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2015 Season in Review: Corner Infielders

This group took the slogan "everyone will improve" and ran with it.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The men covering the corners of the diamond saw plenty of improvement in 2015, led by the Mike Moustakas' opposite field revelation. But Eric Hosmer also saw improvement, and Kendrys Morales greatly exceeded expectations. In fact, all three received MVP votes. The trio accounted for 9.4 wins above replacement in 2015, according to FanGraphs. And that number is fantastic, because in 2014, they combined for all of -1.1.

So, to get this straight: The Royals took three positions — first base, third base, and DH (where, in 2014, Billy Butler floundered nearly as much as Morales) — and added nearly ten wins. I'll take that any off-season.

Royals 1B/3B/DH, 2015
E. Hosmer 25 158 667 178 18 93 .297 .363 .459 7 9.1 16.2 125 3.5
K. Morales 32 158 639 165 22 106 .290 .362 .485 0 9.1 16.1 131 2.1
M. Moustakas 26 147 614 156 22 82 .283 .348 .470 1 7.0 12.4 124 3.8

*Minimum 40 games played. All stats in this series compiled from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

Eric Hosmer

Max Rieper already posted a much closer look at Hosmer's 2015, which you should go read if you haven't already. Long story short, Hosmer remains a maddeningly inconsistent hitter. He fell into long streaks of both the hot and cold variety throughout the season.

Perhaps the best example of Hosmer's inconsistency was his playoff performance. He slashed .212/.236/.288 in the postseason and somehow managed to set the franchise record for RBIs in a single postseason. Hosmer hit like an MVP candidate with runners on base, and like Bartolo Colon with the bases empty. Overall, Hosmer saw improvement at the plate over the course of the regular season. His walk rate improved. His isolated power improved. Even his baserunning improved, from being worth -6 runs in 2014 to +3 runs in 2015.

Hosmer did not set any career highs in those areas though. Walk rate, strikeout rate, isolated power, stolen bases, home runs, batting average, whatever — he didn't set any benchmarks for himself in any of those individual stats. Instead, he had a solid year all-around that did end with him posting career highs in wRC+ and WAR. You can't quite say that he has put it all together at the plate, but he is much closer than he was a year ago.

Hosmer's flashy defense earned him a third consecutive Gold Glove award, even though the metrics do not quite back that up. He will make spectacular plays, but he will also commit errors like the one that nearly cost the Royals Game 1 of the World Series.

Grade: Hosmer saw marked improvement this year, but he still has the potential to do more. B.

What's next: Hosmer will be eligible for arbitration after this season, and will likely be gone to free agency the year after that. The Royals would surely likely to see improved consistency on both offense and defense over his remaining two years with the team.

Kendrys Morales

The Kendrys Morales signing last off-season was met with large amounts of skepticism.  Morales received a generous, two-year offer with $17 million guaranteed after a 2014 which saw him sit out the first half of the year and contribute almost nothing positive to the two teams that finally took a chance on him.

Dayton Moore was presumably betting that Morales could regain his form in 2015, with the problems of 2014 explained away by his late start to the season and subsequent rust. It was certainly a gamble, especially since the Royals still had big holes in the rotation and the outfield at the time of the signing.

Anyway, if you left one of the 770 comments on the article about the signing, you can click here to look back and see how wrong you were.

Morales had his best season since he finished fifth in MVP voting in 2009 — and, not coincidentally, his best season since suffering a devastating ankle injury the year after.

Here are several statistics in which Kendrys Morales set post-injury career bests:

  • Games played
  • Runs
  • RBIs
  • Doubles
  • Triples (!)
  • Walks/walk rate
  • Strikeout rate
  • Each component of the triple slash (AVG, OBP, SLG)
  • Isolated power
  • wRC+
  • WAR

It looks like Kendrys Morales shook off whatever dragged him down in 2014. And when put into context with the rest of his post-injury career, that ugly 2014 looks more and more like an anomaly.

Kendrys Morales, 2012-2015
2012 134 22 .273 .320 .467 5.9 22.2 119
2013 156 23 .277 .336 .449 7.5 17.4 119
2014 98 8 .218 .274 .338 6.7 17.0 72
2015 158 22 .290 .362 .485 9.1 16.1 131

Playing primarily as a designated hitter, Morales didn't have the chance to earn a Gold Glove. But he did manage to win some hardware by earning the Silver Slugger award, the first of his career.

Grade: Barring a major meltdown, it looks like Dayton Moore's gamble paid off. 2015 was good for both parties. Morales still has the potential for more, but you can't complain about this season. A-.

What's next: 2016 is Morales' age-33 season, and he'll look to continue to put his horrific 2014 in the past. He then has an $11 million mutual option for 2017, with a $1.5 million buyout if it is not exercised.

Mike Moustakas

Moustakas, like Morales, plodded through a poor 2014 that even saw him sent to Omaha. He became increasingly frustrated at the plate, unable to escape his extreme pull-happy tendencies. So when, in spring training, Moustakas claimed that he'd finally figured out his problems at the plate, a lot of Royals fans were skeptical. That skepticism crossed into deep-rooted anxiety when Moustakas was penciled into the second slot in the batting order.

And then he hit an opposite-field home run in the season opener and everything was fixed. Almost.

In the first month of the season, Moustakas hit to the opposite field 40 percent of the time, more often than he pulled the ball. It was a great improvement and resulted in an incredible 163 wRC+. But when the summer heat arrived, Moustakas slumped back into his old bad habits. He hit less frequently to the opposite field, and his numbers suffered. His July was atrocious:€” a triple slash of .188/.271/.306 that led to concerns that New Moose was merely a mirage.

The good news is that Moustakas eventually rebounded, posting a couple of solid months to close out the season. He never did regain his opposite-field stroke, and his postseason wasn't nearly as hot as the one he had in 2014, but the end result was a season that vastly exceeded expectations, and the first year that Moustakas provided positive value at the plate.

Moustakas remains a moderately above-average defender. He is not quite at a Gold Glove level, but his defense is certainly not an area of concern.

Grade: Moustakas broke out in 2015 with the best season of his career, but I'll have to grade him down just slightly for the midseason slump and the regression to his pull-happy ways. A-.

What's next: Moustakas recently signed a two-year deal and won't be a free agent until after 2017. Keep an eye on where he hits the ball in the early part of the season —” an over-reliance on pulling the ball could spell trouble.

Other appearances:

  • Cheslor Cuthbert was called up occasionally to serve primarily as a replacement at third base. He performed well in his first stint with the team, but when rosters expanded in September and he was called back up, his beginner's luck ran out. Grade: C-
  • Dusty Coleman did not play well. By the end of his star-crossed four-game stint in the majors, I was just hoping he would get that first big-league hit. (He didn't). You probably only remember one of those four games, for his infamous baserunning gaffe. If we were using a grading metaphor, then Coleman refused to take the test, set it on fire, then tried to make a grand exit and tripped on his way out. On the bright side, Dusty Coleman will receive an invite to spring training. Grade: Zero percent, see me after class.