Happy ‘elmon Young Day!

Happy ‘elmon Young day! Today is brought to you by the letters D and O, the numbers -17.9 (his career UZR) and .23 (his career BB/K), and the creator of both Nick Punto Day and ‘elmon Young Day, Andrew Kneeland. A little background:

On February 12, Twins bloggers across the country (well, mostly in the midwest, but a few ex-pats, such as myself, made it a national event) held “Nick Punto Day,” in which we celebrated (and denigrated) the player that most of us love to hate. Or hate to love. Or, if you’re Karlee of OMGMnTwins, love to love and love even more to destroy anyone who hates. Now, three months later, Andrew has decided (and many agree) that given the mixed feelings most of us hold about ‘elmon (apostrophe to be explained in a minute), a similar day to feel out the strengths (not fielding) and weaknesses (fielding) of our dear left fielder. This is an entry in that series. So, dear reader, bear with me, this’ll be a long one. I’ve got a lot to say about ‘elmon. But even I doubt that the feelings of the fans can be adequately expressed in mere words.

‘elmon was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays on November 28, 2007 for one-time starting pitching phenom Matt Garza, starting shortstop Jason Bartlett, and minor league reliever Eduardo Morlan. The Twins also received Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie in the trade. On first blush, it seems like an even trade. Two uber-prospects – Garza and Young (who had been runner-up to Dustin Pedroia in 2007, his 21-year-old season) – two decent non-star shortstops (Bartlett and Harris), and two (would prove to be minor league-only) other players (Pridie and Morlan) all changed hands. This blog didn’t exist back then, so unlike other blogs, I cannot link to an old post raving about how great the trade was for the Twins. Thank God for that. That would be embarrassing.

I’ll be honest, though, even though it pains me. At the time I was thrilled. I was a fan who had never bought into Matt Garza, despite his impressive stats in the minors and during his solid-but-not-spectacular short 2006 stint in the Show. The main thing I can remember from back then was Garza refusing to throw his breaking pitches in the minor leagues, while the coaches insisted he not throw his (very good) fastball every pitch. That refusal led to Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey getting a 2007 call-up before him. This made Garza bitter, and he struggled through the 2007 season, even though he ended with a good 3.47 ERA (which outperformed his 4.18 FIP – likely due to good infield defense). There were games where he would literally stalk out to the mound, and he ended the year with a 5-7 record.

Count me among those that wondered, once Bill Smith was promoted to replace Terry Ryan as the Twins manager, whether Garza, who had been one of Ryan’s “babies,” was on his way out. And so he was, just a few months later. Let me talk for just a second about those other involved players. Jason Bartlett went on to have a couple very good years in Tampa Bay (including being undeservedly voted team MVP in their World Series appearance in 2008). Bartlett is a good defensive shortstop who hits for a decent-to-good average with little power. In a pre-Hardy world, doesn’t that look good? He was exchanged (in effect) for Brendan Harris, a bad defensive shortstop who had hit 12 homers for Tampa Bay in 2007. He became a part-time player with little upside the very next season, when he was supplanted at shortstop by first Adam Everett and then later Nick Punto, and was placed at second base, where he was eventually replaced by Alexi Casilla. Sigh. Today, he’s a role player, who gets more playing time than he deserves. The Twins also received Jason Pridie, who has only played a couple of games in the majors, giving up Eduardo Morlan, who was substituted at the last minute for Juan Rincon. Morlan was my major reason for disliking the trade when it happened, because he was one of our top relievers in the minors. However, he hurt his shoulder (I think) and has not risen above AA, which is the level he was at when the trade came down.

So, what was my first reaction to the trade? “Ugh, shouldn’t Bill Smith be working on trading Santana, rather than trading for an outfielder?” Yep, that was it. Sure, I was sad to see Morlan go, and rather pleased to see an outfielder who could hit for power coming over. Especially one that was heralded as an “excellent defensive outfielder with an extremely strong arm.” I’ll refrain from linking to who said that one, because I don’t believe in cruel and unusual punishment.

Prior to the Twins trading for him, the only time I had really heard of Young, other than having a casual awareness of his rookie-of-the year runner-up season, was due to his longstanding behavioral problems. In AA he once was suspended for three games for bumping an umpire.  The icing on the suspension cake (mmmmm, cake) occurred when he was playing in AAA Durham. ‘elmon was struck out on a called third strike, and hung around to argue it. So the umpire ejected him. On his way to the dugout, Young turned around and threw his bat at the umpire; it hit him on the chest. The next day, ‘elmon said, through his agent, that he didn’t actually mean to hit the umpire with the bat. Somehow, that didn’t satisfy the International League authorities, and he was suspended indefinitely, which was later reduced to 50 games. The whole affair was caught on video, which, if I did the embed thing right, is located below.

The incident was enough to prompt the famous (and retired) BatGirl to create a Lego story about his arrival in Minnesota (by the way, running a google search for “bat girl” returns several extremely frightening results). Young continued his behavioral problems with the Rays in 2006 and 2007, and managed to wear out his welcome in just over one season in the bigs: he made nearly all his teammates in Tampa Bay hate him both on and off the field. However, he hit a bunch of homers, and projected to hit more in the future, which was enough to make the Twins want/need him. However, the behavioral problems did not go away once he arrived in the Twins organization. Multiple sources reported that he was refusing to take any guidance from the Twins’ coaching staff and would only listen to his father’s hitting advice. He apparently was aggravating the other outfielders due to his reluctance to chase down balls hit into the gaps and balls that were foul but in play. Of course, that turns out to be caused mostly by the fact that he was unable to run at any decent clip.

So, how good on defense was this “excellent defensive outfielder with an extremely strong arm?” Well, terrible. His UZR for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (they hadn’t yet changed their name) was -7.5, which is bad, but not epically bad. His next seasons were epically bad, though, as he turned in a -19.5 UZR in 2008 (in 152 games) and a -14.4 UZR in 108 games in 2008, which works out to a UZR/150 of -22.9. True, his arm was strong, but he never got to the ball, so what did we, the fans, care if he actually threw it? He made a total of 15 outfield assists in those two years. He couldn’t range forward or backward, and God help us all if he had to dive for it. He somehow managed to give Prince Fielder his first inside-the-park home run after diving for and missing the ball, badly (sorry for no video, MLB took down all the copies I could find). This lack of “D” (defense) is why, when I write out his name, I write it ‘elmon. See? No D. (This is borrowed from the fine fellows over at The WGOM).

His bat has somehow been very bad, while being good. He hit .290 and .284 his first two seasons with the Twins, and looks to be doing something similar this season. He has not been fast, as he stole 14 bases in 2008, and only two last season. His on-base percentage has been lacking, as he has struck out five times for every walk. So, let’s look at some graphs, shall we? This is all from the fine folks at Fangraphs. The first graph is of Delmon’s batting average over time.

It’s clearly trending downwards, though it is still above average (barely). Hopefully it rebounds. Graph 2: on-base percentage (just for kicks, compared to Mauer, Mr. OBP, and Cuddyer).

Below average, which is a trick, given that his batting average has been above average. It comes from all those strikeouts and so few walks. Graph 3: BB%.

Not so great, except for this season, which we can (probably) expect to revert to the mean.

So, what’s the takeaway from this overly long look at ‘elmon? Well, it’s tough to say, at least for someone as statistically inept as I am. However it’s worth noting that Delmon is still very young. He has had a lot of attitude and behavioral problems, but those seem to be working themselves out as he’s grown up. Last year, he was forced to deal with an event no one should have to deal with: the death of his mother from cancer. Then, at the end of the season, he turned it on and started performing much better. He lost 30 lbs over the off-season, which I think has sent a message to a lot of people, myself included: he does care. It’s an acknowledgment of the problems he’s had, and there has been a real change this season. He’s running out ground balls (and beating some out, now that he’s lighter and faster). He’s getting to more balls in the outfield (and still looking ugly while he’s doing it).

But I think I have more hope for ‘elmon than I did last year. When he lost the weight, it seems he also lost the attitude, which seemed to have been weighing him down more than the weight itself was. He has, I think for the first time, a real shot to NOT go the same direction that his brother, Dimitri, famously took, or that Milton Bradley seems dead set on taking now. I think he just might make it. And if he does, he still might just make that trade look pretty damn skippy.

(Follow me on Twitter at @calltothepen, and while you’re there, check out the tag for Delmon Young day: #DelmonYoungDay to see what else has been written).

Game 2: Neck Tat makes his Closer Debut

(This is the first in what I hope will become a daily or near-daily series that gives a brief roundup of the heroes and zeros of the prior night’s game, with reference to the WPA graphs at Fangraphs.com. Comments on this feature? Email me at eric.donald.olson@gmail.com or message/follow me on twitter at @calltothepen)

Wow, what a game. (Game Graph Here)

Yes, I know that it wasn’t actually that amazing or anything, but I am still overly excited to have a win going forward. Maybe we return the  Los Angeles, California Angels of Anaheim’s favor from 2008, when they came into the Metrodome and took three of four in the season-opening series. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last night, the Angels set a Guinness World record for the largest gathering of people wearing blankets with sleeves. In order to accomplish this, they gave everyone that came an angels-themed Snuggie (note: they weren’t allowed to call them snuggies on the air, because Snuggies are made only by SnuggieCorp (or whatever it’s called),  so these were more like Slankets or something, since they were off-brand. But I digress). Dick Bremer had his first curmudgeon-y moment of the year when he complained for about five minutes about Bert wearing the Angels-supplied and -themed snuggie, whilst refusing to do so on his own. It was a very surreal moment. It will go down, in my mind, as one of the most surreal moments in baseball I have witnessed, as well as one of the single dumbest PR stunts ever.

Last night saw a strong effort from many players. The Heroes:

  • Nick Blackburn had the highest WPA (win probability added) at .149, with a strong, but very Blackburn-esque performance: 6.2 innings, 8 hits, 4 BB, 3 ER, 4 K. The down note for Jolly Roger was that he set a new career high (or low) for walks, including the first two batters in the game. However, he bounced back and had a strong performance.
  • Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were the clear heroes on offense. Mauer, with a WPA of .109, hit a 2-run home run in the first inning, while Justin Morneau hit a solo home run in the third, singled, and walked, resulting in a WPA of .85.
  • Denard Span got the gorilla/rally monkey off his back by getting his first hit and first walk.
  • HERO OF THE DAY: Jon Rauch made the punditry’s job much easier when he easily obtained his first Twins save, striking out two in a perfect inning. Could any decent reliever have done the same? Sure. But he’s the hero because now we don’t have to spend today arguing about whether he is the right choice (he’s not, but that’s a story for another day), as we would if he had blown his first attempt.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun and games for the Twins. The night’s Zeros:

  • Delmon Young managed to drive in a run on a Sacrifice fly and single, but he still managed to raise my ire by absolutely air-mailing a throw over third baseman Nick Punto by a good five feet (it would have been the correct height had Nick Punto been standing on Chris Cates‘ shoulders). Thanks, Delmon, for reminding me why you lost the “D” in your name last year, and why I generally refer to you as ‘elmon.
  • JJ Hardy had his first Home Run as a Twin, a solo shot, but he also ended up grounding into two double plays en route to earning a WPA of -.085, which basically negates Morneau’s contribution.
  • Orlando Hudson compiled a -.101 WPA for the game, after going 0-fer, while scoring a run after reaching on an error and leaving 4 on-base. Step it up, O-Dawg.
  • ZERO OF THE DAY: Second Base Umpire Adrian Johnson, who blew such an obvious call on a pickoff attempt on Michael Cuddyer by Angels catcher Jeff Mathis that it caused a Twitsplosion before the replay was even shown. So, Cuddyer was way off second base on a ball in the dirt, Mathis recovered and gunned it to Second Baseman Howie Kendrick. The throw clearly beat Cuddyer to the bag, but the tag was not applied for a good half a second, which allowed Cuddyer to get both feet and his right knee on the bag before the tag was applied. It was an ugly call, and neither Cuddyer nor Ron Gardenhire argued it nearly enough, in my humble opinion.

Tonight’s Game: Twins, 1-1 (PP: Carl Pavano, 0-0, 0.00) at Angels, 1-1 (Ervin Santana, 0-0, 0.00). First Pitch: 9:05 CST.

Tonight’s selected Twins hat? Navy Blue, with “M” logo. Last night’s debut for the AL Central Division Champs 2009 hat was a success, so we’ll see if the selected opening day hat can make a comeback after missing it’s first start.

Important Game #6: Slowey Out for the Year

(Note: I’ll be posting several articles that I had partially written since Friday but didn’t have time to finish. Please check back often for the rest! As, always, I’ll be tweeting @calltothepen. Follow me there or subscribe to my posts using the button on the sidebar!)

Here’s a quick refresher about the series:

Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.

Courtesy MLB.com

July 3rd: Twins lose in extras 11-9, then suffer a far worse loss the next day.

This is the only one of the games in on the list that are important, not only for what happened in the game itself, but from news that blossomed based on a seed planted during the game. This was, as the title implies the final game of 2009 that was pitched by our erstwhile and potential ace, Kevin Slowey. But more about that in a little while. First, a discussion of the Important game itself.

The 2009 Twins were perhaps the most hot-and-cold team I can remember following. They would seemingly go for weeks at a time without a quality start from their pitchers (quality = good, not the meaningless counting stat), then turn it on and win a bunch in a row. Overall, the offense was somehow acceptable, despite the fact that their obscenely high batting average w/ runners in scoring position in 2008 came back down to earth, and they did it with barely a warm body in the second position in the batting order. The batting average, OBP, and SLG% was the worst of all the second hitters in the majors. However, as good as the offense was on the season, the pitching staff was shaky from the start, in large part stemming from some extremely poor personnel management.

For whatever odd reason, the Twins broke camp with Luis Ayala. Ayala is a topic for another day and possibly his own post, but suffice to say I can’t fathom why the Twins signed a sinkerballer whose fastballs have never really sunk to be middle-relief/low-leverage setup guy when he thought he was signing a contract for high-lev setup or closing if Joe Nathan went down. So, Ayala wasted a roster spot for three months. The Twins also brought Phil Humber north, perhaps hoping beyond hope that he would be able to contribute better at the MLB level than he had in Rochester. He didn’t, and was released April 17 to make space for Juan Morillo, who spent all of a week or so in the majors before being sent to the minors and eventually going to Japan. R.A. Dickey also came to Minny, and proved to be valuable, if uber-hittable. He also was released eventually. The trend continued all year: rather than trading or doing anything to get a serviceable relief pitcher (up until the Jon Rauch trade and the Ron Mahay signing), the Twins acted incredibly stupid. The Twins lost Craig Breslow, perhaps the greatest unheralded hero of the 2008 squad, to waivers because they were impatient with his good-but-not-as-steller-as-last-year numbers, only to bring up Sean Henn. Face it. Stupid moves abounded. More on this in another post later this week.

But the biggest problem was the starters, three of the five of which regressed significantly. Kevin Slowey was on pace to win 20 games before he was lost for the season (see below), but his peripherals were not-so-sparkling. Scott “Timmy” Baker started the season hurt, then lost six straight. Francisco Liriano lost the ability to handle the strike zone. Glen Perkins started brilliant, then came down with a phantom-like, mysterious shoulder injury that no one but him could locate. Only Nick Blackburn was rock-steady, with a nearly identical season to 2008. This forced the Twins to rely on a hodge-podge of Dickey, Armando Gabino, Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing, and Jeff Manship to start fourth-and-fifth games. Duensing even had the honor of being murdered by the Yankees in the first game of the playoffs. Anyway, the whole idea I’m trying to put out here is how bad a shape the starting staff was last year.

Inge hit by a pitch to the jersey. Deja Vu much? Image Courtesy MLB.com

The game on July 3rd started out disastrously. Kevin Slowey gave up six runs in the first three innings, before he was removed due to soreness in his wrist. Brian Duensing came in and made a valiant effort to hold the line, going 3.2 innings, giving up just one run. The Twins offense did their best to back up the Twins starter, and managed to tie the game at 7 based on a run each in the third and fourth innings before exploding for five in the sixth. The Twins brought in Bobby Keppel to keep it tied when Duensing indicated that his arm was about to fall off, and, somewhat surprisingly, he continued his scoreless streak with 1 1/3 inning. He was followed by perfect outings from Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, and Jose Mijares, all of whom pitched scoreless innings (or two). The Tigers and Twins matched runs in the 14th. At this point, the game felt just slightly epic. I wondered if the game would ever be over.

Brendan Harris hits a triple, his only hit. Image Courtesy MLB.com

Offensively, the heroes included Denard Span, who was 5 for 8 with a triple, a run scored, and an RBI, Joe Mauer, who was 2 for 6 with a walk and an RBI, Delmon Young, who was 3 for 6 with his third home run of the season, Michael Cuddyer, who was 3 for 8 w/ 2 RBI, and Justin Morneau went 3 for 7 with a walk and an RBI. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Carlos Gomez, Matt Tolbert, Brian Buscher, and Nick Punto went a combined 0 for 9, with 2 walks (both by Punto).

Pitching a game that lasts 16 innings can be tough, but it becomes excruciating when the starter leaves after 3 innings. Dickey was the last available pitcher of the night, and I think he was literally in the game until his arm fell off or Michael Cuddyer was able to convince Gardy that his sinker was good enough to get outs. Unfortunately, the Twins offense wasn’t able to win the game in any of the preceding 6 extra innings, and the Tigers mauled Dickey for three runs in the top of the 16th. The Twins’ comeback fell short, and they fell back to 2.5 games behind the Tigers in the Central.

As hard as the loss was to bear, the next day the Twins got even worse news: that Kevin Slowey would be heading to the disabled list. Though Slowey had had some rough times, when he was on, he had been arguably the best pitcher on the Twins the past two seasons. He was originally put on the DL for a “strained wrist”; the hope was that he’d be back in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the wrist never felt better, and it was eventually discovered that he had a broken wrist, and probably had since being struck by a line drive off the bat of Juan Uribe in his final start of 2008. He had surgery and ended with two pins in his wrist, which even at the beginning of this season were still causing him grief. For it’s ability to impact the Twins even this year, July 3rd joins the countdown as Important Game #6.

Important Game #8: Tigers Eat Pavano’s Lunch (9/30)

Here’s a quick intro to the series:

Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.

September 30: Minnesota finds itself in a 3-game hole with 4 to play.

Everyone remembers those last two weeks or so of the regular season. That underground feeling of excitement that no one really wanted to give voice to. The stat-based bloggers reminding us that there was about a 2.5% chance of making the playoffs. Looking at the scoreboard and trying to calculate how many games out of the next x many games we’d have to win and the Tigers would have to lose for the Twins to even have a chance to play a Game 163. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach every time an opponent scored a run. That fleeting optimism at every moment that the Twins were scoring or leading or PLAYING GOOD BASEBALL.

This was the game that made me, personally, give up on the season.

Pavano came into the game pitching very well. He hadn’t lost in four starts, and he hadn’t gone fewer than six innings a month and a half (almost). And that doesn’t even include the time when he beat both Detroit for both the Indians and the Twins by almost the same score with nearly the same line. That’s twilight zone quality. Quite simply, Pavano was looking like the savior we all had hoped he would be when he came over from the Indians in a trade. And not just a savior, a Tiger-tamer (anyone know of a better metaphor for someone who destroys tigers? me neither).

The thing about this game was that it was a game that, on paper, the Twins should have run away with. The Tigers were pitching a guy who had a sum total of 6 major league starts and hadn’t really shown any stuff to back up his name (Eddie Bonine). It was the day after a double-header, and the Tigers had an OLD team. I’m talking walkers-and-Ensure old here.

Mauer high fives after being driven in by Delmon Young.

Then the game started off exactly like we thought it would. Joe Mauer and O-Cabs were driven in by Kubel and Delmon Young. Then… things went downhill. Pavano allowed four runs on four hits and a walk, thereby digging an early hole that the Twins would be unable to climb out of. After giving up another three runs in the fifth inning, Pavano was pulled with only two outs. Possibly the most painful thing was that Pavano’s complete and utter ownership of the tigers, a source of strength and backbone for the Twins in their long slog to the finish, was proven to be not nearly as complete as appearances had indicated.

And the worst thing is, Bonine wasn’t on that night. The guy only went 5 innings (unfortunately, 1/3 inn. longer than Pavano) and only struck out 3, walking 2. He also was hit by a line drive in the top of the second and never really seemed to shake it off. The Tigers didn’t magically get younger or hit the ball better. The biggest problem was this: the Twins were hacking at everything even somewhat near the strike zone, and were the masters of the weak ground-out and the weak fly ball. After the first inning, the Twins had four hits, and only 2 after Bonine left the game. It was a truly pathetic offensive display.

One of the most-read Twins bloggers (can’t remember which, sorry!) wrote after this game that the Twins had about a 3% chance of making the playoffs. Truth was, the odds felt a lot longer than that. After the game, the Twins had to win three more games that the Tigers JUST TO EARN THE RIGHT to play another game. In reality, they had to win every game and pray that Detroit’s meltdown would continue. Luckily for the Twins, it did.

Important Games #8 – September 23 (Twins win, 9-3)

I had a hard time ranking the games at the end of the season that really determined the Twins’ fate? Sure, it would make sense for the top seven games to all be in the Twins-Sox series and the Twins-Royals series, plus the tiebreaker. However, I decided that not only would it be boring, it would be self-defeating. There were many more important days in the 2008 season, and for different reasons. There were also a lot of really dramatic games that really weren’t that important in the long run. I mean, remember that KC game where Delmon Young did his best to lose the game on an attempted foot-first sliding catch that ended in an inside-the-parker? And then the Twins came back to win it? That was really dramatic game, and one of the worst to watch (at least, after the seventh inning, but it really wasn’t important, other than reinforcing that Delmon Young couldn’t field.

And what about games that resulted in players getting cut? I could pull out the last game where Livan pitched or Monroe hit before they were cut August first, but those games weren’t very important overall (I made a big deal about Rincon’s last game, but that game was important in and of itself). I could talk about either of the games where Lamb or Everett were cut. Again, not important. Brian Bass also sucked, but he was cut after another game that may or not make an appearance on the countdown.

This is not one of those games. By this time, the Twins roster was established, for better or for worse. This is the first of that momentous series against the ChiSox.

Box Scores and summary after the break. Continue reading

Bold Predictions

As tonight is the first of many spring training games and is effectively the beginning of baseball season, I think it is time for some bold predictions, to rip off Andrew over at Twins Fix. His predictions are extremely positive, which I like. I’m not so positive, but I’ll see where this goes.

BTW, I have a post on Crede pending, that will likely go up tonight or tomorrow… sorry for the long delay; I’ve been really busy with a 32-page (!) paper and then catching up from neglected studies from during paper season.

So…

2009 (Sorta) BOLD Predictions

  1. Justin Morneau’s average and OBP will regress, but his power numbers will increase enough such that his OPS actually increases. I am thinking 30-33 home runs this year.
  2. Buscher and Harris will get at least 200 ABs at third base, whether because of injury or just lots of days off (or, lets be honest, the Twins being cheap and wanting to avoid incentive pay).
  3. Casilla regresses at the plate such that Harris ends up spending significant time at second base.
  4. There will be NO thumb injuries attributable to sliding into first base (Dear Lord, I hope so).
  5. The standard outfield, despite my best hopes, will not include Young over Cuddyer.
  6. Kubel will continue to get screwed out of ABs versus left-handed pitchers (okay, fine, this one isn’t exactly bold).
  7. Between Gomez, Span, Casilla, and Punto there will be 220+ steals this year.
  8. Gardenhire will come up with at least 3 more effeminate and/or politically incorrect nicknames (See: Cassie (Casilla), Blackie)
  9. Mauer not only improves on last year’s average, he hits 15+ home runs (this’ll be the year, dammit).
  10. Breslow, rather than regressing, demonstrates a continuing mastery of both quantum mechanics and American League hitters.

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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