Kendrys Morales or Spare Parts

The offseason has begun, qualifying offers have been offered, or tendered, or non-tendered–whatever, things have happened. We don’t really know the some of the lingo, but we’re gonna cover this shit anyway. Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence have re-signed with the Giants, so the biggest fish from the West right now is one Kendrys Morales.

This poor bastard broke his leg jumping on home plate after winning the game about 30 seconds beforehand. Now that he’s set to make a lot of money in his first go at free agency, eminent baseball writers are comparing him to land mines. Things that kill people or mangle their legs or do both of those things, you hope in quick order. There’s even a song about them, and in the song, the land mines have taken the speaker’s sight, taken his speech, taken his hearing, taken his arms, taken his legs, taken his soul, left him with life in Hell. Legs show up right next to soul. Coincidence? Nah.

We’re not saying that Dave Cameron and Fangraphs and the sour fans of Seattle are wrong about Kendrys. He might very well be an albatross for whichever team signs him. Scott Boras is his agent, and there haven’t been any indications that he is inclined to settle for one year at about $14 million, the value of the Mariners’ qualifying offer. There are a few other teams who might be interested in Morales’ services, namely the Rangers and Orioles, but they’d have to give up a draft pick, so blah blah blah probably not gonna happen.

All we are saying is that, while Morales isn’t a dynamic player or an exceptional hitting talent, he is the best player on the DH market. There are only seven players out there, according to Fangraphs: Morales, Lance Berkman, Paul Konerko, Michael Young, Delmon Young, Luke Scott, and Travis Hafner. All of them are on the wrong side of 30 and might as well wear heels in the field, so they’ve got the qualifications down. A look at their hitting, for power specifically, might convince you of Morales’ worth. (Michael Young won’t be included because I think some old school, tobacco-chewing GM will grab him as a utility infielder, much to twitter’s delight.)

A few days ago we tweeted that the Mariners should sign Paul Konerko. He’s coming off a bad year with the White Sox, who have already replaced him with Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. If he still wants to play somewhere, why not Seattle? He could fill the short end of a DH platoon, maybe even play some first if Justin Smoak really struggles with lefties. He’d be the wise and wise-cracking old dude on a team of talented youngsters who just need to learn how to win. At the end of the season, he’d call his shot to left field, get backed off the plate, and call his shot again, only to lay down a surprise bunt down the third base line that scores Franklin Gutierrez, who was running on the play, from second. Then his librarian-by-day, vixen-by-night, on-again-off-again girlfriend will leave her stuffy, old-money fiancé and his plush, post-modernist bullshit high-rise apartment, because not once has he ever done anything with the level of passion that Paul just displayed in that fucking legendary game, game 163 versus the Yankees.

For the Mariners, the benefit would be huge savings. Assuming Morales rejects the QO, they’re looking at a two- or three-year deal at about $15 million in average annual value. Konerko would be an iota of that investment, less than $5 million for just one year, I’d bet, freeing them up to chase Jacoby Ellsbury, perhaps. They could still fill the left side of the platoon with another cheap, cagey veteran, like Hafner or Scott.

The problem is, Konerko’s been declining pretty hard. Here’s a picture from when we brainstormed this article:

earlykonerkodraft

My, uh, little cousin did this. Click to engorge.

What you see above is the result of a moron using Bill Petti’s interactive spray charts. Paul Konerko’s last two seasons are up there–2012 on the left, 2013 on the right–and most of his batted balls are filtered out. What’s left are line drives and fly balls that traveled 300 feet or more. That’s a nice round number, and even the shortest home runs need to be about 300 feet. We thought the number of airborne batted balls that travel 300+ feet would be a good proxy for power potential, so we looked at all the other DHs on the market and put the data into a table. We also, and this is important, tried to replicate Mariners colors from the default choices on Microsoft Excel.

But first, a brief explanation of what follows. We separated all the players, even switch-hitters Morales and Berkman, by handedness, because we’ve seen how valuable platooning cheap players can be with this year’s Oakland team. The first column, FB+LD>300ft, is just the raw number of those kind of hits over the last two seasons. Then we have three different baselines. We wanted to know how often these long hits occur, period, so we have plain old plate appearances. (Again, for Morales and Berkman, these are split up by handedness.) Then we wanted to know how often these long hits occur out of the times the batter makes contact, so we subtracted walks and strikeouts from plate appearances. Then we wanted to know each batter’s percentage of long LDs and FBs out of all their LDs and FBs. That’s the last column.

If you prefer to know how many plate appearances it takes on average to hit one long balls, we provided that (1 every…). We also have the percentage of all plate appearances that ended with a long hit, for those of you who like it that way (300ft%). Here you go:

dhmarket

One final note about this data: Morales and Berkman, the switch hitters, have platoon advantages built into their numbers, whereas the other players do not. This is because I could not figure out how to filter for pitcher handedness in the Petti charts, only batter handedness. So Morales and Berkman are of course only facing righties when they bat lefty and vice versa–we don’t have that certainty with the rest of the lot. I don’t think this invalidates what I’m about to say, but it is something to keep in mind.

The first thing we took away was Konerko’s power decline. His ratio of long hits over all FB+LD is seriously lagging, about half of righty-Morales’ ratio. Konerko is a seriously great and serially underrated hitter, but it’s not just the home runs that vanished, it’s the long fly balls too. His back troubled him throughout 2013 but those problems may subside next year, so a cheap gamble on a once-great player could pan out beautifully.

Given the data, however, we must recognize there are better, higher-percentage options. Luke Scott’s figures are virtually identical to lefty-Morales, and there’s zero chance he commands the money that Boras wants for Morales. Plugging in Scott or even Hafner (whose numbers here are worse by the tiniest of margins) as the big end of a DH platoon would go a long way toward replicating Morales’ production. You probably don’t want either to play every day, so you sign a righty to cover the small end. At the right price, even Delmon Young can do good for you there.

The Mariners are a not-bad team getting better. They know what their infield looks like now, and it’s actually pretty good. Mike Zunino is ready to take the catching reins, so maybe Jesus Montero, who in his brief career has mashed lefties, could enter the DH mix. That makes good sense, and solves the problem cheaply. If the Mariners are going to throw money around this offseason, it should be for Ellsbury or to bolster the rotation.

Every team in the course of a season gives plate appearances to about 20 dudes (excluding pitchers). The bottom 10, the guys who rank 11th through 20th in plate appearances, still get a lot of playing time collectively, and the little differences they make individually matter a lot in a close playoff race. The A’s got 1.7 WAR from those guys last year; the Mariners, -1.2 WAR. If the Mariners stack their bench on the cheap with role players, they can approximate Kendrys Morales and turn their bench into an asset. Meanwhile, Morales is free to be a rich man’s version of himself for a team that can afford such a thing.

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