On Opening Day, Ned Yost gave us the plot-twist we hadn't expected, putting Mike Moustakas in the number two spot in the lineup, despite hitting the disappointing Moose eighth or ninth much of the second half of last year. Mike Moustakas has a career .291 on-base percentage and was the Royals worst hitter last year, so the move had some scratching their heads.
The Royals have long shunned a strategy of compiling good on-base hitters, leaving them with a roster with few good options to hit second. At first glance, Mike Moustakas would look like the worst option, as he ranked tied for last on the Royals last season among regulars in wRC with 76.
Ned Yost says publicly, its about confidence.
"When you're looking at the spring that Moose had, and you're looking at Alex and you're looking at Moose, Alex is going to be the same guy," Yost said. "But this little confidence boost, to go along with all the hard work and the effort that he put forth, (is) something that could carry (Moustakas) through the first half of the season, offensively."
Now honestly, that's a bunch of hooey. Getting moved up in the order doesn't give you confidence. Success gives you confidence. And Moustakas has had some early success this year that we all hope can carry over to the rest of this season.
Jeff Sullivan had a terrific article at Fangraphs that I urge everyone to read, looking at Moustakas' batted-ball data. He writes that Moose pushed nearly as many balls to the opposite field this spring training season than in the previous three springs combined. Even last post-season, it appeared Moustakas was trying to hit the ball the other way. Here are his three plate appearances during the Wild Card game.
Moose has a particularly poor on-base hitter not because he is completely averse to drawing a walk. Here are the walk rates of Royals hitters on this year's roster, both last year, and over the last three seasons.
Moose isn't Rickey Henderson or anything, but among this bunch of free-swingers, he's one of the more patient hitters.
Mike Moustakas has a sub-.300 on-base percentage because his .236 career batting average is so low. The low batting average stems from a terrible career batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .260. At first blush it may appear Moustakas has simply been the victim of terrible luck with a BABIP sure to regress upwards. However, when you consider that (1) Moustakas frequently faces radical shifts; (2) only outfielder Chris Young has had a greater infield-fly rate in baseball since 2011 than Mike Moustakas, and (3) Moustakas has made terrible contact on pitches in the strike zone, it becomes clear why Moose has such a low BABIP every year.
So if Moustakas can make adjustments - still a big "if" - could he actually be a decent number two hitter? Try to imagine his BABIP closer to the league-wide mark of .300. Even if he only gets halfway there, that could lift his on-base percentage some 20 points. That gets a lot closer to be a player of good value. But is it good enough to be hitting second in the lineup? Probably not.
In the end, I'm not really sure why Ned Yost is hitting Moustakas second. Perhaps he really is trying to get in Moose's dome by boosting his confidence. Perhaps he has seen the adjustment Moose has made and is gambling on a monster season. Perhaps he's doing it just to spite the stat guys. Its a risky proposition when you consider that every game matters now that the Royals are contenders, but so far it has paid off. Everything is turning up Ned, so let's hope the Royals lucky streak doesn't run out any time soon.