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Yoán Moncada is an offensive paradox

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The White Sox third baseman has been one of the league’s best performers on both sides of the ball, but where has the power gone? Is it coming back?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

As of this writing, Chicago White Sox third baseman Yoán Moncada is at virtually an identical amount of games played and plate appearances as the shortened 2020 season. The outputs have been very different, but perhaps what is most important to note is that the guy people saw in 2019, who seemed poised for a breakout in the subsequent years before falling off quite a bit in that 2020 season, is very much the player now manning third base before you. At least, in most respects.

Moncada has appeared in 53 games for the White Sox, surpassing his 2020 total by exactly one, while his 221 plate appearances trail last year’s campaign by five. These are the outputs for each of those stretches of time:

  • 2020: .225/.320/.385/.705, .160 ISO, 31.2 K%, 12.1 BB%, 96 wRC+
  • 2021: .301/.429/.432/.861, .131 ISO, 27.0 K%, 16.8 BB%, 151 wRC+

In 2019, Moncada had posted a line that featured a 140 wRC+, similar strikeout numbers to this year, and a walk rate of less than half of what it is this year. So not only has he managed to bounce back from what was a rough 2020 campaign, even in the midst of a Sox run to the expanded postseason, he’s proven to be better in a number of respects. He has, however, also been notably worse in one extremely notable area: power.

Before we get to that, though, just some context as to where Moncada sits among not only Major League third basemen, but the league as a whole. Among 143 qualifying position players, Moncada’s 2.5 fWAR ranks seventh. He’s reaching base at a clip that trails only Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and his walk rate comes in sixth among the group. His wRC+ is 13th.

In terms of his trends at the plate, he’s also thriving. He’s been extraordinarily patient, with a 40.2 Swing% that ranks in the 10 lowest in the league among those qualifiers. And while there’s still a lot of swing-and-miss in his game (as his K% would indicate on its own), he’s still shown improvement from 2019 in his Contact% (72.9 is a two-percent increase) and his CSW% (27.6 is a three-percent decrease and ranks in the better half of the league). There’s a patience there that has allowed that BB% to more than double from 2019, with a figure that ranks in the fourth percentile. Even his Chase% ranks among the league’s best (80th percentile), so there’s an argument that even a good chunk of his strikeout rate can be attributed to simply working deep counts.

And while Moncada isn’t completely torching the baseball in the way that some of his counterparts atop the fWAR leaderboard are, he’s still in the 76th percentile in average exit velocity, as well as the 81st in max exit velocity. So he’s hitting the ball hard on a fairly consistent basis, working deep counts (almost to a fault), and effectively putting the ball in play (.292 xBA that sits in the 90th percentile). Simply put: Moncada has entrenched himself among the league’s very best position players on the offensive side of the baseball.

The defense has been there, too. Already one of the better defenders on a White Sox team that needed to see some improvement in that regard, Moncada has been a bastion of defensive consistency at third base. His 2.7 Def rating from FanGraphs paces the position, while his three Defensive Runs Saved are tied for the most. His Outs Above Average sits at two, while his success rate is ever-so-slightly outplaying his success rate at 75 percent.

So he’s been very, very good. By wRC+ alone, he’s even better than his breakout in 2019. And defensively, he represents one of the league’s best at the hot corner. There isn’t any question that Moncada is an elite player at this point, because by most metrics on both sides of the ball, he is.

But then there’s that looming question of power. As in where has that power gone? This is a guy who posted a .233 ISO and hit 25 home runs in 2019. This year he’s at .131 and four. It’s important to note that as a switch hitter, this is a little trickier to explore with Moncada. Historically, most of the power has come as a lefty. He has a .129 ISO for his career in batting right-handed, which jumps to .201 as a left-handed hitter. This year is indicative of the same trend, where he’s gone for an ISO of just .056 against left-handers as opposed to a .156 mark against the righties.

The contact trends give at least some insight into where the power has gone for Moncada. While he isn’t hitting the ball quite as hard as he did in 2019 (36.9 Hard% is about a three percent decrease), it’s not a super notable dip. What’s far more notable is the fact that there has been a rather significant jump in his LD%. In 2019, that figure went for 23.1 percent. In 2021, it’s at 34.1 percent. Line drive contact is great, but it’s definitely come at the expense of getting the ball over the fence, as his FB% has dropped more than eight percent (26.0), while his HR/FB rate has dropped from 34.5 in 2019 to 26.0 in 2021. So while there’s been more contact, it hasn’t necessarily been the kind of contact that begets big power numbers.

Patience and pitch selection could be another potential explanation. Nobody in the American League sees more pitches than Moncada. His 4.54 is pretty well ahead of Matt Chapman, who ranks second with 4.43 (the same gap he has over National League leader Tommy Pham). Despite working those counts, where logic says you’d see more fastballs, Moncada is swinging at eight percent fewer fastballs than he was in 2019 (37.0). Historically, most of his work on the slugging side has come against the hard stuff. This year, he’s slugging only .369 against those pitch types as opposed to .606 and .534 in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Location of fastballs in those counts isn’t likely to be as favorable and allow for him to make the quality contact needed to enhance the power.

Differences in his approach to the zone could also be worth noting. In 2019, Moncada was covering the zone in a fairly significant way, in terms of his Swing%. In 2021, there’s been a much clearer pattern to the parts of the zone where Moncada is swinging, regardless of handedness. And that pattern isn’t necessarily favorable to where Moncada’s ISO has come from throughout his career.

It’s not a question of whether or not Yoán Moncada is an elite offensive performer. He is. He makes a ton of line drive contact, which allows him to sustain a high batting average on balls in play, while also drawing more walks than 96 percent of his fellow position players across Major League Baseball. But it’s definitely possible that redefining his approach and becoming as patient as he is has sapped some of the power. Perhaps this is a situation where a player should be more aggressive in order to generate some more of that untapped power.

But it’s certainly paradoxical in nature. On one hand, you don’t want to rob a player of his approach when it’s clearly benefitting the team. He’s a constant on-base presence who runs them well and is visibly functioning well inside of a lineup that can produce runs at a greater clip than most of the clubs throughout baseball. But on the other, a lineup that is already without Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez could certainly use the extra juice.

Maybe the power will come. Maybe Moncada’s approach will pin him into a line drive gap guy with occasional power. In any case, as long as he’s effectively supplementing one of the best lineups in baseball, it’s unlikely the White Sox will worry too much about which one it is.

Randy Holt is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandyHolt42.