Michael Morse has taken a long, unconventional path to success, and has overcome a myriad of obstacles to reach where he is now. Drafted out of high school by the White Sox in 2000, Morse was eventually traded to the Mariners and did not reach the majors until five years later. For his first five seasons in the major leagues with the Mariners and Nats, he languished as a part time player, never playing more than 72 games and struggling with injuries. In 2010, Morse started the year in the majors with the Nationals in a bench role after impressing enough in his late 2009 cameo. He again fought with injuries, but eventually performed well, locking down the right field job. With a monstrous Spring Training in 2011, Morse earned the left field job, moving to accommodate new signing Jayson Werth. However, he struggled and was benched in May, pinch hitting until he was given a second chance to prove himself with a season-ending injury to incumbent first baseman Adam LaRoche. Morse took over at first and raked in his new position, hitting .303/.360/.550 for the season and receiving MVP votes.
Morse’s tale looks like that of a player who demonstrated flashes of brilliance but could not establish himself until he got a real chance to do so. However, could he be a fluke? Baseball’s history is littered with players who broke out with one stellar season, but never lived up to that quality of play for the rest of their careers. One way to potentially predict Morse’s future is to find a player with a similar career up to this point. It just so happens that a player who fits this bill exactly is already on the Nats roster: Jayson Werth.
Werth, like Morse, bounced between the minors and majors, never attaining that magical combination of health and playing time. Werth was a mostly full-time starter for the 2005 Dodgers, playing in 102 games, but played the entire season with two torn ligaments in his wrist and hit poorly. This injury also caused Werth to miss all of 2006, much like Morse’s 5-game 2008 season. Werth then signed with the Phillies, and locked down the right field job towards the end of the 2007 season, like Morse would in 2010. Werth, finally a full-time starter, broke out in 2008, hitting .274/.363/.498 in his age 29 season, a comparable year to Morse’s age 29 season this past year. If Morse’s next two years compare to Werth’s, then Nats fans will have a lot to look forward to. Werth’s OPS went up 38 points in 2009, when he was an All-Star, and then an additional 42 in 2010, when he finished 8th in MVP voting. The next year he signed with the Nats, and, well, we all know how that turned out.
Up to their age 30 seasons, Werth and Morse have had eerily similar careers. After struggling in the majors early, both changed teams and quickly proved their ability with breakout years, which were similar all the way down to their ages. While this comparison could end up inaccurate, it certainly seems to be a much more trustworthy means of predicting than random speculation. If Morse follows in Werth’s footsteps, as history indicates he might, he could become an offensive force and serious MVP candidate as soon as next year. Let’s just hope he doesn’t leave home like Werth did.