May 10, 2006

Twins Notes

  • People often ask what motivated me to start this blog four years ago. It's a complicated answer, but in the end can be boiled down partly to me getting fed up with the sub par coverage of the Twins in the local mainstream media. Back in 2002 I was reading far too many articles like this one from Tuesday's St. Paul Pioneer Press:
    Just over a month into the season, veteran Juan Castro is doing exactly what the Twins had hoped he would do in his first season as an everyday player.

    "He really hasn't shown his age," said Gardenhire, who gave Castro Monday's game off. "It's a grind playing shortstop every day in the big leagues, but he's handled himself very well."

    [...]

    Castro had never been an everyday player mainly because of his offense. He entered the season with a career .230 batting average. He got off to a hot start and was batting .350 on April 19. But the No. 9 hitter's average had plummeted to .235 entering Monday.

    "Honestly, when I put him out there, I wasn't thinking about the offensive side, other than him being able to bunt and hit and run," Gardenhire said. "Hitting's a bonus. I want him to do exactly what he's been doing, and that's catch the plays that are supposed to be caught. That's all I really care about."

    It's one thing for the reporter--in this case Jason Williams--to quote Ron Gardenhire saying laudatory things about Juan Castro without calling him on it. After all, as a reporter it's not Williams' job to inject his own opinions into a story. However, not only does Williams buy into the company line about Castro, printing Gardenhire's praise like it's fact, he goes a step further by adding in his own editorialization that "Castro is doing exactly what the Twins had hoped he would do."

    I get scolded at times for taking local mainstream writers to task, and behind the scenes I hear from people who know the writers that they don't appreciate it. I can understand that, but I think you're pretty much asking for it when you report the silliness that comes out of the manager's mouth and then add your own two cents in agreement with a guy hitting .222/.255/.267 "doing exactly what the Twins had hoped he would do."

    All I ask from the people covering the Twins in the mainstream media is that they remain objective and critical, and avoid drinking the kool-aid when it comes to things like Castro doing anything but dragging the team down. It's sad that so many of them can't meet those very simple standards and even sadder still that the people in charge of bringing baseball coverage to the mainstream audience are incapable of recognizing that someone with a .500 OPS could be part of the problem.

    When you combine a lack of objectivity and the inability to criticize the people you rely on for information with shoddy analysis and misguided attempts at editorializing ... well, it's the reason non-mainstream sites like this one are popular, I suppose. Still, I'd rather just have some good Twins coverage in the newspaper.

    (For the record: This is the first time I've specifically criticized Williams in this space. Just something to consider before all the inevitable cries of me having some sort of ax-grinding agenda towards him come rolling in.)

  • In that same article, Williams described Castro as "sure-handed." While that's certainly going along with conventional wisdom, after committing his fifth error of the season yesterday Castro's fielding percentage now sits at .960. Jason Bartlett's fielding percentage as a rookie last season was .979.

    Plus, Castro was taken off the hook for as many as three additional errors by a very "friendly" official scorer at the Metrodome earlier this month. Add those in and his fielding percentage would drop to .937. Let's see Williams put that in the newspaper.

  • With Torii Hunter's recent hot streak moving his numbers back into the realm of respectability, the rumors of the Twins potentially trading him are picking up steam. I advocated cashing him in for low-priced young talent this winter, but in the absence of that trading him at midseason should the Twins continue to play poorly makes a lot of sense.

    The Twins have the option of bringing Hunter back for $12 million next season, which doesn't appear likely to happen. If he's worth $12 million it's certainly not to a team will a $70 million payroll, and rather than lose Hunter for nothing this offseason the Twins would be smart to entertain offers. In fact, if the Twins hold on to Hunter throughout an 80-win season they will have compounded the error of paying him too much by letting him walk for nothing.

    In Sunday's New York Post, Joel Sherman offered up this completely unsubstantiated tidbit about Hunter's potential availability:

    An AL official said if the gap remains wide between Minnesota and the front group of the White Sox, Tigers and Indians, "I can definitely see the Twins putting Torii Hunter on the trade market."

    A Cardinals blogger recently heard ESPN's Buster Olney on local radio talking about who St. Louis might go after via trade and reported the following:

    Buster Olney was on KFNS' Morning Grind and mentioned that [Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty] has been hot to trot on 2 Twins: Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart.

    Similarly, the Los Angeles Times' national baseball writer, Tim Brown, speculated that the Dodgers may be a potential suitor for Hunter and/or Stewart:

    The Dodgers have their eye on a pair of Twin outfielders, Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart, who are in the final seasons of their contracts and probably will be dealt as the suddenly pitching-thin Twins plummet in the American League Central.

    Scouts say both have lost ground in the outfield, though their range might improve, given a fresh start in a close division race. That's assuming, of course, the Dodgers have such a thing to offer.

    Despite a hot start, Shannon Stewart's .295/.352/.384 hitting line is close to the .274/.323/.388 he hit last season. In other words, the days of Stewart hitting .300/.375/.450 are pretty safely in the rearview mirror. Toss in increasingly shaky defense and his always-present rag arm, and what you have is a 32-year-old pending free agent who is a below-average left fielder.

    Hunter and Stewart will combine to make over $16 million this season and in all likelihood will both be lost for nothing as free agents this winter. By trading them the Twins would clear a huge amount of money to potentially be spent next season while also bringing in some younger players who can be a part of the team's future. Any realistic long-term view of the team that doesn't have them winning close to 90 games this season will show that trading Hunter and Stewart makes sense.

  • A common theme here over the past two years is that the Twins' lineup gets shut down an awful lot by pitchers who have very little big-league experience. Up until now that had been an opinion based on nothing but personal observation, but Stick and Ball Guy passed along the following tidbit via the Elias Sports Bureau:
    Rangers rookie John Koronka pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowed three runs and earned the win in Texas' 6-4 victory against Minnesota. Over the past two seasons, rookie starting pitchers are 10-4 with a 3.11 ERA against the Twins. That's the highest winning percentage and lowest ERA for rookie starters against any American League team over that period.

    Wonderful.

  • Asked why he benched Tony Batista in favor of Luis Rodriguez Tuesday, Gardenhire said:
    With [Carlos] Silva throwing sinkers, we're trying to get a little more movement in the infield, especially on the left side. I know Luis moves around a little better than Batista side-to-side, and he always seems to throw out better at-bats, too.

    So Rodriguez has more range defensively and has better at-bats, yet Batista made his triumphant return to the lineup yesterday. After going 0-for-4 while grounding into a double play with the bases loaded, he's now hitting .238/.292/.362 with two homers and nine RBIs in 29 games.

    I'd ask for about the millionth time why exactly Batista is on this team, but it's not like anyone could have possibly seen this coming.



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