by John Viril—
Kansas City Royals 3B Mike Moustakas looked like a budding star at this time last season. He hit .268/.327/. 490 along with 15 home runs before the 2012 All-Star break. He played gold glove quality defense (Moustakas led all 3rd basemen in UZR in 2012). In short, Moustakas absence in the All-Star game seemed to be a snub.
Since then, Mike Moustakas has hit an atrocious .214/.268/.329. The only reason he’s 0.1 above replacement value is stellar defense. What went wrong?
The simple answer is: he stopped hitting the fastball.
We can clearly see Moustakas’ reduced production from his heatmaps. In 2013, Mike Moustakas is hitting curves, sliders and changeups throughout most of the strike zone. But, his performance against fastballs is well below league average—which is quite different than his hot 1st half of 2012:
Images from Baseballheatmaps.com
Heatmaps here are from the catcher’s perspective. Thus, a left-handed hitter like Moustakas would line up on the right side of this diagram. Also, blue is below league average. While green, yellow, and red is progressively above league average (as listed on bar to the right side expressed as percentages relative to the norm).
As we can see, Mike Moustakas hit the fastball well in 2012, but has been below league norms in 2013. That’s not good—especially for a 24-year-old hitter.
Of course, most Royals fans know that Moustakas has surged the last month of the season. Over the last 4 weeks, Moose is hitting a healthy .299/341/.455 with 8 extra base hits (6 doubles and 2 home runs). The difference is, again, his ability to hit the fastball:
Image from Baseballheatmaps.com
The key is that hitting coaches George Brett and Pete Grifol have adjusted Moustakas’ hands to a lower position in order to get them closer to the plate. The idea is to help him get around on pitches faster. The interesting point here is how Moustakas has focused on inside pitches that he can pull whereas before he had more complete plate coverage in 2012. Apparently, Moustakas has embraced the identity of being a pull hitter in the last month.
Whether Moustakas’ recent success signals a breakthrough for Moustakas—or if pitchers will adjust to him again—remains to be seen. However, Moose does have one of the all-time best at the eternal struggle between pitchers and hitters to help him figure it out.