Michael Morse has emerged as a strong offensive force for the Washington Nationals over the past two seasons. After being a part-time player for most of his career, Morse has posted a .369 wOBA since sliding into a full-time spot. With Adam LaRoche now back with the team, Morse will likely be traded. While Morse has been useful over the past two years, he’s done it with an unorthodox approach. Morse has refused to take walks. Morse is in a position to see his fantasy stock rise if he’s traded to a hitter’s park. But that might not matter if he continues to utilize the same approach at the plate.
It’s possible for players to utilize a free-swinging approach and still hit for power. When sorting for players by walk rate and ISO over the last 20 years, Morse comes out among some pretty interesting names. Most of the players ahead of Morse on that list are either really good hitters, or guys that had strong offensive runs for at least a couple of seasons. The guys behind Morse on that list are mostly busts.
There’s one major factor that separates guys like Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano from Morse, and it’s strikeout rate. You’ll notice that most of the players with a strikeout rate over 20% make up the bust list. Morse has a 21.8% strikeout rate over his career, putting him squarely in that category. Looking at some of the players immediately near Morse also doesn’t inspire confidence. Scott Hairston and Laynce Nix have been used as platoon players most of their careers, and Adam Lind had one strong year. That doesn’t bode well for Morse.
On top of that, Morse is not a young player. Morse will turn 31 before the start of next season. At that age, most of the players on the list with Morse’s skill set were either out of baseball, or seeing limited playing time.
The above chart shows the players most similar to Morse during their age-31 seasons. Things do not look promising. By age-31, every player with Morse’s combination of walks and strikeouts were part-time guys. The other four players similar to Morse aren’t included on the list because they were no longer in the league by age-31. Morse’s late start to his career may be to his benefit, as it looks like he might be able to outlast some of these guys.
Morse’s success over the past couple of seasons can be attributed to a few things. Morse’s BABIP has been incredibly high for a guy that doesn’t rely on his speed to get on base. Though it should be noted that Morse has a .344 BABIP over 1690 plate appearances, so perhaps he’s an outlier. But if that number falls, Morse’s numbers will take a pretty big fall, as he won’t be able to supplement them with a high on-base percentage. Pitchers may not have fully adjusted to Morse just yet either. After a breakout 2011, Morse missed a significant chunk of time in 2012, and pitchers might start exploiting his weaknesses more in his third year as a starter. They already adjusted somewhat, making sure to throw Morse fewer pitches inside the zone, hoping he would chase.
A number of teams are already interested in dealing for Morse, meaning he could find himself in a better situation for next season. But even if he enters a better park, he comes with a large risk. Guys like Morse are rarely able to sustain their success over a long period of time. Pitchers eventually discover their weaknesses, turning them into good part-time guys. Unless Morse is an outlier, or can adjust by adopting a more patient approach, he could find his new team, and his new fantasy owners, pretty disappointed in his production.