Two of the lesser moves of baseball’s Super Tuesday involved left-handed hitters nearing the end of their careers finding new homes, and although neither deal has been terribly well-received by Baseball Twitter, I rather like each move. A.J. Pierzynski, free-agent catcher and erstwhile Texas Ranger, signed a one-year deal worth a little over $8 million with the defending champion Boston Red Sox, and Justin Morneau landed with the Colorado Rockies, getting $13 million for two years of his services.
Can Coors Field Improve Morneau’s Head Space?
You’ll rarely hear me talk about a player in terms of soft factors, be it character, mentality or off-field issues. I like to rely on statistics and scouting, the talent-based things that most reliably indicate baseball performance. I’m not a robot, though, and in the case of Justin Morneau, I see a player who badly needed a change of scenery.
Morneau won the 2006 American League MVP award, though he didn’t deserve it, and might have (deservingly) won again in 2010 if his season hadn’t been cut in half by the concussion that derailed his career. Since then, though, he’s struggled mightily, costing his teams a win over the last three seasons.
The concussion wasn’t the only change that came in 2010, though. It wasn’t even the only thing that got into Morneau’s head and caused problems. The Twins also opened Target Field that season, and immediately, Morneau was uncomfortable. He made public comments to that effect during November 2010. Specifically, he noted that hitting homers to the gaps, and to center field, was excruciatingly difficult.
Part of that was and is inevitable. Target Field is open to air, which means a lot more games played in colder conditions, which deflates fly balls. Morneau’s beef, though, was with the yawning dimensions of center field, and that never did change.
Morneau seemed to change as a hitter in 2011, and not in a way that a concussion would have necessitated. He became more aggressive, and more pull-conscious. It seemed that he tried to pull the ball more sharply, toward the right-field line, where the fences are a friendlier distance from home plate. To do so, he had to trigger his swing earlier, and that meant deciding sooner and being able to take fewer pitches.
It’s my opinion that Target Field got into Justin Morneau’s head, and that he hasn’t been the same since—even during a one-month stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013. It’s certainly true that injuries and aging have damaged Morneau as a player, but psychology played its role, too.
That’s why I love his decision to take up residence in baseball’s most inflated offensive environment, and the Rockies’ choice to bring him into it. Morneau need not worry about where he hits the ball anymore; he just needs to strike it well. He might not get anything back because of this, but I think betting that he will was the wise course for both sides. His reasonable salary ensures that the Rockies won’t feel burned if no miraculous recovery occurs, anyway.
More Pliable Than You Think: Pierzynski Will Survive in Boston
Last season, A.J. Pierzynski nearly managed to walk fewer than 10 times despite coming to bat 520 times. That’s insane. He also hit 17 home runs, though, and ended up being worth a win and a half despite a sub-.300 OBP. For two years, he’s been a power-oriented hitter, without regard for plate discipline.
Prior to that, though, Pierzynski was a different kind of hitter. He wasn’t patient, but he also never struck out. Only a light handful of big-league regulars fanned less often than Pierzynski during his early 30s. When he adjusted, in 2012, it was by trading some of that contact for all of his newfound power.
Now, he joins the team that prizes patience at the plate, perhaps more than any other in the league.
Now, he joins the team that prizes patience at the plate, perhaps more than any other in the league. When asked how he would acculturate to Boston, Pierzynski said he would go along with any encouragement to walk more. I might dismiss the same statement from others, but even at 37 years old, Pierzynski has proven himself flexible enough to make changes like that. I wouldn’t project a .360 OBP for him or anything, but on a one-year deal, the Red Sox made a fine bet on Pierzynski having another big adjustment in him.Next post: Brian Wilson Signs With Los Angeles Dodgers, Edward Mujica With Boston Red Sox Amid Flurry of Reliever Signings
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