The Boston Red Sox were the first team to win 40 games this season. With success like that, its a foregone conclusion that the MLB All-Star game will feature at least a few players from the team’s roster. Voting for the Mid-Summer Classic opened last week and that means you can go cast your ballot for MLB-home run leader J.D. Martinez, top-10 wins above replacement player Mookie Betts and, if you were allowed to vote for pitchers, you could even support Craig Kimbrel.
Those players are expected to be All-Stars. There’s another player that deserves it this year, at least so far, and its not who you might expect: Mitch Moreland.
Somehow, the position of first base has become a bit of a shallow pool in the American League. While the NL has Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, Eric Hosmer, Anthony Rizzo, Brandon Belt and even a mortal Paul Goldschmidt, the AL has noticeably fewer elite-level players at the position. Jose Abreu is having a nice year and Matt Olson and C.J. Cron are both playing well, but the production throughout the league is noticeably down.
Despite this, the Red Sox decided to get rid of a player that could play first base in Hanley Ramirez, designating him for assignment more than a week ago and releasing him on Friday. That still hurts a bit, but the Sox are one of the few teams in the AL that doesn’t need extra help at first base and that’s because of how well Moreland has been playing.
Among AL first basemen with at least 100 plate appearances, Moreland leads the way with 1.6 fWAR. Although he has been playing above his pay grade, and will likely regress at some point, what Moreland has done this year has been pretty sensational. His triple slash line of .305/.369/.631 is a major step up from his work just last season in Boston (.246/.326/.443) when he was worth exactly one win above replacement according to FanGraphs. His production has also far outdone his work from his first seven seasons with the Texas Rangers, when was pretty much a league average first baseman, posting a decidedly average 100 OPS+.
But this isn’t just a slight improvement we’re talking about. Moreland isn’t just getting a few more base hits to inflate his average. He is crushing baseballs and providing the type of power he has only hinted at before. With 10 home runs in 157 plate appearances, he would be on pace for nearly 32 home runs over a 500 plate appearance campaign. A lot of that has to do with an improved ability to lift the ball. He is hitting more balls in the air and 23.8 percent of his fly balls have gone for dingers, which is a career-high. Giving zero fugs about using the whole field has helped fuel this power surge, as he is pulling nearly 50 percent of his balls he puts in play. Last year, when he became Mitchy Two-Bags, he only pulled 37.2 percent.
Its not just home run hitting that Moreland is doing, though. He still deserves the Two-Bags moniker, with 12 doubles, which ranks sixth on the Red Sox. Every other player above him on that list has had at least 180 plate appearances, so additional playing time would easily have put him higher in the rankings.
Bringing this pack to the All-Star conversation, Moreland’s name is among the 15 provided on the ballot for first basemen in the AL, unless you want to write somebody in. Stuffing the ballot for “undeserving” players on your favorite team is a time-honored tradition of the All-Star game voting process. Moreland would usually be a candidate for that type of vote, but not this year. This year he is a legitimate All-Star. Let’s hope he’s is allowed to get his game on and go play.
Dustin Pedroia may still be having some injury issues, but he is certain he will play up to his expected level again. (Jason Mastrodonato; Boston Herald)
Despite this optimism, Pedroia is still struggling with the injury to his knee. (Julian Benbow; Boston Globe)
Matt Barnes has turned a corner. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)
Brock Holt had a nice weekend in Houston, which isn’t something new. (Lauren Campbell; NESN)
Is Blake Swihart going to be traded or stick with the team? That question will be answered in the next few months, but whether or not he has a future at catcher may be determined sooner. (Nick Cafardo; Boston Globe)