It is hard to consider that the Twins would have a gnat’s ass chance of slipping past the Detroit Tigers without their All Star first baseman in the lineup. The truth, however, is we have not had him in the lineup since mid-July. Up until July 22nd, Justin Morneau shot lasers and rainmakers around the nation’s ballparks, hitting .316/.398/.588 with 23 HRs and driving in 78 runs. From the 22nd on it was like a parasitic-likeness of Alexi Casilla on creatine inhibited his body, guiding him to eke out a .175/.281/.351 batting line with 7 HRs and 22 runs batted in. This was not Justin Morneau. This was Matt Tolbert interloping in the heart of the order.
The question is how many games did this second-rate Morneau’s bat situated in the middle of the lineup cost the Twins? Could it be worth three in the win column over the course of 48 games? When the Grande Canadian was chugging on all cylinders, he was driving in runs with ease, hitting .354/.473/.659 with 12 extra base hits with runners in scoring position (RISP) from the beginning of the year until July 21st. In 45 at-bats with runners in scoring position from the 22nd on, Morneau had hit .178/.283/.200 with just a solitary extra base hit. Getting out 53 percent of the time versus 72 percent of the time is a significant difference – especially in the context of what should be your RBI man (and the guy who comes to the plate in RBI situations most frequently). In that same span of games, the rest of the lineup hit .292/.360/.453 with runners in scoring position. His continued presence undoubtedly hurt the kinetic efficiency of the lineup.*
*Naturally, you can lump the stubborn insistence on using Orlando Cabrera at the two spot as well. Since coming over to the Twins, Cabrera has hit .244/.275/.372 in the two hole. So, the Twins had sandwiched the game’s best hitter in Joe Mauer – who is retired in a major league low of 56 percent of plate appearances – with two hitters that have been out in 73 and 72 percent of their plate appearances respectively. (blink, blink). It would seem only a season-ending back injury will get Ron Gardenhire to reconsider the lineup structure…then again, as some in the game would say, baseball isn’t played on a calculator.
From July 22nd until September 12th, when he last played, the Twins went 17-25 the games Morneau was in and 5-1 the games he was out (either for the dizzies or a mental break). In that 48 game stretch of substandard offense from their cleanup hitter, the Twins scored 4.66 runs per game, roughly 0.25 runs less than they would when he was healthy in the first 94 games. Since his removal from the lineup, the squad has averaged 6.5 runs per game and has gone 3-0 (bringing the ‘Neau Morneau record to 8-1 since July 22nd).
This is not about Morneau per se, rather it about getting the most efficiency out of your lineup: A healthy Morneau is a superior choice for cleanup (or third, for that matter) than just about everyone else on the roster (save for Kubel against a righty who favors fastballs). The injured version was simply a detriment. It is a shame that it took a season-ending injury for the manager to react.