On the Outfield (and my new dog)


One of the largest issues the Twins faced going into this off-season was what exactly to do with their outfield/DH surplus. No one that reads this will likely be unfamiliar with the issue here, but I’ll run through it one time, just so everyone knows where I am coming from.

The Twins have five players (Carlos Gomez, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and Delmon Young) for four positions (the three outfield positions and the designated hitter). Last year, the Twins started the year with Denard Span in AAA, which was almost required, due to the fact that the fans would have absolutely mutinied had the Twins broken camp without a single one of the prospects that had come over in the Santana trade. Hell, I was almost ready to mutiny even with Gomez on the team. Kubel, who runs sort of like RonDL did, except slower, was to take the DH job against right-handed starters. Delmon Young was supposed to be the Twins’ right-handed power threat of the future (and present), and was to switch from right to left field to replace Leeeeeew and RonDL and Kubel. Finally, the Twins’ pseudo-right-handed power threat of the past and (sort of) present, Cuddyer, was to stay in right field, where his lack of range wouldn’t be a problem, because Gomez would be Superman enough to cover essentially the whole outfield. The DH job against southpaws would be filled by Craig Monroe.

Well, that arrangement lasted about as long as it took me to type that last paragraph. On opening night last year, the Twins faced Jared Weaver, a right-hander. Who was DH-ing? Craig Monroe. It was a sign of things to come.

Delmon Young very quickly proved that he couldn’t play the outfield, couldn’t hit righties, and, well, had no power.

Carlos Gomez proved that he could indeed cover the whole outfield, but couldn’t hit anything that wasn’t a fastball, and when he got on-base, he could steal second, so long as he didn’t get picked off or forget to tag up on a routine fly ball. He also didn’t walk. Ever.

Craig Monroe produced quite a few homers. He produced nothing else, though, except an ability to keep Kubel from getting at-bats.

Jason Kubel was solid, except he only got to prove it every other day, even when the Twins would face several days of righties in a row.

Michael Cuddyer showed a strong arm, an ability to play off the Baggie, and an uncanny ability to get injured.

When Cuddyer went on the DL, Denard Span was called up; he stuck rather hard. Span was probably THE bright spot of the outfield last year, at least at the plate. It took a few months, but after the all-star break, Span took over the lead-off spot and Gomez moved to ninth. Gomez actually thrived in the nine spot, hitting better and taking more pitches than he ever had in the lead-off spot.

Craig Monroe went away on August 1, only half a season too late. Randy Ruiz took his place, but got hardly any at-bats, even against lefties. Ruiz is gone to minor league free agency, so we are back to five spots.

Kubel will never play the outfield. His knee can’t take extended periods of time on the field, and he is too valuable at DH. His role is pretty much assured. He’ll be the DH against all right-handed pitchers (unless some other player has a killer history against the pitcher) and about a third or so of southpaws (the ones he has a decent history against).

So Kubel is set up. The other four are much more complicated to figure. I have my personal preference (Gomez and Span in the field every day, Cuddy and Young switching back and forth between right field, the bench, and DH), but let’s try to be semi-objective. I am going to give each of the outfielders a ranking on a few areas of 1-10, which are, of course, subjective ratings. I really can’t win. But here we go.

10 is good, 1 is bad. Power is self-explanatory. Plate approach refers to batting average, willingness to take walks, eye, etc. Defensive Range refers to the ground the player covers in the outfield.  Arm Strength is also pretty clear, though it especially refers to the ability to convert an outfield assist. Defensive skill is the ability to make plays, both in and out of zone. Other Considerations refers to intangibles, like if the player is a fan favorite, if they have a huge contract that they should play on, etc. Note that all of these numbers are relative only to the other Twins outfielders, not any sort of a league average. Please Pardon formatting errors; I am really getting frustrated at WordPress.

Delmon Young

Plate Approach

Power

Overall Offense

Defensive Range

Arm Strength

Defensive Skill

Overall Defense

Other Considerations

4

7

6

4

8

4

5.5

6.5*

*Young was once considered one of the top players of the future, and was the reason that they gave up Garza, who was honestly on his way out at that point anyway. The Twins are almost desperate for him to develop some power, and will probably throw some extra at-bats his way. Gardenhire also made comments over the offseason to the effect that Young might be the odd man out. Note on power: I am factoring a bit of his ceiling and rookie year in here, not just last year.

So, Young is pretty much terrible in the field. He can throw people out at third and the plate, but first he has to get there. Two of the only four defensive plays that I remember very clearly from last year involved Young coming up with an epic fail that handed over the lead (the other two are from that one game in Cleveland where Gomez hurt his back catching a ball against the wall and then one inning later Span tried to make the same play and also ended up on his back on the warning track). I’ll give him an average score of 6.

Michael Cuddyer

Plate Approach

Power

Overall Offense

Defensive Range

Arm Strength

Defensive Skill

Overall Defense

Other Considerations

6

7

6.5

5

8.5

6

7

7*

*Cuddyer has been a fan favorite since ‘06. I can’t remember going to a game that didn’t have multiple someones holding signs that said something like “I want to get Cuddly-er with Cuddyer. Add that to the ridiculous (and ill-advised) contract the (almost) 30-year-old received last year, and the Twins have motivation to have Cuddyer play every day. Let’s hope he doesn’t.

Cuddyer is not all-bad in the field. At this point in his and Young’s career, he is probably an equal to Young’s offense, though his offense is heading in the opposite direction. In the field, he doesn’t have much range, but makes up for it by getting great reads off the bat and playing very well off the Baggie. If he were placed in left field, he would be lost, but he’s fine in right most days. I’ll give him an average of 6.5.

Carlos Gomez

Plate Approach

Power

Overall Offense

Defensive Range

Arm Strength

Defensive Skill

Overall Defense

Other Considerations

4

5

4.5

10

7

8

8.5

8*

*Gomez is the one (sort-of) major-league-ready player from the Santana trade. That gives the Twins extra motivation to keep him playing at the major-league level. Some bloggers have predicted that he will end up in AAA to start the season, but I don’t think that will help him get a better eye for the ball. He is also probably, short of Mauer and Morneau, the biggest fan favorite at the moment. The pictures I have seen of Twins Fest have his autograph line twice as long as the next longest. Gomez is also, short of Nick Punto, the best gift a pitcher could ask for. See here for Slowey’s statement on Punto.

Gomez is not a good hitter. There, I said it. His approach at the plate is abysmal, although it started to improve after he was moved to ninth in the order. However, I am of the opinion that his defense is enough to make it worth him playing every day. If he regresses at the plate, however, or fails to improve, I am all for kicking him down to AAA and watching him deal with a large number of not-as-good breaking pitches. Overall: 6.75

Denard Span

Plate Approach

Power

Overall Offense

Defensive Range

Arm Strength

Defensive Skill

Overall Defense

Other Considerations

8

5

7

8

5

7

7

6.5*

*The Twins would be crazy to do anything but have Span play every day. When Gomez is on the bench, he should be in center. When Gomez is in Center, Span should be in left, where his range will play better than in right, and he won’t need as much experience playing the Baggie. Span is probably the best outfielder the twins have. However, he is not a fan favorite the same way the Gomez and Cuddyer are, and he doesn’t have contractual or trade reasons to play, so I could see him getting the shaft for other players. Lets hope he doesn’t.

Span probably has the best plate approach on the Twins, excepting Mauer, although even Mauer doesn’t have much on top of him. His power is nothing to brag about, but he is the best defender after Gomez (although, to be fair, most of Gomez’ skill comes from his ridiculous speed; what would be an impossible play for anyone else would be easy for Gomez, since he usually has about twenty minutes under the ball before he has to catch it). Overall: 7

So there we have it. So, now that we know what each of the players is good at, how should they be managed this year? I think a lot depends on whether the Twins pick up Crede. If they pick up Crede, they are less likely to feel the need to have an extra right-handed power bat in the line-up, so it becomes more likely that both Gomez and Span will be in the field together with either Cuddyer or Young. However, if the Twins stick with the platoon on third, expect the Twins to ignore the defensive value of the Span-Gomez punch in the outfield fairly often, so they can get Young and Cuddyer in the lineup together.

Against right-handed pitchers that aren’t known for relying on breaking pitches, the outfield will likely look like this, from left to right: Span – Gomez – Young/Cuddyer DH – Kubel.

Against right-handed pitchers known for their breaking stuff: Young – Span – Cuddyer DH – Kubel.

Against lefties not known for breaking pitches: Span – Gomez – Young DH – Kubel or Cuddyer.

Against lefties known for their breaking pitches: Span – Gomez – Cuddyer DH – Kubel or Young.

When Baker/Slowey/Perkins are pitching, I would lean toward an outfield that has Span and Gomez in it (due to their fly ball ratios). Liriano is the same, but less so.

I have even heard some commenters on other sites jokingly suggest that the Twins could play Span and Gomez in the outfield and move Cuddyer into the infield for necessary situations, but this is just fun to think about in the abstract. There is NO way that will happen.

Will the Twins actually run this way? No. Gardenhire places far too much value on “gut” and “hustle” (except when it comes to Young, who apparently doesn’t count on those attributes). Do I think this is the best way to approach it? Probably. Will most people disagree? Probably.

Leave your thoughts below, if you please. I am curious what people think.

Eric.

P.S. My wife and I adopted a Beagle/Terrier mix last week. Her name is Kasey, and she is pretty much awesome. Here’s a picture:

Our new pup, Kasey.

Our new pup, Kasey.

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3 Responses

  1. Great analysis, but a few things to consider.

    based on the +/- system when they were both full time RFs, Young (albeit not good) was better than Cuddyer

    Also, Gomez, was the best defensive CF in the minors in 2008

    at the 9th spot he batted .286/.328/.400 (that’s much ahead of Cuddyer’s .249/.330/.369 for the season)

    Back to Young. He outplayed Cuddyer last year. He played hurt the second half, while Cuddyer never plays hurt, and put a .330/.368/.455 line (hurt) in September while Cuddyer bombed. Not to mention that Young’s prime is a few years ahead while Cuddy’s is probably past.

    I think that Span LF, Gomez CF, Young RF is the way to go with Cuddy on the bench as a PH for the likes of Punto or a DH against LHP, part time first baseman, part time RF, etc. A Craig Monroe role, but more versatile and with much more involvement (if he rebounds). He should get about 450 PA which will be fine.

    The Twins have always been talking about “not mortgaging their future” but if they start Cuddyer ahead of Young (or the other 2), that’s exactly what they will be doing

  2. Hear, Hear. I have no objections to anything you said, thrylos. I would love to see the Span-Gomez-Young outfield on a day-to-day basis, but in practicality, I doubt we’ll see it with too much regularity… those “intangibles” pack a wallop to Gardy and the Twins. Still, when you’re right, you’re right.

    And thanks for stopping by!

  3. […] first thing the Twins should address is the outfield situation. See here for my thoughts on how to resolve that […]

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