As we continue our series of Hall of Fame ballot previews with the MLB season shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, we highlight Justin Morneau. Morneau won the AL MVP award in 2006 with the Twins, and later won an NL batting title with the Rockies in 2014.
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Why is he on the ballot?
Morneau hit .321 with 34 home runs in 2006 for the division-winning Twins en route to narrowly edging out Derek Jeter for the MVP award. He continued to be one of the best hitters in the league for a while, making four consecutive All-Star games following his MVP season in 2006. He finished second in the MVP race in 2008 behind Dustin Pedroia when he had the second-most RBI in the AL at 129. He was heading for his best season yet in 2010 when he was hitting .345 with 18 home runs and 25 doubles in 81 games before suffering a concussion when his head hit John McDonald’s knee sliding into second base attempting to break up a double play. He would be unable to return that season. He eventually recovered enough to be productive again including the batting title with Colorado in 2014, when he hit .319 with 17 homers and 32 doubles.
Why won’t he make the Hall of Fame?
It’s believed that Morneau likely suffered many minor injuries in his youth as a catcher as well as a hockey goalie growing up in Canada. The head injuries didn’t stop with his 2010 concussion, and his concussions seemed to affect him worse than most people. After producing a 138 OPS+ from 2006-’10, he had just one season with an OPS+ above 115 for the rest of his career and ultimately retired after 2016 at just 35 years old. That was after a shoulder injury late in 2011 that produced concussion-like symptoms and another diagnosed concussion in 2015 with the Rockies.
Morneau was leading the AL in OBP and slugging when he got hurt in 2010, and ended up with a 187 OPS+ that year while having the best OBP in the league among players with at least 300 plate appearances, though he didn’t have enough to qualify for the batting title. He was ineffective in 2011 as he battled the flu and a wrist injury before his shoulder injury in August and finished that season with an OPS+ of just 70. His OPS in 2011 was equal to his slugging in 2010 (.618), both in about half a normal season’s playing time. The way he was able to eventually recover to post a 125 OPS+ in 2014 at age 33 makes you wonder how much more he could have produced if he had been healthier the four seasons prior.
Another reason he won’t make the Hall of Fame is the fact that Morneau never had a 5-WAR season. In his MVP season of 2006, his teammates Joe Mauer and Johan Santana (who won the Cy Young Award that year), both outproduced him by WAR, as Santana’s 7.6 led the AL while Grady Sizemore, Vernon Wells and Carlos Guillen all had 6 or more WAR as hitters that year. Santana finished seventh in MVP voting while Guillen led those three hitters at 10th.
Morneau went from being on pace for his fourth 30-homer season in five years before getting hurt in 2010 to only hitting 247 home runs in his career. From 2006-2010, Morneau hit .298 and later hit .316 during his two years in Colorado, yet ended his career with just a .281 average. He ended his career with less than 6500 plate appearances and only played in 140+ games five times. Injuries robbed him of what might have been a great career.
Up next: Prince Fielder.