Patience or Panic: Christopher Morel, James Outman, Willson Contreras

Have these breakout stars gone back in their shells?


The first slump of a young player’s career is often the most pivotal. The ability to rebound from extended periods of struggle is crucial to success in a game that plays 162 games each year. A few up-and-comers are experiencing their first real adversity in the big leagues right now; time will tell if they can right their ships.


Christopher Morel, OF/2B, Chicago Cubs


Morel debuted in 2022 and showed tantalizing potential. In 113 games, Morel hit 16 home runs, drove in 47 runs, scored 55 runs, and swiped 10 bases. His .235 average and 32% K-rate were not ideal, but the power output made those numbers more tolerable, especially for a rookie.

Cubs fans hoping Morel could build on his encouraging freshman campaign have experienced an emotional roller coaster in 2023. He did not make the team out of spring training and was sent to AAA Iowa to start the season. In 29 games, he forced the Cubs’ hand by smashing 11 home runs with a .330 average and 1.156 OPS. His early-May move to the Windy City would prove immediately fruitful.

Morel was unconscious through his first 12 games in the senior circuit this year. He posted a torrid .367 average with 9 home runs, 17 runs scored, and 15 RBI. He did so with a 36.5% hard contact rate and a preposterous 30.0% barrel rate. These results, however, did not come without signs of concern. He struck out at a 36.5% clip in that time frame and sported an unsightly 22.1% SwStr%, walking only 5.8% of the time.

The elevated strikeout rate may have been a bit of foreshadowing. In the 10 games since Morel last homered, he has hit .069 and scored 1 run without producing an RBI. His hard contact rate has dropped to 15.2% in that span alongside a barrel rate of only 5.9%. Unsurprisingly, the strikeout numbers have not improved as Morel has scuffled through the end of May and the beginning of June.

Verdict: Patience. Morel might just be a streaky guy. He’s still only 24, and the feast-or-famine nature of his numbers year-to-date is likely reflective of the type of player he’ll be. His SLG of .641 will regress, and hopefully so too will his 37% K-rate, but a lot of strikeouts will be the cost of doing business with Morel.


James Outman, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers


Outman, unlike Morel, broke camp with the Dodgers and hit the ground running. By the end of April, it looked like the National League Rookie of the Year award was his to lose. But, much like Morel, the regression monster has come for the young outfielder.

Through the first month of the season, Outman boasted a .292 average with 7 home runs, 20 RBI, and 17 runs in 29 games. Since the calendar flipped to May, however, he has struggled mightily. In 29 games, Outman has hit .161 with only 2 home runs, driving in 10 runs and scoring 12 times.

Throughout his struggles, Outman’s peripherals have provided little reason for optimism. Since May 1, he’s struck out at a 37.6% clip. His .161 average is outperforming his .136 xAVG. He’s not making hard contact, either, with an average exit velocity of only 87.0. Perhaps most concerning is Outman’s whiff rate of 43.5% over this period, a truly horrendous mark. His lack of ability to put bat to ball is a consistent issue.

Through 58 games this season, Outman has struggled to make contact with the ball. His 59.3% contact rate is in the 1st percentile of big league hitters. Since his struggles began in May, this figure is a deplorable 56.5%. His 71.5% contact rate on pitches in the zone is also in the bottom 1%. This seeming inability to impact the ball has driven his CSW% to 35.7% on the season, a mark in the bottom 2% of the league.

Verdict: Panic. Outman, like Morel, is still young. The trouble is that Outman’s struggles are over a month old, and no signs are pointing to a resurgence any time soon. If anything, we’re lucky it hasn’t been worse.


Willson Contreras, C/DH, St. Louis Cardinals


Contreras has perhaps been one of the most controversial players in 2023, to no fault of his own. After the Cardinals decided that Contreras’s catching was the reason the team’s mediocre pitching staff was mediocre, they made it public in May that Contreras would move to the outfield. This experiment lasted all of one weekend and Contreras was soon back behind the plate.

Whether the organization’s antics have hurt Contreras’s performance is impossible to tell, but they do not seem to have helped. He’s managed just a .211 average with a measly .309 xwOBA, down from .375 in 2022. He’s had a touch of bad luck, with a BABIP of .255, but his xAVG is still just .228. He’s not known as an average guy, but he’s usually not a liability, with a career mark of .253. The drop in average has been accompanied by a drop in power, with 6 home runs in 230 plate appearances after slugging 22 in 487 plate appearances a year ago.

Fortunately for Contreras, he hits in the middle of one of the more potent offenses in baseball. Doing so has enabled him to drive in 26 runs and score 23 despite his struggles at the plate. He’s also eclipsed his stolen base total from a year ago, swiping 5 bags to date. His K-rate and hard contact rate are roughly in line with his career marks, so it’s not all doom and gloom for the veteran backstop.

Unfortunately for Contreras, he’s gone from playing his home games at Wrigley Field with a home run park factor of 104 to Busch Stadium, whose factor is only 88. This is reflected in a plummeting HR/FB rate, down to 13.3% from 26.5% last season despite a relatively consistent average exit velocity on flyballs. The depressed dinger output might persist.

Verdict: Patience. It hasn’t been pretty, but Contreras has been a decently productive fantasy player. The average should tick up even if the power doesn’t, and the catcher position is simply too bleak to reasonably look elsewhere.



Jack Connors

Jack Connors is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan. In his free time, he enjoys playing golf and the guitar, and hanging out with his dog.

One response to “Patience or Panic: Christopher Morel, James Outman, Willson Contreras”

  1. Justin says:

    Would be very curious about a patience/panic perspective on Lindor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login