If we were to judge Mitch Moreland’s 2017 on feeling, it would feel like he had a decent year. We’d assume he played a decent first base, since his glovework at the cold corner is sort of his calling card. Most of the memorable hitting moments from him were from hitting doubles seemingly all the time. Sure he had that midseason slump, but who didn’t have one of those this year? This offense was only at a box-of-kittens level of terrifying, and Moreland was one of its few sources of power. It’s hard to explain, but for a guy who was signed for $5.5 million, it sure seemed like he had a solid year.
Your feelings betray you. Moreland was worth a whopping one WARP overall this year. All of those good feelings you had about him? Those were probably pulled from his three really good months. The other three were marred by toe and knee injuries, and subsequently tanked whatever value he had. $5.5 million for one WARP isn’t too bad of an exchange, but after seeing how he started the year, you wonder if it could’ve been something more.
What Went Right in 2017
Moreland really embraced Fenway Park. He pulled the ball far less than he had in 2016 with Texas, and the results were immediate. Moreland cranked out 34 two-baggers – the most doubles he’s ever had in a season, and it wasn’t just the doubles that Fenway helped create.
In Boston, Moreland was a .267/.353/.466 hitter. That’ll work for a stopgap first baseman. He seemed to benefit most from the contact-happy ways that the Red Sox offense embraced, and it showed, even if it was incremental. Compared to 2016, he cut down on his whiffs, and made more contact despite swinging fewer times overall. He even walked more than he ever had before. The discipline was there, and for roughly half the season, the results were too.
His fielding was solid, as far as fielding first base goes. He posted a 5.7 Fielding Runs Above Average, which was good for ninth in the majors. You don’t just lose the instincts and skills that made you a Gold Glove first baseman, and Moreland could always be counted on to be a positive in the field, no matter what ridiculous situations the other team tried to throw at him. Case in point: the Rays.
It’s nice to talk about the good parts of Moreland, since it always felt like he could’ve been a real steal with his contract, and, well, it’s just nice to talk about Red Sox players being good.
What Went Wrong in 2017
His toe. Moreland fractured his left big toe on June 13th against the Phillies, and it mostly went downhill from there. For June and July, Moreland struggled as his broken toe affected him daily. It became obvious – especially in hindsight – that he needed to hit the disabled list for a while, as Moreland had a .435 OPS for the entire month of July. There were nine players who had a higher OBP in that month. While he tore the cover off the ball in August, he came right back down to earth in September with a .667 OPS.
The toe affected him more than he let on as well. After the Red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs, Moreland admitted that playing on his broken toe most likely led to a knee injury – one that might even need surgery. I’m personally not a huge fan of players grinding it out through clearly debilitating injuries – see: Bogaerts, Xander and Holt, Brock – and with the clairvoyance of hindsight, it’s pretty obvious that Moreland really needed to rest a few weeks. There was a lot more harm than good being done.
What To Expect in 2018
If he’s healthy, Moreland will probably be a decent regular. Should the contact improvements stick, he could probably be a 2-3 WARP guy at first base. If he’s not healthy, you’re probably going to get more of what you saw this year: peaks, valleys, a lot of inconsistency, and probably a fair bit of frustration from playing through more injuries.
He can still hit for some power, but where he hits those extra-base knocks might change depending on what ballpark he ends up in. Could he end up back in Boston? Maybe, but with all the viable first basemen in free agency, that seems like a long shot, and he’s probably a last resort option at best. The road ahead gets pretty rough when you crack your toe, that’s for sure.
Photo by Winslow Townson – USA TODAY Sports