Kendrys Morales, the 2015 Silver Slugger at DH, is hitting just .193 this season, with the lowest OPS on the team at .582.
Full disclosure. I did not like the Morales signing when it happened.
Fortunately for the Royals, I was wrong, and Morales went on to have his best season since 2009.
Then this happened.
However, if you combine the anticipation of an unlikely series win, with the fact that it was at home and off of Dallas Keuchal, you get one of the loudest moments in Kauffman Stadium history.
That series was an absolute grind and there was a lot of pent up frustration and excitement that was released in that moment.
So kudos Dayton Moore for a great signing and we will forever remember Kendrys Morales as the DH who helped lead the Royals to a World Series title.
With that being said, Morales has been pretty awful in 2016 and that doesn’t seem to be changing.
It is probably time to worry. Honestly, this piece is probably a few weeks late.
Our own Bryon Parman had this to say in his panic-proof piece on Morales just under a month ago.
"“Fangraphs.com shows the Kansas City Royals DH has a medium and hard contact percentage of 43.2% and 39.5% respectively,” Parman said. “Morales’s medium and hard contact percentages in 2015 were 50.4% and 35.3% so in fact, Morales has hit the ball hard more often this year than he did in 2015."
That still hasn’t changed a whole lot. The hard hit contact has leveled out to just under where it was in 2015.
So what gives? This might have something to do with it.
According to this metric, Morales has been the hardest luck hitter in the league when he hits the ball hard, and it’s not really that close.
One reason those hard hit balls are turning into outs are because he isn’t hitting the ball hard to the pull side, and more specifically, he’s not hitting the ball in the air.
Kevin Ruprecht of Royals Review, who wrote about Morales a few days ago, discussed this.
"“Using the hit location data, which records the position to which a batted ball went, it’s evident that Morales’ drop in pulling fly balls is coming entirely from when he bats left-handed,” Ruprecht said. “His rate of fly balls to right field was at 23.4 percent last year, and it’s at 10 percent this year.”"
The case of Morales really just shows how difficult it is to produce in the big leagues. Royals fans are familiar with this struggle, as they watched Billy Butler post his highest hard contact rate in 2014, his worst season.
They will also remember the beginning of Eric Hosmer‘s 2011 season, when he seemingly hit every single ball on the screws and couldn’t buy a hit.
What we have with Morales is a timing issue, it would seem.
The lack of fly balls to right field infers a lack of line drives, with his pull-side line drive total being at just nine.
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The lack of fly balls to right field also shows an increase of fly balls to the opposite field, which most people would say “hey! that’s encouraging!” But really, it’s not.
If you look at Morales left-handed spray chart and count the batted balls to dead left and dead right field (that left the infield), dead left leads 24-10.
14 of those 24 are fly balls, while just one (1) of those 10 is a fly ball. You will also notice the exceedingly huge number of ground balls that Morales has hit to the pull side.
Morales gives little to no value as a DH if he is hitting a lot of pull side ground balls (into the shift, mind you) and a lot of opposite field fly balls (weak fly balls, mind you).
What is encouraging is that timing issues are fixable. I.e. Alex Gordon in every slump he’s ever been in.
The hard hit percentage shows that he is at least squaring up the ball, which is more than most major league hitters can say about themselves.
However, as noted earlier, it is June and the Royals lineup is currently on fumes. A Royals title defense doesn’t seem all that plausible if Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain are the only healthy, functioning hitters.
Luck has not been on Morales’ side, but that argument only goes so far. Hard hit ground balls aren’t what the Royals bought two offseasons ago and they aren’t what made Morales a Silver Slugger.
There is still time, and quite frankly, the Royals don’t have a whole lot of options to replace Morales with even if they wanted to.
My inkling is that Morales will get hot. However, if he continues his struggle to hit the ball hard and in the air to the pull side, he might be in for a long(er) season.