Is Mitch Moreland Due for Regression?

I can feel your cold, hard stares now. I've mentioned one of Texas's favorite sons, and the fact that I included the word "regression" in the title probably has you a little more than agitated. No matter, I press on.

Mitch Moreland had a career season in 2015. He matched a career high in home runs, he put up a WAR of 2.2 according to Baseball-Reference, and his defense at 1B provided some value, especially over what Prince Fielder likely would have provided in his place.

Based on the weight of that successful season, Moreland and Texas hammered out a 1-year, $5.7 million deal immediately before Moreland would have been able to make his case in salary arbitration, a situation that Texas has avoided with any player since Lee Stevens in 2000.

All told, $5.7 million is a good buy -- in terms of fiscal responsibility in baseball -- for what Moreland provides. I know it's something I bring up quite often, but an assumed cost per win of $6.5 million on the open market would end up costing Texas $14.3 million to replace Moreland at his 2015 production level. Those types of numbers are always a bit give-and-take, but give us a general guideline.

Now, I'm prepared to come right out and say it: Mitch Moreland is due for regression in 2016.

For starters, Moreland is heading into his age-30 season, and it's been well-established that players on the wrong side of that figure tend to taper off. That issue is often further exacerbated in power hitters, a profile that Moreland more closely fits than not.

Adding into the equation that he's never really managed to stay healthy -- even an elbow injury and apparent stress fracture in his left foot hampered him in 2015 -- and we're talking about a player who isn't likely to see a sudden disappearance of these issues in a post-30 career.

For all of the success he saw in 2015, Moreland still wasn't very impactful against left-handed pitching. Don't get me wrong, not every left-handed hitter can be like Joey Votto -- who posted a higher wRC+ against lefties (178) than righties (170) in 2015 -- but you'd still like your 1B to be able to produce better than a wRC+ of 80 against lefties, which comes in at well below-average.

Beyond just the splits is a bigger issue. Determining exactly how much of Mitch Moreland's 2015 success was "real", so to speak. To expound on that a bit, most of the damage done in Moreland's 2015 campaign was in the month of June. For starters, his ISO -- isolated power, a measure of a hitter's raw power -- was .313 in June, and you can see a little bit of how awesome that was in the heat map below.

 Courtesy: ESPN Stats & Information

Courtesy: ESPN Stats & Information

On the other hand, for the rest of the season, his ISO sat at .181, which while still being average, was largely hampered by putting up a figure of .165 in September and October.

 Courtesy: ESPN Stats & Information

Courtesy: ESPN Stats & Information

Perhaps another complicating factor was the BABIP of .365 in June. In other words, during that time, Mitch Moreland was making contact and having the ball fall for hits. While some of it is certainly attributable to an uptick in production, there's also fair amount that might not have been directly related to any discernible skill.

The real point I'm trying to get across here is that I'm having a hard time believing that one month out of an entire season suddenly means Mitch Moreland is ready to replicate the entirety of his 2015 production in 2016. I simply don't think it's a realistic expectation to have. Obviously if you're Texas, you take the power surges from Moreland when you can get them. I just don't think you can really expect anything sustainable at or near that level going forward. And for whatever it's worth, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS sees Moreland worth 0.9 WAR in 2016 in 412 plate appearances.

The plate appearances bring me to my final point. In 2015, Moreland logged 515 plate appearances, only three less than his career-high of 518 set in 2013. I expect that figure to come down in 2016, pending the health of the overall team.

It appears that Ryan Rua will once again make the team out of Spring Training. Last season, his role going in was as the starting left fielder. The Rangers signed Ian Desmond for that for this season, but Rua has also been getting starts at 1B in Spring Training. It seems conceivable to me that Rua could get some starts against left-handed pitching, which would take away from the 167 plate appearances Moreland had against southpaws in 2015. That's without considering that Adrian Beltre is another year older, and perhaps could use some days as the team's DH, forcing Prince Fielder to play 1B occasionally.

Approaching the debate from another vantage point, we could say that Moreland getting zero starts against left-handed pitching would actually make him more valuable. And in a sense, I can get on board with that. Regardless, I'm still of the opinion that things will be down for him across the board in 2016.

All in all, I'm still glad that Texas was able to get Mitch Moreland signed. I expect that this will be his final season in Texas, as once he becomes a free agent at the end of the year, I believe there will be teams willing to pay for his services; more than Texas will be willing to pay. He doesn't seem to be the type of player the Rangers would risk paying the qualifying offer to; on the contrary, he's probably the exact type of player that could/should accept a qualifying offer, thereby nullifying any draft pick compensation Texas might expect to receive if he signs elsewhere.

I just can't get myself on board with the kind of thinking that says at age 30, Mitch Moreland has somehow "turned a corner" based on one season in which he put up a WAR (2.2) that was higher than the rest of his career combined (2.0). I hope I'm wrong, but I fully expect Moreland's 2016 to be slightly less appealing than 2015.