Nationals Baseball: Morse: Great or Merely Very Good?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Morse: Great or Merely Very Good?

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.


Steven said...

Color me skeptical. It's the 0.23 BB:K ratio. Find me a guy not named Vlad who maintained above average performance year over year with a number like that.

Steven said...

Actually I take it back. Vlad was never that much of an extreme hacker.

Donald said...

One more thing to add to your gut analysis is if the move to 1B impacted his hitting in any way and if a move back to LF will cause him to drop off. I personnally think it has more to do with confidence and playing regularly but who knows. I think JP Santangello mentioned that being at 1B kept him more in the game and that added focus carried over to hitting.

On the flip side, if Zimmerman and Werth hit well next year, that could buoy his numbers a bit.

Harper said...

Steven - Soriano? Personally I think Morse is more of a 3:1 guy at heart. But I also see him as that .280 hitter. Do you think he'll just bust?

Donald - It shouldn't matter... that's about all I can say.

Anonymous said...

I think Morse's approach lends to the possibility of maintaining higher BABIP rates. BABIP is best supported by hard grounders, liners, and home runs, and Morse is a powerful hitter that goes more after low balls. He thus turns many into hard grounders and liners. Because of his power, pitchers have to pitch him lower too so that he doesn't crush homers. I think he's a good candidate to enjoy - like the aforementioned Vlad Guerrero - to have at least .350 BABIP: all the better if he can avoid the Ks.

Wally said...

If I had to bet money, I would say good not great. But there are signs to hope for higher. Maybe not realistic hope, but also not 'maybe Shawn Hill stays healthy and wins 20 games' hope.

Though I also kind of believed that one would happen.

Harper said...

Anon - while .350 is repeatable it's usually seen by the best players peaking or speedy players. Morse isn't really either. Which is why I like .330 better

Wally - I bet you were thinking no-hitter last night.

Hoo said...

I always thought Hill would eventually make it all the way back.

There's part of me that misses seeing the JD Martin, Chico, Martis, Stammen, Balester battle for the 5th spot. I'll never miss Mock.

I'm curious if we could trace out the success of the "From Many arms, ONE will emerge" trading/stocking that the Nats did for a few years. Clippard is the glowing success there with Mattheus remaining a possibility.

Shane said...

I say keep the guy. Everything he's done this year to give the Nats any sort of hope, he deserves to be part of the core. Stop looking at the stats and realize that this is a guy that overcame an April slump to lead the team in offense and help win them many games. Pad him in the lineup next year with the healthy Zim, better Werth, maturing Espinosa, upcoming Harper, and even a healthy LaRoche.

The future of this lineup has the potential to turn it around and be really good.