Thursday, October 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Brandon Moss is a symptom of the difference between the Phillies and the A's

Brandon Moss talks John Bowker, analytics, and why he is thriving in Oakland.

Brandon Moss is a symptom of the difference between the Phillies and the A's

Brandon Moss of the Oakland Athletics. (Kathy Willens/AP)
Brandon Moss of the Oakland Athletics. (Kathy Willens/AP)

EDIT: I changed the headline on this piece because it was unfair to just about everyone involved. I slapped it on top after writing the post and ended up conflating my analysis with Moss' words to get, "Brandon Moss says he is living proof the Phillies are an inferior organization to the A's." First, inferior was probably too strong a word to sum up even what I was trying to say. Second, Moss doesn''t pass any judgment, as was indicated by the headline. Anyway, headlines are important, and usually I don't write them, but this time I did, and I failed. Everything else about the piece is the same.

Ken Rosenthal has a piece up at FoxSports.com that might make you want to put your fist through some dry wall. First, a couple of caveats. The Phillies were the most talented team in the majors when Moss was tearing it up in their minor league system. He had already had a couple of chances with a couple other organizations. He was getting up there in age. A sizeable chunk of the story is about the A's decision to move Moss from the outfield to first base. First base, you might recall, was a position manned by Ryan Howard, whose numbers in 2011 were similar to the ones Moss posted last season in his only full year with the Athletics. 

Moss in 2013: .256/.337/.522, 30 home runs

Howard in 2011: .253/.346/.488, 33 home runs

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Fact is, there was no obvious way to get Moss the at-bats he would have needed to break out the way he did in Oakland. He ended up going 0-for-6 with two strikeouts as a September call-up.

In hindsight, the Phillies might have stumbled into window-extending gold mine had they really thought Moss had the potential to do what he was doing in Oakland. Raul Ibanez struggled badly that season, particularly in the early going. The Phillies could have experimented with Moss in left field, trading lefty for lefty. But keep in mind Domonic Brown was ahead of Moss on the organizational depth chart at the time, and actually finished that season with better numbers than Ibanez.

The other place to experiment with Moss would have been right field, where the Phillies spent the first three months of the season using a combination of John Mayberry, Ben Francisco, and Ross Gload.

Put a Francisco/Moss platoon out there, and maybe Moss ends up doing what Jayson Werth did, which is what Moss is now doing in Oakland.

Remember, I said there was no OBVIOUS place to get Moss at bats. One could argue that the difference between good organizations and bad organizations are that good organizations see beyond the obvious moves, that if running a successful franchise was all about paying and playing top-of-the-market guys, then any one of us could run successful organizations. 

In a way, the Moss situation is a microcosm of the Phillies as they have been run over the last five or six years. Their decision-making makes sense on a microscopic, day-to-day level, but widen the frame to the five-year-plan level and you see that day-to-day sense is always circular, because it is made within the context of the blueprint that has been established by the decision-makers, and every day-to-day decision is a product of the decisions that were made the day before, and the day before that. The Phillies decided that they were going to pay top dollar for Ibanez in 2009, which led to them sticking with him in 2011, and feeling the need to keep younger right-handed hitting outfielders Mayberry and Francisco on the roster. The Phillies decided that they were going to give Ryan Howard a five-year, $125 million contract extension two years before he was due to hit free agency, which essentially made it a seven-year, $170 million contract, which left their hands tied when he continued the decline he'd already begun, and then blew out his Achilles tendon, so they were less able, and less inclined, to explore the abundance of cheaper options that are available to fill a non-premium position like first base. 

Etc.

Most of all, the Moss situation is an excellent example of the danger inherent in trusting human judgment, because the Phillies pride themselves on their scouting prowess, on their ability to find baseball talent without any of the new-fangled methods employed by dweebs like Billy Beane, and nobody saw Brandon Moss more in 2011 than the Phillies, nobody had more of an opportunity to sense that he was on the verge of becoming the player the Red Sox and Pirates always hoped he'd become, and yet nobody saw it, and when the Phillies decided they needed a left-handed power bat to replace the ailing Gload, they did not think enough of Moss to make him that bat, and they went outside the organization and orchestrated a trade for John Bowker, who today isn't even worth Googling to find out if he is still playing in Korea. 

“Philly had kind of showed me what they thought of me when they were looking for a left-handed bench bat late in the year,” Moss told Rosenthal. “I had been having a pretty good year at Triple A for them. And they went outside the organization and got another guy. Things like that are when you see what teams think of you. You see where you stand. I read the writing on the wall.”

And those egghead A's?

“I knew they knew who I was, knew how I played,” Moss tells Rosenthal. “It’s always good to be in a place that at least knows what you’re capable of doing. But at the same time, when I found out Oakland had interest, I just felt like it was a good fit. 

“The things I do as a hitter are things that they valued. Batting average was not the end-all, be-all of things. They look at numbers outside of that, numbers that usually are in line with what I do well. I thought if I could go show what I was capable of doing, there might be an opportunity to earn some sort of spot. And if not, at least I knew I would be in the PCL (Pacific Coast League).

“In the PCL, numbers are inflated big-time, especially for power hitters. I knew that if I did well there, there would probably be an opportunity to go to Japan. That was my whole goal. I thought if it doesn’t work out in Oakland, I knew that my power numbers would be there and there would be a good opportunity to go overseas and play.”

But forget about Moss, and focus instead on the anecdote Rosenthal offers about the A's decision to move him to first base:

Farhan Zaidi, a statistical analyst who was then the team’s director of baseball operations, had written an e-mail to GM Billy Beane, urging that the A’s play Moss at first. Beane jokingly refers to Zaidi’s E-mail as “The Moss Manifesto.” But Zaidi, now an assistant GM, was onto something.

Manager Bob Melvin says he was initially skeptical about Moss changing positions — “I had never seen him play first base,” Melvin says. “To me, he was just an outfielder.” To this day, Moss says he is more comfortable as a corner outfielder than a first baseman. But first has been his most frequent position with the A’s.

“I feel like that is one reason it’s so easy to relax here," Moss continues. "You don’t have to force anything. They know what kind of player you are. Their stats, their analytics, people don’t like that. But the stats tell most of your story.

“They don’t think I’m going to come in and suddenly hit .330 and strike out 50 times and walk 100. They know I’m going to hit for a moderate average, strike out some, walk an average amount. But when I get it, there’s power behind it. I can drive the ball.”

Remember, it is all about the blueprint within whose framework the day-to-day decisions are made.  

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