2022 in One Sentence:
Jarren Duran was historically terrible in center field and struggled a bit at the plate, but despite failing to meet lofty expectations, there’s still some hope he can get better.
There’s a scene in The Longest Yard (the Adam Sandler one, not the Burt Reynolds one) where Earl Meggett is putting his speed on display, prompting Inmate Unger to marvel: “He’s so fast, he makes fast people look not fast.” That’s a quote fitting of Jarren Duran. He’s the type of baserunner who can score on a single all the way from first. And although his speed is far and away his distinguishing feature, there are some things to like about his bat, too. Coming off of 18 combined home runs in 2021 (though only two of those came from his time in Boston, while the remainder were hit in Triple-A Worcester), expectations were set for Duran to improve upon his contact numbers in 2022, after striking out 35.7% of his Major League at-bats the previous season.
We’re going to skip over the glaringly obvious weakness of Duran’s lack of awareness in the outfield for now, because it’s too much of a low-hanging fruit. Instead, here’s something a little less obvious (in the same way that, say, Jeff Bezos has the second-most maniacal evil supervillain laugh, or that Paul McCartney may be the second-most famous Beatle): Jarren Duran never saw a fastball he didn’t like. He had a runs above average count on a fastball of almost -3 in 2021. Overall, in his Major League career, he has swung at 50.4% of every pitch he’s ever seen. That’s a touch high, and his contact numbers were a touch low.
Okay, so the elephant in the room: Duran couldn’t find a fly ball in center if it were an elephant (wow, it must be bedtime). But in all seriousness, he was pretty bad. And that’s not entirely on Duran, even if it mostly is! He was scouted and drafted as a second baseman. However, he has been an outfielder since his early days in the Red Sox farm system. He was responsible for perhaps the single worst fielding play I have seen in more than two decades of watching baseball, and many fans share that sentiment. How he was able to start the following day is beyond me, beyond the roster just being a skeleton crew at that point. I’m not going to harp that much on that play, beyond the mental gymnastics it must have taken to convince people that he was letting the much slower Alex Verdugo get the ball despite Verdugo not even being within frame.
2022 saw Duran accountable for a -6.4 Ultimate Zone Rating. The UZR formula is a bastardized way of measuring a fielder’s performance and quantifying how many runs their defense saved by accounting errors, outfield arm and (although barely applicable for a center fielder) double play ability. This season had 254 players (minimum 150 innings) finish with a rating of at least 0. Jarren Duran ranked 495th out of 507 rankable players in this category, showing just what a liability he currently is in the field, despite having the legs to support the means.
What is perhaps the most frustrating weakness of Duran’s is, luckily, the one he has shown at times that he is most capable of changing: his character. Following that historic blunder in center, he showed more contempt for the media for capitalizing on this than on his own lack of discretion on the play. I’m not going to make excuses for sports media, especially not in this city’s market, because we expect high performance without exceptions and it can be taxing on a 26-year-old trying to make his mark on the team while bouncing back and forth between AAA and the big leagues. But, for a guy on a struggling team, his lack of responsibility for his errors speaks volumes. In August, he opened up about his mental health, and that is commendable and takes a huge effort to do, especially in a city that may only see you for your errors. I, for one, really hope Duran can turn these negative thoughts into motivation. And as an advocate for guys doing what they need to do to improve their mental health, I think there’s hope he can do that, since admitting you’re in a bad place is the first step!
The more Duran can let his speed do the talking in all aspects of his game, the better off his prospects look. Whether it’s as a lead-off guy or a bottom of the order guy, however, remains to be seen.
Best Game Or Moment
So, in an article where a Negatives section is four times longer than a Positives section, it may be surprising to know that there were definitely nice moments to pick from. And I’m not even going to be sarcastic and pick the play. I want to highlight the fact that, even though these were both in Worcester, Duran stole home twice in one week, both in late game situations. It’s something that simply doesn’t happen often, and to do it twice in such a short amount of time is a testament to his speed and his potential output on the basepaths.
“But hey, what about in the Major Leagues? What’s it say if he’s only doing this in the minors?” To that, I say, good point. So let me pick an almost as memorable, if not as characteristic, moment. July 1. The Red Sox are in Chicago to face the Cubs. Adrian Sampson is on the mound. Duran is leading off. One pitch, one run, high into center field, past the head of now-Red Sox… err… Worcester Red Sox… center fielder Narcisso Crook. When Duran sees a pitch he likes, he takes a cut at it. That’s a good thing… until it’s not.
The Big Question
Can Duran fix his shortcomings? Or is he slated for a future of Quad-A ratings that feature him as a backup who performs very well in Triple-A?
As with most questions in the articles I’ve written, let me give a familiar answer: I don’t know! Time is probably against Jarren in this respect, especially when looking at the splits between his performance in Worcester compared to Boston. And it’s not for a lack of opportunity; Duran has led off for much of his time, including immediately after that debacle in center field. Cora defended his aging outfielder prospect during this struggle, which shows that Cora has confidence in him. Whether it’s hope for quick progress, or whether he sees something that perhaps most people don’t, the manager’s confidence can give Duran some leeway to perform. Depending on depth signings or (please!) anyone with more proven ability that Chaim Bloom decides to bring aboard, Duran could get even more of that leeway between even more practice in Worcester.
2023 And Beyond
I feel like, with this article in particular, I’m writing the same point in circles: Yeah, Duran is fast. Yeah, he can have a strong bat, and a decently patient one, too, though one that leaves some characteristics on certain pitches to be desired. Yeah, he’s got a lot to learn about being an outfielder, even with speed on his side. But to be fair, this section would probably be speaking in circles if I said the most obvious answer… “let’s wait and see.”
Part of this is because team control is running out soon, and it beckons the question how much a struggling prospect like Duran can really earn in this market, when a veteran like Refsnyder who does the trick and plays the same position and swings a more accurate bat earns just a bit more than a million a year. For a player on the right side of 30, with some development to be found, the price tag is sure to be higher. Will the Red Sox want to pay that? If Chaim Bloom continues to play the numbers game to recruit an army of depth/platoon players such as the aforementioned Crook, who may have the same shortcomings with a cheaper price tag, the answer to that may be “probably not.” As much as you want to see homegrown talent prosper in the Major Leagues, there can only be so many balls lost in the lights until the bigger questions start showing up, and in this saturated league and in this ruthless city, the writing is starting to show up on the walls.