Can Justin Morneau Rejuvenate His Career in Thin Coors Field Air?

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Can Justin Morneau Rejuvenate His Career in Thin Coors Field Air?
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The Colorado Rockies signed first baseman Justin Morneau on Wednesday in the hopes that the former MVP can rejuvenate his career in Denver.

Troy Renck of The Denver Post was the first person to report that the two sides were close to a two-year deal, and CBS Sports' Jon Heyman confirmed the deal was worth $13 million:

The Rockies are taking a chance on the 32-year-old slugger in free agency after a rough few years for Morneau.

After winning the AL MVP award with the Minnesota Twins in 2006, Morneau's path to mediocrity began when his 2009 season was cut short due to a stress fracture in his lower back.

Morneau looked like his former MVP self again in 2010, batting .345/.437/.618 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI. However, he only played in 81 games that year due to a concussion that ended his season after a July 7 game.

Things went from bad to worse in 2011. Apart from operations on his left wrist, left knee, right foot and neck, Morneau failed to be productive at the plate.

His season then hit rock bottom when it was cut short once more by concussion symptoms.

Morneau was having serious problems with his concussion throughout those years, as he said during an interview with MLB Network:

Usually after I get done—I really exert myself, really working out hard—after a long day, your brain gets tired and everything gets so worn down. It's not functioning the way it's supposed to be, and you kind of get done with the day and you go, "Something's not right." And you end up going home and taking a nap for a couple hours or whatever it is, and you wake up and the headache's still there and you kind of grind through it.

You get hit, and the brain gets knocked off a little bit, you feel like you're half a second off. It's not registering properly. When you're trying to hit, it almost makes it impossible to hit. You feel like the ball's behind you by the time you recognize the pitches.

Morneau was able to work his way back gradually, playing in 134 games in 2012 and 152 in 2013. However, he appears to have lost the spark that made him such a special player at one point in time.

Year GP BA HR RBI WAR
2006 157 .321 34 130 4.0
2007 157 .271 31 111 2.5
2008 163 .300 23 129 3.9
2009 135 .274 30 100 3.2
2010 81 .345 18 56 4.6
2011 69 .227 4 30 -1.2
2012 134 .267 19 77 0.9
2013 152 .259 17 77 2.0

As you can see from the above table, Morneau's stats looked nothing like they did in 2006 when he came back from his concussion. He was a completely different player after the injury, but not in the way the Twins were hoping for.

Minnesota eventually made the decision to part ways with the struggling first basemen, trading him to the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this year.

Minnesota gave up one of its poster boys (the other being Joe Mauer) and a fan favorite when it traded away Morneau.

Elsa/Getty Images

The two-time Silver Slugger didn't make many new friends in Pittsburgh, either.

He hit just .267 with three RBI and failed to hit a single home run in his 31 games (including postseason) with the Pirates.

Morneau simply didn't looked like a power hitter when he played for the Pirates, which is why they brought him in.

However, playing in the Mile High City might be the extra boost Morneau needs to get back on track.

Elsa/Getty Images

The Rockies were willing to take a risk and sign Morneau to fill the void left by Todd Helton's retirement. Morneau has some big shoes to fill.

While the supposed benefits of playing in the thin air of Denver can still be disputed, the fact that Coors Field has been a hitter-friendly park over the last few years cannot be.

Hitters have not been kind to pitchers in Colorado as of late, and batters are consistently given the edge in games at Coors Field, as shown by Park Factors.

According to the website, Coors Field has a Park Factor of 144, meaning it has produced 143 runs for every 100 runs produced in the average MLB ballpark, and 145 home runs for every 100 homers.

Classified as an "extreme hitter's park," Coors Field actually has the highest Park Factor of any MLB stadium.

MLB Rank Stadium Home Team Park Factor
1 Coors Field Colorado Rockies 144
2 U.S. Cellular Field Chicago White Sox 125
3 Rangers Ballpark Texas Rangers 125
20 Target Field Minnesota Twins 92
26 PNC Park Pittsburgh Pirates 83

It's also worth noting that neither the Twins nor the Pirates stadiums have a Park Factor of 100 or higher, which is the average.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If recognizing the general success of hitters in Denver isn't enough for you, let's look at Morneau's personal history in Coors Field.

Morneau is batting .364/.462/.636 with a home run and two RBI in 11 at-bats at the home of the Rockies. When projected over a full season (600 at-bats), those numbers are much better than what he put up in Minnesota or Pittsburgh.

Ballpark AB BA OBP SLG HR
Coors Field 600 .364 .462 .636 55
Target Field 600 .279 .351 .436 26
PNC Park 600 .246 .308 .351 11
Career Average 600 .259 .323 .411 27

While the test pool for Morneau in Coors Field isn't very substantial, the fact remains that he has found success there in the past and should be excited at the prospect of playing there 81 times a year.

Realistically, Morneau won't be batting .364 with 55 home runs a year with the Rockies.

However, we should see a significant increase in production from him in Colorado, which would certainly make him worth the $6.5 million a year the team is paying him.

Morneau may never be an MVP candidate again, but we will surely see him improve his numbers over the next two seasons.

 

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