About a year ago, I wrote a post titled “Let’s Relax About Moncada“, which was largely a response to fan frustration over Yoan Moncada‘s slow start to the 2018 season. Within the post, I argued that the sample size was far too small to judge Moncada, and that he was displaying an above average contact profile early but was seeing unlucky results. I strongly believed that Moncada’s numbers would experience some positive regression, and sure enough, Moncada went on a tear, hitting .344/.403/.705 in the 15 games after my post was published. Soon after, a hamstring injury sidelined him and he was never the same.
Here, I find myself writing about Moncada early in the 2019 season with the opposite occurring: fans are overwhelmed by his early season success, and for good reason. He’s batting .450/.522/.900 and, as this is being written, leads all of baseball with a 331 wRC+. These numbers are fun to marvel at for the time being, but obviously no player is capable of such dominance over a full season. Thus, the bad news for fans is that Moncada’s numbers will surely regress substantially. The good news is that his approach and contact profile suggest that this offensive brilliance isn’t a complete fluke.
First, let’s get this out of the way. Yoan Moncada was not “bad” in 2018. A better adjective to describe his campaign would be “average”. According to Fangraphs, Moncada had a 97 wRC+, which is very close to the league-wide average of 100. While he did strike out often, he also took enough walks and hit for enough power to be almost league average offensively. It was clear to anyone who watched him extensively that swinging at more hittable fastballs early would allow Moncada to better utilize his elite bad speed and collect more solid hits, as opposed to his approach of waiting pitchers out and seemingly hoping for a walk.
How has Moncada improved? For starters, he is much more aggressive at the plate in 2019. He is swinging earlier in counts and, as a result, is striking out less often while collecting more hits. At some point, pitchers will adjust by giving him fewer fastballs in the zone and more off-speed pitches, but Moncada can outsmart these pitchers by using his plate discipline to lay off these pitches and take more walks, which he has always been more than able to do.
For another indicator of improvement in 2019, let’s look at 0-2 counts. According to Baseball Reference, Moncada was 7-138 (.054) with a .069 slugging percentage after 0-2 counts in 2018. Every hitter will have bad splits after being down 0-2, but a .178 OPS is just awful. In those situations, 2 of Moncada’s 7 hits were doubles, the rest were singles.
This year? Well, here’s a 438 foot blast on an 0-2 count:
YOU CAN’T STOP YOAN MONCADA! pic.twitter.com/SvDqOsBiuk
— Sox On 35th (@SoxOn35th) April 3, 2019
And for good measure, here’s a clutch RBI double that came after initially falling behind 0-2, and from the right side of the plate (his weaker side) no less:
.@ymoncada19 comes through!
We're knotted up in the 8th. pic.twitter.com/smOO2e7hop
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) April 1, 2019
That’s right, in just 5 games, Moncada has already matched his 2018 total of extra base hits after 0-2 counts thanks to his new, aggressive approach.
Finally, Moncada has cut down on strikeouts while maintaining a healthy walk rate. He started this trend in Spring Training, and this exchange suggests that it is not necessarily a mirage:
8.1 opponent quality which is not low.
— Michael Salfino (@MichaelSalfino) March 26, 2019
This means that Moncada was generally facing quality opponents (where a 10.0 opponent quality would be considered completely MLB-caliber), and he was not simply beating up on minor league pitching. While the ratio is still just another Spring Training stat, the fact that it accumulated against somewhat quality competition is not a bad sign.
Yoan Moncada is not going to lead the league in wRC+ and runs scored for long, nor will his slash line even remotely resemble .450/.522/.900, but his new approach should inspire confidence that he is a much improved hitter from last season. Last year, we saw flashes of greatness but watched what was a largely average season overall, but now, Moncada has truly arrived. As long as he stays healthy and maintains his aggression, there is no reason that Moncada cannot maintain a robust walk rate while hitting for power and using his speed when advantageous as his .467 batting average on balls in play normalizes. Add that to some truly impressive plays at third base, and as long as he irons out some minor throwing issues at his new position, Moncada will continue to blossom into an all-star caliber player and remind the league why he was MLB.com’s #1 overall prospect.
Featured Photo: Brandon Anderson (Twitter: @b_son4)