Thursday, March 13, 2008

Position Analysis: First Base

Likely Starter: Justin Morneau
2007 Stats: .271/.343/.492, 31 HR, 111 RBI

Morneau will look to rebound after a brutal finish in '07.

Potential Backups: Brian Buscher, Garrett Jones, Michael Cuddyer

Justin Morneau took a notable step back in 2007 one year after winning the American League MVP, that much is for sure. It's worth noting, however, that the two seasons may not have been as different as a lot of people think. In 2006, Morneau struggled out of the gates before going on an insane tear over the last four months of the season to finish with a tremendous .321/.375/.559 hitting line. In 2007, Morneau continued to hit well through the first four months of the season, and in fact at the end of July he was hitting .297/.363/.563 with 28 home runs and 89 RBI -- basically, he was on pace to effectively duplicate his spectacular 2006 campaign.

We know the story of those last two months. In August and September, Morneau hit a putrid .222/.305/.335 while managing just three home runs. The sour ending left Morneau with an overall hitting line that left something to be desired, but while his final 2007 OPS was about 100 points lower than the 2006 figure, the two seasons weren't really as different as one might think. Observe:


2006

2007

G

157

157

AB

592

590

HR

34

31

XBH

72

65

RBI

130

111

BB

53

64

SO

93

91


The way that Morneau got to these final totals was vastly different, but for all intents and purposes, his production in these categories (with the exception of RBI) was essentially the same both seasons. The main reason Morneau finished with a much better hitting line in 2006 was the fact that he hit a lot more singles in 2006, leading to a .321 batting average which was probably the main reason he was able to capture the MVP.

Morneau is an excellent hitter, but there is little to suggest that we can expect him to be hitting .321 on a regular basis. That's not necessarily a problem as long he can draw walks and hit for power to keep his OPS up like he did throughout the early part of last season. It will be a problem if he can't do those things. Morneau's final 2007 hitting line of .271/.343/492 is decidedly mediocre for a starting first baseman, and he'll need to improve on that in order to truly earn the big bucks he'll be making as part of his whopping new contract. I think we can fairly assume that his future numbers will look a lot more like the ones we saw from April through July last year than the ones we saw from in August and September -- there were rumblings of a back injury that was limiting Morneau during those final two months; hopefully he is now past that.

That last point is a big one. It is critically important that Morneau stay healthy this year, because the team's depth at first base is not strong. If Brian Buscher makes the team, he would likely serve as the top backup. If Garrett Jones makes the team, he would serve in that role. If neither of those two players make the team, the top backup at first base is... Michael Cuddyer? He'd be just about the only player on the roster with significant experience at the position, but he's already the starting right fielder. There was some talk that Joe Mauer might play a few games at first base this year to rest his knees, but the fact that he has seen no action at the position during spring training suggests that such a scenario isn't overly likely.

It would be interesting to see what the Twins would do if Morneau were to go down with a serious injury this year. Let's hope we don't have to find out.

Predicted 2008 Hitting Line for Morneau: .285/.355/.540, 35 HR, 105 RBI

7 comments:

ubelmann said...

If Morneau gets injured, I wouldn't be that surprised to see Ruiz get time at first base.

Anonymous said...

Is Lamb an option at first?

Nick N. said...

You guys are both right. Ruiz would likely be the first call-up if Morneau got hurt; Lamb is probably his top backup on the roster and should have been included.

halfchest said...

Here's a funny idea that will never happen but maybe wouldn't be the stupidest idea in the world. I remember reading in the past that Morneau used to be a catcher and actually thought it would be fun to try it sometime again last year. Obviously they won't put him there but to possibly save on Mauer put Mauer there for say 100 games throughout the year, Morneau for possibly 45 and let Redmond take the rest.

Just a thought, albeit kind of a stupid one.

Anonymous said...

I think that Ruiz will get a spot on the team as a part-time DH/1B...

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