In a season where just about everything Brian Cashman has touched as turned to gold, King Midas hasn’t quite extended his work to the bat of Kendrys Morales.
The designated hitter and still occasional first baseman was brought to the Bronx on a flier after poor results in Oakland (A .569 OPS with one home run in 126 PAs) over a 34-game sample. In the midst of his age-36 season, there was reason to believe he was done.
However, in each of the past four years, Morales had produced average or above-average production at the plate. Of course, he gives back some of that production by being either a poor fielder or by clogging the DH spot. Still, three of four years, he had a 110 OPS+ or better.
And then you look at his Statcast data. Though he had often underperformed his exit velocities, he was still posting elite numbers with an average exit velo above 91 mph with a hard-hit rate just under 50 percent. That’s fantastic and more than enough reason to try out a hitter when your roster is looking for a small power infusion if, say, your top home run hitters are all injured. You know, the Yankees.
Folks, I put out some tremendously awful content on my Twitter account — It’s Twitter, after all — but the Morales acquisition and his strong underlying numbers got me excited enough to tweet out this:
Kendrys Morales is gonna rake in pinstripes. Fav this.— Blog Game Marcus Smart (@StevenTydings) May 15, 2019
That has been easily wrong. By the time you read this, Morales may already have been designated for assignment. If not, he’s likely not too far away from that fate.
Outside of a home run in his second start in pinstripes, Morales’ Yankee tenure has gone about as poorly as possible. The switch-hitter has put together a .157/.317/.216 batting line over 16 games. The homer is his only extra-base hit.
What gives? Morales still has a strong average exit velocity at 91.6 mph. His expected batting average, according to Statcast, is .274 and his xWOBA (or expected weighted on-base average) is .372. Instead, his actual wOBA is .266, in the bottom eight percent of baseball.
There are three reasons why Morales, who traditionally underperforms his xWOBA, has taken that to a new level of struggles this season.
The first is luck, good ole boring luck. It’s only been 15 games with the Yankees and 49 this season, so there’s always a chance this is a case of small sample size fun.
Next is Morales’ speed. At 23.4 ft/s, Morales is the slowest runner on the roster and one of the seven slowest in baseball. That means fewer (or, in his case, no) infield hits and a chance for infielders to play way back.
However, the main culprit is likely his inflated groundball rate. Morales has the 10th highest groundball rate in baseball at 54.5 percent, just behind speedsters Leury Garcia and Kevin Kiermaier.
That’s counterintuitive for Morales. He’s made a name as a slugger through and through, yet he continually is hitting the ball on the ground. Even his grounders are hard hit, they’re often into an extreme shift with fielders camped in short right field. Heck, on a line drive single against Boston, Mookie Betts nearly tried to throw him out at first.
Morales has always hit more groundballs than flyballs, but this year has been more extreme, hitting one ground ball per fly ball, all while posting his lowest line-drive rate since 2008. With the Yankees, it’s been nearly a 4:1 GB/FB ratio.
The good news with Morales has been his tremendous eye. He’s walked more often than he’s struck out this season. However, he’d be better off adding some more swing and miss in his game in order to hit the ball with authority in the air.
The Yankees likely hoped they’d get a home run binge from Morales like he produced last season. However, it hasn’t happened yet and he’s nearly out of time. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are on the horizon while Didi Gregorius is set to be activated on Friday and, with five infielders for four spots, there will be fewer DH days available. In fact, Morales could be the 25- and 40-man roster casualty to bring back Gregorius.
At this point, I’ve lost most hope for Morales to break out in the Bronx. At nearly 36 years old, he’s not likely to have a sudden improvement and even average hitting won’t make up for his lack of a glove on a roster with just 12 position players. Not every Cashman move can work perfectly.