Has Justin Morneau made it all the way back?


After missing significant time in each of the last two seasons due to concussion-like symptoms, Minnesota Twins first baseman/designated hitter Justin Morneau is off to a nice start in 2012. After logging plenty of time in Spring Training, Morneau has missed only one game so far this season. In the early going he is hitting .279 with 4 HR and 6 RBI. He has a .605 SLG% and a .945 OPS. The question on all Twins fans minds is whether or not this is the harbinger of things to come for Morneau.

Has Justin Morneau made it all the way back? (Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE)

From 2006 through 2009 Morneau was one of the more feared hitters in the game. He averaged nearly 30 home runs per season and drove in an average of just over 117 runs per year. Morneau is a career .281 hitter with a lifetime OPS of .852. Unfortunately, once he sustained the concussion, his body had a hard time getting back into baseball shape. He got off to a great start in 2010 before suffering the injury, generating an OPS of 1.055. Despite every effort, Morneau was unable to play in the 2010 postseason.

In 2011, he was a shell of his former self. No matter what Morneau did, he seemed to be battling himself when he was on the field and fighting a multitude of injuries and the concussion-like symptoms off. Due to the many separate times on the DL, Morneau suffered his worst statistical season since his rookie year. People began to question whether he would ever make it all the way back and perform similarly to the player of the late 2000’s.

This Spring, Morneau came back stronger and without any recurrence of the concussion-like symptoms that have plagued him since 2010. He hit .257 in Spring Training with 3 HR and 14 RBI, but even during his best regular seasons, Spring Training was not a great gauge for how he’d perform once games began to matter.

What seems to be a good barometer is his recent performance. He is driving the ball with authority. In last night’s game, he took two distinctly different styles of pitches, a sinker and then a slider, and deposited them into the left field seats at Yankee Stadium. The sinker had good bite, but Morneau’s hands zipped through the zone and he stayed back nicely on the handing slider.

As we look ahead to the 2012 and 2013 season, we see that Morneau is coming to the end of a 6-year/$80 million contract. He is due $13 million this season and $14 million next year. Below is a break-even analysis of Morneau’s contract using WAR as a metric in determining his value to the Twins.

Working with $5 million per 1 WAR as a basis in 2011, I calculated the previous years’ costs per 1 WAR by deducting 5% from each season. For 2012 and 2013, I added 5% season over season. The chart below shows the results and provides the overall WAR required for the Twins to break even on the contract.

I provided Morneau’s WAR totals through this contract as well. You can see that he has amassed 11.9 WAR since the beginning of the contract. That leaves 4.44 WAR over the next two seasons. In eleven games this season, Morneau has already accumulated .4 WAR. It is safe to say that if he can get back to three-quarters of the player he was a couple seasons back, than he should have no trouble nailing these numbers. If he is able to, it would both impressive and a shame. Impressive, because he would have done it even though he lost almost an entire season in total, and a shame for exactly the same reason. Imagine thre value he would have produced had he not lost the season.

The injury certainly cost him and the Twins, but he never gave up and now he seems to be back and ready finish out the contract strong. What’s more, Morneau will only be turning 31 on May 15th, so he has plenty of good years ahead of him if he has indeed turned the corner. The Twins are not expected to be major contenders this season, but it is safe to say that if Morneau can begin to re-create the image of his better seasons, he will at least help the Twins be more competitive and he’ll possibly earn himself one more contract.

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