Yoán Moncada strikes balance with strike zone, eyes stardom

Yoán Moncada has been on a tear over the last few weeks. Since the start of the month, he’s dominated the plate even without hitting the ball out of the park. He’s walking in 25 percent of his plate appearances and blistering the balls he puts in play to the tune of an average exit velocity of 95.1 mph. It’s led to five doubles, nine runs scored and nine RBIs over 11 games with nary a bad game in the bunch. The result is an obscenely OBP-heavy line during this stretch: .359/.519/.487 with a 193 wRC+.

It’s the kind of run Sox fans have been hoping to see from Moncada after a disappointing 2020. It’s also the kind of run that warrants closer inspection, because there are some reasons to believe we’re looking at more than just a hot streak.

At the time the White Sox acquired Moncada in the trade sending Chris Sale to the Red Sox, Moncada was considered by some to be the best prospect in baseball and a consensus top-five prospect in the minor league scouting world. But he was not without flaws. The scouting report said Yoán had a good eye and plus power, but his critics were concerned that his swing-and-miss tendencies would limit his impact. In 2021, we’re finally starting to see Yoán use his strengths to mitigate his weaknesses and, in the process, realize his prospect pedigree. 

His first partial season and first full season (2017-2018) were a mixed bag. His approach would probably best be described as passive. He showed a lot of restraint on pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%). He also took more a lot more strikes than average (Z-Swing%). Combined, Yoán swung less than 81 percent of the league (Swing%).



This is passive to the extreme, and the challenge with this approach is that Yoán has whiffing issues (SwStr%) in his game. So while he took plenty of walks (BB%), he put more pressure on his contact skills by taking strikes. This led to strikeouts (K%). A lot of strikeouts. Only a handful of players in the league struck out more frequently.



At the end of the 2018 season, there was a lot of talk about Yoán’s passivity. It was clear that he had a good eye, but when one-third of plate appearances end in strikeouts, it’s an uphill battle to cram enough productivity into the remaining trips to be a plus hitter. And sure enough, Moncada sat right around league average at the plate (wRC+). His league-average-ish ISO (slugging minus batting average) and double-digit walk rate weren’t enough to combat a strikeout rate 50 percent above league average.

Yoán MoncadaMLB Average

In 2019, Moncada went on the offensive. He started swinging more, which led to fewer walks and fewer strikeouts. It also led to improved numbers as his power played up and we saw the kind of season that Sox fans were hoping for from a cornerstone of the rebuild. But under the surface, there was cause for concern. Moncada was swinging more, but his pitch selection was an issue. He was chasing. He swung at a few more strikes (Z-Swing%), but he offered at a lot more pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%). So while he made modest improvements in his strikeout rate, his walk rate plummeted. Basically, he went from a high-strikeout, high-walk guy to a high-strikeout, low-walk guy. Not ideal. 



Swinging at balls and not swinging at strikes is pretty much definitionally the opposite of what we call a “good eye.” And it’s not a good trend to see in a hitter who was lauded for his plate discipline as a prospect.

I don’t want to dwell on 2020 too much (full stop). Neither, I think, does Yoán. He basically went back to his pre-2019 behavior at the plate. The double-digit walk rate returned, but with it came another strikeout rate over 30 percent and the league-average production. And we were largely back where we started. In this context, 2019 looks like an aberration.


Enter 2021 and we finally have gotten the breakout we’ve been hoping for — and with the underlying stats to support its sustainability. Yoán’s plate discipline is outweighing his contact issues and it makes for a promising profile. His chase rate (O-Swing%) is good for 16th best in all of baseball, and this is a stat that keeps good company, with names like Trout, Bregman, Soto, Acuña and Guerrero (Jrs.). He’s also for the first time in his career offering at strikes at an above league-average rate. That’s right! He basically stopped swinging at pitches out of the zone while simultaneously swinging at more pitches in the zone. This is incredibly difficult to do and speaks to the elite talent Moncada has. It’s a level of plate discipline that has allowed him to swing and miss (SwStr%) at a better than average rate!



All of this drives an almost 40 percent better than league average production.

MLB Average8.924.1.236/.312/.39397

And while his performance on balls in play might decline — and his batting average with it (xBA) — he’s likely to see some positive regression in his power numbers (xSLG), where he’s been a bit unlucky thus far this season. In fact, there’s a case to be made that his numbers will go up from here (xwOBA). Basically, the advanced metrics suggest this is legit.

2021 .287 .276.411.477.371.387

All of which is to say that if Yoán Moncada maintains his newfound plate discipline, we have an elite hitter for years to come. And while I didn’t touch on his defense (it’s plus) or his baserunning (also plus), the total package adds up to the kind of player that’s a perennial All-Star and could put up some MVP-type seasons.

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Totally agree. 140 wRC+ with plus defense is all star quality regardless of whether he’s technically an all star due to the crowded 3B field. Interesting with the change in run environment that his .379 wOBA was 40% above average in 2019 and in 2021 his .367 wOBA is basically the same amount above average

Last edited 1 year ago by jorgefabregas

I think there’s a good chance Moncada wins the GG at 3rd. 1st in the AL in DRS, UZR and DEF thus far. As long as he keeps it up, I think it’s his to lose.


Has there ever been a more talent-packed White Sox roster?


And just think if they can get Eloy and Robert back healthy to add to this.


I might have missed something, but I don’t remember any articles by MarketMaker before. With analysis like this, I hope it’s not the last.


Tough to find free to me between making markets.

Papa Giorgio

In between all that analysis, you’ve got a talent for writing. Well done.