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

Josh Schoch@JoshSchochAnalyst IIIDecember 4, 2013

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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:

#rockies are closing in on 2 yr deal w Morneau. Some wrinkles to iron out. But in final stages

— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) December 4, 2013

#rockies have agreed to terms with morneau, 2 years for about $13M. @TroyRenck 1st reported close.

— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 4, 2013

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.


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.

Source: #Pirates acquire Morneau from #Twins for OF Alex Presley.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 31, 2013

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

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 04:  Justin Morneau #66 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a single in the third inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Two of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 4, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.  (
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.

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 03:  Justin Morneau #66 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts after striking out in the seventh inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game One of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 3, 2013 in St Louis
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 RankStadiumHome TeamPark Factor
1Coors FieldColorado Rockies144
2U.S. Cellular FieldChicago White Sox125
3Rangers BallparkTexas Rangers125
20Target FieldMinnesota Twins92
26PNC ParkPittsburgh Pirates83

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.

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 09:  Justin Morneau #66 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 9, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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.

Coors Field600.364.462.63655
Target Field600.279.351.43626
PNC Park600.246.308.35111
Career Average600.259.323.41127

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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