According to a new article from the OC Register, Mike Scioscia is planning on batting both Wood and Morales towards the bottom of the order, behind Matsui and Hunter. While I agree with Wood hitting in the 7 or 8 hole, I’m a little more torn on Morales.
The reasoning behind this, according to Scioscia, is that he wants to “keep the pressure… as low as possible.” Again, with Wood I understand this. With Morales, I don’t know how much sense it makes, though. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we get no regression from both Morales and Hunter, and they both produce at basically the same level they did last year. While the difference in their wOBA was small (only 3 points), Morales was still the better hitter.
Of course, in reality we’re almost certain to see regression from Hunter, and likely to see some from Morales as well. The problem is, Hunter’s season was a career-best one. His .379 wOBA last year was more than 10 points better than his previous career high, and he did it at age 34. There are not many people not named Barry Bonds that start putting up offensive career highs this far into their 30’s. I see no reason to think he’ll do it again. Assuming Hunter returns to somewhere around his career average in wOBA, Morales would have to regress to the tune of 40 full points just to fall back to the same level. Bill James, Marcel, the Fans over at FanGraphs, ZiPS, and CHONE are all predicting regression, but nothing even that bad. If we go with the projections CHONE and ZiPS give him, .353 wOBA, he’ll still end up 10 points above Hunter’s career average. To put it simply, there’s nothing to me that suggests that Torii Hunter will be a more productive hitter in 2010 than Kendry Morales.
As far as “pressure” goes, Morales has played in three straight postseasons (some, obviously, more than others), and it’s hard for me to imagine anytime in baseball where players would feel more pressure. He hasn’t been amazing, but he’s also only had 51 postseason Plate Appearances. He’s also fled Cuba, dealt with visa issues, and worked his way through the minors to be the everyday starting 1B for a major league baseball club. I guess I’d have to say I’m skeptical that coming up with a guy on 2B and 2 outs in the first inning of a game against the Twins is going to be so much pressure that he wilts.
The fact of the matter is, with the information we have, Morales is a better hitter than Hunter. Maybe Morales turns out to be a one-year wonder and never comes close to what he did in 2009. Maybe the 2009 version of Torii Hunter is the version we’ll see in 2010 too. But until either of those things happen, I see no reason to give more ABs to a lesser hitter in Hunter. It might make Scioscia think he’s giving Morales time to keep maturing, but he’s going to be hurting the team in the process, and this is not a team that has offense to spare. And unfortunately for Morales, any regression he experiences will just convince Scioscia he made the right decision, and it’ll take an injury for him to move up in the lineup.