Brandon Moss on the Anatomy of a Slump by Eno Sarris September 24, 2014 What follows is a conversation that took place in the Oakland clubhouse with Brandon Moss. There are a couple salty words — that can happen in the clubhouse — but they’ve been left in to better represent the lively tone of the interaction. Also, despite the legendary straight face, this author is mostly sure that most of what Adam Dunn interjects is in jest. There was no malice intended here. Eno Sarris: Have you ever heard of FanGraphs? Brandon Moss: Yeah! Sarris: Because we have you down as a top-ten hitter since 2012 by Isolated Slugging. So I wanted to say to you here, fuck batting average. Moss: I agree. I 100% agree with that. Sarris: So I can quote you on that. Moss: You can quote me that way if you want to. I’m not kidding, you can. I’m a 100% believer that it is one of the worst statistics to judge a hitter, it’s based entirely on luck. Adam Dunn: That’s bullshit, dude. Moss: Batting average? It’s the stupidest stat! It’s based entirely on luck. Dunn: It tells it all. Moss: It tells how unlucky I am. How many shifts they have on. Dunn: Hit home runs, line drives will come. Moss: This guy. You need to talk to him. That’s like talking to an older version of me. Dunn: Older and better maybe. Moss: Older and better! Player BA Rank (of 222) OBP Rank ISO Rank BABIP Rank Brandon Moss 145th 80th 8th 111th Adam Dunn 220th 111th 12th 203rd Sarris: Well I wanted to talk to you because I loved that piece that Jane Lee did on you last year, where Ruben Amaro, Jr said you couldn’t hit a major league fastball. Moss: That was… that was a long time ago. Dunn: Wait, let me hear about this. Moss: I don’t want to bring this up. It’s old history. Dunn: Tell me. Who’s this? Moss: Ruben Amaro. Dunn: Who’s that? Moss: The GM for the Phillies. I was with the Phillies. Dunn: The GM. They have no say. Moss: Well, yes it does matter, if you want to be called up. I was having a good year and they went out and traded for a guy because they needed left-handed bench bat and someone asked, you know Moss is having a pretty good year in Triple-A for you guys, why do you need to go outside. He was like ‘We just don’t believe Brandon Moss is consistently able to hit a major league fastball.’ And I was like, that’s really all I kinda hit. It’s my best pitch. Everything else, I just hope I hit it. If you’re here, you’re like that. You better be able to hit that pitch. It was a funny comment and I laughed about it. Okay, if that’s how they feel, I can’t do anything about that. Sarris: We track numbers per type of pitch, so we have you down… Moss: I know. I know. I’m actually a big sabermetrics guy. I love Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, I love the both of them. Lots of cool things. Sarris: Yeah and we have you down as a good fastball hitter, so he got that one wrong. Since 2012 wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH wSF Brandon Moss 33.5 2.9 7.4 11.3 -3.1 1.8 Moss: [Laughs] Sarris: One thing I noticed was that you had two incarnations. That’s why I brought up the Lee article, because they were trying to make you something that you weren’t in Pittsburgh and Boston. Slap hitting and going the other way. Moss: I am an extreme pull hitter. But I try not to bring that stuff up that much, because I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus. Pull Center Opposite Brandon Moss 44.1% 34.4% 21.5% League Average 38.8% 36.1% 25.1% Sarris: Once you became you again… Moss: Fly balls? Sarris: Well, the number of pitches in the zone just went straight down. Moss: That’s what happens when you hit for power. When you hit for power, it becomes more of a ‘nibble around the zone’ try to get him to chase thing. They know that once you control the heart of the zone… That’s my whole thing. Control the heart of the plate. You don’t have to control in. I get close to the plate, because people think I want the ball in, but it’s really so that the pitch away becomes middle, and it’s like a heart of the zone pitch. I hit in way better than I hit away, so I trust myself on the inside pitch and I make the outside pitch middle. Moss does well on the middle-out pitch. Sarris: That’s partially because you opened up your stance with your hitting coach here, Chili Davis? Moss: When I first came up, I was open. And then when I went to Pittsburgh, they squared me up. Well, Boston kinda squared me up at first, because I was pinch-hitting a lot, a fourth outfielder. I went to Pittsburgh and I squared up and that completely took away from the load that I had. Jeff Branson, the Triple-A hitting coach in Indianapolis for Pittsburgh — who’s now their big league hitting coach — opened me back up. Sarris: And that helped you on the inside pitch. Moss: 100%. It’s a gather and it’s a load but I’m not closed off to where I’m fighting to turn into that inside pitch. I’m just naturally over the plate. It’s a natural path. Sarris: This year, it looks they’re throwing you higher in the zone. Righties threw Moss mostly low and away in 2013, on the right. 2014’s pitches have been slightly higher. Moss: Yeah. That’s a big weakness. I know that though. And that’s what I feel like early in the year, I talked to Chili about this a lot. That’s one area that me and him do a lot of work. I know that up in the zone is a big hole in my swing because I have an uppercut swing. So up in the zone is going to be a problem. I felt like, early in the year and in spring training, that was an area of weakness I was going to work on. Not necessarily hitting that pitch, but not chasing that pitch. But in this little bit of a slump… Sarris: You might have been chasing… Moss: Yeah, I’ve been chasing it a lot. Up and away is a big hole, and you just have to leave it alone. It’s really hard when you’re struggling, because you’re wanting to fight, you’re wanting to get hits, you’re wanting to battle.. You see a strike, regardless of up, down, wherever, and you want to hit it, and it’s just not a pitch I can handle. Moss has been swinging at the high pitch a little more, too. Even late in the season. That’s before August 25th on the left, after that date on the right. Sarris: That’s interesting because Chris Young said that you can fight off the pitch up and in like nobody else he faces. Moss: I hit that well. Close in, my barrel doesn’t drop. Up and away, I can’t flatten my bat out up there. My bat comes through the zone like this [mimics uppercut swing] so up and away… Sarris: Young said if he tries to get you up and in, you foul it off. Moss: Yeah I foul that one off a lot. Sarris: That’s a little dangerous at home though, with all that foul ground. Moss: Yeah, but usually you foul that one straight back. Sarris: Basically, as they’ve been throwing you less in the zone, though, you’ve been swinging less. Moss: Well. I feel like. It’s not that I have been swinging less, I mean I have been swinging less, it’s just that you know when you go throw a slump, it’s because you’ve been chasing. My natural thing when I get into a slump is to swing more. And that’s when I start making more outs. And so I try to tone down my swing and say hey, zone in. The only problem with that is, you start zoning in and they start flipping that first pitch breaking balls in. They start throwing the changeup first pitch to steal a strike, and then you’re behind in the count. It’s a constant game of adjustments. April May June July August September Swing% 51.3% 50.4% 46.2% 51.8% 42.4% 45.1% Reach % 38.3% 33.0% 33.5% 40.6% 26.9% 30.1% When I’m locked in and I’m feeling right, I will swing at that first pitch changeup. I will try to hit that first pitch breaking ball because I see it well and I trust myself. But when I’m not swinging well, you know what, hey take it, now you’ve seen a pitch, you’ve seen that breaking ball and maybe later he’ll hang it or he’ll come and miss a spot. It hasn’t happened a lot, it’s just one of those things. When you feel good, you can hit more pitches. But when you don’t feel well, it’s better off to leave those alone and hope for a mistake later. Sarris: You’ve said recently that you made an adjustment in late August that you felt good about? Moss: More about covering the up and away pitch. As far as laying off of it when I’m ahead in the count and fouling it off when I’m behind in the count. Sarris: I did see that since then you’ve been swinging at it less. Moss: Sometimes, I just make something up that sounds good. In all honestly the adjustment I’ve made is that I’m really exposing myself by chasing this, and if they get that, get that, get that up there, then they just throw something down in the zone and I chase. Everything changes. Leave it alone if you’re ahead, and if you’re behind, foul it off. Or try to. Fly balls are in blue here. Sarris: Two quick questions. Fewer fly balls this year? Moss: I don’t feel like that. I don’t even feel like I got fewer fly balls. I just feel like more… my fly balls don’t have the same trajectory on them. I’m getting a lot more high fly balls. 2012 2013 2014 HR+FB Distance 294.1 295.7 280.6 Sarris: That’s why they throw high in the zone, to get the pop-ups. Moss: Pop it up! And it’s going to work. But they’re pitchers, they miss. I would love to have more hits, I would love to have more doubles than this, but I have to be who I am. Once you start changing things about who you are, you lose it all. Sarris: Last thing. Outfield vs first base. There is such a thing in baseball called the DH penalty. You hit 10% worse than you normally would when you come off the bench. Have you ever felt anything like that with first base and the outfield. Is one of them more engaging to you? Moss: First base is much more engaging. You’re involved in everything, your body is constantly moving. Outfield is more relaxing, outfield is like okay, I’m out here, I can run down the ball. Sarris: Is one of those states better for you at the plate? Moss: I feel like first base is better for me at the plate, because it keeps you sharper. But I think that body-wise, and how you feel, the outfield is better. There are pros and cons. But it really does go into that. Position PA Average On-base % Slugging wRC+ First Base 806 0.260 0.330 0.502 131 Left Field 465 0.261 0.361 0.464 126 Right Field 678 0.234 0.304 0.416 92 DH 51 0.239 0.294 0.674 166 People don’t understand that, they think we just play baseball and swing at pitches. But we watch a ton of video. I watch a ton of video. And that guy [points at Jon Lester] is probably the only guy in this clubhouse that looks at more video than I do. It’s because, as a power hitter that doesn’t have a high average, I know I have to make my swings count. Sarris: When you swing… Moss: When you swing, drive it. So I have to know, what is this guy most likely to throw. What does he like to get ahead with. When it’s two and oh, and he needs a strike in a big situation, does he flip the breaking ball in backdoor, does he throw a changeup, does he go up in the zone. You have to know those things, because if you don’t, you’re swinging wildly. April May June July August September Groundball % 33.8% 28.0% 32.3% 28.6% 30.8% 27.6% Fly ball% 48.5% 52.0% 46.2% 42.9% 43.6% 62.1% And that’s what I was doing a lot in August, I was swinging wildly, trying to do too much. And therefore, that’s when the weak outs, and that’s when the ground balls started coming, was in August. My ground-ball rate kinda skyrocketed. Strikeout rate went up, chase rate went up, walk rate went up because I was taking more pitches, but when I was swinging, I wasn’t swinging to drive the ball, I was swinging to get a hit. That’s why I said in late August, screw this, I’m going to cover this pitch, I’m going to gear for this pitch, and if I walk I walk, and if I strikeout I strikeout. I like talking to you, you’re my kind of guy, with my kind of questions.