Early this morning the Giants made a move to add some pop to an offense that hit the second fewest home runs in the major leagues last season by adding Michael Morse. Morse is coming off an injury-plagued year, which knocked his demands into the Giants price range (reportedly $5 million plus incentives for one season) enough that they were willing to take the gamble.
The main attraction of Morse is his ability to hit home runs. He has a career HR/FB rate of 17.8% which puts him among the best sluggers in baseball. The other bright side is that he is a right-handed hitter. Even though AT&T Park is a pitchers park, it’s not nearly as bad on right handers as it is on left handed hitters.
Morse has also shown that when he is healthy (a big if) he is capable of putting up impressive numbers like he did in 2011 when he made it into 146 games while posting a .303/.350/.550 line with 31 homers.
All of that looks great … but he comes with some major ifs.
The first major issue is his defense. To put it nicely, it’s bad. As a first baseman he is okay but when he moves to the outfield things get ugly.
Over the last four years as an outfielder he has posted the following defensive runs saved scores as an outfielder: -6.6, -7.2, -10.5, -11.9. It might get a little crazy when balls are hit to him out in left field.
The next issue, and one that goes along with his poor defense is his poor base-running. Over the last four years he has posted base-running scores of -8.0, 0, -6.1, and -2.2.
When you add in his fielding and base-running you get an average of about -15 runs below average. With these negatives he needs to hit like a top 20 outfielder just to get into the below average range.
The last and perhaps biggest reason that the Giants were able to sign Morse is that his injury history is long and it seems like something gets him for a chunk of every season. Last year he missed 41 games with a thigh injury and had his season ended with a wrist injury that required surgery. In 2012 he missed 50 games with a shoulder injury. In 2010 he missed 32 games with a calf strain. In 2008 it was 150 games after shoulder surgery. Only once has he played at least 140 games.
When you take everything into account, the Giants got a guy that can hit the ball out of the park on a regular basis. That is a nice improvement over last year. This didn’t come with a long-term deal or a major outlay of cash, which is nice for flexibility going into the future but these types of players have their own issues. With Morse it’s that he doesn’t excel at the non-hitting part of the game and has a long injury history with just one healthy season.
The Giants are taking a gamble that he can play the Pat Burrell role from 2010, three at-bats and then a late defensive replacement while providing some home runs down the lineup. Perhaps that’s not a bad bet to make, but it’s far from a sure thing. If he stays healthy and hits the Giants might have a bargain on their hands. If not, well, Gregor Blanco is probably a pretty decent fallback with Morse perhaps helping out against left-handed pitching.
It is not an ideal solution to the left field problem but in this free agent/trade market there wasn’t really a perfect solution to be found.