After a long season of watching Kendrys Morales DH for the Blue Jays, we’re left with one question: why throw him a fastball?
Last winter, the Blue Jays spent $33M on a shiny new DH. They felt the need to act quickly lest they lose out on some kind of impactful power bat since Edwin Encarnacion was taking too long for their liking. That’s all well documented water under the proverbial bridge. The fact is, like it or not, Kendrys Morales became the DH for a team that has disappointed in 2017.
The theory behind bringing in this kind of hitter is that he’ll out up power numbers in the middle of a lineup, and he is a switch hitter. The club was banking on 20-30 home runs, 65-80 RBI and something just over 1 win. You can bet that the front office did their homework on what kind of hitter Morales would be. They knew they’d be taking on a K% of around 17% a career .270/.328/.447 bat. It was an investment worth taking in their eyes.
After a full season of watching him in a Blue Jays uniform, we can perhaps add a bit more of an evaluation on his signing in Toronto. And, 2017 has offered up some disappointment in that regard. He is hitting his home runs and driving in runs. That said, his batting average is down (.249), his OBP is down (.308), his wRC+ is down (97), his fWAR is down (-0.6) and his K% is up (21.8%).
What has become painfully clear is that the old curveball has made Morales look rather weak at the plate this year, which is a reason for his decline in numbers. It is frustrating to watch. But, watching only gives us anecdotal evidence, which is always subject to scrutiny. So, we head to Statcast and Brooks Baseball! I wanted to see just how futile, if at all, Morales has been against the hammer.
The curve accounted for 11.91% of the pitches Morales saw this season. Justin Smoak saw the most out of any Blue Jays at 12.39%. On the left, we see a detailed breakdown of where Morales has seen the 276 curveballs. The right, you’ll see where and when those curves were thrown. It is no surprise to see the hammer being dropped with two strikes in the location in which they were dropped. Hanging curveballs are dangerous for power bats, but the low ones seem to work just fine on Mo Mo. See below.
The left image indicates the percentage of whiffs on the curveball, while the center image indicates his batting average. The right image indicates the percentage of home runs on balls in play off curves. What does it mean? Well, firstly, the very high whiff rate means he’s missing a lot of those low curves. The batting average image might be the most telling. He has hit exactly 4 of those lower most curves. Considering how many he sees, this is less than ideal. Even those left over the heart of the plate are not getting hit as often as one would think. And, when he does hit a curveball in play, he has a grand total of 2 dingers. He’s seen 35 curves in the “hittable” part of the zone. Yet, his success is that dismal.
For fun, let’s compare this to his success against the fastball.
So, heavy analysis isn’t exactly required, here. Morales is having much more success against the 682 fastballs he’s seen in 2017. His batting average would indicate that he can handle it whether it is high or low…at least, better than the curve. And, look at the HR on balls in play. He has 9 HR off fastballs this year.
When opposing teams take the winter and go over 2017 results, they might want to pay attention to the above data. Based on the futility Morales has shown against the curveball, and the relative success he’s seen against the fastball, it wouldn’t shock to see teams increase the 276 offerings. That would make sense later in the count, in particular. He’s shown that the curve has been his enemy this year. It makes you wonder why anyone throws him a fastball.
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*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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