Mike Moustakas Is the Former Royal You Want

The other day, FanGraphs alum and MLB.com stalwart Mike Petriello looked at possible fits for Mike Moustakas. This author agrees with many of the potential landing spots.

Petriello boiled down the list to nine teams that could use Moustakas:


Due either to payroll considerations (the Pirates) or their projected finish in 2018 (the Braves, Phillies, and Royals), a number of the clubs here might appear to be unlikely candidates to court Moustakas, although I argued on Monday that at least one of those teams ought to consider signing Moustakas.

Part of the reason I felt that even a 2018 non-contender might want to acquire Moustakas is he is entering his age-29 season. He is, in other words, on the younger side for a free agent. He’s unlikely to fall off a cliff in the next couple of years in terms of his production. The other reason a club might consider sacrificing a draft pick and/or international pool money for him is that, unlike teammate Eric Hosmer — who is perhaps the greatest free-agent landmine in the class — Moustakas has demonstrated real improvement in his 20s and might continue to get better*.

*Disclaimer: he might have also been, as an extreme fly-ball hitter, the precise sort of player to benefit from the juiced ball. Should MLB attempt to make the ball less lively — although that seems unlikely given TV ratings of 2017 — there could be some problems.

Moustakas’s average fly ball traveled 326 feet last season, up from 308 feet in the first half of 2015 and 317 feet in the second half of 2015, when the ball is suspected to have changed. He hit 16 fly balls that averaged 332 feet of distance in his injury-shortened 2016.

Moustakas might have benefitted from a ball change. But he might have also learned to better drive the ball:

So where might Moustakas fit?

We must first ask “Who is willing to pay the man?” According to Craig Edwards’ payroll space estimates, the large-market Angels have plenty of cash to spend, as do the Cardinals, Mets, Phillies, Royals, and Yankees. They each have $20-plus million in payroll space. All six could afford Moustakas, whom Dave ranked as his No. 9 free agent and for whom he projected a five-year, $95-million deal.

The Braves and Phillies ranked in the bottom five of third-base production in 2017. The Angels ranked 21st.

But there’s another consideration beyond need and payroll space with Moustakas when considering potential fits — namely, ballpark dimensions and environment.

One reason I suggested, in a piece for ESPN Insider, that Moustakas would make sense both for the Angels and Phillies is because of how he would fit in the home park. Kauffman Stadium cost Moustakas home runs, and he still managed to hit 38 last season.

Few players hit as many fly balls and line drives to the pull side as Moustakas, who ranked 39th among qualified hitters last year by launching 37% of air balls to the pull field. But because he’s such an air-ball hitter, he ranked 11th in total air balls to the pull field (308).

I’d argue that Moustakas is one of the more environment-dependent players in baseball and that Kansas City has been a poor fit for him. Consider Moustakas’s air balls from 2015 to -17 overlaid at different ballparks via spray charts created at Baseball Savant.

Citizens Bank Park

[There should be an investigation regarding that 550-foot ball labeled a single in right]

Yankee Stadium II

Angel Stadium

Angels GM Billy Eppler told the O.C. Register that he’s seeking OBP skills, which isn’t a specialty of Moustakas’s.

“Something I learned a long time ago: get that on-base percentage up,” General Manager Billy Eppler said. “Don’t make so many outs.”

But Moustakas could be a 40-homer threat with the Angels. Or with the Phillies. Or Yankees. Or even in Pittsburgh with the Clemente Wall wall in right, though the Pirates are unlikely to spend significant dollars on a free agent.

Moustakas’s batted-ball profile would fare less well with the Mets:

Citi Field

Not would he be helped by playing in St. Louis regularly:

Busch Stadium

And San Francisco’s AT&T Park is generally a tough environment for any fly ball unless a batter has Bonds- or Stanton- or Judge-like power.

So depending on his new home ballpark, Moustakas has the potential to take his improving batted-ball profile and results and add even more value.

He’s still in his prime, he’s played average defense at third base for his career (though he had -8 DRS mark last year), and he is lauded for his intangibles. Unlike Hosmer, he’s shown a willingness and ability to adapt to this run-scoring environment. Unlike Lorenzo Cain, he won’t be largely dependent on his legs entering his 30s. If a team has a third-base need, there is an argument to be made that Moustakas is the former Royal you want.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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4 years ago

.305 career OBP and has rated as an average defender at best. Don’t really understand his appeal

4 years ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

The appeal is that he isn’t Maikel Franco

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
4 years ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

League-average (with a reasonable upside gamble) is worth more than you think it is.