The Milwaukee Brewers deciding to bring back Mike Moustakas on a one-year deal (plus a mutual option for 2020) brings up plenty of questions on where everyone will play, but for now, let’s just summarize the move like this:
It’s good when the Milwaukee Brewers add good players to their roster.
I know. It’s a wild concept. But David Stearns has shown a willingness over the past couple offseasons of being unconventional by Actually Signing Good Players.
And despite what some in Brewers Twitterverse may think, that’s what Mike Moustakas is.
Considering Moustakas was a Brewer last year, we already know what to expect, and what we saw in 54 games plus the playoffs is probably close to that.
Moose hit .256/.326/.441 with the Brewers in the regular season last year, before a really good three games in the NLDS (4-for-11 with a double and 2 RBI) and a really not good seven games in the NLCS (4-for-29 with 12 strikeouts). He had a .328 wOBA and a 103 wRC+ with the Brewers in the regular season last year, and while he struck out at a higher rate than his career average (18.3% K% as opposed to a career 15.6% mark), he also walked more often (8.7% BB% compared to a career 6.7% average). Fangraphs’ Steamer projections have Moustakas slated for a .260/.321/.491 line with a .343 wOBA and a 113 wRC+, while ZiPS was even more optimistic about a full year of the Moose being loose in Milwaukee with a line of .267/.324/.506:
ZiPS give a very bullish projection for Moustakas, .267/.324/.506, 3.2 WAR in large part because Miller is just about an ideal park. The two best projected stadiums for Moustakas are Miller and Yankee Stadium and he wasn't going to the Yankees.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 18, 2019
Even if his improved walk rate with the Brewers proves to be real (and let’s pump the brakes on those averages considering it was just a handful of games and he did get a little hack-happy in the playoffs), he’s not going to get on base a ton, but considering he won’t be counted on as a middle-of-the-order bat for the Brewers like he was with the Royals -- more like the 6th or 7th best hitter in a pretty stacked lineup -- the Brewers will likely live with that if it means someone can drive in the guys who are hitting 3rd, 4th, or 5th.
There’s little doubt that bringing back Moustakas’ bat extends the lineup, and with the addition of Yasmani Grandal, it could be argued there isn’t an “easy” out in the Milwaukee Nine until you get to the 8th spot in the order, which is virtually guaranteed to be shortstop Orlando Arcia. That makes for one of the deepest lineups in the National League, and that depth extends to the bench, which (ideally) should help the Brewers withstand any offensive slumps or injuries better than they did in the first half of last season.
The return of Moustakas may also emphasize the team’s desire for defensive versatility, even though Moustakas himself has rarely played anywhere but third base in his career.
On Monday, it was speculated by writers and confirmed by Craig Counsell that Moustakas would see time at second base this spring. If it works out, the plan appears to be to keep Travis Shaw at third base and play Moustakas at second when they’re both in the lineup at the same time.
Even if you have doubts about how Moustakas — who like Shaw, is not built like your typical second baseman — that’s not to say Moustakas would be a second baseman full-time. Moustakas isn’t bad against lefties for a left-handed hitter, putting up a line of .260/.301/.420 against them last year. That’s better than the .209/.303/.296 Shaw hit against lefties last year, so it’s possible we see Moustakas at third base against left-handed starters this year with Hernan Perez possibly playing second base.
In addition to that, if you’re of the opinion that the Moustakas signing makes Eric Thames expendable on the roster, the possibility of Moose playing first base as the lefty-swinging half of a platoon with Jesus Aguilar would also open up an avenue for playing time. Unlike second base, Moustakas has actually played a little first base in his career, albeit in a very limited amount in Kansas City.
With that in mind, even if Travis Shaw does end up being the team’s predominant third baseman, there should be plenty of playing time for Moustakas, so it’s not like the Brewers are spending $10 million on a part-time player. He should still easily collect more than 500 plate appearances, regardless of the position he’s playing, essentially filling a full-time role in the lineup. If there are concerns about defense, we’ll likely see Moustakas switched out for Perez — or, maybe eventually, Mauricio Dubon — in late innings once Counsell is reasonably sure Moustakas’ spot in the order won’t come up again.
Moustakas’ reputation may be a bit higher than his production warrants — a couple of memorable moments in the playoffs, including his walk-off with the Brewers last year, will do that — but he’s not being paid like a superstar and he won’t expected to be one with the Brewers. He’s simply the best one-year option the team had to help fill a hole in the infield, even if it means once again filling that spot in an unconventional way.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs