Red Sox: Mitch Moreland is a home run hitting machine on per at-bat basis

Mitch Moreland of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a game winning walk-off two run home run. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Mitch Moreland of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a game winning walk-off two run home run. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland is a homer hitting machine.

Mitch Moreland appeared to be on his way out of town last winter with the Boston Red Sox content to hand the first base position over to younger, cheaper options. The club surprisingly pivoted by bringing the veteran back on a one-year deal in late January. Now that we’re a couple of weeks into the season, it’s hard to imagine where this team would be without Mitchy Two-Bags.

Or perhaps we should say Four-Bags, considering the rate that Moreland has been piling up home runs. Boston’s first baseman put his team on the board with a solo shot to deep center in the second inning and later ended it with a walk-off homer to the opposite field to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.

The multi-homer game increased Moreland’s season total to six, which currently ranks second in the league and fourth in the majors.

The impeccable timing of his game-winner against the Jays has been the highlight of the season but Moreland has routinely come through in the clutch all year. Each of his last four home runs has given the Red Sox the lead.

He belted a two-run blast in the third inning of Friday’s game to give Boston a 4-2 lead in an eventual 5-3 victory over Toronto. Moreland accounted for the only Red Sox run in Tuesday’s loss in Tampa Bay but his second-inning solo shot briefly gave his team the lead.

Moreland’s home run total is even more impressive when you consider he’s done it as a part-time player. The left-handed hitter has been part of a first base platoon, often sitting against southpaw starters. Moreland ranks 10th on his own team with a mere 31 at-bats this season.

With six home runs in 31 at-bats, Moreland now leads the majors with 5.2 at-bats per home run. After hitting a total of 34 home runs in 215 games over the last two seasons, Moreland is on pace to top that total in this year’s 60-game campaign.

This early season pace has some historical context to it. Fred Lynn is the only Red Sox hitter who has reached six home runs in fewer at-bats to begin a season since the expansion era began in 1961 (28 at-bats in 1979).

Moreland is no stranger to strong starts in the power department. He blasted six home runs in his first 19 games last season and had eight by the end of April. Moreland spent most of the summer months on the injured list, curtailing his overall production, but a strong September proved he still had plenty left in the tank.

Moreland leads all Red Sox hitters with a .323 batting average this season (minimum 30 at-bats). His .935 SLG and 1.299 OPS would lead the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.

While his scorching bat may lead you to believe he deserves more playing time, this is a case where less is more. He’s a platoon player for a reason. Moreland is a career .239/.300/.371 hitter against lefties compared to .256/.325/.470 against right-handed pitching. Starting everyday would provide a slight uptick in counting stats but facing lefties would derail his strong slash line numbers. The Red Sox are wisely using Moreland in spots where they can get the most out of him and it’s paying off.

We would normally expect a player with his track record to cool off eventually but with the truncated nature of this year’s schedule, is it really far-fetched to believe that Moreland can keep this up for two months if he stays healthy?

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This could end up being a career year for the 34-year-old, at least on a per at-bat basis. The Red Sox thought he might be moving on when he went to test the free-agent waters last winter but they are sure glad to have him back.