Jarren Duran Has Become a Master of All Trades

Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox have had quite the auspicious last few weeks. Their 16-6 record since June 12 is the best in baseball, and they’ve elevated their playoff odds to a season-high 48.0%, an excellent performance for a team that entered the year with a sub-.500 projection. In a tight AL Wild Card race, they’ve needed every single one of these recent victories, as Dan Szymborski recently found that Boston’s playoff hopes are more sensitive to small changes in the standings than those of any other team. As the trade deadline approaches, the Red Sox may find themselves in the running for big names. Much of their current success, though, is thanks to major improvements from players currently on the roster, such as pitchers Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford and catcher Connor Wong, whom Jay Jaffe wrote about yesterday. And no Red Sox player has leveled up his game more than the current team leader in plate appearances, runs scored, and WAR: Jarren Duran.

Duran’s breakout has come during his first season of full-time play; after cups of coffee in 2021 and ’22, he served as the strong side of a platoon last season, amassing a 120 wRC+ across 362 plate appearances. But there were some signs of future regression, as he outperformed his xwOBA by 35 points and relied on a .381 BABIP to slash .295/.346/.482. And while those raw numbers from 2023 have actually declined this season, to .275/.337/.473, Duran has put up a nearly identical 121 wRC+. Most encouragingly, he has much stronger peripherals backing up his slash line this year, indicating that his current production is sustainable.

The biggest change we’ve seen from Duran in 2024 is in his approach at the plate. Previously, it seemed as though his goal was to swing at anything near the strike zone and put the ball in play; he offered at the first pitch nearly 40% of the time. And while this strategy worked for him because he made a lot of contact, frequently on a line, his success depended on well-placed balls in play and didn’t make the most of his strength. Instead, it often felt like he sacrificed damage for contact, an unnecessary tradeoff given his solid bat-to-ball skills, especially on pitches in the strike zone. His power numbers last year – a 20th percentile barrel rate and 35th percentile xSLG – were far from what he was capable of.

Although Duran doesn’t look like the most physically imposing player on the field, he has excellent raw power, with maximum exit velocities over 112.5 mph in each of the past two seasons. He’s especially lethal against pitches down and in, where his bat speed, exit velocity, and overall production are all elite. Comparatively, he’s generated negative run values against pitches on the outer third or top of the zone, as his relatively long swing isn’t able to cover the needed distance in time. Understanding this, Duran has become more selective. He’s cut his first-pitch swing rate nearly in half, watching such offerings go by at nearly Mike Trout levels. He’s dropped his swing rate on strikes in his cold zones by nine points, in addition to a reduction in chase rate. The results of these adjustments has been staggering, and Duran has looked like a brand new hitter this year. Even without an increase in raw strength, Duran’s focus on swinging only at the best pitches have vaulted his barrel rate above the league average, along with his xSLG and xwOBA. Additionally, his taking more called strikes has aided more than just his power numbers: His strikeout and walk rates have actually improved with his new approach.

Remarkably, Duran legged out 34 doubles last year, 10 more two-baggers than he’s hit across 50 more trips to the plate this season. As we know, as many young players gain more experience, they learn how to turn those two-base hits into home runs — or as Kiri Oler dubbed this development, “summiting Doubles to Dingers Mountain” — so it’s not all that surprising that Duran is hitting fewer doubles as he’s added power. Except, well, he’s launching home runs at nearly the same pace as he did last year, in 2.4% of his plate appearances this season, up slightly from 2.2%. Instead, he’s managed to one-up his power production in a far less common way: He’s hitting way more triples. He’s still racking up plenty of doubles (24, tied for the fifth most in baseball), but he leads the majors with 10 triples, eight more than he hit last season. Altogether, he ranks fifth in the majors with 44 extra-base hits. He’s taking full advantage of the dimensions of his home stadium, as Fenway’s deep right-center field gap and the Green Monster in left make it the most doubles-friendly ballpark in the majors, especially for left-handed hitters, and the fifth-most triples-friendly park. This season, Duran has 18 doubles in just 133 balls in play at home. More specifically, Duran’s ability to smack balls off the Monster is absolutely unparalleled. I looked at spray charts of other prolific Red Sox hitters in recent memory – Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts – and none took advantage of their ballpark’s defining feature anywhere close to as frequently as Duran has in 2024.

Many of Duran’s 34 combined doubles and triples this year have resulted from his speed on the basepaths, fighting to take the extra bag at every opportunity. He’s always possessed plus-plus speed, and using Statcast’s new baserunning value leaderboard, we can see the run value of every single he’s stretched into a hustle double or base taken on a teammate’s hit. Duran ranks third in the league in such runs generated thanks to his aggression, and while a handful of speedsters have produced negative value from being overly cautious, Duran’s fearlessness has paid off. Aggressive baserunning has been an important part of Boston’s overall offensive improvements this year. The Red Sox have climbed to seventh in extra base taken rate compared to 25th a year ago. Statcast views them as the fourth-best baserunning team in baseball. When you combine this with Duran’s 21 steals on 24 attempts, the end result is one of the most valuable runners in the league; besides Duran, only Corbin Carroll and Elly De La Cruz are on pace to accrue 1 WAR from baserunning alone.

While Duran has solidified his approach at the plate and maintained his excellence on the basepaths, the area where he’s seen the most dramatic improvement this year is with his glove. Despite his 95th percentile sprint speed, Duran’s previous performance in the outfield, especially in center, left much to be desired; he totaled -5 FRV from 2021-23. Most of his poor plays occurred when he had to cover long distances on efficient routes; it was so bad that he made an appearance in a piece I wrote last year due to his awful route running. In that piece, I found there was a negative correlation between route efficiency and overall OAA, as an outfielder’s initial reaction and burst speed proved to be more important factors. Duran has been a key example of this: His routes are still rough, but the rest of his defensive game has improved tremendously. His +5 FRV ranks in the 89th percentile (though second to Ceddanne Rafaela in his own outfield), while only Daulton Varsho has more DRS than Duran’s 12 among outfielders.

Jarren Duran Catch Probabilities
Stars 2023 Success Rate 2024 Success Rate
1 (91-95%) 85% 100%
2 (76-90%) 92% 86%
3 (51-75%) 73% 85%
4 (26-50%) 0% 67%
5 (0-25%) 0% 17%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Duran’s reactions and first steps have improved to the point where his routes haven’t impacted his ability to get to balls. Last year, he failed to make both of the difficult-but-possible plays that involved covering over 100 feet of ground to make the catch; this year he’s a perfect 4-for-4. However, the plays that have turned his defensive metrics from below average to excellent aren’t the long-distance runs but the line drives, where instincts and initial reactions are everything. In 2024, Duran has had 11 play opportunities on balls between 30 and 50 feet away from him with fewer than four seconds to make the catch. He’s converted 10 of them, contributing to half of his total OAA. While he was similarly successful at catching these hard liners in previous seasons, he had only a few such play opportunities. Duran isn’t doing anything different with his positioning this year, so it remains to be seen whether he’ll continue to get so many catch opportunities on these hard liners. Regardless, it’s safe to say that he’s made the most of the fielding chances he’s been given.

Nearing the All-Star break, the Red Sox have as close to coin-flip playoff odds as any other club, and the high stakes they’ve played under combined with their meteoric performance over the past few weeks have made them one of the most exciting teams in baseball to watch. And in the middle of it is the homegrown All-Star Duran, whose improvements have manifested in every single aspect of his game.

Kyle is a FanGraphs contributor who likes to write about unique players who aren't superstars. He likes multipositional catchers, dislikes fastballs, and wants to see the return of the 100-inning reliever. He's currently a college student studying math education, and wants to apply that experience to his writing by making sabermetrics more accessible to learn about. Previously, he's written for PitcherList using pitch data to bring analytical insight to pitcher GIFs and on his personal blog about the Angels.

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15 days ago

The x factor with Duran for me was always the hard hit rate. For a guy in the 90th percentile in sprint speed he was always in the ~70th+ percentile in hard hit rate and that sort of player has an absolute massive ceiling. Nice to see him putting it all together.