You Are Going To Like Michael Morse
The Mariners, at this writing, have played four games of the 2013 regular season, and they’ve gone more or less as expected. Felix pitched well, Iwakuma pitched well, Saunders and Maurer pitched less well, and the offense mashed some dingers. Thursday afternoon, the M’s dropped to 2-2 after starting out 2-0, but there’s little shame in splitting a road series against the defending division champs. Now then, this isn’t actually about the Mariners, but rather one particular Mariner, a new one and also an old one. I work for FanGraphs, and I love it, and FanGraphs has live-updating leaderboards. Which means their leaderboards have already taken into account Thursday’s action. I’m looking at the leaderboards, and what I’m seeing is that Michael Morse has already topped his 2010 WAR, and his 2012 WAR. Michael Morse has played four games.
Granted, the present WAR doesn’t yet include UZR, because it hasn’t even been a week, but because it hasn’t even been a week UZR isn’t going to say anything. And granted, in 2010 Morse wasn’t that valuable, and in 2012 he wasn’t that valuable either, at least by this measure. But Morse has made one hell of an impression, standing with a league-leading four dingers. The Mariners acquired Morse because they liked the idea of having his power, and it took one series for Morse to demonstrate all of which he is capable.
Because we’re Mariners fans on the more analytical part of the internet, precious few of us loved the trade that sent John Jaso away. Many of us loved John Jaso, and his position and his team control, and Morse is a one-year guy with dingers and only more dingers. But in fairness, when that deal went down, we knew only what it was like to watch a good John Jaso. We didn’t know what it was like to watch a good Michael Morse, and we’ve been given a glimpse in the season’s first week. We weren’t perfectly objective at the time and we’re not perfectly objective now, but safe to say Morse is going to win himself fans.
Morse will forever be associated with the trade, at least until or unless something else happens, but that’s not his fault, so that shouldn’t be used as a reason not to like him. If you absolutely hated the trade, that’s a mark against the front office. It’s not a mark against the guy the front office acquired, since he had nothing to do with the negotiations. Morse should be allowed to make his own impression, and he’s got a lot of the elements necessary to become a fan favorite.
It should be noted at this point that Munenori Kawasaki was something of a fan favorite, so sometimes fans don’t pick the best players. But baseball is simply entertainment and people like who they like. You know what scores points? Dingers. Morse has four. He drilled a low-outside fastball out to right field. He lined an inside fastball off the plate out to left field. He clobbered two inner-half fastballs out to straightaway center. Oakland’s is not a hitter-friendly ballpark. Morse made it look like one. He hits the ball as hard as it looks like he would hit the ball if you just glance at his body and frame. Michael Morse isn’t playing tricks on you.
But that one year, Jose Lopez hit 25 dingers. You know what really scores points? Impressive dingers, and Morse has already impressed. He’s hit the season’s third-longest dinger, he’s hit the season’s third-highest dinger, and the other two dingers were line drives on pitches most hitters wouldn’t have knocked over a fence. You remember how certain segments of the fan base fell in love with Russell Branyan, Wily Mo Pena, and Bucky Jacobsen. Morse hits what might be referred to as statement home runs, and he’s got himself a bat flip. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Mariner with a bat flip, a Mariner who was that confident about his strength. I’m not saying a bat flip makes a player, but it’s indicative of likable traits.
On top of the power — and that’s really Morse’s whole game — the guy has personality. He’s energetic, and he’s a good interview, and he seems to do everything with enthusiasm and a certain flourish. I remember, over the past few years, watching a lot of Giants games and seeing how much fun those players seemed to have in the dugout. Granted, those were good Giants teams, and we’ve been watching bad Mariners teams. Of course a dugout is going to be a little more animated when you’re destined to win the World Series. But it’s fun to have enthusiastic, personable players. As much as I love Dustin Ackley‘s hit tool, I could happily go the rest of my life without ever hearing him speak. The Mariners have some perfectly nice guys who can be stiff as a door frame. Morse adds color, in the way that Felix Hernandez adds color even independent of his actual pitching. This is going to sound stupid, but it’s fun to see players look like they care, and it’s fun to see players look like they’re having fun. Raul Ibanez is here to provide veteran experience and leadership, but Morse is going to provide observable character.
And one shouldn’t overlook the fact that Morse is apparently absolutely thrilled to be in Seattle. This is a guy who the Mariners dealt away for a backup, a guy who only found success somewhere else, and this is a guy who got traded back to Seattle from a title contender. The Nationals are probably the best team in baseball; the Mariners are probably not. Morse easily could’ve reacted the way that Cliff Lee initially reacted. But Morse didn’t just go along with things — he told everyone he could get a hold of that he was beyond ecstatic with things. Unless Morse is a hell of a convincing liar, he wants to be a Mariner, and again, we get another parallel with Felix. One of the things that sets Felix apart in our hearts is his loyalty to the city and the organization. A lot of players seem like they’d be happy anywhere, just so long as they’re playing, and free agency typically bears this out. It renders as somewhat silly the idea that we should support a specific team in a specific place, since the players don’t really care. A guy like Felix, or Morse, indicates that there’s something special about this team, and it’s satisfying when loyalty feels like it’s a two-way street. Put another way: who the hell would want to be a Mariner? Michael Morse does, and that’s an unusual characteristic.
Morse isn’t going to average a home run every game. Sustaining that sort of rate is impossible, but there are going to be stretches where Morse makes it look like it’s possible. We’re in one of those stretches now. Every time he comes to the plate, a home run is going to be a distinct possibility, and his will be plate appearances to which we can look forward. A deficit is never that much of a deficit is Michael Morse is coming up. Power really does change the feel of things, in a positive way, for the team with the power.
What I’m not saying is that we’ll all come around and agree that trading Jaso for Morse was the right thing. That’s been analyzed to death, and there’s no reason to change that analysis now. That’s not how analysis works. But prepare yourself to either love Michael Morse, or like him, if you don’t already. He’s got a lot of likable elements to him, and even if the end result is something like a 0-2 WAR, it’s probably not going to *feel* like he was that mediocre of a player. It’s going to feel like Morse makes a significant impact, and he’s going to liven up what’s been a stiff team. You have to appreciate Morse’s unusual blend of traits. If he were homegrown, he’d already be a fan favorite.
Now, it’s going to be weird when the Mariners extend Morse for a bunch of years and we’re forced to try to like him into his decline phase. That’s never an easy ride. But for the time being, Michael Morse is going to do a lot of things to make you like him. Go ahead and like him. It’s the right thing to do.