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This offseason, Mike Moustakas lore far outpaces his on-field contributions

‘Moose’ has been the subject of envy in Angels fans’ minds for a long time. But will he be worth it?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The relationship between Mike Moustakas and Angels fans started out as indifferent. And why wouldn’t it be? The Angels were in the playoffs nearly every year with a fine speedy-contact third baseman in Chone Figgins. Meanwhile, Moustakas quickly became the envy of scouts, who lauded him as the complete package at the plate with a bazooka in the field. Those scouting reports made the Chatsworth product an attractive target to a team who hadn’t had a consistent everyday third baseman since Joe Randa, and ‘Moose’ was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 2007 draft.

Fast forward to the 2014 ALDS against the Angels, and the script was rewritten instantaneously. Moustakas hammered a 1-1 middle-down Fernando Salas fastball into the right-field bleachers for a walk-off victory in game one — for the series, Moustakas had a 1.152 OPS en route to a Royals sweep. Indifference turned quickly to seething rage.

Time passed, rage subsided, and then love filled our hearts kudos to Chase Kimura’s gently worded love letter. But that was then and this is now. There are more red flags than ever before. Let us count them.

More strikeouts, less walks

Take a look at Moustakas’ strikeout and walk numbers over the past few years.

Moustakas’ plate discipline

Year K% BB% K-BB%
Year K% BB% K-BB%
2014 14.8% 7.0% 7.80%
2015 12.4% 7.0% 5.40%
2016 11.5% 8.0% 3.50%
2017 15.7% 5.7% 10.00%

Though the trend in baseball is moving towards sacrificing contact for power, it’s a significantly less sustainable approach in one of the most pitcher-friendly park environments in the league. When combined with the infamous marine layer, selling out for power is not optimal. Not only did Moose’s contact decrease, but also he has popped up 16 percent of batted balls - that’s four percentage points higher than Luis Valbuena. Given that popups are effectively strikeouts, a high popup (IFFB%) mark is very bad.

His strikeouts are still occurring at a below-average rate, but recall that on-base percentage is the statistic that is most highly correlated to scoring runs. Moustakas is below-average in that category.


Lack of athleticism

Moustakas’ lack of athleticism increases the odds that he ages poorly. Perhaps his ACL injury has had a lingering effect on his lower half here, as defensive metrics regarded his run prevention as the worst of his career (-3.1 UZR, -8 Defensive Runs Saved). Most notably, his decreased range (-5.3 Range Runs above Average) is what is causing the downturn in defense.

Moose’s baserunning has never been great and this year has continued that trend, as evidenced by a -5.4 BsR score. Per Fangraphs, Moose’s speed score in 2017 was 1.1. For reference, Albert Pujols’ speed score in 2017 was 2.1. Fangraphs gives us this explanation on their speed score.

Speed score tables (Fangraphs)

It is painfully clear that Moustakas does not exemplify an athlete in today’s game — he does not run well, he may be losing his fielding abilities, and as an independent observer, he does not appear to be in good shape. Poor conditioning at 29 does not leave one excited about his conditioning several years into a long-term contract, and athleticism deteriorates as one moves past his or her late-twenties.

Kansas City Royals v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Moustakas’ overall value

Year wRC+ fWAR bWAR
Year wRC+ fWAR bWAR
2014 75 0.5 0.4
2015 123 3.7 4.4
2016 111 0.7 0.7
2017 114 2.2 1.8

And while it’s true that Moustakas has performed impeccably in high-leverage situations this season, research has continually shown that such ‘clutch’ statistics are random and unpredictable.

Moustakas’ performance in leverage situations

wRC+ in low leverage wRC+ in medium leverage wRC+ in high leverage
wRC+ in low leverage wRC+ in medium leverage wRC+ in high leverage
47 99 118
126 151 8
181 -6 137 (only 6 PA)
102 118 177

All this is not to say that Moustakas wouldn’t help - it is to say that Moustakas most likely won’t be worth the contract he will receive.

Mike Moustakas, for his part, has done some good: dramatically decreasing his ground balls and hitting for more power than ever before. But with the entire league hitting for more power, a slugging skillset is less valuable unless complemented by other skills, which the one-dimensional Moustakas simply doesn’t bring to the table. It’s time to stop being smitten with Moose, there are other fish in the free agent sea.