What to make of Yoan Moncada’s odd, productive season

More so than any player I can remember, Yoan Moncada‘s 2021 season has been evaluated through the lens of what individual people expect from him rather than what he’s actually accomplished. While that’s a plenty reasonable way to look at players with established performance levels, Moncada is in his fifth season with the White Sox and it still feels like we’re learning what kind of player he is. None of his full seasons with the team resemble one another.

  • 2018: Loud tools on display, but strikeouts and a passive approach rendered him average
  • 2019: A star turn, complete with high batting average and strong power numbers
  • 2020: Gets on base enough to keep the line moving, but COVID-19 sapped his vigor
  • 2021: Career-best walk and strikeout rates, but the power from 2019 has not returned

Just about the only constant seems to be that he’s become a strong defender at third base, which can paper over shortcomings elsewhere. Defensive metrics are a big reason that despite good-not-great offensive output (120 wRC+), Moncada has managed to post fringe All-Star WAR totals. By both Baseball Reference’s (3.3 WAR) and FanGraphs’ (3.7 WAR) metrics, Moncada is a good bet to finish the season as at least a four-win player.

However, given how we’ve arrived at this point, Moncada’s 2021 season could be one of the most scrutinized strong seasons from a major league player ever. Some combination of Moncada’s 2019 season, his former status as a No. 1 overall prospect, and his position in the center of the Chris Sale trade have left many wanting more. The batting average has dried up a bit as the season has worn on, and there’s a perception that Moncada’s disappointed in big situations. The idea that he’s struggled to plate runners in scoring position is a myth (.277/.414/.465 with RISP), but there’s merit to the idea that he’s struggled with the game on the line (.146/.283/.208 in “Late & Close” situations).

That last bit might be related to Moncada’s single most obvious flaw this season: an inability to hit four-seam fastballs. Once the game gets into those “Late & Close” situations, the other team is often using a high-leverage reliever with a hard, high-backspin fastball. Moncada has not hit a single home run on a fourseam fastball this season and has only one extra-base hit (a double on a 99-mph sinker) on a pitch of at least 95 mph. High velocity, high-spin pitches are generally a recipe for success, but against Moncada, they’re practically a silver bullet.

The strange thing is, Moncada isn’t some aging vet who’s struggling to catch up to high speeds. He’s a 26-year-old who has never had this issue before, even when slowed by COVID in 2020. In fact, he usually feasts on the four-seamer.

Moncada’s been able to partially make up for this by annihilating breaking pitches, which previously gave him trouble, but the aggregate numbers will tell you that being able to hit the fastball is more important. Could a change in overall approach be the culprit? Here’s a look at plate discipline numbers from 2018 (when he was overly passive), 2019 (when he was more aggressive), and 2021:

Moncada’s swing decisions seem to more closely resemble 2018 than 2019. That’s not all bad; his walk rate this year is nearly double what it was in 2019. However, there’s certainly a trade-off. That first-pitch swing rate suggests he’s not looking to pounce on fastballs early in the count, so there could be a design component to the weaker results against the four-seam. The other cost of patience is that Moncada gets into deeper counts and winds up taking more defensive at-bats with two strikes. In 2021, his power with two strikes is essentially negligible. Below are the percentage of at-bats that end on a two-strike pitch (0-2, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2), along with associated stats:

  • 2018: 57%, .110/.212/.204 (.096 ISO)
  • 2019: 51%, .182/.241/.290 (.108 ISO)
  • 2021: 58%, .164/.299/.220 (.056 ISO)

Even in his strongest season, Moncada never hit for a great deal of power with two strikes, and part of his success was ending the at-bat by attacking punishable pitches before getting to that point. It’s tempting to suggest that Moncada simply get back to that approach at the plate, but it’s also fair to question what his .315/.367/.548 line from 2019 would look like 1) without a .406 BABIP (his expected batting average per Statcast was .280) and 2) without the juiced ball, which inflated power numbers league-wide in 2019. Would it be worth his OBP dropping substantially from the high-.300s?

In any event, it’s going to be challenging for Moncada to ever be an impact offensive player while struggling with hard four-seam fastballs (Yermin Mercedes can attest to that) and one of Frank Menechino’s highest priorities should be figuring out why his star 26-year-old is suddenly unable to handle them.

Other than that, I’m not convinced there’s anything wrong with Moncada’s current approach. He’s a very valuable player, and the White Sox offense has more than enough firepower to accommodate him fitting in as more of an on-base percentage guy than a slugger. That might be a different outlook than what some expect the centerpiece of the Chris Sale trade to look like, but Moncada doesn’t have to be more than this to justify the move. We should celebrate the player he currently is, and if he can manage to figure out the four-seam again while maintaining his elite plate discipline, that’ll be gravy.

(Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)

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Patrick Nolan
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GrinnellSteve

Excellent look deep into the numbers. I agree with the conclusion. I think he would draw less criticism if he were more demonstrative. That’s Timmy or Eloy. That’s not Yoan. People mistakenly think he doesn’t care enough, and he wouldn’t fail in a big situation if only he cared more.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

Guys sometimes fail in big situations because they care too much. It’s a tough gig to be at your best with a lot on the line, in sports, or in life.

GrinnellSteve

All true.

knoxfire30

Yoan has had two things work against him in why people are seemingly tough on him. He was the number 1 prospect in baseball due to his massive skill set and he was traded for one of if not thee biggest trade asset in baseball at the time. Basically sox fans needed yoan to be a super star and he has basically been a star. If yoan was just a normal first round pick or free agent signing I think everyone would have more universal love for him. Fair or unfairly for yoan people want a super star in return for chris sale, and they want the 2019 version of a player they saw and have since been dreaming about.

The other aspect for Yoan that is slowly creeping in is his contract, 13 mil next year is still a value, 17 mil in 2023 becomes about right, but for 24 and 25 mil in years 2024 and 2025…. that could get pricey if other players contracts on a contending team start to balloon as well.

soxfan

Regarding the first point, we didn’t just get Moncada for Sale. We got Moncada and Kopech. Sale provided early value to the Red Sox to hold up his end of the bargain, but Moncada and Kopech will easily outpace him if they get and stay healthy.

Regarding the second point, $24-25M for a 4+ WAR player is totally reasonable.

Neither of these are reasons to overly scrutinize Moncada’s performance,

knoxfire30

The whitesox ownership group makes it impossible to pay a 4 war player 25 mil, this isnt a team that would run out a 200 mil payroll where it would be acceptable. Say the sox get a 2.5 war out of burger at 1 mil… then take that excess 24 mil and sprinkle it around … thats how they compete. If they had a real ownership group you could handle 25 mil for 4 war but they dont and you have to factor that in.

Trooper Galactus

Last season the White Sox spent about $40 million on Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara, Kelvin Herrera, Steve Cishek, Gio Gonzalez, and Carlos Rodon to collectively provide -1.3 bWAR. The idea that they can’t afford to spend $25 million on a single, 4-WAR player is total bullshit. What they can’t afford to do, but keep managing to do, is blow a third of their budget on players who provide negative value. So, yeah, I’d be perfectly fine with them paying that sort of scrape for a guy who can give you a near All-Star level of production instead of spreading it around to the Jon Jays and Welington Castillos of the world.

shaggy65

There’s no question that Yoan’s a valuable player, but I do find myself wondering whether I’d rather keep him or Jake Burger long-term. YM has both a higher floor and higher ceiling, but if we hit the limits of Jerry’s wallet and get a very strong prospect offer in return I don’t hate the idea of trading Moncada away.

Still, I think Yoan’s OBP, switch-hitting, and defense are better fits for this team than yet another righty masher. Rick Hahn has some tough choices to make.

Trooper Galactus

If we have to salary dump good players so we can give playing time to worse players then spread money around to other worse players, then what the hell was the point of the rebuild in the first place?

This is why Rick Hahn doesn’t get to do a victory lap like the money has been spent, because until they actually pay the player what’s in his contract, it’s just paper that they can get rid of should they choose to.

Last edited 11 months ago by Trooper Galactus
Root Cause

I like Moncada but I would wear his jersey if he routinely hustled.

Moncada is the opposite of Nick Madrigal. Where Nick had to bring his best game every day to make the team, Moncada seems content to let his raw talent get him through the day.

When I see him scorch the dirt from 2nd to home, I can see he has more to give.
Too many times, he doesn’t seem to be paying attention much less enthusiastic about what is going on around him.

Maybe it’s the curse of everything being easy for him all his life or maybe it’s lingering Covid issues, who knows. I give him a pass as no one knows why he seems content to be adequate.

mikeyb

This year we’ve seen Nick Madrigal, Adam Engel, and Luis Robert get injured hustling on meaningless plays. Moncada especially seems like a guy who has gotten beaten up over the course of his career, leading to prolonged slumps while he recovers. Abreu is the #1 guy on the team who I don’t care if he doesn’t run out a groundball in a low-leverage situation; Moncada is #2 for me.

metasox

I could be mistaken but I feel that a disproportionate amount of time the Sox don’t run hard out of the batters box, watching the ball or to see if they homered. That is one area I would call out for improvement.

Last edited 11 months ago by metasox
Jim Margalus

Robert was injured legging out an infield single. I suppose it’s meaningless in the sense that most everything humans do lacks significance, but he got a hit out of it.

MileHiJoe

I’d be fine if Grandal walked back to the dugout immediately after every ground ball until the playoffs start.

Joliet Orange Sox

I may be a minority of one but I just don’t agree with this take. I watch most games at least out of the corner of my eye and I haven’t seen a lack of hustle from Moncada. I think lack of hustle is actually relatively rare for major league players. I think some players are more demonstrative of their emotions than others and that can be conflated with caring more. Can you provide a specific example of Moncada not hustling on a play?

As Cirensica

Good analysis. I am OK with Moncada the way he is. Sure, I wish his power was a lot more than just a tad better than 2018 Yolmer’s, but I can live with the occasional power plus OBP machine, which brings me to question whether TLR should hit Moncada 2nd rather than Cesar Hernandez.

It is an interesting debate. Cesar is an outstanding bunter (he has led that category in the majors before), but bunting or bat handling is not something I want for my 2nd hitter. I believe Moncada has had greater success when hitting 2nd rather than 3rd. I believe once Yaz is back, and we head over the playoff, ANY lineup construction TLR comes up, should have the following fixture:

Timmy
Moncada
Abreu
XXX
XXX
XXX
XXX
XXX
Cesar Hndz

TLR can play around the XXX and he probably won’t go wrong. I just think Moncada is a very good 2nd hitter, and having Cesar as the 9th hitter is a luxury many teams wish to have.

texag10

The batting average for Moncada is higher for his career batting 3rd but not by much. He seems to walk more batting third and hit for less power but it’s really hard to parse anything from it since the plate appearance numbers aren’t super high and the majority of his PAs batting 3rd are from this year.

As for your lineup, I’m of the opinion that Robert should be batting 2nd and Moncada 3rd because I don’t want them to get stuck behind our slower power guys to where their speed doesn’t play as well as it could.

As Cirensica

Robert’s numbers are great and I wouldn’t object having him in the 2nd spot. However, Yoan provides a switch hitting advantage.

soxfan

Yep

I’d go:
Anderson
Moncada
Abreu
Grandal
Jimenez
Robert
Vaughn
Hernandez
Engel/Goodwin

Flip Grandal and Jimenez if you like. Flip Hernandez and the 3rd OF if you like.

Foulkelore

Well, you’re getting the start of that today, minus Grandal (moving up Jimenez, Robert, Vaughn, and Hernandez in the same order). I love Moncada in front of Abreu. High OBP, and it will be really hard (or stupid) to ever bring in a lefty for Moncada with the 3 batter minimum and Abreu behind him. Moncada’s no longer a black hole against LHPs, but he’s still better against RHPs.

Last edited 11 months ago by Foulkelore
Infield Grass

Anderson
Robert
Moncada
Abreu
Eloy
Grandal
Vaughn
Engel/Goodwin/Collins if Grandal is at DH
Hernandez

Moncada’s OBP directly ahead of the sluggers and he’s one of the only guys who takes enough pitches to actually allow Anderson or Robert to steal.

texag10

Copycat

Infield Grass

I posted this same lineup in a thread here about a week ago and my comments were similar to yours about not trapping speed. I thought there lessons to be learned from how well we were scoring runs even without the homer earlier this season and I though a big part of it was the top and bottom of the order were all guys who could run so you have 4- 6 batters in a row uninterrupted by any base clogger. Guys were going 1st to 3rd or scoring from 1st when a double was hit.

Buehrlesque

Love this exact lineup!

geoff blum jr

are we just gonna ignore his bottom quartile OAA on savant?

texag10

Yes. Fangraphs has Moncada ranked 34th in defensive runs saved and baseball-reference has him ranked 63rd in all of baseball. Baseball Savant is the odd man out.

Jason

Good breakdown on why Moncada is so frustrating, even though he’s above average.

One of the recent broadcasts (I don’t recall if it was radio or TV) mentioned something similar, regarding his ineffectiveness against four seamers. Most players time the fastball and adjust to breaking pitches, where Yoan seems to time breaking pitches and then can’t catch up to the fastball.

He seems to be barreling the ball more the past few weeks, but I depend on you all to find the stats to verify my lying eyes.

Willardmarshall

I can’t get long Covid out of my mind….

mrridgman

I think it’s a real possibility i this case.

joewho112

Have you tried horse de-worming drugs?

geoff blum jr

Ah, yes, of course. But if “long covid” is a possible explanation, so are an infinite number of other made-up maladies that could be impacting him

texag10

Why don’t you grab some pine there champ.

calcetinesblancos

What a luxury it feels like to be able to complain about Moncada’s 2021 season considering some of the players we’ve had at 3B in recent memory. Yes, 3B is usually a position where you like to see some power, but damn do I like having a 3B that isn’t slow around the bases. If Moncada could put up a similar line but even hit just 20 homers a season, to me there would be nothing to complain about.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

I don’t see where Moncada has gotten a ton of negative attention or commentary, not on here at least. It’s reasonable to wish he hit more like his 2019 season. I think the Sox hoped for closer to that when they extended him. But he is still a good player and is the least of anything the Sox have to worry about.

Trooper Galactus

Every time I see people complain that Moncada is not living up to expectations, my response is the same: your expectations were not reasonable. If you hoped for Moncada to be a perennial 7-WAR player, but expected him to at least be a very good player, that would be reasonable. If you expected him to be a 7-WAR player and would be disappointed with anything less, that’s just setting him up to be a failure in your mind.