Mike Morse stating his case for starting left field job

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Many argued that Mike Morse deserved a larger role with the Nationals after he batted .289/.352/.519 with 15 homers in 266 at-bats as a part-time player last season, but he came into camp without a clear path to playing time following the offseason additions of Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Rick Ankiel.

Let’s just say he’s trying to force his way into the lineup.

Including a two-run homer off A.J. Burnett earlier this afternoon, Morse is batting .481 (13-for-27) with five home runs, two doubles and nine RBI this spring.

It’s tough to put too much emphasis on spring training statistics, but Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told Ben Goessling of MASNSports.com this morning that Morse has already made an impression.

“He’s gotten an opportunity, and he’s taken the bull by the horns,” Rizzo said. “If opening day was tomorrow, he certainly would be our opening day left fielder.”

Of course, the right-handed hitting Morse is no lock to be a productive everyday player. Though he batted .287 against right-handed pitching last season, an encouraging sign in limited duty, the 28-year-old has never received more than total 300 plate appearances in a single season in the majors. He’s also a below-average defender in the outfield.

Assuming the Nationals let Morse sink or swim in left field — and really, they might as well see what they have here — that would mean Ankiel and/or Roger Bernadina would have to wrestle the center field job away from Nyjer Morgan.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.