These numbers show why the Cubs' Christopher Morel is poised for a breakout

The Cubs are getting a second chance at turning a raw power hitter with charisma into the future of their franchise; let's hope he doesn't end up in Detroit like the last one.

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Last season, after Christopher Morel hit a walk-off home run against the Chicago White Sox, I wrote that he may very well be the second coming of Javier Baez

That piece was laced with optimism based on a moment of euphoria to compare him with a player I had great sentimentality and nostalgia for. It compared the numbers between the two and showed areas (offensively) where Morel was a better player than Baez and other areas (defensively) where he was considerably worse.

New Cubs manager Craig Counsell has committed to seeing if Morel can be a little better than a defensive liability at third base in spring training this year (though even if he can’t, the Cubs may still have the best defense in the National League). But here, we're focusing on what he does at the plate.

In 2022 Morel went from Double-A Tennessee after 28 games straight to the majors, where he hit for power but admittedly struggled with pitch selection. That led the club to send him back to Triple-A to start the 2023 season, where he spent 29 games, obliterating opposing pitchers to the tune of a .330/.425/.730 line with 11 homers.

It’s easy to forget those Triple-A numbers from April and May when you look at the 26 homers Morel was able to hit at the major league level in 2023, but there’s reason to believe that 26 may be his lowest homer output for the next several years.

The Good: Christopher Morel hits the ball hard a lot of the time

According to Statcast, Morel had the 14th-highest Barrels per Plate Appearance Percentage at 9.6 percent. That put him ahead of Bryce Harper (9.5 percent), Pete Alonso and Giancarlo Stanton (9.4 percent) and Austin Riley (9.1 percent).

That number in a vacuum is at least interesting, but when you combine it with some of the other relative metrics it paints an even more intriguing picture for Morel’s future. He ranked 60th in top exit velocity but 23rd in average exit velocity and 20th in EV50 which is an average of the hardest 50 percent of his batted balls, which implies that he doesn't have a few outliers that are inflating his numbers: he hits the ball hard a lot.

The Bad: Cubs infielder needs to improve his pitch selection

Those numbers are all positive, but the data also paints a negative picture with regards to pitch selection.

While Morel had a 50 percent hard-hit rate (meaning half his batted balls left the bat at 95 MPH or higher) - good enough for 21st in the league, but the percentage of his swings that created a hard hit was just 15.6 percent, which was 98th in the league. To be fair, he was tied with Mike Trout in that category, but that’s almost 10 percent below Ronald Acuna Jr., who led the category last season. 

Something that may have led to balls not being hit hard is that Morel is not known for hitting the ball in the sweet spot. Sweet Spot Percentage breaks down how many balls a batter hits with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees. Freddie Freeman led baseball last season at 46.6 percent, and Morel came in at 29.5 percent, which ranked a distant 234th in the league. 

The Conclusion: There's a lot to like if Morel can make adjustments

Like I said recently while breaking down the stats on Miguel Amaya, data can tell any story you want it to. I’m not going to make the statement that my interpretation is absolutely, unequivocally correct. That being said, this is what I see from those numbers:

  • Christopher Morel makes hard contact and hard contact can lead to great results as proven by his 37 homers (across Triple-A and the majors) in 2023.
  • The exciting young infielder swings too much at pitches he can’t do anything with as proven by his low SwSp% and his low Hard Hit Swing %.
  • If he can be a little more selective at the plate, he should see an increase in his SwSp% and his Hard Hit Swing % while not seeing a dip in his already exceptional exit velocity numbers.
  • If that happens, then we should see an increase in the numbers that matter at the plate.

I just hope the hitting coaches this time around are more capable of working with a raw powerful hitter and honing his abilities than the Cubs staff proved to be with Baez. Nobody wants to see Morel follow the same ill-fated trajectory as the former NL MVP runner-up, who continues to waste away in Detroit.