Logan Morrison patiently waits to strike

More and more people are noticing the amazing first 256 PA of Logan Morrison. FanGraphs prospect maven Bryan Smith responded to a question in today’s prospect chat asking about Morrison and how he compares to other power-light first basemen such as Lyle Overbay and James Loney by saying this:

Bryan Smith: Better than good, [his rookie season has] been great. It’s unfair to compare him to those guys, because he has better on-base skills than either. He’s what those guys aspire to be.

Though Overbay and Loney are not the most illustrious names in baseball, both are players who have served as starters in the past for teams. However, both are, as Smith mentions, way out of Morrison’s league in terms of plate discipline and eye for the strike zone.

Inspired by that response by Smith, I decided to take a look at Morrison’s plate discipline numbers as shown by data provided by BIS to FanGraphs. Morrison has walked at a 15+% clip in his time in the majors in 2010, and it has a lot to do with how patient and discerning his eye at the plate is.

The Numbers

Here are the numbers compared to the career rates for the two players mentioned above, Overbay and Loney.

Player proj. OSwing% ZSwing% Contact% BB% K%
Morrison 20.2% 59.3% 81.5% 15.2% 17.2%
Overbay 18.8% 66.8% 79.0% 10.5% 18.5%
Loney 26.4% 63.9% 87.2% 7.1% 12.7%

It’s quite clear just from a glance at this table that Loney does not even belong in this comparison; his game is more predicated towards making consistent contact rather than having an eye for the strike zone, as evidenced by the high OSwing% (swing% on pitches outside the zone). The comparison with Overbay, on the other hand, seems a bit more apt. Overbay has been more selective over the course of his career, but has swung a lot more when the ball has been in the zone. Morrison has been more passive at the plate, which has resulted in fewer strikeouts and more walks at the expense of balls in play. Overbay’s league-averge(ish) swing rate inside the zone is contributing to keeping his walks down as compared to Morrison.

Still, the difference in ZSwing% should not preclude a comparison between Morrison and Overbay. Overbay’s best season offensively was his 2006 year with the Toronto Blue Jays, in which he hit .312/.378/.508 (.373 wOBA) and picked up 2.5 WAR (primarily due to supposedly poor defense). During that year, he swung at 21.0% of pitches out of the zone and 66.1% of pitches in the zone. He also made contact on 82.0% of his swings, very familiar to Morrison’s marks this season. Combined with a fairly anomalous .342 BABIP and Overbay had a very good season with the bat despite hitting just 22 homers (a career high) and having an ISO of .196.

Those aspects all look similar to Morrison’s 2010 season, with the lone exception again being his swing rate. As mentioned before, it is fairly likely that Morrison will walk more as a hitter because of his willingness to take more pitches, even if those pitches also happen to be inside the zone. What other players share similar swing and contact rates?

The Comps

I looked at the list of players with at least 400 PA in the last three calendar years and checked out their plate discipline numbers. Here are the five players I found most similar to Morrison in terms of those categories (Morrison’s stats listed again at top, remaining players stats from the past three seasons, listed in no particular order):

Player proj. OSwing% ZSwing% Contact% BB% K%
Morrison 20.2% 59.3% 81.5% 15.2% 17.2%
J.D. Drew 17.8% 60.1% 81.7% 13.8% 19.3%
Ben Zobrist 21.9% 57.2% 83.4% 13.7% 16.8%
Willie Harris 18.4% 58.7% 82.1% 12.7% 17.4%
Andrew McCutchen 20.2% 57.4% 83.6% 10.5% 15.3%
Gary Sheffield 20.9% 57.7% 84.1% 12.7% 14.5%

Frankly, these five names are not bad names for comparisons of Morrison’s season. They vary in terms of other characteristics, as at least two of these players provides top-notch speed and possibly better BABIP skill than Morrison, while another is clearly leagues ahead of Morrison in terms of power. There are two players in particular that I want to briefly discuss in comparison to Morrison.

J.D. Drew compares favorably with Morrison because he has classically displayed the plate discipline stats Morrison has shown off this season. For his career, Drew has swung at 16.5% of pitches out of the zone, 64.8% of pitches in the zone, and has made contact with 79.3% of those swings. Over the years, however, he has swung less in the zone and a bit more out of it, though it hasn’t shown significantly in his batting stats, as his .272/.381/.495 line and shiny 13.8% walk rate are still impressive. If Morrison can continue to develop as this sort of patient hitter, his upper limit can match J.D. Drew in his normal years, as the primary difference between Morrison and Drew is power. While it wouldn’t surprise any of us if Morrison continued to walk in 11-12% of his PA, it would be a great bonus if he could hit 21.2 HR/600 PA like Drew has in his past five seasons.

Ben Zobrist broke out in a big way in 2009, but has been merely average at the plate this year. Zobrist’s .246/.353/.363 campaign in 2010 is good for a .331 wOBA this season, which is acceptable if not droll for a second baseman. Zobrist’s stats compare well to a season in which Morrison did not have a .361 BABIP; were it to instead drop to something like .300, you would expect Morrison’s wOBA to fall to .341, and that is before considering the probable regression on his high walk rate.

In those two comparisons, you have the highs and the lows for a Logan Morrison that could keep up his current plate discipline and walk rates. At a walk rate around 13%, current power, and heavily regressed BABIP, we may see a .340-ish wOBA hitter who may barely be able to keep up value as a bad defensive left fielder or first baseman. As a guy who could hit 20+ HR in a full season of work, we may be looking at a guy who could reach a .380 wOBA mark on the season. The Marlins will be hoping that power can develop to help offset the (lack of) defensive value.

Tags: Ben Zobrist J.D. Drew Logan Morrison Lyle Overbay Miami Marlins

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