After already hitting on the starting rotation and catcher, the next position to browse over is first base. Since the illustrious second stint of Rafael Palmeiro (1999-2003), and Mark Teixeira‘s tenure in Texas (2003-2008), Arlington has been a burial ground of average to below average 1st basemen. Conflated with all of Ben Broussard, Chris Shelton, Chris Davis and former #1 prospect, Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland certainly falls as part of that category. He is today’s feature.
Mitch Moreland was drafted as an outfielder out of college in 2007, but many scouts believed he would eventually move to the mound to become a pitcher. They doubted his bat would ever translate to the Major Leagues, that he’d inevitably have to fall back on his arm to salvage some sort of professional baseball career.
They were wrong.
Since his inception in the Minor Leagues, Moreland was pretty much a masher. In his first full season (2008), he produced a triple slash of .324/.400/.536 (165 wRC+) in an historically pitcher-friendly league. At a level up the following year, he duplicated his success by going .341/.421/.594 (164 wRC+).
By the time his 3rd season was over, he’d be the starting first baseman for the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Who knew? However, since he’s arrived as something of a primary option with the big league club, he’s never quite reached the same offensive success as when he was in the Minors, which, obviously, is understandable.
Mitch Moreland is what he is: a decent left-handed 1st base option. He’s nothing special, nothing projectable, and if we’re utilizing cliches to help describe what can’t be described using fancy language, about Moreland we’d say “He won’t lose us any games, but he also won’t win many on his own.”
He is the current caretaker of a position that will not be his in two years. Maybe not even next year. Every other infield spot is inhabited by players we figure will be with the club with the longterm in mind, and of players like Elvis Andrus, there is a replacement (Jurickson Profar). With Mitch Moreland, there just isn’t a much better word to define him other than “average,” yet the Rangers farm system doesn’t boast a viable enough candidate to make him expendable. Not as of now, that is.
In over 1,000 lifetime plate appearances, Mitch Moreland has generated a wRC+ of exactly 100 — the median line of what separates the above average from the below average. In nearly 2,000 innings in his career manning 1st base, Moreland’s UZR is a cumulative -1.6. Average would be 0.0. In three years, which span about 300 games, his Wins Above Replacement figure sits at 1.6 (FanGraphs). In every phase of the game, no matter how you slice it, he is an average baseball player.
That said, being that he is still in just his 3rd year, he will only be making the league minimum (~$500K), so his slightly above replacement-level performance is technically worth the cost, given that each WAR is worth about $5 million. And that he is why is he still with us. We have no better candidates, and he’s still cheap enough to make sense.
The problem with Mitch Moreland’s overall game is his inability to hit left-handed pitching. If he could hit lefties, he would be an above replacement player, and someone we could live with in a full-time role over the next 3-4 years. That’s not the case. In his career vs. LHP he’s posted a putrid triple slash line of .232/.294/.328, good for an abysmal 64 wRC+. So as much as I like the guy, that type of offense simply cannot be wasted 4 times a night against every left-handed starter. It just can’t.
For what it’s worth, Bill James has Moreland hitting a .270/.334/.351 line in 2013, with FanGraphs checking in at a slightly worse .271/.326/.438, and 1.3 fWAR.
If you’re asking me, which I don’t know why you would, my general thoughts on Mitch Moreland are concurrent with both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. I see Mitch Moreland, much like he has always been, as an overall average hitter, below average when pinned against most other first basemen in baseball. Face it, it’s a demanding offensive position, the most demanding on the diamond. I’ll be happy with either of the above triple slash lines, and my general belief is that he’ll be a slightly better than replacement-level player in 2013, maybe worth 1.0-1.5 fWAR. I could easily see him in another organization by the time Opening Day 2014 rolls around.