You can rest assured that I shed many-a-tear in April thinking that the old Justin Morneau would never be back. I solemnly looked at my autographed rookie card from the Canadian sensation. I placed it back on the dresser, my hand trembling ever so slightly as I prayed for one last gasp of greatness. And you think I’m kidding.
Back on May 1, Morneau had a .253/.309/.379 slash for a whopping .688 OPS with two homers and 11 RBI’s. His trade value was equivalent to that of a signed copy of Birdemic: Shock and Terror.
Then, with the turn of the calendar, something changed for Morneau. He had regained that frightening cheek-puffing swing that won him the MVP back in 2006. In the month of May, Morneau is hitting .375 with five doubles and 17 RBI’s. This includes Monday night where he went 3-5 with two doubles and four RBI’s. He has gone from struggling slugger to run-producing machine who now ranks sixth in the American League in RBI’s.
This, however, does not mean that Morneau is back to his old self. He is far from it. He’ll never hit .321 with 34 homers and 130 RBI’s like he did in ’06. He’ll never play all 163 games (one-game playoffs for the win!!!) like he did in 2008. But Morneau has reformed his style to make himself a viable option for the Twins once again.
Morneau has come to the plate seven times this year with the bases loaded. Six times he has gotten a hit, and he has recorded an RBI in all seven chances. Those six hits have included two doubles (including one Monday against the White Sox) resulting in a total of 13 RBI’s. The Toronto Blue Jays and the Washington Nationals have combined for four hits (.129 batting average) and 13 RBI’s with the bases loaded.
Monday was Morneau’s 23rd career four-plus-RBI game, but only his second since May 17th, 2010. For comparison, Joe Mauer has only 12 such games in his career, and Josh Willingham has 18. Over the last two years, the Twins are 22-3 when Morneau has multiple RBI’s in a game. Apparently scoring more runs increases your chances of winning?
Part of the reason for Morneau’s sudden resurgence is his ability to get the bat on the ball. Morneau’s contact percentage on pitches out of the zone (73.6) is the highest of his career. His contact percentage on pitches in the zone (92.1) is the second best of his career, as is his swinging strike percentage (8.1). This has resulted in his strikeout percentage being the lowest it has been since 2008.
What is the most important number for Morneau this year? He has started 34 of the team’s 35 games. After missing 229 games over the previous four years, addressing durability questions will be a big concern to extinguish before the trade deadline if the Twins want to get anything in return for Morneau.
As far as your fantasy teams go, Morneau is only owned in 69.4 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues and being started in 42 percent of Yahoo! leagues. I’m not saying he’s going to win you a league championship, but when Paul Goldschmidt contracts malaria or Edwin Encarnacion chokes on an éclair, it can’t hurt to have a little former MVP insurance.