Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Morneau Report

Just over a year ago, Justin Morneau was being thrown in with the dogs after reporters and writers had christened him and Joe Mauer with the "M & M Boys" title. Of course, this nickname also referred to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris of the 1961 fame, making the notion that it could be applied to a couple second-year players a tad ridiculous. Mantle was one of the best players ever and Maris had a few great seasons, including the 61 HRs in 1961. Yet, while the comparison was unfair, there was every reason to believe that Morneau would build on some success in 2004 with a big '05 campaign. What happened?

Morneau hit just .239/.304/.437 with 22 home runs and 79 RBI last year. He only had one great or even good month, hitting .439/.442/.707 in April, much of which came in after returning from some missed time due to being hit in the head by a pitch. The rest of the year Justin was awful. But for a 24-year-old, it wasn't that bad. After all, some of his notable comparables through age 24 are Carlos Delgado, Derrek Lee, Pat Burrell, Nick Johnson, and Cecil Fielder. Those guys are some pretty good company. And his .273/.345/.473 numbers with runners on were pretty good, leading one to the conclusion that he was not a total failure as a middle-of-the-lineup presence.

The great thing is that so far this year, Justin has been much more consistent. Though he slagged through April, hitting .208/.274/.416, he did it with 5 HRs and 15 RBI, which put him basically on par with last year's numbers, if only a little better in the run-producing department. Since then, he has hitt .282 with 9 HRs and 32 RBI. The great thing is that he was pretty good in May (.274/.333/.505) and has been hot in the first couple weeks of June (.306/.350/.667). Two good months, as opposed to the one he had in the entirety of last season, shows to me Justin is improving.

The RBI numbers have improved greatly. He is hitting .287/.359/.667 with runners on and .278/.368/.537 with RISP. His 47 RBI currently rank 12th in the AL, with his 13 dingers ranking 15th. For a Twin, that's not too shabby. Neither are the 39 HRs and 129 RBI he is currently projected to finish the season with. Most will say he won't reach those heights, but I think Morneau is steadily improving, as he showed this weekend by hitting lefties for power and poking outside pitches the other way as well, a la Mauer.

I certainly think that Justin has a 30-100 season in him and he'll probably hit about .265. To me, that would be huge, not just for a Twin, but particularly for a 25-year-old. A confident Morneau sitting in the middle of the lineup and supporting Mauer will be a big boost. As my associate Mr. Nelson pointed out yesterday, it may be time to try him out in the fourth spot again. This may well be just a hot streak, but I see indications of consistency as well.

He may end up more Harmon Killebrew than Derrek Lee (defense included), but that's alright for me. An underrated performer who has taken more than his share of criticism from the Twins fanbase, perhaps now is the time for a little praise.

9 comments:

Peter said...

Thanks for the Morneau report. It would be written one of these days but of course Mauer gets some attention now. He is improving and he has less runners on base in front of him than other sluggers of other ballclubs. So 47 rbi is deflated.

J. Lichty said...

You will more likely see him in the 5th slot. Gardy likes to alternate his lefties and righties

TheBentKangaroo said...

That would be a shame if he wound up like Killebrew. But I guess I'll take it.

Nick M. said...

Well, I suppose what I meant by that was simply that I don't expect him to hit .300 too many times, but he'll have that light-tower power there. Derrek Lee may actually be a really good comparable. I think Justin can have some great years and some .270-.280 with 30-35 HR years around it. So, no, he won't be a .258 career hitter like Harmon, I dont think.

Anonymous said...

Great Morneau report-it seems like all anyone ever does is rag on the guy. He has had so much pressure on him from day one, and now I think the pressure is being equally distributed, he is starting to feel more comfortable. You can tell he is also starting to recognize more pitches when you watch his face. For only his second full season in the majors, I think he is just adjusting as can be expected. Thanks for the great report!!

Nick N. said...

Indeed, I think Morneau has been very underrated, a lot of people gave up on him way too quickly after his struggles last year. I think his development this year and whether or not he is able to reach that 30/100 mark is going to be crucial for this offense.

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