Sometimes, it seems like we've been waiting for a true breakout from the likes of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas for forever. And I suppose there's a good reason or two for that; Hosmer is in his fifth full season now, as is Moustakas in far less plate appearances. At 25 and 26, they're in the middle of their young primes, and there's still the feeling that we haven't seen the best of them yet. Hosmer's hit really well for four months of seasons before, Moustakas for...uh...slightly smaller stretches. Both are fairly divisive when it comes to their defensive capabilities.
Last postseason, Royals fans got another taste of what it's hoped Hoz and Moose can do over longer stretches. While no one is expecting Hosmer to replicate a .351/.439/.544 performance, he looked like a genuine middle-of-the-order threat. Even the long-correctly-maligned Moustakas crushed the ball enough (5 HRs in 54 PAs) for us to put aside the the drawbacks in his approach. And this year, they've both basically picked up where they left off; Hosmer at .320/.400/.540, Moustakas at .311 /.371/.453. If this is even close to what we can expect from either for the rest of 2015, it's a huge short in the arm for KC.
The question is, as always, what can we expect from these guys going forward? Yes a drop towards earth can be expect, but how much of one? Read on for the Position Player Ups and Downs, including Hoz and Moose's continuing adventures with hitting.
LF - Alex Gordon -
While the two players mentioned above continue to tantalize, Gordon continues to just produce and produce and produce. His .284/.396/.457 on the season is essentially more of the same with him, albeit with a higher OBP than usual, as it's not that far off his career averages since 2011 (which is, hey, when Moose and Hoz appeared!). By now you probably already know that next season is Gordon's option year, and there's some question as to whether or not he triggers it. If he keeps playing as he's played over the last four years, this would leave the Royals with a tough decision to make.
Gordon's BABIP is currently at .333 relative to a career average of .320, but the last couple seasons he's been at .310. Maybe, in a potential contract year, the BABIP fairy has returned to make sure that Alex receives his due? He's 31, and this is probably his last chance to get a big deal.
Also, he's a good leadoff hitter. We'll stop there, because you've heard that before. It's still true.
3B - Mike Moustakas -
Okay, so this Moustakas fella. Let's start with the fact that yes, he's been very good so far. And no, he doesn't really look like the limited pull hitter of years past. As a player turning 27 in September, he's around the age where a lot of MLB players have their best years at the plate, and most metrics have him at least above average defensively. That's all good. 22.6% of his BIP are line drives, which is also a good sign, as line drives tend to be hits. His career rate is 19%, and he was at 20.2% last year.
The warning signs are there, too. First of all, this isn't exactly the only time that Moustakas has had a hot month, and his BABIP is a lofty .320 compared to his career .264 figure. With that line drive rate, it's fair to expect a slightly higher BABIP than before, but it's almost certainly still coming down. Secondly, while he's striking out less, his walk rate his dipped to half of where it was last season. Moose is walking in only 3.4% of his PAs compared to over 6% for his career. Not horrible over the span of a month, but worth keeping an eye on. He's also still popping up more than your average bear.
Couple this with the fact that Moose's power numbers, removed from the batting average tilt, are virtually the same, and the answer to how sustainable this rate is appears to be "not very." However, there is legitimate reason to think that, if Moustakas can keep squaring up the ball as often as he is right now, that he will improve a bunch over his career numbers. I think we'd take that at this point.
DH - Kendrys Morales -
Morales will be 32 before independence day, and you can't really put him in the field without having flashbacks of Ken Harvey being hit in the back by a relay throw (or maybe you can, but I sure as hell can't), but, hey, I think it might be worth pointing out that perhaps Morales isn't the 600 OPS horror show that he was last season.
In retrospect, this kind of makes sense that Morales has got a bit of his stroke back. Remember, his 2014 was marred by signing two months into the season after he and his agent badly misread his market. It isn't that hard to squint and see a guy who skipped out on spring training and two months of the year falling into a slump, and things snowballing. On the other hand, Morales is the latest member of the 'not very fast guys still getting a BABIP bump" club, at 46 points over his career averages.
Still, if you dock him points for that, you still have to acknowledge that he's earned some of that improvement. He's smacking line drives 21.8% of the time, up from 17.8% last season and 18.1% for his career. Even if he drops off a bit from those rates and his batting average settles back in around .270-.280, he could remain a worthwhile signing. At least for this season.
1B - Eric Hosmer -
The Prodigal Son hasn't had to return yet this year, because he's hit the snot out of the ball for the first month-plus. The baseball is so intimidated by Hoz right now that it simply refuses to not fall for him; his BABIP is .373 over a career .308 figure, but that's buoyed his 24.4 LD%. So as to the original question of how sustainable his current rate is? Well, I don't think Hosmer is going to hit .320, but it seems like he could definitely be back in the .290-.300 range this season. Also, someone turned his power back on, as 12 of his 32 hits are of the XBH variety.
Round that off with a spike in a walk rate and you've got a player who just had one hell of a month at the plate, even if you acknowledge that .320 is rarely "real." While their are caveats hanging all over Moustakas's production, everything that I could point to with Hosmer can also be mitigated with by saying, "he could do a little worse in some respects and still be hitting like a star." In other words, thus far, while Hosmer also has had a bit of BABIP fortune, his current ridiculous rate looks way more real than Moose's. And I don't think anyone would mind .295/.365/.500.
(I'm crossing my fingers)
C - Salvador Perez -
Well, it was one of those months, I guess, where everything fell in for everyone. But especially for Perez, who by now we know basically rides hot streaks into slumps and vice versa depending on if the singles are falling in-between his XBHs. Thus far, they have, and so he's at .313/.324/.455. Patient, he is not. A plus, he is. Just know that him being this good so far means that we're probably in for a run where he's infuriating to watch.
2B - Omar Infante -
"Royals 2B" continues to be a spot that's cursed. That, or Infante could just be one of those middle infielders whose production dries up in their early/mid 30s, which actually is pretty common. I don't think many of us figured on him being great value when he was signed, but I'm not sure it's totally fair to pin this one all on Moore either. Even if some decline was to be expected, I'm not sure anyone expected .237/.253/.316. Yuck.
I could tell you that part of the issue is that Infante's pounding too many grounders and not enough line drives, except I'm not even sure that's it. Infante's previous career low for LD% was 2010, when he hit .321 and hit almost half his BIPs on the ground. This is starting to look more and more like a guy who had a fair amount of his game built around his athleticism just, you know, losing some of his athleticism. He's 33, it happens.
For what it's worth, some defensive metrics do like him in the field so far, which is one thing that's better than last season.
RF - Paulo Orlando -
While Orlando has a fair walk rate, he's also struck out quite a bit, so it looks like he's fairly unlikely to hit for a high average in the majors. For example, he's at .314 BABIP and still only at .254 BA. While he's been solid defensively for the most part, it's worth wondering whether his bat--which has been pretty quiet after the initial burst of triples--will continue to play. Then again, in the interest of being fair, his .269/.345/.462 vs. lefties is pretty good, whereas righties have him solved at .245/.263/.405 and 9 of his 12 strikeouts.
OF - Jarrod Dyson -
Mr. Zoombiya hasn't quite got it going with the bat, though he continues to be a plus, when played, in the field. The higher-than-usual K-rate and lower-than-usual BB-rate is likely just a product of him only having 35 PAs on the season. Still, he hasn't been on base much, and it's not like he's usually a high-average hitter, despite his speed, so he needs to get better results from his longer plate appearances.
IF - Christian Colon -
Colon is 25, and it's not like expectations were high for him coming into last year, so I was surprised how much the projections on mlb.com seemed to like him (suggesting he could hold down a starting infield spot without being a negative with the bat). Then I looked at ZiPS on Fangraphs, which has him nailed so far on OBP and is one point off on his batting average.
Anyway, Colon is likely just a bit piece going forward, but we'll always have those 49 PAs last year where he hit .333 in the majors out of practically nowhere.
CF - Lorenzo Cain -
The thing that makes Dyson's hitting look so ugly by comparison is that the guy who he's subbing for was, as with a few other members of this line-up, picking up as if 2014 had never ended. Cain was at .333/.402/.500 with a .386 BABIP off a 24.7 LD%. So yeah, he was running hot. On the one hand, he isn't going to hit .333 all year. On the other hand, he somehow got through last year with a .380 BABIP, so I'm going to hold off on forecasting a .270.
SS - Alcides Escobar
Escobar was playing fine before his concussion, and was placed on the disabled list on the first of the month. You don't need me to tell you that concussions are bad news, so hopefully the Royals don't rush him back and Escobar will be good to go when he returns.
Not rated due to lack of games: C Erik Kratz, IF Orlando Calixte
The Royals, second only to the Houston Astros in W-L record in the American League (I kinda love typing that), are back at it tonight against the Cleveland Baseball Club. Danny Duffy vs. Carlos Carrasco, no one gets out alive. Happy Wednesday!