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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.