It felt like it was just a matter of time before regression hit Christopher Morel. When he first arrived with the Chicago Cubs, nobody expected his hot stretch to continue forever and data sure didn’t expect him to keep going as long as he did.
To say that he’s been a pleasant surprise would be the understatement of the century considering he hit .266/.338/.477 across 241 plate appearances in 55 games. That’s good for a 126 wRC+ during that stretch. Even with an inflated 30.6 percent strikeout rate, that’s a stellar line for a rookie who completely skipped Triple-A. His success was reflected in his batted ball data, pulling off an above-average hard hit percentage of 37.8. His BABIP was a bit high at .361, but not so unrealistic that a big fall-off would was guaranteed.
Now, for the first time, he’s facing his first truly rough stretch of the year though. He’d been in slumps earlier in the season, but nothing he wouldn’t inevitably adjust to and work his way out of. Since the second half began, however, he’s hit a far less savory .198/.240/.341 which comes out to a 61 wRC+. The strikeouts, which were already high, though not ungodly considering the hitting, went up nearly two percent all while his hard hit rate plummeted well below league average to just 31.7 percent.
Statcast isn’t particularly friendly either as rolling expected stats have Morel even colder than his numbers suggest with his rolling xwOBA plummeting below average over the last 40 or so plate appearances. More recently, Morel is coming off an 0-for-18 streak with the Cubs, only finally breaking that on Tuesday against the Blue Jays. He just seems to have finally hit a significant wall that he needs to get over.
Christopher Morel’s more than proven his worth to the Cubs despite struggles
Still, it doesn’t seem too worth worrying about yet. For one, this is over 30 games and 96 plate appearances – still not a particularly large sample size. Even with the struggles, he has a 107 wRC+ on the year which is still respectable. A look at the overall Statcast numbers suggests he’s still capable of barreling the ball well as he still sits in the 85th percentile of all batters in barrel percentage.
If anything, this cold second half is more of a reminder of who Morel is. He’s still young and his body of work with the Cubs above Double-A is still small. Moreover, he’s not likely to be the consistent offensive force he was throughout the first half. Still, he has the tools and the versatility to remain a major league caliber player and it’ll likely require some work to keep at that level of play.
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Maybe Willson Contreras can keep helping Morel with his swing to get the rookie back on track for the rest of the season. As it stands right now though, unless there’s a significant issue with his approach pops up that makes us completely rethink his viability going forward, he’s earned a spot on the team next year along with a load of leeway towards being a productive big leaguer.