Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Billy Beane saw value where few else did.
Drafted in the 8th round out of high school way back in 2002 by the Boston Red Sox, as an infielder and pitcher, Brandon Moss was slowly transitioned to the outfield and eventually made his ML debut in 2007. With Boston’s strong positional depth though, the lefty never caught on with the club; by 2008, he was packaged to Pittsburgh as part of the Manny Ramirez to L.A. deal. The Pirates however, saw nothing to their liking either, and designated for assignment the Georgia native in 2010. Moss cleared waivers without a claim and found himself outrighted to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. Attempting to catch on elsewhere in 2011, he signed a minor-league free agent deal to play in Philadelphia, but would receive just 6 at-bats with the Phillies. Then, in 2012, with the 28 year old a free agent once again, Oakland came calling.
Since then, well, I’ll leave it to David Fiers of Fangraphs to explain the colossal bargain Oakland (typically) acquired: “among first baseman with at least 750 plate appearances, Moss’ .381 wOBA ranks fifth and his 146 wRC+ rates as fourth best. Socking 51 dingers over that time frame places Moss eighth and his 139 RBIs come in at 15th.” Again, the Phillies only gave this guy 6 at-bats in 2011, nor did Moss ever receive more than 250 in his time with either Boston or Pittsburgh. What the hell happened then, for Brandon Moss’ production to spike so dramatically as soon as he shrugged on an Athletics jersey?!
Though it’s by now common knowledge that many hitters perform far better against opposite-handed pitchers, many teams still either choose to ignore, or don’t possess the necessary positional flexibility to fully take advantage of, platoon pairing. Thankfully for Moss, Beane’s Athletics are not one of those teams – in fact, along with Tampa Bay (it’s not a coincidence both are low-budget organizations), they consistently wring offensive production from small investments by forming platoons. But while Matt Joyce remains the long-time poster boy of the strategy in Tampa, Brandon Moss might just be the biggest platoon beneficiary of anyone currently employed in the league.
After racking up 21 HRs, 52 RBIs, and a slash line of .291/.358/.596 (*cough* .359 BABIP *cough*) in 84 games in 2012, Moss received a career-high 505 plate appearances as the Athletics’ primary first baseman in 2013. Of those, 417 were against right-handed pitches, and boy, did the lefty crush ‘em;
As shown in the table above, Moss was a full 68 points better in batting average and 164 points better in slugging percentage versus right-handers, against whom he slugged 26 of his 30 home runs. Additionally he walked more and struck out less when facing righties, his platoon use alleviating concerns about the slugger’s plate discipline.
Credit where credit’s due, given consistent playing time for the first time in his career, Moss did make strides in regard to his approach at the dish; his walk rate reached almost 10% and, although still very high (27.7%), he cut his strikeout rate by almost 3% over the season – an improvement made almost entirely over the second half of the season (his K% went from 30.8 to 23.2. after the All-Star break), helped by both his declined proclivity to swing at pitches out of the strike zone, and also by a raised contact rate. His power too, despite the offense-supressing reputation of Oakland’s home ballpark, the O.co Coliseum, was legitimate rather than fluky; his ISO of .267 ranked third among qualified hitters, while according to ESPN’s home run tracker, the average true distance of his home runs was 403.7 feet – 20 of his 30 dingers were judged “Plenty” or “No Doubt” (meaning they cleared the fence by at least 20 feet).
It’s clear by the numbers however, that Moss was helped most in breaking out during 2013 by Bob Melvin’s line-up writing ability – put in the best position to succeed by his manager, the lefty did just that. Hitting on a situational basis, Moss is clearly among the best power bats in the game, and a bargain at his 2014 price of $4.1M if he can replicate the 2.2 WAR he accumulated in 2013. Alongside the performance of fellow oft-overlooked contributors Josh Donaldson, Coco Crisp, and Josh Reddick, Moss’ continued righty-crushing will go a long way towards Oakland defending their AL West division crown.
Let’s just hope he won’t have to face too many lefties come playoff time.