Judging the Royals

A closer look at the Royals’ newest addition, first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss

Former Cardinals slugger Brandon Moss will take his cuts with the Royals this season.
Former Cardinals slugger Brandon Moss will take his cuts with the Royals this season. AP

In case you haven’t heard, the Royals have signed Brandon Moss to a two-year deal. Moss mainly plays first base or a corner outfield spot, but early speculation (more on that before we’re through) has him slotted in as the Royals’ designated hitter.

Here’s a look at how he stacks up in each of his possible roles in Kansas City.

Moss in the outfield

The Royals have a huge outfield and need guys who can cover ground to play it. Moss has 10 years in the big leagues and nine career stolen bases in 20 attempts. Those numbers do not suggest outstanding speed.

Jorge Soler, the guy who looks likely to play right field, has four stolen bases in three years, so it seems pretty unlikely that the Royals have improved their outfield range with the acquisition of these two players.

If you have a short porch in left or right field, you can try to hide an outfielder with poor range in a corner. But that won’t work in Kauffman Stadium. Outfielders who aren’t great athletes tend to play deep there because they’d rather come forward on a fly ball than go back, so pay attention to where these two guys position themselves.

If they play deep and let flares drop in, it might look like the pitcher’s fault, but it will have more to do with their outfield positioning.

Moss at first base

Eric Hosmer is a much better first baseman than advanced metrics would have you believe. And if you want to know why, go back and read what I wrote about Hosmer and the Gold Glove awards.

Ultimate Zone Rating does not include a first baseman’s ability to handle bad throws and that’s the most important thing a first baseman does on defense. A good first baseman makes all the other infielders better; a bad first baseman makes all the other infielders worse.

When Moss is at first base, pay attention to his glove and footwork. If Moss is bad at scooping errant throws, the other infielders will start holding onto the ball unless they’re sure they can get their feet set and make an accurate delivery.

Moss as designated hitter

Former Royals DH Kendrys Morales was a switch hitter, but Moss hits from the left side exclusively. Moss hits both left-handed and right-handed pitchers just about equally well for average, though, and hits righties for more power.

Last season, Moss hit 28 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals, all of them to right or center field. Compared to Busch Stadium, Kauffman is 12 feet deeper in the right-center gap and 10 feet deeper in center. Moss also hit 15 of those home runs on the road, so factor that into your thinking.

Morales has a better career batting average (.273) than Moss (.241), but Moss comes a little closer in slugging percentage: Morales is at .465, Moss .455).

Dig into the numbers a bit more and one that seems significant is strikeouts: in his two years with the Royals, Morales had 1,257 plate appearances and struck out 223 times –— once every 5.6 plate appearances. In the past two years, Moss has had 990 plate appearances and struck out 289 times — once every 3.4 plate appearances. Their career strikeouts-per-plate-appearance numbers are just about the same.

Part of the Royals’ offensive philosophy is getting the ball in play and making the other team play defense, but it doesn’t appear that Moss is going to help with that.

Moss does not walk much either. His lifetime on-base-percentage is .319.

Bounce-back players

Last season, Moss was hitting .261 at the end of August and then hit .099 the rest of the way, dropping his season average to .225 for the year. You can look at that one of two ways: a sign warning you off Moss or, if you think it’s an aberration, an opportunity.

Smart teams will look for players who had a bad year for whatever reason and, as long as that player is healthy and motivated, hope for a bounce-back season. If the bad season depressed a player’s market value and the player bounces back the next year, the smart team gets a bargain. If the player doesn’t bounce back, the smart team doesn’t look so smart.

And that brings us to the difficulty of foretelling the future.

Some speculation

The world is filled with people willing to speculate about what the future holds, but unfortunately most of that speculation is wrong.

After Morales had shown his worth here in Kansas City, I went back to see what fans had to say at the time Morales was signed. Almost everybody thought it was a horrible mistake. So whatever you think about Moss right now, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be wrong.

Right now, Moss appears to be guy who won’t bring much to the table on defense or the base paths and will strike out more than you’d like and walk less than you’d like. So what Moss does when he gets the ball in play will probably define his worth.

On the other hand, I could be wrong.

But it’s sure nice to talk baseball again ... isn’t it?

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