Defensive ‘shift’ on Royals’ Moose designed to mess with his head

Teams are testing Mike Moustakas' resolve to not pull the ball so much.

Rick Osentoski/Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The most surprised man in Detroit last week when the Tigers employed the "pull" shift — three defenders to the right of second base — on Mike Moustakas was, well, Moustakas himself.

While flattered, to be sure, Moustakas wasn’t exactly certain he merited such strategical attention, certainly not this early in his career.

And certainly not coming off a .233 season in which his OPS was a dismal .651.

The shift? That’s for guys like Ted Williams. Or Barry Bonds. Or in the present era, Prince Fielder, David Ortiz and Adam Dunn.

But Mike Moustakas, who hit 12 homers last year?

Wow. That’s a whole lot of respect.

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But Moustakas and Royals manager Ned Yost also believe there’s a bit of psychology at play in the Tigers and White Sox employing the shift.

Both teams have scouted Moustakas and know he tore up the Cactus League again this spring, and both teams likely know he is trying to give up his pull-happy ways and drive the ball to the opposite field.

And both teams now are testing his resolve to do so.

"Yeah, I think a little bit of it is just to get into his head," Yost said. "That’s what teams do.

"But there’s enough data now to suggest you could play him that way."

Moustakas agreed.

"Yeah, I think it was a little bit of (psychology)," Moustakas said. "And also, they see my open stance now and they have seen my history from the past couple of years. I know it probably makes sense. But it’s a long season. We’ll see what happens.

"I was a bit surprised, especially because they didn’t do it right away. It was like the third at-bat in Detroit, and it kind of stopped me. But it makes sense — my statistics show that I hit a lot of balls right there (to the right side). But I’m working on going the other way."

Of course, that is easier said than done.

Just ask Dunn, who hit just .204 last season facing a full season of the shift, down about 36 points from his career average.

Dunn sees the open field to the left of second base all the time. It’s just hard to get a ball over there.

"It’s really hard to hit that pitch that’s running in on you to left (field)," Dunn said. "For guys that pull the ball, that’s not easy."

In that sense, Dunn can emphasize what Moustakas is about to endure this season if teams stay in the shift against Moose.

The Royals know the sure-fire way to combat the alignment — push down a few bunts toward the third-base bag.

"If you lay down a couple of bunts, they have to shift back," Yost said. "I mean, if it’s me and a guy keeps laying down bunts and getting on, I can’t keep giving away free bases."


Moose knows this.

"It’s not really my game," Moustakas said of bunting. "But I need to try it when it’s available. I know that if I can do it, or just get some hits that way, they’ll have to shift back.

"It’s tough when they keep jamming you inside. You want to go the other way and we’ve spent a lot of time the last few months working on going the other way. But you have to have the right pitch for that.

"So yeah, if they make a mistake, and a pitch is out there, I want to drive it that way."

So far, the psychological ploy seems to be working. Moustakas’ torrid spring seems a distant memory as he is now the lone remaining Royals starter without a hit — 0 for 15.

"It’s going to be fine," Moustakas said. "My approach is good right now. I feel good. The hits will come."

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.