By John Perrotto
Monday wasn't a day for sabermetrics for Brandon Moss.
The Athletics first baseman didn't punch up the FanGraphs or Baseball Prospesctus websites on his smartphone during an off day for Oakland in St. Petersburg, Fla., before opening a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night. Instead, like an admitted good old boy from Loganville, Ga., Moss spent the day hog hunting.
"Hunting and my two sons, those are the two biggest passions in my life," Moss said with a smile.
Yet Moss can work his way around a sabermetrics website, too. He understands that on-base percentage is more important than batting average, what the acronym OPS stands for and how to calculate BABIP.
As Moss points out with a smile, "I was part of the Moneyball draft, you know."
Nearly 12 years have passed since baseball's 2002 amateur draft, which became a major part of Michael Lewis' best-selling book Moneyball which explored how Athletics general manager Billy Beane used stat-driven analysis to acquire players. The book was adapted into a 2011 motion picture of the same name that starred Brad Pitt as Beane.
Moss was not selected by the Athletics in the Moneyball draft, instead being chosen in the eighth round by the Boston Red Sox following his senior year at Loganville High School. However, Moss has turned out to be what is still perceived as the ideal Moneyball player --- though Beane's approach has always been geared toward finding market inefficiencies rather a certain type of player --- as he has both power and patience in abudence.
"I always felt this would been a good organization for me," Moss said. "I do a lot of the thing that the A's value. I can hit the ball out of the park and, even though I strike out a lot, I'm willing to work counts when the situations calls for it. It just took me a while to get here."
It was a 9 ½-year journey from the time he was drafted until he signed with the Athletics as a minor league free agent on Dec. 1, 2011. Even then, Moss wasn't expecting a complete career revival when he put on the green-and-gold uniform.
"I remember telling my wife when I signed that I was at a stage where there was no guarantee that I'd play in the big leagues again," Moss said. "I figured if I did get to the majors, I'd be the kind of guy who'd get 100-200 at-bats a season, and I thought my best bet in the long run might be going to Japan and trying to make it over there for a few years."
Instead, Moss became a key part of a team that is coming off back-to-back American League West titles and is in first place again this season by 3 ½ games over the Los Angeles Angels. Though the statistic is the bane of sabermetricians, Moss is tied for second in the AL with 39 RBIs while hitting .301 with a .391 on-base percentage, a .582 slugging percentage and nine home runs in 43 games.
It is a continuation of what the 30-year-old has done ever since the Athletics called him up from Triple-A Sacramento on June 6, 2012. That year, he hit 21 home runs and had a .954 OBP in 84 games, then followed with 30 homers and an .859 OPS in 145 games in 2013.
"We're so fortunate to have a guy like Brandon, a left-handed hitter with power in the middle of our order, and especially the way it all happened," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. "We didn't know how long he would be going to be here when we called him up here, then he was the American League Player of the Week in his first full week with us and hasn't stopped hitting yet. You're talking about a guy who truly did take advantage of his opportunity and has made the most of it."
Moss had played in 249 games over his previous five major-league seasons from 2007-11 with the Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies before joining the Athletics. More than half of those games, 133, came in 2009 with the Pirates when he got his one shot at being an everyday player in the major leagues as their right fielder.
The Pirates had acquired Moss in a three-team trade with the Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31, 2008, that was much more notable for two other outfielders changing teams -- the Dodgers acquired Manny Ramirez and Boston got Jason Bay. The Pirates were hopeful Moss could be a part of one of their gazillion rebuilding tries, but he hit just .236 with seven home runs and a .668 OPS.
Moss admits he put added pressure on himself to replace Bay, who was the face of the Pirates' franchise at the time of the trade. He also never got comfortable with the various mechanical adjustments to his swing that he was asked to make by general manager Neal Huntington, manager John Russell and hitting coach Don Long.
"I was a 25-year-old kid who hadn't established himself as a major league player, so what was I going to do, not do what they asked me to do?" Moss said. "It was tough. They wanted me to hit everything the other way or up the middle and that's just not the type of hitter I am. I'm much more effective when I pull the ball and they just wanted to be something I'm not."
Moss' confidence hit bottom the following season when he hit .224 with two home runs in 17 April games for the Pirates' Triple-A Indianapolis farm club. Jeff Branson, now the Pirates' hitting coach, held the same position at Indianapolis then and called the Red Sox and asked if they could send tape of Moss from when he was hitting well in their farm system. Branson and Moss studied the tapes for hours and found a solution.
"Brano told me to spread my feet out and just starting hitting the ball like I used to," Moss said. "I owe a lot to him. I really wasn't part of the Pirates' plans anymore but he cared enough to call the Red Sox and put in the time with me. It turned my career around."
Moss wound up hitting up hitting 22 homers and an .800 OPS that season for Indianapolis, then had 23 home runs and an .877 OPS the following year at Lehigh Valley, the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate. He was on his way to another monster season at Triple-A in 2012, belting 15 homers and posting a .952 OPS in 51 games before getting called up by the Athletics.
That season in Indianapolis also taught Moss a very valuable lesson. "Ultimately, it's your career and you have to do what's best for you, what works best for you," he said.
Moss hasn't been back to the minor leagues since, because the instance of a minor league coach providing a simple piece of advice overrode all the coaching he received while with Pittsburgh. It is why he has found a home in Oakland and why Melvin and his coaching staff deserve their share of credit for the late-career emergence of such players as Moss, third baseman Josh Donaldson and right-hander Jesse Chavez, despite the organization's reputation as being merely number crunchers.
"You're allowed to be yourself here," Moss said. "These guys are outstanding at seeing what a player's strengths are and working with that rather than trying to change guys into the type of players they think they should be. It's a great atmosphere and that's why you see so many guys succeed here when they didn't in other organizations. I'm a perfect example of that."
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John Perrotto has covered professional baseball since 1988 for such outlets as USA Today, The Sports Xchange, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and the Beaver County (Pa.) Times. You can find more of his work on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.