Don’t judge Mitch Moreland by his batting average alone
Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland smiled when asked how he would assess his season to this point.
“Well, that’s an interesting question, isn’t it?” he said. “I’m not really sure.”
Moreland leads the Sox with 12 home runs and 29 RBIs. But he also has the second-lowest batting average (.231) and on-base percentage (.319) among qualifying players on the roster.
Eleven of Moreland’s RBIs have either given the Sox the lead or tied the game. He has been particularly productive during the team’s surge over the last three weeks, driving in 17 runs in the 17 games he has started.
Through Sunday, Moreland was one of only seven players in the majors with at least 12 home runs and 29 RBIs. He has the lowest batting average and on-base percentage in the group.
“Somebody told me this was the most productive start I’ve had, and at the time I was hitting .217,” Moreland said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Man, the game has changed.’
“But I guess if you look at it, it really has been, as far as production. It’s been there. But the batting average is a little bit different.”
Moreland understands batting average is a statistic with little value. But he also doesn’t want to be an all-or-nothing hitter. Having three more home runs than singles through 41 games sounds like slow-pitch softball.
It’s essentially due to some bad luck and successful shifts.
Moreland is hitting .192 on balls he puts in play, well below his career mark of .283. That should change over time. But Moreland also is hitting .181 against defenses in a shift, with 50 percent of his contact coming on the ground. The lefthanded hitter has only two hits going the other way.
Moreland recounted several examples of singles that were taken away by the shift.
“But I can’t blame it all on the shift,” he said. “Do I want the shift gone? I would love for it to be gone. But at the same time, it’s part of the game.
“I feel like I’ve had some good pitches to hit and been able to drive them. It seems like I’ve had luck doing damage when I am able to hit it. I would like to get a few more hits. But the ones I’m getting I’m producing with.”
The coaching staff is working on finding the right balance of hitting for power but getting on base more frequently.
“He wants to be better. We’ve been talking about going the other way and beating the shift,” manager Alex Cora said. “It’s not that he’s pleased, but the production is there.
“He’s in a spot where the guys in front of him are getting on base and he’s hitting the ball in the air. He’s putting up good at-bats.”
Moreland is at a stage of his career where he grades himself on the final score. If the Sox win and he plays a role in that, it’s a good day.
“I’ve tried to stay away from statistical goals this season,” he said. “I don’t really pay attention to what the numbers say. I just try to go up there and be simple.
“Even if I go up there and crush a ball and it’s an out. I feel like that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to go up there, get my pitch, and put a good swing on it. In this game, that is really all you can control. Whatever I’ve got to do to help the team win, I’m fine with.”
Moreland will be a free agent at the end of the season, his two-year, $13 million contract with the Sox coming to an end. He will be 34 at that point.
Moreland has been a productive member of seven postseason teams with the Rangers and Red Sox and played in three World Series. He’s also a well-above-average first baseman and hasn’t been on the injured list since 2015. But corner infielders in their mid 30s have had to wait for major league contracts — if they get one at all.
“This will be my third time in free agency,” Moreland said. “It’s nothing new. The two-year deal they gave me was the first time in my career I’ve had a little bit of security. Other than that I’ve been going year to year.
“It is what it is now, the way free agency has gone. I don’t know what to expect. It’s different than what it used to be, unfortunately. I’ll enjoy what I have now while I have it.”
Toward that end, the Sox will be careful with a hitter who has been even more valuable than they hoped.