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  • Teams Throwing Morneau a Wrinkle

    Since his return to the lineup this month, Justin Morneau has seemingly been driving the ball to the opposite field not only better but also more frequently.

    In Detroit, the big left-hander crushed a home run over the left-center field fence and then went the other way with pitches in Milwaukee over the weekend – one for a bloop single and the other for a sacrifice fly. In all, nine of his 17 balls in play prior to last night’s game went to the left of dead center. While it is a small sample size, Morneau has hit 52% of his balls to the left of center in May which dwarf’s April’s 28%.

    Positive as that may be, Morneau’s season has been a bit perplexing, particularly in the plate discipline department.

    Although he has always had the tendency to chase pitches out of the zone, the level at which he is straying after pitches has reached a career-high of 40%. In 2011, while he was having issues keeping his weight back and his hip closed, the strategy that opposing teams implemented was to keep the ball out of the strike zone and allow the Twins first baseman to get himself out – particularly when being pitched away. Often, Morneau would be out ahead of the pitch and harmless turnover on the pitch to the right-side of the infield.

    This year teams are pretty much attacking him in the same many only now they have added a wrinkle: more curves.

    One significant change is that opponents have been pumping him curve balls this season. It would seem that the league-wide scouting report on Morneau is that his eagerness to catch up with the fastball away has ripened him for a stream of curve balls to disrupt his timing on the hard stuff. And, so far, the league has been successful in shutting him down with this pitch.



    In 2010, the last year Morneau was truly “dialed in”, the first baseman hit curve balls at 5.0 runs above average clip according the Fangraphs.com Pitch Value system. That year, Morneau drove those hanging curve balls fairly well. While seeing fewer than 10% of the overall pitch distribution as curves, Pitch F/X data found at JoeLefkowicz.com says that he went 10-for-30 on curve balls put into play (a very good .333 BABIP) while hitting another four for home runs.

    Meanwhile, this year, Morneau has seen a steady increase in the amount of breaking pitches thrown his direction, receiving curves 18% of the time in 2012. Unlike his 2010 campaign, Morneau has not had nearly as much success against the hook. By Fangraphs.com’s Pitch Value metric, he has posted a career-low 2.2 runs below average which is based on the fact that he is just 1-for-11 on curves in play (.090 BABIP) – including a fly out to center off of one of Gavin Floyd’s benders in the third inning last night - while putting a high margin of those in play as grounders.

    Given the fact that he is starting to rekindle his love affair with driving the outside pitch to left field, there are reasons to remain optimistic for his production. By driving the ball to left, Morneau is demonstrating he can keep his weight and hands back - two main elements that help in adjusting to the curve ball.

    For Morneau, the season is still fairly young and he certainly has the capabilities of rebounding, that is, if he can remain healthy.
    This article was originally published in blog: Teams Throwing Morneau a Wrinkle started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Great read
    1. Top Gun's Avatar
      Top Gun -
      Humbug!!!!
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      "Humbug!!!!" -- Care to elaborate?
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      We have seen a lot of positives from Morneau this season and I'm glad he's starting to get things together. With his work ethic, I think he'll be able to adjust the same way pitchers are.
    1. jharaldson's Avatar
      jharaldson -
      In all, nine of his 17 balls in play prior to last night’s game went to the left of dead center. While it is a small sample size, Morneau has hit 52% of his balls to the left of center in May which dwarf’s April’s 28%.

      Positive as that may be, Morneau’s season has been a bit perplexing, particularly in the plate discipline department.
      I am always confused when people make hitting to the opposite field such a goal or some sort of lofty ideal. In my mind the goal is to drive the ball. If one player does this by pulling the ball and another does this by driving the ball to the opposite field I don't see a difference. If the inability to pull the ball or hit it the other ways dramatically changes how teams pitch to you or defend you then it is something to be addressed but a double left field is the same as a double to right.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      @jharaldson -- I wouldn't call it a goal but more of a barometer to how he is seeing and reacting to pitches. Morneau's ability to go the other way directly correlates to how opposing teams were pitching to him. In 2011, he was attempting to yank all of the pitches on the outer-half as his front side opened up too quickly. If he shows he is capable of driving that pitch the other way, teams will likely throw a few more pitches on the inner-half where he has proven he can pull hard.
    1. wolf eyes's Avatar
      wolf eyes -
      Quote Originally Posted by jharaldson View Post
      I am always confused when people make hitting to the opposite field such a goal or some sort of lofty ideal. In my mind the goal is to drive the ball. If one player does this by pulling the ball and another does this by driving the ball to the opposite field I don't see a difference. If the inability to pull the ball or hit it the other ways dramatically changes how teams pitch to you or defend you then it is something to be addressed but a double left field is the same as a double to right.

      That's answered in the article. If a pitch is thrown outside, it's hard to pull but easier to hit to the opposite field. The fact that Morneau is having success hitting it the other way means that the strategy of pitching him outside and letting him chase will (hopefully) be less effective.
    1. jeffk's Avatar
      jeffk -
      I am always confused when people make hitting to the opposite field such a goal or some sort of lofty ideal.
      I think the idea is, you can't pull when pitched outside, and hitting to the opposite field is more difficult than pulling the ball. So if a pitcher knows you can't hit to the opposite field, he'll just pitch you outside and let you ground out to second base (if you're a lefty).
    1. James Richter's Avatar
      James Richter -
      Outside of the 8 games where he tried to play through a sore wrist at the end of April, Morneau is hitting .269/.338/.582. True, a couple more hits on curves in play would nudge the BA and OBP a little closer to his career standards (.280 & .352). But if he can keep producing the way he has when healthy, I've got no complaints.
    1. jharaldson's Avatar
      jharaldson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      @jharaldson -- I wouldn't call it a goal but more of a barometer to how he is seeing and reacting to pitches. Morneau's ability to go the other way directly correlates to how opposing teams were pitching to him. In 2011, he was attempting to yank all of the pitches on the outer-half as his front side opened up too quickly. If he shows he is capable of driving that pitch the other way, teams will likely throw a few more pitches on the inner-half where he has proven he can pull hard.
      Good points, the opposite field increase isn't a good thing in itself but indicates he is fixing an issue that was preventing him from hitting last year and earlier this year. The odd thing is I was always taught when a RHP is facing a LH that you pull the curve because it is breaking in to you and when a LHP is facing a LH you go opposite because the ball is breaking away from you. Given this increase of curveballs to Justin I and the fact that most pitchers ar RH I would have anticipated an increase in pulled pitches but I assume plate location has something to do with that as well.
    1. twinsfan214's Avatar
      twinsfan214 -
      Great article. I have been yelling this to Morneau all season. Unfortunately he can't hear me through my tv. It's great to see him going the other way successfully rather than always chasing the away pitches which means (I hope) not all of the pitches he'll be fed will be away. Seems like we're seeing that a bit with Willingham now too. He has also hit a few away balls the other way instead of only being able to pull those pitches up and in (his fave).
    1. MrHockey's Avatar
      MrHockey -
      May be he could teach his technique to Mr. Willingham and Mr. Doumit.
    1. Mchans24's Avatar
      Mchans24 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      @jharaldson -- I wouldn't call it a goal but more of a barometer to how he is seeing and reacting to pitches. Morneau's ability to go the other way directly correlates to how opposing teams were pitching to him. In 2011, he was attempting to yank all of the pitches on the outer-half as his front side opened up too quickly. If he shows he is capable of driving that pitch the other way, teams will likely throw a few more pitches on the inner-half where he has proven he can pull hard.
      Players that are driving the ball to the opposite field gap are hitting at there peak. This has always been true. Look at when Cuddyer, Hunter and Morneau have been at there best. They are naturally pull hitters but are always the hottest when driving the ball the other way once or twice a game. Morneau looks like he is getting back to pre-injury form. If he hits .270 with 85 RBI and 25 homers is it a successful season?
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by jeffk View Post
      I think the idea is, you can't pull when pitched outside, and hitting to the opposite field is more difficult than pulling the ball. So if a pitcher knows you can't hit to the opposite field, he'll just pitch you outside and let you ground out to second base (if you're a lefty).
      Gee, all of a sudden another guy whose last name starts with M comes to mind.
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