The Curious Case Of Mitchell Moreland

Mitch
If you have ever heard me on the Scooping the Texas Rangers podcast, you have heard me more than once defend Mitch Moreland as an everyday starter. My statements have been made primarily on the eyeball test and who I see as a valuable supporting player on a team loaded with superstars. Well, this off-season has changed the dynamic of this team and the lineup has been weakened by the departures of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and Michael Young (insert leadership joke here). The first base position is normally profiled as a middle of the order, hit for power type of player, which has been the exact opposite approach taken by the Rangers front office in the last three years because they had that guy in their center fielder and catcher.  Mitch Moreland has been a serviceable and important platoon bottom of the order hitter versus righties while Napoli and Young filled in versus lefties or while Mitch was injured during the past two seasons. With the middle of the order mostly departing this off-season, the slotting for each position within the lineup might change and Mitch hiding in the 8 or 9-hole may not be possible. Evan Grant, of the Dallas Morning News, said recently on the Norm Hitzges show that he believes this is the year to give Mitch a chance to prove that he can be an everyday starter and valuable contributor to this team. While I don’t always see eye to eye with Evan’s baseball opinions, I can understand and see the logic behind this statement. At some point, you have to throw your guys out there and see if they can handle it. 

The counterpoint to this statement though is Moreland’s splits versus lefties in his short career. At first glance, the case can be made fairly quickly that Mitch is not an everyday starter (career slash line vs. lefties is .232/.294/.328), but you have to look at the number of plate appearances (196) as a reminder that he hasn’t had many chances. The other concerning stat are his strikeouts versus left-handed pitchers. In those 196 PA vs. lefties, he has struck out 44 times with only 41 hits. That strikeout to hit ratio may shed some light on his struggles with seeing the ball from the left side and could spell doom for his career as an everyday starter. With a small sample size like that though, it is easy to dismiss it as irrelevant until he gets more plate appearances.

Any hitting coach/baseball coach will tell you that in order to improve you must have reps. There isn’t a formula or stat that can help a left-handed hitter see a pitch better out of a lefties hand, but getting consistent reps and knowing you are going to be in the lineup everyday helps. Mitch Moreland, since 2010 has had 1042 plate appearances, which ranks 19th among American League first baseman. He has 134 more appearances than Chris Davis of the Orioles and nearly 1,000 fewer than Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers. Mike Napoli during the same time period collected 1359 plate appearances, ranking him 9th. I’m okay with these numbers because of the way this roster was put together, it gave Wash a chance to be flexible and use Napoli and Young at first base. Putting Napoli there allowed Wash to increase the power numbers at that position while not losing much defensively. With those options now gone, what is in store for 2013?

One of the most intriguing storylines heading into the 2013 season is how Ron Washington will handle this new lineup. Will he revert back to 2010 and put his foot back on the accelerator and run the bags more often and aggressively? How will he handle not having three guys who can play first, one of the most vaunted lineups in recent history, and not having his veteran go-to utility guy at his disposal? Wash may not have a choice but to plug Mitch into the lineup on an everyday basis this year and find out what his young Mississippian can do. The rumors of moving Ian Kinsler to first have been surfacing throughout the off-season, but that move and his potential move to the outfield all depends on who the Rangers sign before this off-season is over. Bringing in a Jason Kubel or Giancarlo Stanton solidifies the outfield and could give Wash more flexibility with Kinsler and Moreland at 1B, while breaking in Profar at second. Those questions will be answered in the coming weeks as the hot stove season cools off, but until they are the Mitch Moreland conundrum will remain.  The needs at other positions may outweigh the need to improve first base this year, so if Mitch gets the opportunity that Evan Grant mentioned this will be his chance to show himself and his manager that he can be that everyday player he certainly wants to be. Moreland is under team control through 2016 and should remain relatively cheap and affordable during his arbitration years. When you combine that with the fiscal philosophy of this front office, giving Moreland more at bats this year to find out if he can be an affordable option there makes a lot of sense.

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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