Logan Morrison as Bounce-Back Candidate

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==Strangely Jaso-like==

Two years ago the Mariners acquired a hitter from a Florida-based team who had just completed an uninspiring year: .224/.298/.354 slash line | 84 OPS+ | .292 wOBA.  In other words, a pretty ugly season for a guy not known for defense.

And yet …

  • He had a very strong minor-league track record, including, particularly, the kind of plate skills that one usually sees only with guys with a strong chance of MLB success.
  • He had established a baseline of major-league success in a significant amount of playing time.
  • His down year combined injuries and a sharp dip in BABIP below what had been his prior experience.
  • The resulting frustration appeared to make him more likely to “fish” at bad pitches outside the zone.
  • His track record was a strong indicator that he would “figure it out.”

And so, I was one of those who hailed the acquisition of John Jaso, and I immediately pegged him as a guy with a good chance of bouncing back strong.

As we know, he did just that: turning in 142 and 117 OPS+ and .372 and .345 wOBA seasons since then.

[Now, whether Jaso is actually that good is another question.  He’s probably not.  But he wasn’t nearly as bad as his 2011 season made him look, which is the point.]

***

Now the parallels are eerie.  Here comes another left-handed hitter from a Florida team, coming off a lackluster season (or two, in the case of Logan Morrison).  And check it out now:

  • Jaso had a .379 OBP in the minors with a super-low 12.1% strikeout rate (K/PA).
  • LoMo had a .377 OBP in the minors with a 15.0% K rate.
  • Jaso immediately established himself in the majors as a guy who would take a walk (14.6% BB rate as a rookie)
  • LoMo had a 14.3% BB rate as a rookie
  • Even when struggling and “fishing” a bit more, both Jaso and LoMo maintained low K% and low swinging-strike percentages.
  • In Jaso’s down year, his BABIP was .244 or 42 points below his career average.
  • In LoMo’s worst year, his BABIP was .248 or 33 points below his career average.

My view is that, for guys with strong plate skills, the “fishing” doesn’t show up in higher K% or swinging-strike percentage, but in a lower BABIP.  In other words, when they are struggling with injuries or bad luck or both, they still make contact, but it’s weaker contact, and it’s contact on “pitcher’s pitches” that they might otherwise take.

So the low BABIP that might have started out as just bad luck ends up “snowballing.”  That’s just my theory, but it seemed to be a pretty good take on Jaso’s 2011 season.

***

Except that, based on the Jaso “BABIP snowball” template, LoMo’s 2012 was the “mulligan” season, and he should have recovered in 2013.

So let’s see what happened:

  • Yes, his BABIP returned to his career average, and his OBP recovered (from .308 to .333).  With his BB%, he ought to be able to reach that vacinity in any year with a decent BABIP.
  • But, it was his power that drooped.  His ISO dropped to .133 from a peak of .221 in 2011 and a career total of .192 coming into the season.
  • And he had warning-track power: just a 5.8% HR/FB.  A strong, skilled hitter ought to approach double-digits in that category, and the MLB average is 7.6%.

[There’s some controversy about how much of HR/FB is random variation.  I think it’s clear that some guys are sluggers and some pitchers give up gopherballs.  But there will also be a lot of random fluctuation.  You have to compare to a guy’s track record.]

Here then is the track record: in 2026 PAs in the minors, Morrison hit HR at a 2.8% rate (HR/PA); in 1479 PAs in the majors, Morrison has hit HR at a 2.8% rate.

So maybe a 2.8% rate is a better bet than his 1.8% rate in 2013?  It’s fair to assume that injuries were sapping his natural power.  (Remember, more HR boosts one’s BA, OBP and SLG.  Convert five outs to HR, and Morrison’s season looks quite different.  As in: .260/.350/.440 instead of .242/.333/.375.)

***

What might one expect from LoMo then?  If healthy and reverting to reasonable expectations?  And how would he compare to Justin Smoak?

Both LoMo and Smoak have a solid record of walking, and both should be good for around 80 points of patience (OBP – BA).

LoMo, however, has established a better record at avoiding strikeouts and hitting with authority.  Smoak has a slightly better HR rate in the majors, but that doesn’t appear to be a result of better actual power, since Morrison has a much higher rate of XBH/PA.

Therefore, if Morrison and Smoak both have “normal” seasons, I would expect Morrison to have a slightly higher ISO, by 10 or 15 points.  That is, I would expect Smoak to gravitate in the 155-160 range and LoMo in the 170-175 range.  Not a ton of difference, but meaningful.

Also, despite Smoak’s switch-hitter-ness, LoMo has a slightly better career platoon split, but not enough to conclude much from.

***

Bottom line: it’s fair to expect a healthy Morrison to produce an OPS of .750 or higher, but, since he’s not a pure slugger (there’s no good reason to expect a 4.0% HR rate or higher on a consistent basis), that won’t make him much more than an average 1b/DH.

But he looks like a very good bet to bounce back to those levels, and that’s a good option to have under club control.  If he can play in the outfield with any consistency, he looks even better.

That being said, think more along the lines of Smoak and Jaso.  He’s not a savior slugger.

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