Blue Jays: Will Kendrys Morales be better in 2018?

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 04: Kendrys Morales
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 04: Kendrys Morales /

Some analysts are of the belief that Kendrys Morales will be better in 2018 than he was in 2017. What is the argument that he will not be superior next season? Let’s find out.

Like many people, I was optimistic when the Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales in 2016. I recognized that Morales’ offensive production would not be at Edwin Encarnacion’s level but it projected to be above average. Also, given the $27 million lower salary commitment compared to that of EE, the Morales contract would free money to spend elsewhere. This would allow Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins to make other personnel additions that would further enhance the Blue Jays talent level. To say the least, I and others were disappointed with Morales’ 2017 performance.

Jim Scott wrote a compelling piece that, among other things, outlined why Morales can rally from his 2017 season. I enjoy a good argument so I will present the view as to why Morales will not rebound in 2018.

What are the signs that Morales will not be better in 2018?

There are four areas that indicate that Morales will not surpass his 2017 performance level next season.

  1. BABIP and ground balls
  2. The curveball
  3. Plate discipline
  4. Swing and miss

All data, unless otherwise indicated, was sourced from

BABIP and ground balls

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Morales’ 2017 BABIP was 18 points lower than his career average. While this could be an indication of bad luck, perhaps it is a reflection of other factors. It should be noted that Morales’ 2017 BABIP was only 5 percentage points lower than it was in 2016. Could Morales be unlucky two years in a row? I am skeptical about the validity of that conclusion but I am by no means certain that Morales’ trimmed BABIP was not at least partially due to a two-year patch of bad luck. Perhaps Morales is Albert King redux.

Conceivably, Morales’ reduced BABIP is tied to a change in his ground ball rate (GB%). In 2017, Morales’ GB% was 48.4%, which was higher than it was in 2016 (44.2%) and in 2015 (44.9%); his career GB% is 46.9%. Given that Morales is one of the slowest runners in Major League Baseball, a higher GB% in 2017 could partially explain a BABIP that was lower than it was in previous seasons.

The curveball

Jim Scott, the renowned essayist, noted that 2016 was the season in which Morales was better at hitting the curveball than he had been in previous seasons. Unfortunately, he had difficulties with the curveball in his inaugural season with the Blue Jays. Furthermore, Jim Scott suggested that Morales will be better in 2018 when it comes to hitting the curveball. Maybe Morales’ curveball hitting in 2016 was the anomaly and that his career numbers and 2017 are superior predictors of how he will handle the curve in 2018.

Plate discipline

The Table 1 displays various plate discipline metrics for Kendrys Morales. For an explanation of the terms contained in the table, please refer to FanGraphs.

Table 1 – Kendrys Morales’ Plate Discipline

Table 1 illustrates that Morales has become less disciplined in recent seasons. Since 2015, Morales has been swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone such that in 2017 he exceeded his career average of 33.2%. Another sign of Morales’ diminished plate discipline is the elevated rate of swing and misses on all pitches (SwStr%) in 2017. Morales’ SwStr% climbed 2.6 percentage points to 13.3%; the average SwStr% in the Majors in 2017 was 10.5%. Morales is swinging and missing on more pitches, expressed as a rate, than he has in recent years. Morales is less disciplined at the plate compared to previous seasons.

The table also shows that Morales’ contact rate on swings on pitches in the strike zone declined noticeably in 2017. His contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone has been fairly consistent in recent years. However, Morales’ contact rate on pitches in the strike zone plummeted in 2017 to 81.5%. While exit velocity and launch angles are important measures of batting prowess, making contact is critical. Is the fall in Morales’ contact rate an anomaly or a sign that he is on the downward side of the aging curve?

Swing and miss

The data in Table 2, which was sourced from Brooks Baseball, shows Morales’ swing and miss rates on hard, breaking, and offspeed pitches.

Table 2 – Kendrys Morales’ Whiff Percentage by Pitch Category

Another indication that Morales is in decline is the fact his swing and miss rate on hard pitches (fastballs, sinkers, and cutters) was 22.4%. This is almost double what it was in 2014 and is a signal that Morales’ hitting ability is on the wane.

Next: Blue Jays players throwing shade at Zaun and umpires

The last word

In 2017, Kendrys Morales was among the leaders in average exit velocity, barrels-per-plate-appearance, and other measures of batting performance. However, the 2017 decline in his contact rate of swings on balls in the strike zone is noteworthy. Furthermore, Morales’ 2017 whiff percentage on hard stuff was 22.4%, which is almost twice the rate that he posted in 2014. Moreover, Morales has increasingly swung at more balls outside of the strike zone since 2015. Call me a skeptic but a slow, 34-year old designated hitter with an elevated ground ball rate, a reduced contact rate, and an expanding strike zone does not instill confidence that we will see a better Kendrys Morales in 2018.