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 O.co 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.
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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.