2013 Miami Marlins Season Preview: First Base

Miami Marlins first baseman Logan Morrison faces some tough questions in 2013. - Chris Trotman

The Miami Marlins finally made the right move to shift Logan Morrison back to his original position of first base, but will it pay dividends for the team, or will Morrison struggle to even stay on the field?

The Miami Marlins finally came to the right decision regarding Logan Morrison. The team finally realized that he was a first baseman through and through after forcing him to masquerade as a left fielder for the last two and a half seasons. The Fish sent Morrison out to left field as a necessity based on their roster, but it may have cost them an effective player, as Morrison has struggled ever since his rookie season.

First Base

1. Logan Morrison
2. Greg Dobbs

Minor League Depth: Casey Kotchman, Joe Mahoney

Logan Morrison

Morrison has finally moved to first base, the position that he primarily played in the minor leagues. The Marlins are hoping that this move to his old position also brings back his old style of hitting, because as of the last few seasons, there has been a dramatic regression in his hitting in recent seasons.

Morrison, Career K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
2010 17.8 14.3 .283 .390 .447 .372
2011 18.9 10.3 .247 .330 .468 .346
2012 17.4 9.3 .230 .308 .399 .308

What can we see from these trends? Clearly Morrison was not going to perform as well as he did in 2010, during which he had a fantastic but luck-laden rookie campaign. Marlins fans may have been a bit disappointed in the 2011 version of Morrison who reversed his luck on balls in play and batted .247 as a result. But at least that player had power; the 2012 version took the worst of the 2010 (.169 ISO) and 2011 (.248 BABIP) and combined it into an awful batting line and a lost season.

So how can LoMo get back on the right track? Well, as you can see, his walk and strikeout rates have remained fairly stable over the last two seasons, so it is fair to say that his talent levels in that department are likely well-known. Ironically, however, it was during his worst strikeout / walk month of last season that Morrison performed almost at his best; his month of June (.238/.270/.500, .325 wOBA) was his second-best month of the season and it included five home runs and a 3.4 percent walk rate. Either way, it seems obvious to at least expect a decent power showing akin to a .170 ISO and the usual in terms of plate discipline from the typically sound Morrison.

What we cannot predict right now is his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Morrison has proven hard to predict with regards to this stat, and yet it holds so much sway on his season that it seems critically important to guess his level of performance. In the past two seasons, he has hit a paltry .258 on balls in play. Among batters with at least 800 plate appearances in the last two seasons, that mark is tied for the 12th-lowest BABIP, alongside a number of struggling players (Mark Teixeira, Ian Kinsler) and a number of bad players (Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee).

If Morrison's true talent was at this level, we would not be able to expect much from him, as he does not exhibit any extremely good skills like Adam Dunn's walk rate or Carlos Quentin's power. But Morrison does display both of those skills in enough quantity to at least make him a passable major leaguer; in the last two seasons, he does own a respectable .331 wOBA. With some regression to the mean between these two seasons, you can reasonable see a player who could be an average-hitting first baseman in this depressed run environment.

The above, of course, does not even account for Morrison's more distant history as an actual good hitter, so the odds are still on his side to recover as of right now. This upcoming season will be crucial for Morrison, because another struggle of a year will certainly drop his chances of being a quality major leaguer down to little or none. So far, we still have one or two positive signs left for Morrison, but another blown season will certainly erase whatever good is left in his projection.

What about his projection, you say? The projection systems match my thoughts on Morrison retaining some of his upside.

Proj System PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA/TAv
ZiPS 488 .259 .346 .446 .342
Steamer 510 .254 .344 .435 .338
PECOTA 524 .255 .341 .430 .282
Fans 584 .264 .344 .447 .343

For a player with such disparate seasons, the projection systems are all more or less in agreement with each other on Morrison. Each system has Morrison hitting at around the .250/.340/.430 zone, with a few .440 slugging percentages mixed in. Averaging out a number of these lines gives you an approximate .258/.344/.440 batting line that is very reminiscent of his 2011 season. That line has less power but more hits behind it to buoy its value. Overall, Marlins fans can expect a .341 wOBA from Morrison this season, which again is very similar to his 2011 year.

But in 2011, Morrison put up just one win thanks to an awful campaign on defense. No one thought Morrison was a good left fielder in any season, and the advanced defensive metrics placed him anywhere between three and 26 (!) runs below average that season. But this year, he will move to first base, a position with fewer balls in play on which to fail and one at which Morrison has more experience. Early results from last season, on a small sample size, were good, and Morrison has always had a solid scouting report defensively at the position. Let's use a conservative five runs worse than average over the course of a full season to estimate Morrison's performance.

Projection: 450 PA, 1.2 WAR

Why such a low projection? It boils down to Morrison's other, and perhaps more critical problem: injuries. In 2011, he missed a month with a hairline fracture of the foot, and last season he missed time repairing his already surgically-repaired patellar tendon. If he has struggled so badly to stay on the field, what makes Marlins fans believe he can stick once again? To his credit, the patellar injury has now been more thoroughly surgically repaired, and Morrison has basically been rehabbing his injury for the entire offseason rather than participating in voluntary baseball events like last season. He is still unlikely to make Opening Day, however, and that is already a bad sign for a player with a fast-growing history of problems dating back to the minors.

If Morrison can stay on the field, a league-average season is not out of reach, especially if he is better at first base than I have listed here. But given what we know about him, I went with a more conservative guess at his playing time. Here is hoping he outstrips that.

The Rest of the Team

The rest of the team should get significant playing time at first base if the Marlins are without Morrison for a little while. Greg Dobbs figures to be the primary backup at the position once Morrison returns from injury, but do not expect him to be the starter if Morrison out of the lineup regularly. The club signed Casey Kotchman to a minor league contract and grabbed Baltimore Orioles first baseman Joe Mahoney off of waivers to provide the team some first base depth in case Morrison is out for a significant time. Both players selected have responded well, with Kotchman starting spring training with seven hits in 12 plate appearances and Mahoney picking up five hits (two home runs) in 12 chances.

Expect one of those two to make the main roster along with Dobbs if Morrison fails to be ready by Opening Day. Also, expect one of those two to be the starting first baseman if that is the case as well, as both men have acquitted themselves well to start spring training. Who will make it in? We will discuss that a little more later today.

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