In 2009 Kendrys Morales was a fantasy baseball star hitting .306 with 34 bombs and 108 runs batted in. He was off to another strong start in 2010 before he busted up his leg in the infamous jumping on home plate to celebrate the game winning hit injury (which I kept saying before the injury occurred was a dangerous, stupid thing – give me a high five and be done with it). As a result of that freak play Morales appeared in just 51 games in 2010, and when his recovery took longer than expected he actually ended up missing the entire 2011 season as well. So what did people think about him heading into 2012? People were sort of interested until he had one amazing week in Spring Training and everyone thought he was “back.” I warned against that and had him ranked 19th at the first base position heading into the ’12 season. Was I right about Morales, and whether or not the answer is yes/no what should we be thinking about with him heading into 2013?
Note: Morales was dealt to the Mariners after this article was written.
2012: .273-22-73-61-0 in 484 at-bats
Moraeles had a solid season, right in line with my personal expectations. However, I bet people were disappointed with his effort which was grossly inferior to his 2009 season. Here is what I will say about that – the same thing I’ve been saying for two years. The game just isn’t that easy. Moreales played 51 games in a two year span (you think Troy Tulowitzki is injury prone? Tulo played 265 games in 2010-11). Even if Morales is the player who had a great 2009 season, it just wasn’t reasonable to expect him to produce at an elite level after missing so much time (more than a year an a half of game action was missed folks). Second, and this was also overlooked, the reason he missed all that time was because his body wasn’t right. Just because he got to the point that he could play didn’t mean he was in baseball shape or that his body was totally “right.” Given those two huge factors, I would call his 2012 effort an unqualified success, despite what many people seem to think. What’s past is past though, so let’s try and figure things out for him moving forward.
A swtich hitter, Morales was limited to just 70 at-bats against lefties in 2012. He hit a pathetic .229 with a .289 OBP. He’s never been even a passable hitter against lefties though (career: .250/.286). He also struggled in the second half as he hit just .256 over his last 64 games. In the end he hit .273, not far off his .281 career mark. Given that he exceeded his career BABIP of .305 at .315, and that he also greatly exceeded his career line drive rate of 17.6 percent at 20.5, it might be wise to consider that Morales is more of the batting average producer he was in 2012 versus the 2009 version.
As for the power, it really came on in the second half when he went deep 14 times. Is he a 30 homer bat? It’s certainly possible. I mean he was before, hitting 34 in 566 at-bats in 2009, and he has gone deep 33 times in his last 677 at-bats wrapped around the leg injury, but I have my doubts. Though he has posted an impressive 18.1 percent or better HR/F mark each of the past three seasons, there is a disturbing trend going on that may limit his upside in the homer column. Morales had a league average 1.02 GB/FB ratio in 2009, hence the 34 homers. However, that number took a huge step up to 1.53 in 2010, and then in 2012 it took another step upward to 1.81. You simply aren’t going to hit 30 homers if you are hitting so many balls into the ground. Consider this. Over each of the last three seasons his ground ball rate has also increased, substantially: 40.7, 42.0, 47.9 and 51.2 percent. To reiterate, you just aren’t going to go deep 30+ times if you are hitting half your batted balls into the ground.
So who is Morales? I would posit that he is not the 2009 version or the 2012 version. I’d actually split things down the middle. By that I mean I look at Morales and think .280-25-90 is the type of hitter one should expect Morales to be in 2013. He could better all of those numbers, he has before, but with his increasing ground ball rate, and the previously unmentioned career worst K-rate from 2012 (22.2 percent), I’m just not seeing the type of growth or performance that would lead me to think a repeat of 2009 is in the offing.
By Ray Flowers