The dreaded "R" word (regression) has been used when describing Moss
Heading into the 2013 season, Brandon Moss suddenly has been thrust into a larger role with the Oakland A's. With the trade of Chris Carter to the Houston Astros for Jed Lowrie, Moss is the unquestioned starter at first base.
On the surface, that would seem to be a good thing. Moss is coming off a career year in which he hit .291 with 21 home runs in just 84 games. The optimist in me says more time, more production. And considering Moss has long carried the reputation for being a plus power hitter, the logical explanation for 2012 may have been Moss finally getting an opportunity consistently at the big league level.
However, there are reasons for pessimism within the numbers Moss put up in 2012. While I don't think he was a complete aberration, there are reasons to believe Moss is not the .291/.358/.596 slash line player the numbers bore out last year. That said, here are the three reasons why the A's first baseman is bound to regress in 2013.
Bob "The Pied Piper of" Hamelin. One good year and nothing after.
The American League Rookie of the Year in 1994 was a left-handed slugger that slammed 24 home runs, hit .282 and slugged .599 in just 101 games. His name was Bob Hamelin and, like Brandon Moss, he was a late bloomer—26 years old.
In 1995, Hamelin would hit just .168 with seven home runs in 72 games total. And while he would have a fair career over the next three seasons, his rookie season proved to be something he was unable to duplicate.
Is it fair to make a linear comparison of Hamelin to Moss? No, of course not. But Hamelin is not the only example. Players like Kevin Maas, Rick Wilkins and even former American League MVP Zoilo Versalles were players who had a high-water year only to never duplicate that success. What did they have in common? They were all at least 26 when having their big year.
To go deeper, many of these kinds of players were thrust into Major League lineups and used the lack of information against them to have success in a small vacuum. Moss has had stints in Pittsburgh and Boston, but never enough to be defined a certain way. That definitely worked to his advantage, as well as great coaching from Oakland's hitting instructor Chili Davis.
All that said, it is improbable to expect a career journeyman to go from being a middling .236 hitter with 15 career home runs to a 30 home run, .275-plus batting average player for the duration. But there's more than just circumstantial evidence here...
The A's slugger was on the right side of the averages in 2012
Many fans aren't too keen on sabermetric stats. But there are a few that are great harbingers of individual performance. At the top of this list, in my opinion, is batting average on balls in play. Commonly known as BABIP, this is a number that measures a hitter's average whenever they make contact.
Aberrations are typically found when a player is about 30 points above or below the league average in BABIP. In 2012, that number in Major League Baseball was .297. Brandon Moss had a .359 BABIP in 2012.
Long story short, there were a lot of balls Moss hit that found holes in the outfield that otherwise would have been outs, on average. Remember, 30 points above average is an aberration. 62 points above average is living the high life. And considering Moss hit 55 points above his career average, all signs point to a drop in production in 2013.
Some of this will just be the law of averages. Moss saw 3.8 pitches per plate appearance, which is about average. He hit into just 12 double plays, but had a tendency to put a lot of balls in play on the ground. Moss has only put up decent lines, in both shorter and longer samples, when his batting average on balls in play is through the roof. That's a dangerous thing to rely on, especially given Moss' approach at the plate.
Should his BABIP fall in the future, and it almost certainly will, given how extreme a .359 BABIP is, there could be problems.
There will likely still be power, but the rest of his rates could easily slip. That would leave Moss a much less effective slugger for the Oakland A's going forward. But how much so?
As former A's DH Jonny Gomes proves, some players are better platooning
If I told you last year when Brandon Moss was called up that he would hit .240 with a .310 on-base percentage and a .475 slugging percentage, that wouldn't have been so bad right? Especially considering how abysmal Daric Barton was at first base. That would have worked out to roughly 13 home runs and 36 RBI.
Definitely better than the production Oakland was getting at first base.
The problem with that is that Moss blew the most optimistic projections out of the water and is now being looked at as someone who can provide prodigious power with a good enough eye to protect Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup. As a result, a magical year is being depended on to be a rule and not a big exception for Moss.
The numbers suggest it just won't happen the way it did in 2012. In many ways, Moss could be symbol of the 2013 A's on the whole. If his regression is big, it could do harm to the team at large and have a domino effect with how the lineup is set.
I don't expect that extreme of a regression to happen though. Ultimately, Moss' career struggles against left-handed pitching will impact his numbers (career .394 slugging percentage). But with more focus specifically on him, Moss is not likely to see the pitches he got in 2012.
His ability to make adjustments will dictate the 2013 he winds up having. But with the combination of elements, I just can't see a duplication of the numbers he posted in 2012. And yes, I recognize that Moss did what he did in just 84 games.
Ultimately, Moss will still be a nice component to the 2013 A's
For all of my pessimism, I do expect Brandon Moss to be a contributor to this team in 2013. I am of the mindset that his value lies in between his career year of 2012 and the uneven performance he had before arriving in Oakland.
While it is not realistic to expect some of the numbers Moss posted to hold up over 150+ games, there is reason to expect the power he displayed to still be on frequent enough display that Moss brings true value to a contending Oakland club.
Projections: .249 batting average, 23 home runs, 76 RBI (150 games)