When June began there were many a question pointed in the direction of Kansas City Royals DH Kendrys Morales. Morales was mired in a two month-long hitting slump and at that point was hitting a paltry .193/.262/.330 with 6 home runs, 21 RBI’s and more strike outs than actual hits. Morales looked lost and there was concern that maybe Kansas City needed to go out and get a bat to replace him if the slump continued much longer. Even I wondered if Carlos Beltran would be a better option than Morales while deep down hoping that Kendrys would find his swing and take off like a rocket offensively. Well, it took a lot longer than expected, but the slugger we saw in 2015 win the Silver Slugger award for American League DH is back to form and has been tearing the hide off the ball these last few weeks. But this begs an even bigger question than we were asking a month ago: What has changed for Morales?
One of my initial beliefs about Morales’ improvement has been his ability to hit breaking balls and off-speed pitches. Early in the season it appeared he was really struggling trying to make contact and pitchers had picked up on that. But in June it seemed as if Morales was actually pounding those same pitches he was missing the first two months of the season:
The chart above confirms my suspicions as Morales’ exit velocity on breaking balls and off-speed stuff has taken a steady rise in a positive direction. This made me also wonder if he was not only hitting those pitches harder, but also improving his line-drive rate on balls in play:
That turned out to be a big 10-4 as Morales’ line drive rate on breaking balls jumped from an average of 7.14 in May to 66.67 in June. If you have watched a number of Royals games this past month, you are well aware of how Kendrys has been scalding the ball and by that I mean not in the form of ground balls:
This is also confirmed, at least on breaking balls. It does appear as if Morales saw a jump on ground balls off the off-speed pitch, which Isn’t too big of a shock. This probably should not be seen as completely negative, as it is better than popping those pitches up, where at least a well hit ground ball can find a hole. This seemed to be proven by Morales’ ground ball chart:
Last month Morales was hitting breaking balls in the air a lot, as it spiked the highest in May. In June, it is at the very bottom and is actually at zero. Rather than giving the other team an easy out by hitting it in the air, Morales has been getting enough of the bat on the ball to either hit the ball on the ground or line the ball into the field of play. Not only has Morales been hitting off-speed pitches, it also is the pitch he is swinging at the most in the last month:
This tells me that Morales felt more comfortable in June swinging at the off-speed pitch and probably even expected to see more change-ups than fastballs. Teams had obviously started throwing Morales a certain way, seeing that he was struggling catching up to the off-speed pitch and it makes one wonder if he will start seeing more fastballs with the way he has been hitting as of late.
So we have looked at Morales’ improvement with breaking balls and the off-speed pitch, but the overall numbers are even more impressive. Over the last month, Morales has put up a line of .402/.453/.655 with 5 home runs, 18 RBI’s and 12 total extra base hits. His strike outs have also steadily fallen, as he had 21 in April, 18 in May and down to 17 strike outs in June. One stat that really points out why Morales has seen this success is batting average on balls in play(BAbip). During the first two months of the season Morales posted BAbip’s of .270 and .157 respectively; in June he hit a whopping .462! Morales was not only hitting the ball better, but he was also finding holes in the other team’s defense at a higher rate as well. It shouldn’t be surprising that Morales ended up with an OPS+ of 190 throughout the month, as those are the two forms of attack for him in June; get on base and accumulate extra base hits. Morales ended up with only one more home run in June than May, but hit 7 doubles while only racking up 1 double in May. Oh, and Morales saw a big uptick in his batting average in the last month. He would start the month hitting .193, and would finish it hitting .262. We could probably dig up numbers all day comparing April/May to June and be blown away but more than anything it shows what Kendrys is capable of when he is in the zone. The numbers Morales put up last month weren’t just impressive for a guy who had been slumping all season, they would be impressive for the Mike Trout’s and Bryce Harper’s of the world as well. That is elite company, to say the least.
With this big of a turnaround, one has to wonder just what changed for Morales. We can speculate all day but if you have followed baseball for even a small bit you know the slightest change can make a difference. Earlier in the week I had a friend suggest that he believed that Morales had been staying on his back foot longer than normal and honestly, a change like that could make a batter see the ball better out of the pitcher’s hand and also give him more time to prepare for something slower than a fastball. Whatever approach Morales changed has worked and has made him look like the hitter who was spraying the ball with authority throughout much of 2015. With the trade deadline looming, having Kendrys on point leaves the Royals front office with one less position to worry about when looking at trade targets. Now if the rest of the Kansas City offense can help him out(and if Cleveland finally decides to lose a game) the Royals could be sitting pretty headed into the last couple months of the season. One minute we are cursing the slumping player, the next praising him. Piling on the adulation is way more productive than wondering what the hell is going on with someone like Morales. I’m just glad he chose to wake up his bat when he did.