Two peas in a pod. That’s how I look at Justin Morneau and Kendrys Morales (I reviewed Morales yesterday in this Player Profile). Both are AL first baseman with power and run producing skills who haven’t been able to consistently stay on the field of late. Both stayed relatively healthy in 2012, and both failed to live up to their previous levels of production. What should we be expecting from Justin when the Twins take the field in 2013?
From 2006-2009, Morneau drove in at least 100 runs, while scoring 84 times, in each of the four seasons. He also had an epic 2006 effort that resulted in the AL MVP award ending up on his fireplace mantle (.321-34-130-97). He took his game to an even higher level in 2010 as reached the midpoint of the season, 81 games played, hitting .345 with 18 homers, 56 RBIs, 53 runs scored an a 1.055 OPS. Since then, it’s been mostly a downhill tumble.
Morneau ended up being saddled by a significant concussion and missed the second half of 2010. In 2011 he missed games due to the flu, a wrist issue, a bruised foot, a shoulder injury and had a neck situation that required surgery. As a result he appeared in a total of 69 games in 2011 giving him a total of 150 games played in two seasons (from 2006-09 he appeared in 155 or more games three times), an as a results you could add Morneau for nothing on draft day 2012 (I had him ranked 25th at the first base position in my annual Draft Guide). He started off slowly hitting .230 in April and entered the break batting .246, but he was able to hit .289 over his last 69 games to help to bring up his numbers to a respectable though depressed level from his previous efforts as he had a fantasy line of .267-19-77-63 in 505 at-bats. Let’s break down that level in some detail.
Morneau’s plate discipline has suffered the last two years, largely because he has stopped taking the walk (possibly because pitchers are challenging him more having less fear of his once lethal bat – more on that below). After 3-straight seasons with a BB/K ratio of 0.81 or better, that mark has failed to reach 0.50 the last two seasons.
Morneau has hit a total of 23 homers over his last 203 games and 41 over his last 284. That’s a homer rate of one per 6.93 games the last three years compared to one per 5.64 games over his career. One of the main reasons for this fall has been a relative inability of Justin to effectively lift the ball as he once did. Give all the issues he has dealt with, and they have obviously been considerable, it’s fair to wonder if he still retains all the physical gifts that made him an impressive home run force. For the course of his career Morneau owns a 14.1 percent HR/F ratio. If we add together his marks from the last two seasons we get 16.4 percent. His 12.5 percent rate in 2012 is certainly not that far out of whack that it’s all doom and gloom, but I’ve got a number that causes some serious trepidation. In 2012 Morneau hit fewer fly balls than in any season save his 40 game effort in 2003. From 2009-11 his fly ball mark was 42.9, 44.9 and 46.4 percent. In 2012 that number dipped to 36.8 percent. This number could certianly be a one year outlier for a player that was playing hurt and trying to find his stroke after so much missed time, or it could be a harbinger of things to come.
It should also be noted that teams attacked Morneau differently last season. He faced curveballs on 15 percent of the pitches, a career-high total and 50 percent greater than his 10 percent career mark. Teams also threw him fewer change up than ever before at 9.4 percent of the pitches (12.3 percent for his career). Did they notice something in his swing that wasn’t previously there? It certainly seems like a plausible explanation.
I don’t doubt that Morneau could show improvement upon his 2012 levels of production. However, I have to point out that he hasn’t played 140 games since 2008, that he will be 32 next May, and that all the injuries that he has dealt with the past three years most likely have sapped him of the excellence he once possessed. Given all of that, Morneau isn’t anywhere near a top-10 option for first basemen in 2013. He’s much more likely to fill a corner infield position with aplomb in mixed leagues so draft him accordingly.
By Ray Flowers