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Kendrys Morales has hit into rotten luck

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The 35-year-old designated hitter is having his worst year since 2014, but he’s not finished yet.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Kendrys Morales is having a down year. His wRC+ of 90 would be the second-worst of his career since becoming a full-time player and his worst since 2014. This is coming off another down year in which he posted a 97 wRC+ and was worth -0.6 fWAR. What do you expect from a 35-year-old DH? Time is simply taking its toll. We’ve seen this thousands of times. Morales should feel fortunate that he made it to the big leagues and was an average player for a decade before crumbling into dust. The Blue Jays should have seen this coming.

At least, that’s what the narrative appears to be at first glance. Looking at his batted balls, however, Morales doesn’t seem to be deteriorating. If anything, he’s been better. He’s hitting the ball harder than ever. The results just haven’t been there.

Fangraphs

Over his career, Morales’ hard-hit percentage has tracked really well with his wOBA. For the first four years of his career, it matched almost perfectly. In every year except 2016, his wOBA went up if his hard-hit rate went up and vice versa. In 2018, those two numbers have split more drastically than ever before.

Among batters with at least 200 plate appearances, Morales has the greatest negative differential between his wOBA and xwOBA at -.079. Of course, take xwOBA numbers with a grain of salt. That number alone doesn’t necessarily mean that Morales will end the season with a wOBA of .383. xwOBA’s predictive powers are slight, but it does indicate that Morales was unlucky.

Morales ranks ninth in average exit velocity among hitters with at least 100 batted balls ahead of Giancarlo Stanton and Mookie Betts. Of the ten batters at the top of the average exit velocity leaderboards, only Morales and Joey Gallo are below average by wRC+ and wOBA, and Gallo strikes out over a third of the time. Only Morales is below replacement.

Incredibly, Morales doesn’t own the lowest BABIP of those hitters. His BABIP of .271 is low, but not shockingly so. Morales is slow, and he’s not beating out infield hits anymore. But when a hitter is hitting the ball as hard as Morales is, they shouldn’t worry about being able to beat out a squib.

His ground ball, fly ball, and line drive rates are the same as they’ve ever been. It’s not as if he’s been hitting the ball hard but only on the ground. His HR/FB rate of 15% is about five points lower than it was at his peak, so that might have something to do with it.

Morales has always been a better home run hitter from the left side. Over three-quarters of his 199 home runs have come as a left-handed hitter. Of course, he’s had more plate appearances as a left-hander, but his HR/FB rate is four points higher against righties.

This year, the split has been more pronounced in a much smaller sample. Only one of his nine home runs this year has he hit from the right side of the plate. Until this year, he’s never been a bad hitter relative to overall performance from the right side. As recently as last year, he had a 165 wRC+ as a right-handed hitter.

This year, he’s been much worse as a righty, he’s hitting .222/.289/.333 good for a .217 wOBA and a 69 wRC+. As a lefty, he’s been just about average. He’s hitting .246/.310/.458 with a .321 wOBA and a 102 wRC+.

But it’s not as if he hits the ball any differently as a righty. His hard-hit rate from the right side is still 42%. He’s hitting fewer line drives from the right side, but he’s hitting the same amount of grounders and fly balls. His strikeout-to-walk ratio from the right side is better, too.

This is almost certainly small-sample shenanigans. If he keeps hitting the way he does, he shouldn’t just finish the season as an average hitter, but a good hitter. But with any player that’s being adversely affected by luck, there’s generally something that can be done to accelerate the regression. In Morale’s case, he perhaps stand to be more aggressive at the plate.

His z-swing% is down eight points from his career average. It’s his lowest z-swing rate of his career. He’s making quality contact, so it would make sense to get the bat on the ball more often.

Here’s his zone profile based on swing rate for 2018:

Brooks Baseball

Here’s his swing rate profile for his career:

Brooks Baseball

He’s letting middle-middle pitches go even though he destroys those pitches. He could help his cause by being more aggressive on pitches in the strike zone. His batted-ball luck can, and probably will, stabilize on its own, but he can hurry things along by being less patient.