Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Battle For The Bench: Gavin Sheets Vs. Mike Moustakas

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Until now, Gavin Sheets’ spot on the White Sox roster as a left-handed bench bat was relatively secure. That job security for Sheets is now up in the air, as the team announced the signing of three-time All-Star Mike Moustakas to a minor league contract last night. The addition of Moustakas creates a new storyline and competition in White Sox camp. He will now be fighting for a roster spot, and Sheets’ job is most at risk of being taken by Moustakas. 

Gavin Sheets

A former 2nd-round pick in 2017, the 27-year-old Sheets has shown signs of promise in the past. He was fantastic in his 2021 rookie season, slashing .250/.324/.506 with 11 home runs in just 54 games. He was 22% better than league average offensively that season per OPS+ and provided desperately needed power from the left side. Unfortunately, his numbers took a step back in 2022 and an even more significant step back in 2023. His slash line fell to .203/.267/.331 this past season. He was also worth -1.5 bWAR and -1.4 fWAR in 2023, so he was significantly worse than a replacement level player. Sheets is in the prime of his career; he is supposed to be getting better as time goes on. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. In fact, it has been the complete opposite.

Mike Moustakas

A veteran of 13 major league seasons, the 35-year-old Moustakas is most well known for his time with the Kansas City Royals, where he was a two-time All-Star and a World Series champion in 2015. He was also an All-Star with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019 and has played for the Reds, Rockies, and Angels in recent years. He was a solid player in his prime, as he was above league average offensively every season from 2015 to 2020 per OPS+ and had five seasons with at least 20 home runs to his name. He has taken steps back with age, however, posting a combined slash line of .227/.291/.372 in 252 games from 2021 and 2023. It is not uncommon for a player to decline once they reach their 30s. However, the decline has been significant in Moustakas’ case and is a big reason he had to settle for a minor league contract with the rebuilding White Sox this offseason.

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Sheets Vs. Moustakas

Despite being on the downside of his career and significantly older, Moustakas outperformed Sheets by a wide margin in 2023. Moustakas had a higher batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, wRC+, bWAR, and fWAR than Sheets this past season. In addition, Moustakas had higher percentiles in categories such as average exit velocity, barrel percentage, and hard hit percentage per Baseball Savant. Moustakas was not particularly good last season, yet he still outperformed Sheets by a wide margin. Putting their 2023 stats side by side is a harsh reminder of how bad Sheets really was.

From a defensive perspective, Moustakas has the edge as well. Despite being a third baseman for the vast majority of his career, Moustakas also has experience at second base and first base. His ability to play multiple infield positions gives him a significant edge over Sheets from a versatility standpoint. The White Sox need depth at the corner infield spots given Yoan Moncada’s injury history and the fact that Andrew Vaughn’s backup at first base is not set in stone at the moment. Moustakas helps address both of those problems in a way that Sheets cannot. The one aspect Sheets has the edge in is his ability to play the outfield, but he is not a great defender and the Sox will likely go with Kevin Pillar as their fourth outfielder instead.

May The Best Man Win

While neither guy was particularly good in 2023, Moustakas is significantly more accomplished at the MLB level, was the superior player of the two last season, and likely fits the current White Sox roster better than Sheets. Moustakas also has a lot of familiarity with Pedro Grifol dating back to their time in Kansas City which could be a factor in this decision as well. It should be interesting to see how this battle plays out in the spring and who ends up winning the job.

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