Brandon Moss appears to be morphing back into the player the Royals expected when they signed him to a two year contract worth $12M this past offseason. Moss started with an atrocious April in which he had a .617 OPS across 68 plate appearances that resulted in a wRC+ of 62. May didn’t get any better for the left handed power hitter as he posted a .593 OPS across 30 plate appearances with a wRC+ of 51 between May 1st and May 13th. Entering the game on Sunday, May 14th, Moss was sporting a .159 batting average to go along with a strikeout rate of 36.7% and a wOBA of .262.
When his offensive production seemed to hit rock bottom, our own Max Reiper posed the question, “what do you do about Brandon Moss?”. Moss himself acknowledged his struggles in a May 8th article in the Kansas City Star when he stated, “I am the epitome of those struggles” when speaking about the lack of production from the offense as a whole.
Moss is starting to turn things around as he has been hitting much better of late. Despite playing in only 5 of the last 9 games since May 14th, the 33 year-old has an OPS of 1.189 and a wRC+ of 218. His strikeout rate over that time (25%) is much closer to his career average of 27.2% compared to his overall rate this season of 34.7%. Despite a batting average that currently sits at .196, his hot streak has pushed his slugging percentage to .449 on the year along with an ISO of .252. Those numbers are much more in line with his production last year (.484 SLG and .259 ISO) as well as his career averages (.454 SLG and .215 ISO). These are a good indication that he is still the same low average, high slugging player the Royals thought they were getting this offseason.
In order to be successful, Brandon Moss needs to hit the ball in the air. This is not exactly a revelation in discussing a player whose value is almost exclusively tied to his ability to hit home runs. As a result, it is not difficult to understand why he has struggled this year when you see that his groundball rate (40.3%) is the highest it has been since 2010 and well above his career average of 34.3%. Similarly, his fly ball rate (41.8%) is the lowest it has been since 2010 and below his career average of 45.6%. Across his career, Moss has an OPS of .440 and a wRC+ of 14 when he hits groundballs; basically he’s Alcides Escobar. Conversely, when he hits the ball in the air, he becomes a Ruthian force with an OPS of 1.121 and a wRC+ of 196. It can clearly be seen that more balls hit in the air will result in much better results for the Monroe, Georgia native.
While it is a welcome development he is starting to do what the Royals paid him for, hitting the baseball, a look and the underlying numbers show that there is still plenty of room for him to improve. One thing that jumps out is that he has actually hit the ball on the ground more often (42.9%) across the last ten days than he was previously (39.6%). He has counter balanced this increase in ground balls with a higher home run rate on his fly balls as 40% of those have cleared the fence. Across the season as a whole, he has converted 28.6% of his fly balls into home runs, which would be his career high for a season and is well above his career average of 15.9%. The Virgo’s 1.500 OPS and 300 wRC+ on fly balls in 2017 has provided a buoy for his drowning offensive production and one shudders to think that his stat line could actually be much worse if it were not for these incredible numbers.
Moving forward, it would appear that Brandon Moss should be a productive offensive player and he has pushed his OPS on the season to .711, which is now tied with Lorenzo Cain. ZiPS would disagree with this assertion as it projects him to accumulate negative WAR across the rest of this season with a 93 wRC+. Steamer likes him more and has him accumulating positive WAR and a wRC+ of 102.
However, if Moss can manage to get his ground ball and fly ball rates more in line with his career average, he could be poised to have his best season since 2014 if he maintains his current pace of hitting home runs on fly balls. This seems unlikely, as it may be a bit naive to expect his poor batting ball data to regress to career averages while hoping that he maintains his career best home run per fly ball rate. The likely answer is that both of these statistics regress towards his career averages and he ends up looking a lot like the player from 2016 that ended the season with an OPS of .784 and a wRC+ of 105. If that ends up being the case, the first year of his contract should be considered a success and counted on the positive side of the transaction ledger for Dayton Moore.
Note - All statistics used in this article were obtained from fangraphs.com.