Remaining Optimistic About Yoan Moncada

The 2018 season for the Chicago White Sox season has been one to forget, and the same thing can be said for former top prospect Yoan Moncada.

Moncada, who came to Chicago from the Boston Red Sox in the massive December 2016 Chris Sale trade, entered the season with lofty expectations in his first full big league season. The results however, have been below league-average.

Moncada, who already has 183 strikeouts on the season to lead all of Major League Baseball, is on-pace to strikeout 225 times this season, which would be the most in a single-season by any player ever, surpassing Mark Reynolds‘ 223 whiffs in 2009. Now, while strikeouts in 2018 don’t mean as much as they did in 1956, there are other areas that are concerning when you assess Moncada as a player so far.

The 23-year-old Moncada is a switch-hitter, but hasn’t been a very good one in his career, especially this season, slashing just .183/.262/.296 as a right-handed batter this season, giving him just a .558 OPS. That means he’s seemingly losing all his power. Only two of his 16 home runs this season have came from the right side of the plate, and while the returns as a left-handed batter aren’t anything to ride home about, they’ve been considerable better with Moncada being the owner of a .233/.315/.428 batting line and a .743 OPS as a lefty.

Granted, the sample size for Moncada as a right-handed batter is much different than as a left-handed batter (404 plate appearances versus 131 plate appearances), but his strikeout rates suggest that Moncada is largely the same hitter no matter the sample size difference, as he has a 34.4% strikeout rate as a right-handed batter and a 33.6% clip as a left-handed one. All together, Moncada has a .698 OPS and a 34.2% strikeout rate, so where does the optimism come from?

Let’s take a look at the MLB leaders in strikeouts this season among hitters, with Moncada at the top of the list of course:

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Automatically, the assumption people make about players with high strikeout totals is that they swing out of the strike zone frequently, and try to swing for the fences more than times than not. While that assumption is true about some of these players, it is not true about Moncada.

Per FanGraphs, Moncada is one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball, as he only swings at pitches outside the strike zone 23.4% of the time. That 23.4% rate is tied with Carlos Santana and Lorenzo Cain, two players who have yet to strikeout 90+ times this season. However, both Santana and Cain make more contact on pitches inside the strike zone than Moncada, which is where part of the problem lays with the Cuban import. Moncada should be able to fix his strikeout woes at least a little bit by simply making more contract and refining his approach, but that of course is easier said than done.

Moncada’s hard hit rate is slightly down from last year at 41.4%, but his 33 barrels on the year have him tied with players like Alex Bregman, Kyle Schwarber, Jesus Aguilar, and Eugenio Suarez for the 45th most barrels in baseball, and Schwarber was the only player not to make the All-Star Game out of the four-player group, but he was apart of the festivities in the Home Run Derby before losing it to Bryce Harper.

Despite his barrels, Statcast metrics suggest that Moncada has been a bit of a lucky hitter this season, as based on his batted balls he has an expected batting average of .209. His actual average for the season is .221, so there’s not a major discrepancy, but it is still a noteworthy one. Moncada also has a similar problem that is common among young players, as he struggles to hit the slider.

The fastball and curveball are the two pitches Moncada has fair well with this season, but his numbers against the slider, cutter, and change-up are all below league average with the slider being the worst one, per Fangraphs’ pitch value stats.

Moncada’s defense has slipped a bit at second base this year as well, but it’s not any type of major drop off from what we saw in 2017. Going back on the good things about Moncada, very few players have better knowledge of the strike zone than Moncada in baseball, and that certainly won’t change anytime soon, and it’s very probable that only some minor mechanical changes are needed to improve the standard numbers. What could help Moncada out some more is the arrival of more talent on the White Sox roster itself.

Chicago is not a very good team right now and no one expected them to be, but the arrival of stud right-handed pitching prospect Michael Kopech already has fans buzzing about the team’s future once again. Perhaps when other prospects like Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, and Nick Madrigal make there way to the South Side of Chicago, Moncada can relax and not feel the type of immense pressure he’s been feeling since day one to perform.

Still, the White Sox are still very confident in Yoan Moncada, and you should be too.

*All statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs & Baseball-Reference. All statistics present in this article are accurate as of August 29, 2018.*

 Photo: Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports

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