Morel battling expectation vs. reality in batter's box

June 6th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CINCINNATI -- Reality is on display on the scoreboard every time Cubs slugger steps into the batter’s box. The surface-level numbers show a hitter who is underperforming expectations for someone routinely occupying the cleanup spot for a team in need of power.

The under-the-hood statistics tell a different story.

“When you look at his expected numbers, they're really positive,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “The walk rate. The strikeout rate. The expected numbers based on his batted-ball profile are like 100 points better than his numbers. Those are the kind of things you just assume they even out over the course of the season.”

Determining how much of a sample is the right size for accurate evaluation is more art than science, but the data supports the Cubs exercising patience with Morel’s offensive results with roughly four months left on the schedule. Right now, the intersection of expectation and reality remains off in the distance.

The raw results show that Morel has a .203 average with a .387 slugging percentage and a .309 weighted on-base average through 61 games this year for the Cubs. The underlying numbers via Statcast include a .265 expected average to go along with a .500 expected slugging (top 11% in MLB) and a .377 xwOBA (top 8% in MLB).

“The expected stuff,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said, “that’s probably what we should trust more than the other stuff.”

That does not make it any easier on a hitter who is not getting the results.

“These guys still look up at the scoreboard and see numbers that they don't like, right?” Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly said. “You can only pat him on the butt so many times before he's like, ‘Am I doing something wrong?’ And you're like, ‘No, you're not. Just keep going. I promise this is going to change.’ But guys, they look at those numbers and it's real.”

Beyond the expected stats, the fact that Morel has maintained his impressive improvement in strikeout and walk rate through the first two months is also fueling the Cubs’ belief that his overall numbers will continue to tick up. Morel has a 12.3% walk rate in 2024, compared to an 8.4% rate last year. His strikeout rate is down to 21.8%, compared to 31% in ‘23 and 32.2% in ‘22.

“I just go out there and control what I can control,” Morel said via translator Fredy Quevedo Jr. “I pick my strike zone and just go ahead and try to put the ball in play, and I know that eventually the results will be given.”

In Wednesday’s 7-6 comeback win over the White Sox, Morel boasted the hardest-hit ball of the night with a 109.8 mph single in the second inning. He also drew a key walk as part of a three-run rally in the seventh. On Tuesday, Morel launched a two-run homer, reached on an infield single and scored the decisive run, helping overcome a costly error he made at third base earlier in the victory (also a 7-6 win).

The Cubs are showing patience with Morel at the plate, but Counsell acknowledged before Wednesday’s game that the team is still assessing the situation at third base. Morel has -9 Outs Above Average and -7 Defensive Runs Saved at third.

“We have to keep evaluating it,” Counsell said. “Our job is to put the best team out there. You do have to have your eye on making players better. … But also, we have to produce, right? Christopher, I think in areas there’s been some progress, and then we’ve taken some steps back on days, for sure. As we get a bigger sample here, we’ve got to evaluate that, absolutely.”