Out of Thin Air: Kendry Morales

What has gotten into Kendry Morales lately? Once hailed as the next-great Cuban import, Morales had been nothing short of a monumental disappointment in his first three tours with the Angels.

Between 2006 and 2008, Morales had seen 402 plate appearances for the Anaheim Angels of California, totaling 12 HR, 56K, and 27 BB. Despite the lackluster performance, he showed plenty in the minors to dream on, including 15 HR in 340 PA in 2008, to supplement .341/.376/.543 line. Pretty good. Then came 2009.

Thus far this season, Morales has been among the best one-sackers this season, posting a .299/.350/.581 triple-slash in 397 PA, to go along with 23 HRs. In layman terms, he has been outstanding. So what has been at the heart of this turnaround?

Obviously, the new Kendry Morales has been brought about by a substantial increase in power. His HR:FB% has improved from 9.8% in 2007, to 12.5% in 2008, to 17.7% in 2009. Often times, an increase in power involves a tendency to pull the ball, which will account for the player’s majority of home runs. In Morales’ case, however, he has added power to all fields, and both sides of the plate. No longer is he just a left-handed pull hitter, but he can hit to opposite field from the left-side, and can hit for some power from the right-side.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Morales’ improvement is that he seems to have found his swing against off-speed and breaking pitches, especially the curveball, cut fastball, and changeup. Using Fangraphs.com ‘s “Runs per 100 pitches” statistic, it becomes obvious that Morales’ biggest improvements this season have come in a new found ability to hit cut fastballs, and changeups, and, oh yeah, to annihilate curveballs. This season, Morales has hit curveballs at a rate of 5.13 runs above average (RAA) per 100 pitches, compared to 2.97 on his career, and an abysmal -7.84 runs in 2008. He has hit cutters at 0.87 RAA in 2009, compared to -1.10 RAA. He has improved similarly against changeups, with -0.07 RAA in 2009, compared to -1.84 RAA on his career. Perhaps most interesting about this combination of pitch hitting skills is what this means for opposing pitchers. While he mashes curveballs, he sees them more often than 80% of the league. What will happen when he stops seeing so many of them, when pitchers go back to the fastball and chageup, which he hits about average? 

Besides these factors, little else has changed in Morales’ hitting line. His FB% has remained fairly stable for the past three years, ranging from 41.8% to 44.4%. His K% is at 18.4% this season, up slightly from a career average of 16.6%, with a 79.7% contact rate right around his career average of 80.7%. His plate discipline stats have not changed much either, as he still chases quite a bit (30.7% O-Swing) while not swinging particulary much (45.6%), hinting that his batting eye is still not particularly good.  

With this newfound ability to hit non-fastballs and a new power stroke, Morales has morphed into one of the most dangerous, balanced hitters in the league. What a find for the California Angels. He could have quite the career ahead of him, with plenty of major league service time before he hits free agency. While he may have to become a better hitter against non-curveballs, there is little reason to expect anything other than greatness.

Thanks to Fangraphs.com for their contributions to this article.

Mike Silver recently completed his requirements for the Sport Management Major at THE University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he is a brother of Theta Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity, the best house in the country. He is a huge Red Sox and Bruins fan, and longs for the days of the REAL Boston Garden, Cam Neely, and the ultimate Dirt Dog Trot Nixon. If you have any questions, you can reach him at mjasilver@gmail.com. Have a good night readers, and know that Mike hopes to hear from you soon. If you quote Mike in an article, please let him know. He’d love to hear it.



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