successful offensive major leaguer with this offensive O-contact rate.

In small sample sizes at least, magical things can happen. Moustakas' line of .231/.259/.558 during the postseason led some to think that Moustakas learned something. Even though his on base percentage was down, he hit the ball the other way several times while smashing a few home runs. He took a few pitches he may have swung at during the regular season. The underlying data show that perhaps Moustakas did show some extra plate discipline during the playoff run. Below is Moustakas' swing zone profile during the regular season compared to the postseason.

mike moustakas regular season swing zone profile

mike moustakas postseason zone swing profile

Moustakas still swung at the low and away stuff, but he seemed to lay off the inside and high stuff a little bit. This makes good sense; Moustakas can't make solid contact with stuff up due to his swing. On the aggregate, though, there doesn't appear to be much of a change. I used Brooks Baseball's zone profiles to compare the regular season to the playoffs since FanGraphs doesn't have playoff data as far as I can tell. The regular season data from Brooks differ slightly from the FanGraphs data.

Reg Season Postseason
O-swing% 36.2% 34.9%
O-contact% 78.6% 80.4%
Whiff% 7.8% 6.8%

Honestly, it was great to see Moustakas hit some home runs in the playoffs. However, I don't see much evidence that Moustakas was materially different. Anecdotally, many have noted that he laid off some high pitches in the playoffs, and the small sample we have here supports that. Keep in mind that it's a small sample. If the trend continues into next season, Moustakas may evolve into a Chris Carter-lite type of guy with less offense and more defense. I think I would take that at this point.

It's time to look at the relative data. 100 is average, less than 100 means he did less of the thing than average, and more than 100 means he did more of the thing.

Season Rel K Rel BB
2011 75 74
2012 102 80
2013 81 78
2014 73 92

Moustakas strikes out less than league average, which is known but continues to baffle me. Moose walks less than league average. In 2014, he was lower than ever relative to the league in strikeout rate and had his highest walk rate. His walk rate could be so much better if he would swing less at pitches outside the strike zone, but that's not his problem. His problem is making contact with those pitches outside the zone. If he suddenly started whiffing more on pitches outside the zone, his K% would probably increase, but he's got the wiggle room for that.

I would like to tell you that whiffing more on pitches outside the zone would be good. In one theory, the thought goes that he would have chances to make contact with better pitches or chances to take equally poor pitches. That's all true. However, in a second theory, whiffing would push the count more in favor of the pitcher, and Moustakas' expected offensive output would decrease due to the shift in count. I'm not sure what the tradeoff is, but it's worth trying. What he's doing now isn't working.

Season Rel LD Rel GB Rel FB Rel IFFB Rel HR/FB
2011 104 86 114 198 43
2012 78 75 146 176 80
2013 89 82 130 171 66
2014 97 86 120 157 99

Moustakas hits more fly balls and more popups than average. No big surprise there. In 2014, he was almost average in line drive rate and HR/FB rate, and his Infield Fly Ball rate declined for the 3rd year in a row. Moustakas' home runs were more a product of hitting a ton of fly balls rather than having exceptional power.

Here is Moustakas' relative production by batted ball type. Rel PRD is calculated by (1.7*BA+SLG)/(1.7*lgBA+lgSLG)*100.

Season FB Rel PRD LD Rel PRD GB Rel PRD
2011 70 99 101
2012 92 108 98
2013 72 115 70
2014 79 97 59

Moustakas has hovered at or above average in line drive production, which is nice. He is capable of squaring the ball. However, his ground ball production fell for the 3rd straight year. The shift is severely limiting his ground ball production. He really doesn't do much with fly balls, and 2014 wasn't out of the ordinary relative to previous years. 2012 appears to be the outlier rather than the norm.

I've written about Moustakas before, and I'm fairly certain he is what he is at this point. I'm leaning more toward the "small sample random variation" camp rather than the "turned the corner camp" when attempting to explain his postseason performance. His defense is really his only saving grace.

Grade: D