After 2014, an exclamation point on years of diminishing returns, Mike Moustakas had used up all his credit with fantasy owners in mixed leagues. The prodigious power did not arrive and a good strikeout rate was meaningless when Moustakas could not turn that contact into hits because of an approach that was remarkably easy to defend – soft, pulled flyballs including plenty of infield flies. Fantasy owners swore that they would never again believe Moustakas’s crazy spring training numbers – they were done.
However, in 2015, Moustakas made a stark change in the first half of the season. He started going up the middle and opposite field more with a line drive approach. This change in approach provided Moustakas with the first extended sample of BABIP success at the big league level – a .315 BABIP that resulted in a .297/.353/.427 triple-slash. This was encouraging – albeit, a little boring for fantasy purposes.
Even more encouraging though, Moustakas then changed again in the second half as pitchers began to adjust to this new approach. In the second half, the power came through as Moustakas launched 15 homers and triple-slashed .269/.341/.522. Moustakas first made the adjustment to how he was being pitched in the first half of 2015 then was much quicker with his second adjustment in the second half. These were hugely encouraging signs heading into 2016 – signs that hinted at a potential bigger breakout in 2016.
Unfortunately, Moustakas’s season was cut horribly short by a knee injury. In a limited 113 PA sample, Moustakas mashed 7 homers and was triple-slashing .240/.301/.500. Most importantly, despite a .214 BABIP, Moustakas’s batted ball profile lined up perfectly with his 2015. In fact, there were areas of improvement, specifically his Hard Contact rate increased to 37.4% and his IFFB% was cut to 11.1%. Now, this could be small sample size noise, but at minimum, it’s an indication that the gains Moustakas realized in 2015 might be here to stay, and there might be more on the way. It is also noteworthy that in his last 393 PA – covering his brief 2016 and the second half of 2015 – Moustakas has hit 22 HR – a 600 PA pace of 33 HR.
Going a step further, the potential for more power from Moustakas was already there considering his power pedigree and how difficult he became to pitch to in 2015. When you do not strikeout much and can beat a pitcher in multiple ways, you increase the likelihood of the pitcher trying to be too fine and making a mistake.
With that potential in mind, let’s also consider that home runs were up about 14% year-over-year last year. Now, we cannot say for certain that Moustakas would have seen a 14%, 25% or whatever percent increase or decrease over the course of a full season. However, with 7 HR in 113 PA, it certainly looked as though Moustakas was going to enjoy a career-high in HR, especially when you consider that he was already almost one-third of the way to his career-high of 22 HR from the year before. Further, as explained above, this power outburst carried over from the the second half of 2015.
Thus, when you factor in his new approach, the pedigree, his most recent results, and the changing environment for home runs, it becomes possible to see a .275 30 HR season from Moustakas. Without question, that represents an upside projection, but it might be as simple as him staying healthy to achieve that upside based on the factors above.
Even if Moustakas was only able to duplicate his 2015 result, that was good for the 87th overall player – he is presently being drafted at an ADP 200.40. Thus, even taking the power upside out of the equation, it is very easy to see how Moustakas could turn a profit for fantasy owners and be a valuable insurance policy for the high-end 3B that many will end up with.
My Projection for Moustakas: GP 145, 80 R, 26 HR, 78 RBI, .271/.340/.485