Judging the Royals

Mike Moustakas magically matures into a well-rounded hitter; actually, it took a lot of swings

Mike Moustakas
Mike Moustakas jsleezer@kcstar.com

(OK, I didn’t really need the word “magically” in that headline, but I was on an alliteration roll, so bear with me.)

Friday night’s game against the Baltimore Orioles provided Royals fans a fine example of a hitter maturing, and that hitter is Mike Moustakas.

This winter during FanFest, Moustakas talked about his need to grow up as a hitter. He came to the big leagues as a pull hitter and when teams started using defensive shifts on him, Moustakas stubbornly kept trying to pull the ball and in 2014 he hit .212.

So coming into 2015 spring training, the left-handed-hitting Moustakas decided to make an adjustment and, with hitting coach Dale Sveum’s help, worked on driving the ball to the opposite field. If teams were going to station one defender between second and third base, Moustakas needed to take advantage of that defensive alignment.

Moustakas’ adjustment worked and in 2015 he posted his best year yet: a .284 batting average, 22 home runs and 82 RBIs. That season I asked Moustakas what took him so long to adjust — he laughed and said: “Better late than never.”

And in 2016, Moustakas seems to be sticking with the game plan.

Some hitters use batting practice to play home run derby: pull the ball, hit it in the air and give the fans a show. But that’s lousy batting practice and doesn’t help you in a game. During Friday afternoon’s BP, Moustakas concentrated on hitting the ball to the opposite field.

But in his first at-bat Moustakas got an 84 mph pitch and hit his sixth home run of the season more than 420 feet, just to the right of dead-center field. Now here’s the part about Moustakas maturing:

Hitters who crush a baseball more than 400 feet (and I have absolutely no experience in this area) can get “pull happy.” I imagine it’s pretty fun to hit a monster home run and then jog around the bases while 29,000 people scream, “Moooooose!”

So fun that it could be addictive.

But Moustakas did not get pull happy in his next at-bat. He stayed back and hit an 84 mph slider down the left-field line for a double. And in the following at-bat, Moustakas took a 92 mph down-and-away fastball to left field for his second double of the night.

This morning, Moustakas sits at .290 and has a team-leading six home runs and he did it through hard work. Moustakas had to reinvent himself as a hitter and that took thousands and thousands of swings.

Even though it makes a good headline, there was nothing “magic” about it.

Why you don’t want to panic

When a player performs poorly and continues to perform poorly, sooner or later a team has to make a move — but teams often make that move later rather than sooner. Fans tend to be a tad less patient and I say that without having any idea just what the hell a “tad” is.

Think of the Royals players some fans were ready to give up on at some point in their career: Alex Gordon, Wade Davis, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Luke Hochevar and Kendrys Morales come to mind.

After Chris Young had two bad starts in a row, some Royals fans were ready to make a move and discussed who might replace him in the rotation, but Friday night Young provided yet another example of why you don’t want to panic — he threw six innings, gave up two runs and struck out 10.

Young got his first win of the season and showed there’s still some tread left on those tires.

Jarrod Dyson and speed

In the fourth inning Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson hit a soft grounder to Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy and just flat outran the ball to first base. Anytime Dyson can hit the ball to the left side of the infield, his speed gives him a chance at a base hit.

But Thursday night, against the Detroit Tigers, Dyson was on first base when Alcides Escobar hit a groundball to Nick Castellanos at third. The Tigers turned two and it appeared Dyson was jogging toward second and then peeled out of the base path — he never got close to breaking up the double play.

The Royals use speed to pressure the other team’s defense; Dyson is one of the fastest men in baseball and the more he uses that speed the better player he’ll be.