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How the Cardinals Can Fix a Slumping Brandon Moss

Cardinals Brandon Moss

Brandon Moss is an important piece of the Cardinals’ power production. How can he get back on track in time for the stretch run?

The St. Louis Cardinals just wrapped up a nine-game road trip, going a decent 5-4 against the bottom-feeding Brewers and Reds before taking two tough games in Pittsburgh. More notably, they continued their season-long power resurgence, bashing 17 home runs over the nine games.

After three consecutive seasons in baseball’s bottom six in home runs, the Cardinals, as of September 8, are one of only two teams (and the only National League team) with at least 200 homers in 2016. Their 201 bombs are already their highest total since Albert Pujols slugged 46 alone in 2004.

Brandon Moss, acquired prior to last year’s trade deadline, has been a major part of that home run success. After just four home runs in 51 games post-deadline, Moss has paced the Cardinals this season, hitting 25 home runs, just shy of Jedd Gyorko’s 26 for the team lead. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, his .280 isolated power would be behind just David Ortiz, Brian Dozier, and Nolan Arenado for tops in baseball.

Through August 28, Moss was having a very productive month, hitting .295/.327/.600/.927 (140 wRC+). Then, the Cardinals went on the nine-game road trip, and Moss went into a deep slump that was nothing short of ugly. He went hitless in 26 at-bats, striking out 11 times, far from the mashing, middle-of-the-order bat he’s been all season. What went wrong?

The Swing

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Let’s start with the most fundamental reason Moss could be struggling: his swing. The above side-by-side sequences shows the progression of Moss’s swing during a pitch thrown on June 10 (left) and September 6 (right). I chose to use two games at PNC Park in order to ensure the same camera angle. Are Moss’s mechanics any different than they were earlier in the season?

  1. The topmost side-by-side shows Moss’s batting stance as the pitcher comes set. No difference here, other than the number of fans in the seats.
  2. The middle shows Moss planting his front foot as the pitch has been delivered. Like the first set of screenshots, it appears to be much of the same. But if you look closely, Moss is actually dropping his front shoulder in the more recent picture, causing him to be slightly less balanced. This typically cuts into a hitter’s power.
  3. The bottom set of pictures, the follow-through on Moss’s swing, is the most concerning. In the first picture, Moss’s body is in line, creating power from his lower half as he swings. In the second, however, his body is opening up towards the first base dugout. Moss isn’t as much of a pull hitter as he may seem–five of his home runs have gone to the opposite field–so seeing him try to pull the ball might indicate that he’s out of rhythm.

The Approach

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The above heatmaps show the percent of pitches Moss swung at before his slump and during his slump. The obvious disclaimer is that this week-long stretch is a very small sample size, but at the same time, the 120 pitches Moss saw during his slump is almost 10 percent of those he saw prior, so there’s still enough there to draw some analysis from. There’s a lot going on in these two charts, so let’s break them down.

The first thing to notice is that Moss’s approach is out of whack. Historically, Moss is a good low-and-away hitter:

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Recently, though, he’s been swinging at a ton of balls up in the zone, and even getting tied up on more balls inside.

Clearly, the second heatmap has a lot more red than the first one. Right now, Moss is swinging at everything. He’s swinging at more pitches outside the zone (33.4 percent to 33.7), inside the zone (73.0 to 77.6), and missing more (15.8 to 19.7). All that swinging has actually resulted in less contact (68.4 to 63.1), but more importantly, weaker contact:

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The Solution

This may just be my own anecdotal observations, but it seems that power-driven sluggers like Moss are more prone to deep slumps like this than other players. We see it going on in New York right now with Aaron Judge. Heck, even Giancarlo Stanton struck out 16 times in a 17-at-bat span (!) back in May.

So what, realistically, can the Cardinals do about Moss’s slump?

So far, they’ve been content to let him work his way out of it. He’s started each of the past five games, continuing to hit in the heart of the lineup each day. He’s contributed in other ways; he made a big, inning-ending throw in Cincinnati to gun down a runner at the plate in a three-run game.

Still, it’s vital to the Cardinals’ playoff push that Moss get back on track at the plate, and quickly. Moss isn’t a contact hitter who just needs a bloop single to dunk in to get his confidence back. He’s a patient, middle-of-the-order threat who is currently pressing offensively, getting away from the qualities that make him such a valuable piece. He needs to back to his trademark offensive mindset–taking pitches and punishing mistakes–even if that means a few days off to reset.

The Cardinals certainly have the depth to cover Moss for a few games, even without Matt Holliday. And there’s precedence for such a move. Back in June, the Cardinals sent Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk, both fairly established players, to the minors. Both have responded with an uptick in production since returning. Moss, of course, is a 32-year-old veteran who won’t be going to the farm. Still, a few days to rest might do Moss some good that could improve the team’s outlook heading into the final stretch run.

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rabilas – USA TODAY Sports

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