In just a few few months, Brandon Moss has worn a few different hats for the Cardinals. He was brought in at the trade deadline last year to provide a jolt for the offense. Moss did not play poorly for the Cardinals, hitting .250/.344/.409 for a 109 wRC+, but the power jolt never materialized. Moss got most of his value in those 151 plate appearances from walks and he never did cement himself in the lineup.
After the season, Moss was a placeholder, a backup plan. The team went out and tried to sign Jason Heyward, leaving Moss as an $8 million second option. If the Cardinals had signed Heyward, Stephen Piscotty likely moves to first base, and Moss gets traded during the offseason. If the talks to re-sign Heyward fell through, then Moss was there to provide a proven bat.
As we all know, those talks with Heyward did fall through, and now Moss stands to be the regular starter at first base this season. Given his struggles last season, Moss has moved from backup plan to bounceback candidate. While much of the offensive discussion this winter has revolved around getting full seasons from the outfield of Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty, Brandon Moss could also be an important figure in moving the Cardinals' offense forward.
John Mozeliak and the Cardinals certainly seem to think so:
With everything we were hearing from the off-season about him being able to strengthen his lower half and being able to have a normal off-season and not one which was slowed by surgery, I felt that there was potential upside to get him back to where he was. We thought it made sense. It was one-year ($8.25 million). I know he wanted to be here and I felt it was worth trying.
For his part, Moss backs up that narrative:
Moss said the hip wasn't really the issue. "It was more from a strength standpoint," he said, "being weak from not having any ability to work out during the offseason or the season."
Last offseason, Moss, an avid weightlifter, was forced to swim rather than lift and he felt some atrophy had set in.
This offseason, he was able to renew his weightlifting although he admitted he hurt his hip in the first place by trying to explode out of a squat while he was a member of the Oakland Athletics.
There are other reasons to think a stronger Moss will hit better than he did last year, but there are reasons to temper those expectations as well. On the positive side, there is some statcast data to indicate that perhaps Moss was not quite as bad as his numbers indicate. Over at MLB.com, Andrew Simon wrote that Moss just had a bunch of hard hits go for outs.
Moss suffered 34 outs of 100-plus mph this past season, which is relatively few compared with the others on this list. On the other hand, only five hitters among the top 100 in that category topped his 17.7 average launch angle when reaching a triple-digit exit velocity. That's relevant because angles between 10-25 degrees tend to create line drives, which in turn tend to create good outcomes. Despite that, Moss' .580 batting average and 1.239 slugging percentage in these situations were modest in the context of the league average.
In addition, looking at the available projections also indicate a bit of bounceback as well. After hitting just .226/.307/.407 with a wRC+ of 94, Steamer projects Moss for a .240/.322/.445 with a wRC+ of 110, which would be a big improvement over last season. We also have ZiPS available, and it projects Moss for a .237/.319/.444 good for an OPS+ of 108, also a big improvement over last season.
This is a point where we might want to temper our expectations. While those projections expect improvement from Moss over last season, including a big increase in power over what he did with the Cardinals, the overall production is not that different from what Moss provided in his short time with the Cardinals. Moss is now 32 years old and not generally at an age where players get better. When compared to an average first baseman, that projected line falls below the .260/.338/.452 with a 115 wRC+.
Last season Cardinals first basemen, of which Moss was a small part, put up a pitiful .238/.310/.392 line with a 93 w RC+. It should not take much from Moss to significantly better that mark and help the Cardinals offense improve from last season, but expecting him to get back to where he was at age-29 and age-30 when he hit 55 home runs and had a wRC+ of 129 is wishful thinking. If he can bounce back and hit like an average first baseman, the Cardinals should consider that a positive return on their investment.