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  • Morneau's Struggles Against Southpaws Persist

    So far this season Justin Morneau has seemed as comfortable facing lefties as Mitt Romney would as the opening act for a Phish concert.

    In spite of performing quite well against right-handed pitchers (hitting .310/.386/.561 and smacking 8 of his 10 home runs), among qualified hitters Morneau’s .100 average off of left-handed pitching (8-for-80 as of Wednesday) is the lowest in baseball. This is not simply a fluky situation; the Twins first baseman is completely lost mechanically at the plate against his left-handed brethren.

    Prior to the nasty concussion in 2010 Morneau had handled lefties decent enough over his career. Dating back to 2004, he had hit lefties at a .269/.319/.468 clip. However, since the knee to the head in Toronto, he has posted a .124/.167/.200 line against southpaws. Perhaps it is simply rust, an injury or maybe something psychologically about being in the batter’s box and a 90 mile per hour plus fastball that cross in front of your head. Maybe it is a combination of all three. Either way, whatever is responsible for this decline does not seem like an easy fix.

    Lending credence to the notion that it may be more rust or psychological rather than a physical ailment like his wrist or shoulder is the amount of times he is fool by sliders from left-handers now versus two years ago. According to pitch f/x data, in 2010, left-handed opponents threw him sliders 21% of the time. Morneau elected to swing at 53% of those thrown his way while whiffing at 14%. This year, opposing team’s have had their lefties increase the number of sliders (31%) in response to Morneau’s inability to layoff of the breaking pitch as he has swung at 70% of all left-handed sliders thrown his way while whiffing at 26% of them.

    This statistical breakdown leads one to believe that Morneau is struggling with pitch recognition out of the pitcher’s hand. To make matters worse, his mechanics – particularly against left-handed pitching – has become so abysmal that he’s unable to keep himself locked in on pitches when teams attack him on the outer-half of the plate.

    His batted ball distribution chart paints a disconcerting portrait of how far his skills against left-handers have eroded.
    Back in 2010 Morneau was much better at using the entire field. As same-sided hurlers would throw sliders and fastballs on the outer half of the strike zone, he would be able to deposit them all over the field. Now, as we have seen more recently this year, Morneau is having difficulty doing anything against lefties besides yanking the ball:


    This is particularly ineffective when the majority of pitches to him are being thrown away.

    As noted above, Morneau is mechanically out of whack as well when it comes to swinging against lefties. Focus on his front side (hip) and compare his swing from 2010 (top) versus one from this past June against the Phillies’ Antonio Bastardo (bottom):



    You will notice that in his 2010 stance and mechanics, Morneau kept his feet closer together and made a long stride at the ball. Once he began his swing, he demonstrated the ability to keep his hip on the ball and open up along with his swing as his hands come to the ball. These traits were consistent throughout many of his clips that season.

    In the more recent version however, he had widen his stance thereby shortening his stride (perhaps in efforts to reduce the movement and improve contact). When he swings, his front side basically splays wide open well before his hands come through the hitting zone. Because his front side has already committed to opening up, Morneau has no choice but to pull the ball – even if it is located on the outer-half of the plate. This too, unfortunately, is a trait that also carries with him throughout many of his swing clips from this year and is not unique just to this match-up.

    With his issues at the plate continuing to progress, it became apparent that in the past week or so Morneau and hitting coach Joe Vavra have made some changes to his approach to combat this slide. The most notable of which is removing his leg kick altogether. Instead of the prominent leg lift and stride as seen in the clips above, Morneau is now simply lifting the heel of his front foot while keeping his toes firmly in the dirt:



    Additionally, there seems to be more concentration on keeping his weight back and going the other way with the pitch (at least you can see this in the clip against Bruce Chen and the Royals or today with Darin Downs on the mound for the Tigers).

    The rationale behind this alteration seems to be focused on making contact by keeping him from drifting out with his front side. By not having a stride, Morneau’s hips will have less of a tendency to open up. Likewise, by minimizing the movement it allows him to keep his head still and in theory see the ball better. Of course, at the same time, this significantly reduces his power potential and it may be the reason why during Thursday’s game, Morneau went back to his original stride (with little success):


    In addition to the season long woes against lefties, Morneau’s power has been MIA since June 4 when he hit his last home run. The ball just is not coming off of his bat the way it had previously. According to BaseballHeatMaps.com, before June 4 Morneau’s fly balls and line drives were travelling an average of 298.27 feet. Since then, that average has dropped to 259.89 and has resulted in five extra base hits in 101 plate appearances since his last home run.

    Given that he has made some changes, this indicates that he is not wholly comfortable at the plate. While he and Vavra are attempting to get back on course, it raises the larger question on whether he should continue to be used regularly against left-handed pitchers. With Morneau inserted in the fifth spot against southpaws and having him continue to produce at the abysmal rate that he has greatly diminishes the effectiveness of the lineup.

    The Twins have three games remaining before the All Star Break and in two of those they will be facing southpaws. This should be a good time to sit the first baseman out for a few games, giving him some added rest and time to concoct a game plan against lefties.
    This article was originally published in blog: Morneau's Struggles Against Southpaws Persist started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. John Doe's Avatar
      John Doe -
      At this point, if the Twins really think they're in it, don't they start to need to consider a platoon? Maybe call Valencia up to play vs southpaws? Who else is there in Rochester who hits right-handed?
    1. Curt's Avatar
      Curt -
      Don't laugh. I think Morneau should get his eyes checked. If his right eye has deteriorated, there might be a quick fix for this.
    1. BD57's Avatar
      BD57 -
      To be fair - a quibble, not a criticism really - the pitches in the first two videos have a lot to do with the swing we're seeing.

      The top 2010 video is a fastball down the middle of the plate. The top "current" video is a ball down & away, well out of the strike zone.

      It'd be interesting to see the numbers re: pitches seen per at bat against lefties. My guess - no number crunching here - is Morneau is seeing fewer pitches now. Perhaps because lefties aren't pitching him as carefully now, given his struggles; perhaps because Justin's offering at more balls out of the strike zone now.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Curt View Post
      Don't laugh. I think Morneau should get his eyes checked. If his right eye has deteriorated, there might be a quick fix for this.
      I wondered that too, but it's possible they've already done this, and the conclusion was that it was trauma-related and not really correctable except to give it more time. The guy is probably sick to death of "one more test" by now.
    1. notoriousgod71's Avatar
      notoriousgod71 -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      I wondered that too, but it's possible they've already done this, and the conclusion was that it was trauma-related and not really correctable except to give it more time. The guy is probably sick to death of "one more test" by now.
      Any baseball player that wears glasses is a straight up pimp.
    1. rogrulz30's Avatar
      rogrulz30 -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Doe View Post
      At this point, if the Twins really think they're in it, don't they start to need to consider a platoon? Maybe call Valencia up to play vs southpaws? Who else is there in Rochester who hits right-handed?
      Um NO! He is batting .240 in Rochester and is a team plague
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      A "team plague?"
    1. FrodaddyG's Avatar
      FrodaddyG -
      Quote Originally Posted by snepp View Post
      A "team plague?"
      It's like the Black Death of... teams?
    1. greengoblinrulz's Avatar
      greengoblinrulz -
      Luckily we have one of the league's most respected hitting coach to get Justin back on track
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Morneau's 1st-inning battle with lefty Martin Perez was a classic. Justin clearly was struggling to keep his butt from leaning away from the plate, and over about eight pitches, he finally won the battle and stroked a solid single off one of Perez's sweeping curve balls.

      Ron Coomer said it later, that Morneau's victory against the left hander enabled him to blast a line-drive homer against the right hander later in the game, a shot he crushed as hard as I've ever seen him hit a baseball.

      This could be a turning point for Morneau. If he keeps his butt in the batter's box, he can regain his old form and start dominating this league the way he used to.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      Morneau's 1st-inning battle with lefty Martin Perez was a classic. Justin clearly was struggling to keep his butt from leaning away from the plate, and over about eight pitches, he finally won the battle and stroked a solid single off one of Perez's sweeping curve balls.

      ...

      This could be a turning point for Morneau. If he keeps his butt in the batter's box, he can regain his old form and start dominating this league the way he used to.
      Agree. The first at bat was completely brutal and what we had seen for the majority of the season from him. In the AB in which he got the hit Morneau certainly battled but there was far less "sweep" to Perez's curveball on the pitch he hit than was intended. Torrealba was set up for the pitch off the plate away. That curve spun and hung on the inner half:

      Attachment 1485
      Now, this is not to discredit Morneau's ability to dump the pitch into right field for a hit -- he kept his front side locked in and he stayed stacked rather than opening up before his hands go through the hitting zone:

      Attachment 1486

      At the same time, Perez had troubles hitting his spots away on Morneau in the final two at-bats (in the third AB, Morneau tagged a first-pitch hanging curve that stayed inside as well). While those two ABs, as Coomer said, were very positive, I'm still curious to see how he will match up against another left-hander in Derek Holland tonight.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Doe View Post
      At this point, if the Twins really think they're in it, don't they start to need to consider a platoon? Maybe call Valencia up to play vs southpaws? Who else is there in Rochester who hits right-handed?
      Whoa whoa whoa. That's being too rational.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      I'm fine with letting the Morneau situation play itself out. Less than 100 PAs against LHers. He's had a lot of time off. Give it some time. Like most lefthanded hitters, he's never been as good against lefties as righties. But he was never pathetic, either. I've been encouraged by his health, I'd like to see if more time resolves the issue.

      Decisions made in haste are often poor decisions. Before acting, it's often wise to ask yourself "what happens if I do nothing?"
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      I'm fine with letting the Morneau situation play itself out. Less than 100 PAs against LHers. He's had a lot of time off. Give it some time. Like most lefthanded hitters, he's never been as good against lefties as righties. But he was never pathetic, either. I've been encouraged by his health, I'd like to see if more time resolves the issue.

      Decisions made in haste are often poor decisions. Before acting, it's often wise to ask yourself "what happens if I do nothing?"
      Yes. And Morneau has the track record to be acceptable against lefties, nothing wrong with giving him the reps to work through it. Especially if the alternative is Valencia.
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