Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player’s season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays’ plans going forward.
In 2017 Kendrys Morales was chasing a ghost. With Cleveland in 2017 that ghost hit .278/.377/.504, with 38 home runs, a division title, and helped his team log an historic winning streak. That ghost of course was fellow designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, the man Morales replaced in Toronto.
By most performance metrics the ghost won. Morales hit .250/.308/.445. with 28 home runs in 2017 – not necessarily terrible, but not great and certainly nowhere near expectations.
To make matters worse Morales had career, or near career, worsts in numerous hitting categories. His swing and miss was up, his ground ball percentage was up, his walks were down, his strike outs were up. By mid summer he seemed to be grounding into a double play every at bat. You get the picture. It wasn’t going well.
There is a vigorous debate about how to interpret Morales’ 2017 numbers with many wondering if he’s simply on the wrong side of the aging curve. He will turn 35 this year but the very nature of his career makes it hard to make an easy calculation regarding decline.
His two peak years were 2009 and 2015, many years apart with vastly different clubs in different baseball eras.
In 2009, after a defection from Cuba and years of up and down promise, he had a breakout season with the Angels, he hit .306/.355/.569 with 34 home runs and 43 doubles. But it wouldn’t last. In May of 2010 he broke his leg touching home plate after a grand slam. He lost the rest of that year and all of the next to injury.
When he returned in 2012 and 2013 he was above average, sporting an OPS+ of 119 and 123 respectively. But in 2014 Morales refused to sign a contract until June, well into the season. After starting the year significantly late he played poorly, hitting only a Ryan Goins-esque .218/.274/.338 between the Minnesota Twins and the Seattle Mariners.
In 2015, after signing a two year deal with Kansas City, he broke out again, hitting .290/362/.485 with 22 home runs and 41 doubles. All done on the largest field in the American League. In 2016 he regressed, hitting .263/.327/468 but with a monstrous 30 home runs. The first 30 home run season by a Kansas City player since 2000.
This is really where Toronto started taking notice. His OPS in 2016 was .795 but projecting what he might do in Toronto using Statcast and advanced metrics some had him batting with an OPS north of .900 with home run totals well above 30.
Instead, things worked out differently. In 2017 his OPS was only .753, well below what was expected.
The question remains: is that regression due to his age or a player with a new team trying too hard to crush every ball with some bad luck mixed in? His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was 20 points below his career norms, which does suggest at least some bad luck. His power also appears to still be intact. His average exit velocity in 2016 was 94 mph (14th overall), while in 2017 it was 91.7 (18th overall, tied with J.D. Martinez – for some reason all top players saw a decrease in average exit velocity last year).
Can he get closer to where he was in 2015? Great question.
Under contract with Toronto until 2019
2017 Regular Season Grades
Jay Blue: C-
Wesley James: C
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