Judging the Royals

Was Mike Moustakas really in a slump?

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hits a single in the seventh inning to drive in first baseman Eric Hosmer to tie the game 3-3 during Saturday's ALCS baseball game at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hits a single in the seventh inning to drive in first baseman Eric Hosmer to tie the game 3-3 during Saturday's ALCS baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

On Saturday, against the Toronto Blue Jays, Mike Moustakas had two hits and as a lot of people reported, broke an 0-for-13 slump

But was Mike Moustakas really in a slump?

In the 2015 season, Moustakas hit .284 with 22 home runs and 82 RBIs; easily his best offensive season. But like all hitters — even good ones — Mike had streaks where he didn’t get hits.

▪ Starting on April 17th, Mike had an 0-for-12 streak.

▪ Starting on May 2nd he went 0-10.

▪ May 27th started an 0-for-9 streak.

▪ June 28th started an 0-14 stretch.

▪ July 4th and Mike began a streak of 12 hitless at bats.

I think I’ll stop there for two reasons:

1.) I’m writing this on a Sunday morning, it’s really nice outside, I want to go for a walk and I’m already tired of looking up stats.

2.) If I defend Mike any more by showing stretches where he wasn’t getting any hits, he may jump off a bridge. (I swear, dude, I’m getting to the part that makes you look good.)

Here’s my point: In a season of 549 at bats, 0-fer streaks can get buried. We don’t notice them because they come hidden in a torrent of other numbers. Guys have 0-for-10s all the time and we don’t think much about it.

But get to the playoffs and things get different.

There aren’t many postseason numbers to look at, so we scrutinize the ones we have. Mike Moustakas takes an 0-13 and we say he’s in a slump, even though a hitless streak is clearly not unusual even for a hitter having a good season.

Postseason numbers are usually built on small sample sizes, but because it’s the postseason and we’re all locked in on these games, the hot and cold streaks get magnified; we notice the 0-for-13.

Ask Mike Moustakas and he doesn’t really think he was in a slump; 0-fers are not unusual. And here’s another reason why a hitter that goes 0-for-13 might not think he’s in a slump:

Professional hitters think about slumps differently than we do

When hitters aren’t getting hits, we think they’re in a slump, but professional hitters think slumps are made up of bad at bats.

If you’ve ever been in a slump — and I speak from experience here — you know what a slump feels like. You stand at the plate and think: “I’ve forgotten how to hit.” Everything feels foreign; you feel like you have no chance. You take bad swings at bad pitches and watch good pitches go by.

Not getting hits is a different thing entirely.

As long as hitters are swinging at good pitches, making solid contact and using good mechanics while doing so, they don’t think they’re in a slump, they’re just not getting good results even though they have a good approach. Keep that good approach up and eventually the hits will come.

That’s why big league teams keep stats that rate the quality of an at bat.

Get a hit and that’s a quality at bat. Line out and that’s a quality at bat. See eight or more pitches and that’s another quality at bat. Move a runner, take a walk, do something that helps a team and those are quality at bats and hitters feel fine about what they’re doing.

They’d rather get hits for sure, but they know they’re taking a good approach and don’t feel like they’re in a hitting slump. The rest of us just count hits and to big league hitters, not getting hits does not necessarily qualify as a slump.

So was Mike Moustakas really in a slump?

Not really, he was just going through a streak of not getting hits. It’s not the same thing.

Cain’s caught stealing

In the eighth inning of Saturday’s game Lorenzo Cain walked and was then caught stealing ... sort of.

This one looked particularly bad. Cain took off for second base, appeared to lose heart, went back to first base and then tried to avoid a tag by using a swim move. A swim move by a base runner is a desperation attempt to avoid a tag. The runner extends his arm and then pulls it back to avoid the tag and that makes it look like he’s swimming.

But the Cain play was not a delayed steal. It was a hit-and-run and the guy at the plate — Eric Hosmer — missed a hit-and-run sign.

When something goofy happens on a baseball field it’s sometimes wise to wait and find out why that goofy thing happened. It sometimes turns out that goofy thing was every bit as goofy as it first appeared, but sometimes there’s a more logical explanation.

And Eric Hosmer missing a sign explains this one.

Tonight’s game

As always, watch Johnny Cueto and whether or not he gets his pitches to the down-and-away location on right-handed hitters. If Salvador Perez sets the target there, does Johnny hit the mitt?

If Cueto leaves his pitches up and out over the plate — especially the cutter and changeup — it could be a short night for him and a long night for his teammates.