by Eno Sarris //
The 2010 season went from glorious to tragic for one player in the midst of a walk-off celebration over the weekend. Though Kendry Morales should be lauded for his strong sophomore follow-up to 2009, his celebration skills need a little work (perhaps he could call Bill Gramatica, the NFL kicker who tore his ACL while celebrating, for a little advice). As he landed on home plate in the midst of an Angels dogpile after his game-winning grand slam home run on Saturday night, Morales fractured a bone in his lower left leg. His recovery may take months, not weeks, and fantasy owners might best be served by counting him out for the rest of the season. If you have a DL or bench spot open, it’s best to wait to hear the results from the surgery before dropping him completely. Regardless, it’s time to look for replacements out there.
First, it’s worth describing what fantasy owners will be losing. From the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools graphs below, we can see that Morales was a fine option at first base, with power and a decent batting average. However, as we pointed out in the preseason, Morales’ power is not of the elite variety. His .197 ISO (isolated power, or slugging percentage minus batting average) ranks 10th at the position this year. With a flukishly high (and likely to regress) flyballs per home run rate (21.6%), it would be folly to just pro-rate out his home run pace (about 33 home runs). That’s doubly true given Morales was hitting fewer than one-third of his balls in the air, and his ISO had taken a step back from last year’s prodigious levels. As you can see from the graph on the far right, Morales’ slugging percentage was close to the mean for a major league first baseman.
Even if he doesn’t have light-tower power, it will be difficult for owners to find a player who has the ability to hit near .300 with 20 or so home runs the rest of the season on the waiver wire. Let’s outline some quick positives and negatives for some first baseman who might be on the wire in your league. These options will go from players available in shallow leagues down to ones you can hopefully get off of your deep league waiver wire.
If you are willing to make some sacrifices in the batting average category, and you are in one of the 79% of Yahoo leagues that features Scott on the wire, he’s probably the best choice as a Morales replacement. He actually has more power than Morales, as seen through the lenses of ISO (.232 career ISO, .254 this year). There is some concern with Scott that he’s a platoon player (.774 OPS versus lefties, .865 versus righties career). On the other hand, researcher Tom Tango has shown that it takes up to 1000 plate appearances against lefties to provide significant results, so even Scott’s career 443 plate appearances against lefties give him an ‘incomplete’ in the category. Over the past three years, his lefty/righty splits have been virtually identical, so you can probably play him daily, unless your bench is really loaded. While someone like Todd Helton may be on your wire, too (34% owned), Scott is a better Morales replacement because he is showing much more power than Helton (who owns a Rey Ordonez-esque .071 ISO this year) and is therefore probably a better option for most fantasy teams.
Glaus is available in 76% of Yahoo leagues, so he should be out there on the standard mixed league waiver wire. The major problem with his candidacy is that the power has not returned to his career level (.239 career ISO) since he had his last shoulder surgery in 2009. His ISO since the end of 2008 is below average (average is usually around .150), so once again it’s not a good idea to pro-rate out his home runs so far when deciding on your pickup. He’s also reaching for pitches more than he has in career (24.2% reach rate this year, 16.9% career), a sign of a potentially slowing bat. On the other hand, he does have seven home runs in the bank, and there’s still the chance he finds his old power. He certainly has more power potential than, say, a Mark Teahen (25% owned, .148 career ISO).
The Smoak Monster doesn’t have much by way of major league statistics to help us back up the case, but his minor league slash line (.293/.411/.461) shows the ability to get on base at an elite level. He’s had some power dips at certain spots, but considering his home park (1.387 park factor for home runs), he’ll get some help. His batting average is likely on its way up, considering that he has a great line drive percentage (25.3%) and yet a terrible batting average on balls in play (.184). Smoak, who is available in 92% of leagues, is probably a better pickup than Gaby Sanchez (94% available) because of the pedigree and potential. While both players have similar ISOs right now (.140 for Smoak, .145 for Sanchez), Smoak has had better seasons in the minors than Sanchez ever did.
If power is your only concern, and Branyan’s swing doesn’t bother you like it bothers this guy, then the Cleveland slugger might be your best bet. The power is no question mark with Branyan, either this year (.242 ISO), or career (.257 ISO). Just know that his batting average will likely suffer, based of career norms (.234 career average) and his strikeout rate (38.8% career). He’s made some minor advances in the strikeout rate, keeping it around 34% in the past three years, and against righties will provide power with a more respectable batting average. Don’t play him against lefties (.745 OPS in 542 career plate appearances against southpaws), and if he stays healthy enough, Branyan can replace the potential home runs that Morales took with him to the hospital. Branyan is available in 94% of Yahoo leagues and is better than Eric Hinske (also 94%) because of playing time concerns for the Braves utilityman.
All is not lost. Some of these players will be fine stopgaps and the final prognosis on Morales has not been delivered. Remember to breathe easy, don’t break anything, and rush to your waiver wire to try and mitigate your losses.
For more on possible Kendry Morales replacements, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.