Judging the Royals

Dear Mike Moustakas: Do not read this blog about the Home Run Derby

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas pumped his fist after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning during Saturday's baseball game against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas pumped his fist after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning during Saturday's baseball game against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Mike Moustakas is the only big league ballplayer I’ve ever seen reading a book. That doesn’t mean big league players don’t read, but it does mean it’s not something they do around the ballpark.

So knowing Moustakas can and will read, here’s a warning: Moose, if you’re reading this, stop right now.

I mean it; you don’t want what I’m about to write bouncing around inside your head.

OK, is he gone?

Good … now we can get on with this thing.

As everybody who ever paid the slightest bit of attention already knows, ballplayers are incredibly superstitious. When a player is going good, he’s never quite sure why he’s going good, so he doesn’t want to change a thing. He’ll drive to the ballpark the same way every day, eat the same food every day and wear the same batting gloves every day.

Everybody knows the rule: a player in a hot streak won’t change a thing, unless he gets invited to participate in the Home Run Derby.

The Derby can change your swing

Like everybody else, big league ballplayers have egos; nobody wants to play Home Run Derby and put up goose eggs — it’s embarrassing.

That being the case, Derby participants will try to pull the ball and hit it in the air; two things that can backfire when attempted in a game.

That doesn’t mean hitters never pull the ball or hit a ball in the air during a game, but it does mean they don’t try. Consistent hitters just take good swings and if they happen to get out in front and under a ball, it might leave the yard.

That approach won’t work in the derby. You can’t let the home runs come, you have to try to hit them.

The same hitters who are so careful to keep everything the same during the regular season, might tinker with their swing to make a good showing in the derby.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas on being selected for the Final Vote for the 2017 All-Star Game.

What happened to last year’s Derby participants?

Whenever you look at a number that “proves” something, take it with a grain of salt. Other numbers might “prove” the opposite. And numbers that focus on just one factor can be misleading.

Now that you’ve been warned, we’re going to look at what the 2016 Home Run Derby participants were hitting coming into the All-Star break and what they hit in the next seven games after the season resumed.

The numbers are the usual ones: batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage and, assuming I transcribed the numbers correctly (I figure there’s at least a 50-50 chance), here they are:

  • Robinson Cano: .313/.368/.555, over the next seven games .138/.167/.241.
  • Adam Duvall: .249/.288/.551, over the next seven games .208/.321/.333.
  • Todd Frazier: .213/.305/.476, over the next seven games .259/.286/.593.
  • Carlos Gonzales: .318/.367/.557, over the next seven games .308/.379/.462.
  • Wil Myers: .286/.351/.522, over the next seven games .160/.300/.280.
  • Corey Seager: .297/.357/.521, over the next seven games .389/.405/.528.
  • Giancarlo Stanton: .233/.328/.495, over the next seven games .222/.323/.333.
  • Mark Trumbo: .288/.341/.582, over the next seven games .192/.250/.231.

We haven’t considered what teams they played or who was on the mound when they put up those numbers, but the week after the Derby four participants got worse, two stayed about the same and two actually performed better.

We’re looking at an extremely small sample size, so maybe all this really proves is I have too much time on my hands.

But there’s still a chance that tinkering with a swing to participate in the derby had some effect on some players. And if a player missed hitting .300 or driving in 100 runs or hitting 30 balls out of the park because he had a lousy week after participating in the Home Run Derby, that’s worth noting.

Why mess with a good thing?

Early this season, when Eric Hosmer was going bad, we had a long conversation about hitting. Hosmer is willing to talk hitting when he’s scuffling (how much worse can it get?) but doesn’t like to talk hitting when he’s hitting well.

Why mess with a good thing?

After Hosmer got hot, I made the mistake of mentioning it. Hosmer said he couldn’t believe I would say such a thing and jinx him: “I can’t even look at you right now.”

I said if I had a nickel for every time I’d heard that I could retire, Hosmer started laughing and decided he was better than that. He wouldn’t let anything I said jinx him and, thank the Lord, he was right.

Everybody in baseball knows you don’t mess with a hot streak.

If someone’s throwing a no-hitter, you don’t talk about it, if a game is going quickly, you don’t mention it and if you’re hitting well, you don’t change a damn thing.

Here’s the good news

Participating in the Home Run Derby can change some hitters’ swings, but for the most part, Mike Moustakas is already doing what he needs to do in order to compete. Moustakas is already pulling the ball. Of his 217 balls in play, only 33 have been hit to the opposite field and 17 of his 23 home runs have been pulled.

Trajectory gets a little trickier: 15 of Moustakas’ home runs came on fly balls and eight came on line drives. If he wants to do well in the Derby, Moustakas wants to get the ball in the air, but that can have consequences. In 2017 Moustakas has hit .220 on fly balls and .661 on line drives.

So if he does tinker with his swing, after the derby is over, as quickly as possible Moustakas will want to get back to the swing that is producing his best season yet.

And, Moose?

If you ignored the warning at the beginning of this piece and continued you reading, I’ve got only one thing to say to you:

Good luck.

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