After a mediocre April (.253, two home runs, 11 RBI), Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has started May on a hot streak, with a .375 batting average (18-for-48) and 17 RBI in 12 games after going 3-for-5 with two doubles and four RBI against the Chicago White Sox on Monday night.
After being hampered by injuries in recent years, Morneau has been in the lineup in 34 of 35 games this season. Production at the level he showed during his MVP season in 2006 (.321, 34 home runs, 130 RBI) is unlikely to ever come again, but simply being a mainstay in the middle of the Twins’ lineup again is surely enough for everyone involved.
But Morneau only has two home runs all season, including zero thus far in May, which could be a troubling sign of decline or a bi-product of circumstance. Could more long balls be coming for Morneau? Let’s take a closer look.
Morneau, in seasons where he has been fully healthy or not, has not had particularly dramatic swings in his batted ball percentages. But he is hitting more fly balls this season (43 percent) than he did in 2012 (37 percent), which may be a sign of better health and is more in line with the amount of fly balls he hit during his three 30-home run seasons. In those three campaigns-2006, 2007 and 2009-Morneau had fly ball rates of 41 percent, 39 percent and 43 percent respectively.
Projected over a full season, which admittedly is dangerous to do six weeks or so into the season, Morneau’s ground ball percentage (37 percent) would be the fourth-lowest of his career. Also, his current line drive rate (21 percent) would be the fourth-highest in his career over a full season at the big league level.
The data suggests Morneau is making harder contact, and his overall contact rate (84 percent) to this point in 2013 is in line with previous seasons and a slight improvement on 2012 (80 percent). But leaving out 2011, when he played just 69 games and had 288 plate appearances, Morneau’s home run/fly ball rate so far this season (4.0 percent) is by far the lowest of his career.
A correction in luck should bring more home runs for Morneau going forward, though it will take a dramatic reversal of fortune for his home run/fly ball rate to reach his career mark (14 percent). I don’t think the fourth 30-home run season of his career is coming, but I can see Morneau finishing 2013 with around 20 home runs while making a serious run to 100 RBI for the first time since 2009.