May 15, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; Seattle Mariners designated hitter Kendrys Morales (8) singles against the New York Yankees during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. Seattle won 12-2. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Kendrys Morales Becomes More Patient, Less Powerful

When 1B/DH Kendrys Morales was brought in this offseason, he was generally thought of as a power first bat, and for good reason. His OBP the year before was just .320, despite having a .273 average. .260 is a roughly average average, and .320 is about an average OBP. So his average was 13 points above “average”, but his OBP remained, due to a low walk rate.

Thus, it is easy to see why he is considered the way he is. Roughly 60% of his career .820 OPS has come from his slugging percentage, leaving about 40% to come from average. On average over the last three years (for the league), 56% of OPS has come from slugging, so Morales was a notch higher.

But he has changed as a player this year. His overall production is roughly the same as last year (.351 wOBA, 118 wRC+ career .346 and 122 this year), but how that production is coming to be is different. All of the sudden, he has been getting on base at a much higher clip, while losing a little bit of pop.

His OBP is at .356, which is one point above his career high (in what was by far his best season). And his .434 SLG% is a career low, with the previous low being the .467 he posted last year. And he is now getting just 55% of his OPS from his power, going from 3% above “average” to 1% below “average.” So clearly there has been a change in the kind of hitter he is, at least to this point.

Upon noticing this, I saw the opportunity for a post on the topic. So I searched and searched for some kind of deep explanation as to why this is happening. Turns out, there isn’t really a conclusive reason as to why he has become an on-base first guy this season.

I mean, there is the obvious explanation as to why his OBP has gone up. That being the fact that he has been way more patient at the plate, resulting in more walks.

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2006 Angels 30.9 % 68.4 % 49.9 % 71.2 % 89.3 % 83.8 % 50.8 % 63.3 % 7.9 %
2007 Angels 38.3 % 71.5 % 49.4 % 62.3 % 90.7 % 76.1 % 33.6 % 46.8 % 10.9 %
2008 Angels 32.6 % 68.7 % 48.3 % 71.4 % 94.1 % 85.5 % 43.4 % 43.9 % 6.6 %
2009 Angels 32.1 % 64.0 % 46.1 % 63.8 % 88.5 % 78.8 % 43.8 % 56.6 % 9.2 %
2010 Angels 30.8 % 62.9 % 45.3 % 61.1 % 90.9 % 79.8 % 45.2 % 51.2 % 8.9 %
2012 Angels 35.9 % 70.4 % 50.1 % 61.8 % 85.5 % 75.5 % 41.2 % 59.6 % 12.1 %
2013 Mariners 26.2 % 67.8 % 44.2 % 62.1 % 87.7 % 79.1 % 43.3 % 52.2 % 8.8 %
Total - – - 32.9 % 66.9 % 47.6 % 63.5 % 88.2 % 78.6 % 43.3 % 56.1 % 9.8 %

Take a look above at his plate discipline numbers, courtesy of FanGraphs. As you can see, all of his swing rates are down quite a bit. The most extreme of the three being his O-Swing%, which is down almost 10% from the year before, and 7% from his career. Obviously, that means he has not been swinging at as many bad pitches, which has led to more free passes.

So that explains his increase in walks and ability to get on base. But why is his power also down? The two aren’t inversely related in most cases, meaning as one goes up the other does not go down.

This part is not as easily explained. There really aren’t any glaring changes in terms of the amount nor the kind of contact he is making. As seen above, his contact rate is better than his career mark. And there also aren’t any significant fluctuations in his batted ball numbers. His LD% is 2.2% higher than his average, his FB% is down 1.8% (but is up from 2012), and his GB rate is right at his career average. None of those really suggest that his power should be zapped. If his line drive rate were way down, or ground ball rate way up, then maybe.

The best explanation I can find is that his HR/FB is all the way down at 11.6%, which is 5% lower than his career mark, and 9.4% lower than it was last year. But the problem with that is, it may not be a perfect explanation. It does tell us something, but its answer isn’t really specific.

Fangraphs says of FB%:

Was the player still hitting the same about of fly balls but with a lower HR/FB rate? This could imply that the player lost a touch off their power, which could be a result of an injury or the tell-tale sign of an aging slugger. Or did the player still have the same HR/FB rate, but he was hitting fewer fly balls? If a player goes from hitting fly balls to ground balls, that could be attributed to contact issues.

Kendrys falls into the first category, with a fairly similar amount of fly balls, but a crazy low HR/FB rate. And unfortunately, that likely speaks to a more permanent loss of power. We already knew he lost power, but now the numbers might suggest it is because of “an injury or the tell-tale sign of an aging slugger.” That certainly isn’t what we want to here, as I am sure most of us were hoping to find something that would suggest some regression to the mean, and an re-increase in power.

And it still might. HR/FB doesn’t stabilize until about 300 plate appearances, and he is only a little more than half way there. His slugging percentage has been on the rise recently, and that trend may continue until he reaches a more normal mark. Or, he may be sacrificing some aggressiveness and pop for more patience and contact. We don’t really know for sure.

At this point, thankfully, it doesn’t really matter all that much if he stays this way. He has been roughly the same player in terms of productivity, and that is what matters. If anything, this increase in patience and discipline is a blessing. Those traits tend to stick around, and walk rate is much quicker to stabilize — and he is about 20 PA way from that point — rendering a sudden revert to his old numbers unlikely. Conversely, as I said before, there is still a chance that his power returns a little, which would create a perfect situation. Kendrys prior power combined with this current on-base ability would make for a very valuable player. And we like value around here.

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Tags: Kendrys Morales Seattle Mariners

  • Rob

    His SLG on the road is .485.

    • JJ Allen Keller

      Yeah, but that is still right around where his overal slugging was before. Safeco has not seemed to hold people back as much this year, and we are actually near the top on that category.

      • Rob

        His SLG is also .537 in May.

        • JJ Allen Keller

          I know, it has gone up. But you cant just pick small samples and try to disprove what I said, if that is your goal. He has been better, and I even mentioned that in the article near the end. But overall, it has been down. And the overall is what matters.
          His career slg% is .487, so even his road slugging is below what he used to be. My point stands.

          • Rob

            Your sample is small.

          • JJ Allen Keller

            I am not picking small samples. I am using this season, as well as his career. You are taking two 20ish game samples and saying they outweigh the whole year.
            I also stated that the numbers were not fully stabilized yet, and that things could change, and already have.
            This article was to be informative, and possibly suggest a future change. And that’s what it is.

          • Rob

            He has a career .451 SLG in March/April.

          • JJ Allen Keller

            I am still not sure what you are trying to prove with these general comments. I am not trying to fight or anything, you just havent made your point clear.
            That .451 mark is still well ahead of the what, .400 he had after April? You make these statements, but every one is more of a point for my argument. No matter how you slice it, his power has been down, and on base up. There is no debating that, so I do not see why you are trying to.

          • Rob

            You made this statement: “he has changed as a player this year.” This is based on the ridiculously small sample size of 45 games, which alone should preclude you from making any judgments on what kind of player he suddenly is. Your sample of abnormal behavior is even smaller when you factor in that he’s been darn near average for his total of away games (25 of those 45 games). Additionally, he’s killing the ball in May, well above his career average (for 17 of those 45 games). When you combine these two sets of perfectly normal (or better) performance, you get 16 whopping games in April of sub-career performance. Then, when you take into account that he has a significantly lower SLG in April for his career (including, I’ll add now, a .388 SLG last year in April) it is not difficult to see that Morales has not changed as a player, slugging-wise, one iota this year, and if you had bothered to do any of this research yourself you likely would have drawn the same conclusion.

          • JJ Allen Keller

            Is that not this year? He has changed this year. I didn’t say it was necessarily permanent. In his 45 games this year, he has had a higher on base, and lower slugging. That’s a fact.
            Then you use even smaller samples and pass them off as more valid when they aren’t. There is nothing wrong with making points about things early in the season. Basing future projections on them is a different story. But analyzing a player thru a certain point is valid.

          • Rob

            Just to be clear…

            March/April 2012 SLG: .388
            March/April 2013 SLG: .390

            He’s actually better this year. Not that it means a darn thing because we’re talking about thousandths of a point in an incredibly small sample that you keep claiming is not only useful, but even more valuable than my ridiculously small samples that clearly demonstrate your premise to be false. They don’t give licenses for using stats, so you’re free to continue to defend your position, but nobody who values statistical integrity should give an ounce of weight to any of your broad claims about what Morales has become. Is his 2013 slugging percentage currently lower than his career slugging percentage? Yes, that’s a fact, but one from which you can draw no other useful conclusions.

          • JJ Allen Keller

            I don’t really think his April splits are relevant. I didn’t make the claim that he was better in April last year than this year. I said he has been less powerful, and more patient. And that is/was a fact, despite what you keep saying. His slugging was .434 when I wrote this, well below “normal” for him. And his OBP was .356, well above “normal”. That’s all I said. I then offered some possible reasons, but did not make any solid conclusion. It seems that you think I did, but I didn’t. I didn’t make any definitive “broad claims.” I didn’t draw any conclusions. That is you reading into it too far, which is your own fault. I invite you to show me where I made any claims/statements about what he has become. Not suggestions, but definitive conclusions. You won’t be able to do it.

            If you don’t like what I write, don’t read it. There is no need to try to stroke your ego repeatedly and nitpick at small points/put words in my mouth.

          • JJ Allen Keller

            Also, I said this in the article:
            “And it still might. HR/FB doesn’t stabilize until about 300 plate appearances, and he is only a little more than half way there. His slugging percentage has been on the rise recently, and that trend may continue until he reaches a more normal mark.”
            And that is exactly what has happened since. Hmm… Maybe people
            should give weight to my “conclusions” (that weren’t even conclusions).

          • JJ Allen Keller

            Why did you edit the rest?
            Yes, it is pretty small, and I acknowledged that by saying the numbers aren’t stabilized yet. But you are taking a small sample and cutting it in half. That’s not how it works. His power is down and OBP is up. period.