Jays From the Couch looks into the idea of Kendrys Morales playing first base for the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s not as bad as you think.
A consensus seems to have organically developed among Blue Jays Land that Kendrys Morales is a terrible defensive first baseman. In fact, when the deal was announced to bring him to Toronto, many felt that a) this was a terrible move because it closed the door on Edwin Encarnacion and b) it handcuffed the Blue Jays’ flexibility. Morales is assumed to be a DH only, and someone who won’t see any time with the glove. That left Justin Smoak as the everyday first baseman, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, if he were the infield part of a LF/1B platoon situation.
The goal of this article is to show that Kendrys Morales might not be a terrible defensive first baseman. Is he an average defensive first baseman? Above-average? Elite? I don’t think I want to push my luck just yet. But is Kendrys Morales definitely a terrible defender? No. In fact, he performs very well against the guy he used to backup, the guy he is going to backup and the guy he’s sort of replacing across a couple defensive metrics.
|Player||Innings||UZR/150||MLB Rank (among 68 1Bs with 3000+ innings)|
|Player||Innings||UZR/150||MLB Rank (among 59 1Bs with 850+ innings)|
|Player||Innings||UZR/150||MLB Rank (among 98 1Bs with 120+ innings)|
|Player||Innings||UZR/150||MLB Rank (among 88 1Bs with 50+ innings)|
UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games) tries to capture a player’s overall defensive contribution. Whether you look at his whole career, the post-leg break years (2012-2016), the Royals years or just last year, Morales ranks either first or second among the group of four in UZR/150. He also holds up well against first basemen in general, ranking seventh among first basemen in UZR/150 over the entire UZR era (2002-2016).
|2012-2016 (Post leg break)|
|Player||# 1-40%||10-40%||MLB Rank (among 59 1Bs with 850+ innings)|
|Player||# 40-60%||40-60%||MLB Rank (among 59 1Bs with 850+ innings)|
|Player||# 60-90%||60-90%||MLB Rank (among 59 1Bs with 850+ innings)|
|Player||# 90-100%||90-100%||MLB Rank (among 59 1Bs with 850+ innings)|
# a-b%= Number of fielding opportunities that are completed between a and b% of the time
a-b% = Completion percentage for fielding opportunities that are completed between a and b% of the time
Inside Edge Fielding metrics (in use since 2012) break down all fielding opportunities into categories, based on the probability of a fielder completing the opportunity. Then it ranks each player’s completion rate within each probability category. Over the last five seasons, Morales has done a great job on remote/unlikely opportunities, ranking highest among the group of four. He has a zero completion rate on about even fielding opportunities, but with only three coming his way, the sample size is too small to make any conclusions from. On likely opportunities, Morales ranks first in the majors. And on the almost certain/certain opportunities he ranks second in the group.
These statistics suggest that Morales is probably not the worst defensive first baseman. A possible case could be made that he is, in fact, a good first baseman. Most importantly, an extremely convincing case could be made that he is at the very least a decent first baseman. Ultimately, isn’t that all you really need from a starting DH/third-string first baseman?
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison-UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0 cropped from original
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.