There were whispers that the Royals might send struggling third baseman Mike Moustakas to the minors on Tuesday, but instead, they held on to him and the hopes that he'll someday stop being a disappointment. It's easy to see why the Royals would keep the 25-year-old Moustakas around: he's still young, and once upon a time, he was a prospect with some promise. At some point, the reasoning goes, he'll put it all together, and it's a good idea to have him around in the majors where the Royals can benefit from that.
That's probably not the right way to think of things, though. It might be how the Royals are thinking about it, but as Grant Brisbee recently mentioned, they don't necessarily deserve the benefit of the doubt for their thought processes. Remember, the last time the Royals made the playoffs, most of their current lineup -- including one Moose Moustakas -- had not been born yet.
What makes it even more maddening is that, when faced with this situation back in 2010 with the then-struggling/perpetual disappointment Alex Gordon, they demoted him to Triple-A so he could get himself right. All he did upon his return was develop into the kind of hitter they had been hoping would show up in all of the previous seasons. Who would want to try something that effective again?
Granted, Moustakas is not Gordon, not even when he still had that prospect sheen on him. He's also not a convincing major-league hitter, and a bit of going back to school could be good for him if he's ever to become one. Moustakas spent 107 games at Triple-A Omaha between 2010 and 2011, batting a combined .290/.331/.531 there. That looks good until you throw some context in. For instance, Omaha plays in the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League, where, in 2010 and 2011, the average hitter batted .277/.348/.432 and .286/.359/.448, respectively. Moustakas played in a park that inflates home runs for left-handed batters (like Moustakas) significantly, while also adding to doubles and triples. So, the one thing he excelled in relative to your average PCL resident was inflated, at least in part, by his home park, and when he wasn't at home, he was often somewhere else where his offense was getting a boost.
He was still just 22 the last time he was in Triple-A, so don't take this to mean that, just because his line was a bit inflated relative to his abilities, he was never going to figure it out and truly dominate. Getting the call to the majors, a level he has not left since, helped eliminate any chance of him slowly coming around on the finer points of hitting, points he still has not managed to figure out. He's a career .237/.290/.380 hitter in the majors, good for an OPS+ of 82. That ranks as the sixth-worst OPS+ since 2011, minimum 1,500 plate appearances. That ties Moustakas with the Phillies' Ben Revere, who has never hit a single home run in his major-league career.
Take a minute to think of how bad your performance would have to be to tie with a dude who has never hit a single home run over four years.
This all comes down to Moustakas' approach. He doesn't strike out too much, with just over 17 percent whiffs in his career. This makes it appear as if he knows what he's doing at the plate, as the obvious oblivious outcome -- a swing-and-miss or a caught looking K -- doesn't occur at an alarming rate. He doesn't walk a whole lot, though, with this season's rate of over eight percent currently ranking as a career-best, so he doesn't necessarily have a disciplined plan up there, either. Moustakas doesn't strike out a whole lot because he doesn't let plate appearances get to that point. He has a tendency to swing at pitches he can't do much with but manages to make contact with them. Bad or weak contact is often worse than guessing wrong and swinging through.
He's swung at over one-third of pitches he's seen outside of the strike zone in his career by PITCHf/x's reckoning. This year, he's made contact with 85 percent of the pitches he's swung at outside of the zone -- that's a higher rate than on contact in the zone. No one is going to confuse Moustakas for Vladimir Guerrero or Miguel Cabrera or whomever comes to mind for you when you think of a hitter who can hit with authority regardless of pitch location, so it's no wonder he's his own worst enemy at the plate. You can see how all this contact has served him by looking at his career batting average on balls in play: it's all of .264 whereas the league average is usually closer to .295-.300. Since the only thing his home park slows offensively is homers, that certainly isn't Kauffman's doing: swinging at pitches you can't do anything with will result in the kind of contact that lands you a .264 BABIP.
If Moustakas could reset and start to focus on reestablishing his approach, waiting for a pitch he could do something with, he might be salvaged. As is, he's in the majors where he's done nothing but struggle at the plate, on a team who can't afford to have him do that very thing. Maybe, like Gordon, sending him down and letting him start over is the best thing that can happen. Maybe Moustakas comes back up after some low-pressure time in Omaha working with the hitting coaches, and figures out the nuances like which pitches to swing at and which ones he just needs to let go by. With the defense he already has, that's a pretty useful player, which was the hope all along. He might not transform, obviously, but at this point, is a demotion a worse strategy than what the Royals have already tried?