January 19, 2005

Munsoned


I'd sooner get Munsoned out here in the middle of nowhere than lose face in front of my friends and family.


--- Ishmael Boorg, Kingpin

Munsoned (verb)

1) To be up a creek without a paddle.

2) To have the whole world in the palm of your hands and blow it.

3) Being on a gravy train with biscuit wheels, and falling off.

The Minnesota Twins signed Eric Munson to a minor-league contract earlier this week. When I first heard about the signing, I was happy about it and thought Munson had a chance to be a cheap, low-risk, decent-reward addition to the team. Then I took a look at what he's actually done in his career (rather than what I thought he had done) and became far less optimistic.

After a standout career at USC, the Detroit Tigers drafted Munson with the third overall pick in the 1999 draft. While moving back and forth between multiple positions during his time in the minors, Munson never quite hit like Detroit expected him to. He always flashed plenty of power, but the highest batting average he had at any level was a paltry .266, put up during his very first pro stop, at Single-A back in 1997.

For his entire minor-league career -- a span of 303 games -- Munson batted just .260 with a .482 slugging percentage. Decent numbers certainly, but nowhere near the sort of production expected from a defensively-challenged former #1 draft pick. Since coming to the majors, it has been more of the same for Munson -- low batting averages, plenty of power, and overall production that is severely lacking.

Here are his career numbers:

YEAR       G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS

2000 3 5 .000 .000 .000 .000
2001 17 69 .152 .188 .273 .461
2002 18 67 .186 .269 .288 .557
2003 99 357 .240 .312 .441 .753
2004 109 357 .212 .289 .445 .735
--------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL 246 855 .215 .287 .414 .701

Even ignoring the fact that Munson hit a pathetic .162/.260/.269 with 33 strikeouts in 130 at-bats during his first three major-league stints, his numbers over the last two years (when he's been a semi-regular for the Tigers) still aren't particularly impressive. Munson will be 27 years old in 2005 and, considering his minor-league track record and what he's done in 246 games in the majors, he has pretty much established what type of hitter he is.

He'll bat in the low .200s, draw a respectable number of walks, and hit a home run every 20 at-bats or so. The end result is offense that just isn't very good, particularly when it comes along with sub par defense at third base or decent defense at first base (a position where the lack of offense is more of an issue). With all that said, is Munson still a useful spare part for a team like the Twins? Maybe.

He is a left-handed hitter, and if the team uses him similarly to how they used Jose Offerman last year (spotting him almost solely against right-handed pitching), he could be relatively productive. Combined over the last three years, Munson has hit .224/.301/.439 against right-handed pitching, compared to just .215/.287/.399 against southpaws. So yes, spotting him against righties would help. But no, even if you do that he'll still struggle to keep his on-base percentage above .300, which just isn't acceptable from a corner infielder or designated hitter.

Munson has enough plate discipline and power that he'd be a very useful player if he could just manage to hit .260 or so. Unfortunately, he has pretty much proven that he is incapable of doing so. Munson is a perfect guy to sign to a minor-league deal in the middle of January and there are worse bats a major-league team could have on its bench, but defensively-challenged players who strike out 25% of the time, struggle to keep their batting average above the Mendoza Line, and post miserable OBPs each year are generally to be avoided.

My fear -- and this has more to do with Ron Gardenhire than Munson -- is that Munson will have 50 good at-bats during spring training, impress Gardenhire, and end up booting balls and sucking up outs all season. Because if Gardenhire gets it into his head early on that Munson is worth having, Munson will cement that opinion with the occasional long home run, leaving the Twins playing an out-machine/butcher on a regular basis. Of course, right now he's just a spring-training invitee with a minor-league deal, so I guess we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves.

Good signing. Decent bench player. Bad starter.

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