Nyjer Morgan joined many other Nationals position players who reported to Viera, Florida for Spring Training today. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post chatted with Morgan, who told him that he was looking to turn his career around after a tumultuous 2010:
"I came into (this season) right, real fresh," Morgan said. "I was able to basically focus on myself, not anybody else. That's why I feel like I'm ready. I'm not worried about anybody else. I'm not worried about trying to do this, trying to do that. I got to worry about what Nyjer Morgan is able to do.”
"I was just immature last year. I just had to go through some stuff. Some people don't get a chance to go through what I went through last year. Basically, I just take it as a learning lesson. I feel like I'm a lot better of a person than I was last year at this time. I'm ready to go. I'm happy about my offseason, what I did, how I came in prepared. I've got to let my game speak for itself now."
One thing is for sure, nothing shows personal maturation like speaking in the third person.
Sadly, we hear stories like this each spring. A player, who had underperformed and/or had serious behavioral issues the season before, comes to Spring Training rejuvenated with a new attitude, which will surely be the key to turning their career around. Unfortunately as often as we hear it, these reports tend be as valuable as the “best shape of their life” reports…meaningless.
Morgan’s attitude must improve in 2011 for him to match the great value he promised during a short stint in Washington in 2009, however that’s just a small factor in the greater scheme of things. The bottom line is that Morgan didn’t struggle in 2010 simply because he “didn’t come into spring right,” he struggled because he failed to execute in the ways we had come to expect from him.
Looking at Morgan’s line last season, a large part of his regression can be blamed on what appears to be a loss of overall speed. In 2010 Morgan got caught stealing at a much higher rate than ever before in his career, posted a much lower Range Rating in the field, and posted a career low BABIP. All of these marks show a decrease in speed, as the ability to take extra bases, beat out ground balls, and cover range in the outfield all require significant quickness.
Morgan batted just .253/.319/.324 with 34 stolen bases and a 3.0 UZR in 2010. In 2009, just one year ago, he hit a much better .307/.355/.469 with 42 stolen bases and an outstanding 27.6 UZR.
As you can see, his lower BABIP drastically hurt his ability to hit for average, and his declined Range Rating hurt his overall UZR. It’s not secret that his foot speed was not up to par in 2010, as shown by his stolen base percentage, the only question that remains is why was he so much slower last year than just one year before?
At 30-years-old, it’s certainly possible that the former hockey player just hit the wall. While speed can be built, maintained, and monitored like a machine, some people just have an age limit that precludes them from keeping their speed late into their career. If this is the case, Morgan is in for some serious trouble as we can see how important speed is to his success.
Another possibility is that Morgan did not come into the 2010 season in the shape that he was in 2009. Could it be possible that for the first time after finding consistent on field success, he coasted over the winter as he had already been awarded a starting role? It’s totally feasible. If that were the case, and Morgan is entering 2011 anew, he may have a chance to live up to the lofty expectations we put out for him last season.
Of course, his failure wasn’t just a result of him slowing down. If he wants to be successful again he will need to reduce his strikeout rate, which grew two percent to 17.3% in 2010. He will need hit fastballs as well as he did in 2009. In 2010 he had a fastball pitch rating of 14.5 according to Fangraphs, however in 2010 that number was -2.0. Lastly, he will need to stop chasing pitches. In 2010 he swung at 31.2 pitches outside of the strike zone, by far a career high.
Can Morgan turn it around in 2011 with a new attitude? Maybe, but only if that attitude was one of newfound preparation and revolved around the creation of foot speed. If it was about finding his inner Nyer, we may be in for another long season in centerfield.