Minnesota Twins: Making the Hall of Fame Case for Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau as a Hall of Famer?  The average MLB fan will see this and immediately scoff at the notion and I understand that. I know this is a stretch. With that being said, he made it onto the ballot for the first time, which means the former Minnesota Twins first baseman meets the minimum qualifications to become a Hall of Famer. It’s worth considering.

Instead of brushing off the thought, we’re breaking down a surprisingly reasonable case for the Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer. Let’s dive into the career of Justin Morneau and see what he has to offer to Cooperstown.

 

Minnesota Twins

Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins acknowledges the crowd with his 2006 American League Most Valuable Player Award. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Making the Hall of Fame Case for the Minnesota Twins’ Justin Morneau: The 2006 Breakout

Decorating an award shelf is every players’ personal goal. They want to leave their mark on the game displaying dominance in every aspect. Justin Morneau has done that, but probably in the weirdest way possible.

From 2003-2005, Morneau was considered a league average player. His averages for those three seasons were: .250/.310/.450/.760. (AVG, SLG, OBP, OPS). That statline is very comparable to the production Anthony Rizzo did in 2021. This is not all star production, but it is a decent bat in any lineup. Then, 2006 happened.

Out of nowhere, Morneau won a Silver Slugger at first base and the American League MVP, despite weirdly not making the All-Star team. HOW!?!? (*scoffs in 2021 Bryce Harper*). Anyways, this is the year that gives Justin Morneau the best case for the Hall, so I want to specifically break this one down.

The first thing that strikes me is the games played. Before 2006, he only played in 40, 74, and 141 games, slowly increasing games each year. Even in his season with 141 games played, his OPS was only .741, so his production wasn’t improving with more playing time.

Then 2006 happened. Morneau played a career-high 157 games resulting in a gaudy statline of .321/.375/.559/.934 with 37 2B, 34 HR, and 130 RBI. Even if you wanted to say more plate appearances was the reason for this (which is simply not true), No one was expecting this type of production from Morneau. With players like Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Ichiro Suzuki, and even his own teammate Joe Mauer in the AL, Morneau was nowhere on anyone’s radars.

The second thing that comes to me is the strikeouts. Morneau somehow managed to strikeout one less time in 2006 compared to 2005, despite 118 more plate appearances. That is where I believe the turning point for Morneau was: plate discipline. This resulted in 190 hits and 331 total bases, both career-best marks for Morneau in a season over his 14 year career.

The last thing that gets my attention is the teams’ records from the previous season. The  Minnesota Twins went 83-79 in 2005 which got them 3rd place in the AL Central. When Morneau figured it out in 2006, the team went 96-66 which was 1st place in the division!

Was Morneau THAT valuable to the team? Despite his MVP season, Morneau was still third in WAR on his own team that season. Joe Mauer and Johan Santana both had better seasons according to WAR.

 

Minnesota Twins

Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins runs to first against the Los Angeles Angels on July 26, 2009. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Making the Hall of Fame Case for the Minnesota Twins’ Justin Morneau: Continued Dominance from 2007-2010

Following the MVP season, Justin Morneau continued to display the type of player he was. He made four straight All-Star games from 2007 to 2010, finished second in MVP voting in 2008 and took home another Silver Slugger award, and was en route to having the best season of his career in 2010 before injuries took over.

The average slashline for those four seasons was .300/.380/.530, earning him a .910. OPS and an OPS+ of 143. This stretch was elite for a first baseman and Morneau did it for half a decade. His numbers over this stretch look similar to another first baseman whose career slashline looks eerily similar (.293/.389/.521): Paul Goldschmidt.

Goldschmidt is often discussed as a probable Hall of Famer if he continues on his path. If Justin Morneau was consistently putting up those numbers for half a decade, then why doesn’t anyone put him in the same conversation as Goldy? Well, as we know, injuries exist.

Making the Hall of Fame Case for the Minnesota Twins’ Justin Morneau: Injuries send Morneau back down to Earth

Morneau would never again sport an OPS above .800 again while with the Twins. His numbers dropped down to his 2005 level of production as he was trying to recover from several seasons of battling injuries.

In addition to injuries, Morneau was plagued by something that what was once his strength: strikeouts. In 2012 and 2013, Morneau had over 100 strikeouts each season, something he had never done in his career. In today’s game, it would be a very good number, but for Morneau, it was hurting his performance.

The only thing that kept his OPS up above average was his extra-base hits. Over his career, Morneau was a doubles machine, so even when the average, home run, and RBI totals were coming down, the doubles remained consistent.

He averaged 25 doubles from 2012 until the end of his career in 2016. This helps his Hall case, but the next stage of his career helped a bit as well.

 

Minnesota Twins

Former Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau gets ready to make a play on September 29, 2015. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Making the Hall of Fame Case for the Minnesota Twins’ Justin Morneau: A trip to the Rocky Mountains gives Morneau new life

The rocky mountain waters must be the fountain of youth and Justin Morneau must have taken a sip during his tenure with the Rockies, because Morneau found his old form playing in Colorado at the age of 33. He finished 23rd in NL MVP voting with a slash line of .319/.364/.496 in 135 games played.

Morneau won the National League Batting Title that year, which is hard to wrap your head around, especially considering he would never play in over 60 games after 2014. Do we call this the Coors effect? Or just a new fresh start?

I believe we can call this being healthy for once. Justin Morneau had always battled the injury bug, which cost him so many opportunities. His WAR of 3.4 in 2014 was his highest since 2010 and was a hair better than higher than 2021 Josh Donaldson (3.2).

Donaldson has been praised for his offensive value this past season, to the point where he is seen as a real DH threat for any team going into 2022 while Morneau was not. This is the epitome of Justin Morneau’s career. Underrated, overlooked, and disrespected.

 

Making the Hall of Fame Case for the Minnesota Twins’ Justin Morneau: The Final Verdict

To wrap up Justin Morneau’s career:

  • 27 WAR, 1603 Hits, 247 HR, 985 RBI, .281/.348,.481/.828, 120 OPS+
  • MVP
  • 4x All Star
  • 2x Silver Slugger
  • Batting Title
  • HR Derby Champion

Hindsight is never 20/20. A quick glance of this career shows Hall of Very Good. But injuries has taken so much away from a very promising case for the Hall of Fame. Even if Justin Morneau falls off the ballot after his first and only year on the ballot, he will always be enshrined into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame.

The 2000’s Twins would not be memorable in history without the contributions from Justin Morneau. Morneau is one of the best players of all time…from Canada. The Hall of Fame is lacking representation from the Great White North, as Fergie Jenkins and Larry Walker are the only representatives from the country. If another Canadian can join them, next in line is Justin Morneau.

What do you think about Justin Morneau in Cooperstown? Do you think he has a chance? Leave a comment and make your cases!