There was nothing remarkable about Logan Morrison when he broke into the league with the Marlins, besides his hilarious and daring Twitter account. He hit for a strong 129 wRC+ his rookie year, although it dropped down to 116 in his sophomore season, resulting in a short demotion (and a following Twitter rant about the organization). LoMo spent the next two seasons below a 100 wRC+ before being shipped off to Seattle.
Although he hit 23 homers in his second season, his contact dropped so much that he took a more conservative approach in the following seasons, never reaching the 20 home run plateau again (even with isolated slugging numbers around 160). The lack of home runs was not always because of poor play. Injuries, platoons and competing for playing time took its toll over the years.
In 2017, in his second season with the Rays, something seemed to have clicked with the 29-year-old. Launching 38 bombs over the campaign, and still somehow missing the home run derby, he hit for power consistently enough for a .270 isolated slugging winding up tied for tenth in the league. Few hitters were as powerful and dangerous as LoMo last year, but what exactly happened to take him to this new level?
First, we saw a new approach since he came to St. Petersburg, where he swung more freely at everything. Since joining the Rays he has struck out on in 23.6% of his plate appearances, a huge increase from the 16.3% he averaged for the three years prior to the move. 2016 didn’t bring much success; he was a league average 100 wRC+ hitter, but in 2017 we saw a different batted ball profile to help him. His career batted ball splits are pretty average, low 40s grounders and mid to high 30s fly balls. But last season he raised his fly ball percentage up to 46.2, a huge jump from last year’s 34.7%. And thanks to his newfound power, he was earning more respect as well – his walk rate climbing up from 9.3% to 13.5%.
Swinging more freely and trying to put the ball in the air is a risky approach, with great payoff when it does workout. Morrison didn’t manage to change much about his pull to opposite field profile, in fact pulling slightly less batted balls in 2017 than in 2016. But something significant is his hard contact percentage, which is on a steady three year climb. In 2015 he hit 30.6% of batted balls that fell in this definition, and then up to 34.2%, and finally then 37.4%. It’s still possible to see that climb even higher, although it does put him in good company right where he is (the two batters right above him are Freddie Freeman and Edwin Encarnacion). Swinging harder generally leads to more strikeouts, and it’s not always as obvious that big power follows. His good bat control despite the more reckless approach is showing that he has the profile to sustain big power years.
An interesting piece of info on Morrison is how little success he has on the four seamer, despite having massive success against the sinker. LoMo was worth 6.8 runs below average on the heater last year, continuing a three-year consecutive negative value streak. Yet on the sinker he was a career high 13.2 runs above average, and over his career is 32.0 runs above average on the pitch. Power hitters almost unanimously demolish four-seamers, and have varying degrees of success against sinkers, but Morrison seems to have it backwards in a sense. It shouldn’t be too hard for someone with his mechanics and control to start learning how to have success against the pitch with the best contact rates against, which will be an attractive option for teams looking to sign the free agent.
Despite a free swinging approach, Morrison’s strikeout numbers really aren’t that bad. Yes they’re above average, but it’s not unreasonable for power hitters these days to be whiffing 30% of the time. It’s a small tidbit and perhaps not one to take with too much weight, but Morrison’s ability to not give pitchers free outs despite swinging harder is a rare and valuable one. It would follow that his power is more sustainable than just a one year spurt, and LoMo as a slugger might be the new reality.
Logan Morrison has clearly found his stride, although the jury is still out on how legit it is since it’s only been one season. As a free agent currently, LoMo is banking on this last season making him bank, and teams are understandably wary of buying high on a breakout season that seems tough to replicate. But Morrison has made the proper adjustments, has a supreme command of the strike zone, and controls his bat exceptionally well throughout his swing. While some people are scared off of a drop-off year, be excited because the talent he’s showing is real, so get ready for more LoMo dingers in 2018.
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