ANAHEIM, Calif. — Start earlier.
That was the message sent to Jarren Duran through the Red Sox analytics department regarding his jumps in the outfield.
Duran wasn’t getting good reads in center field. So, the Sox analytics department along with former bench coach Will Venable went to the struggling outfielder and devised a scheme centered around Duran beginning his movement either to his right or left just before the pitcher’s offering.
“As the pitch is coming I start gradually moving that way,” Duran said before Tuesday’ 4-0 loss to the Angels. “I just start gradually moving to the way that the pitch is going. If it’s a fastball away then I’m kind of cheating the fastball away [moving to my left]. I get a little bit of a baby shuffle that way.”
Duran, admittedly, was hesitant at first. He wears PitchCom, relaying pitch selection and location, in the field , but never thought to use that as a means to get an edge.
What gave Duran pause was overcommitting too much to one side. Sure, a pitch could be thrown in one location but that doesn’t mean a hitter will hit the ball where it is pitched. What if the batter pulled the outside pitch instead? That would then cause Duran to change directions, leading to a bad route while also running the risk of misplaying a ball, something that was already caused nightmares for Duran last year.
But the Red Sox wanted Duran to trust his athleticism. If there was anyone who could reroute, correct his movement, and make the play, it was Duran. Plus, his feet were moving instead of being stagnant.
“I was always worried about having a bad route to the ball,” Duran said. “But the analytics team broke down to me, like ‘Dude, some of the best outfielders have the worst route efficiency, but their jumps are [expletive] amazing. So, let’s just work on your jumps and keep your jumps really good.’ My jumps spiked. I started getting the balls way easier. So, like, that’s what I was focused on.”
Duran was in the 66th percentile last season in outs above average, per Baseball Savant. But that figure has jumped to the 83rd percentile this season. He’s still a minus-1 in defensive runs saved, but was a positive for most of this season in that category. In 462 ⅔ innings last year, Duran was a minus-7 in that metric.
The defense and the trust in his instincts and athleticism is another example of the evolution of Duran this season. But of course, it took experience to really digest and believe in the information handed to him.
In the Sox’ July 24 matchup last season against the Blue Jays at Fenway, Bo Bichette pulled an outside pitch to Duran in left-center. Duran had already been shading to his right but quickly saw the ball was over his right shoulder. Duran rerouted and made the play at the wall.
“I was like, ‘Damn that was easy,’” Duran said. “I think about it now like a defensive back, they’re constantly shifting. They think the play is going this way but then have shift the other way. You just have to trust your athleticism.”
Manager Alex Cora said that pitcher Wyatt Mills (elbow inflammation), who seemed to be progressing, is feeling sore. He was scheduled to pitch in a simulated game, but that has been pushed back. Yu Chang (hamate bone) has been swinging a bat but he, too, is feeling sore in the hand area where the hamate bone was removed. The hope is that he will get into a rehab game this weekend. The Sox are hopeful Christian Arroyo (hamstring) will go on a rehab assignment this weekend as well.