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Your Kendrys Morales Optimism

Or, how the Seattle Mariners could have turned a year of Jason Vargas into a year of an AL MVP candidate. Let your imagination soar!


The other day, the Seattle Mariners traded presumably one year of Jason Vargas for presumably one year of Kendrys Morales. Maybe less than one year, if the Mariners are bad and Morales is good. While I think the effect the changing Safeco dimensions could've had on Vargas has been overstated, the fact of the matter is that it'll be easier for the Mariners to find a guy like Vargas than for them to find a guy like Morales. Morales is a good hitter, and have you seen the Seattle Mariners before? You have to feel a little bad for Morales but the Mariners didn't have a choice but to trap a guy in this way.

We being the reasonable sort, we understand Vargas' strengths, and Morales' limitations. We understand that, on paper, this is more or less a lateral move in the immediate. We also being the human sort, and this being the offseason, it doesn't take much in the way of mental gymnastics to arrive at the following: the Mariners might have turned one year of Vargas into one year of an American League MVP candidate. Join me as I guide you along your own thought process.

We begin at Vargas for Morales, straight up. Fair trade. Angels get a guy they want for a guy they don't need, Mariners get a guy they want for a guy they kind of need but can replace. Morales came back from a nasty, long-term injury and was an above-average hitter in a difficult ballpark. Morales doesn't look like a superstar, but you don't get superstars for Jason Vargas, and you probably don't even get ZOOperstars for Jason Vargas. I don't know if such a trade has ever been proposed. I probably do know that actually.

Then you notice Morales' 2012 batting splits, based on favorably selected arbitrary endpoints. On July 30, Morales went 2-for-5 with a pair of dingers and six RBI. Before then, he had a .714 OPS. From then on, he had an .896 OPS, over more than 200 plate appearances, with an average BABIP. All things being equal, you'd rather get a guy who started slow and finished strong than a guy who started strong and finished slow. Previous analyses have shown that this doesn't actually make much of a difference, but it isn't hard to convince yourself it might be meaningful. Especially if there's an explanation.

And it sure seems like there's an explanation for Morales. Morales got hurt, remember? He got hurt because of the Mariners and because of his own hubris. He didn't play at all in 2011. Here's something he said about 2012:

"Last year, in terms of my start and finish, it was obviously part of the recovery," Morales said through interpreter Luis Garcia in a conference call from his home in Miami. "I didn't feel 100 percent, but as the year wore on, I was able to build and have a stronger base, especially in that left foot. Now I'm at the point where I can work during the offseason and continue improvement from the latter half of last season to be ready for the upcoming year."

A lot of players feel like they start to wear down over the course of a year. Morales started to feel stronger as he put more distance between himself and his injury. As he developed "a stronger base", he started to hit for a lot more power. Based on those arbitrary-endpoint splits, there's not much of a difference in terms of batting average or OBP. It's pretty much all extra-base hits. Intuitively, you can see how a stronger base might lead to more pop, and you can see how Morales might have developed a stronger base with the passage of time. Injuries need to recover. Especially injuries like his.

An .896 OPS. In 2009, Morales peaked with a .924 OPS, and in 2009 the American League average OPS was 33 points higher than it was in 2012. So, basically, down the stretch in 2012, Kendrys Morales was the guy he was in 2009. For a couple hundred plate appearances, and then some. Now Morales will actually get to work out over the offseason, and improve his conditioning, so he should hit the ground running in 2013 when he debuts as a Mariner.

What was Kendrys Morales in 2009? The AL's fifth-place finisher in the MVP voting, between Miguel Cabrera and Kevin Youkilis. He didn't get any first-place votes, but only two players got first-place votes, and one of them got one of them. Morales mashed 34 dingers and drove home 108 runs while batting over .300. By WAR, he didn't belong so high up there, but as we've established, MVP voting isn't just a WAR leaderboard in descending order. Morales' Triple Crown stats were attractive, sexually.

Kendrys Morales, in 2009, was technically an AL MVP candidate. Morales, down the stretch in 2012, performed like he did in 2009. There exists a potential explanation for why, and if you buy into it, you might think that Morales could perform at a similar level in 2013. Thus, Morales could again be an AL MVP candidate, that the Mariners acquired in exchange for two thighs and a sweaty teal t-shirt.

That makes it seem too good to be true, and when something seems that way, you like it as a transaction. Of course, this is all fairly unreasonable, cloaked in what feels like the comfort of logic. If the Angels strongly felt like Morales was back to his old self, they probably would've held out for more than Jason Vargas. You can't justifiably slice numbers up with arbitrary endpoints, and we can't ignore how Morales started. We can't ignore that, when he played in 2010, Morales was worse than he was in 2009, and that matters. There will always be hot streaks, and we can't evaluate players by their hot streaks, if we want to end up not being disappointed by them like all the time.

But Morales' injury and recovery allow us to get carried away. This is the silly season, where Kendrys Morales might be an MVP candidate, where Jason Bay might not suck a lot, where Jeremy Bonderman might actually stay healthy and throw pitches in a Mariners uniform. It's always unwise to evaluate players by their upside, but there's almost always a reason to think that might not be what you're doing. What isn't logical can often be laid out in a way that makes it seem like it's logical. These are the Mariners, and this is the offseason. This is the season where we can convince ourselves to believe in the Mariners.