At the risk of furthering the nightmare of soulless aggregation that is the bane of more erudite bloggers’ existence, I’m going to run with some things Jed Hoyer said on 670 The Score Monday afternoon. During his appearance on the Mully & Haugh Show, the Cubs baseball boss spoke about Christopher Morel‘s outstanding play so far this season.
The utilityman has 13 homers in just 120 plate appearances while handling four different positions in addition to DH. As valuable as it is to have a dynamic player who can move all over the field, the Cubs may be looking at narrowing the focus for Morel as they sense a real opportunity to climb back into the postseason race.
“He’s done a nice job sort of bouncing around, but I do think that for some guys, it’s important to find a position and settle in,” Hoyer said. “We’d love to be able to find that spot. I think third makes some sense. His hands work really well. He probably needs to spend a lot of time working through some footwork things. He’s got such a strong arm, he should be able to do it.”
The strategy here is clearly based on the lack of offensive production from a position normally known for being a force in the lineup. With an aggregate 75 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR from the hot corner, the Cubs are among the worst 3-4 teams in the league in that regard. A lot of folks probably want to pin that on Patrick Wisdom, but his 102 wRC+ and 0.4 fWAR are all that’s keeping the Cubs from having the worst offense in the league at that spot.
Of course, Wisdom is on the IL now and was in a terrible slump prior to giving his sprained right wrist a rest. Since May 14, a span of 72 plate appearances, he had a .391 OPS with a wRC+ of just 4 (meaning he was 96% worse than the average hitter) and a 48.6% strikeout rate. Nick Madrigal has been better than that since returning from a demotion to Iowa, but he still isn’t hitting the ball with anything approaching authority.
That said, this is bigger than just who Morel would replace defensively. The biggest reason for putting him in a more regular position is simply because he hits better when he’s in the field. Though he does have three homers in 46 plate appearances when serving as the DH this season, he’s carrying a mere .214 average and 98 wRC+ there.
In 73 PAs as a position player, Morel is batting .343 with 10 homers, a 225 wRC+, and a 1.233 OPS. The only trick here, and it’s a big one, is that the man affectionately known as The Electric Factory has yet to play so much as an inning at third in the majors this season. He didn’t acquit himself well there last season in a limited sample, so giving him any kind of extended run at third is something the Cubs understand will come with its share of growing pains.
“He’s probably going to have some ups and downs,” Hoyer admitted. “He’s probably going to be a little bit streaky. But the nice thing with him is the hot streaks are so hot and the production is so real, it’s really nice to have a guy in the middle of the lineup like that that can change the score so quickly, change the whole game.
“He hits righties, he hits lefties, he hits good stuff. It’s impressive what he’s doing. It’s hard to say what his ceiling is because he does some unique things on a baseball field.”
My personal belief remains that Morel is actually better as kind of that Ben Zobrist type of player who can move around and spell other regulars at their positions, but third has been a black hole this season. What’s more, I don’t think Morel’s diminished production as a designated hitter is merely a fluke. In much the same way some closers can’t pitch nearly as well when used in non-save situations, there’s a decided mental aspect to being in the flow of the game and having a “normal” routine.
Put it all together and it makes all the sense in the world to start giving Morel more innings at third to see what he can do there. The best-case scenario is that he absolutely takes over the position and owns it for years to come, but even having struggles means the Cubs put him back in a utility role and work to keep him in the lineup more frequently while searching for a more permanent solution.
To that end, Matt Chapman with his three Gold Gloves and career 120 wRC+ would look pretty good in blue pinstripes next season.
Until then, I’m all for the Cubs giving Morel a little room to carve out a more regular role over the rest of the season. Maybe this wasn’t an entirely soulless regurgitation based on taking a quote out of context after all.