Diamond Duels: Justin Morneau vs. Kendry Morales
by Eric McClung and Keith Hernandez
on February 28, 2011 @ 04:03:10
Morneau's fantasy baseball player profile
- A stress fracture in the back of Morneau cost him the final few weeks of the 2009 season. There was no sign of a carryover last year during a sizzling 81-game start that included a .345 batting average, 18 home runs and 56 RBI until he was shut down following a concussion. With the Twins understandably treating their bopper with kid gloves, news from spring training will be slow moving, driving Morneau into value territory. Fear not. He has overcome one scary injury before and has all the ability to do it again.
Aside from the aforementioned injuries, Morneau has been a consistent producer in the power columns without the batting average liability that often comes with a corner infield masher. Over the last four years, his ground-ball rate has fallen a total of over 11 percentage points in favor of increases in both line drives and fly balls. Morneau's breakout in 2006 came as a result of similar batted ball figures. When he's healthy, 25-35 home runs and 100-130 RBI become totally bankable.
Don't blame Canada
- Morneau is also improving in several areas of plate discipline. His walk rate has climbed in each of the last four years while his slugging percentage has risen during the last three. Morneau is discovering an impressive balance of aggressiveness while cultivating more patience.
- Following a walk-off grand slam, Kendry Morales broke his leg while jumping on home plate, ending his season with just 51 games played. As with Morneau, early reports state Morales is not yet at 100 percent. Morales is only entering his third season as a starter in the bigs, so data is limited. One constant from the majors and his service time in the minors has been low walk rates, never cracking eight percent at any level. In 2009, Morales hit .306 and 34 home runs and with a walk rate of 7.4 percent. How hard is it for hitter lacking patience to post those kinds of numbers? Last year, only two other qualifying players with a worse walk rate hit more than 25 home runs, while just three hit .300 or better.
- Three of the top six run producers for the 2010 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, designated hitter Hideki Matsui, catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera, are gone. In a move that doesn't exactly inspire confidence, their big acquisition was outfielder Vernon Wells. The Halos lineup is aging and lacks the speedy table setters from years past. Other than the middle infield, the Twins are virtually the same team. When it comes to track record and surrounding lineup, Morneau is in a far better situation.
Closing argument: Sitting in the third tier of first basemen are two big boys on the mend after their 2010 campaigns were cut off before the All-Star break. Due to a number of abbreviated seasons the numbers are a bit skewed on each side. When it comes to the player that has the hitting metrics to produce big numbers once again when fully healthy, Morneau is the one that brings the bacon.
Morales' fantasy baseball player profile
- The Morales-Justin Morneau debate seemingly begins and ends with injuries; both are coming off major misfortunes that cut their seasons short last year. The difference: Morales' freak leg snap while jumping on home plate is the only injury knock on him. Morneau's medical history is much more extensive (more on this in a bit). Drafters are scared to touch Morales this year for fear the previous leg malady will rob him of much of his power. The news early on in ST should ease some of those worries; Morales has reportedly been mashing the ball, and his leg isn't giving him any trouble while hitting. Although he's still not close to running 100 percent, nobody was drafting him for his wheels anyway.
Morneau is definitely a bona fide slugger, but my client can also swing the stick with the big boys. Morales' '09 campaign, his first full season in the bigs, showed us the power is there: He dipped in fly balls and still boasted a .306-34-108 line. His right-handed self is a weakness; fewer fly balls and less power from that side, but this isn't uncommon for switch hitters. Still, he hit .296 from his soft side in '09. A .255 career average against lefties doesn't excite, but Morneau isn't exceptionally better at .267.
More of the same Morales
- Although last year was cut short by a freak leg injury, Morales still managed to leave the park 11 times in just 51 games. Leaves you wondering what he would have done in a full season's worth. Though they occurred in a small sample size, his strikeout percentage and contact rate both improved.
- Morneau's serious concussion from a year ago is a legitimate reason to shy away from him; it's his second in the bigs, and he suffered head trauma as a youngster, too. Because of the gravity of concussion injuries, any slight aggravation this year could lead to long-term bench sitting for Morneau. The concussed Canadian continues to be susceptible to the freak injury. The Twins are stilly babying him as the season approaches, which tells me the issue is still delicate.
- It is easy to argue that Morneau has a better track record for power and BA than Morales. Although Morneau put up impressive pre-injury stats last year (.345-18-56), don't let that sell you this year. His ridiculously lofty BABIP will come down from last year when it soared to .385 in half a season. Along with a brittle body, his reliable second-half fades have been problematic.
Closing argument: Because of major injuries last year, caution will continue to surround the projected values for both slugging first baseman. But, both can become solid fallback options if you lose out on the other top-tier 1B picks. However, Morneau's price won't come down much despite his added injury risk. Morales is less of an injury hazard at a cheaper price.
KFFL staff verdict
Fantasy Baseball Diamond Duels
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.
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