Toronto Blue Jays: A Brief Defence of Morales’ Defence


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.


PlayerInningsUZR/150MLB Rank (among 68 1Bs with 3000+ innings)
Kendrys Morales3196.26.27
Justin Smoak60070.234
Eric Hosmer7612.1-4.757
Edwin Encarnacion3293-661
PlayerInningsUZR/150MLB Rank (among 59 1Bs with 850+ innings)
Justin Smoak4272.2-0.531
Kendrys Morales853.1-1.134
Eric Hosmer6476.2-3.443
Edwin Encarnacion3094-5.650
PlayerInningsUZR/150MLB Rank (among 98 1Bs with 120+ innings)
Edwin Encarnacion1117.24.125
Kendrys Morales128.12.431
Justin Smoak1424.20.639
Eric Hosmer2705.2-3.156
PlayerInningsUZR/150MLB Rank (among 88 1Bs with 50+ innings)
Kendrys Morales5310.911
Edwin Encarnacion636.13.535
Justin Smoak737.2-3.153
Eric Hosmer1351-6.161


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)
Kendrys Morales1118.1%10
Edwin Encarnacion3813.1%17
Eric Hosmer928.7%38
Justin Smoak434.6%49
Player# 40-60%40-60%MLB Rank (among 59 1Bs with 850+ innings)
Edwin Encarnacion2860.7%15
Eric Hosmer5959.3%18
Justin Smoak2544%41
Kendrys Morales30%59
Player# 60-90%60-90%MLB Rank (among 59 1Bs with 850+ innings)
Kendrys Morales13100%1
Justin Smoak4981.6%22
Edwin Encarnacion6178.7%34
Eric Hosmer9375.3%41
Player# 90-100%90-100%MLB Rank (among 59 1Bs with 850+ innings)
Eric Hosmer128498%21
Kendrys Morales14497.9%23
Edwin Encarnacion53097.7%29
Justin Smoak75297.6%33


# 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









Jeff Quattrociocchi

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.