Judging the Royals

Brandon Moss: Why good hitters sometimes swing at bad pitches

Kansas City Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss reacted to striking out against Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss reacted to striking out against Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Back on June 5 the Astros were in Kansas City, and in the eighth inning Royals DH Brandon Moss took a hack at a curveball. Unfortunately, the curve bounced before it ever got to home plate, and Moss missed by a mile.

The swing looked bad and drew some derisive comments: How could a big-league hitter like Brandon Moss swing at a pitch that bad?

The next day I asked him.

The pitcher on the mound was Will Harris, and he’d already thrown Moss a fastball and a curve; the count was 1-1. Moss was convinced that Harris was going to throw a cutter in on his hands next, so he geared up for that pitch.

But Moss guessed wrong.

Instead of a 92 mph cutter, Harris threw an 82 mph curve, and by the time Moss recognized the pitch, he couldn’t stop his swing.

Why did Moss guess; why not wait a bit longer and then react to whatever pitch Harris threw?

Moss explained.

In order to drive the ball, Moss tries to work his way into a count where he’s pretty sure of what’s coming next. Unless the situation dictates otherwise, Moss is not looking to slap a single to the opposite field; he’s looking for a pitch he can crush and elevate to the pull side.

Moss is looking for a very specific pitch and, until he has two strikes, letting the pitches that don’t fit the bill go by.

And if Moss doesn’t get the right pitch or guesses wrong, he knows it can look pretty bad. But last season Moss guessed right often enough to hit 28 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals, and he hopes to do something similar here in Kansas City.

If Moss is going to drive the ball out of the yard 20 or more times, we’re going to see some guess swings that don’t pay off.

The 2014 Wild Card game

While we were talking about his approach at the plate, Moss reminisced about the 2014 Wild Card game between the Royals and Oakland A’s.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, Moss is the guy who hit two homers and drove in five runs for the A’s.

Moss had a good season in 2014; he only batted .234, but he hit 25 homers and drove in 81 runs. But Moss remembers being excited about the Wild Card game for a reason that might sound odd to those of us who don’t hit home runs for a living:

In 2014, Brandon Moss had a lousy September.

He only hit .151 that month, and in his mind that meant the Royals were going to pitch to him. Forget what’s on the scoreboard, that’s what a player has done over the course of a season; teams are much more interested in what a player is doing right now.

Is he coming into a game hot or cold?

From September 17 to September 28, Moss hit .120 with no home runs. Being that cold meant he’d probably get pitches to hit.

The night of the Wild Card game, Moss homered in his first at-bat, lined out in his second at-bat and homered again in his third at-bat. By his fourth trip to the plate, the Royals had figured out the guy who came into the game ice cold was now smoking hot, so they pitched Moss more carefully.

Moss finished his night with two strikeouts and one intentional walk.

People around the Royals credit that 2014 Wild Card game for flipping the switch: A team that barely sneaked into the playoffs won a 12-inning barn burner and started playing out of their minds for the next two years.

And Brandon Moss almost prevented that from happening.

Jumping to conclusions

At one time or another we all jump to conclusions; we form opinions without having all the evidence that matters. I still do it occasionally, but these days I’m a bit slower to take the leap.

I’ve learned that when you see a play on the field that looks awful, there’s often a logical explanation. Sometimes the logical explanation is the player really did do something dumb – it happens to all of us.

But other times it’s because the player knew something we didn’t or thought about a situation in a different manner.

On Monday, June 5, with Will Harris on the mound, Brandon Moss took an ugly hack. Chances are, we’ll see Moss take a few more of those before the season’s over. But now you know there’s a method to his madness.

Now you know why good hitters sometimes swing at bad pitches.