Deconstructing the Need For Change Part 2 (The First Base Conundrum)
Stop right there. I know. Brandon Moss is the uncontested first baseman of the Oakland Athletics. The 2012 walk-off wünderkind, blossomed out of his journeyman shell to have a historic season in Oakland after years of obscurity. Even more impressive than his Nintendo numbers in a little more than half a season’s worth of games played, was the fact that he essentially learned how to play first base on the fly at the Major League Level. After providing multiple celebrated moments, Moss has quickly cemented a place for himself in the hearts of A’s fans from Oakland to Eureka.
So I may not being making any friends, when I make the statement that I’d prefer to see another player put a lock on the first base position. Before you start sharpening your pitchforks and/or prepare to burn me at the stake, hear me out.
Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
First of all, let it be said that at the very heart of Brandon Moss’s difficulties is his inability to make consistent contact. In a sense, the one constant of his professional career is a strikeout rate hovering over 25%. In his tenure in Oakland, Moss topped out at 30.4 % last season and has kept the pace with a 30.8% rate thus far this season. His walk rate has actually risen from 8.8 to 12.6 %, and despite his overall slash line dropping from .291/.358/.596 to .260/.364/.447 this season, Moss has actually experienced a reprise in BABIP luck replicating his .350 plus average from 2012. What concerns me the most, is that he has been rendered completely useless when falling behind in the count. While every hitter faces a statistical disadvantage when falling behind, Moss has devolved into a .114/.133/.205 hitter this season, with an egregious 27 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances.
Defensively, Moss has showed minor signs of improvement at the position despite spending considerable time lately in the outfield due to Oakland’s injury surplus. In 26 games a first, he’s made 3 errors total (2 fielding, 1 throwing) as opposed to 8 in 55 games last season. He seems more comfortable scooping low throws, and while he isn’t a glaring novice at first base anymore, there are certainly times when his relative inexperience manifests. Although it’s difficult to find the actual count, the issue remains that on multiple occasions Moss has ranged too far to his left on what would be a routine grounder to second, leaving first base unattended and costing the team an out. This was an issue last season, and with the pitching staff struggling as is, the 2013 Athletics simply cannot afford to allow extra base runners through methods such as this.
Although I expect Moss to have respectable power numbers by seasons end, it’s hard to ignore that he has struck out 15 times in the last 10 games, a span of 34 at bats while recording only 5 hits and 3 walks. Regression is to be expected, but I fear with each swing and a miss that Moss is inching closer to resembling the player he was in 2009 when he last received regular playing time at the big league level prior to last season. During that forgettable season, he struggled to a .236/.304/.364 mark in 133 games played and was soon banished to the minor leagues.
In all reality, the job will be Moss’s for the immediate future as in all likelihood he has no true competition. Daric Barton, is in the midst of his umpteenth stint in Oakland and has so far displayed his trademarked plate discipline, excellent defense, and underwhelming power and offensive skills in limited action this season. The man who won’t leave, doesn’t have many advocates amongst the Oakland faithful but still might be a useful piece as a defensive replacement and spot starter at the position. For now it appears the prospect of starting, has come and go for Oakland’s longest tenured position player and his best hope of sticking around is to embrace a role similar to what Doug Mientkiewicz filled during the course of his career. Nate Freiman is a neophyte, who had never played a game over Double-A before his surprising arrival during the waning days of spring training. With an impressive physical appearance, and power potential; Freiman is an intriguing option. However, with the club attempting to content in 2013, I wouldn’t expect anything more than the occasional start against a left-handed starter filling the role inhabited by Chris Carter last season. As the season progresses, it’ll be interesting to see how the former Duke Blue Devil adjusts in his first look at advanced pitching.
For now, Moss is in no immediate danger of losing his job. He’s simply too valuable to the team, but perhaps a defensive and offensive upgrade will one day emerge from the shadows.