Return to Being Useful: Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau’s place on the Colorado Rockies didn’t make much sense when the deal was announced. It was written about here, by Paul Swydan, and pretty much everywhere else. And Swydan was right, in my opinion: the Rockies did have a better player sitting there in Corey Dickerson (who ended up playing a ton anyways, thanks to injuries). All it would have taken was moving Michael Cuddyer to first to hand Dickerson the right field job. Well, Cuddyer got hurt, along with Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki (shocker). And Morneau – his production, anyways – ended up having a place after all, even if the process that got him there wasn’t prudent in its nature.

Morneau has done a ton of good with the plate appearances he’s taken this season, posting a .371 wOBA (120 wRC+), and performing as a top-15 fantasy option at first base in standard leagues. Interestingly enough, though, he can’t really thank a power rebound: his .175 ISO is better than last season’s mark of .152, but is still well below his career average. Morneau’s value has almost solely come from his ability to hit for average, something his new home park undoubtedly helps with.

First things first, any time someone’s batting average increases by a huge amount I go directly to their contact rate. Wouldn’t ya know it: Morneau’s overall contact rate jumped nearly 5%. One piece of the puzzle is out of the way: more contact, more balls in play, more balls fall in thanks to new park. It doesn’t stop there, though.

Whenever Eno spoke with Morneau earlier in the year, he mentioned Coors’ helped him become a more complete hitter. He used the whole field more effectively, and was more aggressive than he’d been in years. When you’re playing in the friendliest ballpark in the majors, aggressiveness seems like it’d be an easy thing to ramp up.

Obviously Morneau’s aggressiveness has worked pretty well. He’s having his best season since 2010. [Sidebar: Holy hell, he was fantastic in 2010.] As mentioned in the intro, and in my rankings awhile back, he’s almost had two separate seasons within 2014: one with average and dingers, and one with just the former.

First Half 359 13 0.188 0.313 0.345 0.501 0.368 118
Second Half 174 3 0.15 0.329 0.397 0.474 0.377 125

In the first half, Morneau was a force, combining phenomenal batting average value and hitting for power. In the second half, he’s actually been better, using the standards of real life, but without the two home runs last week he’d be in a rather serious power drought.

As we know, though, real life value and fantasy value are two different things. Make no mistake about it, Morneau has still helped you in the second half, just maybe not as much. And maybe that’s due to the fact that Morneau’s approach has seemingly met in the middle. He’s paired his refurbished low strikeout rate with his Minnesota-ish walk rate in the second half.

Justin Morneau’s 2014 is the type of season that can win you a fantasy league. For the most part, everyone you play against is going to hit on a fair amount of their early picks – within reason, of course; some people are just cursed and see their season end before it really begins. All things being equal, getting Morneau’s production on top of your early round picks can/did put you over the top. And he probably didn’t cost you anything; you probably picked him up off waivers. That being said, you probably aren’t counting on Morneau next season, mostly due to age and the lack of power.

After his issues following concussions, Morneau has actually been on the field quite a bit over the past three seasons, but still he’ll be a year older next season, so his power might diminish even further, and the rigors of age may rear their ugly head. On the positive side, though: Coors’ Field helps … a lot; his contact rate is good, and maybe it will hold; and he should be in a good lineup. Wrapping that up: Morneau’s skills, saving power, are still present, and I think they’ll mostly remain intact next season, but his injury history is still a little worrisome.

Finally, all that being said, Morneau probably won’t be very expensive next season. He shouldn’t be, anyways. His ability to provide this much value is a feat in itself, and expecting it to repeat almost seems too unfair. If he’s healthy, he’ll probably be fine, but unless his power rebounds you’re betting on a batting average repeat, which seems a little unfair. It seems like every year at least one veteran has a resurgence. My rule for those: enjoy it when it occurs; don’t pay for it the following year.

We hoped you liked reading Return to Being Useful: Justin Morneau by Landon Jones!

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Landon is a senior writer at The Fantasy Fix. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter (@joneslandon).

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