Bearish on Mike Morse

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.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

9 Responses to “Bearish on Mike Morse”

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  1. bartleby says:

    “To be perfectly clear, if Mike Morse is on your waiver wire still . . . ”

    Your league is a joke. Come on now.

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    • Telo says:

      Uh, lot’s of leagues are different. 8-10 team league with no Util and he should probably still be on the wire. I agree with Eno, Morse is shaky going forward.

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  2. sean says:

    i traded morse and jonathan sanchez for a guy that had soured on ryan howard and also got madison bumgarner.

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  3. Noah says:

    If Morse dips to .260, and hits 25 HRs the rest of the way, I would still trade about 80% of ML outfielders for him straight-up. He has OF eligibility.

    As a starting 1Bman? Nope, not in a twelve-team league. His K-rate is Dunn-ish, which points to a ~.320 BABip with a ~.260 BA.

    BTW, Dunn’s CAREER GB/FB ratio is 0.52.

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  4. Rob says:

    Need to trade him to open up roster spot for guys coming off DL & minor leaguers…

    Worth trading Morse and Beltran for McCutcheon? our league -1 for KOs but gives 1, 2,3,4 pts for singles, doubles, etc….

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  5. kid says:

    Michael Morse makes better contact (40% O-swing, 67% O-contact, 85% Z-contact, 77% total contact, 11.4% strike swinging) than Josh Hamilton (39% O-swing, 55% O-contact, 82% Z-contact, 71% overall contact, 14.9% strike swinging). I chose Hamilton here as the comparison because 1) He’s generally regarded as both a power hitter and .300+ hitter and 2) His O-swing of ~40% is very similar to Morse’s. Now, Morse’s career BB/K rate (6.6% BB / 24% K) is not as good as Hamilton’s (8.3% BB / 21% K), but is Josh’s advantage in BB/K really enough for us to say about Hamilton “Oh yeah, he’s a .300-type batter” and then relinquish Morse to the .260-.270 range? Especially considering that Morse makes up a modest amount of the gap in “classic” plate discipline (BB/K) by having better all around contact rates? I think it’s incorrect to make a direct correlation between strikeouts and batting average; sure, it’s a component, but I’d doubt that it’s any more meaningful in impacting BA than contact rates or batted ball profile. In fact, I’d say 1) Contact rates 2) Batted ball and 3) Strikeouts.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      1) and 3) are so inter-related that separating them out is almost irrelevant. Also, you missed 4) power. Power is a part of batting average as well. Oh, and 5) speed. Hamilton’s speed advantage over Morse is a significant part of his ability to put up high BABIPs.

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