Mike Moustakas had always been a pull-hitter. He pulled the ball in high school, he pulled the ball in the minors, and he pulls the ball in the big leagues.
So, in 2014, teams put three infielders between first and second base and dared him to pull the ball through the defensive shift on the right side of the field, or go the other way and hit the ball to the lightly defended left side of the field.
Moustakas was reluctant to get away from what got him to the big leagues — pulling the ball — and wound up hitting .212.
And when he did go the other way, the numbers weren’t good: Moustakas hit .234 and slugged .298 on balls hit to left field.
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In 2015, Moustakas was a different player.
He worked on beating the shifts by hitting the ball to the left side of the field and wound up with a .284 average. And now he was driving the ball that direction; he hit .436 and slugged .603 on balls hit to the left side of the field.
Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon:
In the bottom of the third inning against the Chicago Cubs, the game was scoreless. John Lackey was on the mound for Chicago, Moustakas was at the plate and Alcides Escobar was on third base.
Apparently the Cubs didn’t get the memo about the change in Moustakas’ game, because they had a defensive shift on; one guy on the left side of the field, three spread out from second base to first.
Lackey threw a fastball up and away — a pitch Moustakas might have pulled in 2014 — but this time the Royals’ third baseman hit a laser beam to the opposite field, through the spot where the shortstop would normally stand. In Moose’s next at-bat, the Cubs modified that shift.
So it looks like Moustakas is sticking with the 2015 game plan: look to go the other way and adjust to pitches inside. And hitting second in the lineup helps Moustakas stick with that plan.
Put Moustakas in the middle of the lineup, and he might feel the need to pull the ball for power; those are considered RBI spots. But put him in the 2-hole and he’s OK with hitting for average and getting on base.
There’s a psychological element to the batting order.
A guy might be crushing it in the 7-hole, but move him to the 3-spot and he stops hitting because he tries to do too much. You can tell him not to change his game — he’s moving from 7 to 3 because he’s hitting well — but he still can’t resist making adjustments.
It’s pretty much always a mistake to look at one factor and think it explains a situation; there are just too many factors involved to say that one thing is the answer, but …
Moustakas has hit for his highest average when he hits second in the order. (Moustakas has gone 1-for-2 as a leadoff hitter, but two at-bats isn’t much of a sample size.) His second-best spot in the order is sixth.
Putting Mike Moustakas in the 2-hole keeps him from trying to do too much, and baseball is a sport that punishes trying too hard; you have to let things happen. In 2015, Moustakas let things happen; he had the majority of his at bats hitting second and still had his best year for home runs and RBIs.
Keep Moustakas in the 2-hole and he might let himself have a great year.