Kendrys Morales Is on a Home-Run Binge

Baseballs have continued to fly out of the park in 2018, if not at a record pace — the current per-team, per-game rate of 1.15 is the fourth-highest of all time, after 2017 (1.26), 2000 (1.17), and 2016 (1.16) — then nearly so. Nonetheless, over the past week-and-change, the game has produced something previously unseen amid this recent surge: a player challenging the major-league record of homers in eight consecutive games, a feat last completed by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1993. Blue Jays designated hitter and occasional first baseman Kendrys Morales has homered in seven straight, something unseen in 12 years. Tonight in Baltimore, he’ll have a chance to put himself in the record books.

Here’s Morales’s entry from Sunday, a towering two-run blast off the Phillies’ Vince Velasquez:

Alas, the homer, Morales’s 21st of the season, wasn’t enough to help the Blue Jays continue their season-high five-game winning streak, which has been fueled by the 35-year-old switch-hitting slugger’s power burst.

Morales’s streak began inauspiciously enough on August 19 in New York. Facing former teammate J.A. Happ, he led off the sixth inning of a game the Blue Jays were trailing 6-1 with a solo homer that was merely a footnote in a 10-2 defeat by the Yankees. The homer did at least end Morales’s personal 13-game drought without a dinger, and snapped him out of a 6-for-38 slump without an extra-base hit during that span. Back in Toronto the next night against the Orioles, Morales drove in four of the Blue Jays’ five runs in a 5-3 win, homering twice off starter Andrew Cashner, with a game-tying solo homer in the fourth inning and a three-run shot in the fifth. Because baseball works in silly ways, the pair of homers — from Morales’s first multi-homer game since May 1 — represented both his shortest (343 feet) and longest (437 feet) of the season, according to Statcast.

On Tuesday, Morales went yard against Baltimore’s Dylan Bundy, the last of three hits he collected off the starter in that night’s 8-2 victory. On Wednesday afternoon, it was two hits off the Orioles’ David Hess, including a seventh-inning homer that broke a scoreless tie in a game that evolved into a lopsided 6-0 victory. That broke Morales’s personal high of homering in three straight games, which he did twice in 2016.

On Friday against the Phillies, Morales took Jake Arrieta deep in the second inning of a 4-2 win. On Saturday, with the Blue Jays trailing 5-0, he did the same to Nick Pivetta with one on in the fourth inning, sparking a comeback that led to an 8-6 win.

On Sunday, the caterpillar ate through one nice green — wait, different story. On Sunday, Morales broke Jose Cruz Jr.’s franchise record of homers in six straight games, set in 2001, as well as the majors’ longest such streak this year, set by the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter from July 14 to 21. Here’s a cool montage of the streak, care of MLB.com:

With the homer in his seventh straight game, Morales also entered some rarified air. Via the Baseball-Reference Play Index, which goes back to 1908, there have been 141 streaks in which a player homered in at least five straight games, including 110 that ended after that. Four players — namely the Braves’ Ronald Acuña, the Phillies’ Odubel Herrera, the Orioles’ Jonathan Schoop, and the Reds’ Eugenio Suarez — did so this year. There have been 31 streaks in which a player homered in at least six straight games, 24 of which ended on that note, including Carpenter.

Just seven times has a player run his streak for longer than six games, none since 2006:

Longest Streaks of Consecutive Games with Home Runs
Player Team Strk Start End Games HR
Dale Long Pirates 5/19/1956 5/28/1956 8 8
Don Mattingly Yankees 7/8/1987 7/18/1987 8 10
Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners 7/20/1993 7/28/1993 8 8
Jim Thome Indians 6/25/2002 7/3/2002 7 7
Barry Bonds Giants 4/12/2004 4/20/2004 7 8
Kevin Mench Rangers 4/21/2006 4/28/2006 7 7
Kendrys Morales Blue Jays 8/19/2018 8/26/2018 7 8
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

That’s quite a strange list. On the one hand, it includes three of the top eight home-run hitters in major-league history in Bonds (762), Griffey (630), and Thome (612). On the other, well… ¯\_(?)_/¯.

Sure, Mattingly was a recent MVP winner and perennial All-Star who was near the height of his powers when he reeled off his streak. Mench, who homered just 13 times in the year of his streak — Thome, with 52, has the high among those above, with Bonds and Griffey both at 45 — was known more for an oversized noggin that earned him the nickname “Shrek” and the distinction of wearing the majors’ largest cap, a size 8. Long, who broke the record of six straight games that had previously been shared by five players — including Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, High Pockets Kelly, and Willie Mays — was a 29-year-old first baseman in the midst of a lone All-Star season over the course of his 10-year major-league career; he hit a career-high 27 homers that year. Two years later, he gained a further foothold in history by catching two innings for the Cubs, making him the first left-handed catcher in the majors since the St. Louis Browns’ Jiggs Donahue in 1902. Not until 1980, when the White Sox’ Mike Squires caught two innings, would there be another.

Morales’s career isn’t quite that random a collection of factoids, but he’s never been an All-Star and, until this streak, hadn’t been much help to the Blue Jays since signing a three-year, $33 million deal in November 2016. Last year, he hit .250/.308/.445 with 28 homers but just a 97 wRC+ and -0.6 WAR. Through the first half of this season, he was similarly counterproductive, hitting .246/.320/.436 with 11 homers, a 99 wRC+, and 0.1 WAR. He’s 13-for-27 during the streak, with no other extra-base hits besides the homers and, until his final appearance of Sunday afternoon’s game, hadn’t drawn a walk since August 16, the day he began what’s now a 10-game hitting streak. With his hot streak, Morales is now up to .264/.343/.484 with a 121 wRC+ and 0.9 WAR, a meager total that nonetheless represents his highest since 2015, when he had a 2.1-win campaign for the World Series-winning Royals.

For as random and out-of-nowhere as Morales’s streak is, he’s been working under rather favorable conditions. Eighteen of his 21 homers this year, and all but the one off of Happ within this streak, have come against righties; he’s slugging .549 with a 147 wRC+ against them this year, compared to a .357 SLG and 67 wRC+ against lefties. What’s more, pitchers in Yankee Stadium have allowed a major league-high 1.47 homers per nine this year, while those at the Rogers Centre have allowed the majors’ fourth-highest rate (1.39 per nine). Aside from a couple of Phillies starters, the hurlers Morales has hurt have tended towards the gopher-friendly:

Pitchers Allowing Homers During Morales’s Streak
Pitcher Team HR/9 ERA FIP WAR
Dylan Bundy Orioles 2.19 5.31 5.29 0.4
David Hess Orioles 2.00 5.50 6.11 -0.3
Nick Pivetta Phillies 1.32 4.76 3.61 2.7
J.A. Happ Yankees 1.31 3.80 3.86 2.7
Andrew Cashner Orioles 1.21 4.79 4.85 1.1
Vince Velasquez Phillies 0.98 4.05 3.71 2.4
Jake Arrieta Phillies 0.87 3.37 4.01 2.1

They’re not all bad pitchers, by any stretch, but five of the seven have higher home-run rates than the MLB average of 1.16. As it turns out, Morales will get his crack at history against the worst pitcher from this list, Hess, at a ballpark where pitchers have served up the majors’ third-highest home run rate (1.43 per nine). The 25-year-old rookie righty has allowed a slightly higher rate of homers at home (2.05 per nine) than on the road. If Morales ties the record, on Tuesday he’ll be facing TBD, and given the Orioles’ recent track record when it comes to pitching, you can imagine he’s homer-prone as well.

Nonetheless, sit up straight and try to look surprised if Morales does claim his swatch of history. Even in a time when we’re awash in homers, it’s not that often that something like this comes around.

We hoped you liked reading Kendrys Morales Is on a Home-Run Binge by Jay Jaffe!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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Philbert
Member
Philbert

The point about him only having a 99 wRC+ at the All-Star break caught me off guard because I thought it would have been a bit worse based on how horrendous he was to start the year. Arbitrary endpoints, obviously, but it turns out he actually had a 150 wRC+ from May 20 to the break. From the start of the season to May 19, it was 30.

It’s a pretty remarkable extended stretch he’s on right now considering how bad he looked last year and (particularly) early this year. He has a 156 wRC+ in 77 games/284 PA since that May 20 game. That’s a hell of a half season run.

jerkstore
Member
jerkstore

Same.

It’s a great reminder that no one knows anything about baseball and anything can happen over 300PAs.