Clone Wars: Prince Fielder and Justin Morneau

Given his status as a former MVP, it seems odd to say that Justin Morneau is having a breakout season, but with a ZiPs projection for career highs in home runs, runs, RBIs and batting average, he is having his best year yet. Just a five hour drive away in Milwaukee, his fellow first basemen Prince Fielder is also having a great season. He won’t be topping his 50 home run season from 2007, but an OPS over 1.000 has him as one of the best at the position again.

Name                GP    AB    R     HR    RBI   SB    CS    K%      BB%   BABIP   HR/F   P/PA3
Prince Fielder     110   396    69    27    98     2    2   24.50%  15.90%  0.335  19.90%     4
Justin Morneau     109   416    74    28    91     0    0   16.60%  12.20%  0.302  19.50%   3.6

Prince Fielder

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MLB: MAY 20 Brewers at Astros
20 May 2009: Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder (28) bats during the Milwaukee Brewers vs. Houston Astros baseball game at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday May 20, 2009 in Houston, Texas. Houston won 6-4. (Icon/SMI)

His value sky rocketed in 2008 and many blamed his “fall” to 34 homers on things like his diet change, but hitting 50 home runs is a big challenge. He is a solid bet to reach 40 homers this year and finish with the best batting average of his career.

Looking at his strikeout rate you can see he has become more of a hacker each year. Since posting a 21 percent strikeout rate in 2007, he recorded rates of 23 percent in 2008 and 24.5 percent this year. This has been balanced by a significant climb in walk rate, going from 9.4 percent in 2006 to 13.6 percent (2007), 12.5 percent (2009) and 15.9 percent (this season). This has pushed his OBP to a career high of .419, but that and his batting average of .303 are supported by a career high BABIP of .342. Expect his average and OBP to drop some before 2009 is over, but still be career highs.

His power has started to settle at the 20 percent HR/F level, which makes him a very good bet for 40 homers given his 45 percent flyball rate. He should be around 40 homers for the next few years, but as with most large first basemen you must be concerned about a quick decline.

Justin Morneau

While he had a great 2006, Morneau did not deserve the MVP that year. However, this season, he could top 130 RBIs and 39 home runs based on his ZiPS projections, which would actually beat his 2006 numbers. His wOBA is over .400 for the first time in his career, though it is still not at an elite level. This has a lot to do with his low OBP and walk rate. His walk rate has increased to 12.2 percent this year, but it is still far from great. His career OBP stands at .353, which trails Fielder’s career mark of .379.

Morneau’s limitations in getting on base have dragged his runs totals down. Even in his 34 homer season in 2006, he only scored 97 runs, and he has never topped 100. He isn’t a horrible run scorer, but in comparison to other first base options he could be better. It is worth noting that Morneau has a shot at his first 100 run season this year, but again, he could be scoring a lot more runs if his walk rate were better.

Conclusion

According to MockDraftCentral.com you could have grabbed Morneau at pick 19 and Fielder at 24. They have supplied top 10 stats this year, making them well worth their draft slots. They play a power position so any down numbers could really hurt their value, but their worst seasons so far have still held very good value.

These two will continue to rank as top five first basemen year in and year out. I would prefer Fielder between the two, as his OBP makes him likely to score more runs. His rising strikeout rate is concerning, but not damaging to his value yet. Both should go in the first two rounds next year, with Fielder being a stronger bet to hold his superb value.

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