Nationals Baseball: Offensive Keyhole : Nyjer Morgan

Monday, March 15, 2010

Offensive Keyhole : Nyjer Morgan

A few weeks ago I called Elijah Dukes the "offensive key" to the Nats and a couple days ago I said I couldn't find a "pitching key" for the Nats. I guess I should explain exactly what I mean by "key". I'm looking for someone who:
  1. will start the season or play a lot of games at a position
  2. has presented a difficult projection
  3. who's performance could significantly effect the performance of the team.
While most of the team was fairly predictable, Dukes is going from a great 2008 to an awful 2009, so who knows what he would do? As far as I saw the pitchers though, the ones you could be sure would be pitching (basically Lannan and Marquis) you generally could figure on what you are going to get in the average season.

Of course there is a flipside to this. There are some players on the Nats who
  1. will start the season or play a lot of games at a position
  2. hav presented a projection that we believe in but could be wildly off for non-injury reasons.
  3. who's performance could significantly effect the performance of the team.
The second note is the key. Based on what we know so far it seems like we know what we are getting, but there are a extenuating circumstances (service time, injury, historical differences)
that may cause them to go far off their projections.

For the Nats there are several candidates. Ryan Zimmerman was much better last year than he had been in the previous two seasons. Adam Kennedy also had a bounce back year. Cristian Guzman had his worst year since coming back from injury. Yet, I feel pretty good about what the Nats are expecting from these guys. Zimmerman is a budding star. Kennedy and Guzman are below average roster fillers. I'd be surprised with any other result.

However Nyjer Morgan presents a different story. I think most Nats fans take a look at his last three years, tack on the fantastic 50 games with the Nats and think they have a guy that's going to put up clearly above average offensive numbers while stealing bases and fielding like a dream. Unlike the other guys mentioned, while I have roughly the same expectations as the fans of the Nats I don't feel good about them at all.

First off, Nyjer's major league career consists of less than a season and a half of games played. The consistency over these three appearances kind of hides the facts that the assumptions being made for 2010 are made off of rather limited evidence. Morgan has played thirty fewer games than Elijah Dukes, a handful more than Jesus Flores, yet it feels as if we are treating him as if he has three average seasons in the books.

Secondly, Nats fans and followers can't help but be influenced by what they saw - which is an entirely different offensive player than Morgan had been before. Nyjer had never hit for that average (.351) ever, not even in the lowest minor leagues. This helped to disguise the fact that his isoOBP (.045) and isoSLG (.082) b(asically his power and his patience) were dreadful. You might be able to write off that patience as a product of hitting so well, but the power, or complete lack there of, is concerning, even for someone not meant to be a power hitter.

Third, Nyjer's minor league numbers would not predict the moderate success he has seen so far. He spent a good long while in the minors and adapted well to each level. He would hit around .300 with some measure of patience and no power to speak of. If he were young for his level you might think he'd grow into the same type of player in the majors, but Nyjer was always a little old for where he was playing. So instead of what we've seen so far in the majors, which is basically what I described a couple sentences ago, we'd more expect a hitter around .280 with barely acceptable patience and an incredible dead-last in the league lack of power. The fact that he hasn't shown that yet is encouraging, but because of the games played issue, it's not a certainty we won't see it.

Fourth, Nyjer is an older player - 29 in July - and for a player that relies on his legs for so much of his offense, age is big enemy. Nyjer did not hit better last season by hitting frozen ropes around the field. He hit more ground balls. While his BABIP was high, it has always been high for him, because of his speed. As Nyjer ages and slows this number is going to drop, and Nyjer is at an age where he will begin to slow.

Fifth, Nyjer is coming off of a hand injury. I don't know much about injury recovery and whether this is a big deal or barely anything to worry about. However, I feel pretty confident in saying that recovering from a broken hand won't help his offense.

All in all the pieces are there for Nyjer Morgan to severely disappoint next season offensively. I'm not talking below average. I'm talking something like .275 / .340 / .350. That would be a terrible year. Would I bet on something that low? No. (I like a .285-.290 / .355-.360 / .360-.365 season.) But is it possible given what we know about Morgan? For him to do this and it not be because of a new injury? Yes. A season like that, while terribly under what Nats fans expect, should not be a surprise.

Of course, this does not mean you don't play Morgan. Even with a disappointing year at the plate, what he brings to the field is too valuable to the Nats to give up. He is an excellent fielder, and while age will eventually catch up with him there too, it shouldn't overtake him in just a single year. Morgan is a net plus for the Nats, regardless of whether he is sparking or dousing the offense.


Hoo said...

".285-.290 / .355-.360 / .360-.365 season"

Compare that to...(.235/OBP/.364Slug/ .393)...Ie Willie Harris

If Morgan has that year you mention, he'll still be better than Willie Harris but not to the extent that a lot of fans are hoping.

Morgan will probably have stats a bit similar to his Pirates days. But his defense makes up for a lot. Still, he has to keep his OBP in the range you mention otherwise the 1/2 hitters of the Nats could be really bad (assuming Guz is Guz)

Bryan said...

On a team that plays Guzman, I'll take .275 as a "down year" or "disappointing year." any day.

Harper said...

Hoo - If you look at Harris' stats last year when he played CF he might be better (slugged well over .400). Then again I wouldn't trust Harris to repeat his best year at age 32, even if it wasn't all that great.

Yeah if morgan goes out something like this (and GUzman bats 2nd) you're going to see a nice decline in Zimmerman's RBIs.

Bryan - the .275 BA I could take or leave, it's the .340 OBP that I'd kill for.

Sec314 said...

I am not excited by Morgan's bat at all. But they got him because no one could play CF on the team. They ditched Milledge, Thank Goodness, tried Dukes, watched Bernadina break his ankle and realized the outfield was a black hole, especially with Dunn in Left (at the time).

Willingham is no defensive genius either. Someone out there has to play defense. Let him hit .250. Just catch the damn ball without running into anyone else.

Unknown said...

Well, so much for Dukes being the "key" as he was released this morning...

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

Dukes release has been confirmed. Who do you like between Bernidina and Maxwell. I assume Harris will be back up.

Harper said...

314 - imagine how serenely the past 5 years would have passed if they just said that about endy chavez? (who is no Morgan)

sassy - basically the Nats have made it impossible to imagine an offense much better than last year. I don't see anyone being a better chance at being above average than Dukes. Of course they see these guys everyday...

204 - Bernadina. If he's healthy