Yoan Moncada and his ever increasing strikeouts

In March 2015, the Boston Red Sox paid $63m to gain the services of one Yoan Moncada. The bill was split 50/50, $31.5m signing bonus and $31.5m for an MLB-issued tax penalty due to the Red Sox destroying the bonus pool allotments. Moncada was joining a Red Sox system that had just re-signed Dustin Pedroia to play second base until 2021 and already had a packed outfield. The future wasn’t immediately obvious for Moncada, but the Red Sox clearly felt they knew what Moncada’s future value may be and were more than willing to pay for it.

During their initial reports in 2015, Baseball America commented:

“Physically, Moncada stands out. “He could be a defensive back for Ohio State,” one scout said.”

They also said:

“Though Moncada’s disciplined approach is more advanced from the left side, where his swing draws frequent comparisons with that of Robinson Cano, he put up better numbers–particularly in terms of power–as a righthanded hitter and shows the overall skill to be a true switch-hitter.”

In his first season of Low A ball with Greenville through 306 At Bats (AB) he slashed .278/.380/.438 with 8 home runs (HR) and 83 strikeouts (SO). From this point on Moncada dominated the Minors and soon became Major League Baseballs number one prospect.

2016 saw Moncada promoted to High A Salem, where through 228 plate appearances (PA) he slashed .307/.427/.496 with 4 HR and 60 SO. In the same year he was promoted, this time to Double A Portland where in a short 45 games and 177 PA he slashed .277/.379/.531, mashing 11 HR and managing 64 SO.

After his team-mate Andrew Benintendi was promoted to the Majors and had an immediate impact, questions were being asked when it would be Moncada’s turn. Sure enough on the 1st September 2016, Moncada was promoted to Boston. Initially he struggled with the breaking ball and ended the season with just 19 ABs, slashing .211/.250/.263. He had zero HR and a rather alarming 12 SO. Some wrote off the short call-up, others put it down to bright lights and having little time to adjust to the big leagues. 2017 would be Moncada’s year in Boston.

However Moncada would not report to Boston in 2017, instead the Red Sox packaged him, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz in exchange for then Five-time All Star Chris Sale. The lefty strikeout machine was the ace the Red Sox had been searching for since the departure of Clay Buchholz (Jokes).

And so Yoan Moncada reported to Charlotte and once again dominated the Minors. During his 309 ABs he slashed .282/.377/.447 slugging 12 HRs. However, he did have 102 SO. The largest number of his career so far.

During the 2017 season, Moncada received a call-up to the Chicago White Sox, over 231 PA his slashed .231/.338/.412, 8 HR and 74 SO. His SO% was an sizeable 32%, he was striking out every 2.7 AB (AB/SO) and hitting bombs every 24.9 AB (AB/HR).

Fast forward to today, after 587 PA, he has slashed .224/.304/.391, with 17 HR and a league leading 196 SO. His SO% is career leading (minus the cup of coffee in Boston) 33.4%, he has maintained the 2.7 AB per strikeout however his AB/HR has increased to 30.7. What do all those numbers mean? Well using the excellent Baseball Reference Play Index, we can compare todays Moncada to single seasons since 1871. The search criteria were as follows:

  • AB/SO >= 2.6 (Moncada is currently at 2.6633, Play Index doesn’t pick him up at 2.7)
  • WAR >= 1.3 (Moncada’s current BRef WAR)
  • SO >=196

There are performances on here that do not match current Moncada. All (Except Drew Stubbs) have 25+ HR in their single seasons. All (Except a very good Kris Bryant 2015) have 30+ HR single seasons. All (Except Adam Dunn) have 40+ HR single seasons – you can see where this is going. There are some superb seasons on display here with similar stats to Moncada. Except those seasons involved LOTS of dingers. So whats going on with Moncada?

If you weren’t aware, Moncada is a switch hitter, so first of all, lets explore his splits as a LHH and a RHH.

vs R as L 439 33.7 % 0.233 0.315 0.422 0.189 0.333 103
vs L as R 148 32.4 % 0.198 0.272 0.298 0.099 0.289 58

Before we continue, a quick reminder on Weighted Runs Created (wRC+). 100 is average, anything above that is good, anything below is bad.

He’s an average hitter as a lefty vs RHP, as a righty, he’s pretty awful vs LHP. The interesting part of it is that no matter the pitcher or which side of the plate he stands, Moncada’s K% is pretty much exactly the same. So with that in mind, lets mash his splits together and check the K% by month:

  • Mar/Apr – 39.2%
  • May – 29.3%
  • Jun – 36.3%
  • Jul – 25.9%
  • Aug – 37.2%
  • Sept – 25%

Not great.

Now lets look at what pitchers are using against him.

Pitch Type Number % PA HR SO BA SLG BB% K%
Fastballs 1405 58.4 355 11 100 0.252 0.442 11.5 28.2
Breaking 567 23.6 136 3 59 0.175 0.294 7.4 43.4
Offspeed 432 18 94 3 37 0.2 0.353 8.5 39.4

Slightly more than half of the pitches Moncada faces are fastballs, under a third of his strikeouts are from those pitchers. The rest of his strikeout problems are with breaking or offspeed pitches. It seems the offspeed worries from Boston are still very much there.

What about the location of these pitches? Lets look at the location of all pitches that aren’t fastballs as a LHH and a RHH. Lots of pitches down and away.























Next lets look at when Moncada swings and when he makes contact.

Remember what we saw above, lots of pitches down and away when he’s a LHH. He is attempting to swing at those, as we can see on the heatmap on the left. As for the level of contact, it’s not that great. Dropping from low 80% around the middle of the zone, to as low as 43% where the pitches move down and away.

How about as a RHH?

Despite a similar number of pitches down and away, his contact numbers look much better. Going from 89% in the centre of the zone and maintaining that 89% on the far corner down and away. Which doesn’t really back up his wRC+ numbers as a RHH, you would expect him to have less contact on those pitches.

What about strikeouts looking vs swinging strikeouts?

Strikeouts Looking: 72

Strikeouts Swinging: 124

With over half of his strikeouts being when looking and over 60% of the pitches he’s seen this season being strikes, this problem isn’t going away simply by being more patient. So is there any hope?

Well, when I happened to mention in our Slack chat about my growing obsession with Moncada and his growing number of strikeouts, Darius Austin replied that he felt the same about Javier Baez when he first came up to the Majors.

In 2014 Baez had 229 PA, slashed .169/.227/.324, his 9 HR and had 95 SO. That gave him a 41.5% SO%, 2.2 AB/SO and 23.7 AB/HR. So despite Baez having a higher SO%, his AB/SO and AB/HR were lower than Moncada so far this year.

Baez has made adjustments and has become one of the better players in baseball, so it isn’t all over for Moncada right now. Moncada is only 23 years old, he’s under team control over the next two years, before entering three years of arbitration. The White Sox will be looking for adjustments in the offseason, simply saying “Lay off the breaking ball” isn’t enough though, as we saw a lot of those breaking balls are being pitched for strikes.

Moncada has to learn to make contact on pitches to ensure pitchers can’t get him into an 0-2 jam and then drop the offspeed stuff on him. Because if you’re wondering, he has a -50 wRC+ with a 66.4% SO% in those situations. Ouch.

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