When I initially started this piece, my plan was take a look at Mike Moustakas’ home run history, broken down by month each year. But as I took a deeper look at Moose’s 2015 home run numbers, something jumped off the page at me. After hitting either two or three homers for each of the first four months of the year, he exploded for five home runs in August and seven(7!) in September/October. When you add in the four home runs he has already hit through the first eleven games of this season, I have to ask a question: is Moustakas finally living up to his expected power potential?
While Moustakas was coming up through the Royals minor league system, the expectation was that he had a good chance of producing some great power numbers. Here is a scouting report back in 2009 from MLB.com:
Plus bat speed and a good swing translate to outstanding raw power, though he showed more of it in 2008 than last year. He does have the ability to hit the ball out to all fields.
There was also this about his upside potential:
Middle-of-the-order run producer who is a constant home run threat.
Also, this scouting report of Moose back when he was drafted in 2007:
Moustakas can flat-out hit and has potential to hit for average and power.
He’s a left-handed hitter with serious power. He homered three times in this game.
So there was a prevalent thought even back when he was in high school, that Moustakas could be a major power threat in the middle of Kansas City’s batting order. Even his minor league numbers showed a hitter with plus power, including 36 home runs in 2010 as he split time in AA and AAA.
Some of that power has translated over in the big leagues. Moose connected for 20 homers in 2012 with a slugging percentage of .412 and wrapped up last year with 22 and .470 respectively. In fact, the last two months of 2015 might have been a window into some of the power predicted by scouts before he was even drafted. Not only was there the 12 home runs during that span, but also 17 doubles and a slugging percentage of .562. So there seemed to be a change in philosophy in Moustakas from his approach at the plate early in 2015 and the numbers agree with that. Early in the season, Moose’s Fly Ball % hovered in the 30’s but jumped to the upper 40’s starting in July. His Home Run to Fly Ball % also jumped, from below 10% to 13.5% in August and a whopping 17.9% in September. A big part of his early season success was attributed to a philosophy of hitting the ball to the opposite field, as shown by his Pull % lingering in the mid to upper 30’s. August and September saw those numbers rise into the 40’s, while his opposite field numbers falling down into the 20’s. It definitely appeared on the surface that Moustakas was trying to drive the ball more in the second half of the season, with definite success showing up over the last two months of the season.
It also appears as if Moose’s pitch recognition has improved as well. Last year it became very apparent that teammate Lorenzo Cain had figured out which balls he could drive and which ones he should just go with, leading to his best season to date. I tend to believe a big part of Moustakas’ success late last year and early this year can be attributed to better pitch recognition as well and realizing which pitches to pull and which ones to just go with. So far this year he has avoided rolling the ball over to second base and instead has taken those pitches the opposite way, while pitches that he can scorch(and let’s be honest, most of those are fastballs placed middle to in on him) he has been driving to the deeper portions of right field. Pitch recognition is sometimes a hard facet of the game to grasp, but when a player picks up on it, that normally means a whole new world has been opened to them.
So it is early into 2016 (and everything is a small sample size) but it does appear as if Moose’s approach at the dish is very comparable to how he ended 2015. Moose has opened up the new campaign with 4 home runs in just 11 games and his numbers show they aren’t too far off from the end of last year. Obviously his Pull % is higher(57.5) but the Oppo & Cent % are both close to his last few months of ’15, while his Fly Ball % is on par. There are a few numbers that are inflated by it being so early in the season(Moose’s ISO is up over .300 and his Home Run to Fly Ball ratio is a solid 26.7 over last year’s 11.2%) but some of those numbers will even out as more games are played and he racks up more at bats. With the advanced attention being paid to taking the ball deep though, that could also mean that Moose could approach the 30 home run plateau, which is very rare in Royals history. There have been only ten(10!!!) 30+ home runs seasons in Royals history, with the last player to hit that high water mark being Jermaine Dye(with 33) back in 2000. Billy Butler came close with 29 in 2012, but fell just short of adding his name to a list that includes Chili Davis, Gary Gaetti, Dean Palmer and the Steve Balboni, who holds the season mark with 36 back in 1985. So Moustakas will look to achieve something that is very rare in Royals history, but not completely impossible.
So if Moustakas increases his home run total this year and approaches or passes 30 dingers, is that a plus or a minus for Kansas City? I have to admit I am quite partial to the Moustakas that was flinging the ball all over the field early last year and something about “Oppo-Moose” stirs warm fuzzies in my belly. But I am also aware that Kansas City has longed for a power threat on their team for years now and they might have just produced one. Since this Royals lineup is filled with good, solid bats like Cain, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon, I tend to believe that having Moose provide more pop might help balance the offense out a bit more. If Mike can hit above .270 while still producing around 30 bombs, then it has to be considered a win/win for the Royals. If he is languishing around .250 or below then the extra homers are not worth it. I think there is a good chance we see a big season this year from Moustakas(as long as he can avoid injury; he did miss Friday’s game due to slight hamstring soreness) and while I don’t believe we will see him topple Balboni’s season best mark, I do think he could get close. It will be interesting to follow Moose’s power numbers this year and see how they progress. Will he trail off or continue to bomb away? We will know soon enough…