Kendrys Morales was signed by the Blue Jays to a three year, 33 million dollar deal on November 18th last year. The deal raised a lot of eyebrows at the time. It was a quick move on a position that had a large surplus in the free agent market, and also was an early indication that a reunion with Edwin Encarnacion was going to be very unlikely.
As the offseason went along, and DH’s started coming off the board at bargain bin pricing, the move was starting to come heavily into question. The front office hasn’t exactly been vindicated either. A slash line of .250/.311/.448 with a wRC+ of 99 and a bWAR of 0 essentially puts Morales as an average contributor.
The “eye test” has Morales feeling like more than just an average add though. It could really be a couple of things. It could be that he seemingly has a flair for the dramatic, with his 20 home runs on the year appearing to always happen at just the right time (over half of them have come with the tying or go-ahead run at the plate or on base). Or maybe it’s the absolute power that he hits his home runs with.
Of batters to have 10 or more home runs, Morales is high on the list in both distance and exit velocity. He sits third in average distance (420 feet) and 12th in average exit velocity (106.5 mph). During the series in Seattle, one of Morales bombs even left the park at an incredible 112.6 mph. With that kind of pop, it leaves you wondering how is Morales just a league average contributor? Enter Pedro Cerrano.
Cerrano, a defect from Cuba for reasons of religious freedom, had absolutely incredible power, but he couldn’t seem to find a job anywhere. The reason for that was the biggest problem with Cerrano is that he couldn’t hit the curve. Fastballs left the park at an incredible rate, but drop in that offspeed and Cerrano looked a little something like this:
Morales hacks don’t exactly look like that, but there’s a shocking similarity in his inability to hit a breaking ball. Of Morales 20 home runs on the year, only three have come on an off speed pitch. To top it off, the rate and distance that those three exited the ballpark at brought down his aggregate distance and exit velo as well. The three dingers averaged 414 feet and only 102.9 MPH.
That’s all focused on just the long ball, but it just gets worse bringing all of his other at bats into play. Just like Pedro, throw Morales a fastball, and he’s on top of it. Morales has an impressive .401 wOBA on these pitches, which also has him as a top 70 performer in the league. Switch over to the junk, and it is bad. The DH’s wOBA drops significantly to a paltry 0.248. Using players with a minimum of 50 outcomes, Morales goes from being a top 70 to bottom 75 in the league. Working on a more basic statistic, Morales batting average is no better. His average on fastballs is a solid .300. Junk? The big guy falls to below the Mendoza line at .199.
The contact Morales is making on the different types of pitches is much worse as well. Barreling 32 balls on the year, 72% have come on fastballs. As a result, the exit velocity looks quite different as well. An exit velo of only 86.8 MPH on breaking balls sits him at 131st among batters with at least ten outcomes. Flip that over to the heat, and he’s looking much more impressive, rocking an impressive 94.5 MPH exit velocity. That number is good enough for sixth among batters meeting the same criteria.
Using expected outcomes on the hits he has, nothing seems to be changing soon on either trend as well. In fact, Morales expected weighted on base percentage (xwOBA) is actually predicting that his numbers will only get better on fastballs, sitting at 0.426. As far as the off-speed goes, Morales number still remains low. By xwOBA he should get slightly better with positive regression, but it’s still nothing to write home about at 0.299. Barring a significant adjustment, these splits are going to remain status quo.
Simply put at this point, straight ball he hits it very much, curveball, bats are afraid. Really, if you’re pitching to Morales, he shouldn’t be seeing anything other than junk. To bring things back to the comparison though, it took a lot for Cerrano to put things together. First, he required the opportunity. That presented itself based on to a crazy owner attempting to put together the worst roster possible (one member of which was actually deceased). Then, it essentially ended up in him denouncing his religion that he held so closely in the process. Now Morales has the opportunity already and certainly doesn’t have to make adjustments like that (I don’t think…..?) but maybe he could get a hat for his bat? Keep bat warm. Make sure not to steal any rum either.
If the Jays DH can turn it around like Cerrano finally did, and make decent contact with an off-speed pitch, it would make him invaluable to the Jays in the DH spot. It is also exactly what he may need to do in order to stay on the roster into next year. Unfortunately, a wOBA of .270, and even lower xwOBA of 0.248 on off speed pitches in the three seasons prior to this year means that improvement in this area is more than likely not going to happen. With no improvement there, Morales simply remains the average contributor that he has been this year. Combine that with the glut of players that could take advantage of the DH spot in 2018 who are having better seasons statistically, and it could all line up with Morales being an ideal offseason trade candidate. With how much poor defense has hurt the Jays this year, who wouldn’t say no to a Smoak/Pearce DH/1B combo (159 and 108 wRC+) and all of the outfielders fighting for the corner positions. But hey, Morales could still figure it out. Stranger things have happened, right? (*cough*Justin Smoak*cough*)
Just say fuck you Jobu, Kendrys can do it himself.