Bargain Hunting: Kendrys Morales

Power often comes with punch outs. When homers aren’t tied to strikeouts, that’s usually the profile of an elite hitter. In 2016, only six players with more than 250 plate appearances recorded a Hard% north of 40% and a K% south of 20%. One of those six players, David Ortiz, is now retired. Joining Big Papi in that group of hitters was Josh Donaldson, Miguel Cabrera, Matt Carpenter, Jose Bautista and Kendrys Morales.

Using the NFBC ADP data, Donaldson and Cabrera require roughly a top-15 pick for their services with the former carrying an 11.16 ADP and the latter sitting at 15.58. Carpenter has an ADP of 70.58 and Bautista’s ADP is 118.16 after a down year. Lagging way behind this group is Morales with an ADP of 178.21, a minimum pick of 116 and a maximum pick of 213. Yes, Morales’ utility only eligibility at most fantasy sports sites is less than ideal and should be baked into his ADP, but it looks like there’s plenty of wiggle room for a profit.

For just the second time in his career, Morales reached the 30-homer threshold last year with exactly 30 dingers. He hadn’t mashed 30 taters since smacking 34 back in 2009. His home-run total last year wasn’t a career high, but his 41.1% Hard% was. The mark was 2.2% higher than his previous high set back in 2009. When dealing with a career high from an established veteran, it’s often best to project some give back.

Having said that, Morales’ 35.3% Hard% in his first year with the Royals lined up nicely with his hard-hit ball rates in his most productive offensive seasons, and it ranked tied for the 33rd highest among qualified hitters that year. Despite the uptick in hard-hit balls, a more even distribution of balls batted around the field (i.e. a reduced Pull% for more Cent% and Oppo%) and a nearly identical LD/GB/FB profile from 2015 to 2016, the veteran switch-hitter’s BABIP crumbled from .319 to .283. Last year’s BABIP looks rather unlucky.

Yes, Morales is slow of foot and not going to leg out infield singles to bump his BABIP up, but from 2009 (when he became a full-time regular in in the majors) to 2013, he tallied a .315 BABIP, and, again, in 2015 he had a .319 BABIP. There’s probably not much to be gleaned from his 2014 season in which he signed late since team’s didn’t want to forfeit a draft pick for him and recorded a disastrous .244 BABIP. Steamer and the Depth Charts project a .295 BABIP this year, which is an improvement from last year, but I think a smidge light. Morales should improve on last year’s .263 average, though, he might not duplicate his .290 average from 2015. I’m expecting an average in the .275 range, give or take a few points.

I’m also bullish on Morales hovering around 30 homers again. The veteran is reliable from a games played standpoint, and I’m a bit surprised by the sub-600 plate appearance projections for him. Morales totaled 657 plate appearances in 156 games in 2013, 639 in 158 games in 2015 and 618 in 154 last year. He’s been a model of good health and consistently appearing in the lineup. Morales could benefit from hitting the ball in the air some more as he totaled just a 35.7% FB% last year, and it’s not out of the question for a slight uptick in that rate as his FB% has gone up every year since 2012, albeit incrementally each of those seasons.

Even a repeat of his FB% would play well with his home ballpark upgrade. Over the last two years, Morales called Kauffman Stadium home, and according to StatCorner’s rolling three-year averages, it has a left-handed batter homer park factor of 77 and a right-handed batter homer park factor of 78. Rogers Center has a left-handed batter homer park factor of 109 and a right-handed batter homer park factor of 102, a 32% uptick for homers as a lefty and a 24% uptick as a righty.

In addition to moving to a better home ballpark, he moves to what should be a better offense. Jose Bautista agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Blue Jays, and while Edwin Encarnacion is now in Cleveland with the Indians, Toronto’s offense should still represent a sizable step up from Kansas City’s. The Blue Jays ranked ninth in 2016 in runs with 759 and tied for sixth with a 102 wRC+ and the Royals ranked 23rd in runs with 675 and 27th in wRC+ (88). I imagine the righty-heavy Blue Jays will slot the switch-hitting Morales third or fourth in the lineup where he’ll have oodles of RBI opportunities.

Encarnacion split his plate appearances between third and fourth in the lineup last year for Toronto, and he tallied a whopping 127 RBI. The year before he drove in 111 runs. Suffice to say, the third and cleanup spot in Toronto’s offense have been RBI-friendly, and triple-digit steaks should be within reach for Morales. Upside isn’t a word generally associated with a 33-year-old who’s a veteran of more than 1,000 games in The Show, but Morales has some that’s not reflected by his ADP. I wouldn’t laugh at someone for selecting him at his minimum pick, but I’d advocate looking to pull the trigger on him around pick 150 which would be a couple rounds earlier than his current ADP if you’re in a 12 or 14-team mixed league.

We hoped you liked reading Bargain Hunting: Kendrys Morales by Josh Shepardson!

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You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.

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Spa City
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For OttoNeu purposes, Morales is every bit as much of an outfielder as Billy Hamilton.