Kendrys Morales Probably Isn’t as Bad a Fielder as You Think

For many people the idea that Kendrys Morales will play most of his games at designated hitter has become basically a foregone conclusion. Morales came over for Jason Vargas after a year in which he played 92 games at DH.

Morales and his first base defense have been scoffed at, and written off. We’ve assumed he’s a butcher at first base, but that’s really not true.

One of the things that fuels this belief is that I think we assume that Kendrys Morales is fat, and that fat guys can’t play good defense. There’s logic behind this. According to Body Mass Index Kendrys Morales is obese. Don’t get me wrong, Morales isn’t modeling a two piece swimsuit any time soon, but Body Mass Index is a system of measure that really shouldn’t apply to professional athletes. Professional athletes are outliers, and Marshawn Lynch is also considered obese by BMI standards.

Morales moves substantially slower than Lynch, and one of the hallmarks of a bad fielder is being slow. That’s why it’s important that we compare apples to apples. Usain Bolt and Yuniesky Betancourt weigh basically the same amount, but they play different sports and are similar only in the way that a greyhound is similar to a bag of liposuction fat: they were-from/are both living creatures on this earth. Betancourt is the liposuction fat. I don’t know if they put liposuction fat in bags.

Most first baseman aren’t small guys. A lot of them may be less stocky, they may be equally stocky. Morales, is certainly stocky, and while height and weight likely correlate well with body fat percentage, and body fat percentage likely correlates well with speed, which correlates reasonably well with fielding ability, the amount of outliers increases at each level.

We also think that Morales is fat because he broke his leg celebrating a homerun. He Gus Frerotte’d the Angels in a way that seems only possible for a man that is particularly obese. Morales missed half of the 2010 season, and all of the 2011 season because he landed on some asshole’s foot at home plate after hitting a game-winner. He must be a fat ass.

Another significant driver of Morales’ reputation is that he played 92 games at DH last year. Another way you could say that is that Morales has played more than three-quarters of his games at DH since he returned from breaking his leg. That of course ignores that Morales has started only 120 games since breaking his leg.

It also ignores that the Angels roster looks like the children of a man on an extended prison sentence. Daddy was replaced by Albert Pujols, and Mark Trumbo blasted through puberty. Neither of those guys should ever play anywhere but first base or DH, though they’re both more than adequate at first. Nonetheless, to keep Morales in the action, Trumbo played eight games at third base and ninety-seven in the outfield. Ninety-seven below-average games.

Trumbo is arguably better than Morales at the plate, and unarguably younger, with arguably more upside. Pujols is definitely better than Morales at the plate, though he’s unarguably older, with arguably less upside.

The point is the reasons that Morales played less first base last year than in the past has less to do with his intrinsic ability than it has to do with the Angels depth chart, and Morales’ injuries.

In basically two full seasons of playing first base Morales has been worth +10 runs according to UZR, and +8 runs according to Baseball Reference.

Morales has played 18 games in the outfield. They’ve been 18 bad games and 76.0 bad innings, but at some point, in some circumstance, Mike Scioscia thought that Kendrys Morales was his best option in the outfield.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Morales will be a good defender. He’s played less than 250 innings at first base since a leg injury that has siginificalty effected his career in a negative way. But even in those innings he’s been worth 2.2 runs in terms of UZR, for a 11.1 run rate according to UZR/150.

Kendrys Morales may be a bad defender at first base in the future, but his history points to him being alright, which for what it’s worth, loosens the roster clog created by some of the Mariners offseason moves.

  • maqman

    Absolutely agree Morales can play 1B and if Smoak fades he’s the guy to give the position. I think people have forgotten how good Morales was before he broke his leg and how long it took to heal properly. With him being in a walk year at age 29 I expect good things from him this season.

  • John

    As an Angels fan I would like to point out that when Pujols needed a day off it was Morales that played 1st, not Trumbo. He was also limited to facing RHP because there are some that think he is abysmal against LHP, which simply isn’t the case. True, he doesn’t hit LHP as well as RHP but with consistent playing time the difference will probably be around 10 points in batting average. Not too shabby.

    • Casey McLain

      I wish I had equally good things to say about Jason Vargas.