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Michael Morse: Can He Repeat His Breakout in 2012?

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Back in May, the Nationals decided to shut down first baseman Adam Laroche who had a partially torn labrum in his shoulder. Replacing Laroche at first base was part time outfielder Michael Morse. I wrote about Morse back in June where I concluded that Morse's performance to date was sustainable, and he has made me look good as he has continued to hit and hit for power.

For the season, Morse is hitting .302-.358-.539 with 27 HRs, 86 RBI and 66 runs scored in 490 at bats covering 137 games. Morse is not a young man in baseball terms as he will turn 30 in spring training 2012, so I am curious if he can repeat his excellent season in 2012. Guys that have their breakout year at the age of 30 usually don't have long careers, so it is worth it for to take a look to see if fantasy owners should draft him assuming he will repeat his 2011 performance in 2012.

More on Morse after the jump:

Morse has been pretty consistent in 2011, especially after he took over for Laroche in early May. Here are his monthly triple slash splits:







Excluding September, Morse has been remarkably consistent at the plate, and has hit for power in each month except for July when he hit just 2 HRs, but maintained an excellent triple slash line. He has slowed down a bit in September, but that is not surprising as this is Morse's first time playing a full season in the majors.

One stat that gives me some pause heading into 2012 (yeah, I know, its early) is his .348 BABIP this season, suggesting he has been somewhat lucky this season. But, looking over his career stats, Morse has always had a high BABIP, and some hitters are just like that. And Morse is one of them, so the high BABIP appears to be sustainable.

How about the power? His SLG of .539 is solid, as is his HR/FB rate of 20.3%, which is up slightly from 19.5% in 2010. Actually, with the exception of July, his HR/FB rates have been consistently over 23%, hitting 33.3% two time in five months.

May- 33.3%

June- 24.2%

July- 6.7%

August- 33.3%

September- 23.1%

Here is a breakdown of his SLG%/ISO since he started playing every day back in early May:

May- .774/.371

June- .607/.308

July- .533/.189

August- .606/.273

Sept.- .393/.197

All signs point toward sustainable power as well. Morse doesn't walk much as his 6.1% walk rate reflects, but he also doesn't strike out much either. Morse strikes out just over 22% of his at bats, which is not bad for a power hitter. Should the strikeout rate rise in 2012, he will be hard pressed to repeat his 2011 season.

One stat that does concern me is that Morse swings at 38% of the balls thrown outside the strike zone. This could results in a higher percentage of whiffs, and a higher percentage of poorly hit balls in the future. There are only 11 other hitters who have a higher swing percentage on balls outside the zone than Morse, but some of the names include Josh Hamilton, Robinson Cano and Adam Jones, so there is no correlation between the high outside the zone swing percentage and a low batting average.

So, what can fantasy owners expect from Morse in 2012? I think it is more of the same, but maybe with a slightly lower batting average. My only concern is his age.