Kendry Morales: Fantasy Value or Sophomore Bust?
By Eno Sarris
At the start of last season, the Angels had a vacuum at first base after Mark Teixeira chose pinstriped dollars and headed East.
Enter Cuban import Kendry Morales. Morales had totaled 1,130 at-bats at the Double-A level or above, showing the
Angels he was at least ready to provide league-average offense at
first base, with a nice glove. The Angels previously let light-hitting Casey Kotchman man first base – Morales couldn’t be much worse, could he?
Many fantasy players were caught off-guard when Morales zoomed right by
average. Here was a player that once hit five home runs in a full year
(2007 in Triple-A Salt Lake, a park that usually inflates home runs by 10%
or more in a given year). He wasn’t supposed to come up and mash
.306/.355/.569 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in his first full MLB season. That slugging percentage
was even better than the minor league number (.528) he put up in much more favorable hitter’s parks, even better than the best number he put up at any one stop along the way.
This season, the first-base position is deep for fantasy baseball purposes. Managers can afford to wait before grabbing a first baseman, especially if someone like Morales (B-Rank 43) is
slipping below his average draft position (61.3 ADP). Let’s say he won’t drop further than the fifth or sixth round, though. Do you pull the trigger? Will he hit for the same power and batting average this year?
Let’s take the easier question first. Morales hit .306 last year, but sported a .329 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). If that BABIP regresses towards the league-wide average (around .300), he should sport a lower batting average, correct? Not so fast. While BABIP figures across baseball hover close to .300, each player has some control over that number, especially if he possesses unique speed and hitting ability. Consider that Ichiro Suzuki has a lifetime BABIP of .357, for instance. Luckily for us, baseball analysts Peter Bendix and Chris Dutton developed a simple calculator for Expected BABIP (xBABIP); if you plug in Morales’ component statistics, you get .320. So while there might be a little regression in his stats, but it looks like this career .332 hitter in the minors stands a good chance of posting a batting average around .300 next year.
Now the harder question. What will his power output look like? it’s an open question for sure, since Morales had a slugging percentage closer to .400 in his first couple of attempts at the major leagues, then zoomed right by that figure, and .500, last year. Look at his monthly slugging percentage and you’ll see that it took him half of last year to get there. Will he see a summer surge that big again?
One good sign for Morales’ power potential is his minor league Isolated Slugging number (ISO, which is Slugging Percentage minus Batting Average). Even granting the homer-friendly parks he played in, Morales hovers around a .200 throughout his minor league career, a good sign. Major leaguers who posted an ISO around that number last year included Torii Hunter, Curtis Granderson, Matt Holliday and Robinson Cano. These are useful comps: Many of these players might hit 30 home runs, but would you bet your house on it? Bloomberg Sports is bullish on Morales and projects 32 homers. Still, there’s always the potential for regression to the mean after such a huge breakout season.
Morales could be a good acquisition if you can get him late enough in the draft. But considering that his power might skew closer to Robinson Cano than Prince Fielder, an early-round pick might be a bit of a reach.
For more information on Kendry Morales and other draft options, and more, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.