I could craft this post in such a way that it centered around Derek Holland, his eminently hittable stuff and inability to put away hitters (he reached a two-strike count in 12 separate plate appearances, and allowed a base hit in six of those), or the fact that the Rangers persist in compromising their outfield defense by means of playing three separate guys out of position, or Michael Young's still-scorching bat juxtaposed against his maddening defense ... but for one morning, at least, I'm going to divert the attention away from stuff that I want to discuss in more detail over the next week, and bring it back around towards last night's unsung late-inning hero.
Moreland made several immense contributions on the WPA (win probability added) scale during the waning days of the 2010 regular season, including a 2-for-3, one-walk performance against the Angels on October 1st that also comprised a key ninth-inning stolen base and culminated in a single-game WPA of .992 -- a number that is virtually incomprehensible within the WPA framework, in the sense that there have been fewer than 100 individual player games out of more than 1.9 million individual player games since 1950 that have featured an equal or better mark. Unfortunately, the Rangers still went ahead and lost that game, and given that it was also played in the shadow of their looming ALDS tilt against the Rays, his performance was largely and unfortunately overlooked.
Last night, however, Moreland clobbered his single most important hit (.196 WPA) in a regular-season Rangers win to date -- a seventh-inning blast to straightaway center field off a David Dellucci-haunted Octavio Dotel that again edged Texas ahead of Toronto by one run, and ultimately proved to be just enough to bring the victory home. I want to be careful not to lean too much upon hyperbole here, but I also want to be honest when I say that Moreland really and truly has established himself as the Rangers' single most reliable offensive performer to this point in the season. The number of times this season that he has started a game and not reached base a single time can be counted using only two fingers; more frequently, he has reached base 2-3 times while displaying legitimate power and a keen batting eye.
When used in a baseball context, "reliable" often ends up being synonymous with such labels as "boring" or "mediocre." Reliablity might win ballgames, but it's generally not a sexy baseball trait in and of itself. When attached to a .281/.378/.578 (.411 wOBA) batting line and walk-to-strikeout ratio in excess of 1.00, however, it takes on a very different appearance. I would never suggest that he would maintain this clip over the longer haul, but there's something Jason Parks mentioned during his recent revisitation of last year's Mitch Moreland OFP scouting report that struck me as particularly relevant within the context of this discussion:
[It] doesn’t matter if the pitcher busts him inside with plus stuff. Doesn’t matter if he gets breaking stuff away. Doesn’t matter if Moreland faces Josh Beckett or R.A. Dickey. Moreland sees the ball, and then Moreland hits the ball. I discounted Moreland because his tools and his age didn’t paint a sexy picture. The best evaluators don’t need a sexy product to do their job. They don’t need to hide behind clever parlance or overly complicated mechanical analysis. Yes; sometimes it is called for. Yes; I enjoy busting it out. With Moreland, it wasn’t necessary. His OFP grade suggested he had the ceiling of a solid-average major league regular. That is probably still accurate, but I didn’t need to break down his raw tools to make that case. It should have been simple. Moreland is a major league hitter.
Is Moreland the Rangers' true first baseman of the future? The answer to that question is largely dependent upon one's personal expectations -- however unfair and unrealistic they may be -- and, of course, how he continues to perform going forward, and what sort of market materializes for potential upgrades at the position. I've been thinking, however, that between the way next year's free agent market seems to be shaping up, and the due expansion of the team payroll, that this organization is going to have far more pressing issues to attend to than figuring out how to improve upon a league-average first baseman making league-minimum money to the extent that it's actually a cost-effective and beneficial move. To put it another way, the future may very well already be here.
And it will not surprise me if that future ends up being better than average.