Yoán Moncada’s Quiet Breakout

Maybe his breakout has gone a bit unnoticed because his name broke out when inked to a huge signing bonus four years ago. Maybe it’s quiet this season because three years ago, he was involved in one of the biggest trades of the decade and the next spring he was the top prospect in all of baseball. In his first year and a half in the big leagues, he was merely an average player. He’s playing this season on a non-contending team and he’s lost time due to injury, but in the 100-plus games he has appeared in, Yoán Moncada has not just been one of the game’s most-improved players, he’s been one of the 10-best position players in baseball.

To provide some sense of where Moncada rates among today’s players, let’s start with the youngest set. Here are the best 2019 campaigns from players 25 years old and younger (all stats are through games on August 26):

Best 25-and-Under in 2019
Name Age PA HR wRC+ WAR
Cody Bellinger 23 545 42 166 6.8
Ketel Marte 25 556 27 142 6.0
Alex Bregman 25 561 32 158 5.9
Rafael Devers 22 569 27 142 5.4
Ronald Acuña Jr. 21 613 36 130 5.0
Yoán Moncada 24 425 22 136 4.2
Peter Alonso 24 552 41 147 4.2
Juan Soto 20 530 29 143 4.0
Francisco Lindor 25 512 23 120 3.9
Paul DeJong 25 538 24 106 3.7
Fernando Tatis Jr. 20 372 22 149 3.6
Gleyber Torres 22 505 33 132 3.5

There are only three players younger than Moncada with a higher WAR this season. Rookie Peter Alonso is having a monster season, yet Moncada has been just as valuable. Given Moncada’s lesser playing time, he’s arguably been better than Alonso  and a cut above a rising star like Juan Soto and a no-doubter like Francisco Lindor. How about his ranks among third basemen, Moncada’s new position this season?

Best Third Basemen in 2019
Name PA HR wRC+ WAR
Alex Bregman 561 32 158 5.9
Anthony Rendon 514 29 156 5.8
Rafael Devers 569 27 142 5.4
Matt Chapman 544 30 129 5.2
Yoán Moncada 425 22 136 4.2
Kris Bryant 542 26 133 4.2
Nolan Arenado 550 33 118 4.2
Josh Donaldson 547 32 132 4.0
Minimum 40 starts at 3B. Sorry DJ LeMahieu.

Moncada is behind Alex Bregman, Rafael Devers’ own breakout season, Anthony Rendon, Matt Chapman, and that’s it. He’s a whisker ahead of Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado in considerably less playing time. How many conversations about the top five third basemen in the game include Moncada? Probably not very many, but his numbers are right there with the best in the game. We don’t have to narrow down the type of players to show Moncada is playing well. Even if the tables above don’t speak to his season, he’s in the top 20 among all position players.

WAR Leaders in 2019
Name PA HR wRC+ WAR
1 Mike Trout 563 42 181 8.3
2 Cody Bellinger 545 42 166 6.8
3 Christian Yelich 524 41 173 6.7
4 Ketel Marte 556 27 142 6
5 Alex Bregman 561 32 158 5.9
6 Anthony Rendon 514 29 156 5.8
7 Xander Bogaerts 573 27 140 5.7
8 Rafael Devers 569 27 142 5.4
9 Matt Chapman 544 30 129 5.2
10 Marcus Semien 603 23 125 5.2
11 Ronald Acuña Jr. 613 36 130 5
12 J.T. Realmuto 499 19 105 4.9
13 Mookie Betts 612 21 128 4.9
14 George Springer 451 27 148 4.8
15 Michael Brantley 533 19 152 4.8
16 Trevor Story 533 28 119 4.6
17 DJ LeMahieu 535 22 138 4.5
18 Carlos Santana 556 30 145 4.3
19 Yoán Moncada 425 22 136 4.2
20 Yasmani Grandal 503 20 118 4.2
21 Max Muncy 528 33 135 4.2
22 Javier Báez 536 28 112 4.2
23 Kris Bryant 542 26 133 4.2
24 Nolan Arenado 550 33 118 4.2
25 Peter Alonso 552 41 147 4.2
26 Juan Soto 530 29 143 4
27 Max Kepler 544 35 122 4
28 Josh Donaldson 547 32 132 4

Moncada currently sits at 19th in the game this season. He’s not a great hitter, but he’s certainly a good one, as his 136 wRC+ ranks 27th this season. He’s a good baserunner with his 4.2 BsR ranking 21st in the game. The only players with a higher BsR and wRC+ than Moncada this season are Mike Trout and Christian Yelich. If we were to prorate every qualified batter’s season to 600 PA, the leaderboard would look like this:

WAR/600 PA Leaders in 2019
Name PA HR wRC+ WAR WAR/600
1 Mike Trout 563 42 181 8.3 8.8
2 Christian Yelich 524 41 173 6.7 7.7
3 Cody Bellinger 545 42 166 6.8 7.5
4 Anthony Rendon 514 29 156 5.8 6.8
5 Ketel Marte 556 27 142 6 6.5
6 George Springer 451 27 148 4.8 6.4
7 Alex Bregman 561 32 158 5.9 6.3
8 Xander Bogaerts 573 27 140 5.7 6.0
9 Yoán Moncada 425 22 136 4.2 5.9
10 J.T. Realmuto 499 19 105 4.9 5.9
11 Matt Chapman 544 30 129 5.2 5.7
12 Rafael Devers 569 27 142 5.4 5.7
13 Michael Brantley 533 19 152 4.8 5.4
14 Trevor Story 533 28 119 4.6 5.2
15 Marcus Semien 603 23 125 5.2 5.2
16 Jeff McNeil 448 15 148 3.8 5.1
17 DJ LeMahieu 535 22 138 4.5 5.0
18 Yasmani Grandal 503 20 118 4.2 5.0
19 Ronald Acuña Jr. 613 36 130 5 4.9
20 Mookie Betts 612 21 128 4.9 4.8

On a rate basis, Moncada has been one of the 10 best position players in the game this year. We don’t know what Moncada would have done with the missing three weeks in August if he had not been felled by a hamstring injury, though he did put up a 140 wRC+ in the month before that and hit a home run and a double in each of his first two games since coming off the injured list last week. His defense is still a bit of a wild card. We don’t have enough statistical data to make a determination either way given this is Moncada’s first real exposure to third base, so it is possible that his current WAR is inflated by a small-sample UZR that is above average, but we can’t say for sure.

After the first few weeks of the season, I wrote about Moncada’s change in approach to be a more aggressive hitter. Moncada still strikes out a good amount with 28% K-rate, but that’s a significant decrease from last season’s 33% mark. Moncada is swinging at more pitches both in and out of the zone, and more importantly, he’s making more contact on pitches in the zone, where he’s most likely to do damage. His walks are down some, and that’s going to make Moncada more reliant on hard contact to get results. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the White Sox third baseman.

Best Hitters on Contact
Name Tm PA AVG ISO wRC+
1 Christian Yelich MIL 342 .437 .457 235
2 Mike Trout LAA 335 .393 .474 225
3 Yoán Moncada CHW 270 .429 .354 217
4 Peter Alonso NYM 331 .381 .470 213
5 Danny Santana TEX 268 .424 .375 208
6 Cody Bellinger LAD 372 .383 .427 202
7 Ramón Laureano OAK 274 .404 .333 193
8 Bryan Reynolds PIT 288 .439 .256 192
9 Domingo Santana SEA 284 .401 .301 192
10 James McCann CHW 250 .412 .276 191
11 J.D. Martinez BOS 374 .403 .338 191
12 Ronald Acuña Jr. ATL 385 .405 .330 191
13 Javier Báez CHC 363 .396 .352 190

Moncada hasn’t been some huge beneficiary of luck, either. His .488 xwOBA on contact ranks sixth in the game behind Trout, Yelich, Cody Bellinger, J.D. Martinez, and Matt Olson. His average exit velocity at 93 mph is second only to Yelich. His 91-mph average exit velocity on ground balls (second to Carlos Santana) and relatively high 41% ground-ball rate suggest Moncada might be able to unlock even more power by hitting the ball in the air a little more often.

I ran a quick study on position players in their age-24 seasons since the strike ended in 1995. I looked at players with a WAR/600 between five and seven and a wRC+ between 116 and 156 and at least four total WAR. There were 18 non-catching position players who fit the criteria who had played through their age-29 season in 2019. Those players averaged a 127 wRC+ and four wins per season for their next five years. Culling the list down to only players who hadn’t yet broken out (no four-WAR seasons) by 24 years old, we see a really good list of players with no busts and only a couple players who even ended up as near average.

Moncada-like Breakouts Over Their Next Five Years
Name PA HR wRC+ WAR
Chipper Jones 3450 174 148 30.1
Bobby Abreu 3426 116 142 29.3
Dustin Pedroia 3143 72 119 25.0
Anthony Rendon 2718 103 130 24.2
Anthony Rizzo 3265 145 138 20.7
Carlos Gonzalez 2446 125 121 13.2
Geoff Jenkins 2517 119 115 12.3
AVERAGE 2995 122 130 22.1
AVERAGE/YEAR 599 24 130 4.4

It’s a small list, and Moncada could still end up going a number of different directions, but he’s having a breakout season right now even if nobody is noticing. The White Sox rebuild was a bit of a disaster in 2018 between injuries to Michael Kopech and disappointing seasons from a number of young players including Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López. The rebuild looks a little bit different this season thanks to pitchers like Giolito and Lopez making strides, Tim Anderson looking better, Eloy Jiménez getting his feet wet, Luis Robert destroying the minors, recent top picks Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn getting closer to the majors, and Kopech now aiming to return next season. However, there’s been no bigger development for the future of the White Sox than Moncada taking a big step forward. The White Sox might have multiple future stars on their hands, but they only have one right now, as Yoán Moncada is fulfilling his potential in just his second full major league season.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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jdbolick
Member

It will be interesting to see how pitchers adjust to the more aggressive Moncada next season. His O-Swing% has gone up significantly and his Swinging Strike percentage ranks 8th highest among qualified hitters, so staying outside the zone early in the count might produce similar results to previous seasons when he was taking more strikes and getting behind. The point about his ground ball rate is a good one since some modest launch angle changes could make him significantly more valuable given how hard he hits the ball when he does make contact. The other thing I’ll keep an eye on is the differentiation between O-Swing% and Z-Swing%. Hopefully he can improve his zone recognition and continue to be aggressive on pitches within the zone while taking more pitches outside of it.

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Future Article Request: While I was looking over Moncada’s profile and where he ranks, I noticed that Bryce Harper’s Z-Contact% the last two seasons is well below his career marks while his contact rate heat maps show decline in pretty much all areas of the strike zone. I don’t watch the N.L. East much, so I would be interested to learn what the potential culprits are for that and what repeating his depressed 2018 mark may mean about his monster contract with the Phillies going forward.

MikeS
Member
Member
MikeS

He always had decent walk rates, even last year when he struck out so much. If that was due to a good eye in addition to patience, and if he adjusts to pitchers trying to get him to chase early, then he will find himself in a lot of favorable counts. That would make him even better.

jdbolick
Member

He had good walk rates because his O-Swing% was really low, but it’s not anymore.