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A Cubsmas Advent Calendar: Christopher Morel rakes

Will he continue to hit for the Cubs in 2024?

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

This is Day Three of a Cubsmas Advent Calendar. You can read the explanation for the project and Day One here.

One of the best moments of the Cubs’ 2023 season was the Christopher Morel walk off home run against the White Sox in August. You could hear the celebration throughout the neighborhood before Marquee Sports Network caught up. Morel’s sprint around the bases was pure joy, the way he celebrated with Dansby Swanson and Cody Bellinger at the heart of all of it was beautiful. In fact, what better way to briefly forget today’s cold winter air than to watch this heart warming moment again?

While that home run was definitely Morel’s most dramatic moment of the season it was far from his only longball. Christopher Morel can rake. Morel hit 26 home runs in 429 MLB plate appearances in 2023. He cranked another 11 home runs in 134 plate appearances in Triple-A, where he hung out for #reasons until May 9. The power is real, it is spectacular and it is paired with some glaring flaws as you can see from this Statcast profile below:

Christopher Morel Statcast profile
Baseball Savant

From a hitting perspective the strikeout rate is still too high at 31 percent. That easy power to all fields comes with a lot of swing and miss. Depending on who else is on the team, that is a flaw that can be managed, but Morel is just this side of striking out too much to be in the lineup everyday. Now, there are reasons for optimism here. For starters, he’s still pretty young at 24. Other players have brought their strikeout rate down from the low 30-percent range at that age. Additionally, Morel improved his ability to do damage against most pitches last season. Individual pitch results can be noisy for a number of reasons, but in looking at Morel’s ability to slug against all of those pitches from 2022 to 2023 I’m pretty impressed:

Christopher Morel results by pitch type

Pitch Type 22 # 23 # 22 SLG 23 SLG 22 K% 23 K% 22 HH% 23 HH%
Pitch Type 22 # 23 # 22 SLG 23 SLG 22 K% 23 K% 22 HH% 23 HH%
4-Seam 475 448 .525 .455 45.3% 39.8% 56.5% 57.1%
Slider 370 292 .392 .687 29.1% 34.2% 34.3% 61.9%
Sinker 226 282 .438 .636 20.0% 12.3% 45.1% 44.8%
Curve 189 180 .311 .233 41.7% 28.6% 30.8% 33.3%
Changeup 182 171 .167 .405 21.4% 38.3% 24.1% 45.8%
Cutter 105 134 .824 .634 18.2% 20.0% 42.9% 56.3%
Sweeper 37 112 .000 .429 30.0% 37.9% 16.7% 35.3%
Select stats Baseball Savant

For purposes of the above table I pulled pitch data for slugging, K-rate and hard hit rate from Baseball Savant for every pitch type that Morel saw at least 100 times in 2023. That means that the sweeper sample for 2022 is way too low, and it also means some of these results are a bit odd because this data has a lot of variables in it. For example, I’ve heard Eno Sarris talk about sweeper data specifically and how it has shifted year-to-year. That happens for a variety of reasons, more guys throw sweepers now, their sweepers might not be as good as the guys who rely more heavily on that pitch, etc. But with that caveat about noise, these are impressive results for a year’s worth of adaptation.

Christopher Morel destroys sinkers and cutters, but in the last year he started destroying sliders as well. The hard hit rate improvements year to year honestly blew my mind a little bit and I went back to make sure I didn’t typo anything. He still needs to make some adjustments against curveballs, but he’s striking out less on them, so that seems to be a good sign. Honestly, just about everything in this table has me on the edge of my seat to see what he can do in 2024.

It isn’t just the strikeout rate, though. Morel currently doesn’t have an everyday role or position and he’s talked about how hard it is to stay locked into the game as the DH. His arm is one of the strongest in the league, and has a bit of a Shawon Dunston quality to it, if we’re being honest. The range as measured by Outs Above Average at -7 is very much a yikes.

New Cubs manager Craig Counsell was asked about Morel’s role at the Winter Meetings Tuesday afternoon and I’ve rarely liked an answer from a Cubs manager more:

Craig Counsell understanding that Morel needs to be on the field and in the lineup is some of the best news I’ve ever heard. Now, it’s worth pointing out that FanGraphs’ Jeff Zimmerman aptly replied to my retweet of this that Counsell was not specific about which team Morel’s earned that spot with — that’s real. We are going to spend the entire offseason dealing with rumors about Morel’s trade value. He may very well wind up on the field and in the lineup everyday for some other team.

However, from my perspective as a Cubs fan, I hope that team is the Chicago Cubs. I think it’s a shame he wasn’t played in the field more regularly in 2023 when the postseason stakes were less high, he needs reps at positions to improve his defense. I’d hate to see my favorite team trade a bat like Morel’s, there are very few players who can do the type of damage he can to so many pitches and when you find one you should keep him on your team.