Justin Morneau: 2014 Player Grade


Fully establishing himself as a comeback player, Justin Morneau brought a powerful bat and a capable glove to the Rockies in 2014.

For all our constant griping about the moves we wish the Rockies would make, occasionally we need to stop and celebrate a move they did make. Justin Morneau is one such move. When the Rockies signed him to a two-year, $12.5 million contract, they were taking a risk. They took a lot of risks with the signings they made prior to the 2014 season, taking on plenty of guys who had shown talent but also a tendency to get hurt. Morneau was the American League MVP in 2006, but had since struggled to stay on the field after a concussion.

Without knowing which Morneau we’d be getting, the productive one or the injured one, it was difficult to be sure whether signing him was a good idea.

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Well, rest easy kids. It was a great idea. I would argue that of all the new players the front office brought in for 2014, Morneau was the best. And that’s not just due to his league-leading .319 average because, let’s be serious, that is not a stellar number. It’s solid, but we’re not that far removed from the late Tony Gwynn‘s push to hit .400, and Morneau was merely the best in a weak/injured field. In an era of excellent pitching, though, it’s still impressive.

I would also point out Morneau’s glove, which has capably replaced Todd Helton‘s at first base. When Helton retired, it felt like first would be a black hole for a while, before anyone really worth mentioning could come up from the minors.

I was impressed with the Rockies’ willingness to sign somebody relatively high profile to fill in that black hole. Morneau became part of one of the best defensive infields in baseball, saving 8 defensive runs on the season and contributing some great scoops to some killer double plays.

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Beyond that, it’s instructive to compare Morneau’s 2014 offensive numbers to previous seasons. His power has diminished, as it generally does with age; a .177 isolated power was partly to blame for the fact that he only managed 2.5 WAR in 2014. He sits at a 123 wRC+ on the season, which is slightly above his career average but still less than what he collected most seasons at the less hitter-friendly Metrodome.

Despite the natural regression that Morneau is experiencing, he is still playing very good baseball. He doesn’t hit home runs as reliably, but he stays on the field. He was out for a few days this season because of some soreness, but bounced back admirably and showed no signs of long-term problems.

In a season where “stayed on the field” and “won the batting title” feel like MVP-worthy accomplishments, I cannot award Justin Morneau anything less than an A.

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