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Mitch Moreland is struggling, but will bounce back

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Please ignore the fact he might have been Wally Pipp’d last night for the duration of your reading experience.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Boston Red Sox
The good times have been few and far between.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

You don’t need to be an advanced stats wizard to know that Mitch Moreland’s second half wRC+ (weighted runs created plus, or SO THEY SAY) is bad. It is 5.

The scale doesn’t matter. If an regular offensive player rates a 5 in any offensive category that’s not triples, there’s a problem. In this case, it’s 5 not on a 100 point scale, which would be bad, but one in which 100 is average.

That’s worse!

Last year, Moreland’s wRC+ was 98. It is the second-highest number he has registered in a full season his major league career, and felt right. He was... about average. This year, after a scorching start to the season, he’s still at 116, which is good. It’s almost identical to his best season until now, his 2015 season with the Rangers, when he put up 117.

So yeah. 5 is bad. He’s hurt. This we know. He broke his toe last season, and his knee is funky right now. If you’ve been watching the games, you know the dance: He gets two strikes on him before the pitcher unleashes a fastball just outside on the high and outside corner, Moreland whiffs at it, curses himself, and goes back to the dugout. It’s as sad as it is predictable, but it’s probably not permanent. He’s worn down in more ways that one, and he’s better than this.

When the Sox cut Hanley Ramírez, they knew Moreland was going to have to shoulder a huge burden, and he did. It worked out extremely well for a while, and the trade for Steve Pearce, months later, put the Sox back where they wanted to be. It’s a straight platoon now. It’ll be Pearce against lefties and Moreland against righties for as long as his body can take it, unless Pearce hits three homers a night, in which case, he’ll probably play more, because of the homers.

For Moreland, it’s a tricky thing to heal during the season, especially when you’re in the mix for regular playing time. The 10-day DL makes it easy to take the occasional breather, but it might be a few weeks if we see the “real” Moreland again soon unless Pearce’s breakout gives him time to rest. The better question of what, exactly, the “real Moreland” is.

In this case the simplest answer is probably the best one, even if it yields a result we’ve never seen. A healthy Moreland is probably somewhere between the 98 wRC+ he put up last year and the 116 he’s at this year, and certainly not, yanno, in single digits. The tricky part is that Moreland has never ended up in that “above average” zone after a full season. With the exception of last season, he’s been feast or famine, more or less, to the point his that his career wRC+ is an even 100. He’s been perfectly tofu in aggregate, but rarely in practice.

Obviously this year has brought up his stature, despite the cold spell, because when he was hot he was scorching enough to melt even the coldest hearts. Dead-souled, skeptical analysts like Matt finally gave up the ghost on ol’ Mitchy Two-Bags, and admitted he was Actually Good.

He’s definitely better than he was before he got to the Red Sox, and it’s reflected in the differences between his as-of-now similar 2015 and 2018 seasons. In 2015, his value was tied to power and BABIP luck. He hit .317 on balls in play, which is good for a slow guy, but he only had a 6.2 percent walk rate. This year, his walk rate is 4 points higher, and his BABIP is 13 points lower. This is how a bad six weeks haven’t set him back too far, but there’s something else I worry about anyway: the shift.

Just from the eye test, Moreland has been getting murdered by it recently, but it might just be a function of his injuries. In English, he’s chopping to first more than ever before, which is just another way of saying he’s grounding out a lot. Witness the grounders in green:

There’s also something odd about his charts, not just this year, but going back and handful of them. When he grounds out, it’s always to right field. When he homers, it’s usually to right field -- that’s more of a recent development, due potentially to swinging innovations, a juiced ball, or a little of column A and a little of column B. But when he flies out, it’s usually to left (in blue):

There’s no real point here other than it’s interesting, but it is interesting.

The problem isn’t just of prolonged funks. It’s of how and when to respond to them, and it all depends on the best assessment of the baseline talent level of the player, it turns out in a total shocker. Moreland’s baseline talent level is at or above what you’d expect for a guy who on a modest contract, and no longer appears to be a miracle solution to the perpetual problem at first base, if it’s a problem at all. But the good thing is the Sox don’t need a miracle. They have three of ‘em, in Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Chris Sale. They just need their Two-Bags back.