There’s no question that Brandon Moss played his way out of Pittsburgh in 2009. After being acquired as one of the pieces in the Jason Bay trade, Moss was given plenty of playing time in 2009 as the starting right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In that time he only managed a .236/.304/.364 line with seven homers in 385 at-bats. Moss displayed great defense from right field, with a 9.7 UZR/150, although without the hitting, Moss wasn’t good enough to be a starter.
Prior to the 2010 season, the Pirates had Moss competing for a final spot on the bench. Out of options, Moss either had to make the team, or clear waivers in order to be sent down to AAA. The Pirates ended up designating Moss for assignment, and giving his spot to Rule 5 pick John Raynor, who was eventually returned to the Florida Marlins.
Things didn’t look good for Moss after his demotion to AAA. In the month of April he hit for a .224/.288/.343 line in 73 at-bats, with two homers. He didn’t see much of an improvement in May, hitting for a .250/.330/.400 line with three homers in 100 at-bats.
According to Chuck Finder, Moss moved to an open stance towards the end of May, similar to the stance that Adam LaRoche uses. In typical LaRoche fashion, Moss began hitting once the calendar turned to June. Moss only managed a .260 average and a .330 on-base percentage in 96 at-bats during the month of June, but he hit five homers, and had a .521 slugging percentage. He’s improved on all of that in the month of July, with a .326/.385/.621 line, and seven homers in 95 at-bats. In his last ten games, Moss has been on fire, with a .368/.429/.842 line, and five homers in 38 at-bats, including a grand slam last night.
Moss isn’t currently on the 40-man roster, so in order to be added to the majors, the Pirates would have to clear a space and purchase his contract. The Pirates have a simple solution to not only clear a space for Moss on the 40-man, but to clear a space on the 25-man as well. That solution is to cut ties with Ryan Church.
Church has been dreadful this year, hitting for a .187/.242/.319 line in 166 at-bats, with just three homers. The Pirates would have Church under control for one more season beyond the 2010 season, but there would be no use keeping him. In order to retain Church, the Pirates would have to offer him arbitration, which would pretty much guarantee a raise over his $1.5 M contract this year. As for Moss, he would have four years of control remaining, including one more year of league minimum pay in 2011. If the Pirates don’t add Moss to the 40-man roster, they risk losing him to minor league free agency.
At the worst, Moss would replicate his 2009 numbers, which actually would be an upgrade this year over Church. Moss could end up being much better than that this time around. So far this year he has been much more effective against right handed pitching, with an .870 OPS and all 17 of his homers coming against right handers in 260 at-bats, compared to a .677 OPS and no homers in 98 at-bats against right handers. Meanwhile, at the major league level, Lastings Milledge is hitting for a .923 OPS in 97 at-bats against left handers this year, compared to a .619 OPS in 195 at-bats against right handers.
Milledge and Moss both have good enough defense to hold down right field with no issues, although I’d give the nod to Moss in that area. A platoon between Moss and Milledge could provide the Pirates with a big strength out of right field. Milledge becomes arbitration eligible for the first time in 2011, although the cost of Milledge and Moss combined in 2011 wouldn’t be much more than what the Pirates are paying Church this year.
The big question is, how legit is this new stance from Moss? Indianapolis Indians broadcaster Scott McCauley has the answer in his article on Moss from yesterday:
The 26 year-old Moss (he will not turn 27 until September) had 10 hits, 4 home runs, and drove in 10 runs during the Indians 8 game homestand. Add in the 3 runs he batted in on Tuesday night in the win over Syracuse and Moss has 49 RBI in his last 52 games. It begs the question…why the turn around? “I have gone back to the stance I had when I was with the Red Sox. I’m really open now and it allows me to see the ball better and hit for more power. I was really bad at the beginning of the year hitting what, 220 with no power? I needed to change things up.” During April and May, Moss had a stretch of 21 games without a home run. Since the switch to his old stance he has not gone more than 10 games with out one and is the Indians most productive run producer. What took so long for him to switch to his more comfortable open stance? “When I first got called up to the big leagues with Boston (2007) they wanted me to square my shoulders more and create a more consistent swing. They felt I would lose my timing with the open stance because I would not playing everyday. Hey, it’s the big leagues, you do what they say, I made the switch. I never went back even after I was traded to the Pirates (July 2008).
“I was talking with Brano (Tribe hitting coach Jeff Branson) about how I used to hit and he suggested I go back to that stance. As he told me, it can’t get any worse. So I’m back to where I was and I’m really feeling good at the plate. As a matter of fact I haven’t felt this good in a long time.”
Moss was very inconsistent with Boston. In 25 at-bats in 2007 he performed well, with a .280 average and an .819 OPS, although the sample size was small. In 78 at-bats in 2008 with Boston, he had similar results. Upon joining the Pirates, Moss saw a drop, going to a .712 OPS in 158 at-bats in 2008, followed by a .668 OPS in 2009. Could it be that his new stance allowed him to get by off of the bench in Boston, but held him back once he assumed everyday playing time with the Pirates?
The Pirates really have only one way to find out the answer to this question: give Moss another shot. His performance at the AAA level in the last two months is definitely deserving of a shot in the majors. His splits against right handers match up perfectly for a platoon with Lastings Milledge and his splits against left handers. Worst case scenario, Moss doesn’t work out, and the Pirates can finally close the book on him. The Pirates need to take this opportunity. They have two months remaining in a season that is long gone. They would be better served using those final two months testing out a Milledge/Moss platoon, rather than wasting more playing time on Ryan Church.