Nationals Baseball: Mike Morse and Question of the Weekend : Are you rooting for Manny Acta?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Mike Morse and Question of the Weekend : Are you rooting for Manny Acta?

I said in the comments that I had something about Mike Morse to say in the next couple days, but in reality I'm not very convinced of where it is going. I'll lay it out for you and you can make your own decisions on whether it makes any sense or not, but I'm telling you now I'm not confident about it and I'm waiting to see if the next 2-3 weeks changes anything.

So, Mike Morse stinks. He shouldn't stink based on his career stats, but he has so far. Part of it is the super slow start (.133 /.250 / .133 through 11 games) but even though he's hit .292 since then his OBP is still terrible (no walks + sacflies = .280!) and SLG is mediocre at best (3XBH = .438). Usually when a guy is doing poorly I do a fancy stats rundown, starting first with batting average for balls in play. His BABIP is down only a tiny bit, and he's hitting the ball as well as before based on LD/GB/FB%s. So these suggest a year similar to last.

You can find two problems in his stats though. One is that his HR/FB ratio is about half of what it was last year. If he did hit homers at the same rate as he did last year that .231 avg, with a.321 slg would jump to .256 and .423. Not quite what Nats fans want but respectable. But it's hard to say what his true rate is. He's been all over the place in his career.

The other thing is his K rate. It is up to 30+% from around 24% last year. That's a pretty big jump. Thing is, I'm not sure why it's up. He's not seeing a different mix of pitches. It's not like he's getting a bunch of off-speed stuff he can't handle. He's not seeing the strike zone much differently than last year based on how he's swinging at pitches. Also he's not swinging and missing more. The number of swinging strikes is the lowest of his career. So what's changed from last year? The only thing I see in the fancy stats is that he's seeing a lot more first pitch strikes. Now those can come in any fashion - swing and miss, called strike, foul ball - but they all have the effect of putting the batter behind in the count. Once behind batters usually hit a lot worse. A quick look at the league averages compared to how Morse does finds that he is typically worse than your league average hitter when behind in the count. This year the NL is hitting .200 when they put the ball in play while behind in the count, Morse is hitting .071. Last year it was .204 for the league, .168 for Morse. 2009 - .204 and .176 respectively.

The conclusion I reach, which I'm real hesitant about, is that Mike is getting challenged early in the count and is falling behind, probably (although I'd have to do a lot more work to check this out) on a lot of called first strikes, or foul balls (since his swing and miss rate is down) Something about the way he hits is really not conducive to hitting from behind in the count, so he's struggling to hit for average or power, even more than usual. The good news is that the .071 number is way low and should come up to the .170 range of the past 2 years. His HR/FB rate should also bump up at least a little. The bad news is that the way this is playing out gives the Nats a Mike Morse far more like the one that hit .250 in 2009 and never got on base, except with less power.

Still I'm not convinced this isn't just a crazy month's worth of data. A month is enough at bats to start looking, but I don't think it's enough to be convinced of anything just yet, not when the results don't scream anything.

Question of the Weekend : I found the responses to last week's question pretty interesting. I got a lot of what I expected which was "I'll root for him as long as he's good and he's not the worst person ever" but I got a lot of "I'm not going to even believe this until I see it for myself", too. It basically spins the question into : Are these things they say about Bryce true, or are they blown out of proportion by a media looking for something to talk about. Weak half-hearted answer : probably somewhere in between.

But let's not get on Bryce again - we got 1 1/2 years of buildup yet. The question for this weekend is Are you rooting for Manny Acta? Currently, his Cleveland Indians are 21-9, with best record in baseball, and are surprise of the season. The AL Central's best teams all have flaws so it's not hard to see a scenario where they take the crown, or at least stay in the race until Sept ala the '05 Nats. A lot of Nats fans grew to dislike Manny by the end of his tenure, but I have a hard time believing anyone out there is actively rooting against his success. Maybe I'm wrong though as it would cast a bad light on the Nats organization (though that would be completely unfair). I think there will be a lot of you that don't care, and a bunch more that are rooting for the Indians but for reasons other than Manny Acta.


Chris Needham said...

My hope?

Game 163... Royals, Indians tied at 3 heading into extras. In trots Aaron Crow for 2 perfect innings of relief in a 12-3 win over Acta.

Harper said...

Did Acta bring in Levale Speigner?

Section 220 said...

I never blamed Acta for the Nats' struggles, and I felt he was scapegoated by fans after having been kneecapped by unbelievably crummy management and irresponsible ownership. That's right, scapegoated AND kneecapped, that's how I roll. Not that I have strong feelings about this or anything.

So, I'm rooting for Acta hard, in part to finally close the books on the whole "the problem with the Nats is Acta's not fiery enough/making them take infield/getting thrown out/sticking up for them with umps/whatever" meme.

Anonymous said...

The results scream that he stinks...not even looking at how pathetic he is in the field. Hope you have a car salesman job lined up Morse, cause its officially your last year in the Majors.

Hoo said...

I'm relatively indifferent to Acta, but I'm glad he's doing well. He seemed like a good guy and was hamstrung here. Glad to see him and Kearns together again.

I think Morse will rebound slightly and improve a bit. Not enough to be viable going forward but maybe a spot on the bench same as last year.

Morse still needs a ton of PT b/c this should be the year of decisions.

Bryan said...

I'm rooting for Acta. Always like to see formers do well, especially the nice guys, and I don't think there is any question that Acta was "kneecapped" by ownership and management.

Managers are responsible for about 5, maybe 10 wins per year. Those come from a combination of "rah-rah" and a few from double switches, pitching choices and line up selection.

Charlie Manual, Acta, and that guy in Boston are perfect examples of this theory in play.

DezoPenguin said...

I have no animosity for Acta; I'm rooting for him a little due to the underdog factor and against him a little due to liking other teams in the AL Central better than the Indians. None of it has to do with his tenure as Nats manager.

As for Morse...well, giving him more PT is a good idea simply because he's the only one of the non-Werth outfield crew who has a chance to be a plus hitter based on past performance (especially if Nix gets more time in CF). I mean, it's not like anyone's going to argue that Jerry Hairston, Jr. should be out there full-time instead. I just hope that he doesn't turn out to be 2011's equivalent of 2010's Nyjer Morgan (crash and burn following a good previous season that raised our hopes too high) least he's not likely to get clotheslined rushing the mound?

Nate said...

I'm still waiting patiently for someone to explain what Jim Riggleman does that Manny didn't do, apart from getting tossed arguing balls and strikes on a pitch everyone including Riggleman agrees was a strike.

I don't particularly credit Manny for the Indians miracle start, and I don't expect them to sustain it, (Unless they trade Sizemore for Marquis!) but Manny was a competent manager who took the fall for two horribly constructed teams.

The truth about Morse is he's probably just miscast as an everyday outfielder. Coming off the bench or spot starting against lefties he either A)puts up better numbers, or B) doesn't hurt you so much when he slumps.

peric said...

I'm good with Acta. I agree with section 220 on that point. Look at Acta? Now look at the guy who preceded him out the revolving door St. Clair? And how's that Marlin's pitching staff doing that we're about to see?

This, again, only continues to demonstrate that ownership did not have a good understanding of the baseball business ... its late but I think they are finally coming around to needing to be more involved and proactive ... just last year!!! So, I'll be a bit more charitable toward them as I pretty much consistently have. Some of what Grienke disclosed from the winter meetings appears to corroborate and support my thinking on the matter.

Bowden sold the Lerner's his very own brand of snake oil. And it was snake oil because what he sold them on will likely kill you before it will cure you.

Rizzo is an entirely different animal but the jury is still out. At the major league level things look decidedly worst. BUT, the minors are finally coming to life. There are more prospects and better player development than there was under Bowden. Look at how well Michael Burgess is doing for the Cubs? Yes, Rizzo knows scouting and player development that seems certain. But can he put together a product at the major league level? I'm still not sure?

As for Michael Morse. His problem is a lack of confidence. You can see that from a mile away. He has the talent to hit in the majors and hit extremely well. I'm not sure coddling him (a Riggleman signature trait) is the right approach? Perhaps tough love? Who knows?

kick me in the GO NATS said...

I am rooting for Acta. I felt his dismissal was undeserved and most of the losing could be blamed on Bowden and bad luck.

kick me in the GO NATS said...

The first pitch strikes issue can be blamed in part on him facing much better pitching this season. This season we have faced some of the best starting pitching a team could face from the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves. The Phillies don't just have good starters, but may have the best starting pitching top 4 in history. Meanwhile the Braves and Marlins have some very nice starters as well in Josh Johnson (CY young this season seems likely), Hanson, etc.
Last season Morse got many of his at-bats in September when the pitching on average is weaker, or he batted as a pinch hitter against left handed relievers.
I think once the Nats start playing more teams from the west and central Morse's stats will improve (all the Nats for that matter).

this is not to say that I think he is the long term solution in LF. He is not as Harper will get here quickly and he and Werth will be the corner guys long term.

amo said...

Also rooting for Acta hard. The manager does not matter that much, so all you should ask for is that he does not actively harm the team and accepts some of the fundamental wisdom that came with extensive and smart stats (and with applying basic logic, for that matter). Acta is that kind of manager (Riggleman unfortunately is not).
So, as Section 220 said, a good season by the Indians would close the book on those bogus claims that Acta's style was to blame for part of the Nats' ineptitude.

Anonymous said...

Don't really care that much how Acta does one way or another. The Nats problems ran way deeper than him, but you can't fire the entire roster (though two years from now it may look like you did).