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Logan Morrison: elite hitter

Once a solid platoon option at first, Morrison has joined the fly ball revolution.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Minnesota Twins Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Once the 666th pick in the 2005 MLB Draft by the Florida Marlins, first baseman Logan Morrison has broken out twelve years later. Sure, he’s had a successful MLB career considering his draft position, but Morrison has elevated his game to elite levels this season with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Until this point, Morrison has served as a solid left-handed platoon option at first for all three teams for which he has played. But, Tampa Bay has given him starts in 43 of their 53 games this season, including in 23 of 25 games in May. And, all Morrison has done is produce.

The 29-year-old has 197 plate appearances this year, and he’s slashing .251/.350/.557 with 14 home runs and 35 RBIs. His 141 wRC+ would be the best of his career. It ranks 22nd in the Majors among qualified hitters. On top of that, he’s already been worth more fWAR this season (1.5) than in any other full year to date.

On Sunday, Morrison hit a monster home run in the 15th inning to provide insurance:

That home run, which went 437 feet, was Morrison’s 17th barreled baseball of the season, tying him for the 17th-most in the Major Leagues, alongside noted sluggers such as Joey Gallo and Adam Duvall.

It’s not hard to see that the 2017 version of Logan Morrison is different, but what changes can we pinpoint?

Fly ball rate

Morrison is hitting more fly balls. In fact, his 46 percent fly ball rate ranks 10th in the Major Leagues. Check out how his fly ball rate has changed over time:

Logan Morrison, batted ball tendencies

Season FB% LD% GB%
Season FB% LD% GB%
2017 46.0% 16.1% 37.9%
2016 34.7% 21.1% 44.2%
2015 39.0% 16.3% 44.7%
2014 36.5% 23.8% 39.7%
2013 32.1% 20.3% 47.7%
2012 40.6% 18.4% 41.0%
2011 34.6% 18.0% 47.4%
2010 32.1% 19.7% 48.2%
Data via FanGraphs

Morrison has joined the fly ball revolution. His ground ball rate, which always used to hover around the league average of 44 percent, has dropped significantly as it is now below 38 percent. Because he is hitting more fly balls, Morrison’s isolated power of .305 is almost double his career-average and puts him on a 42 home run pace (600 PA).

Morrison’s increased fly ball rate comes as a result of a higher launch angle. According to Statcast data from Baseball Savant, the majority of Morrison’s hits this season have come at a launch angle between 20 and 30 degrees. This is a stark difference from his 2015 and 2016 numbers when Morrison’s mode launch angle hovered between 10 and 20 degrees.

Sure, many of those balls may be catchable—explaining Morrison’s career-low .255 BABIP—but he has proven to the league that he has enough power to compensate for any potential added outs. Plus, Morrison has added something else to his game which can also mask a low .251 batting average: plate discipline.

Walk rate

Morrison has never been elite at taking walks; his career-average walk rate of 10.1 percent would put him about 25 percent (not percentage points) above the league average mark of 8.0 percent. That’s good, but it is not good enough for a player that wants to focus on only hitting fly balls. Morrison probably realized that, because he has a 13.2 percent walk rate in 2017, a good 65 percent above the league average and 27th among the 178 qualified hitters.

Logan Morrison, plate discipline

Season BB% K%
Season BB% K%
2017 13.2% 23.4%
2016 9.3% 22.4%
2015 9.2% 15.9%
2014 6.6% 16.2%
2013 11.4% 16.8%
2012 9.3% 17.4%
2011 10.3% 18.9%
2010 14.3% 17.8%

Morrison’s walk rate isn’t the highest of his career, in fact, he reached via a walk in more plate appearances in 2010. But, he remains a much better hitter than he was then, and it boils down to one thing: power. In 2010, Morrison homered just twice in his first 287 big league plate appearances. But, this year, in 90 fewer plate appearances, Morrison has 12 more homers and an isolated power that is 141 points higher. Having good plate discipline can get you a long way in Major League Baseball, but one must have other tools to back it up in order to produce excellent results. That’s why Morrison’s wRC+ is also 12 points higher.

There is one interesting thing about this chart, though. Morrison’s strikeout rate has also skyrocketed over the past few years and is now the highest of his career. Morrison has actually dropped his swing rate over the past five years. He is likely looking at more pitches—leading to more strikeouts—while also allowing him to select out pitches inside the zone that he is able to square up.

Logan Morrison, swing and contact tendencies

Season O-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Swing% Z-Contact%
Season O-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Swing% Z-Contact%
2017 26.4% 62.6% 68.4% 85.5%
2016 29.3% 60.6% 71.4% 86.7%
2015 30.0% 68.0% 71.4% 89.4%
2014 30.6% 69.4% 69.5% 91.4%
2013 27.7% 69.4% 69.4% 91.6%
2012 22.8% 70.7% 58.2% 90.8%
2011 25.2% 70.6% 58.5% 89.2%
2010 19.9% 65.7% 58.6% 89.2%
Data via FanGraphs

The data supports the idea that Morrison is swinging at the fewest pitches inside and outside of the strike zone since 2012, yet he still is striking out at his highest rate to date. Morrison’s selectivity (and the lack of a fear of striking out) allows him to walk more and find pitches inside the strike zone that he can drive.

How did he make these changes?

This is the hard question to answer. Morrison is obviously doing something different this year that is helping him succeed, but what is it?

First, I thought it was possible that Morrison added weight over the offseason. A quick google search told me that Morrison weighs in around 245 pounds, which, to be honest, was more that I thought he weighed. But, finding out if this weight was different from past seasons was hard. I actually had to find a baseball card from his rookie year that said he weighed in at 235. So, yes, there’s a 10 pound difference there, but when did it happen? If it happened last offseason, we may be on to something.

His 2016 card says he weighed-in at 240, and his 2015 card says that he weighed-in at 245. So, it looks as if Morrison’s weight has fluctuated between 235 and 245 throughout his career, with no huge gains this season leading to his power surge.

So, what about his swing? Could a swing change be leading to these types of results?

Here’s the earlier home run swing against the Twins:

Now, here’s a home run swing from last year against Minnesota as well:

It looks to me as if Morrison keeps his bat head in the “hitting zone” for a longer amount of time this season versus last season. He has a more uppercut-heavy swing—which is a new trend among hitters—leading to this higher launch angle.

And, how can I explain his better plate discipline? That’s likely just from time in the batting cage, where Morrison can determine which pitches are the best for him to hit. Typically hitters’ plate discipline improves with age and Morrison is a 12-year veteran.

The Tampa Bay Rays have a new power hitter on their hands on a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Logan Morrison has joined the fly ball, high-walk revolution, and he has greatly benefited.

Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.