Continuing where we left off here. Read that first for an introduction.
I discussed the issue of Morse’s BABIP in the last article; his detractors say it’s too high to be sustainable, so it will inevitably come down and negatively impact his triple-slash, while his supporters point to his high career BABIP as proof that his his performance from 2011 is indeed sustainable.
The point I’d like to make is that the type of ball hit in play has an impact on whether it’ll drop in for a hit or not. BABIP is not just a “luck” stat, especially for hitters.
Player Alpha, who hits all infield flies, would likely have an average and BABIP of .000, and you wouldn’t necessarily expect the player to improve upon that, even though his low BABIP would suggest a regression to the mean. The poor quality of the balls he’s putting in play precludes this hypothetical player from ever being good.
Likewise, Player Beta, who hits all line drives, is likely to have a high BABIP, since line drives fall in for hits much more often than ground balls or high fly balls. Obviously, some are speared by diving defenders, but in general if you hit a hard line drive, you can be confident that you were “supposed” to get a hit.
Michael Morse’s breakdown of batted ball numbers (which mirror his career rates), compared to league average (courtesy of FanGraphs):
There’s a slugger that I’d like to contrast Morse with: Joey Votto. He’s obviously a huge star, with a .309/.416/.531 line in 2011. Similarly to Morse, he famously sustains a high career BABIP (.352) despite being quite slow. He’s also about as close as a player gets to Player Beta; his 27.5% LD led all of baseball last year. However, even if his BAPIP dropped a lot, his OBP would remain quite good due to his excellent walk rate of 15.3%.
Morse is dissimilar in both respects; his 19.5% LD is a tick below league average, suggesting that he doesn’t really have exceptional line drive skills, and his 6.3% walk rate is also fairly poor. This might initially support that his BABIP was mostly luck, and that he’s due to regress heavily.
However, he hits significantly fewer infield flies than the average player does; less infield flies effectively means fewer outs. Since infield fly balls are part of fly balls (i.e. 4.8 of the 36.5% of fly balls Morse hits are infield flies), this means that Morse hits about 31% of balls into the outfield. There, both his ability to hit the ball to all fields and gaps plus the relative difficulty of fielding a fly ball in the outfield come into play, which both lead to a higher probability of a batted ball dropping in for a hit. There’s also the matter of Morse’s power; over one in five of his fly balls in 2011 were home runs. Even better: Morse’s IFFB% over his career is 5.5%, only slightly higher.
Back to Joey Votto, who’s shaping up to be the king of everything BABIP. His IFFB% was a minuscule 0.9%, meaning that he hit practically zero “cans of corn” to the infield. Along with his LD rate, he put himself in a position to hit balls that have the highest probability to drop in for hits. He’s an absolute monster.
So Morse, while not having an awesome LD percentage, has good FB skills that allow him to maintain a high BABIP. If I were him, I would work heavily on cutting back on his high K rate of 21.9%. If he can do that, he’ll put more balls in play, which, with his BABIP that I deem sustainable, will only increase his probability of success with the bat. If he can do that, he can hit for an even higher average than he did this year. Improving his walk rate would help kick up his OBP, as well as providing a cushion if his BABIP drops due to poor luck.
However, even if he doesn’t accomplish these things, for which there’s no real evidence he can/will, he’s settled in at around his true talent level. Don’t expect a huge regression from Morse next season unless you think his batted ball numbers will unexpectedly slide.
The Nationals’ schedule starts:
- 3 games @ Cubs
- 3 games @ Mets
- 4 games vs. Reds
- 4 games vs. Astros
- 3 games vs. Marlins
- 3 games @ Padres
- 3 games @ Dodgers
It’s really pretty favorable. The Reds are awesome offensively, but apart from their recent acquisition Mat Latos, their rotation is mediocre. And the Marlins’ dream team will be a pleasant challenge, especially considering the Nats’ struggles against the Marlins in recent years. But apart from those two teams, the Nats are facing some of what figure to be the worst teams in the National League.
Moral of the story: don’t be surprised and don’t get too excited if the Nationals get to a hot start out of the gate. Their first real challenge will be the first week of May, where they face the D-Backs and prepare for a weekend Phillies invasion in succession on a 6-game homestand. Hopefully a good start will wake up the fanbase to the point where we can push them out entirely (and maybe even begin construction on Nationals Park North).
By all accounts, Michael Morse had the best offensive season of any Washington National by a wide margin, leading the team in nearly every relevant offensive category, including all three of AVG/OBP/SLG. While being the best hitter on the Nationals wasn’t a particularly high bar in 2011, not often does a skillset present itself in a player that can hit for both power and average like Morse; only 10 players in baseball had a .300+ average to go with a .550+ slugging percentage, including superstars such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, and Matt Kemp. The development of Morse into a bona fide slugger so late in his career, at the ripe old age of 29, is borderline-unheard-of.
However, like many late-blooming breakout players, Morse has those that are skeptical of sustaining his success. His OBP of .360 is only good and not great due to a poor 6.3% walk rate, compared to the league average of 8.1%. Michael Morse’s detractors will point also point out his BAPIP (batting average on balls in play) of .344, which is quite high for his skillset (a strong, muscular slugger who runs like Josh Bard on crutches). Under traditional thinking, speedy players are more likely to have higher BAPIPs due to their abilities to beat out ground balls and bunt hits and such. In Morse, however, this would typically indicate a large degree of luck in his hits; many of them simply drop in fortunate spots or are mishandled by the defenses he faces in a way that doesn’t incur an error. His BAPIP, under this idea, would be expected to drop, bringing his batting average down along with it. With his poor walk rate, his value would decline precipitously as his OBP would possibly dip below .330. Essentially, he would become Carlos Quentin: a low average, low OBP slugger that plays the outfield about as poorly as you can.
Morse’s supporters, however, will point out that his BAPIP is just a tick below his career average; despite his player archetype that implies he would sustain low BAPIPs, his career average BAPIP over 1260 PAs is .346. The easy, lazy way to explain this is that he proverbially “hits the ball hard”, a point which I don’t think any Nats fans that see Morse on a consistent basis would contest. Under this idea, then, Morse isn’t necessarily due for regression at all!
Both of these ideologies are overly simplistic. In the next post in this series, I’ll go into detail about the quality and quantity of balls Morse puts in play, how that impacts his BAPIP, and what we can realistically expect going forward. A bit of a teaser post, I promise the analysis is coming.
Hello, reader! You’ve happened upon a world of magic and wonder and fairies and ice cream and bubblegum and kittens, which goes by the name of tumblr. And also this blog, I guess.
It’s about the Washington Nationals and their endeavors to become, in the immortal words of Bryce Harper, “the yankees of the NL!hah”. Mostly an opinion blog, I won’t do much quote-unquote “reporting” or game summaries and such unless it was a particularly awesome game. I will have a lot of posts about the players on the team, the way the team is performing, highlighting minor league standouts, endlessly dictating what the front office should and shouldn’t accomplish, often prematurely judging trades, formulating absurd trade rumors for page views (Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon for Alex Rodriguez, Jesus Montero, and $10 million dollars. Who hangs up first?), and generally passing my judgement on the state of the team’s affairs. Whether you value that opinion is obviously a different story, but I hope to churn out enough quality content to make it at least semi-enjoyable and in-depth.
I am a bit of a stats geek. I typically won’t get into the full-scale spreadsheet-and-graph format that FanGraphs relishes, but I will be banding about numbers like wOBA, wRC+, xFIP, SIERA, BAPIP, UZR, etc. For those of you that are unfamiliar with these kinds of more comprehensive and sexy stats, FanGraphs has a great primer and glossary on all of these. In my humble opinion, the Nationals’ fan base is largely un-sabermetric; one of my loftiest goals is to change that. I’ll be giving a brief explanation of the advanced stats I use in-post, as well as linking to a more comprehensive definition, courtesy again of FanGraphs in most cases.
Posts will be semi-regular, you can probably expect one every few days.
If you’re a fellow tumblr-er, feel free to follow and inbox questions, if I get enough of a following I’ll do periodic mailbox Q+A sessions. If you’re not, feel free to as well! I’m not sure if tumblr is the best battle-tested platform for a serious baseball blog, but I feel it’ll work well.
Hope to be posting and hearing from you soon!