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Power trips: In '17, LoMo did flexing on road

December 21, 2017

Logan Morrison had a career year at the perfect time, mashing 38 home runs for the Rays before hitting free agency. J.D. Martinez is the only player on the open market who provided more power in 2017 than the 30-year-old left-handed-hitting first baseman.As teams look over Morrison's 2017 numbers and

Logan Morrison had a career year at the perfect time, mashing 38 home runs for the Rays before hitting free agency. J.D. Martinez is the only player on the open market who provided more power in 2017 than the 30-year-old left-handed-hitting first baseman.
As teams look over Morrison's 2017 numbers and consider how he might fit in with their ballclub, they'll surely note one unusual split: LoMo hit for far more power on the road than he did at Tropicana Field.
Morrison hit 27 home runs on the road; he hit 11 at home. His road slugging percentage was .628; his home slugging was .398. That's a 230-point difference -- second largest of any qualified hitter, behind only Todd Frazier, who slugged 237 points better on the road than at home. Most hitters hit a little bit better at home, so this extreme split is sure to raise some eyebrows in front offices across baseball.

It's true that The Trop isn't the most favorable park for left-handed hitters. Since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015, for example, lefties have fared well below average at The Trop on hard-hit air balls -- fly balls and line drives with exit velocities of 95 mph or higher. At Tropicana Field, lefties' wOBA on hard-hit "air balls" is .881, ranking 20th of the 30 MLB ballparks. They've turned into outs 40.4 percent of the time, fifth most of any park.
And Morrison did have a few potential homers caught at the wall at The Trop -- one against the Astros on April 23, one against the Royals on May 10 and one against the Yankees on May 19. Those could have been gone at the right ballpark.
But that doesn't explain away Morrison's extreme splits, especially considering the Rays' other lefty power hitters in team history didn't have them. Four other Rays lefties have had 30-homer seasons -- Carlos Pena from 2007-09, Fred McGriff in 1999, Aubrey Huff in '03 and Brad Miller in '16. None hit more than four homers more on the road than at home. (Miller even hit 22 homers at The Trop and just eight on the road.)
So what happened with Morrison? It's hard to tell exactly the reason, but he was just a better hitter away from St. Pete. He was more disciplined, and he drove the ball with more authority.
In 2017, Morrison was a Three True Outcome type of hitter. He homered 38 times, walked 81 and struck out 149. But his walk rate was higher on the road (15.6 percent, vs. 11.1 percent at home) and his strikeout rate was lower (27.9 percent at The Trop, 22.0 percent away from it). He got ahead in the count more often -- Morrison was in a hitter's count on 34.1 percent of the pitches he faced on the road, compared to 27.9 percent at home.
He also did a better job laying off the pitches he was less likely to handle -- breaking balls down-and-in -- while attacking more fastballs (59.5 percent swing rate at fastballs on the road, 53.0 percent at The Trop). He zeroed in on the fastballs in his preferred zones -- middle-up and middle-away, as he told FanGraphs' David Laurila early in the season.

That helped him make more and better contact. Morrison, who's bought into the launch angle revolution, hit the ball harder in the air on the road -- 35.2 percent of his line drives and fly balls were hard-hit, compared to 28.9 percent at home. He barreled the ball more than twice as often; barrels are the best type of contact, encompassing those batted balls most likely to go for homers and extra-base hits. Morrison had 34 barrels on the road, accounting for 17.6 percent of his batted balls, but only 13 at home, 7.5 percent of his batted balls there.
His production disparity doesn't appear to be related to the dimensions of Tropicana Field itself, so that at least could be of some reassurance to a team with a similar stadium. If Morrison's overall tendencies at the plate carry over from 2017 to '18, his strange home-road splits from this year might not be an issue.
Morrison profiles as a fairly typical lefty power hitter. Most of his home runs go to the pull field or center; he only hit three the opposite way in 2017. His fly balls and line drives skew mostly to right and center, as do his hard-hit balls in general. That's where he can do the most damage.

So how would that play in a different home park? There are several teams who could still use a first baseman -- or at least a power bat to platoon or spend time at designated hitter -- like the Rockies, Astros and Angels.
Colorado would of course be an ideal place to play for a hitter who can drive the ball in the air. Left-handed hitters have had more success on hard-hit air balls at Coors Field than anywhere else since 2015 -- in the thin air, their wOBA on fly balls and line drives hit 95-plus mph is 1.033, the highest of any ballpark. That's 152 points better than at The Trop.
Houston might be tough. On the one hand, there's the short right field, which has helped lefties produce a .965 wOBA on hard-hit air balls at Minute Maid Park since 2015, fourth highest among ballparks. That would surely be a benefit when Morrison pulls the ball. But he also uses center field heavily, and Minute Maid is cavernous there. Some of his 2017 home runs could potentially be outs in Houston.

Seattle could pose a similar brand of difficulty, since Safeco Field is deep to the center field area even after the Mariners brought in the fences in 2013. Lefties have had an .857 wOBA on hard-hit air balls at Safeco since 2015, which is lower than at The Trop. At Safeco, 41.4 percent of lefties' hard-hit air balls have turned into outs, third most of any MLB park. But at the same time, it isn't quite as deep as Minute Maid in the region of center field Morrison uses most. Morrison spent the 2014-15 seasons with the Mariners and slugged just .398 with a total of 28 homers in nearly 900 plate appearances, so it doesn't seem like this is a great fit for a reunion.

Angel Stadium is an interesting case. Lefties' wOBA on hard-hit air balls there is a "low" .849, but that might have more to do with the high wall spanning right field than the distance to the fences. Center field in Anaheim, for example, is not particularly deep. Morrison has the ability to drive the ball far enough out there that his bat might play well at The Big A.

In general, if you look at Morrison's spray charts, his home runs for the most part appear safe. If he keeps up his batted ball quality going forward next season, he has the strength to hit homers no matter where he lands.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.