Nyjer Morgan Scuffling

CF Nyjer Morgan entered 2010 as a coveted fantasy pick. The former Pirates prospect, shipped along with LHP Sean Burnett to Washington last summer for OF Lastings Milledge and RHP Joel Hanrahan, batted .307/.369/.388 in 2009. With a .340 wOBA, 42 steals and superb defense, the man who dubbed himself “Tony Plush” posted a 4.9 WAR season. His 2010 pre-season ADP, according to KFFL, was 122nd overall.

So far, Tony Plush has kinda been a bust. Realistically, fantasy players should have expected at least a mild downturn at the plate — Morgan had a .355 BABIP last season. Granted, he’s a burner, as his career 7.4 Speed Score in the majors and .355 minor league BABIP from 2005-2008 attest, but both CHONE and ZiPS figured he wouldn’t be quite as prolific on balls put in play:

ZiPS: .281/.339/.359, .334 BABIP, .318 wOBA
CHONE: .281/.345/.367, .332 BABIP, .321 wOBA

Unfortunately, Morgan has fallen well short of those projections: he’s got a .248/.310/.326 triple-slash in 287 PA, with a .283 wOBA that puts him in the same company as out-making luminaries like Orlando Cabrera and Jason Kendall. What has changed between Morgan’s breakout ’09 and heartbreaking 2010? Not much, actually:

2009: 7.5 BB%, 15.8 K%, .081 ISO, 19.4 LD%, 54.3 GB%
2010: 7.0 BB%, 17.4 K%, .078 ISO, 24.1 LD%, 53.9 GB%

Morgan’s walking slightly less and punching out a bit more, with just about no change in his “power” or ground ball rate. His rate of line drives hit is actually much higher this season. Yet, his BABIP has fallen from last year’s .355 to just .300 in 2010. Nyjer’s expected BABIP, based on his rate of homers, K’s, SB’s, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and grounders, is .341. That’s much closer to those pre-season forecasts, and I think we can safely conclude that Morgan has been unlucky on balls in play this season. He’s been more of a .290/.350/.370-type hitter than the absolute cipher on display so far.

So, Morgan should bounce back at the plate — his ZiPS rest-of-season line is more circumspect, but still calls for improvement (.273/.330/.352, .309 wOBA). But there’s another area of his game that’s been off this season — Morgan has been a liability on the base paths.

Last year, he swiped bases at a 71.2 percent clip (42 for 59). In 2010, Nyjer has 15 steals, and he’s on pace for a mid-thirties SB total. However, he has been caught red-handed ten times. That gives him a paltry 60% success rate, and he has also been picked off three times already, after getting caught napping four times last season. According to Baseball Prospectus’ Equivalent Stolen Base Runs metric, Morgan has cost the Nats about three runs on steal attempts this season. So what, you say. But, Morgan costs your team potential runs, too, when he heads back to the dugout with his head hung low after getting gunned down at second or third.

While Morgan has surely drawn the ire of many who expended a mid-round pick on the basis of his wheels, this might be a good time for others to pick him up at a discount. He’s no great shakes offensively, but he’ll almost assuredly improve at the plate. And, it’s very likely that a 29-year-old player with a career 75% stolen base success rate in the minors and a 70% major league success rate from 2007-2009 won’t continue to be such a hazard when he tries to nab a bag. Morgan’s no fantasy stud, but he should hit passably and provide speed-starved players with more efficient base thievery from this point forward.

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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.

8 Responses to “Nyjer Morgan Scuffling”

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  1. chris says:

    I wouldn’t be so sure that Morgan will regress as scheduled, and if he does not, it’s by his own design. I can’t find a recorded stat, but it seems that Nyjer Morgan bunts (or attempts to bunt) quite a bit. This very often makes him an easy out or behind in the count and having to protect… If Nyjer Morgan wants to improve his numbers a bit, my advice would be SWING THE BAT

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  2. jimbo says:

    Was offered Nyjer and Scherzer for Gardner. I don’t think Gardner/Nyjer is a good enough buy-low/sell-high situation to pull the trigger.

    My worst pitcher (who would need dropped or thrown in) is Medlen. Is that enough of an upgrade in pitching?? IS IT an upgrade in pitching??

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  3. CK says:

    Just from watching him most of the season, I think Nyjer has been trying too hard. He’s trying to do everything both at the plate and in the field causing him to make a lot of mental errors. He just needs to relax.

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  4. RJ says:

    Got picked off again tonight – his 11th CS of the season. Only 31 to go until he ties Rickey Henderson for the single-season record…

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  5. Andrew says:

    While Milledge has yet to show even the power he showed in Washington in 2008 (14 HR’s, ISO of .130 I believe) so far at PGH, combine his .272 AVG and above average defense in LF/RF, along with Hanrahan being lights out this year (highest K/9 other than Marmol for relievers pitching more than 20 IP), that trade looks pretty good from the Bucs perspective. While Sean Burnett is definitely serviceable, I would much rather have a flame-throwing RHP with a nasty slider as opposed to a finesse LOOGY out of the pen.

    While NH’s moves haven’t been great at the ML level (thus far), this move is moving into a definite (+) for the Bucs from my perspective. Also, Milledge is 4 years younger than Tony Plush.

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    • pdowdy83 says:

      So Joel Hanrahan giving up 15 er in 29 innings is lights out? Sean Burnett has given up 7 er in 23 innings. I would take that over hanrahan and his 3 hbp and 5 wp’s any day.

      Milledge and Morgan are comparable. Milledge is playing over his head in the outfield right now and that will regress. Just watch him try to catch a fly ball, he is still lost on a lot of them. Morgan has been steadily climbing out of his early season -12uzr/150 and is up to -7.3. Not great but a positive swing in the month of June has him heading towards above average defense again.

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  6. Andrew says:

    You obviously haven’t watched Hanrahan, pdowdy.

    ERA is an awful way to look at a reliever’s effectiveness. Ask anyone outside of Washington who they would rather have….Hanrahan or Burnett?

    The answers will be near unanimous…

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