Mitch Moreland, Potential All-Star?

The 2018 MLB All-Star game will take place on July 17 in our nation’s capital. As it stands, the Red Sox currently have the best record in baseball, thanks in no small part to the dominance of Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale, and Craig Kimbrel. All four of those players are virtual locks to make the American League All-Star team. It is becoming more and more likely that the team could have a fifth player for the American League side: Mitch Moreland.

We all know that Moreland has been playing well and the desire to get him more playing time certainly factored into the decision to designate Hanley Ramirez for assignment on May 25th. What is shocking is just how good Moreland has been when you look at his numbers. Moreland is leading all American League first basemen with a .313 True Average while slashing .292/.355/.606. If you’re curious, that .606 slugging percentage is the best in the entire league among first basemen. Moreland has done this while being an above average defender at the position, placing him second in the AL in WARP at 0.83.

The only player ahead of Moreland in WARP is Jose Abreu, who is in the midst of another typical Abreu-like season with a WARP of 0.86. Since Ramirez was just recently designated for assignment, and received ample playing time before said transaction, Moreland had only appeared in 43 games this year, while Abreu has played in 54. Despite playing fewer games, they both have nine home runs on the season, and Abreu has just three more RBI, with 31. Moreland has been more effective on a game-by-game basis, has played better defense, and his .403 wOBA is clearly ahead of Abreu’s mark of .373. With Miguel Cabrera and Justin Smoak having down years, and Edwin Encarnacion only playing seven games at first base, the vote will surely come down to these two.

Like it or not, the fans have the vote in the All-Star game, and the Red Sox, by holding the best record in baseball, have drawn far more attention than the second-to-worst record amassed by the White Sox. It’s a little harsh to say, but few fans care about the White Sox right now. Abreu is wasted on that team, and likely won’t get the support he deserves when it comes to the voting. Should Abreu be traded to a contending team before the All-Star break, this could change, however, as popularity and success matter.

If Moreland does make the team it will be deserved, but it doesn’t mean he is anything close to the best first baseman in baseball. The National League side features Freedie Freeman, Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Brandon Belt, Eric Hosmer, and Cody Bellinger, just to name a few. There are going to be some very deserving first basemen that don’t even make that roster as a reserve. By TAv, Moreland is behind Belt, Freeman, and Jesus Aguilar, and ahead of Goldy, Rizzo, Votto, and the rest. If he makes the team as a starter, this will not be a Brock Holt: 2015 All-Star situation.

The Statcast numbers back up what Moreland has been achieving this year, and show some real meaningful change. His average exit velocity is 93.6 mph, which is far and away better than his previous best of 91.4 mph in 2015, and up significantly from 89.1 mph last year. Moreland is making harder contact more frequently than ever before, posting a 53.3 percent hard-hit rate and a career-best barrels percentage at 13.3. Much of this has come from Moreland pulling the ball more than ever, at 49.5 percent of the time — up from 37.2 percent last season. Can he keep this up? Who knows? What we do know is that Moreland is swinging at more pitches in the zone than ever before at 72.5 percent, and is doing damage on those pitches.

His two-year, 13-million-dollar deal is looking more and more like a bargain, and an excellent investment on the part of Dave Dombrowski. This contract is a welcome departure from Pablo Sandoval, Ramirez, and Rusney Castillo, and for a deal that was largely panned coming into the season, Mitch Moreland has gone so far beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

Header photo by Brian Fluharty — USA TODAY Sports

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