- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Morneau’s Forgotten Season

Justin Morneau hasn’t appeared in a game since July 7th due to post-concussion symptoms. According to a report from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he won’t return until at least the ALCS. Despite only appearing in in 81 games and only compiling 348 plate appearances, Justin Morneau put up 5.3 WAR this season. That mark puts him at ninth in the American League and first among position players on the Twins (only behind Francisco Liriano‘s 6.0 overall).

One could probably dispute Morneau’s +9.8 UZR in that relatively small stretch of games – he’s probably not a +20 fielder, if only because of the limited amount of attempts seen by a first baseman if nothing else. Still, even if we assume that Morneau was merely average, that would put him at 4.3 WAR – the total that he compiled in his 2006 MVP season – and still on pace for a total between 8.0 and 9.0 WAR, which would probably be the best season in the American League this year.

In previous seasons, Morneau was a great hitter. He was not, as the 2006 MVP voters and others saw him, an elite hitter. His OBPs ranged from .345-.375, and in order to truly create elite without getting on base 40% of the time, one has to be a mammoth power threat. Morneau wasn’t that either, as his SLG topped out at .559 in that MVP season and sat around .500 at other times. Again, it’s not that he wasn’t good – he was quite good, among one of the better hitters in the majors – but he wasn’t among the top five or top ten, and at first base, that doesn’t make him an MVP candidate.

This season, though, Morneau was the best hitter in the majors this side of Josh Hamilton before he got hurt. He posted a .345/.437/.618 line before going down, compiling a ridiculous 35 runs above average and a 187 wRC+. Those numbers are far, far above anybody on the Twins team and far above anything Morneau has done in the past. Of course, a .385 BABIP was the main booster of his mammoth early season line, but it wasn’t the only cause. He walked in over 14% of his plate appearances, easily a career high, and posted another career best in ISO at .274.

As Morneau hasn’t played in nearly three months now it can be easy to forget that he was putting a truly transcendental season before he was put on the shelf. His 5.3 WAR through half a season is a full win more than he has ever produced in any season. Morneau was easily having his best season as a MLB player, and one could easily make the argument that these 380 plate appearances actually do constitute the best MLB season by Justin Morneau.