Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Morneau Chronicles: Switching to DH

Yesterday, I started the first in a three-part series called the "Morneau Chronicles." Over the course of this week, I plan to approach the Justin Morneau situation from a few different angles. In part one of the piece, I examined the "ideal results" for him and the Twins. This would mean Morneau coming back completely healthy and performing close to the level he has shown in the past. Today's second part of the series will look at what will happen if Morneau is relegated to playing the role of designated hitter in 2012. In the final portion of the series for tomorrow, the topic will revolve around what will happen to the Twins if Morneau's injuries push him towards retirement.

As I wrote yesterday, Morneau's role on the team will play a large part in the success of the club in 2012 so it is important to know what the future could hold for him and the Twins. Will he be his old productive self next year? Are the concussions going to relegate him to being a DH? Or in a worst-case scenario, is the career of Morneau going to be forced to come to an abrupt end? All of these situations have a chance to play themselves out during the 2012 season and Twins fans will be watching the health of the former MVP with high regard.

Below is the schedule of posts for this week with links back to the articles that have already been posted on NoDak Twins Fan.
"Morneau Chronicles" Weekly Schedule
Tuesday: Switching to DH
Wednesday: Pushing for retirement

Games Played: If concussion symptoms continue to be triggered by Morneau playing defense, the switch to designated hitter could be the next step. At the end of last season, Ron Gardenhire and members of the Twins front office were already contemplating this move for 2012. Morneau saw his highest percentage of games played at DH in 2011 with 13 of his 69 appearances being in the role. For his career, he only has 365 plate appearances as the DH with a batting line of .266/.329/.443 with 17 home runs. The Twins hope to get Morneau into a minimum of 130 games this year with over 500 plate appearances. That is a feat he hasn't accomplished since 2009 so switching to the DH role could keep Morneau healthier and it could keep his concussion symptoms away. He has only combined for 150 games played in the last two seasons and the Twins need a healthier player since he has two-years and $30 million left on his contract.

Offensive Performance: The transition to full-time player to full-time designated hitter can be a hard transition for some hitters to make. Some players find it hard to stay in the rhythm of the game when they are only involved in a plate appearance every few innings. As mentioned above, Morneau has a very small sample size of appearances as a designated hitter. For his career, he has 3850 plate appearances as a first baseman and 365 plate appearances as a DH. It is also hard to project what Morneau will be able to accomplish after recovering from multiple surgeries this offseason on top of the concussion issues that are still bothering him. While fighting through some tough injuries last season, his offensive numbers took a big dip. The Twins hope a transition to a new offensive role will not hinder his comeback at the plate.

Defensive Position: The obvious situation here is that Morneau might find himself switching his focus from both sides of the ball to now completely focusing on the offensive side of the ball. After missing parts of the last three seasons, it might be easier for Morneau to make the transition back to being a threat by only focusing on one area of his game. The Twins can use a mix and match solution for first base and hope that Morneau can find his swing and provide enough offense at the DH spot to make up for whoever is taking his defensive spot in the field. 

Other Players Impacted: The current back-up plan for Morneau at first base might be a combination of a group of players. The Twins brought in Ryan Doumit to serve as the back-up catcher but he could also find time at first base. Joe Mauer wants to be the full-time catcher but there will be times the Twins need to find a different spot for him in the line-up. He showed good ability to handle first base last year and he could see more time there if Morneau is now the DH. Depending on the health of Mauer, Doumit might be behind the plate and this would force the Twins to turn to some other options. Luke Hughes would be a bench player who could see some time at first base. Because of some of the positive signs he showed in September, the Twins could also hand the first base spot over to Chris Parmelee at some point this season.
Remember to check back tomorrow for the final part in my three-part series called the "Morneau Chronicles." His health plays a large role in the path the Twins will take in 2012 so it is important to examine the possibilities for him from every angle.


Clave said...

Im concerned about interview comments where he said he's a half second off. If he's a half second off he won't be able too see or hit major league pitching. I'm VERY concerned, even with him at DH.

Man, I hope I'm wrong.

Nate Palmer said...

I am really enjoying this little series. This concussion injury is so weird at times. Hopefully the DH role (if this is the route needed) would help Justin in less volume get his brain and eyes use to locating baseballs again. Those concussion exercises have to be very hard to keep up with everyday!

NoDak Twins Fan said...

Thanks for the comments guys. Keep coming back and checking out the blog.