Logan Morrison And Justin Smoak, Who Is A Player On The Team

Jeff Sullivan · September 26, 2014 at 4:59 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

March 2014

“For me, Smoak is a guy who should hit 40-45 doubles and 20-25 home runs. Not the other way around.”

May 2014

“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.”

July 2014

McClendon says Smoak is a Major League player, but needs to work on things.

July 2014

“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).”

September 2014

“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.


10 Responses to “Logan Morrison And Justin Smoak, Who Is A Player On The Team”

  1. bookbook on September 26th, 2014 5:09 pm

    Yep. If you could just play the hot month of Smoak, the hot month of Morrison, the hot BABIP-driven two months of Ackley, and the healthy month of Saunders, you’d fill one spot on the line-up card.

  2. stevemotivateir on September 26th, 2014 6:32 pm

    Morrison has to be nothing more than a stopgap for Peterson anyway, right? I realize Peterson has been primarily playing third, and he’s probably another year away yet, but I would imagine first base isn’t a real concern for the M’s right now.

  3. bookbook on September 26th, 2014 7:18 pm

    Fortunately for the M’s, they have DH to fill as well as 1b (both of the traditional “slugger” spots). If the team isn’t trying to fill either one of their two massive-ist holes of 2014 over the offseason, they probably aren’t planning to compete in 2015.

  4. LongDistance on September 26th, 2014 11:54 pm

    DH/1B + CF + psychotherapy for Rodney.

  5. Westside guy on September 27th, 2014 1:38 am

    I’m glad we have Morrison on this team. In part it’s because I think he might actually turn out to be decent; but I think the bigger reason is simply because having him means the team is less likely to hold onto Smoak for another year.

    However Jack has shown a penchant, in the past, for holding onto bad players far too long. So I’ll believe Smoak is gone when I don’t see his name listed on the 40-man roster.

  6. Westside guy on September 27th, 2014 2:54 am

    I still think the case can be made Saunders injury history has simply been fluky – it’s not unreasonable to expect he could have a healthy season.

    He probably tried to come back from the first oblique injury too quicklly. Last year he ran into a wall, then kept getting benched in deference to the Wonder Twins (Raul/Morse) duopoly.

    He’s not Gutierrez.

  7. Dennisss on September 27th, 2014 7:59 am

    According to Fangraphs, Smoak has a career wRC+ of 93 in 2,200 plate appearances, with a lowly 77 this year. Morrison’s career wRC+ is 108 in 1,800 appearances, 107 this year. There is a bit more reason to have hope for LoMo.

  8. eponymous coward on September 27th, 2014 8:32 am

    As long as you don’t let an infatuation with LoMo block you from improving a position (he’s probably a below-average 1B), OK, maybe a one year contract for 2-3 million next year wouldn’t be so bad.

    Smoak is probably history, because his option for 2015 is 3.65 million and a team option (he didn’t vest). Can’t see the team willing to pay that kind of money…

  9. Westside guy on September 27th, 2014 11:30 am

    If they dump Smoak, don’t resign Morales, and let Denorfia walk – it won’t bother me if they keep LoMo around. I’d love an actual slugging first baseman; but then I’d love an actual slugging designated hitter, a good defensive catcher that didn’t massively give away at bats and a center fielder that hits better than James Jones – and right now I’m not certain we have any of those (to be fair, I still expect a significant rebound from Jackson).

    We also need a non-sucky fourth outfielder, since (despite what I argued a few comments up) between Ackley’s bone spurs and Saunders’ possible second-hand case of Ankylosing Spondylitis there are likely a significant number of outfield man-hours to fill.

    Man, when I’m actually thinking about all the holes on this roster – it’s hard not to worry that 2014 has been smoke and mirrors…

  10. Dennisss on September 27th, 2014 2:45 pm

    Westside, I’m not as concerned about Zunino as others seem to be. He is a 1.7 WAR player with an 86 wRC+ who is a defensive asset at a premium position. By comparison, Brad Miller has an 85 wRC+. Zunino’s OBP is terrible, but he is not a bad player, and one hopes he improves. His offense this year was much better than Olivo’s was with the M’s. Not a high bar, but I just don’t see catcher as a hole to be filled.

    1st base, DH, center, and a bench, and the position players might be OK. Maybe.

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