By JJ Keller
Michael Morse‘s return to Seattle has felt a lot longer than it actually has been. When he was acquired for John Jaso, it caused a stir among Mariner fans. There were some, mainly the “traditional stat users,” who fully supported the deal and could not see why anyone would complain about acquiring a power hitter like Morse for a backup/platoon catcher. Then there were those — this group includes many members of the blogosphere — who felt the opposite, and could not understand why Jack Z would trade the team’s best hitter last year at one of the most important positions on the field nonetheless, for a single year of a one dimensional, no glove outfielder.
Then, for about the first week, the critics were silenced…or at least slightly muffled. Morse proceeded to knock 6 homers in his first 10 games, good for the American League lead at the time. He was on pace for 150 dingers or some ridiculous number like that. Then, he broke his pinkie finger, and missed 4 days of action before playing with the injury.
The critics’ nightmares have since subsided and turned into ego-boosting dreams as Morse has since struggled mightily. That isn’t to say that these Mariner fans and writers enjoy seeing Morse wet the bed, but I am sure they get some satisfaction out of being right. That’s how people are, especially writers.
The power has still been okay, but he is not getting on base much and is striking out a ton, even by his standards. But, there may be a good reason behind this drop on production, and it suggests that some positive regression is likely.
Here is a look at Morse’s stats for his career compared to this year:
As you can see, there has been a massive drop in production almost across the board. The only improvement has been in the walk rate, but that is somewhat negated by the fact that his OBP is still extremely low. He has seen a .50 point drop in wOBA, and 16 in wRC+. And while that 110 wRC+ doesn’t look all that bad, there is do doubt that it is mainly due to the power surge at the beginning of the year, seeing as he has a .564 OPS since returning from the injury.
But wait. What’s that 6th column there? Oh yeah, that’s an 85 point drop in Morse’s batting average on balls in play. There is the glimmer of hope that may be keeping the critics’ from going full on “I told you so” mode. (That and the fact that Jaso hasn’t hit much either).
For some reason, Morse has been able to sustain a crazy high BABIP over his career. It is pretty rare to see a big, semi-slow bopper with that high of a BABIP, but it can probably be credited to the fact that he hits the ball really hard. And because it has been high for over 1800 plate appearances, it is not likely that it will all of the sudden drop off so far and stay that way.
So, lets calculate what his average would be if he was BABIP-ing at his career rate, as I have done before. The formula for this is
[ (AB – HR – K) * BABIP + HR] / AB:
(126 – 9 – 38) * .338 + 9 / 126 = .284
As you can see, if his “luck” or whatever you want to call it was at his normal levels, he would be hitting somewhere around .284, which would be a massive improvement over his current .230 mark. This would obviously have an effect on his other numbers as well, but they are tougher to predict. We don’t know what kind of hits the extras would be. But just for fun, if we assume all 7 of the “new” hits are singles, his slugging percentage would be .524, or 56 points higher than what it really is.
There is always the small chance that for some reason his BABIP is no longer going to be really high. This isn’t set in stone. Things can change. But it is very, very, extremely unlikely that he sees a BABIP drop of over 80 points all of the sudden. BABIP is one of the most violent and noisy stats we have, but even it does not transmogrify that much.
Yes, Morse has been disappointing. Yes he is striking out too much, even for him. And yes, it is frustrating. But it is also somewhat excused by his inexplicably low BABIP. It is not going to stay where it is, and I would assume it will kick back up close to his career numbers, or at least around league average. I know I say this all of the time…but be patient. We are only 43 days into the season, and sample size is everything. Hopefully things begin to change for the better.