Right now, as David discussed earlier, there’s talk that the Rays could acquire Washington Nationals outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse, and it could happen soon. But if history means anything, the chances of a trade for Morse working out well for the Rays or whichever team acquires him are not very high.
Basically all of Morse’s trade value stems from his outstanding 2011 season. That year, Morse was downright incredible, managing a .303/.360/.550 line (147 OPS+) with 36 doubles, 31 homers, and 95 RBI in 146 games and 575 plate appearances. That was Morse’s first full year in the big leagues at age 29, and he was unable to follow it up strongly in 2012, missing until June with a shoulder strain and winding up posting just a .291/.321/.470 line (112 OPS+) with 18 homers and 62 RBI in 102 games and 430 plate appearances. That’s not that bad, but considering Morse is sub-par defender both in left field and first base (and by the way, he doesn’t want to DH) and he has just one year left on his contract at 6.75 million dollars, his trade value really is not that high. But injury concerns and a lack of ability beyond his back are not the only things teams should consider before they acquire Morse.
Even as Morse hit 31 home runs in 2011, his strikeout to walk ratio was just 126 to 36 (3.5 to 1). In 2012, he was even worse, coming in at just 97-16 (6.1 to 1). Morse may have great power, but his plate discipline is non-existent ant that puts his ability to be a consistent hitter in the major leagues in serious question even if injury concerns weren’t a factor. In the history of baseball, just 35 times has a player hit 30 or more home runs with 120 or more strikeouts and 40 or less walks. Taking out the three players who accomplished the feat in 2012 (Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones), two players who did it in the year before strike seasons, and one who retired the next year, we’re left with 29 season ranging from Wally Post‘s 1956 to Morse’s 2011. Of the players who performed those seasons, 22 of 29 declined in home runs the next season, with the mean decline being 6.1 home runs and the median being 8 homers. That’s not so surprising- it’s awfully hard to hit 30 home runs in the major leagues to begin with. But you wouldn’t expect it to be as statistically significant as this: performing a t-test comparing the home runs the players hit during that season to the amount they hit the next year, the probability that the two lists have the same true mean and any difference between the two lists is just chance variation is just .001. In every possible sample of this sample size, a result as extreme as this would occur only .1% of the time. Hitting 30 home runs with poor plate discipline but still a propensity or striking out is an extremely difficult task. The 35 total seasons have been done by 24 different players. Just seven players- Alfonso Soriano, Tony Armas, Dave Kingman, Andres Galarraga, Sammy Sosa, Matt Williams, and Dick Stuart- have done it more than once. They’re the outliers. Everyone else either developed some plate discipline and was able to sustain their power or never hit for power consistently their entire careers. 8 of the 17 players never hit 30 home runs the rest of their career and 3 more only did it one other time.
What about overall performance? When testing by OPS, the p-value is .083, meaning we can only be a little over 91% sure that the result didn’t happen by chance variation, which is nice but not anywhere near the same level of confidence we had before. 17 of 29 experienced a decrease in OPS the next season, barely over half. However, 22 of the 35 seasons came from players 27 or younger and the reason they were able to continue as productive big league players was improved plate discipline. If his plate discipline never improves- and at 31 years old, there’s no reason to think it will- and his power output continues to decrease, Morse is a below-average major league player with injury issues. There’s a chance that Morse can prove himself healthy and make himself into an Alfonso Soriano type of player who defies the odds and continues to hit for 30-homer power even with strikeout to walk ratios that make you wince. However, is it really worth it to risk a solid prospect or lefty reliever and 6.75 million dollars on a player with as many issues with his game as Morse has? If the Rays want a power-hitting outfielder with plate discipline issues, the player they should acquire is Soriano himself- at least he has proven himself as being able to hit for power consistently and is a solid defender in left field. There’s still a chance that Morse comes through with another good year in 2013, but the risk is too high and the Rays’ best move is to pass.