Mitch Moreland’s been through some tough times. Up until August, he’d been in one hell of a slump. To his credit, Moreland had been doing very well in the first two months of the season, exceeding expectations for a guy one a one-year, $5.5 million deal. He was smacking doubles into every nook and cranny Fenway Park has, and would occasionally crank one out of the ballpark. Couple that with his good glovework at the cold corner, and Moreland was looking like a steal.
Then June happened. He started off hot, but on the 13th, Moreland was hit by a pitch in his toe. He sat out a game, then came back on the 15th, revealing that he had suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left big toe. He intended to play through it, and at first, it looked like no big deal. Then you saw him slowly fade. He would go on to crush three more homers in June. The next dinger after that? August 1st. He went over a month without putting one over the fence. And it’s not because he was hitting doubles, oh no – he only had two in July. The power was gone, and his bat along with it.
Moreland’s offense completely vanished. His plate discipline still hung around, but you don’t need healthy big toes to be selective about balls and strikes. What you do need a healthy left big toe for is to help put power behind your swing. The pain and soreness from that prevented him from driving anything, and tanked his offensive value. He could still pick it, sure, but the bat suffered tremendously. From June 13th through July 31st, Moreland hit .167 with a .524 OPS. Cutting out the All-Star break, that’s roughly six weeks of pure offensive ineptitude. Hell, in July alone, he had a .435 OPS. That’s a stark contrast to how well he was chugging along in April and May.
Once the calendar flipped to August, however, Moreland looked like his old self again.
That’s more like it.
A month and a half of healing, and Moreland was back to mashing. The first baseman went right back to crushing everything, and currently has a 1.010 OPS in August. His return, combined with the offensive explosions provided by Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and Eduardo Nunez, were key to the Red Sox’s 15-5 run through the first 20 games in August. I’d say he’s feeling pretty healthy right about now.
The Red Sox really need Moreland to keep the power surge going. The primary source of their middling power this year comes from their left-handed bats – Moreland, Jackie Bradley Jr., occasionally Benintendi, and recently, Devers. Having him hit for almost no power in July really put a damper on the offensive output, and with Bradley out as well, you can see a smaller, but similar effect on the offense. With Devers in a bit of a slump as well, Moreland’s been the only home run power threat. Sure, you can say Hanley Ramirez is also that, but Hanley’s been fairly invisible this season, either due to age or – gasp – injuries he’s playing through.
Letting players trudge on through debilitating injuries has been a recurring theme for the Red Sox. In 2015, Hanley crumpled his shoulder trying to make a catch along the left field foul line. His hitting suffered, and his season ended soon afterwards due to that very shoulder. In 2016, Brock Holt tried to play through concussion symptoms and vertigo. He needed months of rest and rehab to get right. Xander Bogaerts was hit by a pitch on his hand on July 6th, and hasn’t done all that well since then. There’s nothing wrong with putting him on the DL. If a player needs to heal and avoid potentially aggravating an injury, why not do it? I understand these guys are hyper-competitive, but the benefits of having them rest up far outweigh trying to play. Just look a what a healthy Moreland can do on any given day:
With Moreland, the Red Sox would be short on options if the had placed him on the DL. Hanley’s shoulder was still ailing him and couldn’t play the field, so Sam Travis would be the starter. It’s not an optimal situation, but Moreland being hurt isn’t one either. You make do with what you have, and if all you have is Travis, that’s who you put there. Hindsight’s 20/20, sure, but I don’t think Travis would’ve found it too hard to outproduce Moreland’s .167/.252/.273 slash line during his six-week injury tour.
Maybe I’m being too tough on the Red Sox. I’m certainly happy Moreland’s healthy and hitting again, but there’s also lingering doubts with this team about how they manage injuries. There has to be better recognition about these sorts of injuries along with better responses. If the player wants to keep playing through something that’ll obviously limit him, great. Grit and toughness and all that gritty toughness. But the team needs to see if it’s better that he doesn’t. Moreland’s glacial streak is a pretty glaring mistake, especially in the context of injury management over the last few seasons.
At least Moreland’s back to being Moreland. The Red Sox are winning again, the offense looks better, and guys are getting back to full health. Right now, everything’s pretty okay. In the long run, however, the Red Sox need to do better with this. Just because a player can soldier through an injury, doesn’t mean they should, and that needs to be recognized.
Photo by Greg M. Cooper – USA TODAY Sports