Mike Moustakas, as we all know, is hitting a metric orangutan worth of home runs.
Don’t ask why a metric orangutan is the measurement, or, God forbid, why we aren’t using the lauded imperial orangutan instead.
Alright, I’ll relent. It’s because, frankly, it doesn’t matter what stat or metric we use: Moustakas is crushing home runs at a prodigious rate. Forget Steve Balboni’s woeful single season home run record of 36; Moose could ostensibly crack the 40-homer plateau, something that has only happened about four times per year in the last decade. And if he smacks 42 home runs then he will singlehandedly dig the Royals out from the bottom rung of the single-season home run record by team ladder.
So we’re reaching rarefied air as far as home runs go, especially for Royals fans, but Moose is an extreme outlier for something else: walks and strikeouts.
Usually, walks, power, and strikeouts are intertwined. Players with the ability to crush lots of pitches very hard generally have a good idea of the strike zone, and so will work their fair share of walks. Pitchers will also throw power hitters fewer strikes in an attempt to avoid getting hammered. In addition, power hitters often sell out contact in order to barrel the ball, and that combined with getting fewer good pitches to hit generally leads to more strikeouts. These events are sometimes called the ‘three true outcomes,’ a result that occurs only in the interaction between pitcher and batter.
Moose, well, he laughs in the face of that. On both ends.
First, strikeout rate. My colleague Shaun Newkirk excellently covered how Moose has been almost immune to striking out looking this year (since he wrote that piece, Moustakas has indeed struck out looking—once). And, overall, Moose has been highly resistant to striking out at all.
After pulling a list from Fangraphs among all individual qualified hitter seasons since 2015 (the year the juiced ball started showing up), I cut off everybody with an isolated slugging percentage (ISO) of under .200. That resulted in 156 individual seasons on the list. Mike Moustakas’ 2017 season, currently at a 15.2% strikeout rate, ranks 18th-best.
Even more impressive is that Moose has done so while hitting at a .280 ISO, the 15th-best mark out of those 156 seasons. Only two players over the last three seasons had an ISO greater than .280 and a strikeout rate under 15.2%: David Ortiz in 2016, and Joey Votto this year. Both are historically great players.
But wait! It gets crazier! Check out this table of the lowest walk rates among that 156-season group:
(Shout out to Salvador Perez, the man who doesn’t walk anywhere without needing to)
Out of 156 players over the last three years with an ISO north of .200, only five have a walk rate under 5%, and Moose is one of them. Of those, Moose has the lowest strikeout rate as well.
The approach is clearly working for him, as he has career highs in pretty much everything except defensive numbers (and, lest us forget, he underwent major reconstructive surgery on his knee over the offseason). But it’s weird. Moose has defied the conventions of the power hitter. His strikeout, walk, and contact rates are eerily like the career numbers of Scott Podsednik, if only Scotty Pods had a 40-dong campaign in him.
It’s taken a long time for Moose to find his way, but he’s finally done so. It figures that his path would be a unique one.