Difference Maker: Mitch Moreland

Mitch
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’. 

Bob Dylan

The time is now for Mitch Moreland. It’s that simple and no matter how experts decorate it or try to use statistical data to project his season, Moreland MUST produce or his time with this team will end. He has been used in platoon roles versus lefties during his short tenure with this ballclub and because of a stable of capable hitters able to play first the past two years, Mitch never really got a chance to be the everyday starter. 

He lost weight this off-season and worked specifically on improving versus southpaws. This work appears to be paying off as his spring training numbers suggest he may have figured it out. He knows how important this season is for him personally and for this team. This lineup is still deep and able to score plenty of runs, but some of the luster is gone with the departures of Hamilton, Napoli, and Young. These departures push Moreland’s production into the spotlight and will require him to be more consistent this season. I wrote about Mitch and his shortcomings versus lefties in his career earlier this off-season (Moreland Article), and as the article shows he has never really had an opportunity to establish any consistency versus lefties. His plate appearances versus lefties (196) since 2010 is incredibly low and really highlights the fact he has never really had a chance to show at the big league level whether or not he can hit them. His overall plate appearances since 2010 (1042) ranks him 19th among American League first baseman, which is just barely above former Rangers AAAA player Chris Davis, so to write him off as incompetent at the plate is a bit unfair. There is no doubt that he has not been great against LHP, but as I stated in my previous article, hitters need reps to establish that consistency and to gain confidence. At some point this season, the sample size may be large enough to make a final verdict on whether or not he can hit LHP or be the answer at first in general, but right now it makes perfect sense why the organization is going to give him a shot.

As spring training came to a close, the case could be made that Moreland was the MVP at the plate (if there was such an award). He hit an even .400 and had four homeruns and 13 RBI in only 21 games. His approach and performance versus lefties was the most impressive and important aspect of this spring training for the Rangers ballclub in my opinion. Imagine if Moreland had come out this spring and really struggled versus lefties or at the plate in general? That forces an aging Berkman into an unnecessary role early on and could have pushed Mike Olt into a situation where he may have pressed even more than he did this spring (although that may not have been possible). This brings me to my worst case and best-case scenarios for this season concerning Mitch Moreland.

Worst Case:

Mitch comes out of the gate and continues to struggle versus lefties and this trickles into his overall approach and production against righties as well. Berkman is forced to play a lot early on at first base. This may not catch up to the veteran until mid or late summer, but the effects on his legs and back will be evident at some point. This will also obviously trigger another move within our outside the organization to help the lineup and first base. Moreland has had a high strikeout rate against lefties in his short career with 44 strikeouts in only 196 plate appearances. He has more strikeouts than hits (41), so the concern is understandable and warranted. At the end of May if his numbers resemble these (.200/.275/.375) with a high K%, it could spell doom for the Rangers and Moreland’s career.

Best Case:

The Moreland we have seen this spring stays hot to start the season and Ron Washington really begins to trust him versus lefties more and more throughout the summer. This allows Berkman to be the DH and keeps him fresh throughout the summer and into the fall. Even though this lineup lost a lot this off-season, it still doesn’t mean that Moreland has to be an MVP caliber player at the plate this season. The fan base has convinced themselves of the narrative that Moreland must profile as a middle of the order run producer, but that’s not who he is or who he will ever be. If he can be productive and most importantly just consistent, this team will be in great shape. A slash line of .265/.335/.460 would be sufficient for what this team needs. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 HR and 60 RBI would be icing on the cake, but 15 HR and 45-50 RBI gets the job done as well and is more likely. 

Jeff Johnson is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Jeff.Johnson@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @Houstonhog
Jeff Johnson

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