Moss open to adjusting hitting philosophy

A pull hitter much of his career, veteran slugger looking to spray the ball more

March 4th, 2018

MESA, Ariz. -- might be slowing down at 34 years old, but he still knows how to hang with the kids.

Looking around the A's clubhouse recently, Moss agrees.

"I think they think I'm an idiot," he said, grinning. "But I am. I'm a goofball."

He's been carrying a generous stack of baseball cards around the room, acquainting himself with new teammates by asking for an autograph. Because that's just the type of thing Moss does. They're for his two sons.

"Everybody loves him, which isn't a surprise," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "You see everybody kind of migrates to him."

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Moss is adored here, and the feeling is mutual. Few players embrace Oakland the way Moss does. But that doesn't change reality, which reminds us that the A's probably won't be able to accommodate him on their roster when camp breaks.

Each of Moss' positions is filled, and there's also spillover on the bench. Chances are he'll be on the move yet again in the coming weeks. Consider this month an ongoing tryout for all clubs.

Funny things happen in spring, though, and Moss is maintaining the belief that he can help these A's -- and in more ways than one. Power will always be his biggest asset, but it won't necessarily guarantee him a job anymore, especially on an A's team that already boasts bunches of it. That's why this extreme pull hitter is earnestly trying to use the whole field more.

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Make no mistake. This isn't Moss trying to reinvent himself.

"I can't stray too far from what I am, just because I don't really know how to be anything else," he said. "This is who I've been, so I've just gotta be a better version of it.

"My batting average keeps going down further and further. The shift just gets more effective against me the slower I get, so I'm going to have to make some adjustments if I want to keep playing. I knew that coming into this year. Last year was just such a bad year. I hit the ball hard last year, but I can't tell you how many times I would hit the ball into right field on a one-hop line drive and get thrown out at first by a guy halfway in the outfield because I'm not fast enough to beat it out anymore."

Per Statcast™, Moss' .078 batting average (6-for-77) on grounders ranked last among 316 hitters who ended at least 75 at-bats with a ground ball last season -- and it wasn't close, with next in line at .148. However, his expected batting average on grounders, as estimated by Statcast™, came out to .236. The 158-point gap between Moss' actual and expected batting average on grounders tied for the greatest "unlucky" gap among the group of 316.

A common theme among players seeing such a significant gap is footspeed, or lack thereof, and hits lost on grounders, coupled with a 32 percent strikeout rate, contributed to Moss' .207 average and a .279 on-base percentage.

Moss still managed to hit 22 home runs for the Royals, who saw an opportunity to dump salary when the A's came calling on lefty reliever in January. Kansas City sent $3.25 million to Oakland, leaving the A's responsible for $5 million of the remaining $8.25 million on Moss' two-year contract.

Moss was blindsided but welcomed a reunion with the team that ignited his big league career. He hit 76 home runs during his first tour with the A's from 2012-14.

"All last year while I was struggling, I didn't think I was going to be traded," he said, "because I didn't do well and I didn't think anyone was going to take on my salary, so I thought I was going to be a Royal. So I spent most of the season after the All-Star break trying to make an adjustment, and it didn't work out very well but I knew going into the offseason what I wanted to work on."

The work began with then-Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum and has continued with A's hitting coach Darren Bush, who managed Moss at the Triple-A level ahead of the slugger's promotion in 2012. Instead of sitting on his back leg, Moss is learning how to shift his weight forward in an effort to drive through the ball.

Moss is still one of the best in the game at lifting the ball to the pull side, as he did for a single in the sixth inning Saturday. It's about minimizing the outs when he doesn't.

"I guess the more home runs I get the more pull-happy I got because it was, 'OK, this is what's going to keep me around,'" he said. "Well, now I'm in a little bit of a different situation. I just want to compete, and I'm going to have to be able to use the whole field a little bit better. Luckily, I have a long enough track record, and I don't think me trying to be more of a complete hitter is anyway going to hurt that. It can only help."