Maybe expectations were a little too high for Nyjer Morgan coming into the 2010 season. Nationals fans wanted something to believe in, and he was the quirky little center fielder that could fit the bill, especially after he posted a .307/.369/.388 line with 42 stolen bases and a 27.6 UZR in 2009. But in a season that saw him in controversy after controversy, Nyjer Morgan floundered on the field plummeting his line to .253/.319/.314 with a 3.0 UZR.
So what exactly did Morgan do wrong in 2010? To answer that question we have to look at what went right for him in 2009. Morgan benefitted from a .355 batting average in balls in play last season which helped him hit above .300 for the first time in his Major League career, and lowered his strikeout percentage to to 15.8%, also the lowest in his career.
Quite simply, Morgan was getting it done at the plate, and absolutely mashing fastballs. In 2009 Fangraphs ranked his fastball rating at a remarkably high 14.5 runs above replacement, which made up for the fact that he didn’t hit the slider (-2.4) or curveball (-5.9) so well. He did this by swinging at the fewest number of pitches outside of the strike zone in his career, meaning he wasn’t chasing offspead pitches out of the zone.
In 2010 however Morgan lost the plate discipline that had made him a star in 2009. He chased more balls out of the strikezone, swinging at 5% more pitches outside of the zone than the year before. He also had trouble converting on the pitches that were in the zone, making contact with a career low 90.7% of pitches swung at insize the strikezone.
Morgan’s lack of plate discipline also didn’t help the fact that he hit fastballs at the worst rate of his career. His fastball ranked 16 runs below where it had the previous year with a -2.2 rating from Fangraphs in 2010, despite the fact he hit sliders and curve balls better.
While Morgan had trouble replicating the consistency with the bat that he had the previous year, pitchers were also much more cautious when pitching to him than they were the year before. Morgan saw 61.2% first pitch strikes in 2009, but only 56.4% in 2010 meaning pitchers learned that Nyjer was jumping on the first pitch fastball. Morgan also saw less strikes in general. Last season he saw 51.8 percent pitches for strikes but in 2010 that number dropped to a career low 46.4.
The good news for Morgan is that his .304 BABIP was almost .32 points below average, meaning that his batting average will probably raise next year to finish close to his career .282 mark if he continues to put the ball in play. However, his lack of patience and ability to hit the fastball suggests that this 30-year-old outfielder may not just be losing footspeed by the day, but also bat speed and his batters eye.