SleepersJuly 13, 2009

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Sleeper Watch

By John Sherwood

Nyjer Morgan was a hot WW add to start the season. At that time, he was with the Pirates and sporting an average well over .300 while stealing about a base and a half each week. Most of his average was supported by a high BABIP, though, and when that collapsed in mid-May, the wheels feel off the Morgan Express. Being traded to the Nationals certainly didn’t help the public’s faith in him, either, since that threw him onto a team with about 24 outfielders. Most owners cut bait, and he now sits unowned in about two-thirds of leagues.

But Morgan is getting lots of playing time in Washington, and that dip in his BABIP was an excessive correction that pushed him below league norms for the stat. Now it is correcting back to average levels, and Morgan is once again seeing a rise in his average that will make him useful for many fantasy teams in need of help in the average and steals categories.

Nyjer Morgan was traded to the Nationals on June 30. He didn’t play his first game with the team until July 3, but since then he has not missed a game, starting in every one as the team’s leadoff hitter except for the opening game of the team’s double-header on July 5. After a rough 0-for-7 in his first two games with the team, Morgan has seemed to find his groove, going 9-for-31 with five stolen bases. The Nationals OF has suddenly become a consistent lineup of producers. With rare exception, they have been throwing out Dunn, the resurgent Willingham, and Morgan on a daily basis. This sort of stability is just what the doctor ordered for that Nats team, and it should help Morgan become more comfortable with his new team.

Morgan’s leadoff skills are hardly elite, but they are more than adequate for the job. He sports a 10% walk rate with a strikeout rate that hovers just below the league average. He does have a tendency to chase pitches, as shown by his 27% O-swing rate, but he makes up for that with superior contact rates both inside (93%!) and outside (67%) the strike zone. He either hits a ground ball or a line drive over 70% of the time, allowing his speed to work in his favor. Additionally, he is a plus defender in the OF. When you take a player with this skill set and place him on the Nationals, you can move forward confident that he will continue to see consistent playing time for the rest of the season.

Now, Morgan isn’t going to launch your stats through the roof. If you get a .310, three-SB week from him, you’ve done well. His weekly norms will probably be closer to .295 and two SBs. As always, these one-dimensional outfielders require your constant supervision while they’re on your roster. Keep a close eye on Morgan’s walk rate and GB/LD/FB splits. If he stops walking, or if he starts hitting fly balls (especially in that Nationals stadium), you’ll want to move on. If they continue on at their current rates, though, you should be happy with your pickup.

John is an eight-year veteran of fantasy baseball who believes that his two H2H championships somehow give him leverage when it comes to dispensing FBB advice. If you want to tell him that he really doesn't know what he's talking about, you can look him up in the forums under JTWood or StlSluggers.
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