Mitch Moreland is quietly having a strong 2015 campaign. Despite spending three weeks on the DL following elbow surgery in April, he has earned 1.3 fWAR in 48 games, making him the second-most valuable bat on the resurgent Texas Rangers. That number would already make 2015 the most valuable season of his career, by a significant margin.
Moreland is on pace to pass his career high in home runs, and his .304/.360/.520 line features his best, second-best, and best career rates, respectively. His .216 ISO is also a career-best. What has been the cause of the breakout, and is it sustainable?
In past years, Moreland has featured fairly pedestrian plate discipline metrics. Per FanGraphs, his career plate appearances have seen 8.1 percent walks, 20.7 percent strike outs, and a 10.1 percent swinging strike rate. He swings a lot at pitches outside of the zone (29.9 percent for his career), and is specifically weak against breaking balls (.182 career batting average, .269 slugging percentage against). Have any of these things changed this season?
Not really--he has basically the same characteristics as in the past. He is swinging at pitches outside the zone a career-low 28.0 percent of the time, and swinging at strikes at a career-high (67.4 percent). However, he is whiffing a slightly higher rate than usual (11.1 percent swinging-strikes), and is actually walking less often and striking out more frequently than his career averages.
He's performing worse against breaking balls than ever (.167 BA, .214 SLG), and despite his hot start, pitchers are throwing him 49.9 percent of pitches in the zone, more than in any other season in his career. Moreland's batted ball profile is almost identical to his career rates, and to make it worse, his BABIP is 60 points higher than usual (.358 versus .292 for his career). Of particular note is his .214 fly ball BABIP, far higher than the league's .126 rate.
It seems like a fairly open-and-shut case of "luck" and BABIP, and it may well be. Why would one bother to write an article about this partial season? Because when Mitch Moreland gets a hold of a fastball, it appears he's doing something at a rate that almost no one else can - hitting the crap out of it (a technical term).
|Rank||Player ||Avg MPH||ABs With Data|
As mentioned above, Moreland did miss a couple weeks on the disabled list, so note on the slightly smaller sample relative to the others on this list (data is from Baseball Savant).
To this point in the season, Mitch Moreland has averaged a higher exit velocity than anybody not named Giancarlo Stanton. However, this isn't a case where his average is being held up by a few outliers. His maximum exit velocity is only tied for 27th using the same constraints, and he ranks 13th in Fangraphs' Hard-Hit percentage among batters with at least 170 plate appearances.
It appears that Moreland is an expert at making very little weak contact. His 9.2 percent soft-hit rate is tied for the second-lowest in baseball. Also, while the combined numbers are a bit of a wash, he has been swinging less frequently at those low-success breaking balls, and swinging far more frequently at fastballs.
His performance against fastballs (.340 BA, .650 SLG) has dramatically improved, but it is again bolstered by a higher than usual BABIP.
In the end, it is likely Moreland will not keep up his torrid pace. However, his is an interesting test case for MLBAM's new batted ball data.
People often mention that no pitcher accidentally hits 98 mph on his fastball, and anyone who does it is demonstrating a physical skill, so Moreland hitting hard balls consistently could potentially be demonstrating a present tool. However, velocity ebbs and flows throughout a season for a pitcher. To what extent does that happen with a batter? Will Moreland's average exit velocity go down with his BABIP, or are there other factors that more influence his average on batted balls? His sample, and likely the entire league's sample, is still small. How quickly does batted ball velocity stabilize? It will be interesting to see where he stands at the end of the season, but for now, the Rangers will take his current production for however long it lasts.
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Spencer Bingol is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.