Are the Royals Beating a Dead Moose?

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This years Royals opening day felt a little different. For the first time in nearly 3 decades, it was as much about a celebration as it was about moving on to a new season.

Typically, opening day represents the start of something brand new that offers hope. For 2015, it almost seems like a continuation.

The Royals are, and will be defending American League champs for the rest of the season. Nothing or no one can take that away until a new winner is crowned in October. And with any luck, there wont be a new winner.

Being a winning baseball club has brought the fan base and blogging community into the world of nitpicking the “little things.” So when we criticize moves of the front office and managerial staff, please realize that we understand batting Moose second in the order isn’t near the magnitude of having Mark Redman as the ace of your staff and finishing the year with a 5.93 ERA while being the teams lone default All Star.

No doubt, one thing we all can agree on is we have come a long way under Dayton Moore.

So, with that said, it was announced, and then proven to be true that Mike Moustakas will indeed be batting second for the Royals for the foreseeable future. While many including myself were not incredibly WARM to the idea of batting Moose second, Ned Yost seems to have no consideration about what the blogging community thought, and did it anyway.

Some of this was because Ned thought he was hitting the other way more, some of it was because of old school vs. new school thinking on lineup construction. But it would probably make the most sense that much of it was because Alex Gordon was simply not quite ready to be at the top of the order. If Moose were to struggle, and Alex were to start hitting well and feeling 100% after his offseason surgery, it would seem reasonable to expect a flip flop of sorts. But, for now…Moose is our guy.

And what did Moose do in his first game? Went out and hit the first opposite field home run OF HIS CAREER. This is significant for a couple of reasons.

Last season Moustakas began the season hitless in his first 5 games and 21 plate appearances. He finished the month of April with a grand total of 13 hits (Nori Aoki had a stretch of 11 hits in 12 at bats late last summer for comparative purposes) to enter May with a batting line of .149/.219/.333.

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For his career, Moose carries a .290 on base percentage and has managed to decline in almost every major offensive statistical category in each of the last 3 years. He would complete 2014 with a meager .212/.271/.361 line, good for a 74 OPS+ and a 76 wRC+. Offensively, he was bad and doing nothing but getting worse. In 2014 he managed a grand total of 37 extra base hits, down from the 55 he had in 2012 and 38 in 2013. The only thing improved seemed to be his strikeout rate. He was making more contact, but it was poor contact.

So with the dawn of 2015 approaching fast, Ned Yost decided he had but one choice…..move him to the top of the lineup! On the surface, it looks horrible. When you dig deep, it still looks horrible. BUT, maybe there is something to this story.

After managing to mash 5 post season home runs, it seemed Moose had gotten a little of his mojo back. He still only managed a .259 on base mark, but when you couple that with his .558 slugging it ended up working out to a very nice .817 OPS, which considering the level of pitching he was facing is pretty darn good.

The last several springs, he has been destroying the cactus league with gaudy statistics and numbers, but for once, seemed to take a little bit different approach. After being an almost exclusive pull hitter for his career, Moose seemed to finally make the commitment to going the opposite way when the opportunity provided it. He also showed a willingness to bunt when the shift was put on.

For a player who once said he didn’t watch film, this could be a breakthrough. If he is willing to accept coaching, and can embrace his role in the 2 spot as opposed to expecting to be a cleanup hitter, he MIGHT just improve his numbers. This could very well be a good lesson on just how much location in the batting order weighs on the psyche of a hitter. Do hitters change when batting in different positions? Of course they do, some, but typically a good hitter can still be a good hitter no matter where you put them in the lineup.

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As seen by his spray chart, there is a very good reason why Moose has a constant shift put on him. He almost seems like the last person you would want at the top of your order. Doesn’t get on base, and constantly hits it to the second baseman. But maybe, just maybe if he knows he HAS to hit it the other way, and HAS to take pitches to work counts as well as try to get on base…just maybe we will see him begin to hit HIS pitches.

 Only time will tell of course, and it is an incredible stretch to think that moving in the batting order will have any real profound effect on a batter who has done nothing but struggle more as the years pass, but after one game is in the books, one thing is clear….this version of Mike Moustakas is something entirely different than the one that showed up to start the season last year.

And maybe, just maybe, that will be all the difference.
 

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Author: lukegoosen

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