May 21, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Oakland Athletics first baseman Brandon Moss (37) hits a solo home run during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

How Brandon Moss developed into the game's best slugger

Anyone who knew Brandon Moss when the Red Sox drafted him in the 8th round of the 2002 draft could tell you he was special. Moss was praised for being the hardest worker on any team he was on, and a great teammate. A tough competitor with great tools.

When Moss OPS’d .917 in 2004, his name shot up on leaderboards and forums. He fell back a bit in 2005 and plateaued in Triple-A until he was sent to the Pirates in 2008 in the Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez swap. Poor showings in the majors with the Bucs and the Phillies lead to Moss signing a minor league contract with the Athletics in 2011. Working with the A’s minor league coaches, Moss put up a 141 wRC+ over the first half of the season, and the organization decided it was time to call him up.

Since he got called up in 2012, Brandon Moss is the owner of the game’s 9th best wRC+ at 151. But even in his first two years, Moss was vulnerable. Moss struck out 30.4% of the time in 2012 and 27.7% in 2013. Lefties held him to a 79 wRC+ in 2013, exposing him by throwing on the outside edge, and not being afraid to make him chase by throwing out of the zone low and away. It seemed the magic was running out for Moss once again, he broke out but the league adapted. But then he did something no one projected; he fixed his problems.

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In 2014, Moss has cut down on his strikeout by over 7 percentage points, down to only 20.4%, around league average. It’s not just random luck either, he’s been seeing more strikes going from 45.4% in 2013 to 49.4% in 2014 plus his swinging strike rate has gone down from 16.5% in 2012, 14.6% in 2013 and now 13.0% this season. He’s been able to put more balls in play by being more selective and swinging at less pitches out of the zone, and swinging at more strikes instead. His contact rate has gone up from 66.7%, to 70.6% and finally up to 73.7 over 2012-14. By putting more balls in play he’s seen his average spike up from his career .257 mark to .284 this season.

Not only did he cut down on the strikeouts, but he learned to use a power hitter’s swing. Before he joined the A’s, he was a masher who hit mostly ground balls, which limited the amount of home run and extra base chances he got. But the A’s noticed this, and they are a team that focuses on hitting fly balls. They’ve hit the most fly balls over the past three years by over four full percentage points, and Moss bought into the system. He hit only 36.8% into the air before joining the crew in Oakland, and since 2012 he’s the second most fly balls in the majors at 49.8% (behind only the former Athletic Jonny Gomes) and the ninth highest HR/FB ratio at 20.8%. Fly ball rate correlates well with home run rate (.475), and Moss proved the new loft in his swing was no fluke.

2014 has been the season Moss needed to prove his doubters wrong, and to just get national attention. He’s absolutely destroyed his platoon issues, going with a 201 wRC+ against lefties this year. He did it by adjusting. Ever since signing with Oakland, Moss has known he needed to adjust. The former outfielder plays mostly first with the A’s because he knew being more versatile would get him more playing time. Pitchers used to get Moss out by making him swing and miss on pitches away from him. This year those are the pitches he’s hitting the best.

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Over the last calendar year, Moss has hit 37 homers, which is fifth in the league despite having almost 100 less plate appearances less than anyone ahead of him. His wRC+of 160 is sixth in the league as well. He’s had his weaknesses in the past, but he’s cutting down on them faster than he’s racking up extra base hits (best SLG% over last year too). By cutting down on strikeouts, keeping a high walk rate and launching rockets out of one of the most pitcher friendly parks in baseball today, he’s established as an elite slugger.

The changes Moss have made are worthy of a full length book. If you had to guess who lead the league in Isolated Slugging% over the last three years, who would you go with? Giancarlo Stanton? Miguel Cabrera? Evan Longoria? It’s Brandon Moss, with a .310 mark. He has the ninth best wRC+ over the same time frame. Yet you never hear his name called when the best hitters in the game conversation comes up. It’s time to change that.

Tags: Brandon Moss Oakland Athletics

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