The stealth All-Star candidate who's making a living going the other way

June 28th, 2024

NOTE: All stats mentioned below are entering June 27 unless otherwise stated.

Red Sox outfielder is enjoying a breakout season, as he ranks fourth in MLB in Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, while putting together a strong case for his first All-Star selection.

How is he doing it? There are a plethora of factors, including the following:

  • Defense: Duran has accrued 6 Outs Above Average, ranking in the 95th percentile of MLB. This has been a blessing for a Red Sox team that has struggled in the field overall, ranking last in MLB in errors (62), unearned runs (48) and fielding percentage (.979).
  • Speed: Duran ranks second in MLB behind Corbin Carroll in Statcast’s Baserunning Run Value, a metric which doesn’t even account for Duran’s 20 steals, including two of home plate. Much thanks to his wheels, Duran leads MLB with 10 triples, and is on track to become the first player to reach 20 since Curtis Granderson and Jimmy Rollins both did so in 2007.
  • Durability: The best ability is availability, and Duran has exemplified that by becoming the first Boston outfielder to start each of the team’s first 80 games since Jim Rice in 1986.

But there’s also a much stealthier trait behind Duran’s success: Duran is MLB’s “Mr. Oppo.”

When pulling the ball, the left-handed Duran is batting a mere .219. This is the second-lowest mark in the Majors (min. 50 pulled batted balls), ahead of only Miami’s Nick Fortes, and almost 150 points below the MLB average.

But when it comes to hitting the ball to the opposite field, the narrative couldn’t be more … well, opposite. On batted balls that have gone “oppo,” Duran has a .468 batting average and .722 slugging percentage, including an MLB-high 16 doubles. The batting average ranks second among MLB players with at least 50 batted balls to the opposite field, trailing teammate Rafael Devers. And as a matter of fact, if one drops the minimum to 40 such batted balls, Boston accounts for three of the top five in batting average, with Devers and Connor Wong joining Duran.

Jarren Duran, 2024
Pulled balls vs. opposite field

  • Pulled: .219 batting average, .507 SLG, 16 base hits, 9 XBH
  • Opposite field: .468 batting average, .722 SLG, 37 base hits, 18 XBH
    Duran leads MLB in both base hits and XBH to opposite field

“I just think it’s one of those things where that’s just the way I’m being pitched right now,” Duran told The Boston Globe earlier this season about his opposite-field success. “I’m just kind of going with it. I’m not trying to do too much. I’m not trying to pull the ball and muscle everything. I’m just trying to stay loose and work the other way. It’s working out right now. They’re pitching me that way. So I’m just going how they’re pitching me."

This contrast becomes even more notable if we take a historical lens. Duran’s .468 batting average when going opposite field is 249 points higher than his .219 on pulled balls. In the pitch tracking era (since 2008), that’s the fifth-highest differential among the 2,959 players who had at least 70 pulled batted balls and 70 opposite-field batted balls in a season. It’s also comfortably the highest in a season since MLB began restricting defensive shifts in 2023 to make it tougher for teams to defend pulled balls.

Largest AVG differential between opposite field and pulled hits
Single season, since 2008 (min. 70 batted balls in each direction)

  • Eric Hosmer, 2017 (then with KC): 278 points
  • Miguel Cabrera, 2022 (then with DET): 272 points
  • David Freese, 2016 (then with PIT): 269 points
  • Mark Teahen, 2009 (then with KC): 266 points
  • Jarren Duran, 2024 (BOS): 249 points (.468 oppo / .219 pulled)

“I think there’s a lot of extra-base hits that way [toward the Green Monster],” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told The Boston Globe. “It’s not something that we told him, ‘Hey, you’ve got to go the other way.’ But I’m glad that he’s taking the humble approach, especially with two strikes. He’s been able to put the ball in play and he’s getting hits.”

While this year has particularly stood out for Duran, success to the opposite field has been a theme for the outfielder throughout his career. Across his four MLB seasons, he has a .291 batting average and .535 slugging percentage on pulled balls. Those numbers are nothing to scoff at, but they are still dwarfed by his .407 batting average and .667 slugging percentage in his career when going opposite field.

Among 765 players with at least 200 pulled batted balls and at least 200 opposite-field batted balls since 2008, that gap of 116 batting average points (.407 “oppo” / .291 “pull”) is the ninth-largest. It’s the fourth-largest among active players (i.e., those who have had at least part of their careers impacted by MLB’s new defensive shift rules), trailing only Austin Slater, Nathaniel Lowe and Christian Yelich.

Furthermore, as previously mentioned, Duran leads MLB with 16 opposite-field doubles this season. That’s six more than any other player has, and it puts him comfortably on pace to set the pitch tracking era single-season record of 26. That record, perhaps not so coincidentally given the somewhat large left-field wall at their home field, is held by another Red Sox left-handed hitter: Devers, in 2019.

So what makes Duran so proficient going the other way with the ball? The home venue certainly plays a role, as some flyouts at other ballparks can become extra-base hits at Fenway Park. Speed is important too -- Duran can beat out an infield single, and stretch a single into a double (or a double into a triple), like few others in the sport. And it’s impossible to deny there’s an element of luck as well. Duran’s expected batting average on pulled hits (.349) is actually higher than his xBA on opposite-field hits (.335) this season, even though the actual batting averages tell a vastly different story.

“Yeah, I think his swing has changed over the years from being a pull, fly ball guy to hitting line drives the other way and using the Monster. Those two [Duran and Devers], they’re powerful enough that they mis-hit balls to left field, and they go off the wall. He's been shooting that left-center gap, and that's the reason he's been really good,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told MLB’s Ian Browne. “I think if you hit a lot of fly balls to right field here, it’s not going to work unless you’re Manny [Ramirez].

"It's been fun to watch, you know, staying on pitches, going the other way … and then the speed. Not too many guys do what he’s doing at this park. As soon as he hits it to left field, you better be ready because he's going to take a chance. It’s been great.”

No matter what method one uses to diagnose it, Duran’s opposite-field success has been a major catalyst of his breakout season, one which has helped Boston tremendously as it seeks to tread water in the competitive AL Wild Card race. And if he does hear his name called for the first time when the Midsummer Classic rolls around, he’ll have one very niche -- but very impactful -- skill to thank.