Judging the Royals

Why Mike Moustakas hitting 30 home runs is even more remarkable than you think

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas (8) is embraced by Salvador Perez after his three-run home run Friday night off Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello.
Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas (8) is embraced by Salvador Perez after his three-run home run Friday night off Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello. AP

Look up all 30 of Mike Moustakas’ home runs and the first thing you’ll notice is that looking up 30 home runs on the internet is incredibly tedious.

I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a serious personality disorder, are getting paid to do it, or have some combination of the two conditions.

But if you do take the time to look up counts, pitch location and where the ball wound up, some interesting patterns emerge.

Count: Moustakas will ambush and two-strike counts don’t hold him back

When Mike first came to the Royals, he was required to take the first pitch of his first at bat. Patterns like that get noticed and pretty soon pitchers were piping first-pitch fastballs down the middle to get ahead in the count.

Mike found that frustrating; he felt he was letting good pitches go by and giving away one at bat every night.

That’s changed; current Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum wants his hitters to get a good pitch to hit and if it’s the first pitch, so be it.

This season, seven of Mike’s 30 home runs have come on the first pitch of the at bat.

If Mike gets a pitch to drive he should probably jump on it, because pitchers are being very careful with him in fastball counts: in 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 or 3-1 counts Mike has hit exactly one home run.

Interestingly enough (assuming you’re in to this sort of thing), Mike has hit 10 of his home runs in two-strike counts and that tells you something.

Once they get into two-strike counts, a lot of hitters cut down on their swing and settle for slapping the ball the other way. Mike isn’t doing that, at least not consistently; he’s still taking home-run cuts when he has two-strikes.

And that makes the following number even more interesting; in 389 plate appearances Mike has struck out a total of 63 times, about 16 percent of the time.

Only three American League teams have struck out less often than the Royals, but they still strike out about 20 percent of the time.

So the guy who leads the team in home runs, also strikes out less often than his teammates.

The Kansas City Royals won their ninth consecutive game on Friday, July 28, in Boston, beating the Red Sox 4-2.

Home-run location: Moustakas pulls the ball and pitchers can’t stop him

Here’s some free advice: you have to watch games because not all the information you find on the internet is reliable.

Except for the hot girls living nearby who want to meet you now and the Nigerian princes who just need your bank account number so they can deposit millions of dollars in your name – I believe all that stuff.

But I don’t believe it when a website says Mike Moustakas hit a home run to right-center in San Francisco, because when you watch the home run it was hit directly over the right fielder’s head and wound up in McCovey Cove and both those things tend to be located in straight-away right field.

I’ve seen all of Mike’s 30 home runs and I think it’s safe to say he tends to hit them to right or right-center.

Only one of Mike’s home runs was hit to the opposite field, so you’d think a pitcher that wants to avoid the long ball could keep Mike from pulling the ball by pitching him away, but that’s not the case.

Pitch location; pitchers have little room for error

Most of Mike’s home runs have come on pitches out over the plate, belt-high or lower; pitches that allowed Mike to extend his arms. Two of Mike’s home runs came on pitches completely outside the strike zone; off the plate away.

This season Mike has shown the power to hook an outside pitch and still hit it out of the yard.

So that leaves pitchers trying to come inside and hit the inside third of the plate for a strike, or come way inside, knock Mike off the plate and then go away again. But if a pitcher comes inside, but doesn’t come far enough inside, Mike has shown the ability to pull his hands close to his body and still hit a home run.

Ten of Mike’s homers have come on pitches located on the inner third of the plate.

Pitchers can try to hit the up-and-away corner or down-and-away corner – Mike hits .231 on those pitches – but if they leave the ball middle-away, Mike hits. 452 and has 12 home runs on pitches in that general location.

And that doesn’t leave pitchers a whole lot of room to work.

Moustakas has changed his game and that isn’t easy

When most hitters get to the big leagues they have to figure out what they can do and can’t do at baseball’s highest level.

Maybe they could pull inside fastballs at the lower levels, but in the big leagues they have to leave those upper-nineties, inside fastballs alone.

Maybe they could cover most of the plate at the lower levels, but in the big leagues they have to settle for middle-away.

Most hitters have to peel away the parts of their game that don’t work at the big league level.

Most hitters have to learn to "stay with themselves" which sounds stupid, but actually means figuring out what they can do, and then doing it as much as possible, and figuring out what they can’t do, and then doing that as seldom as possible.

Few players have the ability to change their game to suit the situation.

But after Mike hit .212 in 2014, he changed his swing and made it work. That season teams were using over-loaded defensive shifts and Mike was pulling the ball into those shifts, so the next season Mike learned to hit the ball to the opposite field. He did it often enough to force teams out of those shifts, that opened up the field again and in 2015 Mike hit .284 with 22 homers.

In 2016 Mike got hurt after 27 games so we don’t know what he might have accomplished, but in 2017 Mike is pulling the ball, but this year he’s hitting it over the defense and that’s not an easy adjustment to make.

Mike Moustakas has reached 30 home runs faster than any Royals player in history, which is quite an accomplishment.

But when you look at how he’s done it and the road he traveled to get there, it’s even more remarkable than you think.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas speaks about his experience at 2017 All-Star Game and facing former teammates Greg Holland and Wade Davis. Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star

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