The Jarren Duran experience up until this season had been as predictable as possible based on previous performance. Flashy on the basepaths...that is when he could get on base. In the field? Even worse, beyond a liability and almost a gaping chasm for fly balls to drop in or get mishandled. Our own Dean Roussel put it best while looking back at Duran’s 2022 season. What was his future on this Red Sox squad? Could he overcome his limitations, or would he become a great AAA ballplayer and below replacement level at-base in the bigs?
Well, you don’t have to save a prayer for Jarren Duran in the 2023 season. He’s come alive in the absence of Adam Duvall and become not just an effective ballplayer but someone to watch when he’s in the box, on the diamond, and donning the glove. Let’s dissect what’s gone right and taken the pressure off the former seventh-round draft pick.
Coming into this season, Duran was batting a career .218 with an OPS+ well under 100 in each of his first two big league seasons. In 2023, Duran is currently batting .372 with a 174 OPS+. There are a couple of reasons to see why Duran is getting on base more often. Let’s start with a 77th-percentile chase rate. To put that into more context, his chase rate in the last two seasons have both been above 30%. In 2023, it’s at 23.1%. When you stop swinging at pitches out of the zone, you force the pitcher to give you something to hit. That seems like basic baseball.
A strikeout percentage in the 35th percentile still isn’t great, but what’s making a difference is what happens when he hits the ball. 82nd percentile hard hit percentage, xwOBA in the 72nd percentile, and a barrel percentage in the 66th percentile. When he’s hitting the ball, he’s making not just harder contact but very different contact compared to the rest of his career. The launch angle on his batted balls has changed from an average of 7.7 degrees in the last two seasons to 13.6 degrees this year. This could also be a product of him getting under the ball almost 8% of the time, more than he has in his career so far. It could also be a product of his hard-hit percentage being 10.3% higher than it was last season. In the last two years, he pulled the ball an average of 29.1% of the time. This season, it's just 19%. He’s hitting to the opposite field a career-high 39.7% of the time. I know I threw a lot of numbers at you, but let’s show you what these mean in real-time.
Let’s start with power.
A 433-foot homer to dead-center with an exit velocity of 109.1 MPH off the bat. OK, that was pretty sweet, but you’d expect homers to have some modicum of exit velocity.
Check this out.
OK, a single on its own isn’t that exciting. The context? This was his third hit of the game, and he smacked it 110.3 MPH off the bat at a 12-degree launch angle. This is Duran’s hardest-hit ball of the season so far. This season, Duran has 18 hits with an exit velocity over 100 MPH, when the MLB average is 89 MPH. He somehow only has two homers this season.
A 92nd-percentile sprint speed is surprisingly the lowest of Duran’s career, but that doesn’t mean he still isn’t a flash when he takes off. After 7 stolen bases in 58 games last season, he already has 6 in just 22 games. You put your team in a position to succeed when you can get yourself into scoring position.
Take this game on April 23rd in Milwaukee. Top of the 8th, up one run, you’d definitely want some insurance. This was right after the Justin Turner-Masataka Yoshida back-to-back solo HRs that gave the Sox that lead. First-and-third with one out, this is definitely a double play situation. Duran swipes second base with ease. Guess what happens next?
A Connor Wong two-run single gives the Red Sox a 7-4 lead. They kept going in a nine-run frame, and the Red Sox won 12-5.
How about this from the last game in Atlanta?
Tie game in the seventh, Duran swipes second base with absolute ease on AJ Minter and Travis d’Arnaud. Granted, d’Arnaud isn’t Sean Murphy, but not even getting a throw shows how spectacular Duran’s jump is. Did Duran end up scoring?
Not only did he score, it was a game-winning run. How’s about one more from that game?
Wait, this isn't a stolen base? No, it isn’t. This is probably a single for a majority of players. I can’t remember seeing a player burn rubber to grab a double like that in a long time. Now a runner on second has to be in the back of Iglesias’ mind. The very next pitch.
It’s not just Duran’s ability to get on base that’s strong. He’s continuing to swipe bases, get in the minds of pitchers, and score timely runs.
This was Dean’s biggest concern, and honestly, rightfully so. A -6.4 UZR is unacceptable. To rank so low among qualified fielders in 2022 is downright embarrassing, and so were his defensive highlights. Have the highlights been there in 2023?
Not too shabby. Are the metrics good? He has a 2.7 UZR on the season so far. Only 19 center-fielders have qualified based on innings played, which seems to be 200. Duran is at 174 innings played, so he’s almost there. Let’s take into account every center fielder who’s played this season, a 0-inning limitation, so to speak. His UZR is fifth-highest in the league out of 104 players, tied with Kevin Kiermier, who gets the edge based on innings. I don’t think anyone is asking him to be what Jackie Bradley Jr. was for the Red Sox. However, this is what the Red Sox needs to see out of him.
I can’t speak as to why Jarren Duran has changed so much for the better. The best we can do on Over the Monster, for now, is likely some film study on his batting stance changes and a scuba dive on his underlying metrics once the season comes to a close. The Boston Globe had a great article on Duran’s mental approach coming into the season. It’s clear Duran is having a lot more fun playing this season, and the results are showing all the way around.