Sunday, March 06, 2011

How Good Is Kendry Morales?

A mighty blow was dealt to the Angels last year when Kendry Morales rounded third during his walk-off homer. He approached home plate to his exuberant teammates, jumped in the air to join the celebration and when he landed, his leg shattered. It was ironic, and it was brutal. Joy had turned into a nightmare and the first baseman's season was over after 51 games.

The season Kendry Morales had in 2009 was unexpected. It seemed he came out of nowhere to hit 34 homers to go with 43 doubles and two triples. He drove in over a hundred runs, scored 94 and batted .306 with a .569 slugging percentage. He fielded his position well at first base and the Angels went to the post season again. It was so impressive a season, the Angels felt they could let Vladimir Guerrero depart as a free agent.

But how good a season was it? And would 2010 have been as good if he hadn't broken his leg? The views are mixed. As good as his 2009 season was, he was still the tenth best first baseman in the majors that year. His power and his slugging are what you expect from a first baseman. His fielding was a nice bonus, no question.

It seems unfair to compare 2010 with 2009 when he only played one third of the games in the latter season due to his horrible injury. But in those 51 games, he had regressed in several areas. First, his batting average was down to .290, a drop of sixteen points. The drop in part can be explained in his batting average for balls in play. At .329 in 2009, which is somewhat lucky, it was down to .296, or pretty much what you would expect in an average season. His slugging percentage was also down.

Not everything was lower though. His line drive percentage was noticeably higher. And his homer to fly ball ratio was higher significantly. The problem was that he hit a lot less fly balls and a lot more ground balls. His fielding was still very good.

But there is a flaw to the game of Kendry Morales. He doesn't walk enough. In 2009, his 7.4 percent walk rate was 23rd in the majors for first basemen that qualified for the batting title. Only Jorge Cantu and Daniel Murphy were lower. Before his injury in 2010, his walk rate was down to 5.7 percent. At the age of 28, it seems unlikely that this skill will improve as the years go on from here.

It's probable that if Kendry Morales had a full season in 2010, he may have been able to come close to his 2009 numbers. But even that would have only added three or four wins to the Angels' total. So you really can't lay the Angels finishing out of the money on his injury. And now Morales has to come back from this wicked injury and revive his career. There are long odds against him as an injury like that has derailed better players than him.

The reports from the Angels camp indicate that Morales is on schedule to start competing two weeks from now. If that report is close to being what happens, Morales can make it to Opening Day. It will be interesting where he starts the season. Will his leg be fit enough for first base? His value at DH would be even less for the Angels.

Morales is a nice force in the middle of the Angels line up. His power and ability to hit the ball on the screws have to give opposing teams pause. But his lack of patience at the plate derails some of that benefit and we will have to see if he can come back from a terrible injury. Projections are somewhat pessimistic. Bill James and MARCEL put him around .850 in OPS and Fans project him nearer to .870. Again, that's a nice number in the middle of the Angels' line up. But in terms of other first baseman around the league, those numbers do not put him among the elite first baseman in the majors.

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