Around baseball, and sabermetric circles in particular, Nyjer Morgan is best known for his stellar defense. However, because of his incredible speed, he’s also known for his ability to steal bases. After stealing a whopping 42 bases between Pittsburgh and Washington last season, Morgan’s name would be a priority among fantasy circles for those elusive steals. He has 12 steals in 56 games this season, which would put him on a pace for a mid-30s total, which could see an increase if his OBP can rebound up to the .351 mark he posted last year.
However, Morgan has also already been caught stealing a league leading nine times, and picked off another four. That makes 13 total outs on the bases against only 12 advancements. Ten of the steals and all of the caught stealings have came at second, and the other two steals have came at third.
Overall, this is simply terrible production from a player who is supposed to be a major asset on the bases. According to EQSBR, Baseball Prospectus’s statistic for measuring runs created from steals, Morgan has been the worst runner on the Nationals and the second worst to the Padres Nick Hundley, who hasn’t successfully stolen a base yet and has made five outs on the bases.
Obviously, Nyjer Morgan is a much better base stealer than Hundley and likely most of the league. However, somebody who is going to be caught stealing or picked off on 13 of their 25 opportunities should not be running 25 times. Either Morgan has been very unlucky, or he’s picking poor spots to run. He also appears to have a serious problem with pickoffs, as he was picked off a whopping nine times in 2009, making his 42:17 SB:CS ratio much less impressive.
This doubly hurts the Nationals, as Morgan is fantastic at taking the extra base. This season, he’s been worth roughly +.6 runs on the non-SB components of EQBRR, BPro’s overarching baserunning metric. Last season, he was roughly +2.5 runs.
Morgan’s excellent speed is not debatable, but right now he’s not using it optimally on the bases. If he can’t find a way to be more successful in his steal attempts, he and the Nationals must reduce his number of attempts. If they don’t, and Morgan keeps running into outs, it will simply be a waste of a large asset on offense.