When the Washington Nationals traded Ryan Langerhans to the Seattle Mariners for Mike Morse, the court of public opinion ruled the Mariners as the immediate victors. Morse was nothing more than a bump on the organizational log. A shortstop without defensive ability is a fancy way of saying a player of any other position without offensive competence. Langerhans held the leather and some wood too, but was stricken with no playing time. He caught the baseball as often as the pine or minor league bus.
The Nationals’ decision against playing Langerhans acted as another trace in their breaths of incompetence. Yet, Langerhans’ career with the Mariners has been no different. Maybe it is not a surprise that Morse has 13 more plate appearances in 2010 than Langerhans as a Mariner. It is a surprise, however, that Morse has played so well this season. Not just in comparison to Langerhans either.
One glance at Morse’s line and he’s got it all. A .300 batting average, an on-base percentage near .360, a slugging percentage of .529 oozes pizzazz. The difference is not an increase in batted average on balls in play (although .343 remains well above league average) nor even a change in ratios like walk rate (7.2% this season versus 6.6% for his previous seasons) or strikeout rate (21.3% this season versus 20.7% career). Instead, Morse’s .380 wOBA is engaged to his .229 ISO and 38% of his hits this season have gone for extra bases, whereas only 27% of his hits entering this year racked up multiple bases.
Expectations for power gain at age 28 exist. Morse’s six-foot-five frame supports the idea too. Whether this level of power is sustainable or not is anyone’s guess. I have inhibitions about saying it is because Morse having a similar ISO to Ryan Howard on a single season basis just feels wrong. His minor league seasons never included quite this much pop and neither have his major league counterparts besides 55 plate appearances worth last year.
Some players do just get better. Maybe Morse is one of those players.