Back in 2009 Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals struck gold. They traded away a journeyman outfielder with less than 200 Nats ABs to the Mariners for a 6' 5" infielder. The player Rizzo sent away would only get 318 At Bats for the M's over the next three years, while his counterpart managed to turn into one of the most feared sluggers in the National League East (true story). The disparity between Ryan Langerhans and Mike Morse grew even larger after a breakout year for the Nationals 29 year-old Slugger.
There is no question in anyone's mind that Micheal Morse was the Nationals MVP this year - Hell, Joe wrote that very same topic in a post earlier this week! I'm not here to argue this fact, but to simply express some concerns over Morse's future with the club - primarily which position he will play.
According to all reports, Mike Rizzo and soon-to-be full-time manager Davey Johnson have stated that, come Spring Training, Adam LaRoche will re-assume his position as Nationals First-Baseman. And according to all outside-of-the-beltway baseball writers, the Nationals are going to be one of the main players in the Prince Fielder sweepstakes; another First-Baseman. There are also rumblings that a former 1st-round Draft Pick, Chris Marrero, will end up wasting away in the minors after a solid September call-up.
This September Davey Johnson started to help Michael Morse with the transition early, playing some sort of Marrero/Laynce Nix/Alex Cora platoon. Things didn't go so well for Morse at the dish or in the field, continuing a trend that started in April. Let's take a look at the breakdown.
From the naked eye, Morse played roughly 2 to 2.5 months as an Outfielder (April and September), while the other 4 months were spent at 1B - but just to be sure that my ideas are correct, let's take a look at the April, May-August, and September splits:
April - .211/.253/.268. 71 ABs. 4 R. 15 H. 1 2B. 2 HR. 9 RBI.
May-August - .338/.405/.617. 358 ABs. 56 R. 121 H. 31 2B. 23 HR. 68 RBI.
September - .237/.297/.505. 93 ABs. 13 R. 22 H. 4 2B. 7 HR. 18 RBI.
So, now let's compare those splits above with Morse's offensive stats as a first-baseman as opposed to an outfielder.
As 1B - .336/.401/.601. 318 ABs. 53 R. 107 H. 27 2B. 19 HR. 62 RBI.
As OF - .254/.293/.482. 193 ABs. 23 R. 49 H. 8 2B. 12 HR. 23 RBI.
For some reason, Morse hits .080 points lower by AVG, .100 points lower in OBP, and .100 points lower in Slugging % when he plays in the outfield as opposed to 1B. Want some more reason why I'm a bit worried about Morse roaming around in LF? Let's take a quick look at his defensive numbers - proceeded by a very quick italicized description
You have, by now, seen UZR used and over-used. I love UZR, I just love UZR/150 a little bit more. Essentially, it breaks down defense into a shorter-term concept as opposed to UZR where you don't get a good judge on a players ability (or lack thereof) until you have three whole years of data. UZR/150 is basically UZR per 150 games.
This one is going to be much easier to explain - here are Morse's defensive splits for 2011.
As 1B - -8.2 UZR/150
As OF - -21.6 UZR/150
Both numbers are not great, but one is much worse than the other. Essentially in 150 games as a 1B, Morse will give up 8.2 runs worse than the average MLB first-baseman and when playing OF he gives up 21.6 more runs than the average MLB outfielder.
Looking at these numbers, both defensive and offensive, it really worries me that Michael Morse won't be near as valuable to the ballclub when playing in the outfield next year. It really makes you think twice about Michael Morse's true value on the 2012 Nationals.
Craig MacHenry is the Managing Editor of CapitolBaseball.com and a regular guest writer for The Nats Blog. He will provide regular opinion and analysis posts throughout the year.
Good analysis of Morse's value to Nats. It, however, failed to mention that one of the key advocates for the trade was Jim Riggleman who had seen Morse play in Seattle and knew he could rake.
ahem.. Mr. Yoder: ... I've wrote? .. writen.
Mr. Machendry: The first commenter makes a good point as Morse was slumping early and I'll add that he's never played a full season so his numbers were going to slip a little inevitably, it just happened to be that he got moved out to LF at the same time. Also, in the outfield, you are less involved in the game and have far more ground to cover. While both of these could have an affect on his hitting, I don't think it will be to as dramatic extent as the numbers you cite suggest.
I agree that the difference probably won't be as dramatic as the numbers say from this year - I'm just saying that this is something to pay attention to. I don't like to believe in coincidences though.
My point is that the numbers really don't say anything this year. It would be like running the numbers comparing Jason Werth playing RF and playng CF. Since Werth played exclusively RF in the first half and hit a tiny bit better after the all star break when he played some CF, is that reason for concern if he returns to RF next year? Of course not, It's meaningless. To me, this concern about Morse is just the latest in the long line of reasons that people (especially Jim Riggleman) come up with as a reason to doubt that he can be a consistent hitter. Well, he really can't hit RH pitching. He's more of a platoon player. He's better coming off the bench. Doesn't have it in him to produce if he plays every day. Blah blah blah. He's proven them all wrong. There are plenty of things to pay attention to about the Nats -- whether Morse can hit and play outfield at the same time just isn't one of them.
Alright - that's fair. And once again, I'm not saying that he will be terrible if he plays OF next year - but let's take into account his career splits as well.
He has a slash line of .327/.388/.579 in 412 PAs as a 1B.
.250/.300/.459 in 240 PAs as a LF.
.291/.357/.516 in 286 PAs in RF.
He has been experimenting in the OF each season since he made his MLB Debut in 2005 and the difference in Plate Appearances is close enough so that the sample size is pretty comparable.
I love Michael Morse and I have absolutely faith that he will continue to kill the ball despite the staggering difference in numbers. I'm just putting this out there are food for thought.
@DanielHendricks Grammer goes out the window when you're typing a comment on your phone under your desk at work :P.
The idea that Morse's hitting is affected by what position he plays is just silly. He was in a terrible slump at the beginning of the year. He was playing LF at the time. Ergo, his year long numbers at LF are going to be low. That doesn't come close to proving cause and effect. And there is strong evidence it makes no difference -- he hit just fine in 2010 when he played RF almost exclusively (whenever Riggs allowed him to play), and he had 7 HR and a .505 SLG in September. He's going to rake whereever he plays.
On the other hand, there are real concerns about Morse's defensive abilities as an outfielder. And there is the possibility of a logjam at first with LaRoche and Marrero. I for one would like to see Marrero as part of a trade package. He's a nice hitter, but hasn't shown power, and you really need tpower to be a big league 1B. We're probably stuck with LaRoche until the trade deadline, but remember, both the Cards and the Brewers could be in the market for a 1B come February. Let's hope he's able to prove himself healthy.
I've wrote about this a bunch this year. He was a superior hitter by far playing first base...why that is the case...i still don't know. He hit ok in the outfield in 2010, so who knows. I don't think the Nats should go after Fielder or Pujols, there's already too much of a headache at first base...I do think they should consider playing Morse at 1b though, and somehow try and move LaRoche if they can.