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Historical Four Factors: Joe Morgan’s Peak

It is incredibly unfortunate that my generation of baseball fans knows Joe Morgan primarily from his antics in the broadcast booth. Some know more about Fire Joe Morgan than they do about Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan. Today, I’d like to use my four factors of hitting to shed some light on Morgan’s ridiculous peak, in particular his 1975 and 1976 seasons, in which he posted 21.5 total WAR and won the MVP both seasons.

For a reminder, the four factors are BB%, K%, POW (XB/H), and BABIP. The short reason for using POW instead of ISO is that Colin Wyers told me to. The actual reason is that BABIP actually can have a heavy influence on ISO. There doesn’t appear, to me, to be a reason to judge power based on what somebody does in ABs where they make outs (think “long outs”) or don’t even make contact (strikeouts). This doesn’t mean that ISO doesn’t have its merit, but in this case we are trying to separate what these four statistics are telling us as much as possible, which, to me, is the best solution.

Back to the task at hand, here are the four factors for Joe Morgan’s 1975 with The Big Red Machine.

The numbers are staggering across the board. It should come as no surprise that this season resulted in an MVP award and an 11.4 WAR season. Morgan had a walk rate 230% of the average player. When he wasn’t walking, he was making contact, and when he was making contact, it was either a resulting in a base hit or solid power. It’s disappointing that we don’t have plate discipline numbers from this period; I can’t imagine how ridiculous Morgan’s O-Swing% or contact rates were this season to allow him to walk over 2.5 times more than he struck out.

Amazingly enough, the 1975 season almost pales in comparison with what he accomplished in 1976:

The drop in Morgan’s walk rate was pretty much in line with a league-wide drop in walks. Then, in two categories where he already outclassed the entire league, Morgan made huge strides. The drop in strikeouts compensated for the natural drop in BABIP he saw – .298 was still significantly above the league BABIP of .281, making a .336 mark like he had in 1975 slightly ridiculous. If Morgan had merely equaled his power numbers of 1975, we would’ve been looking at another 190 wRC+ type season. Instead, Morgan slugged 27 home runs, a career high and ten more than he put out in 1975. Morgan walked at a rate 226% of the average player and hit for power at a rate 184% higher than that of the average player. Morgan’s numbers is the stuff of which any baseball analyst dreams, sabermetrically inclined or not.

It can be easy to simply dismiss Joe Morgan when we hear him talk in the broadcast booth. It’s important, for those of us who care about the history of the game, however, to remember that Morgan may have been the best second baseman of all time. These two seasons are only part of a five year peak which saw five 9.0+ WAR seasons and 3 10.0+ WAR seasons. Joe Morgan was a fantastic baseball player, and that is how I will remember him.