Dissecting Nationals First Baseman Michael Morse

I wrote about Nationals first baseman Michael Morse in today's Roundup and wanted to take a closer look at him as a hitter, as I did not expect him to continue to produce at this level this long.

After a torrid spring where he hit .364-.421-.818 with 9 HRs, 18 RBIs and a 12-7 K/BB rate, he was names the Nationals starting left fielder. But his hot spring training did not carry over to the regular season. He had such a horrendous start to the season he was benched after hitting just .211-.253-.268 with 1 HR, 9 RBIs and just 2 extra base hits in 71 April at bats.

Then on May 23rd, the Nationals placed Adam Laroche on the DL with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, and Morse became the National starting first baseman. Since then he has hit 12 HRs, driven 34 runs and hit .345. Since his horrible start in April, his monthly splits show he might be the hitter we saw in the second half of the 2010 season:

May-.403-.422-.774 with 6 HRs, 15 RBIs, 11 XBH and a 13-1 K/BB rate

June-.318-.400-.648 with 7 HRs, 21 RBIs, 15 XBH and a 23-8 K/BB rate 

More on Michael Morse after the jump:

What jumps out at me are the low walk totals. He isn't walking much and has benefitted from a high BABIP of .353 thus far this season. Here is a comparison of his 2010 season stats to his 2011 season stats through June 24th: 

2010- .289-.352-.519 with 15 HRs and 41 RBIs, .330 BABIP, 24.1 K%, 7.5 BB%, .229 ISO

2011- .308-.358-.561 with 14 HRs, 45 RBIs, .353 BABIP, 25.8 K%, 5.3 BB%, .253 ISO

He has shown in just over a full season of playing that he is a high BABIP power hitter who doesn't walk much. If you combine the two half season of stats, he has hit 29 HRs, driven in 86 and hit right around .300 with a .880+ OPS. Actually, if you are looking for a comparison, the Nationals replaced Adam Laroche with.......Adam Laroche with a higher BA and maybe a bit more power. Last year, Laroche hit .261-.320-.468 with 25 HRs and 100 RBIs.

Taking a closer look at his batted ball data, via Fangraphs, he has increased his line drive rate from 15.8% to 18.6%, lowered his ground ball rate from 46.3% to 44.3%, while his fly ball rate has stay relatively flat at around 37-38%, so he is showing improvement in these areas.

In 2010, his HR/FB rate was 19.5%, but this year that rate has increased to 22.6% without the benefit of more fly balls. Looking at his plate discipline, he is swinging at more balls out of the zone this year-40% vs. 37% last year, and is making more contact on these balls out of the zone-68% vs 64% last year.

Looking at his contact rates, he is making more contact at pitches in the zone- 85% vs 79% last year, and making more contact on all pitches he swings at as well-77% vs 73%. Morse has also lowered his swinging strike rate from 17% in 2009, to 14% in 2010 and 11.4% thus far this season.

Morse has shown, in regular playing time, that he can be a Top 12 first baseman, but I still wonder if these improvements at the plate are sustainable. He has yet to play a full season, but his second half of 2010 and his first half of 2011 shows he can put up solid stats with regular playing time.

Can Morse continue to hit at this rate for the rest of the season?

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