At the end of August Mike Morse was moved by the Washington Nationals form first base to the outfield to make room for prospect Chris Marrero. Since then, the rookie has had a solid MLB debut, posting a .280/.305/.333 line in 21 games, however he hasn’t quite done enough to inspire Nats fans to believe that the former first round pick will play a significant role in the team’s future.
One thing that has stuck out for sure though, is that since the move from first base to left field, veteran Mike Morse has struggled. And while it’s just a 15 game sample, his poor performance offensively when playing in the outfield is becoming a bigger and bigger trend.
As we posted in July, Mike Morse’s dramatic offensive turn around can be stemmed directly back to when he switched from left field to first base. In 22 games in April while playing in the outfield he hit just .224/.267/.284 with one home run. In his next 85 games at first base he hit a roaring .336/.401/.601 with 19 home runs, and quickly became one of the more valuable hitters in the game.
Since the Marrero's promotion however, Morse has gone from a batting title contender to a cleanup hitter struggling to keep his season batting average above .300. Unfortunately, in 15 games in September he has hit just .197/.246/.393 while playing almost exclusively in the outfield.
Of course, Morse hit well while playing in the outfield last season, and this spring straining when he earned the starting left field spot, but for some reason this season he just can’t get it going outside of the infield. We’ve hypothesized that playing first base allows him to keep his head in the game more, which can have an effect at the plate. We often see when sluggers turn into designated hitters they have trouble making the transition because they are not used to sitting out defensive play. Morse, a former shortstop, may very well just play better when he is in the infield.
The only reason this matters going forward is that the club needs to figure out their first base situation going into 2012. Right now they have Marrero, a player they’ve invested a great deal of time into as a prospect. They have Adam LaRoche, a player who they’ve invested a great deal of money in to play the position through next year, and they have Morse, a player who they have invested little in but have received amazing returns.
To me, I would say it makes the most sense to not mess with a good thing and keep Morse at first base. Even with his poor numbers in the outfield this year he has hit an impressive .302 with 27 home runs and 86 RBI, which is likely more than you can ever expect from Marrero or LaRoche, even in their best seasons.
The only question then that would remain, is what do we do with the 23 year old prospect, and the over the hill, over paid LaRoche?