Don’t Sleep on the Importance of Mitch Moreland

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FT. MYERS, FL - MARCH 5: Mitch Moreland #18 of the Boston Red Sox fields a ground ball during the second inning of a Spring Training game against the Atlanta Braves on March 5, 2017 at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida . (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

The Boston Red Sox made a lot of noise this offseason, particularly with the blockbuster trade for starting pitcher Chris Sale. However, one signing seemed to get lost amid all the noise, a signing that could make as big an impact as any. Mitch Moreland, formerly of the Texas Rangers, should prove wildly important this season.

Don’t Sleep on the Importance of Mitch Moreland

The 31-year-old lefty debuted with the Rangers in 2010, and spent his career with Texas up to joining the Red Sox. As soon as he gets over a bout of the flu, he should slot in as the primary first baseman. He’s a savvy veteran who comes over on a low-risk contract, and will be an asset to Boston’s playoff hopes. In fact, Moreland will be invaluable on both sides of the ball, in multiple ways.

At the Plate

While Moreland hit an uninspiring .233 last year, his 2016 numbers don’t represent his ability with the lumber. He’s a career .254 hitter who put up a very respectable .278 average in 2015. He strikes out a good deal, but makes up for it with power; he clubbed 22 or more homers in each of his past three full seasons, and 21 or more doubles in four of his five full seasons. In a potent offense, he can pull his own weight and drive in runs.

He’ll also have an impact on Hanley Ramirez‘s production. Ramirez had a strong campaign last season. He hit .286 with 30 home runs, his most since 2008, and 111 RBI. That would be an impressive stat line for any player. The thing is, without any defensive duties to focus on, Ramirez should be even better this season. Ramirez got 502 at-bats on days which he also played first base. In those opportunities, he put up a slash line of .281/.359/.486. While not at all bad, he was even better when given the opportunity to DH. He took 44 at-bats in that role, and slashed .364/.417/.750.

Admittedly, 44 at-bats isn’t much of a sample size; as the full-time DH, his final numbers likely won’t look quite that good. However, there’s reason to believe he’ll improve a good deal on his 2016 numbers. Ramirez has never been a strong fielder, and his defensive duties have hurt his confidence and focus at times. That shouldn’t be an issue this season, and that leads to the next way in which Moreland will make a difference.

In the Field

In his only year as the everyday first baseman. Ramirez wasn’t awful. He held his own, and made just four errors in 1,000 opportunities. However, his -1.3 dWAR still ranked near the bottom of the league among qualified first basemen. The Red Sox still finished among baseball’s best defensive teams, but getting Hanley out of the field should make them even better.

That rings particularly true when one considers that his replacement is the reigning American League Gold Glove winner at the position. Moreland was charged with just two errors in 1,036 chances. Per Baseball Reference, Moreland also saved the Rangers seven runs thanks to his play at first; in contrast, Ramirez cost Boston five runs. Additionally, Moreland’s 9.17 range factor per nine innings (putouts plus assists per nine) looks better than Ramirez’s 8.17.

Overall Impact

While more focus was given to the Sale trade, and for good reason, Moreland could be as important as any player. He’ll contribute at the plate in his own right, and should allow Ramirez to be the best version of himself. In the field, Moreland will make a team strength even stronger. If Boston makes a deep playoff run, Moreland’s presence will be a contribute heavily.

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