Spring Training is a time of personal exploration. It’s a time for teams to gauge the status of their roster and the progression of certain players and different positions. It’s also a time to experiment and theorize new possibilities of what a team can look like for the new season. Such is the case for the Colorado Rockies more than ever over the course of the past week.
After Brendan Rodgers suffered an injury that threatens the entirety of his 2023 season, the Rockies quickly pivoted to the logical move of sliding Ryan McMahon over to second base and allowing youngsters Elehuris Montero and Nolan Jones to take over the bulk of time at third base. Both have tremendous potential in their bats but also come with their own follies in their baseball makeup. Yet, with a team not projected to be contenders in 2023, there is no better time to let them play and see what they can do over the course of a full Major League season.
Instead, the Rockies made the baffling move of signing three-time All-Star Mike Moustakas to a Minor League deal. Like many others, I don’t necessarily understand or agree with the move, however, my purpose today is to try and dive into Moustakas’s stats and understand what the Rockies are hoping for with the move and if he really can be an asset to the 2023 Rockies.
Face Value: Bat
On the surface level, Moustakas is not an attractive piece at the moment. At 34 years old, he is well removed from his All-Star year in 2019 with the Milwaukee Brewers. In that final season with the Brewers, Moustakas batted .254/.329/.516 with 35 home runs, 87 RBI, and a 114 OPS+ in 143 games. After signing a four-year deal with Cincinnati Reds in 2020, Moustakas’s production quickly took a nose dive over the next three seasons.
From 2020-2022, Moustakas played in just 184 games, thanks to lower body and foot injuries and the shortened 2020 season. In those three years, he batted just .216/.300/.383 with 21 home runs, 74 RBI, and an 80 OPS+. While Moustakas made a name for himself as a slugging third baseman with the Kansas City Royals from 2011-2018, it wasn’t enough to prevent the Reds from releasing him in January of this year and eating the $22 million salary he is owed. He certainly has a track record of success in his prime, but unfortunately, Moustakas is no longer in his prime and therefore the Rockies can’t bank on him rebounding to a 2019 form of production.
I will give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of injuries really limiting him the past couple of years. Long-sustained injuries make it extremely difficult to get any sort of momentum, and injuries to the lower half area sap any sort of power he had in his bat. If he finally feels healthy again in his back and legs, then he has already taken a huge step forward in any hopes of some sort of rebound and that’s something to keep an eye on in Spring Training.
Face Value: Defense
So, we have some sort of inkling of what his bat might provide at face value, but what of his defense? Despite Jon Heyman initially saying that Moustakas would play second base, a position he has only played 80 games at, Thomas Harding confirmed with Moustakas that this was purely a corner infielder and designated hitter type of deal. Unfortunately, on the surface, the glove isn’t as great as you’d want it to be after years of Nolan Arenado and Ryan McMahon.
In 9,379 innings at third base, Moustakas has a .960 fielding percentage with -18 Defensive Runs Saved and a 10.9 Ultimate Zone Rating. Since 2016, Moustakas’s range has diminished year by year. While the arm is still good, over the course of his career he has an Outs Above Average of -7 at third base. He’s probably more than capable of playing the position still and would give Ezequiel Tovar a bit more opportunity to showcase his range at shortstop, but his defense still has some questions. Likely, he is better suited as a first baseman at this point in his career a position that would have less wear and tear on his body.
Deeper Dive and What’s Ailing Moose
At face value, Moustakas looks like nothing more than a veteran depth piece that used to have a dangerous bat and can play serviceable defense. But what’s been ailing him the past few years and what else can he offer?
Looking through his stats, one figure that stands out is his career 16.8% strikeout rate. Prior to 2020, Moustakas never had a season K% over 20%, yet that has been a constant over the past three years. Even more interesting is that with his career .247 AVG and 203 home runs, you’d expect Moustakas to strike out way more than he does. In fact, in 12 seasons he has struck out 100 times just twice, passing the mark in 2012 (124) and once more in 2018 (103). His walk rate is world-shattering at just 7.2% for his career, but that means that something with Moustakas’s approach is not based on a “go big or go home” type of swing.
In the Statcast era dating back to 2015, Moustakas is an interesting case. In terms of his hitting prowess, Moustakas has a 7.7% barrel rate, 37% hard-hit rate, an average exit velocity of 88.8 mph, an average launch angle of 17.6 degrees, and his wOBA coming in at .318.
Looking at his batted balls there isn’t a glaring problem either. Moustakas has averaged a groundball rate of 36.4%, coming under that mark in both 2021 and 2022. Moustakas posted a career-high 50% fly ball rate in 2022, well over his career 44.8% rate, but he did hit fewer line drives in 2022 at 15%.
We can’t exactly blame infield shifts either, as he has generally hit better with a shift than without one. According to Statscast data available, Moustakas has generally posted a higher wOBA year-to-year dating back to 2016 when there is a shift.
Mike Moustakas Statcast Shift Stats
|Season||PA||Shifts||Shift%||wOBA - No Shift||wOBA - Shift|
|Season||PA||Shifts||Shift%||wOBA - No Shift||wOBA - Shift|
So, what’s been ailing Moustakas over the past couple of years aside from injuries and maybe some bad luck? My theory is that it comes down to plate discipline. In 2022, Moustakas was chasing pitches more, making less contact when he does so, and expanding his zone more than he used to.
At 72.4% in 2022, Moustakas posted the lowest contact rate of his career, while also posting a career-high 40.9% swing rate on pitches outside of the zone. He was whiffing more at 29.2% while firing at the first pitch 37.2% of the time. As a result, he was making contact in the zone 80.8% of the time which is the lowest mark of his career. When he does make contact he still rates in the upper percentile of exit velocity, but something just wasn’t clicking for him in Cincinnati.
It’s very likely that while Moustakas’s approach really didn’t change much, the way pitchers approached him did. They began to challenge him with fastballs and cutters up and in order to set up breaking balls out of the zone that he would chase, specifically sliders. Perhaps Moustakas needs to simply improve his bat speed and become slightly more selective with pitches in order to swing at batter pitches and even draw more walks.
What does he bring to the table?
As I said earlier, I don’t necessarily understand and agree with the signing of Moustakas if he is slated to get a bulk of playing time at third base over the likes of Elehuris Montero. Nolan Jones may need some more time in Albuquerque to start the season, but Montero deserves the everyday role to prove his worth, and Moustakas provides just a bit more motivation for him this spring.
I will say, however, that Moustakas does have potential if he can solve some of his problems at the plate. He’s a veteran slugger that provides some minor flexibility defensively, while displaying a solid plate approach that has generally produced plenty of contact in conjunction with his power.
He also does bring value to the clubhouse as a person and could share some knowledge with the likes of Montero, Jones, and even McMahon. He can provide a solid platoon partner with C.J. Cron if needs be as well. The Rockies may still be trying to establish a new culture in the clubhouse and so veterans like Moustakas make some sense in that respect. If nothing else, Mike Moustakas is a solid depth piece that can be valuable if he can rebound, but the Rockies really shouldn’t hang their hat on that idea.
★ ★ ★
In this excerpt from Thomas Harding’s beat reporter newsletter (something I highly recommend subscribing to if you haven’t already), he details the approach that new hitting coach Hensley Meulens is taking with the team to incentivize hitting. In basic terms, the Rockies are doing their own sort of fantasy baseball among themselves here in camp and beyond.
Notable clubhouse leaders like Kris Bryant, Charlie Blackmon, Ryan McMahon, and some others have been “drafting players” and then getting points based on hitting fundamentals and approaches. It’s intended to not only help everyone have a bit more fun but also to uplift and back one another while keeping a strong focus on fundamental hitting.
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!