Mitch Moreland hit his 20th home run of the season this week. Which saddens me a little. And no, I'm very happy for Moreland, but sad for myself, sad for Mitch Moreland becoming yet another faceless, formless 20+ HR first baseman.
There is something beautiful in the spectacularly average, something that's very compelling about watching a professional baseball player getting paid to compete, perhaps finding some success, but never quite measuring up. And none of that is supposed to be an insult, by the way. Players like Mitch Moreland, just by reaching the Major Leagues, or, hell, any affiliated ball, have already won the genetic lottery and gone to the gym more times by the time they're twenty than I will my entire life. They are the athletic ideal of the American dream, manifesting their own destiny when given the smallest of opportunities.
That is Mitch Moreland.
Drafted in the 17th round of the 2007 draft (only 14.4% of players drafted after the tenth round ever make it to the majors), but as a pitcher, not a first baseman. After developing persuasive argument skills through numerous hours of Perry Mason reruns, Moreland convinced the Rangers staff that he could hit and so they let him, assuming he'd flame out like so many other prospects who don't know a damned thing about baseball.
Except he didn't crash and burn, he kept hitting. His career minor league line is .314/.382/.512. And though scouts were unsure about his tools, at a listed 6'2", 240 lbs, he looked every bit the part of a big, lumbering massively powerful first baseman.
But since Moreland has reached the Major Leagues, his numbers have taken a considerable dip, either proving that scouts are pretty damn smart or that big league pitching is just as difficult as people say. Not that he's been bad, just that Moreland has been an anomaly, a thoroughly average first baseman for a good ball club.
His OPS+ over the last three years: 93, 106, 104. His career OPS is 102. For comparison's sake, the average major league first baseman this year has a .772 OPS and a 115 OPS+. And that includes players like Greg Dobbs who, for some earthly reason, collected over 200 PA for the Marlins. He has never reached 1.0 fWAR during a season (though he's coming close this year, currently at 0.8).
But that's why Moreland hitting 20 home runs saddens me. Sure, his .246/.305/.463 line looks every bit the all-or-nothing, beefy first baseman that I want to see, but there was something very special about him. Something so seemingly unique about a player like this batting in the Rangers lineup, one that has twice gone to the World Series with Mitch Moreland installed as their first baseman. How many teams can claim to regularly bat their first baseman eighth in the lineup and be fighting for a division title? Without bothering to do the research, I'm going to say very few.
Since 1990, only 37 first basemen had hit less than 20 home runs in their career at least three times when given at least 350 PA. While players like like Mark Grace and, shockingly (to me), Will Clark (who hit .303/.390/.469 between 1992 and 1997 without ever topping 20 HR in a season), there are also a number of "Your father played baseball? Did you say Todd Benzunguner? Benzinburner? Oh, Todd Benzinger? Never heard of him."
But shift the research and look at players who accomplished the feat at the start of their career, and you'll find only 10. Sure, Mark Grace still shows up on the list, but Mitch Moreland would also have joined the Darin Erstads, Sean Caseys, and Orlando Merceds of the world. You know, the kind of company every ballplayer wants to keep. The one that Mitch Moreland now thinks himself too good for.
So yes, I'm happy for Mitch Moreland. But I'll have to turn my attention elsewhere for a successful first baseman without the ability to hit home runs. And no, Justin Smoak is not an option. I said successful first baseman.