August 14, 2011
Transaction Analysis Blog
A few days after Derrek Lee arrived in Pittsburgh, he appeared on Intentional Talk. I had the television on the network prior to the show coming on, but I held off on changing the channel until the conclusion of the Lee interview. Within the talk, the veteran first baseman shared a story that resonates with Morrison’s demotion.
The brief version goes like this: Lee, 23, opened the 1999 season as the Marlins first baseman. Good feelings were buzzing around after he hit two doubles and reached base five times in the first two games of the season. After that opening series until May 25, Lee hit just .184/.250/.299 with 50 strikeouts in 160 plate appearances. Florida then demoted him to the minors for Kevin Millar, a 27-year-old with a handful of major league plate appearances to his name. As Lee departed, the Marlins told him it would be a two-or-three-week assignment—he didn’t return until September.
There aren’t a ton of parallels to draw between Lee and Morrison outside of the organization and their respective ages, but the story does provide some perspective. Lee was a mess for nearly two months and clearly needed some additional developmental time. It looks like a demotion with a clean tie to the player’s performance. The optioning of Morrison less so. Even after a shaky second half, Morrison still has a seasonal line of .249/.327/.464, which is considerably better than the league-average mark.
Because of that, it is far too easy to draw lines and make this demotion part of a bigger square. Frankly, it probably is part of something bigger, and likely along the lines of what David Brown speculated on Big League Stew. Morrison is outspoken, and that can grate on a team. He hasn’t shied away from slamming Hanley Ramirez either, and say what you will about Ramirez, but he looked a lot like his old self before injuring his shoulder. Teams have shown a willingness to put up with character flaws as long as the production is there, and the production hasn’t entirely been there for Morrison lately.
Perhaps the Marlins are demoting Morrison for baseball reasons only, and they think he needs to regain some confidence while tweaking his swing. That is a possibility, but it just doesn’t feel like the only motive at work. Morrison will probably be back by September, and you just hope he can get back to hitting and take this all in stride. It is so easy to like Morrison as a hitter and as a Twitter personality, but to the Marlins he is a ballplayer first and entertainer second—maybe they’re just trying to remind him of that.