Logan Morrison And Justin Smoak, Who Is A Player On The Team
So the current Mariner we get to think is newly good is Logan Morrison. Morrison’s the guy we can choose to focus on, if we want to not focus on the various other disappointments. The way this usually works, there’s a handful of semi-interesting young players, and one of them will be performing well at a time, and when that one starts to slump, another one’s getting hot, kind of like young hitter Whac-A-Mole. Morrison’s had himself a wonderful September, and he’s just been pretty solid in the second half, suggesting that maybe he can be a first baseman for a while. I mean, one worth having, too. The guy’s only newly 27.
It’s impossible not to draw parallels between Morrison and Justin Smoak. The Mariners once traded for the Rangers’ Justin Smoak, then last winter they traded for the Marlins’ Justin Smoak. I don’t need to review the similarities. The Mariners were either doubling down on their investment, or they were emplacing an identical safety net. Morrison, if nothing else, was an interesting young player. There are worse things to stockpile.
And, look at that, Morrison has a 107 wRC+. An average first baseman this year has a 111 wRC+, which is basically the same. Morrison seems like maybe he can be an average type. He played most of the year at age-26. As encouraged as you want to be, though, you can’t help but think of something, like that damned comparison between Dustin Ackley and Jeremy Reed. A year ago, Smoak was 26. He posted a 111 wRC+. Some walks, some power, some defense, some promise. Everything we think now about Morrison, we thought then about Smoak. Following here, a Lloyd-McClendon-on-Justin-Smoak opinion montage.
“For me, Smoak is a guy who should hit 40-45 doubles and 20-25 home runs. Not the other way around.”
“I like what I see,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said of Smoak earlier this week. “[He's] probably going to cost me a lot of money, but I hope he does, if he keeps hitting this way.”
McClendon says Smoak is a Major League player, but needs to work on things.
“He’s swinging the bat well,” McClendon said. “Hopefully, he can give us a little lift from an offensive standpoint. And, obviously, his glove work around first base is a little smoother than LoMo (Logan Morrison).”
“Smoak, no, I’ve never heard that name before in my life. Do you mean Smock? No, I’ve never heard that, either. Who’s named Smock? That’s a thing for wearin’, not namin’. People still wear smocks?”
Smoak was all promise a year ago. There was a time McClendon thought it was possible for him to lead the damned league in doubles, which often require running. Smoak sucked in the first half, and he’s barely played in the second. He’s a forgotten and useless instrument, like a lot of the things I put away in my kitchen, and considering Smoak this year cost nearly $3 million, it’s unlikely he’s coming back. He’ll end up a free agent, and someone will hope for his upside, because these players are always more appealing if you haven’t actually had to watch them all the time.
None of which is to say that Logan Morrison is just going to go the way of Justin Smoak. They are very literally different people and different players, and if one of them has an X% chance of succeeding, you have higher chances of one of them succeeding if you have two. Just because Smoak seems like a letdown doesn’t mean Morrison can’t even improve from here, but Smoak’s just going to be linked, because he’s a hard guy to unremember, and it’s a hard player profile to trust. Morrison, in a way, is likely to pay for the constant Smoak teases; we’re going to be more cautious with him, because of the defects of his predecessor. Hey, a hugely productive September! Haven’t seen that one before.
Compared to Smoak, Morrison’s probably the worse defender, but not by too much. Neither is an asset on the bases, nor would you expect them to be. They’ve hit for similar power, but Morrison seems to have a higher power ceiling, which is a good thing. They’ll both pop the ball up. One separator is that Morrison seems better about line drives. And discipline? Morrison makes more contact. And, interestingly, Morrison has gotten a lot more aggressive over the course of his young career. Between 2010-2012, Morrison was a patient type. He’s since doubled his rate of swings at first pitches. And, hell, I found 226 players who’ve batted at least 250 times in 2014, and who also batted at least 250 times between 2010-2012. The biggest overall swing-rate increase? A hike of ten percentage points, belonging to Logan Morrison.
He’s significantly more swing-happy now. That’s a big reason why his walks have gone down. He’s also managed to avoid a strikeout increase, so Morrison is basically betting more than ever on the quality of his batted balls. We know he’s not going to depend on his legs, so Morrison goes as far as his power and line drives can take him. When he’s on, he’s a terror, as he’s been the last month or so. When he’s off, he’s worthless, because he doesn’t do anything else, so it’s about maximizing the “on” time. I can’t pretend to be able to predict this.
What are some of the details behind Morrison’s aggressiveness increase? Used to be, he swung at about a quarter of first pitches in the zone. This year, he’s swung at nearly half. And while he’s swung more at pitches in all places, he’s paid particular attention to pitches up near the belt. His swing rate against pitches around the bottom half of the zone has increased from 48% to 56%. His swing rate against pitches around the upper half of the zone has increased from 59% to 77%. Morrison seems to believe his happy place is in the upper reaches of the strike zone. Most pitchers these days are trying hard to work to the bottom of the strike zone, where the zone keeps expanding every year, but then pitchers do make mistakes. Breaking balls get hung. Fastballs try to get blown by. Morrison’s done what he’s done this year with this approach.
So we wait and see and do nothing else. There’s nothing else that can be done, from our end. Morrison’s earned an opportunity next year, just like Smoak earned an opportunity this year, and Smoak wasted his opportunity, but Morrison isn’t Smoak, even if Morrison is a lot like Smoak. We’ll be nervous, because of the memory of Smoak. We’ll be nervous, because of the limitations of the Morrison profile. But, maybe he’s actually blossoming somewhat. Or at least producing like he used to, if through an adjusted process. You can see how he could belong, even as a 1-2 win player, because it’s been hard to find decent hitters and his defense isn’t humiliating. I can talk myself into Logan Morrison. It’s not hard, when he’s hitting dingers.
But I could talk myself into Justin Smoak. I did exactly that, several times, somehow. The dream is that you have star players, but you can’t have stars everywhere, and below the level of stars, you get this uncertainty. We’d like for the Mariners to have a decent first baseman, and maybe they have one. We know they have Logan Morrison, whatever he is.