The Marlins have an interesting situation on their hands with regards to their situation at first base. Gaby Sanchez is the current starter at the position, and the Marlins are fairly happy with his performance. As an apparently average defensive first baseman, a .287/.353/.472 slash line and .362 wOBA is more than enough to make him an effective hitter. In fact, Sanchez may be able to break the 3.0-WAR barrier this season, as he currently has 2.7 WAR according to FanGraphs. On the other hand, the club also has Logan Morrison on their hands, a top Marlins prospect who has gotten off to an excellent start in the majors for the Fish. Morrison is currently hitting .294/.403/.421 on the season, good for an impressive .370 wOBA.
Based on their 2010 performance so far, it seems like both layers will figure into the team’s plans for the next few years. With the club out of contention at this point, it may be a good idea to start thinking about future seasons, and in particular where both of these players will fit.
Having heard the scouting reports for both Sanchez and Morrison, I had made the conclusion that the two players were pretty similar. Both were primarily known for their plate discipline and strike zone control and were known as “line drive” hitters without enough power to perhaps stick at first base. The minor league numbers support these similar profiles.
As advertised, both players displayed strong command of the strike zone during the minors. In particular, the power and walk numbers look staggeringly similar. Obviously, all those similarities led to pretty similar slash lines as well. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that, going into the season, both players projected very similarly as well.
|Player (ZiPS proj.)||UIBB%||K%||POWH||BABIP||wOBA|
Again, very similar numbers leading to overall extremely projections. Sanchez’ walk rate was downgraded when projecting to the majors, while Morrison’s was interestingly left mostly unchanged. The remaining numbers were regressed towards the league average, but there were no surprises there. The fact that both players were projected for almost exactly the same wOBA shows how similar their skillsets going into this season were.
Reality exceeding expectations
Both players have since outperformed their projections both from ZiPS and CHONE. Sanchez has surpassed his power projections; while his .317 BABIP is slightly higher than the projected .305 mark and his walk and strikeout rates are almost perfectly matched, his POWH has jumped to 0.642, a surprising number that he only reached in his final two seasons in the minors. Indeed, Sanchez may simply have been a late bloomer in terms of power and may finally be growing into enough strength to provide acceptable offense from first base.
Morrison has had a lot less time in the majors than Sanchez, but he has made his time worthwhile. The most anomalous number he is posting right now is his extremely high .371 BABIP, which is likely the primary contributor to his currently impressive wOBA. However, we would not expect a player with even his BABIP skillset to continue hitting this well on balls in play; ZiPS rest-of-season projections have him dropping to a .333 BABIP going forward, which would still be very good but far more believable.
A good sign for the future, however, is Morrison’s plate discipline transferring to the major league level. He has outperformed his preseason projection so far by walking in 14.8% of PA. The likely reason stems from Morrison’s ability to lay off pitches and make contact when necessary. Morrison has swung at 36.2% of pitches overall, a good deal below the 2010 average of 45.2%. He has also laid off bad pitches at an above average rate, swinging at only 21.6% of out-of-zone pitches according to BIS, compared to the league average of 29.2%. Combine this patient approach with an exactly league average contact rate on swings (80.9%) and you can see why Morrison looks like Nick Johnson Lite even with a below average strikeout rate.
Positions a future concern
The one major question the Marlins will have to answer going forward is the aspect of position. This is a discussion I’ve actually mentioned before. First base is the ideal position for both players, but only one of them can man the position for the near future. This means that the Marlins will have to continue to play the other player “out of position” in order to fit both bats in the lineup, risking defensive struggles in the process. Right now, the Marlins are choosing to go with Morrison in left field and playing Sanchez at first base. The difficulty with this plan is that Morrison does not look like a good left fielder, and scouts generally agree with this assessment. The other option is to move Sanchez to third base and keep Morrison at first, but there are also concerns about playing Sanchez, a converted catcher, in the line of fire of more than a handful of grounders a game.
All indications point to the Marlins going with Morrison in left field. The team has few other outfield options and have already made it evident that they planned on moving Chris Coghlan back into the infield following the Jorge Cantu trade before Coghlan hurt himself celebrating a walkoff win. The question will then be how each player will perform in their respective new positions compared to an alignment which keeps Coghlan in left field and moves Sanchez to third. Just from scouting considerations, I would imagine that this is the better configuration, as it leaves the most athletic player in Coghlan to cover more ground over the slower Morrison. It remains to be seen what the Marlins will actually go with.