Let’s Talk About Mitch Moreland’s Hot Streak

Mitch
Mitch Moreland is a fun player to cheer for. He does all of the cosmetic things that we like to see out of ballplayers. He hustles, he is polite and intelligent when talking with the media, and if we squint and have an over-developed image of our own physique, he looks like us and that helps us associate with him. And because Moreland is on a team where he isn’t required to be the biggest run producer, when he is generating offense from the bottom of the lineup it is an extra bonus, a real pick-me-up to the rest of the team.
Moreland started this year in a terrible rut. It was painful to watch. Not that it matters, but Moreland had posted a 1.138 OPS in Spring Training this year. Then, up until April 20th, he posted this line: 
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You can see from his .150 BAbip that he was having some issues with hitting balls in the wrong spots, and getting unlucky, but even to watch him at the plate it didn’t look right, natural, or comfortable. However, since then, Moreland has posted this line: 
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That’s extraordinary. You can see the BAbip recovery has helped, but for his last 21 games Moreland has been a nearly unstoppable force at the bottom of the Rangers lineup, which is a big boost to the club, and also really encouraging to see a good guy having success.

It’d be nice if we could leave it at that.

Somewhere along the way, I’m not sure when or who or how, but an underlying narrative was attached to Moreland among Rangers fans. It’s an ongoing debate to determine just what Moreland is, with opinions ranging from a platoon-only first baseman, to a consistent run producer capable of hitting in the meat of a batting order.

We have already seen both sides of the debate engage in confirmation bias in favor of their opinion this year. Moreland’s first 57 plate appearances on the season suggest he’s not an everyday first baseman. His following 82 plate appearances say just the opposite.

So what new information has the first part of Moreland’s season actually given us? Well, nothing, really.

At almost this exact same time last year, Moreland went on a similar hot streak, as you can see: 

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That hot streak was predictably unsustainable, as Moreland finished the rest of the 2012 season with mediocre-to-poor production:
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Simply because Moreland is hitting the cover off the ball now doesn’t mean he has turned a corner and is suddenly blossoming into a consistent offensive threat at first base.

It is important to point out, however, that Moreland has been unexpectedly successful against left-handed pitchers during his current hot streak, a feat he did not accomplish during his 2012 rampage or at any other point of his career. See his spray charts from last year’s peak performance and this year’s against lefties:

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Not only is he seeing exponentially more opportunities against left-handed pitching this year, he is actually hitting them well, mostly by shooting the ball to the opposite field, an encouraging sign.

But we must take caution that Moreland has still only had 61 plate appearances against left-handers this season. That is too small a sample size to conclude that he has all-of-a-sudden figured out how to hit southpaws, who he has struggled mightily against for his entire career. Here is this year’s performance against lefties, compared to his career totals:

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Just as Moreland will eventually come down from his current hot streak in general, his recent success against lefties will also regress. If Moreland can keep hitting the ball to the opposite field as he has done, his performance shouldn’t drop off all the way back to his career levels, but to assume he can keep this pace is short-sighted and expecting too much.

What Moreland has been able to do so far this year has been really great, and really fun to watch. But this is a caution to avoid taking this small sample of what will likely be his best stretch of hitting this season, and project that Moreland is now more than what he has been to this point in his career.

There is nothing wrong with who Mitch Moreland has been, and likely will continue to be. He is a league average first baseman and he makes sense for the Rangers, based on their current roster construction. It’s a luxury that they don’t have to spend free agency dollars to fill the first base position. They get enough surplus offense from other positions on the field that they don’t need an All-Star first baseman. It’s a good fit, for now.

I still think that Moreland will be a liability against left-handed pitching in the future, and that putting him in a platoon situation would actually increase his value. My idea of who Mitch Moreland is hasn’t changed based on what has happened so far in 2013. It shouldn’t have changed for you, either.

The greatest message I can leave you with is to enjoy it when Moreland gets hot like he is now, and in general, enjoy baseball. Debates and narratives are useful and constructive to a point, but they should never get in the way of enjoying the great game, however you choose to do so.

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM

Peter Ellwood

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