Blue Jays: Kendrys Morales 2017 appears to be an outlier

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 31: Kendrys Morales
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 31: Kendrys Morales /

It’s no secret that Kendrys Morales was a disappointment for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017. He was below replacement level at -0.6 fWAR, which was the first time in a completely full season in his career that he was below replacement level. He doesn’t add much value at all as he’s extremely slow and barely plays any defense but it does seem that 2017 could have been an outlier for Morales.

Kendrys Morales came to the Toronto Blue Jays with some big shoes to fill in Edwin Encarnacion and luckily for the Blue Jays, Justin Smoak filled that hole that was left by Encarnacion. Morales was expected to fill the void left by Encarnacion and some even thought he could be close to Encarnacion levels of power at the Rogers Centre. After all, in a down season, Morales was still in the top 10 for exit velocity. All of the expectations didn’t follow through as he finished with a wRC+ of 97. He did have a 72 wRC+ in 2014, but that was the year he signed post MLB draft.

wRC+ is a great stat to evaluate a hitter and how much total offensive value a player brings to the table. Many who read this will know, but for those who don’t, a wRC+ of 100 is league average production. Morales has the following wRC+’s for his career:

Morales hit much better than he did in 2017 the previous two seasons in a ballpark that is much worse for power hitters. That ballpark would be Kauffman Stadium with the Kanas City Royals, where Morales was quite good in 2015 and more than fine in 2016. So what exactly went wrong in 2017? There are a few things I noticed and it’s encouraging to note that they’re not too far off from Morales’ career norms.

Career – 18.3 K%, .296 BABIP, .270/.328/.462, 46.9 GB%, 34.5% FB%, 13.3% Soft Contact, 51.5% Medium Contact

2017 – 21.7 K%, .278 BABIP, .250/.308/.445, 48.4 GB%, 33.2 FB%, 15.2% Soft Contact, 47.0% Medium Contact

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The encouraging thing off of the bat is that Morales still hit the ball very hard, as alluded to above. It’s also encouraging to see a lot of these numbers aren’t too far off from his career, in which he had a 112 wRC+. Morales struck out more, walked about the same, didn’t get as lucky when he put the ball in play because he hit more ground balls, he didn’t use the center of the diamond as much, he pulled the ball way more, had more soft contact, and less medium contact.

Part of the struggles for Morales did appear to be the pitch assortment that opposing pitchers were throwing. They threw him way more off-speed stuff like curveballs and sliders than ever before and less hard stuff. When Morales got a fastball, he didn’t miss much and sent the ball way out of the yard. He did struggle against the off-speed stuff, which likely can attribute to the rise in strikeouts, increase in soft contact, and getting the ball on the ground more.

Morales also struggled mightily against right-handers. As a switch hitter, that obviously came as a left-handed hitter. He did destroy lefty pitching as a right-handed hitter. It’s interesting, as he’s always been a solid hitter from the left side of the plate. One could assume he can bounce back against right-handers and that the splits will balance out more in 2018.

It’s quite simple for Kendrys Morales to bounce back in 2018. It’s extremely encouraging that he still hit the ball HARD. It would be very concerning if that went down significantly in 2017 as opposed to the rest of his career. Morales needs to elevate, keep the ball off the ground, and hit the off-speed stuff better like he did in 2016 when he was thrown more off-speed with the Royals.

Next: Blue Jays: The sad story of Brett Lawrie

Morales wasn’t far off from his career norms in 2017, but there was enough discrepancy that could attribute to why he wasn’t nearly as effective. It’s reasonable to assume that 2017 may be an outlier and that he could get back to around a 110 to 115 wRC+. If he does, he should be able to contribute some value in the fWAR department, and that alone would mark an improvement to the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays.