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Where Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak are clearly different

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Otto Greule Jr

As Mariner fans, we're wary of patterns. We're willing to be sucked in when the situation calls for it—just as we have countless times before—but as we dance across the street with barely-tempered joy, we still have our eyes out for the bus careening right at us.

One of the latest storylines in this area was the strong second-half surge from Logan Morrison. It's always been clear there's been some talent in there, as he did put up that 129 wRC+ in 62 games as a rookie in 2010, that after being one of Baseball America's top 20 prospects that year and the year before.

But again, those patterns. We've seen this whole story before, right up to hoping that a busted prospect would turn things around on the back of a second-half surge.

We're talking, of course, about our old friend Justin Smoak—he of the career 137 wRC+ in September. So while that looks familiar, so does the larger sample, as Jeff noted first on Twitter and then on USSM at the end of the season. The numbers have actually changed slightly since that mention, over the last few games of the Mariners' season, and 2014 Logan Morrison finished up at a 110 wRC+—a single point short of 2013 Justin Smoak.

Still, we cling to what's there, what's most recent, which is that finish from Morrison. It feels a little different in the heart of a playoff race, when a guy has a handful of knocks he'd call "the biggest hit of his career." It also feels different when the hot stretch is better, and longer.

From August 1st to the end of the season, Logan Morrison posted a 157 wRC+. For a frame of reference, though not substance, a 157 wRC+ over the whole year would rank seventh in baseball, just behind Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Bautista's 159. It, of course, doesn't work like that. I mean, just ask Justin Smoak, who's posted 137 and 132 wRC+s from August 1st to the end of the season before—though those came in 2011 and 2012, during which he missed half and most of August respectively thanks to time in Tacoma.

We can handpick samples all day though, and hope that in the end they mean something. In the end, we're looking for a certifiable difference, where's the red flag—but a good one? I don't know if this is that, nor if it means something (let alone something new) but I figure there's enough people who haven't seen it before to share it here again.

Logan Morrison, for those who don't know, is just stronger than Justin Smoak. At first base, you need some thump—and that's why Morrison will get his crack at redemption while Smoak will likely head off to another organization to be Casey Kotchman.

On that thump, let's a look at some statistics on Smoak and Morrison's career home runs. I use home runs because that's the only area where we have any statistics resembling hit f/x, these coming courtesy of the ESPN Home Run Tracker.

In total, Smoak has 74 home runs in 2218 PAs, and Morrison has 53 in 1844. Here are the career averages on launch angle, velocity off the bat and what the site calls "Standard Distance," which is "estimated distance in feet the home run would have traveled if it flew uninterrupted all the way down to field level, and if the home run had been hit with no wind, in 70 degree air at sea level."

Launch Angle Velocity Standard Distance
Justin Smoak 27.95 103.43 391.36
Logan Morrison 27.28 104.85 402.71

Launch angle? Almost nothing. Velocity? Maybe there's something here. Distance? Yeah, that's a pretty significant gap.

To be quite honest, I'm not sure where exactly this extra comes from given the lack in major variance on the previous two measurables—especially with Smoak having a slightly better launch angle. Maybe the math people here will say an extra 1.4mph is significant enough, but it's hard to say. Either way, it's impossible to avoid—LoMo's hitting his home runs farther. I've tried to squash this, find a way around it given the similarities in other measurables, but still it remains.

What about "True Distance," without the site's attempts to remove wind and temperature?

  • Smoak: 393.64 ft.
  • LoMo: 404.67 ft.
What about when you just remove Safeco, a cavernous park with effects that are still largely unquantifiable?
  • Smoak: 394.02 ft.
  • LoMo: 404.48 ft.
Well, what if you remove the Marlins new large park, where there are no cheap home runs and anything that goes over the fence and be captured here is bound to have some distance?
  • Smoak: still 391.36 ft.
  • LoMo: 406.45 ft.
Hm, well let's look only recently. What if you just look at each player's last mostly-full season?
  • Smoak, 2013: 382.25
  • LoMo, 2014: 394.45

I did the LoMo measurement first, and was initially thinking "Oh no..." but man, Justin Smoak—what the hell?

Even without Smoak though, you can see a bit of a slip on Morrison's part.

One can also look at the distance data we have available on balls that were in play. That comes courtesy of Baseball Heat Maps, which combines the ESPN Home Run Tracker Data with what's pulled off of MLB Gameday. It isn't hit f/x, just the closes thing we have.

In looking at the same split, here's how Smoak and LoMo measured up on all home runs, flies and liners traveling at least 100 feet:

  • Smoak, 2013: 272.77 ft
  • LoMo, 2014: 263.72 ft

It's...something. Honestly, I don't know what to make of it, but it's something I checked so it's something I'm sharing. For what it's worth, and this is something Andrew noted when I put this out on Twitter, Seager was at 260.45 ft. in 2014 and Zunino was at 271.73. Maybe it's something, but there's not much you can say definitively.

So I go back to home run distance, where the data we have is considerably better. In his career, seven of Smoak's 74 home runs exceeded 420 ft—that's about 9.4 percent. For Morrison, it's 14 of his 53 for 26 percent.

It's true that all home runs that go over the fence count the same, but you can see how this might come into play—and it's been evident to the naked eye that Morrison brings a skill into play that Smoak just doesn't have.

To sum it up, I'll leave you with this: while Logan Morrison did have an absolutely mammoth 467-foot bomb in Miami, his hardest hit home run, by velocity off the bat, actually came this year with the Mariners—off of James Shields:

That long home run in Miami is the second-hardest, but the third-hardest also came with Seattle:

In all likelihood, this is a skill that isn't going away. Of course, there's more to offense than hitting supah' fah' dingahs, but it helps. In the end, there's a chance—and not an insignificant one—that Logan Morrison ends up having as much success here in Seattle as Justin Smoak did. But even if he does, he's going to take a different route to getting there.

Still, he hasn't taken it yet. And there's reason to believe he won't. We all have hope for Logan Morrison, 2015 Seattle Mariners starting first baseman right now—and there's really no reason why you shouldn't.