I, very predictably, took some heat yesterday in the comments section of my 2011 Predictions and Projections Edition. Specifically, about my comments on Michael Morse, who I predict to be the Washington Nationals "biggest disappointment" for the upcoming season.
I tried to couch it in my post, and again in the comments, that I hope Morse is capable of repeating last season's statistics of .289/.352/.519 with 15 home runs. But the thing that stuck was I labeled him a disappointment since I don't expect him to come close to 30 home runs and I'm not optimistic enough on him.
And I think that if he doesn't hit 20-plus home runs this season, Nats fans will consider it a huge disappointment.
Yes, he's had a terrific spring training, tied for the MLB lead in spring homers with nine. You know who he's tied with? Jake Fox, another man without a position, for the Baltimore Orioles. Ever heard of Jake Fox? Fox has compiled a .236/.285/.423 slash line in 166 games in the Majors since 2006.
An old baseball adage goes: One should never make roster decisions based on performances in March or September.
Anyway, back to Morse.
I want to make it clear, again, that I'm not "hating" on Morse. I genuinely like the guy. He's had his troubles in the past, but he seems to have put all that behind him and he's been healthy the last two seasons and has done nothing but rake, in the minors and the bigs.
But I've tried to make an honest, realistic projection for him this season, and there are plenty of warning flags to keep my estimates at a reasonable level as opposed to various anecdotal predictions of 30 home runs for him.
Lifetime, Morse boasts a .291/.353/.456 slash line in 237 games and 685 plate appearances. The guy can clearly hit. But his at bats have been managed very carefully in his career thus far. His numbers dip significantly against righties (.279/.341/.421) and playing every day, he'll have to face a higher percentage of righties overall and won't be able to be protected in the lineup.
He is this team's No. 5 hitter, for better or worse for the foreseeable future.
The other thing about his career stats so far, in a very limited sample size, is his BABiP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). Morse settles in at .348, which is considerably higher than league average. It's not unusual to see a speedster with a high BABiP, as they are able to leg out hits slower runners can't, inflating their BABiP. But we don't normally see this from a slugger.
Morse's sample size for plate appearances is still small enough in his Major League career that this bump could very well be a mirage, and a correction to league average will eat into his slash line pretty quickly.
In addition, Morse's walk rate for his career is 7.0 percent and last season was up to 7.5 percent, both lower than MLB average of 8.5 percent, so his inflated OBP is coming primarily from those extra hits dropping in rather than any plate discipline.
One last esoteric batting stat for you: Morse's Home Run per Fly Ball rate in his time in D.C. is hugely inflated. At 15.4 percent, it's over league average by almost double (7.6 percent). As a comparison, Barry Bonds' career HR/FB was 18.2 percent and Ryan Zimmerman's is only 9.7 percent.
With an adjustment for playing every day in a run-producing slot in the lineup, facing a higher percentage and quality of right handed pitchers, and normalization of a few key statistics based on a small sample size, I think I'm justified in saying that I would be happy if Morse can duplicate his offensive output from last season, and I do not expect him to break out further than what he did last year.
My official projection for Morse: 380 plate appearances, .272/.337/.461 with 17 home runs. And even then, I'm being optimistic compared to most available independent projections.
Now, should we talk about his defense?
Now, should we talk about his defense?