Early on in the movie “Groundhog Day”, Bill Murray starts to realize that he is living the same day over and over again. Murray goes through different stages of realization, everything from anger, sadness and depression to hope and glee. Right now myself and most other Royals fans feel like we are living the same day over and over again; in this day, instead of a little furry creature popping out of the ground and telling us how much winter we have left, we get Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas continuing his struggling ways. His stats pretty much speak for themselves:
Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards 2011 22 KCR AL 89 365 338 26 89 18 1 5 30 2 0 22 51 .263 .309 .367 .675 86 124 5 1 2 2 0 5 2012 23 KCR AL 149 614 563 69 136 34 1 20 73 5 2 39 124 .242 .296 .412 .708 91 232 4 7 0 5 4 *5 2013 24 KCR AL 136 514 472 42 110 26 0 12 42 2 4 32 83 .233 .287 .364 .651 77 172 13 5 1 4 1 *5 2014 25 KCR AL 40 139 125 9 19 7 1 4 17 0 0 12 26 .152 .223 .320 .543 47 40 3
How did one of the Royals top prospects go from a sure thing to questioning whether or not he is even a true major leaguer?
In 2012 Moustakas looked like a future All-Star. During the first half of that season Moose had put everything together. His hitting was solid, his defense was surprisingly above average and he looked like a player who had put everything together. There was very serious discussion that he could make the All-Star team that season. Then Moustakas came down with a knee injury in the second half of the year and his numbers went in the tank. Going into 2013 it seemed that all of his struggles late in 2012 were purely from the injury and that he would be back as a key part of the Royals offense. Except that didn’t happen. Moustakas struggled pretty much the entire 2013 campaign and never looked like a guy who was locked in or confident. There were little spurts where he seemed to be coming out of his slump, but there never seemed to be a sustained stretch where Moose looked like the player he was in 2012.
Earlier this spring it appeared as if we would see a different Mike Moustakas this season. Moustakas had gone to the Venezuelan Winter League with Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol, working on restructuring his swing. The early reports from Surprise, AZ were very positive. Even I was almost convinced that Moustakas’ approach at the plate had improved. The truth was it had changed this spring; his stance had changed at the plate and his swing was much shorter and more compact. It seemed that if he brought that approach with him into the season he would bounce back.
That approach was brought into the season, but a hitless first 21 at bats led him to falling back into old habits and straying from his short and compact swing. The one item that has stayed consistent is his new-found ability to work the count and see more pitches. Moustakas’ walk rate is up, 8.6% from a steady number around 6% the last couple seasons. The rest of the numbers are down and quite ugly. Whatever confidence Moose had coming into this season has evaporated and he looks just as lost as he did last year. It has gotten to a point to where the Royals have floated the idea of sending Moustakas down to AAA Omaha and have started giving backup third baseman Danny Valencia a few starts this week. It’s obvious the leash on Moose has gotten shorter and to be honest it should be. No matter how good his defense is(right now his dWar is at 0.2, just a shade over average) it isn’t enough to compensate for how bad his bat has been. So the question needs to be asked: should Mike Moustakas be sent down to the minors?
In my opinion, yes. I am rooting for Moustakas to come out of this slump as much as anyone, but the honest truth is he is hurting the team more right now than helping. It’s one thing to say it’s early in the season and a small sample size. It’s another when he is over 100 at bat’s and it’s creeping up on June. Moose has been in the bigs now for close to three years now and can’t be coddled forever. We’ve heard a lot the last few years that we need to be patient with the youngsters on Kansas City’s roster, but they aren’t youngsters anymore. His confidence is shot, his swing is a mess and nothing is really changing. It’s time to make a move.
Is a trade a possibility? Personally, I don’t think it is. The Royals seem to believe that Moustakas can bounce back from this and prove his worth. That tells me that at least for the rest of the season they won’t part ways with him. There is a very outside chance it could happen, if the right player came along. Guys like Matt Dominguez, Chase Headley or Pablo Sandoval come to mind as third baseman that they could trade Moose for. The only issue is that Moustakas’ value is so low that it would probably take more than just him to get any of those players. There is a greater chance that the team sends him down to Omaha for part of the summer and call him back up if he gets on a hot streak.
It seems pretty apparent that the Royals are going to have to make a decision and make it soon. Moustakas’ continuing struggles are hurting a team that is already having offensive issues, even if you take him out of the picture. We are to a point in his career where you either pull your weight or the team finds someone that can produce. Loyalty is a great thing to have of your employees but it can also be a character flaw. The Royals have been loyal to Moose and have given him every opportunity to show what he can do. Unfortunately what he has shown the last few seasons is a guy who loses confidence easily and struggles with major league pitching. He might not be a AAAA player, but he is playing like one. At this point trying anything new(anything at all) would be an improvement. Maybe he should take note from “Groundhog Day”:
It’s time Moose. It’s time to let Punxsutawney Phil take the wheel. Can’t be any worse than what you are doing now.