Kendrys Morales' bid at history ended Monday night.
The Blue Jays slugger went deep in his seventh straight game on Sunday. That put him one shy of the longest streak on record (since 1908), which has been done thrice before: Ken Griffey Jr. in 1993, Don Mattingly in '87 and Dale Long in '56. In his four plate appearances Monday, Morales struck out to end the first inning, grounded out to first base in the fourth, walked in the sixth and struck out in the eighth during a 7-0 loss to the Orioles, bringing the streak to an end.
• Most consecutive games with a home run
Morales has had success at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, slashing .328/.383/.560 with seven doubles, a triple and six homers in 30 career games there. He started one game in Baltimore this season on April 9, singling in his first at-bat, but he strained his right hamstring rounding first base, prompting an early exit and a trip to the disabled list.
Morales' milestone is monumental, but a deeper analytical dive suggests that the slugger might be one of the few hitters in baseball capable of such a power streak. By homering in each of his past seven games, Morales has brought his season total to 21, and he's been one of the Majors' hottest hitters of late. Yet his season slash line sits at .264/.343/.484, which in part is that low due to two mediocre months to start the year in which he hit right above the Mendoza Line.
While Morales doesn't pace most traditional statistical leaderboards, he's ranked near the top of the Statcast™ charts. Here are a few nuggets that might explain why Morales has been a prime suspect to have the power surge he's displayed.
• Kendrys' interesting, winding road
Hard-hit rate is a Statcast™ classification of anything that leaves the bat with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher. Making hard contact is a skill, and we can now actually quantify those measures to supplement what the eye has always told us.
Of 362 hitters with at least 100 batted balls this year, Morales' 55.3-percent hard-hit rate trails only Aaron Judge's 56.3 percent. For added context, among same group of hitters, Morales is one of just 12 who is making hard contact more than half the time, which makes up just 3.3 percent of an incredibly wide sample of hitters, and with a sample size of five months. All but one of Morales' 21 homers have been hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher.
Hard-hit balls, naturally, have correlated to success, but it's not the only factor that contributes. And Morales' low batting average on hard-hit balls suggests he might have experienced another underlying issue that kept him from better exploiting his power.
Lowest batting average on hard-hit balls in 2018
Minimum 100 hard-hit balls (148 hitters)
Hard contact is an incredibly useful skill, but only if its optimally exploited. That's where launch angle comes in, which represents the vertical point at which the ball leaves the bat after being struck.
Statcast™ defines line drives between 10 and 25 degrees and fly balls between 25 and 40. Morales' hard-hit balls are averaging just 12.6 degrees, which is likely the culprit for why he hits so many grounders. A sizable 59 of Morales' 132 hard-hit balls have been on the ground, and he's mustered out hits on just 13 of those, all singles.
Morales' overall ground-ball rate this season is 44.4 percent, right under the 44.6-percent league average, though he has shown steady improvement over each of the past five months (until August, strangely). Considering that Morales isn't exactly a threat on the basepaths -- his Sprint Speed of 23.5 feet per second is tied for the ninth slowest among 517 tracked baserunners -- he's likely going to struggle to beat out infield grounders.
On Sunday, Morales described adjustments that he's made that suggested he properly diagnosed the issue, and he has worked to correct it by allocating more of his hard contact in the air.
"My bat was a little bit horizontal, so I wasn't getting into the pitch middle or inside, so I'm just trying to bring my nob a little more to the catcher so I can cover a little more and just a little bit faster to the ball," Morales said through an interpreter.
Hard-hit rate | FB/LD rate on hard contact | SLG on hard contact
March/April: 52.8% | 42.1% | .421
May: 62.1% | 61.1% | .667
June: 54% | 61.8% | 1.000
July: 53.6% | 76.7% | 1.067
August: 53.2% | 57.6% | 1.182
Even with a higher-than-normal ground-ball rate, when you're hitting the ball hard with such regularity, not everything is going to drop. Yet Morales has seemingly ran into as much trouble as anyone here. His 88 hard-hit outs trail only Santana (93), Manny Machado (92) and Anthony Rizzo (89).
By using hit probability, which examines exit velocity and launch angle, Statcast™ can measure a hitter's batted-ball profile to determine what their batting average and slugging percentage should be. And for Morales, those figures are significantly higher than what they actually are.
Morales' expected slugging percentage (xSLG) is .617, 133 points higher than his actual mark, and his expected batting average (xBA) is .307, 43 points higher. Those margins are the second- and fifth-widest among 364 hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. The large gap here is partially due to Morales' lack of foot speed and that defenses shift him heavily (47 percent of plate appearances, well above the MLB average of 17.4 percent), but it also shows that based on the quality of contact off his bat, his hitting skill remains more impressive than his actual slash line would indicate. Morales' xBA of .328 since the start of June leads the Majors.
Whether or not historic implications continue after tonight, Morales' offensive surge through the summer has been remarkable -- and perhaps not a fluke.