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Bullish on Mike Morse

RotoGraphs is embarking on a series of player pro/con debates in an effort to thoroughly cover players that are particularly popular in either a positive or negative way.  Today, I’ll be discussing the pros of Nationals 1B/OF Mike Morse and Eno Sarris will tackle the cons on Monday.

The title of this post actually says it all and if I wanted to just type out his batting line over the last few weeks with the phrase, “nuff said,” that would probably cover it.  But for the sake of argument, and knowing that Eno will shred me if I don’t come up with enough evidential proof as to why Mike Morse is, indeed, fantasy gold, we’ll go a little further.

Morse has been your typical late bloomer, much in the same way as players like Jose Bautista, Ben Zobrist, and Casey McGehee.  He never dazzled in the minor leagues and it wasn’t until a quick cup of coffee with the Nats in 2009 that his ISO cleared the .200 mark, .231 to be exact.  He was finally growing into his frame and his power development was moving forward.  Last season in the second half, the 28 year old Morse turned it up a notch and in 293 plate appearances, he posted a .229 ISO when he jacked 15 home runs.  He also posted a slash line of .289/.352/.519 and looked like he was primed for a permanent spot in the Nationals outfield.

The trend continued as the 6′ 3″ 230 lb righty knocked  the cover off the ball this past spring.  He had a slash line of .364/.421/.818 and crushed 9 home runs.  But due to the crowded outfield in Washington and an unfortunate slow start to the season, Morse found himself in a platoon and failed to get the consistent at bats he needed to kick start his season.  Feeling the pressure, he began to press at the plate, increasing his K%, and while he flashed the power occasionally, manager Jim Riggleman continued to play the matchups.

Then the fantasy gods reached down to give Morse his shot at super-stardom.  First baseman Adam LaRoche had a torn labrum in his left shoulder and Riggleman moved Morse to first on a permanent basis.  He was slated to play every day and the pressure to compete with the likes of Rick AnkielRoger Bernadina and Laynce Nix was gone.  He could just relax at the plate and do his thing.  Since that time, Morse has hit .368 with 8 home runs, 25 RBI and 6 doubles and has hit safely in 17 of the 19 games since he started to receive full time at bats.  While most of his home runs have been yanked to left, Morse has the power and ability to push the ball to the opposite field as well. Check out this shot to center, or this opposite field double.  The ISO numbers are for real.  This guy can rake, pure and simple, and the benefits reaped from a simple waiver claim have been outstanding.

Yes, the sample size is still small.  Yes, the 27.1 K% is less than desirable.  Yes, the current .364 BABIP will come back to Earth at some point and drop his average a bit.  But Morse is raw power and will help your team muscle through the strikeouts and a 20 point drop in batting average.  If your league doesn’t penalize for whiffs, then you’re in the clear, and if it does, it’s really not as substantial as say a Mark Reynolds or an Adam Dunn.  And big deal, so the guy only hits .280.  You’re going to thumb your nose at that?  So long as he continues to plug another 15, 20, or hopefully 25 HR, I’m not showing any concern unless his average drops below .265 and I just don’t see that happening.

And just one final note on playing time — the latest reports on LaRoche have him now at less than a 50% chance of returning at all this season, so Morse is primed to stay in the lineup every day.  Riggleman would be a fool to mess with this right now.  Watch out, fantasy world, there’s a new MVP candidate in town and his name is Michael Morse.