I’ve been trying not to think about the Red Sox offense lately as I’ve been trying to be more positive in my day-to-day life. Unfortunately for me — and those around me, I guess — it is my job to think about the Red Sox offense. They’ve been inconsistent all year long, although their collective performance since the end of the All-Star break has taken things to another level. To be fair, they’ve been a bit better over the last few days, but thing are still a work in progress.
Early in the year when the offense was struggling, it seemed as if there was always at least one hitter who was able to step up and come through with the big hits when they needed them. More often than not, that hitter seemed to be Mitch Moreland, who was the most pleasant surprise on this team over the first couple of months.
Things have changed of late, to say the least. Going back to the start of June, the Red Sox first baseman is hitting just .207/.285/.357. In the month of June, at least, Moreland was still hitting for some power, but things have gone even farther downhill in July. This month, he is hitting .151/.258/.170. You could also split the difference and look at his performance over the last 30 days. In that timeframe, he is hitting .183/.250/.305, and by wRC+ he has been the ninth worst qualified hitter in baseball over the last month. The Red Sox need to figure out what’s going on and try to decide where to go from here.
The first and easiest explanation is that Moreland is dealing with an injury. This is obviously true, it’s just not clear how much of an effect it has had on his performance. On June 13, the first baseman was hit in the foot with a pitch, and it turned out it hit him hard enough to fracture his toe. He’s been playing on it ever since, but he’s also been struggling mightily. It’s a convenient excuse, at least, but Moreland recently said that his toe is fine.
Mitch Moreland is hitting .172 since breaking his toe. Mitch Moreland also said, "The toe is fine, y'all." https://t.co/O9U6OEe9nR— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) July 18, 2017
So, whether or not we want to blame the injury, it’s worth looking a little bit deeper into the numbers and try to figure out what’s going on here. We’ll start with plate discipline, where Moreland has been fine. Over the last 30 days, he’s walking and striking out at rates that are only slightly worse than the league-average and right around where one would expect Moreland to be based on his career. It’s a step backwards where he was at the start of the year and he could probably stand to walk a few more times, but this isn’t his problem.
No, where Moreland has truly been struggling has been in terms of quality of contact. Early in the year, he was smacking hard-hit fly balls all over the yard for a fair amount of home runs and a ton of doubles to boot. Over the first two months of the year, Moreland posted a .195 Isolated Power. The league-average is .173, for context. Since then, his ISO is just .150 and over the last 30 days it’s just .122. Furthermore, he’s posted a batting average on balls in play of just .200 in the last month. Some of that is surely bad luck, but there’s got to be something else going on here.
Looking at his batted ball profile, it’s not all that easy to see. In terms of a lack of power, it would have made sense to see more balls on the ground and fewer in the air. However, Moreland has hit grounders, liners and fly balls at roughly the same rate he was when he was streaking in the right direction. What’s changed is where he’s hit the ball. Early in the year, he was pulling the ball at a decent rate while also going the other way to take advantage of the Green Monster. Over the last 30 days, he’s hitting almost everything straight up the middle. This still doesn’t explain the BABIP issues, but it does help explain the lack of power. It goes without saying that it’s harder to hit for extra bases when you’re consistently hitting it to the deepest part of the ballpark where the best defensive outfielder roams.
In the end, I’m not sure there’s an easy explanation here. While Moreland certainly isn’t as bad as he’s been as of late — and very recently he’s at least anecdotally making better contact — he’s also not as good as he was at the start of the year. We’ve seen over the course of his career that he is merely an average hitter. That is fine, but it is not good enough for where he’s positioned himself in the lineup. At some point soon, John Farrell needs to recognize this and move Moreland down a few spots, likely moving someone like Jackie Bradley up to the four or five spot.