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.