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May 3, 2011

Painting the Black

Making the Most of Moskos

by R.J. Anderson

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The National Football League held its amateur draft over the past weekend, which means that the Major League Baseball edition is only about a month away. The draft is usually a time of celebration for picked players, relief for tireless scouts, and optimism from fan bases, although that last reaction isn't always guaranteed. The last weekend in April brought a reminder from the past that first-round picks can produce the opposite of the intended effect on a team's fans, as the Pirates promoted Daniel Moskos to the major leagues.

Moskos, the fourth overall selection in the 2007 draft, came off the boards after David Price, Mike Moustakas, and Josh Vitters, armed with a mid-90s fastball and a strikeout slider. Even so, the pick raised eyebrows at the time because teams in the midst of their fifteenth consecutive losing seasons don’t tend to draft closers in the first round, let alone the top five. Adding to the insanity, Moskos was picked right before Matt Wieters—not necessarily because the Pirates thought Moskos had more upside or talent—and other big league-talents like Jason Heyward and J.P. Arencibia.

Before the Moskos pick even took place, Kevin Goldstein offered up a source who suggested that the Pirates front office desired Wieters but was shot down by ownership over the finances necessary to select (read: sign) the switch-hitting backstop. There are a few commonly accepted ways to turn the fans against a draft pick, and the Pirates executed each to perfection.

Those few Pirates fans who did not swear off the franchise following the draft debacle, but instead gave Moskos a fair chance to succeed, watched his minor-league career with waning hope. Moskos blew through the lower levels of the minors, reaching High-A in 2008, but the organization decided to try him out as a starting pitcher—a possibility mentioned even in his pre-draft days. Moskos didn’t take well to he rotation, posting a (then) career-worst 5.95 earned run average and a 1.81 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His troubles continued in 2009, when the Buccos promoted him to Double-A. It is often said that Double-A is where the real prospects are separated from the pretenders, and Moskos looked anything but genuine in his first taste of the level. A total of 27 appearances (25 of them starts) yielded a clean 3.74 earned run average but a dirty 1.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio backed by only 77 strikeouts in 149 innings pitched.

Calling a spade a spade and a loss a loss, the Pirates moved Moskos back into the bullpen to begin the 2010 season, and he responded with a vengeance. His strikeouts per nine innings pitched doubled (from 4.7 to 9.4), and his walk rate held steady at 3.5. A promotion to Triple-A killed whatever good feelings Moskos’ Double-A domination might have instilled; while he still struck out more than one batter per inning pitched, his walk rate exceeded that ratio (although subtracting the two intentional walks from his total gave him "only" 18 walks in 17 1/3 innings).

The Pirates again started Moskos in Triple-A to begin 2011, and his walk rate fell, but so did his strikeout rate. Nonetheless, Evan Meek’s right shoulder tendinitis required a trip to the disabled list, and so the Pirates promoted Moskos in his place, giving Clint Hurdle a second left-handed option out of the bullpen to go along with Joe Beimel.

Moskos has yet to make his big-league debut, but the reaction from the Pittsburgh crowd when he does will be worth watching. Major-league debuts are special moments for the players involved and are often treated as such by the fans. Yet, Moskos’ rise to the majors—not to mention his entrance to the organization—was quite unlike that of the normal player. Begrudging or booing him might seem like a natural reaction—the Pirates could have Wieters right now, after all—but would constitute only misattributed blame.

The line between expressing disapproval of a player and acknowledging his failings on the field is often a fine one. In the age of instant snark, players themselves may come under fire too often. Take Barry Zito, who signed a massive contract following the 2006 season and became the butt of jokes for at least the next several years. Zito may have been undeserving of the deal as a player, but as a person he did what any of us would have done: took the money. Moskos should not have been selected with one of the top five picks in the draft, but saying no wasn’t a realistic option.

Moskos’ future is up in the air. He is not likely to become the shutdown reliever whom former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield envisioned, but a big-league career isn’t out of the question. Moskos’ comment in Baseball Prospectus 2010 suggested that he could turn into a left-handed specialist—thus guaranteeing him the nickname of Daily ‘Kos—and while no team or fan wants to pick the next Royce Ring at fourth overall, it’s a happier outcome than picking a reliever who never reached the majors.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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