The Island of Justin Morneau

Fun game of the day – mix and match collections of first baseman that equal Justin Morneau in value so far this year.

Morneau: +3.6 wins

Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, and Todd Helton: +3.6 wins
Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Adam Dunn: +3.6 wins
Kevin Youkilis, Paul Konerko, and Mark Teixeira: +3.6 wins
Joey Votto, Billy Butler, and Ryan Howard: +3.6 wins

No matter who you pick, you’ll need multiple all-stars to put together a group that can match Morneau’s season to date. He’s been that good.

After years of being just a good-not-great hitter, Morneau looks to be doing the same thing that Gonzalez did last year: combining a small power spike with a huge jump in his walk rate. In 2009, Gonzalez drew 45 more walks than he did the year prior, while holding everything else mostly the same, and the result was a wOBA that jumped from the .360 range to over .400, making Gonzalez one of the game’s best players.

Morneau’s career walk rate is just 10.1 percent, as he began his career as a pretty aggressive free swinger, but it’s inched up over the last couple of years. This year, however, his BB% stands at 18.5 percent. He’s tied with The Greek God of Walks for the league lead in bases on balls, and at this pace, he’ll beat his previous career high by more than 50 walks.

At age 29, it appears that Morneau has found the value of being selective at the plate, and it’s paying off in a huge way. He won’t keep hitting .383, of course (that .444 BABIP is as unsustainable as any statistic in baseball), but as we saw with Gonzalez last year, the improvement in his walk rate could be real. While he already has one MVP award under his belt, perhaps this new and improved Justin Morneau will actually deserve one some day.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

31 Responses to “The Island of Justin Morneau”

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  1. JR says:

    He was behind Ramon Hernandez in WAR in 2006 (4.4-4.3). Wow.

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  2. MBD says:

    Amazing to think that, as good as Youkilis has been, Morneau has been 50% better!

    Other WAR leaders of note:

    Good thing Toronto gave away Alex Rios.
    Ben Zobrist is only good for 2 wins in 2010 – just an average player. :-)
    Wells and Soriano are actually doing something for their money.
    That Eckstein is one scrappy dude.
    Always knew that Ludwick was just as valuable as Pujols.

    I think some of these rankings are likely to change. But Morneau is certainly looking good so far.

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  3. Mark says:

    He’s also made himself into quite a stellar defensive player.

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  4. David Moran says:

    Ok, I’m actually asking, not taking a side or anything – who should’ve won the MVP in 2006? Manny? Mauer? Please don’t say Travis Hafner….

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  5. MNTwins says:

    Interestingly enough his K% (22.7% compared to 17% career) is up a bit this year along with his BB%. Agreed that his BABIP is unsustainable, but his LD% is up this year as well (23.5% compared to 18.7% career) which would be great if he could keep that up. He’s also hitting a lot less ground balls (26.1% compared to 40.6% career) this year which makes the BABIP even more interesting.

    Kind of a weird year for Morenau so far, but as someone who watches him daily, he just looks comfortable at the plate in any count. and when he makes contact he’s hit it hard. His HR numbers would be even better if not for Target Field’s ability to knock balls down hit to the gaps and center field.

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    • nolan says:

      I imagine his K% would increase with his walk rate because with an increased selectivity in pitches comes more called third strikes. Right?

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  6. Jay Gloab says:

    How long have you been waiting for a chance to use that headline?

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  7. Dave says:

    Morneau had an OPS of over 1000 for much of last year too, and just tailed off terribly once he started playing injured around late July/early August. Similar late-season swoon in 2008. So on the one side, it’s not exactly a shock that he’d put up monster numbers for a while, but it also won’t be a shock if he can’t sustain them under the strain of a long season.

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    • Steven Ellingson says:

      Yes, but he’s never done anything even close to this before. If he is just league average for the rest of the year (a pretty huge slide) he’ll still have the best year of his career. By a long shot.

      And, there is a very real change in approach that has helped him to these numbers. The walk rate is up, and everything he’s said in the media indicates that he’s conciously being more selective because his lineup is better.

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      • Alec says:

        As Dave noted, the walk rate is reminiscent of Adrian Gonzalez, who parlayed it into becoming perhaps the most sought after asset in baseball, pre-#PadresFirstPlaceFever (copyright Jeff Sullivan).

        Also, historical data suggests that hitters eye’s improve with age, and that real improvement in pitch selection is sustainable. It must be nice to be a Twins fan and see your organizational philosophy pan out (and not be sabotaged by nonsensical managerial decisions (M’s fans can relate)

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      • Dave says:

        He had an OPS of 921 last March/April and 1172 last May, so yeah I’d say he’s done something close to this before. That left him at around 1050 for the season at about this point last year, which isn’t 1200, but when you’re talking about a 2 month sample size, it’s not all that wildly different either. If you could smash together May 2009 and July 2008, you’d have almost the exact same result he’s had so far this year.

        When healthy, he’s more than the 890 OPS first baseman his full-season numbers indicate, so hopefully he’ll stay healthy all year, but I’m just not convinced I’m seeing something that indicates he’s a brand new commodity all of a sudden.

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  8. philkid3 says:

    So is he finally going to deserve his MVP talk?

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  9. Chris says:

    For those that STILL think Jeter should have won the MVP in 2006…

    IT”S NOW 2010….

    GET OVER IT!!!

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    • Not David says:

      It’s not that Jeter should have won, it’s the Morneau shouldn’t have, given the number of superior options available (including two of his own teammates).

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    • Shashi says:

      So nothing has changed since 2006. If one thought then that Jeter should have won, one better STILL think now that he should have won!! If you mean instead, don’t whine or obsess about it, fair enough. But the Jeter (and other) calls here were in direct response to a question.

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  10. Mark says:

    I’ll give you Santana over Morneau in ’06, and that Morneau shouldn’t have won it, but those who think Mauer was more deserving probably weren’t following the Twins that closely in ’06. The large difference in their WPA’s that year pretty well sums up how valuable each guy was to the Twins that year. Morneau, Nathan, and Santana were all more key to that team’s success than Mauer. As was Liriano the first 4 months of the season.

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    • Alec says:

      WPA is situational, influenced by context. If Morneau batted more often in higher leverage situations, his WPA will be higher. And while Nathan is one of maybe 4 closers in baseball who is not overvalued, there is simply no justification for claiming that a reliever is more valuable than a plus defense catcher whose bat would play at another position. Scarcity of resources influences value. A good closer will ALWAYS have a WPA advantage over nearly any other player, since the entirety of their appearances come in high leverage situations (in theory).

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  11. Alec says:

    It would be nice for Jeter to have won to shut up his fan boys, and of all the years for him to win, it probably was his most deserving, but his defense has always been severely overrated. Sizemore or Mauer should have won on merit, no question.

    Jeter would at least be reasonably defensible though, which Morneau is not.

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  12. Matt C says:

    He’s on pace for like a 14 or so WAR this year. That’s insane, that would be the highest WAR since atleast 2002.(that’s the furthest back I could find on here)

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  13. JTC says:

    The thing that doesn’t show up in the stats here is his hitting against lefties; (he has a higher BA against lefties than righties, though his power is down.) And, the hits aren’t cheep. While he still is capable of some really ugly at bats, his whole approach at the plate seems much improved. It gives me confidence that, barring injury, there won’t be a major swoon.

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  14. Mark says:

    Re. 2006 WPA…Mauer did have less high leverage chances that Morneau (though some of that was because he played in 17 less games), but Morneau also produced at a much greater rate in those situations.

    Mauer – 110 PA’s/ .284/.391/.455; w/12 GIDP’s
    Morneau – 141 PA’s/ .331/.383/.644; w/ 6 GIDP’s

    Mauer had very nice stats that year, but Morneau was the most valuable position player on that team. Anybody that believes otherwise probably didn’t watch the Twins on an everyday basis that year.

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