Kendry Morales’ Mild Start

Heading into 2010, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were a prime pick to come back to the pack in baseball’s short stack division. CHONE forecasted an 81-81 record, while PECOTA called for 74 victories and 88 defeats. So far, the Halos have limped to an 18-23 start, with a -36 run differential. Per Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds, Mike Scioscia‘s team has a nine percent chance of returning to the postseason.

During a 97-win 2009 season, L.A. received unexpectedly strong offensive performances from several hitters. The club raked to the tune of +91.7 park-adjusted Batting Runs, trailing only AL east juggernauts Boston and New York among all major league clubs. This year? The Angels have tallied -14 Batting Runs (10th in the AL).

While he hasn’t scuffled to the same extent as Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick or Juan Rivera among returning starters (to say nothing of Brandon Wood‘s disastrous beginning as an everyday player), first baseman Kendry Morales isn’t mashing like he did in ’09 either.

The switch-hitting Cuban didn’t make a great impression in three major league cups of coffee from 2006-2008 (a combined .303 wOBA in 407 plate appearances). He hit well at Triple-A over that time frame (.335/.374/.518), but that line lost some of its appeal given the cozy environs of Salt Lake:

Morales’ Major League Equivalent Lines, 2006-2008 (from Minor League Splits)

2006: .261/.289/.410
2007: .278/.318/.383
2008: .276/.303/.427

Prior to 2009, CHONE projected Morales for a .327 wOBA. ZiPS was similarly unimpressed, forecasting a .325 wOBA. Not exactly stellar numbers for a player given the gargantuan task of replacing another switch-hitter who left L.A. to break the bank with the Bronx Bombers.

Instead, Morales crushed pitchers for a .306/.355/.569 triple-slash and a .382 wOBA. Though he was a free swinger (32.3 outside swing percentage, 7.4 BB%), Morales made up for it by popping 34 home runs and posting a .263 Isolated Power.

Both CHONE and ZiPS figured that Morales would regress in 2010, calling for identical .353 wOBA forecasts. However, the 26-year-old has fallen below those expectations, as his current .277/.323/.471 line equates to a .341 wOBA. His ISO is .194.

The biggest reason for Morales’ power decline is an increase in ground balls hit. In 2009, he hit grounders at a 42 percent clip and hit fly balls 41.1 percent. This year, Morales has chopped the ball into the grass 52.2 percent, while lofting pitches just 29.1 percent. Good things continue to happen when Morales hits a fly ball–his home run/fly ball rate is 23.1 percent this season, higher than last year’s 18.1 HR/FB%–he’s just not hitting as many of them.

Worm burners are death to power numbers–for example, ground balls hit in the AL in 2010 have a .232 slugging percentage, compared to .580 for fly balls. During his career, Morales has a .261 slugging percentage on grounders and an .827 slugging percentage on fly balls.

Moving forward, Morales should show some improvement. His BABIP this year is just .272, compared to a career .297 BABIP. For the rest of 2010, ZiPS projects a .285/.331/.479 performance (.352 wOBA). That’s semi-useful, but anyone expecting Morales to suddenly mash like he did last year will likely be disappointed. He’s a good hitter, but that ’09 line looks like an outlier.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

3 Responses to “Kendry Morales’ Mild Start”

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  1. OremLK says:

    I had a choice between him and Billy Butler in an OBP/TB keeper league. I went against the grain and picked Butler.

    One of my few decisions this season which has worked out well.

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  2. JoelQ says:

    This article selectively applies sabremetric analysis.

    ok, HR are down from lower FB rates and he’s walked a few less times. Because is fairly early in the season, he’s only about 12 ground balls ahead of last years season pace.

    He’s also struck out much less and is suffering from bad babip, which is usually written off as bad luck on this site.

    with a lower FB rate, higher LD and GB rates, babip should be higher.

    Last year he only had 3 HR before May with a 273/314/506 line.

    I’m more inclined to conclude a small sample size issue that will correct itself.

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  3. brentgriffin says:

    i agree with JoelQ. You say he has had a mild start, but it seems like thats only the case with hitting for contact, which has a lot to do with his poor babip even though he has a higher ld% than last year. He has 9 homeruns, besting the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Pujols. His walks and k’s are down. his groundballs are down, and who didn’t expect a bit of regression, but it still seems like he is fulfilling the job i need him to do on my fantasy team. Are you seeing something I am not?

    PS–I am in a keeper league, and for the guys we keep we lose the draft pick where we drafted him. I got him off the waiver wire last year, so I lost my 30th round draft pick for Morales. Exciting stuff.

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