I said in the comments that I had something about Mike Morse to say in the next couple days, but in reality I'm not very convinced of where it is going. I'll lay it out for you and you can make your own decisions on whether it makes any sense or not, but I'm telling you now I'm not confident about it and I'm waiting to see if the next 2-3 weeks changes anything.
So, Mike Morse stinks. He shouldn't stink based on his career stats, but he has so far. Part of it is the super slow start (.133 /.250 / .133 through 11 games) but even though he's hit .292 since then his OBP is still terrible (no walks + sacflies = .280!) and SLG is mediocre at best (3XBH = .438). Usually when a guy is doing poorly I do a fancy stats rundown, starting first with batting average for balls in play. His BABIP is down only a tiny bit, and he's hitting the ball as well as before based on LD/GB/FB%s. So these suggest a year similar to last.
You can find two problems in his stats though. One is that his HR/FB ratio is about half of what it was last year. If he did hit homers at the same rate as he did last year that .231 avg, with a.321 slg would jump to .256 and .423. Not quite what Nats fans want but respectable. But it's hard to say what his true rate is. He's been all over the place in his career.
The other thing is his K rate. It is up to 30+% from around 24% last year. That's a pretty big jump. Thing is, I'm not sure why it's up. He's not seeing a different mix of pitches. It's not like he's getting a bunch of off-speed stuff he can't handle. He's not seeing the strike zone much differently than last year based on how he's swinging at pitches. Also he's not swinging and missing more. The number of swinging strikes is the lowest of his career. So what's changed from last year? The only thing I see in the fancy stats is that he's seeing a lot more first pitch strikes. Now those can come in any fashion - swing and miss, called strike, foul ball - but they all have the effect of putting the batter behind in the count. Once behind batters usually hit a lot worse. A quick look at the league averages compared to how Morse does finds that he is typically worse than your league average hitter when behind in the count. This year the NL is hitting .200 when they put the ball in play while behind in the count, Morse is hitting .071. Last year it was .204 for the league, .168 for Morse. 2009 - .204 and .176 respectively.
The conclusion I reach, which I'm real hesitant about, is that Mike is getting challenged early in the count and is falling behind, probably (although I'd have to do a lot more work to check this out) on a lot of called first strikes, or foul balls (since his swing and miss rate is down) Something about the way he hits is really not conducive to hitting from behind in the count, so he's struggling to hit for average or power, even more than usual. The good news is that the .071 number is way low and should come up to the .170 range of the past 2 years. His HR/FB rate should also bump up at least a little. The bad news is that the way this is playing out gives the Nats a Mike Morse far more like the one that hit .250 in 2009 and never got on base, except with less power.
Still I'm not convinced this isn't just a crazy month's worth of data. A month is enough at bats to start looking, but I don't think it's enough to be convinced of anything just yet, not when the results don't scream anything.
Question of the Weekend : I found the responses to last week's question pretty interesting. I got a lot of what I expected which was "I'll root for him as long as he's good and he's not the worst person ever" but I got a lot of "I'm not going to even believe this until I see it for myself", too. It basically spins the question into : Are these things they say about Bryce true, or are they blown out of proportion by a media looking for something to talk about. Weak half-hearted answer : probably somewhere in between.
But let's not get on Bryce again - we got 1 1/2 years of buildup yet. The question for this weekend is Are you rooting for Manny Acta? Currently, his Cleveland Indians are 21-9, with best record in baseball, and are surprise of the season. The AL Central's best teams all have flaws so it's not hard to see a scenario where they take the crown, or at least stay in the race until Sept ala the '05 Nats. A lot of Nats fans grew to dislike Manny by the end of his tenure, but I have a hard time believing anyone out there is actively rooting against his success. Maybe I'm wrong though as it would cast a bad light on the Nats organization (though that would be completely unfair). I think there will be a lot of you that don't care, and a bunch more that are rooting for the Indians but for reasons other than Manny Acta.