Some Comps for Mike Morse

Adam LaRoche finally gave in and took the Nationals two year contract today, after having sat it on it for most of the off-season. He’ll return to Washington and play first base, which means Mike Morse will not be playing much first base, and that means Mike Morse is going to get traded. Two years ago, Morse was really good. Last year, not so much. Teams thinking about acquiring Morse are going to have to figure out whether they think 2011 was a fluke, or whether he’s an impact bat who just had a down year while struggling with some health issues.

Because, let’s be honest, you’re only acquiring Morse for his offensive capability. The Nationals didn’t consider him an outfielder any more, which is why he’s available in the first place. His career UZR/150 in the OF is -15, which is pretty close to the line at which you see teams decide that the lack of range is too much of a problem to continue the experiment. He’s also been a negative baserunner for most of his career, and last year, only David Ortiz, Jesus Montero, Prince Fielder, and Billy Butler were worse at advancing around the bases. Morse is a guy who fits best as a 1B/DH, and if he doesn’t hit, he’s not particularly useful.

So, will he hit well enough at age 31 to justify not only his $7 million salary, but also the talent required to outbid other suitors and strike a deal with the Nationals? To find out, I decided to look at how other hitters have done, focusing on guys who have succeeded in a not too dissimilar way from what Morse has done the last three years.

To compile the list, I used the following leaderboard filters:

Years 2002-2011
Ages 28-30
1,000 or more PAs
BABIP >= .335
ISO >= .125

This gave us our most recent 10 year range that also allows players to have had an age 31 season, so that we can actually have a follow-up year to compare once we identify similar-ish offensive players. Morse’s primary offensive skills over the last few years have been hitting for power and posting a well above average BABIP, which are likely both the product of hitting the baseball pretty hard on a regular basis. Since we don’t have something like HITF/x to measure speed off bat, I’m using ISO as a stand-in to eliminate guys who get high BABIPs through sheer speed (think Ichiro or Michael Bourn), and then also eliminated a couple of guys — Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe — who got huge BABIP benefits from playing half their games in Coors Field.

That left me with a list of nine players. Here are those nine, with their relevant age 28-30 performances.

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Matt Holliday 1,968 11% 15% 0.213 0.343 0.315 0.397 0.528 0.399 144
Milton Bradley 1,159 14% 19% 0.216 0.343 0.302 0.406 0.517 0.397 143
Bobby Abreu 2,093 16% 17% 0.208 0.344 0.303 0.417 0.511 0.398 142
Kevin Youkilis 1,834 12% 18% 0.221 0.342 0.302 0.397 0.523 0.397 139
Josh Hamilton 1,474 7% 18% 0.232 0.345 0.314 0.363 0.546 0.387 135
Carlos Guillen 1,566 9% 14% 0.188 0.352 0.320 0.385 0.508 0.381 133
Derek Jeter 1,993 8% 15% 0.145 0.340 0.302 0.371 0.447 0.359 120
Corey Koskie 1,138 13% 21% 0.170 0.339 0.279 0.380 0.449 0.362 120
Michael Young 2,172 7% 14% 0.144 0.355 0.320 0.369 0.464 0.362 116
Average 1,711 11% 16% 0.191 0.345 0.308 0.387 0.499 0.382 132

These guys had much better plate discipline than Morse does, but he hit for more power than the group average, and his success has come in a lower run environment, so overall, the fit is actually quite close. Their group average wRC+ of 132 is basically a match for his 133 wRC+ over the last three years, and they mostly did it with above average power and high BABIPs, just as he did. Jeter and Young are on the lower power/fewer strikeouts end of the scale, but if we define the search too narrowly, we’ll end up without any object lessons, and both sustained high BABIPs without being burners.

So, now, the real question – how did these guys do at age 31? Results below.

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Kevin Youkilis 435 13% 15% 0.257 0.327 0.307 0.411 0.564 0.419 159
Matt Holliday 516 12% 18% 0.229 0.330 0.296 0.388 0.525 0.395 154
Josh Hamilton 636 9% 26% 0.292 0.320 0.285 0.354 0.577 0.387 140
Derek Jeter 752 10% 16% 0.141 0.351 0.309 0.389 0.450 0.369 128
Bobby Abreu 719 16% 19% 0.189 0.329 0.286 0.405 0.474 0.379 128
Carlos Guillen 630 9% 15% 0.206 0.319 0.296 0.357 0.502 0.364 120
Corey Koskie 488 10% 21% 0.244 0.271 0.251 0.342 0.495 0.351 111
Milton Bradley 473 14% 20% 0.140 0.310 0.257 0.378 0.397 0.348 107
Michael Young 708 8% 15% 0.118 0.323 0.284 0.339 0.402 0.328 95
Average 595 11% 18% 0.197 0.322 0.287 0.373 0.484 0.370 126

As expected, the trait that was least predictive was the high BABIP, as it fell from a group average of .345 down to .322. Jeter is the only one who matched his 28-30 BABIP in his age 31 season, with all the rest regressing towards a lower mean. But, you’ll note that they didn’t regress to league average, and perhaps more important, all of their other skills remained remarkably stable. Their walk rates remained the same, their strikeouts barely increased, and they hit for slightly more power at age 31 than they did from 28-30. Overall, their wRC+ was still 126, not much of a step back from their supposed prime years.

Young and Bradley took big steps backwards, as both saw their ISO go down with their BABIPs. But for the rest, the high BABIP wasn’t a sign of any kind of impending doom. It went down, as expected, but it didn’t sink their value.

Morse is a little more prone to BABIP fluctuations than this group, since they walked twice as often as he does, but it should be noted that he can probably maintain a decent amount of offensive value even if his BABIP regresses next year, as it should be expected to. The low walk/high strikeout combination will keep him out of the Holliday/Youkilis level of production, but as Josh Hamilton just showed last year, a lot of power can negate a pretty terrible approach at the plate. Morse doesn’t have Hamilton’s power, but he has enough to remain an above average hitter even while flailing wildly at anything thrown near the plate.

In a lot of ways, he’s similar to Kendrys Morales, who the Angels traded last month. Too aggressive at the plate, not a defensive asset, lousy on the bases, but with enough thump to make him a useful role player. Morales was traded straight up for Jason Vargas, an average-ish starting pitcher headed for a $7 to $8 million payday in arbitration. Morales can’t even pretend to play the outfield, but he’s also a switch hitter, a little younger, and is due a lower salary in 2013. Morales and Morse should have similar levels of trade value, and not surprisingly, the same teams that were rumored to be interested in Morales are now rumored to be interested in Morse.

There’s not enough value here for the Nationals to command a huge return, and they’re reportedly shopping Morse for the best reliever they can get, with preference for a lefty. Given his deficiencies and contract status, that sounds about right. Combining his total skills, Morse is probably a +2 win player making a salary just slightly below what a +2 win player is worth in 2013. He’s worth trading for, but not giving up a huge return. For a team who wants an offensive upgrade without a long term commitment, though, swapping a reliever for Mike Morse makes a decent amount of sense.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Glomp
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Glomp
3 years 7 months ago

Nitpicking, but Morse actually prefers to go by “Michael” since the 2010 season, which was reflected in all the Nats’ press releases and MASN visuals. You guys can call him whatever you want but you should know his intent.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 7 months ago

Giancarlo Morse

Llewdor
Member
Llewdor
3 years 7 months ago

Perhaps to distance himself from his two minor league PED violations.

bavasi
Guest
bavasi
3 years 7 months ago

and the stench of seattle talent evaluators.

Stuck in a Slump
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Stuck in a Slump
3 years 7 months ago

Is Chris Perez too much to give up for Morse?

David
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David
3 years 7 months ago

Nats don’t need another RHP in the pen. They need a LHP or prospects.

Spike
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Spike
3 years 7 months ago

I think Perez is a pretty good fit, not perfect but good. Clippard in particular has so much mileage on his arm the past 4 seasons that it never hurts to add bullpen talent.

The O’s prob represent another good fit. Brian Matusz or Zach Britton might be a match though that gives up a lot of control yrs.

Stuck in a Slump
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Stuck in a Slump
3 years 7 months ago

Perez has fairly neutral splits (.288 vs R .294 vs L, 3.90 FIP vs R 3.94 vs L) but higher K rate vs LHH. It’s quite possible that he could be the best overall RP potentially available, and an even better chance that he’s better than most LOOGY’s

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 7 months ago

2012 left-handed batters versus:

Tyler Clippard .166/.260/.259
Craig Stammen .197/.274/.331
Craig Stammen was actually noticeably better against lefties than righties.

Career left-handed batters versus Drew Storen: .222/.287/.297

fjtorres
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fjtorres
3 years 7 months ago

Only if you don’t factor in the mouth. ;)

Two years of control, 1.18 career whip.
Three years righty OPS – .631, lefty – .624.
2012 salary, $4.5M.

Doubt Dolan will take on the Morse salary, though.
He’d rather see Brantley hitting fifth again.

Stuck in a Slump
Guest
Stuck in a Slump
3 years 7 months ago

Take on Morse’s salary? They’re projected to make about the same money

wade
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wade
3 years 7 months ago

how about rex brothers for morse?

Daniel Tuttle
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Daniel Tuttle
3 years 7 months ago

I would think O’s Fan would do Rex Brothers for Morse.

Westside guy
Member
Member
Westside guy
3 years 7 months ago

The Mariners could stand to accrue another half-dozen or so 1B/DH types, so I’m sure they’re interested.

Atari
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Atari
3 years 7 months ago

I doubt Jack Z will be trying to reacquire him after making the original mistake of trading him to the Nationals for Ryan Langerhans.

Eminor3rd
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Eminor3rd
3 years 7 months ago

Wait, there are worse baserunners than Paul Konerko?! What does that even look like?

steex
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steex
3 years 7 months ago

For the most part, it looks a lot like Paul Konerko with various ethnic undertones.

CheeseWhiz
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CheeseWhiz
3 years 7 months ago

Just search for some video of Jesus Montero running… it’s almost hypnotic. He’s well earned his nickname QWOP.

O's Fan
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O's Fan
3 years 7 months ago

As an O’s fan, I’d do Troy Patton for him, but no more.

Shrewd Cat
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Shrewd Cat
3 years 7 months ago

I’m not sure how you doing Troy Patton would help.

leapfrog
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leapfrog
3 years 7 months ago

I came to the same conclusion. Don’t think it’d be crazy for the Nats to make that deal either.

Spencer
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Spencer
3 years 7 months ago

Eric O’Flahrety for Morse? EOF will be gone at the end of the year anyways, and the chance of Morse re-signing for Atlanta would likely be larger, should they want to bring him back. His defense shouldn’t be as much of an issue with Upton and Heyward in the same OF.
EOF put up numbers in ’11 that were unrepeatable. He put up good numbers in ’12, which are virtually unrepeatable. His peak has been reached, and the Braves should look to sell high.
I would trade EOF, and take my chances that a bounceback from Venters, paired with an acquisition of Jordan Walden would provide every bit of value (at a lower price, plus Morse) than EOF.
The only block would be the Nats’ willingness to trade in the division. But if he is only a bench bat to them, I think EOF will blow them away.

Glomp
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Glomp
3 years 7 months ago

But he’s not “just a bench bat” to them. If they hadn’t resigned LaRoche, he would be their cleanup hitter. It would make the Braves too much better to justify that if they only gave up O’Flaherty.

Sam
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

The defense will still be horrendous. Morse played alongside Harper and Werth last year, and those two certainly didn’t help him. You’d regret it, trust me.

Jeff H.
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Jeff H.
3 years 7 months ago

I doubt the Nats would trade Morse to the Braves since they are an in-division rival.

Kevin
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Kevin
3 years 7 months ago

Which side would win a Matusz for Morse trade?

Esoteric
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Esoteric
3 years 7 months ago

Matusz + a meh prospect for Morse would actually be a nicely balanced trade for both sides, and therefore will never happen because it makes too much sense.

shane
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shane
3 years 7 months ago

that’s actually a really, really good offer.

mockcarr
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mockcarr
3 years 7 months ago

I think Matusz plus a caving in for few million more in the MASN negotiation should be the goal for the Nats from the Orioles.

Tomcat
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Tomcat
3 years 7 months ago

Brad Hawpe Career
Home .279/.371/.498 .342BABIP
Road .272/.366/.462 .332BABIP

Didn’t Dave just write an article about H/R splits?

Will H.
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Will H.
3 years 7 months ago

Since they passed on paying a slew of LHRPs out of FA (without needing to trade anyone) at decent prices, I don’t see them trading for someone they’ll also have to pay similarly for more lefty relief. Since the rest of their roster is pretty much set, the one angle I see making sense is for SP depth, either of the “prospect” (higher upside, questionable floor) level or of the MiLB-but-near-MLB replacement type (lower upside, higher floor) level, both of which are needs since they’ve traded so many of their MiLB arms of late. The former would restock the pool of potential for the future, while the latter would give them depth were they not to be so lucky as last year in terms of their SP rotation’s health. Right now, they don’t have much of anyone to plug in if (and likely when) Stras, Gio, JZ, Detwiler and/or Haren go down, so that is the only reason I see them signing a career-vanilla 1B for twice the years and almost twice the dollars as Morse… letting the latter, then, give them a trade chip for the SP depth they lack, since if what they really felt they needed was a LHRP they would have bought one in the readily available likes of Howell, Burnett and others.

Personally, I’d have preferred Morse straight-up over LaRoche because the former was clearly hurt by injury last year and before that by not getting much of a chance as a full-timer, while the latter clearly had an outlier of a year in his age-32 season. So I just hope they feel this is a way to re-stock the SP farm rather than think ALR has more talent or better odds to be more valuable than Morse. Because if they both chose LaRoche over Morse and decided not to pay one of many LHRPs out of FA, only to trade Morse for another LHRP, it just wouldn’t make much of any sense to me.

After all, having the whole stadium sing the ridiculous falsetto that is “Take on Me” after his walk-up music ended blaring over the PA isn’t an “intangible” for Morse, then nothing is!

mockcarr
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mockcarr
3 years 7 months ago

I agree with this assessment, but it may be that Morse isn’t worth much more than they got for Willingham a few years ago.

Dan
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Dan
3 years 7 months ago

Can you explain this statement: “Morse is a little more prone to BABIP fluctuations than this group, since they walked twice as often as he does.” Has someone looked at guys with better plate discipline and determined that they are more likely to repeat a high Babip?

Sam
Guest
Sam
3 years 7 months ago

I think he was trying to say babip matters more for Morse because, with his plate discipline, hits are about the only way he gets on base. The Youkilis types can remain valuable because of their broader base of secondary skills. Awkward phrase though.

pft
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pft
3 years 7 months ago

The Nats would be satisfied with a RP’er for Morse? Really?

If so, the Red Sox would be all over him and forget about Napoli.

CCTexasGus
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CCTexasGus
3 years 7 months ago

The glove is not a big deal. Power is at a premium and has been all off-season, with nothing available on the horizon. To carry one weaker glove will not hurt a team as much as it can help the lineup. Many world series winning teams had a stiff in left field. I am actually surprised that all they want is a lefthanded reliever. Did you look at the players he was being compared to? Not exaclty average players. I would love my team to get him for the lineup, but I’m afraid they are too cheap to take on the salary. My team? (hint: the general manager in November confessed to not having a single major league outfielder on his roster).

Will H.
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Will H.
3 years 7 months ago

Dave – What reports are you getting that they want just the best RP they can get? If Rizzo wanted that, he could have spent 2-4 million for 1-2 years per and gotten some pretty good ones in FA. Rizzo has only talked about depth, but while that could be bullpen depth, he has specifically mentioned farm-system depth and MLB-ready SP depth in the past.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
3 years 7 months ago

What about the Mets? Not sure they have the bullpen help Washington is reportedly seeking, but I can’t think of a team more in need of a power RH bat in the outfield. Then we’d get to see a major league OF with both Morse and Duda in it.

Nick
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Nick
3 years 7 months ago

W

Nick
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Nick
3 years 7 months ago

The Mets need outfielders, not DHs who happen to stand in the outfield

JKB
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JKB
3 years 7 months ago

How about LHP Mike Montgomery from the Rays for Morse? No way the Rays are trading Jake McGee straight up.

Will
Guest
Will
3 years 7 months ago

Dave (or anyone for that matter), you brought up Morse’s baserunning inadequacies, which was actually a broader problem of the entire Washington Nationals team.

Their 2012 team BsR was -17.6, which is 6th worst by a team in the last 8 years. It’s a bit odd, because the Nationals are a young, fast team. In 2011, they posted a 9.7 BsR with nearly the identical team (basically everyone except Harper). What’s the result of this? Is it bad baserunning instructions from the 3rd base coach (now the Astros head coach, Bo Porter), or is it just a coincidence? How stable is BsR? Can one be ‘talented’ at BsR? For example, Morse has been -2.9, -0.1 and -6.1 over the past 3 seasons. He’s certainly a bad baserunner, but is he -0.1-bad or -6-bad? Can we make any reasonably accurate projections about how he’ll perform next season?

mockcarr
Guest
mockcarr
3 years 7 months ago

I think the Nats should try for the best return they can get regardless of position, and I wouldn’t think twice about just keeping Morse if no one went high enough. Payroll is probably not an issue, it’s more just having an efficient roster. They’d have to decide if 200-300 Morse at bats isn’t better than what they get back. He’s not making much more than Lannan did last year, and they similarly screwed that guy’s value by keeping him all year as Strasburg insurance. Morse has established his bat and injury history so a year as a part time guy shouldn’t change any evaluation of him. It’s not like Span, LaRoche, and Werth haven’t missed time in recent years and you could just keep Moore in AAA getting more playing time and maybe popping enough homers to get a poor team interested in his team-controlled years if you need that extra starter or reliever in July.

While I’m not sanguine about Bill Bray being the loogy answer, they could have matched any of the offers out there for LH relievers and probably could have locked up Howell much earlier on if they felt he was the answer instead of letting the Dodgers get him. I don’t think Sean Burnett got a more than he was worth either, although they clearly did not want to sign a multi-year reliever deal. That makes me think they could either don’t think of a LH matchup guy as a necessity, have some undervalued pitcher in mind, or are considering converting a struggling LH starter in their system to some similar role. The depth of starting pitching in the minors is an issue, but will be filled to some extent with the experiments they are doing with stretching out relievers Christian Garcia and Ryan Perry, and the rehabs of Solis, Purke, Giolito, etc. They still have replacement-level Maya under contract for another year at AAA too. I don’t expect the two converted guys to be a reasonable option early in the season, nor would Maya be all that, but they could still get a retread down there just as easily who could be ok for three starts. Even just a bullpen start with Duke and Stammen each taking a turn through the lineup isn’t catastrophic if they bring up another reliever for a bit. If Morse isn’t worth more than what they got for Willingham, I’d keep him, and with the available tradeable outfielders around, that might be the case.

John C.
Guest
John C.
3 years 7 months ago

Yeah, this. Don’t think the Nationals will pay Morse $6.7 million to be their RH 1b/OF swing guy, depth, PH and DH for the 10 games they play in AL parks? They paid Lannan $5 million to play in AAA Syracuse. More importantly, they were glad they did because Lannan saved their bacon by coming up big in what may have been the most critical game of their regular season.

When Rizzo says they aren’t going to trade Morse just to trade him, believe it. He’s been down that road before and stuck to his guns.

bed alarms
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

I am impressed with the effort you have so obviously put into this content. I am also impressed with your point of view on this topic, especially since you have made your points so clear.

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