Finding the Next Brandon Moss

Of course it’s true that major league teams want to find a young player to fill the shoes of an older player, all other things being equal. The younger player has more upside, and is likely to be cheaper. So of course, despite the fact that Brandon Moss has been a top-fifteen slugger over the last five years, of course teams would rather find the next Moss. It’s probably not that easy, though.

Let’s set two very basic conditions to try and find the next Moss. The loquacious slugger was once a king of the minor leagues waiting to get his shot while major league general managers were telling him that he ‘couldn’t hit a major league fastball.’ When the Athletics signed him, he was 28 and had averaged over a .200 isolated slugging in the minor leagues for the last three years.

So let’s look for players between 28 and 30 that have done the same. Surely the list of Quad-A sluggers will be long?

The Next Brandon Moss?
Player Age 3yr MLB PA MLB ISO 3yr MiLB PA 3yr MiLB ISO
Brandon Moss 2012 28 457 0.146 1062 0.222
Kyle Jensen 28 34 0.258 1567 0.235
Xavier Scruggs 29 130 0.076 1369 0.215
Travis Taijeron 28 0 0.000 1396 0.242
Stefen Romero 28 233 0.112 1141 0.232
Stephen Cardullo 29 59 0.196 706 0.222
Jared Hoying 28 49 0.043 1509 0.225
ISO = isolated slugging percentage, or slugging minus batting average
3yr MiLB ISO = full ISO over last three minor league years
Age is July first age in 2017 season

That’s it! That’s all of the old young sluggers.

Most of them are at the end or nearing the end of their time with the team that drafted them, but that doesn’t mean any of them are available any more. Former Marlin Kyle Jensen has decided to go to Japan, and so has former Mariner Stefen Romero, and Travis Taijeron is still a Met farmhand until the end of this coming season. That leaves us with three available Moss-types.

Jared Hoying has been destroying the minor leagues for the Rangers. He doesn’t factor on our depth charts right now, but a long-term injury to Shin-Soo Choo may create a major league opening for him with his home organization. Last year was the best for the lefty in terms of walks and strikeouts, but the worst for his power. In any case, he’s an athletic 28 year old that may yet have some career in him. He re-upped on a minor league deal to return to the Rangers next year, though.

We had to stretch to get minor league numbers for Stephen Cardullo in here. Despite his age, he didn’t have enough minor league years, oh and also one year was in 2011 in Rookie ball for the D-backs and the other was last year, in Triple-A, for the Rockies.

In between? The former 24th-rounder played for the London Rippers and Florence Freedom of the Frontier League and Rockland Boulders of the Can-Am League. Somehow the Rockies found him and he murdered Albuquerque, one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Before we make him a Moss, we should realize the corner outfielder didn’t even have .200 ISOs in those independent leagues. Only once did he manage that, when he was 23 and in the Pioneer league in 2011.

That’s not to take away from his remarkable story. It’s still impressive that he stuck with it to this point. There’s another reason the righty can’t be a Moss this year, though: he signed a minor league deal with the Rockies and will be in their camp this spring.

That leaves teams looking for the next Moss with one remaining option on the market. Xavier Scruggs was outrighted from the Marlins roster last year and is still a free agent! In some ways a one-man example of how high the offensive bar is for a player to make it as a first baseman in the big leagues, Scruggs has begun playing the outfield recently in order to improve his versatility. Still, last year he played twice as often at first base as he did in the outfield, and mostly came up to help out when first baseman Justin Bour was hurt.

He’s probably not as useful in the outfield as Moss. He’s not left-handed like Moss, either. And while his 22.4% strikeout rate over the last three years mirrors the 22.1% strikeout Moss had going into 2012, when the Athletics signed the lefty on a minor league deal, under the hood, the slugging numbers aren’t the same. Moss hit three quarters of a ground out per fly out in the minor leagues the year before he signed. Scruggs hit twice as many ground outs per fly out last year.

Since Moss himself said that hitting fly balls was a big key to the adjustment that made him a big leaguer, maybe Scruggs is an adjustment away from being useful to a major league team in the big leagues. Maybe he’ll make that adjustment in Korea, where he just signed a one-year deal with the Dinos, and return triumphantly like Eric Thames.

So, at least by our simple definition, there are no more Next Brandon Moss types available freely. And that’s not actually so surprising. Here’s the full list of players since 1980 that had 700 major league plate appearances with an ISO under .150 and then managed more than 500 plate appearances with an ISO over .200 thereafter.

Late Blooming Sluggers
Name First 700 ISO PA after first 700 Career ISO
Rafael Palmeiro 0.143 9812 0.246
Todd Hundley 0.137 3001 0.242
Brandon Moss 0.146 2371 0.236
Charlie Blackmon 0.148 641 0.228
Mickey Tettleton 0.141 4585 0.226
Edgar Martinez 0.131 7180 0.220
Dante Bichette 0.143 5402 0.216
Cliff Floyd 0.145 5158 0.214
Mike Stanley 0.093 4048 0.211
Ken Caminiti 0.101 4944 0.209
Carl Everett 0.148 4284 0.202
Michael Saunders 0.150 857 0.201
ISO = isolated slugging percentage, or slugging minus batting average
Career ISO = ISO after first 700 plate appearances

Looks pretty tough. While it’s true that teams are choosing the younger, cheaper player more often these days, it’s also true that track record matters. It’s hard to find the next Brandon Moss. Maybe someone should sign the actual Brandon Moss that’s out there.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Brad Johnsonmember
5 years ago

Ahem. Left my comment before finishing the post…