Yoan Moncada has done a lot of things this season — see Tuesday night’s leadoff home run — that signal his status of an expected centerpiece of the White Sox lineup of the future.
But he’s also striking out a lot.
It’s part of the growing pains during this developmental season on the South Side. But after two more strikeouts in Tuesday’s game, Moncada is on pace to strike out 243 times this year, which would be the most in a single season in major league history — by 20.
What’s the deal?
Well, Moncada’s offensive game hasn’t been where anyone has wanted it to be since his return from the disabled list on May 15. Even with Tuesday night’s long ball, he’s slashing just .202/.246/.368 in his last 28 games, and 41 of his 90 strikeouts have come during that stretch.
But Moncada’s manager doesn’t think all of those strikeouts are the 23-year-old’s fault. Rick Renteria is putting some of the blame on baseball’s umpires.
“He’s got as good an eye as anybody in the game of baseball,” Renteria said after Monday’s game, in which Moncada added three more strikeouts (two were looking) to his total. “And sometimes he gets some pitches called on him that should not be called — flat out, straight up.
“It’s a tough job that (umpires) have to do every single day, calling balls and strikes. But this poor kid, honestly, I think he gets the short end of the stick a lot of times, undeservedly. But that’s just the way it is. You’ve got to continue to understand what the zone is for particular guys behind the plate, do the best that you can without getting outside of your hitting zones and, depending on the situation, knowing how to handle those types of strike zones.
“He goes up there with a very good eye. We just want him to start getting his timing back so he can start making more contact and take advantage of the bat speed that he has.”
And Renteria’s not alone. General manager Rick Hahn made some similar comments before Monday’s game.
“It’s funny because one of my good buddies in Major League Baseball deals with the umpires, so I don’t want to go too far down this path, but Moncada had some tough ABs over the course of this (recent) road trip in terms of balls and strikes,” Hahn said. “The challenge for him, the developmental element for him just this week is making sure he remains true to his approach as opposed to overreacting to some perhaps bad Strike 3 calls over the course of the last week.”
Certainly a lot of Moncada’s strikeouts have come looking: He’s got 29 strikeouts looking compared to 61 strikeouts swinging. Going off what Renteria said, Moncada has earned a bit of a reputation among White Sox fans and observers for his selectivity at the plate, and while a selective batter waits for the perfect pitch, some backwards Ks might be a byproduct of that approach.
But this could also, in part, be a young player learning the intricacies of the game at the big league level. And that youth might be playing a factor, too. As Moncada gets more experience, it could serve him well in this department. Think about a veteran player or a superstar in basketball getting more calls than a rookie.
“I think as you gain more experience, as people see him and understand that this guy’s got a pretty good eye,” Renteria said. “Historically, you’ve got a lot of hitters or pitchers over time — I remember pitchers getting one, two, three, four baseballs off (the plate). (Tom) Glavine, (Greg) Maddux, they get all. You’ll get hitters who take a pitch, they call it a ball, and you go, ‘ooh.’ All those guys earning, over time, their respect and the understanding of what is a ball and a strike from both sides, on the hill and at the plate.
“A ball’s a ball and a strike’s a strike. But the reality is you’re going to get some, you’re not going to get some.”
Moncada isn’t too worried about placing blame on umpires, saying he just needs to keep working at improving on a daily basis. Moncada’s had success and a lot of it at points this season. Before he hit the DL in early May, he owned a .359 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage over .500. It makes you believe he’s certainly capable of turning things around.
“The only thing that I can add is that I have to keep working,” Moncada said through a translator Tuesday. “Keep working and sooner or later the results are going to be there.
“Right now I think I will have to make some adjustments because I’m getting too many calls that, for me, are not strikes. They are calling those pitches strikes, and I will have to make some adjustments in order to take advantage of the situation or put the ball in play.”
Moncada’s development is one of the biggest stories on this major league roster this season. There’s no doubt he’s in a down stretch and that the strikeouts are piling up. But it’s the positive signs, like Tuesday’s home run, that remind you why this guy is such a big part of this rebuilding process.
“Everything is part of the process,” he said. “I’ve been working hard, and I’m going step by step. I have plenty of confidence in my approach. I’m pretty sure and pretty confident that things are going to turn out and going to be in my favor now.”