Maybe the most perplexing issue facing the Royals in this disappointing 2014 season is the struggles of two players who were supposed to be sure things:
No, not those two. We already know they are hard hitters. The two I am referencing are these two:
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have to be two of the most frustrating players ever, if for no other reason than the fact that they were supposed to be the cornerstones of this franchise. Instead it’s getting more and more apparent that these are not the baseball players(droids) we are looking for. So where did it all go wrong?
Let’s start with Moustakas first, since I have chronicled his issues heavily. There was last year’s struggles ; aaaaand this year’s slump. You read that correctly; Moustakas has pretty much been in a slump for two seasons now. Moose had looked to really up his game in 2012, as his defense had drastically improved and his bat produced numbers good enough for consideration for the All-Star Game that season. But a knee injury in the second half of the season sapped his power and seemed to sap whatever lightning he had trapped in his bottle. Since then he has been a mess at the plate, producing either a strike out or pop-up 30% of the time this season and producing these numbers earlier this season:
Moose’s numbers seem to be bottoming out this year and even a stint in Omaha didn’t cure whatever is ailing him, as he has only four hits since his return and his hitting .148 in those eight games. The bad thing is that even his newfound patience, which has raised his walk rate, seems to be of no use. Moose seems to have bad pitch selection, as he has a higher contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone than inside the strike zone. The other major concern is that Moustakas can’t seem to hit fastballs at a regular rate, which is explained by his -10.0 wFB, or Fastball runs above average. To give you a comparison, Billy Butler has never had a wFB below 15.1 in a full season(besides this season where his numbers have taken a dive). More and more it just seems Moustakas can’t catch up to a fastball:
So the verdict on Moose? Moustakas is still young enough to bounce back and be a regular contributor in the majors. He is still above average defensively and has some pop in his bat. At this point, the Royals have given him over 1500 at bats and he still has a career slash line of .235/.288/.376. The team has given him close to a season and a half to break out of this “slump” and he is still putting up putrid numbers. There does appear to be some trade interest for Moose, with three teams interested. My guess would be that those three teams think a change of scenery would do him good. In my opinion it might be time to cut ties with Moose and let him get that change of scenery. If the Royals decide they don’t want to do that, they have to send him back to the minors…for real this time. His hitting obviously hasn’t improved from the ten days he spent in AAA, so a more prolonged time might be the way to go. The Royals are unfortunately thin at third base, at least in the upper minors. Cheslor Cuthbert is in AA Northwest Arkansas, but he still needs time to develop before he is major league ready. Hunter Dozier is the other major third base prospect in the Kansas City farm system, but he is currently in Wilmington, the High A team for the Royals. Dozier has been crushing the ball as of late, but he still has a way to go. So there isn’t a clear cut answer at third base for Kansas City in the minors, but it is also apparent Moustakas isn’t that answer either.
Now onto the other Kansas City problem child, Eric Hosmer. Hosmer struggled mightily in 2012 and started out 2013 about the same way, only he was able to get some hits but showed absolutely no power and seemed incapable of pulling the ball. Insert Pedro Grifol in as the Royals hitting coach at the end of May and we started seeing a new Hosmer, one who could pull the ball and hit homeruns. The difference was notable in his swing and stance:
The numbers are a bit closer, thanks to the change in June, but it is apparent there was a different Hosmer between the first and second half of last year:
Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+ 1st Half 90 86 374 344 46 98 18 2 9 40 7 3 25 51 .285 .332 .427 .760 147 8 1 1 3 2 5 .310 89 111 2nd Half 69 69 306 279 40 90 16 1 8 39 4 1 26 49 .323 .379 .473 .852 132 7 0 0 1 2 2 .368 113 140
So coming into this year, it seemed as if Hos was fixed and there were no worries with him…
…but there are worries. Hosmer has seemed to have lost his power(slugging percentage is down to .357 from last year’s .448) and his approach at the plate the last few weeks has been hack-tastic. I’m starting to think Hosmer went to school at Francoeur High, where their motto is “We have never seen a pitch you don’t like”. Hosmer’s strikeout rate is up, walk rate is down but the biggest fall has been his situational hitting. Hosmer’s RE24(Base-Out runs added, where zero is average) is at -3.5, compared to last year’s 25.1. while his WPA+(Wins Probability Added) is at 4.6 next to last year’s 14.3. What that basically means is that in situations where the Royals need a big hit from Hosmer, he just isn’t producing. His doubles are way up this year, sitting at 20 already compared to last year’s 34, but across the board he is hurting the team more than helping. His defense is still above average(although the advanced metrics have not been nice to him defensively over the years) but his oWar is at a -0.9. So whatever he is bringing to the table defensively is being negated offensively. This is a nice look at his “new” approach:
Hosmer has a bit different verdict than Moustakas at this point, as there is still value in Hos. It amazes me that the Royals continue to hit him in the 3rd spot in the order, as he is hitting only .171 in the last month, but there he is every night, near the top of the order. Does a trip to Omaha help? Possibly. I could see a scenario where Hos is sent down and Matt Fields is given a shot in his absence. The likelihood of that happening is probably miniscule, as the Royals seem reluctant to admit their draftees need to be sent back down(Moustakas being the perfect case). Another option is to package Hosmer in a trade to a contender at the trade deadline. David Lesky(who is a great follow on twitter) first proposed this at PineTarPress.com and I was taken aback at first. I had never really considered the idea of trading Hos, as he always seemed like a possible future MVP candidate. But as we stretch into year three of him struggling for major portions of the year, I really started considering if this was the right thing to do.
On one hand, it’s obvious the talent there. When Hosmer puts it all together he is a middle of the order threat and can be a major factor in the direction this ballclub goes in. But the more he struggles, the more you start wondering what is fundamentally wrong to where he can’t just put it together. Why does his swing get messed up so often? Why is his approach at the dish a mess? Why does his power go on vacation at the worst times? You really start to wonder if mentally he just isn’t cut for this and if this is how he will be his entire career. The Royals are very much in “win now” mode and if they fall out of contention this move could be considered. Hosmer still has a lot of value and I’m sure some team is already salivating at the thought of working with him on his swing and untapping his true potential. I’m not saying the Royals should go out and trade him; what I am saying is that it isn’t foolish to consider that as a possibility.
Hosmer and Moustakas were supposed to be two of the main keys to get the Royals to the “Promised Land”, the playoffs. But so far we are left with two players who just aren’t producing like this team needs them to. I remember once having a conversation about which of the two of these hitters the Royals should try to sign to an extension if you could only keep one(the thought being they are both Scott Boras clients so there was no way the Royals would be able to keep both). This was early in the season of 2012 and I couldn’t make a definitive choice. Now in 2014, I seriously don’t think the Royals should sign either to a long term deal. As the old saying goes, it’s time to quit straddling the fence on these two; it’s time for Kansas City to either “Shit or get off the pot”, cause Hosmer and Moustakas are killing the Royals in more ways than one.