Monday, December 9, 2013

Rockies Fans, Meet Justin Morneau

The Colorado Rockies have signed 32 year old Justin Morneau to a $12.5 million two year contract. He will be the team's first baseman, replacing the retired Todd Helton, who played 108 games there in 2013. 

What's Good About Him? The narrative about Morneau is that the 2006 American League MVP was having another MVP-caliber year in 2010 when he suffered a concussion sliding into second base hasn't been the same since. Sadly, that's true. Finding positives in his game since 2011 is pretty hard. He was OK with the glove last year and he played 152 games, his most since 2008. He had a couple pretty good months (June and August) and batted .292 in the postseason for the Pirates.

Morneau bats left. With the lefty Helton retired and switch-hitter Dexter Fowler traded to the Astros, Morneau and Carlos Gonzalez are the only lefthanded bats in the Rockies' lineup (depending on who replaces Fowler). Morneau is a lot more effective against right-handed pitchers, of which the righty-leaning Rockies lineup is likely to see a lot. He batted .280 with a .352 on base percentage and .467 slugging percentage against right handed pitchers compared to .207/.247/.278 slash line against lefties. He got 15 of his 17 homers against righties as well.

What's Not So Good About Him? Through 2010, he had a .286 batting average, a .358 on base percentage, and a .511 slugging percentage. He hit home runs in 4.6% of his plate appearances, struck out 15.1% and walked 10.0%. Since the injury, he's batted .256/.319/.406. His home run rate's been 2.7%, strikeouts 17.2%, walks 7.9%. He's made less contact, putting 30% of strikes in play compared to 33% prior to the injury, with more swinging strikes and foul balls. His batted balls just aren't going as far: before the injury, 12% of his fly balls and line drives went over the fence and 12% were infield outs; since the injury, only 7% have left the park and 14% have stayed in the infield. He's done worse against fastballs (.524 slugging percentage before the injury, .344 after) and breaking balls (.448 slugging against sliders before the injury, .370 after; .622 slugging against curves before the injury, .390 after). I'm going to stop, this is depressing. 

So What Should Rockies Fans Expect? First base is a hitter's position. The average major league first baseman batted .261 with a .337 on base percentage and .436 slugging percentage last year, .262/.336/.442 in 2012 and .271/.345/.452 in 2011. Since his injury, Morneau's .267 batting average in 2012 represents the only time he's been above-average in any of the three key batting statistics. He'll get a lift from Coors, as most hitters do, but adjusted for the park, the Rockies are most likely getting below-average production from first base for the next couple years, albeit a pickup from Helton's .249/.314/.423 last year.

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