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Can Mike Moustakas play second base?

This was hard.

Divisional Round - Milwaukee Brewers v Colorado Rockies - Game Three Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

During last season’s trade deadline, the Brewers added a new third baseman. They recently brought that new third baseman back, signing him to a one-year/$9 million deal. And now that third baseman might be their new second baseman. This player is Mike Moustakas.

“If Mike’s aboard, what we’ve talked about is not anything different than the conversation we had in late July last year when we were debating this whole thing,” said Counsell. “We would explore Mike at second base, ‘Is that what we’re going to do?’ ... because that’s what we don’t know about. At some point, we would have to make a decision.

Now if you follow baseball closely, you’ll know that Moustakas doesn’t fit the prototypical second baseman mold. He stands at 6’0” 225 lbs. That doesn’t scream middle infielder and the description of his profile wouldn’t necessarily have the word “athletic.” By no means is he present day Miguel Cabrera or Brian McCann, and you would be surprised by some of the plays he makes at third, but he isn’t some fast, agile, quick-twitch player.

As a matter of fact, Moustakas was drafted as a shortstop. He was good enough to get a shot at playing the position in the lower-minors, but like a lot of high school draftees, he was moved off the position, and probably for good reason. Since then, he’s played only third base with the exception of a few games at first. The only experience he has at second base came in Spring Training of 2014 when the Royals gave him some work fielding ground balls there and even played him there for one game, spanning six innings. His former manager Ned Yost showed optimism in his ability up the middle.

Outside of all that shallow information, it appears we have nothing that tells us about Moustakas’s ability at second. It’s hard to analyze a player at a position he’s never played. But for now, our best bet could be comparable situations. Mentioning the most recent cases first, we have another shift from a Brewers third baseman in Travis Shaw and we have a small sample size case in Pablo Sandoval. Neither player particularity wowed, as there was nothing seen as encouraging from Shaw’s metrics at the position and Sandoval only played one game there until the Giants decided that experiment was over.

The Sprint Speeds aren’t promising either, as Moustakas ranked 11th out of 12 among third baseman with as many opportunities as him. His mark of 25.7 ft/sec would rank dead last among 19 second baseman with same or greater sample size. Scooter Gennett is the closest to him at 26.4 ft/sec. The only players to record time at second base last season and post a lower ft/sec mark than him were Dustin Pedroia, Joe Panik, Daniel Murphy, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Robinson Cano. This should be taken with a grain of salt though, as it seems the correlations between speed and defensive ability in the field are pretty low. Still not encouraging, nonetheless.

Line represents Moustakas, second baseman minimum 50 opportunities
Baseball Savant

The defensive metrics think is Moustakas is at least a very serviceable player at third base. Among qualified third baseman, he ranked ninth out 19 in defensive runs saved and 12th in UZR/150. Fans Scouting Report data from 2017 (2018 is not available yet) gave him an overall rating of 54 at third, good for 15th out 27 qualifiers. As for the eye test, he again looks serviceable, with the ability to make a flashy play every now and then.

The range is nothing special, but he’s also seems like no slouch when it comes to that. This is probably the most important factor when switching to second, but he showed off some good diving abilities here, along with good coordination and reset ability.

Same case here, along with some impressive reaction time on a 100.3 MPH ground ball. Again, the range is nothing special, but he has the ability to be at least adequate diving both left and right.

This one just showed off good instincts. He’ll have a big step forward towards success at second if these skills can transition somewhat smoothly over.

So as I expected, the answer remains unclear until we actually get to see Mike Moustakas play some second base. He deserves slightly more credit for his defensive ability, but guessing how any of those skills transition across the bag is a mystery. I surely wouldn’t feel comfortable betting on this working out, but I wouldn’t completely rule out adequacy, as we’ve seen crazier things. If he can ever somehow get to that level, that would be a considerable jump in value for both him and the Brewers.

Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.