I have written many times that Nyjer Morgan will never be a quality major league starter. He is too old to be a prospect, he possesses no power and his on-base skills have never been sufficient to supplement his solid batting averages. I complained repeatedly when he was given playing time over guys like Steve Pearce and Nate McLouth over the past two years. I was again unhappy as the 2009 season approached and it became apparent that Morgan would start in left field and Pearce would head back to Triple-A.
However, somewhere along the line, I warmed to the idea of Morgan playing the role of placeholder until Andrew McCutchen is ready for Pittsburgh. I think it was when I penned these pieces on the Pirates’ defense. At that point, it occurred to me that Morgan was going to be a giant defensive upgrade over Jason Bay. I predicted a two-win improvement, and it looks like I grossly underestimated the advantage. A quarter of the way through the year, Morgan is already worth almost two defensive wins more than Bay. Over a full season, that difference could reach five wins. That is an incredible statistic.
Obviously, Nyjer is no Jason Bay at the plate. Nyjer has been a nice surprise thus far, with a line of .303/.380/.366. Bay, on the other hand, has destroyed the American League to a tune of .302/.437/.647. But before we compare the two, let’s take a look at the subtle improvements Nyjer has made to his game. No longer is his value tied up only in an empty batting average. He has walked in 10.1% of his plate appearances, a vast increase over recent years. He has offered at only 23.8% of pitches outside the strike zone, better than league average and another improvement over his past two seasons with the Pirates. That improved patience has helped him raise his on-base percentage and improve his value at the plate.
Back to the Nyjer vs. Bay comparison. Obviously, Bay is much more valuable due to his monster start at the plate, right? Not when you consider defense. Here is the value of each player in 2009:
That’s right. Nyjer Morgan has been more valuable in 2009 than Jason Bay. Shocking.
All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com, the greatest website ever invented. The stats are current through May 20.