Pretty decent weekend the Red Sox are coming off of, eh? Scuffling hard heading into this weekend, Boston seemed to be charging right into the buzzsaw going on the road to face off against the team that had been, to that point, the best in baseball. Of course, as we know, the Red Sox won all three games and have begun changing the depressing narrative starting to engulf the team. With a series this big and really any sweep, you can’t ever just put it on one guy. It’s a team effort to win three games in a row, particularly against a team like the Rays. The starting pitchers were solid and avoided implosions where it was possible. The relievers were mostly solid, excepting a couple of notable hiccups from Matt Barnes. The offense got going and started showing the power it lacked all year. Christian Vázquez had a big moment in all three games. Among all of those standouts, Mitch Moreland found himself right in the middle of the action yet again in this series, just as he has so often this month.
Moreland has been the linchpin in the Red Sox offense throughout this very early portion of the 2019 season. Even as the team was struggling to win any games whatsoever, Moreland was giving them the victories that they were able to pick up. Almost single-handedly. In fact, after Sunday’s game that included a home run to kick off the scoring, Moreland’s win probability for the season thus far ranks third in all of baseball behind only Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger. In other words, no player in the American League has contributed more to their teams wins. That seems good!
It’s no secret what Moreland has done this year, and if you’ve watched the games you know that he’s been invaluable even without knowing the numbers. Those numbers are still fun, though. Through the first baseman’s first 72 plate appearances this season, he is hitting .258/.319/.652 for a 148 wRC+. He certainly hasn’t been perfect, with a low batting average and walk rate, but the power has been absolutely absurd.
Moreland already has seven home runs this year, more than guys like Mike Trout, Ronald Acuña and Anthony Rendon, all of whom have also gotten off to red-hot starts. He also has a .394 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG), which is absolutely absurd and is ninth in baseball among the 193 qualified hitters. We’re certainly still at the point in the year where individual numbers can and will look silly — Yelich has 13 home runs and a .506 ISO — but we’re also to the point where you have to be on a legitimate tear to produce silly numbers like this. That describes Moreland, because he has undoubtedly been, in scientific terms, bananas.
What stands out the most when looking at his season to this point is his approach at the plate right now. Moreland has always been a decently aggressive hitter on pitches he can drive, but he’s one of the few Red Sox hitters who have taken that to another degree this entire season. According to Baseball Prospectus’ metrics (through Saturday’s action), Moreland is swinging at 75 percent of pitches in the strike zone he has seen so far this year. That is a whopping six percentage point increase from last year and the 11th highest rate in baseball among the 175 players who have seen at least 200 pitches this year. Perhaps even more impressively, he’s doing this while swinging at pitches out of the zone at the same rate as last year, which was a career-low by a fairly significant margin.
He’s seeing the zone well right now, to put it more simply, and he’s also seeing the pitches he wants to see. Pitchers early this year are peppering Moreland with fastballs and hard pitches, which is working wonderfully in his favor. Per Brooks Baseball, he has seen “hard pitches” almost 60 percent of the time in 2019. He’s driving these pitches, too, swinging at over half of the four-seamers he’s seen and putting only 27 percent of balls in play on the ground.
In fact, just in general balls on the ground have not really been part of the repertoire for Moreland this year. Turning to Fangraphs’ batted ball metrics, the lefty is hitting the ball on the ground less than 40 percent of the time for the first time since his rookie year. Everything is going in the air, and it’s almost always with authority. He’s pulling 50 percent of the balls he puts in play, which would hurt him on the ground given how often he’s shifted but actually plays in his favor in the air because outfields sometimes shade him a bit towards left. Most amazingly, Fangraphs has him hitting the ball hard 50 percent of the time while Statcast has him above 56 percent. Statcast also says Moreland is “barreling” the ball almost 22 percent of the time (his career-high rate is 12 percent).
So, yeah, Moreland is swinging the bat well right now. Obviously, none of this is to say this is sustainable or predictive. I think it’s very easy to look at numbers like this as predictive, but the truth is hitting the ball hard today does not guarantee you’ll do it again tomorrow. The sample sizes here are far too small for us to make any grand statements about the future, particularly with the batted ball and Statcast stuff. This is particularly true for a guy like Moreland who has made a habit out of getting out of the gate hot before slowing down as the year goes on. All of that being said, an uncertain future doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the here and now. Moreland has been an absolute monster at the plate this year, and to this point he’s showing no signs of slowing down. If the Red Sox carry over their momentum from this past weekend in Tampa Bay, they’ll be able to thank Moreland for helping try to keep the offense afloat during the dark times. And who knows, maybe this is the year he keeps up strong production all year. It has to happen sometimes, right?