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Examining Brandon Moss' turnaround

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Brandon Moss has been red-hot as of late after struggling for most of the year. What has led to this dramatic turnaround, and how much of this performance can Moss sustain going forward?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

In case you weren't aware, Brandon Moss has been hitting pretty well lately. Over his last seven games (going into last night), Moss has posted a ridiculous .458/.552/1.083 slash line with a wRC+ of 330. Obviously, this is a very small sample size that I cherry picked in order to maximize the ridiculousness of these numbers, but this seven-game stretch is notable because it sharply contrasts with what Moss had done with the Cardinals prior to that point. From July 30th (Moss' first day with the Cardinals) to August 26th, Moss had a 41 wRC+ in 56 plate appearances with two extra base hits (both doubles). Since then, he has a double, a triple, and four home runs.

While I often look at seven game stretches like this with some skepticism due to the small sample size, I think there might actually be some truth to the idea that Brandon Moss has "turned a corner" (to quote Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller of Effectively Wild). Earlier this week, Eno Sarris of Fangraphs wrote an outstanding piece (seriously, go read it if you haven't already) about some adjustments that Moss had made at the plate. First, he made the decision to go back to a more open stance, an adjustment that is clearly visible in the before and after photos of him standing at the plate.

The second adjustment had more to do with his mental approach at the plate. Moss described it as "not looking for a pitch, not looking for a fastball or a breaking ball, or up or down. Try to be easy to the ball, on time, gather in my approach, and when you see a pitch you like, that's when you swing. You're ready for a pitch you like, not ready for a pitch you think they are going to throw."

While baseball players make adjustments all the time, many of which do not lead to noticeable changes in performance, there do appear to be many examples of players making small adjustments that end up having a noticeable impact. One such example is Jose Bautista, who went from being a journeyman to one of the game's best sluggers by reportedly adjusting the mechanics of his swing. Obviously, Moss probably won't achieve the jump in performance that Bautista did with Toronto, but the good news is that Moss has already been a productive hitter before, so it isn't too much of a stretch to envision him bouncing back and being more productive than he has been for most of 2015. At this point, it is probably still too early to say whether or not Moss' adjustments will continue to lead to good results, but the early returns are certainly promising.

For fun, I thought I'd look at some of Moss' batted ball data to see if there is any reason to believe that his recent production is more than a fluke. First, here's a look at Moss' week-by-week exit velocity for 2015, courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Looking at this graph, there doesn't appear to be anything that stands out as particularly unusual. His exit velocity has fluctuated up and down throughout the season, and it has been slightly higher as of late, although not the highest it has been all season. With that being said, this data is probably not that reliable, since there appear to be many batted balls where no exit velocity was reported. Most notably, Moss' low point on the graph contains a four game series (7/30-8/02 against Colorado) where no exit velocities were publicly reported. As a result, the number of data points for this week is probably very small. In addition, five of Moss' nineteen batted balls over the last seven games have no reported exit velocity. Those five batted balls were all hits: three singles, a double and a home run, with every hit except the home run being classified as a line drive, according to Gameday. It is likely that this exit velocity graph would look significantly better for Moss, at least over the last two weeks, if all data points were included.

Moss' average fly ball distance certainly appears to be trending in the right direction, as his average on the season is now up to 289 feet, according to Baseball Heat Maps. This is an improvement over 2014, when he averaged just 281 feet per fly ball. Over the last seven games, Moss has hit six fly balls, five of which had a distance reported by Gameday (the one that didn't was his home run in Arizona). The average distance on these fly balls (three home runs, a triple, and an out) was 418(!!) feet. Over this same stretch of games, Moss has not hit a single infield popup. His batted ball distribution over these seven games is composed of seven ground balls, six line drives, and six fly balls. While this is a very small sample size, it is clear that Moss' results over this stretch have not been fluky. He is flat out murdering the ball right now.

Obviously, Moss will not be able to sustain the numbers he has posted over this seven game stretch, especially with a BABIP over .400. Still, it will be interesting to see if he can at least be closer to the 135 wRC+ hitter he was from 2012 to 2014. If so, then the Cardinals' move to acquire Moss at the deadline will look much better than it did when the trade was first announced. Personally, I was not a fan of the move due to the premium they paid to acquire him at the deadline, and I'm not on board with the move just yet because of a good seven game stretch. However, I was willing to give the Cardinals the benefit of the doubt when the trade was made due to the fact that they have way more information about players and smarter people analyzing that information. If Moss' last seven games are an indication of a true turnaround, then I will happily be wrong for criticizing this move, especially if it means that the Cardinals are World Series favorites in 2015.