Justin Morneau: Is There Any Hope?

Justin Morneau looks to be back and somewhat healthy this season. He has played in the first 10 Twins’ games this season with Tuesday being his first day off. In nine games, he was the designated hitter and on Monday, he played in the field as the first baseman. It is nice to see him on the field more, but what can be expected offensively from him going forward?

Morneau was having a good career until he had a concussion on July 8th 2010. Here are his career triple slash lines before and after the concussion:

Before: 0.286/0.358/0.511
After: 0.228/0.285/0.347

There seems to be two main problems causing Morneau’s drop in production: he is not walking enough and not hitting the ball with power.

Before the concussion, he had a 10.0% BB% and it was 6.4% after it. Usually this would be a sign of concern, but it is not because of the number of intentional walks he has received. Before the injury he had an IBB% of 1.8% and only 0.3% after the injury. In an article I previously wrote, I noted that a players BB% got a bump, up or down, determined by the number of IBBs to the tune of 1/2 of the player’s IBB% rate. So, Morneau’s true walk rate was 7.3% before and 5.9% after. It is not a huge difference and I would not be worried too much about his walk rate.

There are several signs that point to him having less power. His ISO is down from 0.225 to 0.119. His HR/FB% has gone from 15.2% to 5.2%. To see if he is hitting the ball weaker or is just having a run of bad luck, I went to baseballheatmaps.com and got the average distance on his fly balls, home runs and line drives. Here are the values:

2007 to 2010: 281 ft on LDs, HRs and FBs
2011 to 2012: 263 ft on LDs, HRs and FBs

2007 to 2010: 291 ft on FBs and HRs
2011 to 2012: 267 ft on FBs and HRs

He looks to have dropped ~20 ft in distance in each sample. His power loss seems legitimate.

There may be some hope, however. Mitchel Lichtman found that players coming off the DL usually have an increase in power over their projected values. He may improve this season with more power, but he has not shown it yet.

Justin Morneau has not had a good start to his season. His walk rate and power seem to be a concern. His walk rate is not out of place when taking into account his IBBs. His power loss is a concern though. He will just have to play more to see if the power loss continues.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

21 Responses to “Justin Morneau: Is There Any Hope?”

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  1. AK47 says:

    There’s only one flaw in your argument and that’s the fact that following the concussion in July 2010, he suffered a few other injuries and really hasn’t been “healthy” up until now. After he did come back from the concussion he had neck and wrist issues which caused him to miss the majority of the 2011 season (both issues required surguries). I would wager that his offensive issues, particularly the lower power numbers, can be more closely attributed to his wrist and neck problems and not the concussion. I think that as the season continues, barring injury, those power (and walk) numbers will return. It would appear that his concussion issues are behind him – I think what we’re seeing now is a) rustiness from not having played all that much for the past season-and-a-half and b) lingering effects of a wrist injury.

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  2. Rick Lopez says:

    “Before: 0.286/0.358/0.511
    After: 0.228/0.285/0.347″

    The preceding “0″s are a mistake, right? Just found it odd…

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  3. wjylaw says:

    UsIng the same site you did, I ran just his 2012 numbers and compared them to his 2009 numbers. He’s hitting his home runs further this year and his fly ball distance is longer. Only thing down is the line drive distance. Obviously small sample size but I think it’s more accurate to break down his numbers with 2012 being a stand alone as, mentioned above, this seems to be his first time back from the concussion without other problems.

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  4. Chicago Mark says:

    I don’t know, but were they in the Metrodome or Target in 2010? This should have an effect too, correct? And we really don’t know the effect a concussion has on a players abilities, do we? One bump in the wrong way could knock him back out. I’m sure there is still high risk here. I hope he returns to pre-concussion levels. He seems like a nice guy. But I’m not certain we see that ever again. Although I think he will get better the further from the injuries he gets.

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  5. mcbrown says:

    This analysis is on the shallow side. Oddly it misses all of the things he has done poorly in 2012 while focusing on the one thing that has been okay for him so far.

    Specifically, his power, which this article highlights as his biggest weakness, has actually been fine. His ISO is .205, well below his peak power but only a hair below his career figure. He has 2 HRs on 12 fly balls, so his HR/FB rate raises no alarms. His FB% sits right at his career average of 41%. Insert SSS caveat here if you wish, but SSS concerns only indicate that his “normal” performance to date may not be predictive, not that he must perform better or worse than he has so far.

    To me, if I’m going to look for problems so far, I would focus on his strikeout rate and his batted ball profile. The walk rate is not concerning to me, because the sample of walks (2 so far) is small enough that one additional walk is the difference between “low” and “normal”. However he has 10 strikeouts in 42 PA, which would still be high even if he took one or two fewer Ks. It’s obviously early, but this is worth watching to see if it is just a matter of rust or a more permanent trend.

    As for his batted ball profile, again this is obviously very early and a very small sample, but so far he has too few line drives (only 2!) and too many groundballs, lending support to what otherwise might look like a “too low” BABIP at .259. We shouldn’t expect his BABIP to rise magically if he doesn’t start hitting more line drives.

    In short, I don’t think Morneau’s start has been “bad” considering the circumstances and the low expectations – since this is a roto-focused article, let’s bear in mind that most people grabbed him extremely late in the draft or off the wire, so the bar is set pretty low. Also, to the extent there is cause for alarm in his performance to date, it is not in the issues highlighted in the article, but in his strikeout rate and batted ball profile. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m not making an aggressive trade proposal for him, but I’m not dropping him either.

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    • MP says:

      So the fact that he has 2 instead of, say, 3 line drives somehow supports his low BABIP? That is not how it works..

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  6. Bob says:

    I got Morneau n the 20the round, so I’m not expecting production like his MVPseason….just good production for a 20th round pick, with a possibility of upside.

    I’d like a column focusing more on what we can expect Morneau’s rest of season to look like, if possible.

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  7. adohaj says:

    Last year it was painful to watch him hit. When he did make contact he wasn’t connecting with the ball well at all. This year he looks like he did from 06-09

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  8. Brad says:

    Yeah, I think this is alluded to in some of the comments above, but I think comparing Morneau’s post-2010 to his prior seasons is flawed for a couple of reasons: 1) SSS – he has had a total of 330 ABs in 2011 & 2012; and 2) many of those ABs were his attempts to comeback from the concussion (or other injuries). Without a full healthy post-concussion season (or at least a few more consecutive ABs), I don’t think we can draw many conclusions.

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  9. thegreatdive says:

    2 HR night, right on queue.

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  10. Mettlerburger says:

    This article woke up his bat. Those two jacks went plenty far.

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  11. Matty Matt says:

    Like friggin’ Luke Skywalker

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  12. hatunike says:

    Morneau looking real good to me. Those 2 home runs tonight change that sss pretty quick.

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  13. Bob says:

    So, I own Kendrys Morales in another league. Doyou think you could write an article about how he’s going to continue to stink, too?

    My stats could use the boost.

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  14. TMW says:

    I believe that his concussion symptoms just never went away in 2011. There was a big paycheck on the line, so why not ‘tough it out?’ It’s pretty hard to hit for power and/or judge the strike zone when you’re not seeing straight. This year I believe the symptoms are much better, but I think he will still have bad days/stretches.

    I got him in the 25th round this year. So far so good.

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    • AK47 says:

      Do you just “believe” that or is there some reason to believe it? To this point in the 2012 season he’s shown no ill effects from the concussion and according to his own words, he hasn’t had any concussion symptoms since last fall. As a Twins fan I’m way more interest in how things actually are for him rather than what people “believe” he’s experiencing. Every player, regardless of whether they’ve ever had a concussion in their life, has “bad stretches” during a 162-game MLB season…saying that he’ll have “bad stretches” is like saying the sun is going to come up tomorrow — duh.

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  15. MP says:

    Worth noting that the guy is no longer young (about to turn 31) and so hoping he returns to his age 25-29 prime seems a bit optimistic no matter what his health status.

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