Opinion

Ask Andy: What ails Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas?

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Only six weeks stand between the Royals and October, when the team can begin their defense of their American League crown. Let’s get to some questions surrounding the club.

The conventional wisdom is this: Mike Moustakas concentrated, almost exclusively, on hitting the baseball the other way at the start of the season. In recent days, he’s become more fixated on pulling the baseball. Manager Ned Yost did not necessarily disagree with this assessment.

“What he did was he went the other way to break the shift,” Yost said. “And then the shift’s broken now, and he’s looking to find balls to pull. He’s got to find that happy medium in there.”

This is a convenient way to explain what’s happened with Moustakas. While he is still having his best season in the majors, his OPS is down to .750. He has been slumping for a couple months now.

So is it all due to a collapse in his approach? Has Moustakas abandoned trying to go to the opposite field?

Here are two spray charts, built through the wonderful website, Brooks Baseball.

Here is Moustakas from April to June.

Here is Moustakas from July to the present.

To the naked eye, the distribution of hits does not appear to change much. The only difference is there’s just a lot fewer hits during the last two months. Both charts feature a bunching of outs located in between first and second base, where Moustakas often grounds into outs.

A more logical explanation for what’s going on? Regression. It is boring, but it is the most likely answer.

Here are Moustakas’ monthly splits:

April: .356/.420/.522, .942 OPS.

May: .282/.326/.435, .761 OPS.

June: .299/.346/.412, .758 OPS.

July: .188/.271/.577, .577 OPS.

August: .182/.313/.364, .677 OPS.

This is pretty stark. That’s one great month, two solid months, one terrible month and August, which has not been great.

Who is the real Mike Moustakas? It’s most likely not the player from April. He has still shown an obvious improvement on his previous offensive form – and his defense remains excellent – but it’s pretty clear what happened earlier this season was something of a mirage.

And that’s OK. The Royals benefited greatly from Moustakas’ early season breakout. He provided cover for Alex Gordon, who was slow returning from wrist surgery. He also set the table for Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales. Now, as the team prepares for October, the offensive responsibility no longer falls on Moustakas’ shoulders. Ben Zobrist has replaced him in the No. 2 spot. All the Royals need Moustakas to do is play great defense and mix in the occasional big hit. Which, of course, is exactly what he did last October.

1. Alex Gordon, LF.

2. Ben Zobrist, 2B.

3. Lorenzo Cain, CF.

4. Eric Hosmer, 1B.

5. Kendrys Morales, DH.

6. Mike Moustakas, 3B.

7. Salvador Perez, C.

8. Alcides Escobar, SS.

9. Jarrod Dyson or Paulo Orlando, RF.

It would be quite impressive if Ned Yost installs Gordon into the leadoff spot. It will be even more impressive if the team summons the courage to bench Infante, who is still owed $17.75 million in 2016 and 2017. It’s hard to see Rios playing meaningful games in October, considering Zobrist needs somewhere to land. But if the Royals deploy Dyson and Orlando in right, they can maximize their platoon advantage, improve their speed on the bases and provide a defensive upgrade over Rios.

Considering the fact that Moore turned down the chance to interview for the GM vacancy in Atlanta last fall, and considering the fact that Yost is pondering retirement when his contract ends after 2016, I would say it is doubtful.

Let’s start with Jose Martinez, who was hitting .384/.452/.570 through 82 games for Class AAA Omaha. The Royals added him to their organization almost as an after-thought this winter. Martinez had already been bounced from the White Sox organization and the Braves organization. Ronnie Richardson, Kansas City’s director of minor-league operations, knew Martinez from Atlanta and thought he could aid the depth of the Royals.

So this is not a player who the team has invested much in. He is a large fellow, 6-7 and 210 pounds. But he isn’t much of a runner and he hasn’t shown a town of power, with only eight homers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He classifies as a backup outfielder in the majors, if that.

“He’s a little bit of an in-betweener,” assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. “But if you need somebody up there who is going to make hard, consistent contact, or a guy that you want to hit and run with, he can do that. He can do that. He can give you a professional at-bat.”

Eibner is a more interesting case. He just landed on the Omaha disabled list with a bruised thumb, but the injury is believed to be minor. Like Martinez, he is a candidate for a September call-up. Unlike Martinez, the organization sees in Eibner the potential to be a big-league starter.

At 26, he has been an offensive force for Omaha, with 18 homers and an .897 OPS. The team remains enamored with his defense.

“It’s never been a lack of tools or lack of ability,” Picollo said. “It’s just been a matter of consistency. With him, it started in spring training. He was driving balls in spring training. He showed a better two-strike approach, which has been something that he’s been lacking through his career. His strikeouts have always been high.

“They’re still up there, because I think that’s part of his DNA, but it’s when he’s striking out that’s been better. With guys on base, he’s cutting down his strikeouts. The power’s always been there.

“I always like to say there’s a handful of guys in our system I would pay to go see play. Lane Adams is one of them. Brett Eibner’s another one. [Raul A.] Mondesi, [Bubba] Starling. Those guys that have speed and play premium positions, and they can do something offensively, defensively or on the bases on any given night.

“Eibner’s always had those tools. I think some of it’s just maturity. Sort of like Paulo Orlando: The more at-bats you get, the more you play, the more you learn, the longer an organization can stick it out with a player, you might see him reach his ceiling. Eibner’s tracking like that.”

A) It looks (slightly) less likely, given Eibner’s minor thumb injury. He is not on the 40-man roster, but the team could make room.

B) It is extremely unlikely that Eibner plays regularly.

Here is how you create clubhouse discord: Take an unproven rookie and install him as your every-day right fielder, taking away playing time from a pair of well-liked, highly respected backups in Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando. Oh, and do this in September, when your team already has the best record in the American League.

I understand the impulse. There’s a chance Eibner could become a big-league regular. Both Dyson and Orlando profile as backups. But Eibner isn’t an untouchable prospect like Mondesi. He’s an older guy having his first good year in a long while in the minors. He’ll get his chance next season.

If the Royals bounce Rios from the starting lineup – and there’s a chance they will – they’ll either replace him with Ben Zobrist or with the combination of Dyson and Orlando. They will almost certainly not turn to a guy who has never played in the majors before.

By the way, don’t expect an influx of new arrivals when the rosters expand in September.

“I don’t imagine we’ll have the numbers that we did last year,” Yost said.

Why not?

“Because we don’t need it,” he said. “We don’t need bigger number. We’re just bringing guys who can help us win ballgames. Keep the numbers down. It puts a big strain, with a lot of numbers, on the coaches, on the batting practices.”

No. The concept of “Moneyball” did not revolve around on-base percentage. It involved market inefficiencies, or targeting undervalued assets. You know, like sleek outfield defenders and hitters who make contact.

Sure. The Blue Jays will be in the tournament. Madison Bumgarner still exists. The Dodgers have good pitching. The Yankees have a great bullpen and Alex Rodriguez. A lot could go wrong. Most likely, the Royals won’t win the World Series.

I did eat Skyline Chili at Great American Ball Park. It was my second foray into this odd Cincinnati delicacy. The first was at the All-Star Game, when my friend “Action” Joe Lemire and I decided, “When in Rome,” while searching for lunch on the concourse during the Futures Game. Both times I ordered two loaded Coneys.

To be honest, I enjoyed it. It is not “chili,” in the technical sense, but it’s a decent-tasting, cinnamon-based sauce. It is a big pile of slop. I would not eat it anywhere besides Great American Ball Park.

“In Reverie” by Saves The Day, and it’s not particularly close.

Your timing is excellent. The Wonder Years just released another track from their new record on Friday. It’s called “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then,” and I’ll probably listen to it two dozen times between now and Friday’s game at Fenway Park.

But here are five other songs I’ve been spinning a great deal this summer.

1. “Cutting My Fingers Off” by Turnover. I’ve made pretty clear this is my favorite record of the summer. My favorite song on it shifts from week to week. Other contenders include “I Would Hate You If I Could,” “Diazepam” and “New Scream.”

2. “Heavy Gloom” by The Story So Far. If the Royals don’t make the World Series, I am legitimately considering driving to Lincoln to see The Story So Far, Basement and Turnover play a show on Oct. 29.

3. “Norf Norf” by Vince Staples. The Royals should play more Vince Staples and Young Thug in the clubhouse.

4. “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times” by Jamie xx. I was slightly disappointed by the Jamie xx record, mostly because this single was such a good time, and the rest of the record is somewhat different.

5. “X2CU” by Jason Derulo. I make no apologies for enjoying Mr. Derulo’s work.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4730 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @McCulloughStar. Download True Blue, The Star’s free Royals app, here.

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