When the Twins signed Logan Morrison at the end of February, it was a bit surprising to see the organization add another 1B/DH when they already had Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano, Kennys Vargas, and Robbie Grossman on the active roster. However, Morrison’s asking price had dropped significantly, even after hitting .246/.353/.516 with a career-high 38 home runs. Ultimately Vargas was jettisoned to make room for Morrison.
However, we’ve seen anything but the slugger we envisioned when Morrison was brought on board. Following Tuesday night’s o-fer, his triple slash had dropped to .077/.172/.115 while notching just two hits in 29 plate appearances.
Last year was a career year for Morrison as he changed his approach at the plate. With launch angle optimization being the hot trend in baseball nowadays, LoMo sought to hit more balls in the air. Considering he bested his previous career high in home runs by 15 (which had occurred seven years earlier, his second major league season), his change at the plate paid off.
Though Morrison radically improved his offensive output in 2017, he had a significant weakness: fastballs. Though fastball velocity has increased significantly over the years, teams are also throwing them less often. In Morrison’s case, he was tied for 8th last year in total swings-and-misses on fastballs, leading to a whiff rate of 32%. His issue has caused opposing hurlers to approach him in a different manner as they just try to throw their best heater past him whenever possible.
As the table shows, Morrison saw a fastball, cutter, or sinker roughly 60% of the time last season. That number has jumped to over 70% this year as teams have figured out how to retire him. Considering all MLB pitchers threw a variation of a fastball 62% of the time last year, Morrison is getting pitched a little differently than your average hitter. He’s also getting defended differently as well, as the Houston Astros have deployed a four-man outfield against Morrison on both Monday and Tuesday night. (Third baseman Alex Bregman shifted into left field as the other outfielders moved towards right field.)
The extreme shift hasn’t been an issue for defenses as Morrison has only mustered jam shots and pop-ups to the left side of the field, and his lack of hard-hit balls (11.8% this year, 37.4% last year) will only further encourage teams that their tactics are working. I don’t think there’s any easy remedy for Morrison to suddenly become better at hitting fastballs, so it seems that his solution will be to start taking advantage of the rare offspeed/breaking pitches he’ll see, along with swinging at more hittable fastballs. The Twins are playing well in spite of his struggles, and hopefully his issues are more a case of “It’s April” and small sample sizes rather than being the symptoms of a much larger problem.