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Athletics 2014 season review: Brandon Moss breaks out, then breaks down

I never realized how appropriate it was for a player named Moss to be sheathed in green.
I never realized how appropriate it was for a player named Moss to be sheathed in green.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Next on our list is No. 37, Brandon Moss, who was a classic Misfit Toy. He was deemed defective by several organizations before washing up on Oakland's shore, and suddenly he flourished into an unlikely star.

Player profile

Name: Brandon Moss, aka Mossome
Position: 1B, LF, RF
Stats: .234/.334/.438, 119 OPS+, 25 HR, 81 RBI, 67 BB*, 153 Ks
WAR: 2.5 bWAR, 2.3 fWAR
How he got here: Signed as free agent prior to 2012
2014 Salary: $4.1 million
2015 Status: Traded to Cleveland Indians on Dec. 8
2015 Salary: Estimated $6.1 million (2nd-year arbitration)

* career-high

Season summary

After being spit out by three different organizations, Moss burst onto the scene with a .596 slugging percentage in 2012, and he followed that up with 30 homers the next year. He entered 2014 as a key cog in a powerful Oakland Athletics lineup.

As was the case with so many A's players last year, things started out swimmingly. Moss was solid in April, and then he exploded for nine homers in May. He stayed consistent in June and most of July, and during the first four months the usually streaky slugger rarely put together back-to-back 0-fers and never went more than a week or so without hitting a homer.

By the end of the first half, Moss was hitting .268/.349/.530 (146 OPS+) with 21 homers and 66 RBI in 89 games. He was on pace to crush several offensive career highs and seemed like a lock for at least 30-35 homers, a big deal given that no one in MLB hit more than 40 last year. In terms of isolated slugging percentage, he had been one of the two or three best pure power hitters in all of baseball from 2012 through the break in 2014.

Moss' huge half earned him his first All-Star berth, as a reserve first baseman. It was an unlikely accomplishment for a guy who had seemingly flamed out after being a top outfield prospect prior to 2005. He entered the Midsummer Classic in the sixth inning as a replacement for Mike Trout, and in that frame the AL team featured a defensive arrangement including Moss in right, Yoenis Cespedes in left, Derek Norris catching, and Scott Kazmir pitching. Moss struck out in his only at-bat, in the seventh inning against Craig Kimbrel.

And then, in the second half of the season, everything went wrong. Stop me if you've heard that one before. Unbeknownst to any of us, Moss had developed a tear in the labrum in his hip. The injury had existed since May but must have bothered him more as time went on. It absolutely destroyed his hitting in the final two months, especially his power. His four second-half homers:

July 19, vs. Wei-Yin Chen
July 24, vs. Anthony Bass
Sept. 14, vs. Chris Young
Sept. 26, vs. Nick Tepesch

At one point, Moss went homerless for 151 plate appearances over 39 games spanning seven weeks. Furthermore, each of the pitchers he did eventually go deep against were particularly susceptible to long balls; Bass allowed six in just 27 innings for the Astros, and it was the third different game last season in which Moss had homered off of Young. He had a cortisone shot on Sept. 25 and responded by homering the next day against Tepesch, but the damage had already been done. Overall, he batted .173/.310/.274 (72 OPS+) in 216 second-half plate appearances, with his ability to draw walks the only skill he'd managed to retain.

The middle of the order had once featured Oakland's own version of Run DMC (either "Home Run DMC" or "Runs DMC," depending on your preference), with Donaldson, Moss and Cespedes. But with Cespedes literally gone and Moss figuratively absent, among other issues, the A's once-league-leading offense crumbled -- they ranked only 13th in MLB in second-half scoring, after being second in mid-July. After sporting a 59-36 record in the first half, they went 29-36 after the break.

As Moss limped through the final two months, the A's themselves limped into the playoffs. But despite his prolonged slump and his career postseason line of 4-for-33 with 20 strikeouts (.469 OPS), he was the DH and cleanup hitter in the Wild Card game against James Shields and the Kansas City Royals. The performance he turned in is Example No. 1 of why the postseason is a crapshoot in which anything can happen, and why postseason stats are terrible predictors of future events. Moss came in as a horrible postseason performer in the midst of a horrible skid, but between his cortisone shot and a bit of fortunate timing he had the game of his life.

In his first at-bat, he homered off of Shields. 2-0 A's. In his third at-bat, after the Royals had taken the lead, he homered again on Yordano Ventura's third pitch of the game. 5-3 A's. Before the game, I questioned Royals manager Ned Yost's statement that he might use his starters in relief, and it turned out that I had a point. Unfortunately, the baseball gods bailed out Nervous Ned and let him win anyway.

Moss went 2-for-5 with a pair of homers and drove in five runs in support of an ace pitcher who entered with a 2.11 career postseason ERA, but it wasn't enough. Stuff happened, things went wrong, A's got hurt, hops went short or long at inopportune times, and the Royals somehow came out the victors. Game, set, season.

Despite the bum hip, Moss still turned in a good campaign and continued to show progress as an overall player. For the second straight year, his walk rate went up and both his strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate went down. After appearing in the outfield 57 times in 2012-13 combined, he ventured out there 84 times in 2014 alone; that's a good thing, considering that the defensive metrics hate him at first base but think he's solid-to-good in left and right. He showed that his raw power can still translate into games, and his bad times can be explained by injury. He held his own against lefties, and actually posted a slightly higher OPS against them than he did against righties, helping allay fears that he might be limited by his platoon splits. (It should be noted that his numbers against lefties were buoyed by a .373 BABIP, though.) He set a career-high in walks, but more importantly he set career-highs in games (147) and plate appearances (580) thanks to the most regular, everyday, non-platoon role he'd ever had.

When Billy Beane picked up Billy Butler and Ike Davis early in the winter, it created a logjam at 1B/DH. When he traded Josh Donaldson at the end of November, he made it clear that he was going to make his roster younger. The entire situation made the 31-year-old Moss a prime target for departure, and indeed his name got called on Dec. 8. The destination was the Cleveland Indians, but the return -- only under-the-radar second base prospect Joey Wendle -- was met with head-scratches by A's fans and the general public alike. It wasn't Oakland's usual multi-player haul, and it wasn't a guy who had a high pedigree or who appeared to be immediately ready for the Majors. It was just a youngster who Beane loved but who most people hadn't heard of. Ask me about it again in two years.

Moss was one of the purest of A's, a wandering baseball soul whom Oakland spit-shined into an All-Star right before our eyes. We got to spend three seasons watching him swat balls into the stands, and he did it with charm and a good attitude. And at the end of the day, after he'd struggled so hard, he came up big in the biggest game of the year and left us with one last good, enduring memory.

2014 season grade, relative to expectations: B- ... It was going so well, and then the bottom fell off. He had an A entering August, as he was one of the best hitters in the league to that point. His overall numbers were still good, but 25 homers and 2 WAR? That would have been a conservative estimate entering the year.

2014 season grade, overall: B ... Regardless of how you get there, those 25 homers and 2 WAR, with the ability to play three positions, still add up to a solid player.

Video highlights

Let's get warmed up with a monster homer.

Next, a grand slam against the Angels.

And now two in one game, including the eventual game-winner in the 10th.

And for your final trick, do two in one postseason game.

Here was a 4-for-4 day, starting with a homer against Justin Verlander. Life is all about timing.

The A's trailed 4-1 entering the ninth against Houston. They tied the score, and Moss delivered the knockout punch with this RBI single. They eventually won 7-4.

On April 25, Moss made some Oakland history. The A's broke a 5-5 tie against the Astros with a seven-run ninth, and they brought 12 men to the plate in doing so. Both times Moss came up, he was hit by a pitch, making him the first Oakland player ever to get plunked twice in one inning.

When Moss plays in the outfield, he is able to utilize one of his strongest skills on defense: his arm. Here is a medley of a few of his assists.

He does get to use that arm at first now and then, though.

A nice diving catch in the outfield.

And, on the flipside, a sweet leaping catch on a deep ball.


Time will tell the wisdom of Moss' trade to the Indians. Will he regain his old form after hip surgery? Will Wendle develop into a good enough player to justify his acquisition price? All we know for now is that Moss looked great in green and gold while he was here.