Loving Moss, Hating on Blackmon

In this series, I will be taking a tour around the diamond for an in-depth look at players who I value differently than the market consensus. Expert ranking lists are not worth the paper they are printed on without analysis as to why players are ranked where they are. Since the featured players in this column will be guys who I value much differently than the mainstream, you may not agree with where I rank them, but it is still important to understand why I have them where they are. Sometimes alternative viewpoints can be more illuminating than group think, even if you do not agree with the opinion.

 

Love – Brandon Moss, Cleveland Indians

Brandon Moss was a first half MVP candidate last season, but a massive second half slump has caused many to doubt the 31-year-old slugger. Between the slump, a hip injury that likely caused it and a change of scenery, there are plenty of question marks for Moss heading into 2015. Sometimes, those question marks can be a good thing when it comes to a player’s fantasy value. Risk creates doubt in the minds of potential drafters, and we often overreact to the most recent information. I believe Moss will be a terrific value in 2015 because most will overreact to the negative news.

Batting Average

The last three seasons, Moss has delivered batting averages ranging from .234 to .291. Drafters can get the .291 mark out of their heads right now, as it was driven by a ridiculous .359 BABIP. Moss is an extreme fly ball hitter (48.7% in 2014). While that is a very good thing for his power numbers, high fly ball rates also tend to correlate with lower than average BABIPs.

The most interesting part about Moss’ batted ball profile is that he rarely hits the ball on the ground. His ground ball rate the last 3 seasons has been just barely above 30%, almost 14% lower than the league average. Because of the extremely low ground ball rate and a solid line drive rate, Moss has been able to post a career BABIP of .299 despite all the fly balls. Recent trends suggest that 2015 owners can still expect a BABIP above .280. and possibly one as high as .300.

In terms of plate discipline, Moss is improving. His BB rate has gone up three consecutive years, while his strikeout rate has gone down. In 2014, his BB rate was 11.6% against a K rate of 26.4%. He still brings a rather aggressive approach, swinging at 33.4% of pitches outside the zone, but his swinging strike rate of 12.2% represents his best mark since 2009 when he was a very different hitter.

The bottom line is that Brandon Moss still strikes out too much, but his healthy walk totals and ability to make hard contact still allow him to post a solid batting average. His overall .234 mark from last season was dragged down by a .173 second half average. Assuming Moss is healthy heading into 2015; expect him to be at or above his career .248 batting average. A range between .245 and .260 is the most likely case.

Power

While all the fly balls certainly don’t help the batting average, they are great for Moss’ HR totals. He hits almost half of his batted balls in the air and he has a career HR/FB rate over 15%. Last season, Moss posted a HR/FB rate of 14.8% with an average fly ball distance of 281 feet. While both of these numbers would project a solid HR total, they do not paint the picture of an elite power hitter. Many drafters will look at those numbers and get nervous that Moss’ power is fading a little. Don’t make that mistake.

In 2013, Moss had an average fly ball distance of 295 feet and a HR/FB rate of 18.8%. In the first half of 2014, he was on a very similar pace. He hit 21 of his 25 HRs before the all-star break and his 18.8% HR/FB rate was identical to his 2013 ratio. Then, Moss sustained a hip injury that prevented him from driving the ball with the authority that he had been accustomed to. He continued to play through the injury even though he was a shell of his normal self.

Moss hit just 2 HRs after the calendar flipped to August despite a fly ball rate as high as ever. During that span, his HR/FB rate fell from an elite level to about 4%. To put that number into proper perspective, Billy Hamilton’s HR/FB rate in 2014 was 3.9%.

It is possible that Moss’ hip injury could affect his power production some in 2015. He underwent offseason hip surgery and has yet to resume swinging a bat. All reports suggest that Moss will be ready to go on opening day, but he is unlikely to get a full slate of spring training ABs. He has been given a clean bill of health, however, so while the timing may be a little off the power should return. Assuming Moss is healthy, he is a good bet to hit 25-35 HRs in 2015. He is still an elite power threat.

Splits

We know that the second half swoon was caused by the hip, but what about Moss’ performance against lefties?

Brandon Moss has typically fared very well against righties. In 2012, when he posted an insane .402 overall wOBA, he had relatively limited exposure against lefties. He absolutely destroyed right-handed pitching in 2012 with a .419 wOBA while still posting a strong .337 wOBA against lefties.

In 2013, he really struggled against lefties. He only received 80 of his 446 ABs against southpaws, but his .200 BA and .284 wOBA against lefties made Moss look like the A’s should keep him in a strict platoon. Moss continued to crush right-handed pitching with a .387 wOBA.

Moss still received the occasional day off against lefties in 2014, but he made some real strides against them. He actually managed to post a .263 batting average against southpaws last season. His wOBA against lefties (.356) was actually higher than his mark against righties (.336). Granted, the 87 AB sample size is too small to draw any definitive conclusions, but the progress is certainly promising. Moss was able to make strong contact (27.3% line drive rate) and still display top shelf power (20.0% HR/FB) on the few occasions that he hit the ball in the air against lefties (36.4% FB rate).

I would not count on Brandon Moss playing 160 games in 2015, but if he is able to maintain his recent success against lefties, he may see fewer days off moving forward.

Run Production

Over the past two seasons in Oakland, Moss has established himself as a middle of the order bat. Now that he is in Cleveland, he will likely bat between 4th and 6th. He is moving from a home park that is one of the stingiest against left handed power, to one in Cleveland where lefty power plays very well. He will have plenty of RBI chances with hitters like Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana potentially batting in front of him. He is capable of putting up 90+ RBI with a healthy run total around 70.

Injury

The hip injury is somewhat concerning for a 31-year-old power hitter, but he has been given a clean bill of health and is starting to ramp up his conditioning right now. The injury clearly presents a risk heading into 2015, but he has not had any other significant injuries in recent years and was able to play through the hip issue (all be it poorly) in 2014. Moss is being undervalued because of the impact that the injury had on his numbers. It is possible that the injury could speed up his eventual decline in terms of his power, but I think it is more likely that Moss bounces back close to full strength.

Conclusions

According to fantasypros, Moss’ ADP is 188. That is a pretty deep discount for a dual eligible player with 30+ HR power and a playable batting average. Here is my Brandon Moss projection for 2015:

.250, 70 Runs, 28 HR, 90 RBI in 145 games.

Moss should be valued as a top 100 player even with the injury risk. He has top 50 upside if he is able to put together a healthy campaign. Owners who can acquire Brandon Moss after pick 120 are doing very well for themselves. If you get him after pick 150, you are just flat out stealing.

 

Hate- Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies

I really like Charlie Blackmon. He was a large part of my fantasy portfolio from 2014 and I enjoyed the ride. The trouble is that he is currently being drafted with an ADP of 82 according to fantasypros.com. That is a pretty hefty price tag for a player coming off of a career season and likely destined for a platoon. Let’s take a closer look and see what Blackmon should be worth.

Batting Average

Blackmon has pretty poor plate discipline. He only walked in 4.8% of his ABs, which was actually a career best by a significant margin. Blackmon swung at 39% of pitches outside the strike zone, but he does have pretty good contact skills with a swinging strike rate of just 7.5% in 2014. As a result, Blackmon’s strikeout rate for the season was 14.8%. Obviously, most teams would want their leadoff guy to show a little more patience at the plate, but Blackmon was able to make it work for the most part.

One concerning trend is that Blackmon’s plate discipline seemed to get worse as the season wore on. Through April, when Charlie was scorching hot, he had a walk rate of 6.3% and a K rate of just 7.1%. He regressed a good deal in May and June, but still was able to finish the first half with a BB/K ratio of .43. After the all-star break, however, that ratio plummeted to just .21. As one might expect, his batting average in the first half was .305, but in the second half he hit just .264. Over the same time span, his wOBA splits were even more extreme (.361 and .307).

Blackmon’s batted ball profile suggests that he should continue to post a high BABIP, so his .315 mark from 2014 is not a cause for concern. In fact, Blackmon’s career BABIP is .322 and his minor league numbers were even better. He hits line drive at an above average rate (22.2% career) and he does not hit a ton of fly balls (35%). Because he has excellent speed, he is also able to beat out his share of infield hits.

Blackmon has the ability to hit between .280 and .300 if he can limit the strikeouts and take a few walks. There is some downside risk here, however. The free swinging hacker that we all saw in the second half is more of a .260 to .275 guy.

Power

There really was nothing flukey about Blackmon’s 19 HRs from last season. His average fly ball distance was 275 feet and his fly ball rate spiked to 37%. His HR/FB rate of 10.4% looks very sustainable moving forward. Blackmon is unlikely to hit more than 20 long balls in 2015, but 15 looks like a very realistic projection.

Speed

Speed is one of Blackmon’s best assets. He was able to steal 28 bags on 38 attempts last season, for a success rate of 73.7%. While that is not exactly an elite success rate, it is good enough that Blackmon should continue to get plenty of running opportunities moving forward. 20 steals for Blackmon is likely, and he could approach 25+ again.

Playing Time

Charlie Blackmon’s skills are not at issue. His playing time is. Corey Dickerson and Carlos Gonzalez are locked into the corner OF spots for as long as they are healthy. This leaves Blackmon and Drew Stubbs left to fight it out in center. Neither player is a great asset as a defensive player, but both can man the position adequately. Blackmon (a lefty) is not terrible against left-handed pitching (.308 wOBA in 2014, .327 career), but Stubbs absolutely crushes lefties (.409 wOBA in 2014, .359 career).

Since neither man is a standout with the glove and have contrasting platoon splits, we are likely to see a straight platoon unless Cargo or Dickerson goes down.

Conclusions

Charlie Blackmon is a fine player, but I have a difficult time spending an 8th round pick on somebody who will only be in the lineup four or five times per week. Here is my projection for Blackmon:

.280, 75 Runs, 15 HR, 60 RBI, 22 SBs

While those numbers are still very solid, the risk is much greater than the upside. If Blackmon starts off slowly, Stubbs may steal more than just a day or two per week. I would consider investing in Blackmon as my third OF after pick 130 or so, but anywhere inside the top 100 is too steep given the playing time concerns.

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel