I know it’s only Spring Training and the games and stats normally don’t mean anything, but Craig Monroe’s three homers against the Twins yesterday might have an impact on the 2009 Pirates’ season. That is, in the sense that it pretty much locked Monroe in for a spot on the major league roster.
Before you dismiss his homers as meaningless, consider that two of the three homers came against Scott Baker, who is coming off an 11-4 season with a 3.45 ERA for the Twins in 2008. I’m a big fan of Baker for fantasy purposes, so I’m not going to discount the homers that Monroe hit. The power displayed is not a surprise either.
In his career, Monroe has hit a homer every 23.32 at bats. That amounts to 24 homers in a 550 at bat season. In his four years of starting between 2003 and 2006 with the Detroit Tigers, Monroe hit for a .267/.312/.466 line with a homer every 22.25 ABs. Since then he has struggled, falling from an everyday starter to a guy fighting for a major league roster spot.
The struggles started in 2007 when he hit .222 with a homer every 31.18 at bats in 343 at bats for the Tigers. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs, where he was used in a reserve role in the final month and a half. Monroe hit .204 with one homer in 49 at bats for the Cubs.
In 2008 he was acquired by the Twins, but struggled again, hitting for a .202 average in 163 at bats. He did see his power return, with a homer every 20.38 at bats, but was released, with the Twins paying him $3.82 M for his services.
So far this Spring, Monroe is hitting .333 with six homers in 30 at bats. As I said, that should lock him in for a job on the major league roster, but what job? The Pirates have been searching for a right handed power hitting outfielder. Is Monroe this guy, and should he start over Nyjer Morgan?
First, let’s consider the big picture. Monroe isn’t necessarily in the long term plans of the Pirates, but neither is Morgan. Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata are heir to the throne for the final two outfield spots. Regardless of who starts (Morgan or Monroe), I doubt either will be starting at the end of the year, and I’m almost certain that the starting outfield by June 2010 will be McLouth/McCutchen/Tabata.
So making Monroe the starter doesn’t impact the future of the Pirates. Age also shouldn’t be a factor, as Monroe is 32, while Morgan is 28. The only question left is: will the 2003-2006 version of Monroe return?
In his time as a starter for the Tigers, Monroe hit .267/.312/.466, and had a Batting Average Per Balls in Play (BABIP) of .292. In 2007/2008 his numbers dropped to .214/.269/.380 with a BABIP of .261. Focusing in on the 2008 numbers, he hit for a .202/.274/.405 line with a .234 BABIP. The lower BABIP in the 07/08 seasons indicates that Monroe was a victim of bad luck, as the numbers were lower than his average from the 03-06 seasons.
In short, Monroe should be starting for the Pirates over Nyjer Morgan. The Pirates need a power hitter in the lineup more than they need Morgan to bat leadoff. With Monroe, the Pirates could stick Nate McLouth at leadoff and be fine. Neither Monroe or Morgan is in the long term plans for the Pirates, but Monroe gives a better chance for short term success, and might bring more in a trade down the line. Finally, if we chalk his 07/08 failures up to luck, Monroe is fully capable of putting up a .265/.315/.465 season with 25 homers, similar to his numbers between 2003 and 2006, making Monroe a steal for the Pirates.