How confident is Mike Morse that he can be the middle of the order bat Seattle is looking to identify itself with?
"I have more confidence than anybody," says Morse. "I know a lot of people think Safeco is tough to hit the ball out of. But if you ask me, I can hit the ball out of the Grand Canyon."
Closing in on four years since leaving the Seattle Mariners organization via trade, Morse returns to Safeco Field. He returns an older, more confident version of himself. Morse debuted in 2005 with the Seattle Mariners as the tallest shortstop in baseball, measuring 6-foot-5 and weighing 195 pounds. Eight years later, the once ‘tall and lanky' infielder has become one of Major League's top slugging threats. Tipping the scales at 245 pounds, he has launched 49 home runs over the fence in his past two seasons.
Known for his workout regimen, It's not just his body that has changed, his game has changed along with it, dramatically. The converted shortstop hit three home runs in 337 plate appearances for the Seattle Mariners over the course of four partial seasons, a home run every 112.3 trips to the plate. Over 1,353 plate appearances in Washington, that number jumped to 20.2 trips to the plate.
On trading fan-favorite John Jaso to acquire Morse, Seattle Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik said, "When you are in the position to acquire an everyday guy who has a chance to hit the ball hard and hit the ball far, I think it does change your game."
Morse not only hits the ball hard, he hits the ball with the best in league. Take a look at his comparisons to other rumored Seattle off-season targets (2009-2012).
- His .338 BABIP is equal to the number posted by Josh Hamilton and Justin Upton.
- With a .514 slugging percentage, Morse bests Mike Napoli (.513) who is one of just 28 players since 2009 to record over 100 Major League home runs.
- In wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created+), Morse joins Shin-soo Choo and Josh Willingham at 132.
- Ranking 28th in OPS (.857), Morse nips Billy Butler (.854) and Nick Swisher (.850).
- Mark Trumbo, who undoubtedly relies heavily on his power, ranks behind Morse in ISO (Isolated Power), .221 to .219.
So, what is the knock on Morse offensively?
Similar to a growing number of players across the Major Leagues, Morse has seen inflated K/BB (Strikeout/Walk) numbers over recent seasons.
Despite ranking 60th in K% (22.4%) dating back to 2009, his game has been mentioned as synonymous with the home run/strike out mold. In reality, while 22.4% is not ideal, it's the numbers that surround that percentage which tell the whole story.
|Year (Min. 200 PAs)||K% (Strikeout %)||BB% (Walk %)||K/BB||AB/K (At Bats/K)|
As seen above, Morse's AB/K numbers are nearly identical in recent seasons. In fact, dating back to 2010, there is a miniscule difference of 0.1 in his AB/K ratio compared to his career average.
That means any inflation in his K/BB ratio over this time is due in part to drawing less walks, a metric that is far more combat-able with a baseball bat than striking out. Look for yourself.
There are 81 qualified hitters that have posted BB/K ratios below 0.40 dating back to 2009. This signifies that 81 players have struck out, on average, at a ratio greater than 2.5-to-1 over this time. Of those 81 players, let's take a look at the Top-6 as derived from OPS.
Despite 'trending' towards a declining K/BB ratio, Morse has been able to reach base with some of the top contributors in the Major Leagues. More impressive still, Morse finds himself again among the top of league when weighed against all players, ranking 23rd overall in BABIP and 30th in wOBA dating back to 2009. Both being statistics that whole heartily embrace strikeouts in weighing the value of an individual against their peers. Regardless of the criteria, Morse's name consistently surfaces among current Major League hitters who have recorded considerable success at the plate.
In terms of contractual obligations, Morse is slated to earn $6.75 million for the 2013 season. Just one season removed from finishing 19th in the National League Most Valuable Player voting, his bat certainly can earn a paycheck.
Prior to news of Morse being moved to Seattle, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported the New York Yankees to be among the teams interested in acquiring his bat for the 2013 season. Citing his guaranteed salary in comparison to the potential for production to be a driving factor in competition for the veteran slugger's services.
It's been a long road for the right handed slugger. Drafted in 2000, he became a Major League starter just three seasons ago (2010) in his 11th professional season. Sound familiar?
Fellow Seattle Mariners teammate Raul Ibanez, also returning to the club in 2013, spent 10 professional seasons in baseball before catching on with the Kansas City Royals in 2001. Down the road Morse and Ibanez would serve as teammates in Seattle of all places, from 2005-2008.
It was in this time that Morse studied the veteran journeyman, embracing the path Ibanez took to the Major Leagues. Knowing it could quickly become his own. Morse took the field in just 107 games over his first four Major League seasons, imparting few aspects of his game that have now made him successful in the Major Leagues.
"I respect him so much," Morse said. "I have a lot of older friends that spent a lot of time in the game, but no one's career has gone the long path like mine is, and Raul's has". Asked of his status as 'a late bloomer' in 2011, Morse said, "I didn't get an opportunity when I was younger. But I feel like everything happens for a reason, and what happened made me the person I am today."
The wisdom that Ibanez passed down to Morse so long ago, in part passed down to him by Stan Javier, "Take care of what you can control. That's your preparation, your focus, your attitude and your approach. Everything else is out of your hands. Take care of that, and you're going to sleep better at night".
Ibanez would cite his 'pay it forward' approach to baseball in conversing with Morse, saying, "Sometimes you try to give guys what other guys have given you. And sometimes you try to not give guys what other guys have given to you."
His words certainly had an effect on Morse.
Amid struggling to earn a steady roster spot in 2008, Morse would say, "As long as I see Raul suit up and he has a smile on his face, I know it can happen to me."
Now on his way to a successful Major League career of his own, Morse is excited to return to the organization he debuted with 13 long years ago. Addressing his most recent trade to Seattle, Morse said, "I always felt I had unfinished business in Seattle. I never got to prove myself completely or be the player I could be or who I am."
Morse will be 31-years-old when the 2013 season gets underway. Now it is his turn to 'pay it forward', alongside Ibanez, as both look to impart wisdom on this young Seattle Mariners organization.
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