Heading into this season, there was talk about how Cubs fans were going to love a certain player whose at-bats got really entertaining when he was facing two strikes. But while Nick Madrigal has been trying to find his sea legs after a lot of missed time last season and lingering injuries that have shelved him for much of this year, Christopher Morel has shown out in tough counts. Even if Chrissy Two-Strikes doesn’t stick as a nickname, Morel’s two-strike plate approach should probably be used more often.
His home run on Monday came in a full count, making it the seventh of 10 total dingers on the season that have come with two strikes. Through May 31, Morel had a .934 OPS and 163 wRC+ in two-strike counts, which was better than the .919 OPS and 156 wRC+ he’d posted in all other counts. Even considering the small sample, it seemed as though there was evidence to support a change in approach.
Of course, it’s not as easy as simply adopting that same swing all the time. That would be like saying a closer should be just as good in the 8th inning or in any non-save situation. The mental cues are just as important as the mechanics, perhaps even more so when you’re weighing intent and focus. Besides, situational stats have a way of shifting very dramatically.
Morel got off to an incredible start and he’s had some adjustment periods in his young career as pitchers have started to get a book on him. There’s a particularly interesting chapter about the holes in his swing. The rookie’s 29% strikeout rate is 7.7 points higher than league average and his 16.2% swinging-strike rate is a whopping 5.1 points (46%) higher than his peers, making high-leverage success a little harder to come by.
Since the start of June, Morel has a .653 OPS with a wRC+ of 80 in two-strike situations. That’s obviously well below his previous results and it’s much more in line with what you’d expect relative to his production in all other counts. So as fun as it is to see how many homers he’s hit when down to his last strike, it does appear as though his fast start was something of an aberration.
Does that mean Morel can’t improve or that he can’t have better than average success with two strikes? Of course not, it’s just a matter of zooming out to see what the whole picture looks like. In the interest of full transparency, I started this piece out thinking he was still doing much better in two-strike counts. I guess it’s like the David Bote bias, where a whole lot of fans think a player has been really good based almost exclusively on the good vibes from a few big hits.
But wait, I’m just looking at that most recent split and saying that’s the measure of what kind of situational hitter Morel is overall. On the season, his 98 wRC+ with two strikes ranks 15th in MLB among 280 players with at least 110 such plate appearances. Even if we took the more recent sample, Morel’s 80 wRC+ would rank 47th in that group. I’d say that’s pretty good.
In conclusion, I think we can say with a good deal of conviction that Morel’s two-strike approach is very good but not good enough to take over as his every-pitch approach. Sort of like a right-handed Anthony Rizzo or something. Now Morel just needs to pick a fight with the Reds dugout during the Field of Dreams Game.