Reds Pitcher Sam Moll’s Two-Year Journey From Obscurity To A Pennant Race

It was a quiet 2023 MLB Trade Deadline for the Cincinnati Reds. Despite a fairly high degree of roster turnover throughout the season, almost all of it came from within; some non-roster free agency pick-ups were called up to get time on the active roster (Brent Kennedy, Nick Martini, Henry Ramos etc), but mostly the turnover came through promotions of the next generation (much of which came from their tantalising young infield).

As opposed to the fire sale of the 2022 deadline – when they sold off veterans Brandon Drury, Tommy Pham, Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo and Tyler Naquin, and would have traded others like Mike Moustakas if deals could have been found – the far more competitive 2023 version of the Reds were not looking to sell. Instead of getting a bounty for their top quality reliever Alexis Diaz to a team in a pennant, the Reds instead were the ones in the pennant race, and sought to bridge the gap to him. They were buyers rather than sellers. But they still did not do much buying.

In total, Cincinnati made only one trade, one player in for one player out. They picked up one of the few pieces that the struggling Oakland Athletics had to sell when they sent Double-A strikeout machine Joe Boyle to the A’s in exchange for lefty reliever Sam Moll and cash considerations. It was far from the marquee move of the deadline around the league. But this under-the-radar pick-up has paid dividends thus far.

The Athletics acquired the 31-year-old Moll – who had not pitched in the majors since 2017 – from the Arizona Diamondbacks in July 2021 for a nominal amount of cash. Considering he had been pitching to a 5.82 ERA in Triple-A on the season up to that point, there was not a bidding war for his services. Immediately called up onto the 40-man roster, Moll was given some opportunities in the second half of the season, and pitched in eight major league games alongside 12 outings with the Aviators. And he was far better with his new Triple-A team.

Making the roster out of spring training, Moll managed to appear in another 53 games of the wasteland that was the Athletics’ 2022 season. Across that span, he pitched to a 2.91 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 43.1 innings; the first full Major League season of his career was by far his best, and, on an underwhelming Oakland pitching staff, he was one of the more reliable pieces.

Returning for 2022, Moll was slightly less effective. In 45 games to open this season, he recorded a 4.54 ERA in 37.2 innings, and although he gave up only a .239 batting average against and one home run, an increased walk rate led to a WHIP of 1.41. That said, the unflattering ERA was as much a product of Oakland’s wider bullpen struggles, and the underlying metrics showed Moll to be near-enough the same decent middle-inning reliever that he was before. And since arriving in Cincy, that ERA has spike has corrected; in 12 games so far for the Reds, Moll has pitched to a 1.42 ERA.

In terms of his pitching arsenal, Moll, at 5’9, does not overpower with any variant of his fastball. But a nice slider that is particularly effective against lefties – whom his splits heavily favour – sees him return a decent strikeout rate while keeping the ball in the yard. Of particular value to the Reds has been how, given that their other lefty Alex Young has splits that favour righties for whatever reason, they now have a improved option from that side of the rubber. And it came only at the cost of Boyle, who, despite his own very high strikeout numbers in the minors, needs much more control to become a reliable Major League pitcher.

For the Reds to win the pennant – indeed, for any team to win the pennant – they need some security in the middle and late innings. Certainly, one of the reasons for the Reds’ substantial improvements in 2023 has been its better-than-expected pen. They have been able to fashion a line-up to bridge the gap to Diaz using retreads, late bloomers, misfits, unheralded veterans and reconditioned position players, all turning into quality options. Add Sam Moll to that list.

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