One of the big surprises of this year has been the sustained success of Mike Morse. Not that it was impossible that he could be useful, even good. But with a couple of uninspiring recent years out there and a terrible start, no one could have predicted that Morse would be doing this well right now. That's great for 2011 but we care about how's he going to be in 2012 and beyond. Can he keep up this years numbers, or will he give us something more like last year? Did the Nats luck into a perennial All-Star, or merely a very useful player.
I, being the major downer that I am, of course think the latter. Why?
Well, there is that BABIP. It stands at .372 right now. This isn't a crazy number to have for a season. That happens. But it is exceedingly rare that someone repeats a number this high. The only one to do it in recent memory is Joey Votto (.372 in 2009, .361 in 2010, .369 this year so far). Morse is good but he's no Votto. Votto crushes line drives and never hits pop-ups. Morse hits a decent amount of line drives and rarely hits pop-ups. He's a clear step down. Historically guys that hit like Morse don't maintain BABIPs at this level.
So if that's the case, if he is to decline, the question is what would he decline to. For those that are worried .350s are commonplace. Michael's numbers in the last couple years suggest .300-.330 is a fine range to guess as well. At this point it becomes less about statistics and more about your gut.
If you think Mike Morse has made a step up from the hitter he was last year and has made a repeatable adjustment you are probably looking at a BABIP close to .350. That would cost Mike 5 hits. Since about every 1 in 5 hits is a double, we'd be looking at some lost slugging as well so his line would read more like : .300 / .349 / .528
If you think Mike Morse is basically the same hitter he was last year and is just catching a lot more breaks or a lot more pitchers unaware, then lets go with a BABIP of around .330. That would give a line like : .286 / .335 / .508
As you can see both lines are pretty good. Given the number of at bats he's put in the last two years, you can't predict a fall. While I personally think the latter line is closer to what he'll produce next year, I do think that the former is actually more defensible. He has made a distinct improvement in hitting line drives and it hasn't been bouyed by a single month of craziness or anything like that. It's only been one year though, which is why I still say it goes on gut to some degree.
This is a very simple look at the guy, only focusing on one little (but important) stat. History tells us the Nats haven't found a Pujols in disguise, but the stats also tell us it's unlikely he's a fluke and next year will be struggling to be productive. Morse will be an important part of next year's team. The question is will he be a leader or a "mere" solid piece. Post-season I'll look into it more, for now feel free to dream of the former. There's no good reason why you shouldn't.