I haven’t spent much time on Mitch Moreland lately. In fact, I skipped the annual Mitchy Two-Bags propaganda entirely heading into 2019. I’m not sure why. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit this to the masses. I guess I figured you guys were tired of hearing about him.
But I should have gone with my gut, as all “Two-Bags” managed in his 91 games last year was 19 taters and a .252/.328/.507 slash. I know the batting average and OBP are decidedly average, but there IS some pop in this bat...just hear me out.
Moreland posted career marks in ISO (.255), OPS (.835), pull rate (47.3%), and Z-Swing rate (75.2%) in 2019. He crushed 13 homers in April and May, but his season was undone due to back and quad struggles. Essentially, he was his usual self. A bit above average when healthy, but prone to hot streaks...and unfortunately, prone to nagging injuries.
But is 2020 THE year? There are some variables working in Moreland’s favor. I’ll take my typical 5x5 approach and work outward from there, weaving in some of those positive variables as I go.
Runs and RBIs (team context)
As a unit, here are Boston’s raw totals and corresponding MLB ranks with regard to runs scored over the last three years:
Red Sox Runs
And here is the same information for RBIs. Or RBI. Or RsBI. However you’d like to abbreviate, here are the runs batted in:
Red Sox RBIs
The Red Sox may not be as potent as last year given the loss of Mookie Betts, but this is still a lineup with capable OBP men in Andrew Benintendi and Alex Verdugo—as well as the potent bats of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez. Add in Michael Chavis (18 homers in 95 games in ‘19) and Christian Vazquez (23 homers in ‘19) as 20+ homer threats, and top-to-bottom this lineup is still likely to finish in the upper third of the MLB at the worst. Sure, the Red Sox rotation is in shambles and there’s a fair chance the Sox finish fourth in their own division...but it won’t be for a lack of offense.
Moreland himself is another 20+ homer bat, and is slated to bat fifth in the everyday lineup, where run-producing opportunities should be plentiful batting behind Benintendi, Devers, Bogaerts, and Martinez. His career-high in runs was 73, scored in 2017 during his first year with the Red Sox. He batted fourth and fifth mostly that season, for reference. Still, it’s tough to get excited about his ability to score runs from the five-spot, especially given his 18th percentile sprint speed.
Moreland’s career mark in RBIs was 85, set back in 2015 as a member of the Rangers. He batted mostly fifth that season, which sounds familiar considering what is possible for 2020. This is one category Moreland could surprise in this year, especially if he enjoys one of his torrid streaks during an abbreviated MLB season.
Moreland has a career .251/.319/.444 slash line. His high-water mark was a .278 BA back in that 2015 season, a year in which he pasted righty pitching to the tune of a .294/.348/.528 slash line. And that’s how he makes hay, man. Check out these career numbers versus righty pitching, by year:
Moreland career vs. RHP
A career slash of .255/.324/.464 compares favorably to last year’s league average slash for the MLB, which was .252/.323/.435. And this is what I keep saying: Moreland has an average floor for batting average and OBP, but some upside with regard to power. The fact that he is limited against southpaws is good for his rate stats, though it will depress his overall counting stats (runs and RBIs) a bit.
Against lefty pitching, Moreland’s career slash is .238/.300/.371. Hardly inspiring, but there’s a little silver lining. The career 24.7% strikeout rate and 7.3% walk rate are not horrible, and in recent years since the move to Boston there’s been some hope. Actually in 2016 (Moreland’s last year as a Ranger) it was a banner year against southpaws, at a .277/.320/.479 slash with five homers and a .202 ISO. In 2017 (his first year in Boston) the ISO plummeted to .096, as he managed only one home run. However, if you know Fenway at all, you know it’s the place where left-handed power goes to die. So while the power evaporated as Moreland adjusted to Fenway, the .247/.341/.342 slash looked fine with regard to average and OBP. The K-rate that year was a tolerable 24.7% against lefties, and the walk rate rose to 11.8%. So sure, it’s the weaker split by far, but finding a way to get on base is encouraging.
In 2018, the OBP against lefites fell to .305, but the ISO ticked back up to .137. The walk rate was still a healthy 8.6%, a hair above the MLB average.
2019 DID look ugly, with a .204/.283/.315 slash and .111 ISO. The caveat is that he was severely limited in opportunity, only seeing 60 plate appearances against lefties. Remember, Moreland only appeared in 91 games last year due to injury. So the small sample size caveat applies.
Add it all up and a slash line of .245/.310/.380 against lefties wouldn’t surprise me—if he was staying put in Fenway Park for 2020. But that leads us to the next (and most important) category...
Just how soul-crushing is Fenway Park for lefty hitting? My go-to lately for home runs, barrels, and park factor study has been Dan Richards’ work over at Pitcher List, which you can find here and here if you have not consumed the content already. In a nutshell, Fenway Park was the stone cold WORST park for home runs per barrel last year, at only a 44.54% rate of conversion. Compare that to the MLB average of 59.59%, and know that the distribution above and below the average was 13 teams below and 17 teams above...and you’ll get a sense of just how bad Fenway played overall. For reference, the park with the highest conversion rate was the Great American Ball Park, at a whopping 74.34% rate. So yeah, Fenway overall for barrels was horrible.
As for directionality, the mean HR/Brl% for pulled lefty homers across the MLB was 73.6%. To center, it was 42.8%. For pulled right-handed homers, the rate was 75.8%. Fenway was the worst park for righty pulled barrels becoming homers, at only 67.4% of pulled right-handed barrels becoming home runs. That’s right, people. The absolute worst. To center field, the rate was a mere 28.9%, which was the fifth-worst mark in the MLB. And that’s really disingenuous, as Comerica Park (12.1%) to center was the true outlier, while the other three that ranked worse than Fenway did so by literal inches—Oracle Park (28.3%), Kauffman Stadium (28.4%), and Chase Field (28.8%) were the three. Essentially, those four teams were tied for second-worst, in my opinion.
As for lefty bats (which Moreland is) Fenway is about what you’d expect. Remember that the MLB average on lefty pulled barrels was 73.6%, and now consider that Fenway was the second-worst park in the MLB for pulled lefty homers, at only a 59.5% rate of conversion. Only Oracle Park (48.7%) was worse. Fenway is a pretty darn terrible place for a guy whose primary skill set is to play solid defense at first, and to offer some pop in the LvR split.
My humble opinion is that David Ortiz singlehandedly made us all forget this Fenway fact for years, as his power was so prodigious. So yes, if we were walking into a typical MLB season and Moreland was to play all of his games at Fenway, I’d be pretty bearish on his chances to break out in the power department. However, we all know the locale of MLB games might be different in 2020...don’t we? More on that in the conclusion...
While we are talking barrels, let’s discuss Moreland’s ability to hit the ball hard, eh?
If you transport yourself to the world of Statcast, you’ll quickly notice that with regard to things like exit velocity, hard hit rate, xSLG, xwOBA, and Barrel Rate, that Moreland is what I like to call “alllllllll redsssssss.” Sidenote, go watch Rounders if you haven’t seen it already. Then come back to finish reading this article. Now, since Moreland has been in Fenway (the last three years) here are his percentile rankings:
|Year||Exit Velocity||Hard Hit %||xwOBA||xBA||xSLG||Barrel %|
|Year||Exit Velocity||Hard Hit %||xwOBA||xBA||xSLG||Barrel %|
Actually, all I had at my disposal were the percentiles for ‘17 and ‘18...I assume ‘19 wasn’t included on Statcast due to the low sample size? So I just included the actual stats for 2019, which were all right in line with 2018’s numbers, if not a hair better.
For reference, Moreland’s 11.5% barrels per batted ball event rate last year ranked 51st in the MLB (min. 200 BBE). That was right in line with teammate Michael Chavis (11.5%) and guys like Avisail Garcia (11.7%) and J.D. Davis (11.4%). Howie Kendrick’s red-hot surprise of a 2019 also came with an 11.4% rate.
Moreland has shown upside with regard to barrels, though, with a 10.7% mark in 2015 (27th overall) and a 12.0% mark in 2017 (28th). And each year he is consistently top 50 or so in the MLB, or better.
I won’t wax poetic about the merits of Spring Training ball parks that might be in play in either Arizona or Florida in what could be an abbreviated MLB season—mostly because I am ignorant of how those park factors would play. But one thing is clear: Moreland can hit the ball hard and has shown a repeated ability to hit barrels, which we all know leads to home runs. Get him out of the power-killing confines of Fenway and insert him into any other park not named Oracle, and it will be a boost to his power production...which I’ve said repeatedly already has a safe ‘average’ floor.
Last and certainly least (as far as Moreland is concerned) is speed. The odds are stacked against this being a relevant category for Mitch in 2020. His 25.0 ft/s sprint speed from last year was in the 18th percentile, well below the MLB average of 27.0 ft/sec. Consequently, Moreland has stolen a whopping three bases during his tenure with the Red Sox—so one stolen base per year on average. Like I said, nothing to see here and this is NOT a reason you’d draft the 34-year-old slugger.
It’s safe to say that all Red Sox hitters would get a heck of a boost if games weren’t played in Fenway Park in 2020. Moreland, who will frequently bat fifth, is often the forgotten man on this team. My humble submission is that his consistent defense at first base, coupled with his ability to barrel the ball, make him a deep sleeper for 2020.
Are you going out of your way to target a guy who is in a pretty strict platoon? Nope! But is there value to be had—especially in daily leagues—for a guy who can consistently play on the strong side of a platoon and chip in with some power numbers? I think so. You’ll have to “manage” him a bit when the venerable old man of the Red Sox gets a day off against a lefty here and there...but when he’s in the lineup he’s a push in batting average and OBP, and any sort of move from Fenway gives him a chance to scald some baseballs into oblivion, helping out in an above average way in home run and RBI categories.
At an ADP of 703.02 on average per April’s NFBC ADP data, Moreland is the DEFINITION of free and absolutely someone you can take a dart on if your league drafts that deep. I don’t see a massive difference between Moreland and a guy like Eric Thames, who has an average pick of 562.64. Thames has offered more consistent power numbers, but he has done so from the hitter’s haven known as Miller Park. Thames also strikes out at a 30% clip or so, far worse than Moreland. I haven’t gone in depth on these two, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Moreland kept pace or outperformed Thames—especially if the Red Sox were playing games in Arizona or Florida in 2020.
Finally, how you can NOT be interested in a country boy from Mississippi who has turned his barn into a hitting facility? You’re welcome: