It might not come as much of a comfort to White Sox fans bummed out about how this season will end for the South Siders, but Yoan Moncada has been a lot better lately than his disappointing 2018 campaign would lead you to believe.
Moncada is almost surely going to finish this year with the 11th 200-strikeout season in major league history. His .224/.304/.391 slash line can only get so much better with 17 games remaining on the schedule. And while these are examples of the to-be-expected growing pains of a still-developing young player, Moncada's recent status as the top prospect in the game and one of the biggest names of the White Sox rebuild have made him fall drastically short of fans' expectations of him in his first full big league season.
But for those looking for something positive to focus on heading into the offseason, Moncada's numbers as the season has wound down have been significantly better than they were earlier in the summer.
Following Tuesday night's loss to the Kansas City Royals, the second baseman is slashing .263/.333/.408 with 20 hits, six extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in his last 21 games. Additionally, he's racked up only 19 strikeouts during that span.
Those numbers might not exactly leap off the screen, but compare them to what came before it, and you'll notice a sizable difference. In the 22 games prior to this current stretch, Moncada slashed .145/.250/.241 with only four extra-base hits and a whopping 40 strikeouts.
Interestingly, though perhaps not very meaningful, Moncada's stretch of increased success came after a day off and started with Michael Kopech's major league debut against the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 21. He homered that night, too.
And, as a quick aside, Moncada has only committed five errors since the beginning of July. So that's five errors in a two-and-a-half-month span after he committed 13 in the season's first three months. He still ranks fourth in baseball with 18 fielding errors on the year.
What about, though, the area of Moncada's game that the White Sox remain so high on, his eye at the plate? The team keeps talking up Moncada's mastery of the strike zone, using it as a kind of explainer for the high strikeout numbers. But are there walks to go along with that good eye?
Over his last 21 games, Moncada has walked eight times in 84 plate appearances. That includes a pair of bases on balls Tuesday night, one of which came with the bases loaded and forced in a run during an interesting ninth inning. In the prior 22 games, he walked 12 times in 97 plate appearances.
Before jumping to any conclusions from that, though, perhaps the smallish amount of walks could be Moncada doing what the White Sox want him to do and being more aggressive at the plate. That would be, maybe, a good sign that the strikeout numbers won't be quite as high in 2019.
General manager Rick Hahn was asked about Moncada's high strikeout total earlier this month and had this to say:
"That’s part of his game. And we try to evaluate players holistically, for lack of a better word, and that being based on everything they bring to the table and not just one element. I’m not going to tell you this guy is an impact player simply because he has power. And we’re certainly not going to disregard what a player can bring, in his case a substantial ceiling, simply because of strikeouts.
"Is the number higher than we would like? Absolutely. It’s higher than he would like. One encouraging part of it, though, is as you guys have seen him repeatedly take pitches on the borderline, some of which have gone against him despite their location, the kid knows the strike zone and that’s a tough thing to teach. If we have to teach him to be a little more aggressive earlier in counts when he gets hittable pitches that he’s looking for, we’ll take that challenge.
"This kid’s got a world of hitting ability, blessed with fantastic tools, power. The plate discipline’s one of the things that’s tough to teach, and he already comes with that. So the things that we do have to teach in order to decrease those strikeouts a little bit down the road, that’s a workable project."
Should Moncada's final 17 games look like his last 21, he probably won't break baseball's single-season strikeout record of 223 punch outs. He probably won't break the franchise record of 222, either. (In case you were wondering, that's Adam Dunn's record, set in 2012.) But he's still probably going to strike out at least 200 times during his first full season in the majors. The White Sox are confident such a campaign won't write the script for the remainder of Moncada's career, and there's plenty of recent precedent from some of the game's best young players to back that up.
A lot of strikeouts would probably be more palatable if Moncada's other numbers looked better. It's possible, should he keep this up over the campaign's final weeks, that his last roughly 40 games will make that a bit of a reality.