Miami Marlins analysis: Who is Logan Morrison?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins are likely going with Logan Morrison next season at first base, but how long will that last given his performance over the course of his career?

Earlier today, Scott Gelman covered how Miami Marlins first baseman Logan Morrison is looking for consistency in his game now that he is healthy. Morrison's career has been marred with injuries mixed with questionable defensive placement, and now he is finally settled into his true position at first base. This year was supposed to be the season in which Morrison began his true career path as a patient-hitting power first baseman.

Well, just like a lot of years before this one, it has not happened. Morrison is hitting just .244/.334/.386 (.316 wOBA) this year, and while he is still showing patience (11 percent walk rate), he is failing at generating power (.134 ISO) and cannot find base hits (.284 BABIP). And despite all of the hype that still follows Morrison's bat and his designation as the second-best hitter on the team, he has had a very mediocre career at the plate over parts of four seasons.

Morrison, Career PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA
2010 287 .283 .390 .447 .372
2011 525 .247 .330 .468 .346
2012 334 .230 .308 .399 .308
2013 317 .246 .334 .386 .316

The batting line has fallen in each year except between last season and this year, and in that case it has not risen back up to expected levels for a hitter in the middle of the order. Outside of the 2011 year, Morrison has struggled with power and has failed to launch the ball out of the park. His career 47.4 percent ground ball rate and career ISO of .181 are not good enough when he is also failing to get base hits overall.

I have mentioned more than a few times about Morrison's failure to produce on offense and how the Marlins should chase a potential superstar like Jose Abreu over going safe with more playing time for Morrison. The numbers bear that out; despite Morrison's excellent pedigree (he was the 20th-ranked prospect by Baseball America in 2010), he has totaled a measly 1.1 Wins Above Replacement in close to 1500 plate appearances. Among all position players who have played for the Fish since 2010, Morrison is 14th among them in WAR, behind 11 players who have logged fewer plate appearances than him. The cast of players who have racked up more Marlins WAR than Morrison since 2010 includes Cody Ross (487 plate appearances), John Buck (928), and Emilio Bonifacio (1116).

So with all of those departed players performing better overall than Morrison, how has he survived? Part of it has been his price, as Morrison has made the rookie pre-arbitration scale in each of those seasons. But now Morrison is heading into arbitration for the first time in his career, so the Marlins will eventually have to start making decisions about his future. The evaluation of his talent is more important than ever.

In the article, Morrison stated a couple of potential reasons for his struggles.

Injuries

I have speculated before that Morrison's injuries have taken a toll on his work at the plate. I figured that, from a mechanical perspective, he is unlikely to be feeling well while working through or recovering from injury. Last year, it is notable that he was suffering through knee issues following his offseason knee surgery, and that they were significant enough to warrant repeat surgery in late July, costing him the season.

This year, Morrison spent the first few months recovering from that knee surgery from last season. Since then, there has been no indication that he has been hurt. He also moved to a less demanding and his more natural position, which should put less stress on his knee issues. But that has not relieved Morrison's significant issues at the plate and on the field. He has not improved this season offensively, and his numbers by UZR or DRS have shown him to be a below-average defensive first baseman. Out on the field, he also does not pass the eye test, as he has been looking clunky handling ground balls.

It is possible this season is another campaign lost to injury as he recovered from missing 11 months of playing time. But at some point, Marlins fans have to stop excusing his injury issues with potential. In addition, the injuries themselves could be chronic concerns for a team that cannot afford to pay for players to stay shelved. If Morrison is "injury-prone," that would be yet another reason to consider other options.

Stadium Dimensions

Morrison mentioned that Marlins Park's dimensions may also be interfering with his play. Not only might it be getting to him in terms of raw performance, but it may also be affecting his mentality at the plate.

The numbers bear that to some degree.

Morrison, Home/Road PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Home 331 .232 .302 .349 .290
Road 316 .241 .339 .438 .330

In support of this are the raw numbers over two seasons that show that Morrison has played worse at home than he has on the road. In the two years before the move to Marlins Park, that was not the case, as Morrison was even in terms of splits in 2011 and hit better at home in 2010. But a lot of the influence on this small sample is from the 2012 season, in which Morrison hit .209/.278/.329 at home and .254/.342/.478 on the road. This year, the numbers are much more even between home and road.

What causes these fluctuations? The observed gap so far probably has some true merit, as Marlins Park does suppress home runs at least and probably affects power, but a good amount of it may still be random variation. There is not enough data to say for certain that the Marlins are suffering in Marlins Park any more than they have been on the road.

Having said that, perhaps Morrison's profile as a hitter fits better in a smaller park than Marlins Park currently is. Players like Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Ruggiano have seemingly seen little difference between home and road performance over two years, so perhaps Morrison is lacking the power to flourish in this environment. That may be an indictment on the park, but it is also an indictment on Morrison's skills.

The Marlins are almost certainly going to go with Morrison in 2014, so this discussion will likely be tabled until the trade deadline of next year. But even with the above explanations, it is difficult to ignore all the bad that we have seen from Morrison over almost 1500 plate appearances. At this point, what you see may be what you get.

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