Nobody was more snakebitten in May than Chicago Cubs slugger Christopher Morel

Christopher Morel hasn't played up to expectations this year, but there is a metric ton of bad luck baked into his performance that gives the Cubs reasons to continue having faith in him.
Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs / Nuccio DiNuzzo/GettyImages

After taking meaningful steps forward last year to become a key offensive contributor for the Chicago Cubs, Christopher Morel hasn't lived up to expectations so far in 2024. His first season as the primary third baseman has been one of adjustments as he learned to man the hot corner daily. While the glove is still a work in progress, the bat, on the surface, appears to have vanished in the process, deepening the team's funk.

By FanGraphs' measure, Morel has been worth -0.1 WAR in 244 plate appearances with a .195/.307/.371 slash line and 96 wRC+. It's far from the production expected from a corner infielder that's been struggling defensively. Yet, beneath the below-average offensive numbers, there's another factor at play - luck. It's not something anyone wants to hear as an excuse for an underperforming player, but Morel has a better argument for it than anyone in the league.

There are a few ways to quantify bad luck in baseball. By batting average on balls in play (BABIP), Morel has been snakebitten with a .205 mark when the league average (and his career average) tends to hover around .300. That is a ghastly percentage of balls in play that aren't finding holes, but it gets worse when looking at the difference in his weighted on-base average (wOBA) for the year and where it's expected to be. His offensive contributions have earned him a .301 wOBA, but the way he's hit the ball leaves him with a .379 xwOBA which ranks in the top eight percent of players.

While that already indicates how much more Morel should be reaching base and slugging more than his results show, his bad luck reached laughable levels through May and now into June. Alex Fast looked at the players with the highest difference in wOBA and xwOBA since the beginning of May and showed Morel was far and away the leader of the pack with a hundred points(!) between his expectations and results.

The process has been good for Christopher Morel with the Cubs

It's important to acknowledge luck in a player's performance especially if the process has been positive. Morel, despite some of the worst luck possible, has shown a much-improved approach at the plate from when he first entered the league. For one, his strikeout rate for the year is down to 21.7%, a number once thought unthinkable for him given his 30+ percent strikeout rate in years past. His walk rate, similarly, has gone up considerably to 12.3%, good enough to put him in the 87th percentile of players.

Almost everywhere you look on his Statcast page, the various measures of his hitting are shown in some shade of red. From his .267 expected batting average to his .503 expected slugging, excellent hard-hit and barrel percentages, and elite 97th-percentile bat speed, he has the profile of a star, not an underperforming corner infielder.

There's no quirk here that's dictating such bad luck either. In 2022 and 2023, Morel's actual stats ended remarkably close to where his expected stats pinned him. This is just an insane stretch of bad luck that only gets amplified amid the Cubs' wider struggles. Logic dictates that this will balance out at some point. There are hitters on this team to worry about, like Dansby Swanson, Miguel Amaya, and Michael Busch, but Morel isn't one of them.