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.