Most controversial players could be looked at from two different angles. We have plenty of tools at our disposal, but when the tools say different things, we don’t always know exactly where to focus. In order to help you see both sides of these players, RotoGraphs will be pubbing contrasting opinions on some interesting players in the next few weeks. Howard Bender gave us the positive aspects of Mike Morse on Saturday. Today it’s time to be negative.
To be perfectly clear, if Mike Morse is on your waiver wire still, he’s certainly a playable dude. To some extent, the gains he’s made so far are enough to put him on your bench and include him in your corner infield / outfield mix. At the very least, it looks like you’ll get some power value from him if he’s free.
But should you trade for him? Owners might be looking to sell high, and if he were to continue his current production, he might make for a sneaky buy-high. There are reasons to doubt that he can continue to do what he’s doing right now.
First, let’s look at the batting average. Morse has a .355 BABIP. Even though he’s the proud owner of a .349 career major league BABIP, that number has come in only 882 career plate appearances, and BABIP doesn’t usually stabilize until you’re talking multiple years of historical data. It just makes more sense to trust his .331 xBABIP. So there’s some batted ball luck contributing to his batting average.
But there’s more there. Morse is a bit of a swing-and-misser. He has a 27.2% strikeout rate this year (24.3% career), and a 12.1% swinging strike rate (8.5% is average). Those aren’t numbers normally associated with strong batting averages. Among qualified batters this year, Drew Stubbs‘ .266 batting average is the highest batting average put up by a player with a 27% strikeout rate or higher. Adam Jones does have a 12.3% swSTR% and a nice batting average, but one look at his 1.47 GB/FB ratio (compared to Morse’s 1.00) should set off some alarm bells. Jones puts the ball on the ground and utilizes his speed to overcome some of his contact issues. Morse has a career 2.9 speed score, and 5.0 is average.
Okay, so Morse may not have as nice of a batting average going forward. He may not even hit .280 if he continues to strike out this often. The worst-case batting average is only playable if the newfound power sticks around. Will it?
The one nice thing is that Morse, though he didn’t begin his major league career with power, has been slowly adding to that portion of his game. Starting with his trade to the Nationals in 2009, he’s begun hitting more fly balls, striking out more, and hitting for more power. Looks good, right?
Except that Morse was 27 in 2009. His minor league ISO was .154 – in ten seasons and over 3000 plate appearances. Morse had one life before this one, and in that one, he was a light-hitting middle infield prospect. We like to think that he’s shown power for three straight seasons now, but his combined plate appearance total for all three of those years is 545. That’s just short of the 550 plate appearances that Pizza Cutter recommended when evaluating ISO power.
So to recap, Morse has a shaky batting average that might dip as far as .260. He looks to have power that should at least result in a home run total in the mid-20s, but there’s still the long history of light hitting behind him. Of course, Jose Bautista has shown us that late power blooms are possible, but Morse has developed in a less explosive way and his upside seems more muted. If you got him for free, congratulate yourself. If you’re considering acquiring him using actual pieces of value, investigate yourself. Or at least read these two pieces before your make your decision.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.