I decided to make a list of every third baseman who, in the year he debuted in the major leagues, batted 175 or more times with an OBP of under .250 and a slugging average of under .250.
Mike Moustakas is the first name on that list. He is also the last name on that list. No third baseman has ever debuted as poorly as Moustakas has in so many at-bats.
So I decided to expand the list to look at players at any position, with the same criteria as above – 175+ plate appearances, sub-.250 OBP and sub-.250 SLG. Seven other players met those criteria – but just one since 1972, and just three since World War II.
The only player of my lifetime with such a horrible debut was Brandon Inge… most of the other players with horrible debuts never amounted to anything…
I don’t know what this means for Moustakas… Moustakas could stand to be more patient, but he has just 32 strikeouts in 187 at-bats, a pace of around 90-100 strikeouts over a full season. If anything, his problem is that he’s too afraid of not making contact – he’s putting the first decent pitch into play, leading to a lot of easy outs. His batting average on balls in play is just .219. That’s suggestive of a lot of weak contact, but also suggestive of some bad luck…
Ned Yost said in today’s edition of the Kansas City Star:
“You don’t send him down for the same reason they didn’t send George Brett, Mike Schmidt or Robin Yount down after 250 at-bats and hitting .215.”
Except when Mike Schmidt was a rookie and hit .196, he also walked 52 times and hit 18 homers, for a respectable .324 OBP and .373 slugging average. When Brett had as many career plate appearances (205) as Moustakas has now, on June 27, 1973, his career line was .232/.272/.295 – poor numbers, but still substantially better than Moose’s. And Brett was just 20 years old at the time. Yount hit .250/.276/.346 as a rookie, and he was 18 years old.
“This is the same thing. This is nothing new. He’s not breaking any ground here.”
Unfortunately, he is. I’m not saying I know what the solution is. I’m just saying that Moustakas’ struggles so far are not the typical ones endured by a rookie. And so long as the Royals hand-wave his performance away as “not breaking any ground,” they’re unlikely to figure out the solution either.