This past season was a pretty productive one for Brandon Moss. The Oakland Athletics’ outfielder-first baseman hit a subpar .234, but his 25 dingers helped to place him in the top 40 outfielders by Zach Sanders’ standards. His $12-plus in earnings would make him a top-15 first baseman, in case he went that way for fantasy baseball players. The recession on offense made Moss’ numbers more valuable in rotisserie leagues.
The 2014 campaign could have been better, perhaps notably so, for Moss, in fact. The slugger went yard for the 23rd time this season on July 24, yet he finished with a total that tied him for 21st in the majors in that category. He much more resembled the hitter he was in 2013 (.267 ISO) prior to the All-Star break this year (.268/.349/.530, 21 jacks, and a .262 ISO in 364 PAs) than he did after it (.173/.310/.274, 4 HR, and a .101 ISO in 216 PAs). Moss wasn’t the same by the end of July.
We learned by the end of September of a valid explanation for the much of Moss’ fall-off, of course. He had a previously unreported hip injury that turned out to be worse than expected. It affected him for much of the season but, obviously, more so in the second half, and surgery would be necessary after the campaign concluded. He’d received a cortisone shot on Sept. 24, the same day he revealed the news. Less than a week later, he drilled two bombs in the AL Wild Card Game versus the eventual AL pennant-winning Kansas City Royals.
Moss’ health provides a ready-made explanation for his second-half struggles, then. He played through some form of the injury for much of the season, however, so it’s unclear at what point exactly regression was less of a factor in his statistical decline than his health.
Overall, Moss made improvements from 2013 in BB%, K%, chase rate, and contact rate. He made improvements in those same areas from 2012 to 2013. Still, it’s unclear how much of that progress in 2014 came as a result of some compensation for his injury. He clearly posted his best walk rates in the season’s final two months, when he was ailing most and perhaps just trying to contribute since power was basically out of the equation, just as an example. To go along with that, his swinging-strike and chase rates, also already improved from the previous season, were even better in the final two months.
Even to discount those final couple of months, though, there’s evidence that Moss has advanced some. He seems to have improved in terms of approach and outcomes in the past couple of years against left-handers, even if they’re minor. He seems to have come to know himself as a hitter – a pull hitter with great command of the strike zone – significantly better in the last few years. He’s exhibited late-career progress, so he won’t necessarily align with expectations for aging curves of his characteristics quite yet.
Based on his first-half production, it’s clear that some regression to mean performance in results should have been expected. But probably not much. Moss drew walks in 9.6% of his PAs and fanned in 23.6% of them prior to the ASB. We could have chalked up improvements in plate discipline to that point as noise in outcomes and regressed it, but only a little. We might have guessed that a dip in power was coming, but his 18.8% HR/FB was right in line with the rate he posted in the year prior. Regardless, that much of a decline was shocking.
By the beginning of August, health was clearly the greater factor in Moss’ ailing performance, but that’s no mystery. Through July, he seemed to hold steady. His Steamer projection for 2015 – .241/.328/.448, with 26 homers and a .207 ISO in 586 PAs – doesn’t quite seem to factor in the kind of development he’s made only in the last couple of years, then. It doesn’t know the context of 2014.
Going forward, it might be a fair projection, however, given that injury has become part of the equation heading into his age-31 season in the first place. Doctors didn’t know how serious of a procedure Moss would need until they opened him up, so he seems to have dodged a bullet in that he didn’t need microfracture surgery. He could be healthy in time for spring training. That’s positive news. He can’t begin to run until about three months after the procedure, assuming that recovery goes smoothly, though, so he won’t have a normal offseason. He’ll be set back in terms of his usual conditioning, which is usually a precursor to, at minimum, a slow start.
Moss’ stock may be a tad tough to price in 2015. He’s turned into a pretty attractive and reliable asset in terms of performance, especially in a category where the number of dependable performers is dwindling. So, how many fantasy owners buy that? I’d probably push up his AVG by several points compared to Steamer because of the growth we’ve seen.
But it’s unfortunate that a busted hip has set him back. How much and for how long will Moss’ abbreviated offseason affect his 2015 performance? I’d have to see how the offseason goes before I’d have a better sense of how comfortable I am with the Steamer projections for HR total and ISO, and that’s really where he needs to make his money for us.
Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.