Benching Brandon Moss is Not the Answer to St. Louis Cardinals’ Problems

May 29, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Brandon Moss (37) hits a solo home run against the Washington Nationals during the fourth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
May 29, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Brandon Moss (37) hits a solo home run against the Washington Nationals during the fourth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

Brandon Moss is too important to the Cardinals’ lineup to just be replaced.

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Brandon Moss has struggled mightily over the past week, and the Cardinals media and fanbase has become more vocal about his issues with each passing day. While the pleas to #DFAMoss were few and far between (but existent) after his 0-for-4 performance on Sunday, there were much more frequent demands that Moss be removed from the lineup for a player like Jeremy Hazelbaker.

Moss has slumped to epic proportions since August 29. He’s in the midst of a 1-for-41 with 16 strikeouts and five walks over that period. 40 percent of the balls that Moss has put into play during September have been “soft hits” according to FanGraphs (a season-worst), and he hasn’t hit a home run in his last 15 games. Still, the only game that Moss has not started during his troublesome stretch came on September 5, when he did not see action.

In fairness, perhaps a multi-game break for Moss could make an impact. It worked momentarily for Jason Heyward and Andrew McCutchen, though those guys eventually continued to struggle, just like they have for the entire 2016 season. Unless Mike Matheny is adventurous enough put Kolten Wong in the outfield again–which is infinitely more reasonable with Aledmys Díaz, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko, and Greg Garcia all available to play second, short, and third–there’s not really an obvious replacement for Moss.

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Tommy Pham is basically a poor man’s version of Moss–an all-or-nothing hitter with slightly inferior power, lesser fielding skills, and an equally troublesome inability to make contact at the plate in recent weeks. With the exception of a fantastic series in Miami and a solid week in mid-August, Hazelbaker hasn’t been a hitting threat since May. In theory, Jose Martinez could temporarily take over a starting role; after all, Matheny thrust Pete Kozma into an everyday role in the heat of a September pennant race with virtually no big-league experience back in 2012. But Martinez has just two major-league at-bats, and it’d simply be irresponsible to start him ahead of Moss as the Cardinals are trying to earn a wild card spot.

Even as he slumps, Moss (along with Gyorko) is still on pace to exceed Carpenter’s team-leading mark of 28 homers in 2015. By doing so, Moss and Gyorko would become the most prolific Cardinals power hitters since Carlos Beltran had 32 homers in 2012. It’s safe to say the Cardinals will have power in their lineup whether or not Moss is in it, but it’s very possible that he has the most natural power on the team.

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In addition, a generation of Cardinals fans that grew up viewing the well-above-.300 batting averages of Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds as huge measures of success might not yet be caught up to how hitters are taught to attack in 2016. With pitchers throwing harder than ever, hitters are encouraged to take an all-or-nothing approach (unless that something in between is a walk or an HBP), sacrificing weak singles for the opportunity to hit more homers. This year’s probable NL MVP, Kris Bryant, isn’t even hitting .300.

Obviously it would be nice if Moss’s .239 batting average were higher, but the fact of the matter is that Moss’s .828 OPS–the most comprehensive mark to measure a hitter’s all-around skill–trails only those of Carpenter and Díaz among Cardinals regulars. His OPS is roughly equivalent to those of a few other players who are major factors in their teams’ postseason viability: Bryce Harper (.839), major-league home runs leader Mark Trumbo (.838), Justin Turner (.834), Mike Napoli (.828), Chris Davis (.826), and Carlos Correa (.824).

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All of this is to say that though Moss has struggled lately, he definitely hasn’t slumped to the point where he should no longer be part of the lineup. Harper didn’t get yanked from the Nationals’ lineup when he hit .176/.303/.319 during the month of July, and while Moss might benefit from a day off or two as he works through a 1-for-41, there’s no reason that he should just be outright replaced.