Welcome to October, NatsTown. Just because the Washington Nationals aren't part of this year's post-season doesn't mean we can't remember the wonderful season that was, and maybe next year, we can enjoy Nationals Park in mid-October. In the mean time, we'll publish some thoughts on the bests, worsts, and everything in between over the next few weeks as you enjoy October baseball. Today, we're going to start with the team's MVP: Michael Morse.
Entering the 2011 season, few imagined the Nationals would be getting the kind of output they did from Morse. He was going into his 7th major league season at 29 years old without any significant MLB experience. Before this past season, Morse never accumulated more than 300 plate appearances in a single season. There was a glimmer of hope in limited appearances, mostly as a pinch hitter or utility outfielder, during the 2010 season. Morse put up an impressive .289/.352/.519 slash line in almost 300 plate appearances, which had people across NatsTown clammoring for him to get regular starting time. That wouldn't pay off in full force until the following season.
After an unbelievably electric 2011 Spring Training, Morse cooled off in almost extraordinary fashion, hitting just .211 in March and April with a a meager .521 OPS. When May started, the old Michael Morse gave way to a new, improved version that managed to hit .403 with a 1.196 OPS that month. Despite not maintaining that above-.400 level, even when Morse struggled, there was always a feeling he would break out of it. His persona before the camera was confident, and it never waivered. He and Ian Desmond even brought in a new mantra to the team: Beast Mode.
Over the course of the season, Morse managed a .303 batting average, 31 HR, and a .910 OPS, which is good for the 8th highest OPS in the NL this regular season. He had a 3.4 WAR, according to FanGraphs.com, and his wOBA put him just outside the 90th percentile for all MLB hitters. He might be a bit of a fielding liability, especially in the outfield, but his offensive prowess more than makes up for any deficiencies in that regard.
For this offseason, Morse is going to be eligible for arbitration come January, and with a season like this, I have to believe a big raise is on the way for the big righty. Morse won't become a free agent until 2014, so the Nats have him under club control during exactly the right time in his career. This may be an anomaly of a season for Morse, but I just don't think so. He was good enough in limited 2010 chances that his 2011 season just looks like an improvement on that year with more playing time. If he can keep his numbers going for just 2 or 3 more seasons the core of the Nationals lineup could look a little something like this: Ryan Zimmerman, Morse, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth. I think the team's chances of success with those guys in those spots are pretty good, don't you?