Michael Morse Hoping to Rebound With Fresh Start, Regular At-Bats

The Pirates beat the clock on July 31st when they acquired Michael Morse and cash from the Dodgers in exchange for the increasingly unwanted Jose Tabata.

Tabata and Morse are under contract through the 2016 season – in 2016 Tabata is due to make $4.5 million while Morse will earn $8 million. It is unclear the exact amount of money that was sent the Pirates way in the swap of players. Considering the Dodgers are allocating upwards of $86 million to players that are no longer in their organization, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that the Dodgers provided the Pirates with the money to even out the two players’ contracts for 2016.

Morse has had a productive career at the plate – a career .276 average and a .794 OPS – but he’s struggled so far this season. The 33-year-old has a career-low .589 OPS, and his .100 ISO is the lowest since his rookie season in 2005. He also has a career-high strikeout rate of 31.6%, and is putting the ball on the ground at a career-high rate of 57.1%. A poor month of April along with a month-long DL stint never allowed Morse to find a comfort zone at the plate.

“I just never got to settle in,” Morse said regarding his early struggles. “I got hurt early in the season and I only got 150 at-bats with [the Marlins] and they were kind of sporadic at bats. I never really got to settle in. Again, I’m not going to make any excuses, but I have a fresh start here and I know what I’m capable of doing.”

The Pirates and Morse are hoping that a change of scenery will reignite him at the plate. He batted .279 and hit 16 home runs in 2014 for the World Champion Giants, but his game-winning RBI in game seven of the World Series is what the Giants and their fans will remember most.


One of the big questions for Morse is what his role will be moving forward into 2016, and whether or not he can be a valuable piece to the Pirates roster. Morse showed last season that he is capable of providing a team with a productive 450 at bats, but he has not displayed that ability yet in 2015. As discussed above, Morse is due to make a pretty good chunk of change next season, and the Pirates will be watching closely to determine whether he will be worth the amount of money he’s owed next year. GM Neal Huntington did not guarantee that Morse would be back with the club next season, regardless of their financial situation.

“We will see how it plays out [to see how important that Morse has control],” Huntington said last Friday. “If we get him back to how he was a year ago, it could play out very well. If he continues to scuffle, we will have a decision to make moving forward.”

Morse is going to need to hit closer to the way he did throughout the 2014 season in order to validate his 2016 salary. Defensively, Morse provides value by his ability to play a corner outfield spot or first base. However, the defensive metrics point to him as being below-average in both the outfield as well as at first base. It remains to be seen whether Morse will be strictly used as a spot-starter/pinch-hitter or if he will be added into the rotation for regular playing time. Either way, he is okay with the uncertainty of his playing time in the future, and is focused on one thing:

“At this point in my career, it’s all about winning. I care about winning,” Morse said insistently. “I’ll do whatever it takes, whether its play once every month [or] every day. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

There is reason to believe that Morse can return to his past form, and having that option off of the bench will only fortify what will already be a strong Pirates’ bench heading into the stretch run with the pending returns of Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer.

  • I really think we should give Morse regular starts at first base. For his career, he’s a better hitter than Pedro. He’s obviously better defensively just by not being Pedro.

    We need to know whether or not we can count on him to be the everyday first baseman next year. Audition him now. Pedro’s been bad enough that it probably wouldn’t cost us a whole lot in production even if he does flounder a bit.

  • All very well and good, but we need Andrew McCutchen to be better, a lot better, than he’s been if we are going to have any hope of keeping the 1st Wild Card spot. Our offense really is offensive…Kang has been great, Marte brilliant on occasion, and Cutch has been semi-regularly the player we have come to expect. Polanco has been better of late but he couldn’t get much worse really.

    • I was actually thinking the same thing. Cutch isn’t having a bad year statistically. Certainly not his best, but still good. The one thing that really stands out though is that he’s only attempted to steal 7 times this season. Also it seems like he takes some plays off in the outfield where guys have taken second on routine base hits. The only reasonable explanation I can think of for this is he’s hurt.

      • I watched him try to steal the other night against the Cubs and he got thrown out by a mile. His jump was terrible. Maybe that knee injury is still lingering.

        • I was going to bring that up but I couldn’t remember if it was him or Marte on Monday. Thank you

    • Polanco had a hit in all but 4 games in July. He cant get much worse? C’mon. He was quality all of July.

      Our offense was above average in July. We’ve had a 7ish game scuffle.

  • Well, he’s not going to really get more than sporadic ABs here, too, right?

    Only PH and when we face LHPs?

    • PGH could go really aggressive and bench Pedro if he struggles over the next 1-2 weeks. It’d be an upgrade on defense (Morse is average to Pedro’s awful) and hoping on a healthy Morse to bring at least Pedro level offense.

      I dont think its likely, but possible.

  • Hope he rebounds better then Happ did.

    • No kidding. I’m pretty quick to defend most of GMNH’s moves and am always looking to be positive but I don’t like this Happ aquisition one bit. I know the Pirates have a plan with Glasnow but you can’t tell me that Glasnow can’t do a better job than Happ. Our lead in the WC isn’t that airtight. Is having control over Glasnow for an extra season really worth the Pirates potential missing the playoffs by one or two games? Now I know Glasnow is still only a 2-pitch pitcher but those are 2 damn good pitches. Michael Wacha is just fine as a 2-pitch pitcher. So is Shelby Miller.

      • It’s more than just having him under control. They want him to develop the change up. They don’t want him to be just fine as a 2-pitch pitcher. While Miller and Wacha are both excellent pitchers, Glasnow has a chance to be much more than that.

        • You’re right. He does. Gerrit Cole was pretty much a 2-pitch pitcher when he came up though and was the Bucs best pitcher down the stretch. I realize that he still has stuff to work on and he’s far from a finished product but he’s one of their 5 best starters right now and the Pirates are in a pennant race. Although, if Jameson Taillon hadn’t needed hernia surgery, we wouldn’t even be having this debate right now.

          • Yeah, having Taillon or even Kingham would have made things a whole lot easier. But, while I don’t see this happening, who knows, the change up was starting to come around in Altoona. Maybe he puts up some good starts in Indy and is up in September. I know it’s unprecedented in the Pirates system and they probably won’t risk it with their top prospect. But last night I think puts us in a state of emergency. Unless Morton hits one of his hot streaks or we go find vintage pre-allstar break 2013 Jeff Locke, this could be a very long 4 weeks.

            • Assuming JT and Kingham would’ve pitched well.

              Not all Pitching Prospects succeed. For all we know they might’ve failed.

              And, I agree, this could be a lonnnnnnnnng 4 weeks, maybe rest of the season?

            • The promotions of Glasnow and Bell were unexpected to most. The Pirates have a lot of prospects coming up in the next year or 2. They can’t possibly just have placeholders for all of them. At the very least, Jameson Taillon and Alen Henson deserve a decent shot at making the team out of spring training next year.

              • Ill bet my life savings Taillon isnt on this team out of ST. You gain service time, lose super 2, and give him actual reps in AAA by leaving him down a month or two. Idk why its even smart to have him start on the OD roster. Id argue Glasnow before Taillon right now.

                • Well we all know the Pirates aren’t going to do anything in the first 6 weeks or so anyway. So does it really matter what the rotation is through May?

                • I wouldn’t take that bet either. Unfortunately the current CBA supersedes logic.

          • In 2013, Cole threw four pitches, and got well above average swinging strike rates with both breaking pitches. Glasnow tried to turn the order over in his first AAA start throwing one pitch.

            • Cole has always thrown a 2-seamer, 4-seamer, curve, and slider but if you recall he relied almost exclusively on the fastball when he first came up with the curve sprinkled in. He is really just now starting to use his repertoire of pitches.

      • You don’t have to love Happ to come to the conclusion that bringing up Glasnow now would be one of the most foolish things this franchise could do. If he had been dominating AAA for the last month it might be worth looking into, but the guy has had one start at Indy, and it was very mediocre (9 hits and a walk in 5.1 IP). Cole at least was given 13 starts at the level to show he could get batters out.

        Unless he can hit and play 3B or SS, in which case yeah, by all means bring him up. They could use a bat.

    • If I recall correctly, he did have a double on Monday. So that’s a start.

      • It was a beaut too. It’s a shame it got erased due to the game being called before the 5th.

    • Happ was NEVER any good. Barely a #5 starter, not unlike Zach Duke.