The Great Michael Morse Debate

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, March 30, 2011 | , , , | 25 comments »

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?

25 comments

  1. David Lint // March 30, 2011 at 12:57 PM  

    I'll take an .798 (.800) OPS out of the 5 hole hitter.

    Not sure I agree with your BABIP comments. Yes, speedsters usually have a higher BABIP... but maybe Morse just squares the ball up so well that he for a higher BABIP?

    In the minors, since 2006, here's his BABIP at each stop when he gets at least 150 PA's

    2006 AAA - 228 PA - .289 BABIP
    2007 AAA - 324 PA - .349 BABIP
    2009 AAA - 183 PA - .379 BABIP (Nats)
    2009 AAA - 289 PA - .350 BABIP (M's)

    So, for whatever reason, Morse seems to put up a high BABIP, regardless of luck.

    Don't disagree with what you said though... I think a lot of Nats fans have built up Morse into this monster power hitter... something I don't think he is. I'll gladly take a full year of Josh Willingham-esque production out of Morse, though.

  2. Anonymous // March 30, 2011 at 1:11 PM  

    "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."

    So you just took something you wrote about Dukes two years ago and swapped in Morse's name? Talk about lazy.

  3. jcj5y // March 30, 2011 at 1:27 PM  

    Interesting post. I think Morse is a good pick for "most disappointing," simply because expectations seem to be skyrocketing.

    What I'm not sure about is why Morse would only get 380 PAs. I think he's going to play a lot, unless he's injured or hits significantly worse than the .272/.337/.461 you predict.

    If Morse makes 550 PAs with the same HR rate you predict (17 in 380), he would hit 24-25 homers. That seems about right to me. The one thing I'm pretty confident about is Morse's raw power, even if he can't keep up the 15.4% HR/FB rate.

    If Morse hits .270 with 24 homers, I'd expect his SLG to be higher than .460, but nowhere close to what it was last season. I'm fine with that production, and won't be disappointed. But I think a lot of others will.

  4. Dave Nichols // March 30, 2011 at 1:41 PM  

    thanks all for the comments.

    @David: BABiP is indeed a funny thing. what we see from the numbers is that his OBP is BABiP propped, and if there's a normalization, all his numbers will go down.

    @jcj: you're right, IF he gets 550 plate appearances his homer totals will go up proportionately. but there are a ton of factors that go into playing time projection, and Morse's injury history, getting pulled for defensive substitution, etc all go into it.

    @anon: yeah, I liked Dukes. big deal. two completely different players with completely different baggage. i suggest if you don't like the "lazy" writing you start your own blog under your real name.

  5. Anonymous // March 30, 2011 at 1:43 PM  

    Don't disagree with what you said though... I think a lot of Nats fans have built up Morse into this monster power hitter... something I don't think he is. I'll gladly take a full year of Josh Willingham-esque production out of Morse, though.

    Comparing to Jake Fox? Did Fox ever hit above .300 in the minors? Like Morse?

    Morse is NOT a monster power hitter. That's actually VERY NEW. Will it last? It would be an amazing story and good news for Nats fans if it does! Still, 17 home runs seems way too low given he hit 15 part-time last year? I predict he'll hit at least 25 this year.

    His ability to hit well over .300 (league high levels) consistently in two AAA leagues says a lot more as does the BAIP, the OPS.

    In 2009 across 2 AAA leagues:

    472 PA/425 AB
    .322/.383/.511 .894 OPS 59 runs 86 RBI
    26 doubles, 3 triples, 16 home runs.

    And he continued to be able to consistently maintain this level in the majors. He was hitting for Seattle in the majors as well. The stats he put up are great offensive numbers for a starting left fielder. Better numbers than Justin Upton number right now.

    The power increase this spring is pretty incredible. Riggleman himself called it the big surprise of the spring ... the analysis shows he's markedly improved in his ability to go to the opposite field with power.

    Its better if he maintains his BA over .300 and gets hits with men on from the five hole. Since he now seems to be able to hit the oppo-homers more consistently he'll get those ... but he should be just looking to get hits and I think he is.

  6. Andrew L. // March 30, 2011 at 1:56 PM  

    Morse is a streaky guy and you have to ride the streaks and help him out of his slumps quickly kind of like we saw in Spring Training.

    Last year he was red-hot and then ice-cold but overall, his stats were still excellent given his # of at-bats.

    I expect a huge year from Morse especially given this mentoring he now has with Jayson Werth.

  7. Dave Nichols // March 30, 2011 at 2:03 PM  

    @anon2: i did not ignore his AAA stats, but as i mentioned in the comments yesterday, they came in his age 26 an 27 years, generally considered a player's "peak" seasons. i'm not discounting the idea that he could become something more. but i'm not going to project it, nor do I expect it.

    @Andrew: the Werth comparision, and Morse's own revelation that he looks up to Werth, are certainly there. again, he could follow that path, and would be happy to see it. but I think Morse is more limited than Werth in a few ways, athleticism being the most obvious.

    thanks again all for the comments.

  8. Doc // March 30, 2011 at 2:28 PM  

    Analyze all you want, there is very little in his previous stats that suggests that Morse will not do well offensively this year--just maybe not as well as he has done in ST.

    His more important mentor is probably Eckstein, with an assist from Werth.

    OK Dave, it's in print---Morse will only hit 17 HRs! We have your date, name and address on that!

  9. Chris G // March 30, 2011 at 2:42 PM  

    For comparison's sake, other predictions:

    ZIPS - 341 PA, 12 HR, 38 RBI, 275/331/457
    Bill James - 307 PA, 11 HR, 44 RBI, 278/337/461
    MARCEL - 352 PA, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 274/339/470
    Shandler (BHQ) - 505 AB, 23 HR, 73 RBI, 267/320/463
    PECOTA - 575 PA, 19 HR, 72 RBI, 272/331/440

    The projections flow with his playing time - if you believe he'll be a full timer, then up the counting stats.

    Do you know who he is? He's not Jose Bautista or Jayson Werth. He's Ryan Raburn. He'll certainly be useful, but will likely be exposed against righties as they year progresses.

    Of course, it's possible he's finally back from his labrum injury and is stronger than ever.

    Or maybe he's Chris Johnson - he led the ML in spring training homers with 8 last year.

  10. Dave Nichols // March 30, 2011 at 2:51 PM  

    @ChrisG: thanks for posting the independent projections. i resisted doing so, but it's illustrative of what baseball people in general feel about Morse's potential this season.

    I understand Nats fans are clinging to every bit of good news and hope and it's understandable. I hope Morse beats the odds and puts up a monster season too. i just don't expect it.

  11. Anonymous // March 30, 2011 at 3:20 PM  

    Still can't take a joke, eh? Suggest you bend over and remove the broomstick from up your ass.

  12. Maddy // March 30, 2011 at 3:20 PM  

    Anon (cough) Peric,
    Morse is like the kid who get held back seven years (since Heyward is that many years less than him) and then does better than his peers. If the Mariners and/or Nats thought so highly of him, why didn't they promote him to the "performance league" instead of letting him dominate the "developmental ones." Only you seem to put a premium on minor league results. I think Potomac won the Carolina League, that probably brings a smile to your face.

  13. court, rfk 428 // March 30, 2011 at 4:25 PM  

    The trouble with fandom is we often overvalue "our" guys. Wanting Morse to succeed and Morse actually succeeding are two very different things.

    I think you're right on the money when it come to BABIP. That is the thing that will regress with a larger sample size. You're not alone in thinking Morse will be exposed by more playing time (primarily against RHP).

    Personally, I think he'll get closer to 400 at-bats through a combination of lack of appealing options and filling in at 1B. I expect his slashes to go down, but his counting stats to be respectable.

    Ultimately, Morse is finally being given a chance. Let's hope he takes the bull by the horns... let's just not expect it.

    ps. We Aim to Maim - JoseRijo es mi Amigo

  14. Anonymous // March 30, 2011 at 5:41 PM  

    they came in his age 26 an 27 years, generally considered a player's "peak" seasons.

    You seem to keep missing the point or else you may be less objective "reading the stats'?



    WHICH PLAYERS? HOW MANY have these stats? AT ANY AGE? Justin Upton? (His stats have gone now that he is Morse's age ... what happens if and when Morse exceeds them) ; Jason Heyward? Bryce Harper? Find someone who hit .322 with an .894 OPS exclusively in AAA across 2 leagues? WHO? Not Heyward his were in AA?

    You guys are a little too hard ... or you've been watching the Orioles AAA too much (Maddy)?

  15. Chris G // March 30, 2011 at 7:17 PM  

    @anon: WHICH PLAYERS? HOW MANY have these stats? AT ANY AGE? Justin Upton?

    I assume you mean BJ Upton.

    Find someone who hit .322 with an .894 OPS exclusively in AAA across 2 leagues? WHO? Not Heyward his were in AA?

    For your edutainment, in 2010, who hit at least .322 with an OPS of at least .894 in AAA (regardless of how many teams he played for?

    International League
    Barbaro Canizares - age 30 - .341 avg and .907 OPS
    11 players had equivalent or higher OPS; 3 had higher BA

    PCL
    John Lindsay - age 33 - .353/1.057
    Buster Posey - age 23 - .349/.995
    Jay Gibbons - age 33 - .347/.969
    Xavier Paul - age 25 - .325/.963
    Prentice Redman - age 30 - .332/.954
    Chris Johnson - age 25 - .329/.932
    Steve Tolleson - age 26 - .332/.915
    Aaron Mathews - age 28 - .330/.903
    Chris Davis - age 24 - .327/.903
    Brian Barden(small sample) - age 29 - .353/.896

    Mexican League (considered a AAA league for stats purposes)
    14 players including: Sandy Madera, Ruben Rivera (yes, that Ruben Rivera), Jadhet Amador, Willis Otanez, Mario Valdez, Francisco Mendez, Luis Garcia, Mario Valenzuela, Emmanuel Valdez, D'Angelo Jimenez, Jose Fernandez, Carlos Rivera, Jolbert Cabrera, and Henry Mateo

    2009 - the year in question for Morse
    IL - Oscar Salazar, Andy Marte, Mike Morse, Jordan Brown,Jorge Padilla, Ian Desmond

    PCL - Jake Fox, Travis Snider, Tommy Everidge, Brandon Allen, Carlos Gonzalez, John Bowker, Hector Luna, Tony Abreu (currently on waivers), Chris Davis, Joe Inglett, Allen Craig, John Hester

    Mexican - I'm tired...looks like about 35 players.

  16. Anonymous // March 30, 2011 at 10:03 PM  

    a take from a different "anonymous".... minor league stats are useful when they are truly compiled against one's peers..... when you're 28+ years old and tearing up the PCL (Bernardo Brito, anyone??), you aren't doing that.... do it at 21-22, then the numbers are likely more predictive of major league success....

  17. Doc // March 30, 2011 at 11:08 PM  

    Can't wait for the end of the 2011season, when we all can again take stock of all this sabermet analysis. Some of it fits Morse's projections, some of it may not.

    If he stays healthy, Morse is probably good for 30-35 HRs, and a few other accompanying stats.

    I believe in the predictive power of stats, although the legendary quote holds true, "...there are lies, damnable lies, and then there statistics...". In Morse's case we haven't yet seen the best of his predictive stats.

    See ya in October, Dave The Debunker & Disbeliever


    Go Mickey Morse!!!!!

  18. Maddy // March 30, 2011 at 11:25 PM  

    "You guys are a little too hard ... or you've been watching the Orioles AAA too much (Maddy)?"
    -->Not even interested in the minor leagues to say the least. I last attended a Keys game about my sophomore year of high school. I have two MLB teams now within 40 miles of where I live.

    Just out of total curiosity and nothing more, how was Morse doing at Jason Heywards age at ANY LEVEL? Again, Morse is 29 and Heyward 21. One should expect, Morse to be putting up better numbers at the same time.

    Ask any GM starting a team tomorrow, who they would rather have Morse or Heyward. Find me ONE GM who would take Morse instead!

    Now stop hiding behind the anonymous banner.

  19. Chris G // March 31, 2011 at 12:06 AM  

    Just out of total curiosity and nothing more, how was Morse doing at Jason Heywards age at ANY LEVEL? Again, Morse is 29 and Heyward 21. One should expect, Morse to be putting up better numbers at the same time.

    Morse was 20 (Heyward's age last year) in low A Sally League Kannapolis. 459 PA - 2 HR, 56 RBI, .257/.310/.362, .672 OPS

    In an ironic twist, Jose Bautista (age 21) was also in the Sally League that year. He was 520 PA - 14 HR, 57 RBI, .301/.402/.470, .872 OPS (8th in the league in OPS)

    Looking at that league, a helluva lot of hitters that we know now were there - David Wright, Robinson Cano, Ryan Howard, Franklin Gutierrez, Angel Pagan --- even Joey Gathrigh

  20. Dave Nichols // March 31, 2011 at 12:08 AM  

    Joey Gathright?!? One of these things are not like the other...

  21. Chris G // March 31, 2011 at 12:45 AM  

    Yep, Mr. Gathright! Other lesser lights (but names that might ring a bell)....Walter Young (BIG O's prospect), Chris Shelton, Joe Inglett, Shelley Duncan, Andy Marte, Jeremy Reed, Tyrell Godwin, Willy Tavares.

    Pitching was a little thin it seems - Wandy Rodriguez, Gavin Floyd, Dustin McGowan, Ian Snell, Chris Young, 18 year old Edwin Jackson

  22. Anonymous // March 31, 2011 at 11:08 AM  

    Now stop hiding behind the anonymous banner.

    Dunno Maddy, sometimes I wonder if you aren't Poopy McPoop? The monster Orioles fan on WaPo.

    Mexican - I'm tired...looks like about 35 players.

    The Mexican League is closer to AA not AAA. See Rafael Martin. Subtract your 35 @ChrisG

    Ian Desmond had those stats in 178 at bats. Small sample size.

    Noting that there were NO other Nats on that list you created. Except for Jorge Padilla perhaps and he is not a power hitter and when he was brought up from Syracuse he was unable to hit above the Mendoza line. He really wasn't given much of a chance during his first cup of coffee in the majors. In 2009 Jake Fox only had 194 at bats in AAA.

    So, the numbers of players who manage this are very, very small indeed. Especially when you consider the number of at bats Morse had versus most of the other players.

    BOTTOM LINE: few if any pro baseball players hit the "prime" you describe. VERY FEW in the majors and in AAA.

  23. Maddy // March 31, 2011 at 1:19 PM  

    I can assure you I am not Poopy. Might want to look at the time stamps on some of them since I can't be in two places at once. But continue to be cowardly with your "anonymous" rebutts, pretty clear at this point the whole Natosphere knows it you.

    Second you have shifted your tone I've noticed now that multiple people have pointed out how wrong you are. It has gone from find me any player to find me a Nat. And this all the while Morse was being "held back" in the minors.

    I wouldn't be surprised if we all have some Morse-fatigue by the end of the year and even you get off his bandwagon.

  24. Anonymous // August 17, 2011 at 6:01 PM  

    just noticed Morse's line the other day and thought of this blog and accompanying debate.....

  25. Anonymous // September 25, 2011 at 6:23 PM  

    How does your foot taste? Morse the biggest disappointment? Ha-ha!