Boston Red Sox: Yoan Moncada meets “Uncle Charlie”

Sep 5, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; A detailed view of the back of the jersey of Boston Red Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada (65) before the game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 5, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; A detailed view of the back of the jersey of Boston Red Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada (65) before the game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

The Red Sox prized prospect Yoan Moncada has just met the ultimate demon of hitters – the curve ball.

Boston Red Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada has now come face to face with the ultimate career breaker for a major league hitter – Uncle Charlie.

Uncle Charlie is also known as the hook, the bender and a few other terms that cannot be published. Your uncle is not kind, considerate or forgiving – he is a major league quality curve ball and will most certainly destroy careers.

The pitches favorite name for me is Public Enemy Number One and it certainly has been for Moncada, who simply is mesmerized by it or flays away in a vain attempt to make contact. Moncada has now suffered the public humiliation of seven consecutive strikeouts and his first last evening was quite telling and will be repeated around the league. Adjust or perish.

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San Diego right-hander Paul Clemens is not to be confused with Roger Clemens. Clemens is a pedestrian type pitcher that when you realize he is taking the hill your team has a distinct possibility of capturing a win. Clemens does possess a decent curve and on Moncada’s first visit to the box broke one-off on a 3-2 pitch. Welcome to “The Show,” Mr. Moncada!

When a journeyman like Clemens manages to toss a decent hook on 3-2 the eyes open up. This is not the bushes where pitchers usually go with number one (fastball) and not number two (curve) on a 3-2 or 2-2 count. At the major league level, the skill set is infinitely refined compared to the minors – even Double-A and Triple-A.

According to Fangraphs, Moncada is getting fastballs a mere 38.2% of the time in his introductory phase. The rest is a nice assortment of sliders – also known as “The Nickel Curve” – traditional curves and the ever mystifying change mixed in. Expect this to continue until Moncada adjusts or is eventually joining Rusney Castillo.

Pitching is all about disrupting timing. Pitchers will even adjust their deliveries as the great Warren Spahn once noted about his famous leg kick. Spahn would occasionally kick a bit lower just to give the batter a different look. A batter starts to time a pitcher you see distance records set.

The curve’s history is somewhat convoluted and that is no surprise. Reportedly the pitch was developed by Candy Cummings, but that is quite questionable. The pitch in the developing days of baseball was actually considered somewhat as cheating, but that certainly did not stop pitchers.

In today’s game, the one practitioner I enjoy watching is Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw has a dynamite curve and with his dominant fastball, you can understand why hitters barely hit .200 against Kershaw. In another age, the best one I ever saw belonged to Camilo Pascual a right-hander that played for the Senators – Twins. Pascual mastered the 12-6 curve that would freeze a batter like they were in a vat of liquid nitrogen.

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In the movie “Trouble With The Curve” Clint Eastwood plays a grizzled veteran scout who realizes a hot shot potential number one draft pick is highly susceptible to Uncle Charlie and the story revolves around that weakness.  In the iconic baseball movie “Major League” the character Pedro Cerrano is plagued by his inability to master hitting a curve.

Moncada is now exactly where Cerrano is and Yoan will be destroyed by the curve and change of speeds. The warning signs were quite visible with his minor league statistics showing a 30.9 K% in Portland. Now it is well over 50% in the majors.

Moncada has incredible ability and potential as one would expect from a team dishing out $62 million. Moncada is also the number one ranked prospect in all of baseball and that is not handed out without solid evaluation. So how does he improve?

Moncada will be in the Arizona Fall League and that will get him some “Hooks” to attempt to swat away at. The Red Sox instructors – most notably Chili Davis – will certainly invest time as will veteran players. The problem is (hopefully) solvable and maybe another year in the minors will facilitate the process.

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What I do note about Moncada is his speed. The acceleration is exceptional, but, Yoan – you can’t steal first base.

Sources: Baseball-Reference/Fangraphs/Baseball: The First 100 Years