01 August 2007

Justin Morneau and the Twins Offense

Over the last two seasons Justin Morneau has been one of the best run producers in the American League with 62 HR and 219 RBI. What makes this fact more impressive is that on the surface he has been producing all those runs on a team who does not possess one of the elite AL offenses. It would seem intuitive to conclude that Morneau has to be more efficient in the opportunities that he gets, since the more potent offenses are going to yield more opportunities for hitters in their lineups. While there may be some truth to that way of thinking, it's actually Morneau's ability to go deep that is keeping him on the RBI leaderboard this season, not his performance with runners on base.

A simple way to approximate the chances a hitter gets to drive in baserunners is baserunners per PA, which is shown in the table below for the top 5 AL hitters in Runners Driven In (RDI = RBI-HR).

M. Ordonez 72
A. Rodriguez 68
V. Guerrero 67
J. Morneau 61
V. Martinez 61

Morneau is in the middle of the pack here, so at first glance it doesn't seem he's suffering from a lack of opportunities. But one of the hallmarks of the Twins offense is its lack of power, so is it reasonable to expect a larger percentage of those runners to be on first base? It turns out that is not the case either. In fact, Morneau has had the most chances with a runner on third (the easiest RDI opportunity) and isn't getting less chances with RISP than any of the top 5. If you've noticed that the number of chances (the numbers in parentheses) don't add up to the number of baserunners in the previous table, I discounted plate appearances in which the hitter was intentionally walked because that doesn't represent an opportunity to drive in any runners. Back to the numbers with RISP, a caveat to that observation is that a larger percentage of those RISP chances come with two outs for Morneau. This is most likely the result of "productive" outs moving runners into scoring position (or "non-productive" outs keeping them there until Morneau comes to bat). What struck me is the fact that Morneau doesn't stand out in driving runners in from third base (more two out situations mean less RBI groundouts or sac flies) and he is merely average bringing runners in from second and first. In general the Twins offense has had difficulties scoring runners from first, as detailed previously here, and it appears that Morneau is not an exception to that rule.

Player from 1st from 2nd from 3rd RISP % of PARISP
w/ 2 out
M. Ordonez 0.09 (171)
0.22 (119)
0.60 (50)
A. Rodriguez 0.13 (181)
0.15 (115)
0.50 (54)
V. Guerrero 0.12 (150)
0.22 (88)
0.51 (58)
J. Morneau 0.08 (151)
0.20 (98)
0.41 (70)
V. Martinez 0.07 (159)
0.22 (86)
0.65 (48)

While Morneau has performed well in his role, driving in plenty of runs, his place on the RBI leaderboard has come abgout differently than the other hitters. Morneau has been able to remain on this short list mostly due ot his ability to hit HR. Only A-Rod has more home runs in the AL and the highest percentage of RBI from HR. Looking at the runs per HR for these hitters, it could be used as an argument that not enough Twins are getting on base in front of Morneau. If you've been paying attention, you know that Morneau is second in the AL in solo HR (Morneau-16, Carlos Pena-17) not because of a lack of opportunities. He's been able to hit a lot of solo HR to make up for a performance with runners on which isn't quite in line with the other top AL hitters this season.

Player HR RBI% from HR R/HR
M. Ordonez 16
A. Rodriguez 35
V. Guerrero 14
J. Morneau 28
V. Martinez 17

With all of this considered, Morneau is having another monster year in which he is currently on pace for 43 HR and 137 RBI. Those numbers are impressive enough that the footnote that he's doing it all within a subpar offense needn't be applied. Especially since the surrounding offense is actually giving him a reasonable amount of opportunities to add to those numbers.

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