Brandon Moss: 2012 Breakout Player To Avoid

The Athletics surprised everyone by winning 94 games — ZiPS said they were more likely to lose 94 games — last season, their best record since the days of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito. When a team exceeds expectations by that much, it’s usually because they received some very big (and very surprising) contributions from unexpected sources. Their rookie-laden rotation was dynamite, Sean Doolittle went from first baseman to elite setup man in barely a year, and journeyman Brandon Moss whacked 21 homers with a 162 wRC+ in 296 plate appearances.

Moss, 29, put together a .286/.371/.582 (142 wRC+) with 15 homers in 224 plate appearances for Triple-A Sacramento before being called up to the big league team in early-June. He hit seven homers in his first 13 games — he had just 12 hits in those 13 games — and 11 homers in his first 27 games with the Athletics. Moss cooled off just a bit in August (129 wRC+) before going on a late-season tear (202 wRC+ in September and October) to help push Oakland past the Rangers on the final day of the season. The end result was a .291/.358/.596 batting line in those 296 trips to the plate.

Breakout performances tend to put a player firmly on the fantasy radar for the following season, even at positions as traditionally deep as 1B and OF (Moss is eligible at both). Moss may have finally broken out at age 28 last season, after roughly six years of bouncing between Triple-A and the big leagues, but there are a number of reasons to be skeptical of his performance going forward.

One-quarter of his fly balls left the yard

Among players who came to the plate at least 200 times last season, only Adam Dunn (29.3%), Giancarlo Stanton (28.9%), and Ryan Howard (27.5%) saw a higher percentage of their fly balls leave the yard than Moss (25.9%). Josh Hamilton (25.6%) was right behind him. I think we can all agree that Dunn, Stanton, Howard, and Hamilton all have mammoth power, plus three of those guys played in hitter’s parks in 2012. It’s not insane to see that more than one-quarter of their fly balls left the yard.

Moss, however, played in Oakland in a ballpark with a 94 Park Factor for LH HR. Don’t get me wrong, he’s always shown power at the upper levels of the minors — .221 ISO in over 2,000 career Triple-A plate appearances — but a 25.9% HR/FB rate in the Coliseum gives me great pause. The last Athletics player to do that was noted three-true-outcomeser Jack Cust in 2008 (29.7%).

He doesn’t make much contact

Moss struck out in 30.4% of his plate appearances last year and he made contact on just 66.7% of his swings, both far worst than the league average (19.8% and 79.7%, respectively). He came into the season with a career 22.4% strikeout rate in the big leagues and a 23.7% rate in Triple-A. Strikeouts are part of his game and that’s fine, lots of great hitters strike out a bunch. The problem is that it’s tough to see anyone with that swing-and-miss-ability maintaining a .290-ish batting average and a .360-ish BABIP going forward, especially in Oakland, where foul pop-ups go to die. A drop down into the .240-ish range with the average would not be a surprise.

Playing time and platoon issues

Manager Bob Melvin did a brilliant job mixing and matching his platoon players last season, and that includes Moss and Chris Carter at first base. Moss faced a left-hander in 62 of 296 plate appearances last year, a bit more than 20% of the time, and in those 62 plate appearances he more than held his own — .293/.339/.431 (115 wRC+). That line includes a .366 BABIP and a 24.2% strikeout rate.

Moss has hit Triple-A lefties to a tune of .260/.338/.449 over the last two years according to Minor League Central, which matches up almost exactly with his big league production against same-side pitchers in 2012. He did come into the year with a .246/.321/.377 career line against big league lefties in a small-ish sample, so he hasn’t been completely useless against southpaws. Melvin figures to continue sitting Moss in favor of Carter against lefties though, and that will cut into his playing time. This isn’t as much of a concerns as the HR/FB or contact rates, but it’s something fantasy owners have to be aware of.

* * *

The last thing anyone wants to do is waste some auction money or a draft pick on a Quad-A masher who had a good 300 or so plate appearances and simply reverts back to being the guy he was in the past. ZiPS projects Moss to hit the same 21 homers he hit in 2012 again in 2013, except this time in 532 plate appearances instead of 296. The system’s projected .236/.305/.426 batting line reflects the expected drop in his batting average due to BABIP and contact concerns.

If you’re going to have just one real tool, either in fantasy or reality, power is a pretty good one to have. Moss should be serviceable as a bench piece next year, someone a fantasy owner can mix into the lineup against a weak right-hander at either 1B or OF (or UTIL, I suppose). He’s not someone you want to target with the idea of keeping him in the lineup everyday because a) Melvin is unlikely to do that, and b) the overall production is unlikely to warrant that kind of commitment. Moss would be a great sub-$5 get in ottoneu leagues, but I’d be wary of paying more.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

11 Responses to “Brandon Moss: 2012 Breakout Player To Avoid”

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  1. Chad Young says:

    Mike, you gave me a scare here! I am keeping Moss in not one, not two, but three ottoneu leagues! I read your whole article thinking, “this is terrible! why did I not notice this?!” But…I plan to keep him for $3, $4, and $5 in those three leagues and have him slotted to be a 6th OF/platoon guy. So I think we are on the same page.

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  2. Forrest Gumption says:

    “When a team exceeds expectationss by that much”
    “to help push Oakland passed the Rangers on the final day of the season.”

    Holy moly, do an edit of SOME kind before you hit publish, will ya?

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  3. Dave says:

    What about utilizing carter and moss just like the A’s do and shuffle them in and out of your lineup in a daily league. Im considering drafting cArter and moss real late and rotating them in my utility spot.

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    • Mike says:

      I thought of doing the same thing for the A’s catchers. But since Oakland plays such late games and our league locks at the first game of the day, I could end up not have the right guy in the lineup.

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  4. OaktownSteve says:

    One of the A’s more curious off season moves was re-signing Daric Barton to a one year deal. Two reasons that come to mind are that Billy thinks he can sell high on Moss at some point and is certainly not going to let Carter play every day so he’s got Barton as insurance. The other possiblity is the A’s don’t believe that Moss can repeat last season and are keeping Barton as an insurance policy. Or maybe Billy just can’t let go of the Barton dream.

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  5. MustBunique says:

    Agree completely that platoon situation will make him worthless. Too bad neither he or Carter will see a full load of ABs. Not for the A’s, but for us fantoboppers.

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  6. frankfurter says:

    The author is all wet. The BABIP is only a useful instrument when used correctly. Take out every extra base hit ( 39) from his hit total, and deduct those at bats, and you have a player that hit a singles average of .168, hardly a lucky result. Don’t even try to say his xbh were “flukes”. The key is a different approach that morphed a career ground ball hitter to a fly ball hitter. This approach netted Moss 36 hrs in baseball last year. The last time he had significant playing time in the majors ( 2009), his gb% was much higher than his fb%. It was opposite last year. Now, the new approach led to a higher whiff rate, but he certainly was not a fluke. The only thing holding Moss was playing time, and the trade of Carter mitigates that element. 30 -35 hrs is a given with this guy this year.

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    • Dag Gummit says:

      I have to admit that I’m completely unfamiliar with your singles average stat and how it relates in predictive power to BABIP, but either it or your use it seems to have missed the glaring element of Moss’s 30.4% K-rate. You take out all his XBH’s and all you have left are 1Bs and Ks in his ABs. And given his significant penchant to strike out, I’m not at all surprised his singles average would be so low. I’d venture to guess that it’s not excessively low for almost all high-K, high-power hitters.

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  7. EnricoPalatzzo says:

    I don’t follow some of these reasonings as backing up your point. Your paragraph on the amount of his fly balls leaving yard compares him to the big boppers of Dunn, Stanton, Howard, and Hamilton, but then says, “Moss, however, played in Oakland in a ballpark with a 94 Park Factor for LH HR”. Isn’t this fact more to his credit than to his discredit? He’s doing what they are, but in more difficult circumstances.
    As for the low contact, that could be viewed as a plus or a minus. He accomplished so much in despite of it, you might say he could improve on that and become elite. Or you could say it’s a sign of how lucky he was, though BABIP is probably better at that.
    Lastly, Chris Carter got traded, though I realize it happened 5 days after you posted the article. First base looks to be all his at the moment, so the at-bats will come. At the average cost of $3 bucks, I’m buyin.

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