Marlins Season Preview: Best case scenario for Michael Morse


We continue our Miami Marlins Season Preview series with a look at the team’s new first baseman Michael Morse, who signed a two year, $16 million contract over the winter.

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Morse was an integral part of the San Francisco Giants World Series championship in 2014, where he was the starting left fielder for most of the season. The Marlins, however, will use Morse as their full-time first baseman. Morse played some first base for San Francisco last season and has seen plenty of time there over the years with the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals as well.

His last full-season workload’s worth of time at first was in 2011 in D.C. where he didn’t exactly put up Gold Glove numbers on defense. Morse posted a -1.9 dWAR that season, and registered a negative defensive rating each season since, even after becoming a primary outfielder. Morse has amassed an awful -8.5 dWAR for his career, so the Marlins will rely on his solid bat for the next two seasons.

After a down year in 2013, Morse clawed his way back on the map in 2014 with a .279/.336/.475 line to go along with 16 home runs and 32 doubles playing half his games in the very pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. Despite his anemic defensive skills, Morse was still a one-win player, according to both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.

The projections, however, don’t think too highly of Morse and call for some regression in his first season in Miami. ZiPS gives him a .264/.316/.440 slash line and a grand total of 0.6 WAR. The move back to first base from playing left field every day expects some improvement defensively, from Morse’s -18 Def rating last year to -12.3 this season (still a terrible number, but not as terrible).

So Morse’s average, on-base and slugging all project to decline, but that’s not a guarantee, especially over 81 games in the bipolar hitting atmosphere of Marlins Park. One day Miami is tagged a pitchers’ park, the next day it’s a hitters’ park. Park factors have progressively evolved Marlins Park into a more offense-friendly park, so don’t automatically write Morse off. His career numbers are nearly identical to the numbers he put up last season; it’s quite remarkable, actually, how close they are.

2014: .279/.336/.475/.811, .355 wOBA, 133 wRC+

Career: .281/.335/.473/.808, .351 wOBA, 122 wRC+

So last season was by means an anomoly. Even after a poor showing in 2013, Morse’s career numbers still reflect the offensive prowess he showed in 2014. Plus he’s still only 32, perhaps at the tail end of his prime but not yet at a point of decline. He probably won’t hit 31 home runs like he did for Washington in 2011, but he could easily flirt with 20 this season and should clock in with an OPS close to .800. That’s a drastic upgrade over the failed Garrett Jones project of 2014, so the Marlins appear to be set at first base for at least the next two seasons.

Later, my co-editor Ehsan Kassim will ponder the worst-case scenario for Michael Morse this season as we continue our Marlin Maniac Season Preview.

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