Quick: raise your hand if you thought that Kendry Morales would be outslugging the man he replaced, Mark Teixeira, as the 2009 season entered its final quarter. Unless your name is Mama Morales, you’re either psychic or a compulsive liar.
Sure, Teixeira has been the better player overall, as a large advantage in on base percentage (.381 for Tex, .354 for Kendry) gives him a .393 wOBA to Morales’ .387. But the gap has been astoundingly small, given what most preseason projections envisioned:
Morales’ pre-season wOBA’s, by projection system:
Bill James: .340
The league average wOBA is around .335, and pretty much every projection pegged the switch-hitting Cuban import as straddling the line between average and below-average. No system forecasted him for an OBP higher than James’ .327, and the highest slugging percentage portended by the four was also James’, at .456 (anecdotally, the James projections always seem to be rather optimistic for hitters).
And keep in mind, we’re talking about a position in first base where offensive might is not just a nice extra: it’s a job requirement. In 2008, the average first baseman posted a .352 OBP, with a .463 slugging percentage. The average of those four projection systems gave Morales a .331 wOBA, while the league average first baseman posted roughly a .360 wOBA (using an estimate of 1.75 X OBP + slugging percentage, divided by three, to convert OBP and slugging to wOBA). Over the course of 600 plate appearances, Kendry was thought to be 15 runs below average compared to the average first baseman.
The 26 year-old entered the year with a spotty major league track record, including a .249/.302/.408 line in 407 plate appearances from 2006-2008. Morales’ minor league line (.332/.373/.528) looks more promising, but it did come with a few caveats. Salt Lake (the AAA affiliate of the Angels) is a favorable offensive environment, inflating runs by 6 percent and homers by 7 percent as compared to a neutral ballpark, and Morales walked in just 5.4 percent of his PA at the AAA level.
Courtesy of Minor League Splits, here are Morales’ Major League Equivalencies from his ’06 to ’08 Salt Lake slugging:
Suffice it to say, Morales has made a mockery of those numbers, authoring a robust .309/.354/.587 triple-slash in 494 PA. He certainly hasn’t been some model of patience at the plate, walking in 7.2% of his PA and swinging at 31.2% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone (25.1% MLB average). But, Kendry also hasn’t resembled some Francoeur-level hacker with an eyes-to-ankles strike zone, either. Morales is making a good deal of contact, with an 18.4 K% and an 89.1% contact rate on pitches within the zone (87.8% MLB average).
Has Morales been lucky on balls put in play? Not especially, according to Derek Carty’s simple expected batting average on balls in play calculator, which uses AB, HR, K’s, SB’s, grounders, fly balls and pop outs in addition to line drive percentage to spit out an XBABIP. Morales’ actual BABIP is .325, and his XBABIP is .317.
Kendry has cranked a homer on 17.8% of his fly balls hit, a rate which ranks in the top 25 among qualified hitters, and his .278 Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) places 9th amongst qualified batters. He’s handling fastballs (+0.87 runs per 100 pitches seen) and changeups (+1.67 runs/100) well, but throw him a yellow hammer at your own peril (+5.29 runs/100 against the curveball, tops in the majors).
Going forward, it would probably be wise to expect some degree of regression from Morales (ZiPS’ rest-of-season projections peg him to hit .296/.333/.510 the rest of the way). But, it’s rather difficult to poke any large holes in his 2009 campaign. He’s just beating the snot out of the baseball.
Morales is an example of why baseball is such an exciting (or, depending on your viewpoint, frustrating) sport. We had heaps of objective information that suggested he would be kind of a drag on L.A.’s playoffs hopes. Instead, he’s going 5-for-5 with a pair of dingers for a first-place club. Kendry might not be this good, but he putting to rest concerns that he wouldn’t meet the bar at baseball’s pre-eminent power position. Who knew?
Print This Post