Outliers are fun. Outliers in baseball are very fun. They represent everything that sometimes doesn’t make sense in this silly/stupid/wonderful sport. With all of the advanced tracking and stat-keeping introduced throughout the years, finding outliers has been easier than ever, and all you have to do is just look in the right places.
For example: everyone loves Willians Astudillo, for a multitude of reasons. He doesn’t fit the status quo description of what a baseball player, or any athlete, looks like. He plays all over the field, ranging from catcher, to the middle infield, to all three outfield positions. He is also... well, a statistical oddity. From his appearance to performance, he stands out, and that’s what makes him so fun to watch. A piece from Jeff Sullivan over at FanGraphs from last season on this matter I think describes it best...
“When you do this as a full-time job, you spend a lot of time looking at the numbers. And when you spend a lot of time looking at the numbers, you start to notice certain outliers. Then you start to root for certain outliers. It’s hard to be a fan of a team, when you’re supposed to write about everyone objectively. So you settle on other interests.”
The outliers in Astudillo’s performance mostly had to do with his abnormal rate of putting the ball in play. He found success in a way that didn’t really fit the modern form of today’s game. He took quantity of contact over quality of contact.
Down in the minors this season, a player has stood out for doing the opposite of what Astudillo was doing—the anti-Astudillo, if you will. Gareth Morgan, an outfielder currently playing with the Angels Double-A affiliate, is putting up some eye-popping numbers. A 2014 second round pick and former Mariners prospect (he was released about two weeks into the 2019 season), Morgan has always stood out. Originally from Canada, his performance from season-to-season wavered. He stands with an athletic build of six-foot-four and 265 pounds, part of the reason he was once a formidable prospect.
“Morgan was a Canadian high school product that was watched closely on the high school showcase circuit for years before the M’s gave him a well-over-slot $2 million in the 2nd round last summer. Morgan checks all the boxes physically with a musculara 6’4/220 frame, a low-effort smooth cut, 65 raw power and an above average arm that fits in right field. He’s also a fringy runner underway and he’s played some center field in pro ball, but that won’t happen many more times.”
Being released by the Mariners this season after a slow start in High-A (22 wRC+ in 32 plate appearances), it looked like Morgan’s run in professional baseball was coming close to an end. This doesn’t even mention his career OPS’s of .589, .742, and .636 at the levels of Rookie, Low-A, and High-A heading into this season, while playing an offense-oriented position. Luckily for him though, the Angels saw enough in him to give him a second opportunity, signing him to a minor league deal and placing him with their High-A affiliate.
To understand the oddities in Morgan’s style of play, it’ll probably be best described by this: of 1,446 players with at least 200 plate appearances in the minors this year, only two have a higher strikeout-rate than Morgan’s of 49.6 percent. The two higher than him (Sean Reynolds, Collin Theroux) have wRC+’s of 91 and 88. The two right behind him (Chase Vallot, Darling Florentino) are at 103 and 67. Morgan’s wRC+ currently stands at 141. Looking at batting average, the two in front of him are at .181 and .195, the two behind him are at .186 and .199. Morgan’s batting average is .266.
Ever since coming to the Angels organization, Morgan has been on a tear at the plate. His wRC+ with the Angels High-A affiliate was 161 was enough to earn him a promotion to Double-A. Thought the low contact-rate would come back and bite him at a higher level? Nope, not yet at least. Through 30 plate appearances in Double-A his wRC+ is at 140.
If you’re well-versed in underlying baseball statistics, you could probably come to your own conclusions on how this could be possible: make the most of every ball you put into play. Morgan has done exactly that. His BABIP for the season currently sits at .461 (reminder that he isn’t necessarily a speed guy too) and his HR/FB-rate is currently at 47.8 percent. Of the 1,446 players I mentioned above, he ranks fourth and first in those respective metrics, with the latter being by a considerable margin.
Comparing strikeout and walk-rates with offensive production, there seems to be a more than decent correlation with the two. Spoiler alert: Gareth Morgan does not care.
As I mentioned, Morgan’s offensive success almost solely comes from extreme numbers in the BABIP and HR/FB-rate departments. Just look at high much of an outlier he was here in High-A this season.
The question of how much Gareth Morgan’s offensive profile will play at higher levels remains unanswered. Logic would suggest that his strikeout-rate will not fly at the major league level. Either way, this rare style of play needs to be appreciated.