It was the fourth inning in a afternoon June game in Arlington, Texas. Mitch Moreland, the Rangers first baseman and number 8 hitter, had already gotten his 11th double of the year in the inning before, but now was searching for more. On a pitch high and outside, Moreland rather ungracefully threw his bat at the pitch, causing the ball to rocket through the air and hit against the back wall of Globe Life Park. This was Moreland’s second double of the game and 12th of the 2016 season.
It was a different story on Friday night, as Moreland, now the Red Sox first baseman, hammered a double in the first inning against Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. It was his 12th double of the 2017 season. While Moreland’s 12th double of 2016 came in his 52nd game of the season and through 204 plate appearances, his 12th double this year came in his 22nd game and through 89 plate appearances.
This substantial increase in doubles has propelled him to lead Major League Baseball, with only one other player, Justin Turner of the Dodgers, having double digit doubles with 10. Along with leading the Majors, Moreland also set the Red Sox franchise record for the most doubles hit in the first 12 games of a season, with 9.
Some people may argue that Moreland’s increase in doubles comes from the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park. But that argument is quickly diminished with the fact that only 5 of his 12 doubles this year have come at home. Attributing to one thing Moreland’s improvement, not only at producing doubles, but as an overall hitter, would be flawed.
A sign of promising improvement from last season is that Moreland appears to be adjusting to be a more patient hitter. Although it is a small sample size this year, through 96 plate appearances this season Moreland has an 11.5% walk rate and 21.9% strikeout rate. These are large improvements compared to last season in which through 96 plate appearances he had a 7.3% walk rate and 30.2% strikeout rate.
Going deeper into the data can help further explain why Moreland has seen an increase in production.. One of the more probable causes in Moreland’s increase in doubles this season lies in the fact that both his average exit velocity and average launch angle have increased. His average exit velocity increased by almost 2 miles per hour, from 90.5 MPH last season to 92.4 MPH this season.
Another increase in his Statcast data is in his average launch angle, which has increased from 14.7 degrees to 15.4 degrees. The combination of the increase in this data has contributed to his average hit distance increasing from 186 feet to 195 feet this year, which in turn is also a factor in his increase in doubles this year.
It is hard to tell at this early point of the season if Mitch Moreland will be able to sustain his offensive performance. While it is unlikely that he will be able to keep hitting 12 doubles every month, being able to have a more patient approach at the plate, as well as maintaining his positive Statcast statistics, will put him in a good position to contribute to the Red Sox in a major way.