Jarren Duran’s struggles were similar to a former Red Sox prospect
After dominating at the AAA level to begin the year, hitting 15 home runs in 46 games, Duran struggled in the majors, hitting for a .215/.241/.578 slashline with 2 home runs in 112 at-bats. Many of the same Red Sox fans who had been badgering the team for months to call up Duran were just as quick to label him a bust. This is ironic as most of Duran’s rookie year struggles could be linked to the fact that he was rushed to the major leagues. Duran had a total of 219 plate appearances in Worcester when he was called up on July 15th.
While Duran’s rookie season is definitely a cause for concern, it is not a death sentence. Plenty of players have gotten off to a rough start at the big league level only to go on to have long productive careers. One prominent example of this is former Red Sox prospect Anthony Rizzo, who actually had a very similar rookie season to Duran in 2011.
After being traded by the Red Sox to the San Diego Padres for Adrian Gonzalez in December of 2010, Rizzo played in 52 games for the Tucson Padres before he was called up and made his major league debut on June 9th.
In his rookie season with the San Diego Padres, Rizzo hit for a .141/.281/.241 slashline with 1 home run in 128 at-bats. Following the season, Rizzo was traded to the Chicago Cubs where he would go on to have a number of productive seasons with.
Not only are Rizzo’s numbers similar to Duran, you could actually make a strong argument that Duran had a better rookie season. Duran’s .578 OPS was higher than Rizzo’s .523 OPS, and he hit more home runs in fewer at-bats.
The one area where Rizzo has Duran beat is in plate discipline. This is not much of a surprise as many predicted that Duran’s high strikeout rate in the minors may be what prevented him from having similar success in the big leagues.
In 2011, Rizzo had a 30% strikeout rate, whereas Duran had a 36% K rate in 2021. Rizzo has a clear edge, but the numbers are really close. The numbers get even closer at the AAA level where Rizzo struck out at a 21.5% rate in 2011 and Duran at a 23.3% clip in 2021.
However, one thing to consider when looking at these numbers is that Rizzo did not make his debut during the launch angle era, which has led to a dramatic uptick in strikeouts, like Duran did. Therefore it could be argued that had Duran and Rizzo made their major league debuts in the same eras, Rizzo would have had almost an identical, if not higher, strikeout rate than Duran.
One area where there is a dramatic difference between Rizzo and Duran in their rookie seasons is their walk rates. Anthony Rizzo walked at a 13.7% rate his rookie season while Duran did only 3.7% of the time. However, it should also be noted that Rizzo and Duran walked at similar rates at the AAA level with Duran actually having a higher walk rate of 10.6% in 2021 than Rizzo’s 10.4% in 2011. The huge disparity between them in terms of their walk rates their rookie season could honestly be explained away as Duran tried a little too hard to impress as a rookie and swung at few more pitches out of the zone than he normally would.
One sign of hope for Red Sox fans regarding Duran is that Rizzo did eventually turn it around. From 2012-2021, he cut his strikeout rate down to 15.4%. During that time he also made three All-Star teams, won four gold gloves, and won a silver slugger award in 2016. He finished in the top 20 in the NL MVP vote in five consecutive years between 2014 and 2019. He also led the Cubs to their first world series title since 1908 in 2016.
This is not to say that Jarren Duran is going to be the next Anthony Rizzo. They are two very different players with varying skill sets. I certainly don’t see Rizzo stealing 46 bases in one season, the way that Jarren Duran did between A and AA in 2019. And while some may question Duran’s defense in center field, if the 240-pound Rizzo ever decided to play a few innings in center, he’d most likely make Duran look like Jackie Bradley Jr.
While they posted very similar numbers at the plate during their rookie seasons, there is no guarantee that Duran will rebound the way that Rizzo did. However, what this is saying is that it is way too early to label Duran as a bust. As Rizzo, and several other major leaguers, have proven, your rookie season does not define who you are as a player.