The Oakland A's have several position players whose performances will decisively dictate the overall success of the team in 2014.
One of those key players is first baseman Brandon Moss. In 2013, Moss played a full season for the first time in his career, and he performed exceptionally. He blasted 30 home runs, drove in 87 runs and slugged .522, the latter of which was good for sixth in the American League.
Those totals came one year after Moss compiled a .954 OPS with 21 home runs in only 265 at-bats in 2012. In total, Moss hit 51 home runs in 711 at-bats between 2012 and 2013.
Moss' breakout year in 2013 came during a season in which the A's ranked third in the majors in home runs. However, the high total is a bit misleading.
Yoenis Cespedes hit 26 home runs, but he performed so poorly in every other hitting category (.294 OBP, 137 strikeouts) that his relatively high homer total didn't mean a whole lot.
Josh Donaldson also added 24 home runs, but his role was clearly not that of a slugger. He was a fantastic middle-of-the-lineup hitter, but the A's certainly didn't expect him to hit home runs with regularity when he stepped to the plate. His .384 OBP, 93 RBI and 89 runs showed his true value: driving in runs when given the opportunity and getting on base. (He hit .336 with runners in scoring position.)
In short, Moss was the Athletics' de facto power hitter in 2013. And they'll be looking for him to play that same role in 2014.
History has shown that successful teams almost always have a true slugger in the lineup. In fact, since 2000, only the 2012 and 2010 World Series-winning San Francisco Giants have lacked a 30-home run hitter among title-winning teams.
In each of those years, the Giants featured exceptional pitching, even for World Series-winning standards. Also, their World Series counterparts each year featured teams with 30-plus home run hitters. The trend speaks for itself.
|Team||Year||Player(s) with 30+ Home Runs|
|Red Sox||2013||David Ortiz|
|Cardinals||2011||Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman|
|Yankees||2009||Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez|
|Phillies||2008||Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell|
|Red Sox||2007||David Ortiz|
|White Sox||2005||Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye|
|Red Sox||2004||Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz|
|Marlins||2003||Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell|
|Diamondbacks||2001||Luis Gonzalez, Reggie Sanders|
Clearly, the absence of a reliable power bat on a team means they will have trouble going far in the playoffs.
That's not to say that if Brandon Moss hits, say, 27 home runs, the A's automatically can't win the World Series. There is no "golden rule" that a team must have a 30-home run hitter to win the title. But it certainly makes it easier to have a hitter who can drive in runs in a hurry, and when scoring is at a premium in the postseason, that ability becomes especially valuable. As the late, great Earl Weaver once said, "The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers."
Furthermore, a power-hitting bat forces pitchers to sometimes pitch around that hitter, creating more RBI opportunities for other batters. For example, on the 2013 Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia saw many additional good pitches to hit because teams were wary of walking him in front of David Ortiz's power bat. Also, when teams pitched around Ortiz, that gave Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava and all the other succeeding hitters additional RBI opportunities.
The bottom line is that almost all successful teams have at least one big power hitter. Most even have two. For the A's, Cespedes has shown he isn't necessarily a reliable threat at the plate. That means Brandon Moss will have to step up this year. Again.
Luckily, a power outage won't necessarily spell doom for the A's. They have a solid rotation that is capable of dominating teams when the offense goes stagnant.
Yet, that rotation doesn't quite stack up to that of the title-winning Giants. It is filled with question marks, including the performance of free-agent signee Scott Kazmir. There's no telling whether the left-hander will have a year akin to his 2013 performance, when he was a respectable 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA, or to his time with the Angels, when he had a 5.31 ERA in 188 innings.
The lack of a dominant rotation and the historical precedent that title-winning teams almost always have power hitters means the A's need Moss to step up this year. If his last two seasons are any indication, he should be more than up to the challenge.
All statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com.