Saturday, April 01, 2006

Justin Morneau and "Killer"

I realize that a few major things happened in Twins news recently, but I really don't wish to address them. For one, Fransisco Liriano was caught drinking and driving Thursday night and charged with DUI. And two, Jason Bartlett was sent down to the minors to work on his game and rehab his injury, even though he was hitting .382 this spring. However, there just isn't much substance there. What happened with Liriano is unfortunate, but that's a personal matter we can't judge. And I've already said plenty about how confusing the treatment of Bartlett is unless the Twins are going to make a trade.

What I do want to discuss is Justin Morneau, the Twins' hitting philosophy, and relating both to a Twins great. Did you know that the highest batting average Harmon Killebrew ever had was .288? But I'm sure you also knew about his 573 career homers that go with 1,584 RBI, 8th and 29th all-time respectively. What's the point?

I was considering something this week. I was thinking about all the Twins greats, from Rod Carew to Killebrew, sitting around Twins camp to talk to players this spring and what, if any, effect it's having on them. And I thought, who really needs help? For some reason, a lot of the reports focused on Nick Punto, but its not like a lesson with the great Tony Oliva is really going to change his game that much. However, for a guy like Morneau, whom fans and the organization have big hopes for, the effect should be considered. What should these guys tell him?

Morneau clearly showed he had holes in his swing last year, as he tried to pull every pitch over the fence, which didn't work at all. He needs to learn to take pitches the other way and be patient, something these greats can easily help him with. But what they need to avoid is the "Twins Philosophy." That is, let's hope they do not do to Morneau what they did to David Ortiz. Morneau can hit over .300, but let's not push him to move the runner over when he comes up with a guy a first or second or push him for sacrifices and such. In other words, let's forget "small ball" with this guy. He needs to follow the path of the guy many called "Killer."

Killebrew was plenty patient at the plate, as evidenced by his career .376 OBP and 1,559 walks, including 145 in his MVP season of 1969. He could handle the bat just fine, as he usually hit around .265 to .280 during his peak years, but his main focus was doing his job: hitting home runs and driving guys in. There is a scene in the Billy Crystal film "61," one of my personal favorites, in which the Yankees owner tells Roger Maris that he doesn't pay him to hit .300; he pays him to hit home runs and drive in runs. Essentially, that is what the Twins are paying Morneau to do and that is what they want from him. If that's true, they can't be pushing that organizational philosophy on Morneau. Instead, when he comes up with a guy on first or second, he has to think bigger.

The thing is, even thinking with more of big-power mind, he may still hit .300 in his best years. But if he consistently hits .275 with around 30 HRs and 100 RBIs, who would complain? That would be huge for the Twins. Its hard to know what these guys are giving out for advice, but I hope Killebrew said a lot to him this spring. Just something to consider.