by Ray Lin
When the Giants signed Michael Morse to a one-year deal this past offseason, they were hoping to catch lightning in a bottle one more time with the 32 year-old slugger. Morse is now three years removed from an MVP-caliber season in 2011 in which he put up a terrific fantasy line of .303-31-95. He ended up trailing only Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp and Prince Fielder in slugging percentage that year with a .550 clip.
Since then he’s battled injuries that have limited him to average 95 games played per season. The Giants took a chance anyways and suddenly, through 101 at-bats wearing orange and black, Morse is tied for 4th in the NL in homers (8), 5th in RBI (25) and 2nd in slugging (.624). For those fantasy owners who took a flier on him as a bench outfielder in mixed leagues and third outfielder in NL-only, the return on investment is paying big time dividends.
So where did this resurgence come from? We’ve always known Morse to possess colossal power. His 18.5% career HR/FB rate is higher than that of Nelson Cruz (17.0%), Adrian Gonzalez (15.6%) and Justin Morneau (13.7%). While Morse hasn’t had the benefit of full-time ABs throughout his entire career, he’s still made the most of them. His career 21.5 AB/HR rate isn’t too far off from power specialists like Pedro Alvarez (19.0) and Mark Trumbo (17.6).
This year, Morse’s raw power is back in a big way. He currently leads all of baseball in average home run distance (440 feet, according to ESPN), ahead of Giancarlo Stanton, Ian Desmond and David Ortiz. In fact, three of the 20 longest home runs of the season so far belong to Morse. As long as he keeps getting the ball up in the air (34.7%+ fly ball rate in 4 of the past 5 seasons), he’ll keep leaving the yard.
Now, are there reasons to worry about Morse slowing down? Sure. For starters, there’s the myriad injuries he’s dealt with — he’s failed to clear 312 ABs in 7 of his 9 major league seasons. Then there’s the ugly 7/27 BB/K ratio this season. Over the course of his career his K% hasn’t been abysmal, but he’s still struck out almost three times for every walk he’s drawn. Home ballpark is obviously a factor, as only a quarter of his long balls have come at home at AT&T Park. In fact, half of his round trippers in 2014 have happened at Coors Field and Turner Field.
Even then, it’s hard to ignore the similarities so far between this season and his monster 2011 campaign. The K/BB ratios, BABIPs and line drive rates are actually all nearly the same (slightly more patient this year, but whiffing a bit more). One number that immediately jumps off the page is that his ISO is actually 70 points higher in 2014 compared to 2011, suggesting that his raw power now may be even more lethal than his 31-HR season.
The reality is that Morse needs to stay healthy to come close to matching his 2011 fantasy breakout season. If he does and somehow manages to play around 150 games, however, it shouldn’t really be a surprise to see him crank 30-35 HR and become the most productive power-hitting fantasy outfielder in San Francisco since some guy wearing #25 last played.