June 15, 2006

Twins Notes

Some notes I typed up while watching the Twins inexplicably sweep the Red Sox ...

  • One day after handing his job to Jason Bartlett, the Twins traded Juan Castro to the Reds for outfield prospect Brandon Roberts. Roberts is a toolsy 21-year-old putting up sub par numbers at Single-A, but if ever there was an example of addition by subtraction letting Castro go is it. It's telling that returning Castro to the backup role he was initially signed to fill apparently wasn't an option.

    Terry Ryan moved quickly to part ways with Castro once Bartlett was called up, which leads me to believe that Ron Gardenhire was behind Castro starting in the first place. I imagine Gardenhire asked Ryan to send Bartlett down this spring, but once it became painfully obvious that Castro was hurting the team and Bartlett was deserving of another chance, Ryan ended the charade.

    That Ryan looked to deal Castro immediately and found a trade partner in former assistant Wayne Krivsky also suggests that perhaps Krivsky was behind signing Castro two years ago. That's just speculation, of course, but while I place all of the blame for signing Tony Batista on Ryan's shoulders it seems obvious that he wasn't entirely responsible for how the shortstop situation played out.

  • After just two games it's startling obvious how much better the left side of the infield is defensively with Bartlett and Nick Punto instead of Castro and Batista. Bartlett and Punto each made excellent plays last night, and if Gardenhire continues to give Punto playing time at third base the infield defense is going to end up being an overlooked part of what will be an improved pitching staff going forward.

    Castro and Batista have flaws that are easy to spot, combining to hit a pathetic .234/.279/.350 while playing 50 games apiece. However, their shoddy work defensively is what really made them useless players. If Castro's defense was anywhere close to as good as his long-expired reputation, he would have been a fine short-term fix at the position. Instead, the Twins had two no-range infielders who turned grounder after grounder into "singles."

    If Gardenhire does the right thing and moves Shannon Stewart to designated hitter full time once he returns from the disabled list later this month, the Twins will have gone from being a horrendous defensive team to an average one. Knowing Gardenhire Terry Tiffee will probably get far too much action at third base and Stewart will be right back to clumsily moving in the general direction of fly balls.

  • As if installing Bartlett at shortstop and getting rid of Batista and Castro wasn't enough to make you think that the Twins are listening to my pleas, Gardenhire shockingly used Joe Nathan for a two-inning save last night. He correctly deduced that the bases-loaded jam the Twins found themselves in with no outs in the eighth inning was going to be the game's most important situation, and accordingly brought in his best reliever.

    Explained that way it may not seem like a particularly noteworthy decision, but given Gardenhire's previous handling of Nathan it is. Nathan was somewhat shaky and needed an awful lot of pitches to record six outs, but he got the job done in what was one of the more difficult save chances you'll see. With Juan Rincon already out of the game and the tying run at the plate with no outs, there may not have been a save to convert had Nathan been held back for the ninth inning.

  • It's nice to see Luis Castillo coming up with some hits again following a prolonged slump. After dropping to a season-worst .278/.343/.354 on June 9, Castillo has gone 7-for-15 with two doubles and three walks. Castillo has been incredibly streaky and worse-than-advertised defensively, but he's now hitting .290/.359/.371 after coming into the season as a career .293/.370/.356 hitter.
  • Jason Kubel continued his hot hitting with a solo blast off Tim Wakefield, giving him a homer in all three games against Boston. Kubel began the season 3-for-21 (.143) with zero extra-base hits and didn't hit especially well during his brief stint at Triple-A, but since being put into the starting lineup for good on May 29 he's 20-for-58 (.345) with five homers.

    The slow start can certainly be excused given that Kubel is a rookie who missed all of last season with a severe knee injury, and the power he's showing is a pleasant surprise. Kubel has long been one of baseball's top hitting prospects, but that was based more on big batting averages and gap power than home runs. That he's now hitting .291 and slugging .506 is great to see.

  • After finally coaxing his batting average up to an even .200 with a 2-for-4 game on May 29, Rondell White has gone 1-for-20 to drop to .183/.206/.217 on the year. With 189 plate appearances and a .413 OPS, White is entering rarefied air. Here's a list of the worst OPS totals ever by designated hitters with at least 180 trips to the plate:
                         OPS      PA     YEAR
    RONDELL WHITE .413 189 2006
    Pat Putnam .479 212 1984
    Lee Stanton .514 342 1978
    Deron Johnson .542 389 1974
    Glenn Adams .555 242 1981

    In other words, White has been the least productive designated hitter in baseball history, and it's not even close. Interestingly, the seasons listed above were the swan songs for both Pat Putnam and Lee Stanton, and Glenn Adams was done after 73 more horrible plate appearances the following year. Deron Johnson somehow received 621 plate appearances the next season, but hit .239/.300/.388 and then retired after hitting .132 in 1976.

  • Ichiro Suzuki had some interesting thoughts after watching Joe Mauer destroy the Mariners' pitching staff last week:
    His style is kind of unique. He has a huge body, but he doesn't hit like other huge guys. He looks like he is a very smart player and very much understands what he has to do. I assume that is also why he is playing catcher.

    The beat writers in Seattle must love Suzuki, because you can always count on him for a good, non-cliched quote.

  • Similarly, Melvin Mora had some good quotes after facing Francisco Liriano Sunday:
    Nasty. Everything nasty. What I hear is he throws a nasty slider, a nasty changeup, a nasty fastball, a nasty everything. We just went over there to just try and hit the ball. Even that ball he threw for a walk to Brian Roberts was nasty.

    I've been trying to think of a nickname for Liriano, since it seems like he needs one. I haven't come up with a good one yet, but I like the sound of "The Nasty Boys" for Liriano and Johan Santana. As in, the Twins are 14-5 (.737) when The Nasty Boys start this year, but just 17-29 (.370) with everyone else on the mound. Sadly, the nickname has already been taken by Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton, and Randy Myers.

  • I've long been in favor of teams building pitcher-friendly ballparks, both because it makes for better baseball and because it seems to make it easier to build winning teams. I'm pleased to note that the Twins appear to feel the same way:
    Twins President David St. Peter accompanied the club on its recent trip to Seattle and reiterated that team officials want their new ballpark to have nearly identical dimensions to that of the Mariners' Safeco Field, which they consider a "fair" park for players.

    "We will try to do everything we can to replicate it," St. Peter said Thursday. "It's a great, great ballpark."

    What the Twins don't want is a stadium comparable to those in home run-friendly Houston, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

    "We don't want a band-box park," St. Peter said.

    That's music to my ears, and 2010 can't come soon enough after watching David Ortiz's would-be homer drop for a "single" after smacking into a speaker attached to the Metrodome roof last night. Luckily the game was on ESPN, so a national audience got to see what a joke of a ballpark the Twins play in.

  • Matthew LeCroy was a favorite of both fans and teammates while with the Twins, and he's quickly become the comic relief in the Nationals' clubhouse. My favorite revelation from LeCroy: "Nick Johnson doesn't like a man singing him love songs." Will Young feels much differently.
  • Last week Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Ryan asked the Brewers about a Kyle Lohse-for-Bill Hall deal. I discussed Ryan's reported asking price in this space Thursday, calling it "laughable" and suggesting that the Twins might as well ask for Prince Fielder if they're going to throw out ridiculous offers.

    Here's what Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had to say about the rumor:

    You know a trade rumor is absurd when the general managers involved feel compelled to apologize to each other.

    That was the situation last week when a rumor made the rounds that the Brewers were considering trading infielder Bill Hall to Minnesota for right-hander Kyle Lohse, who pitched poorly for the Twins this season and was sent to Class AAA Rochester. He fared better there and was recalled Friday.

    Brewers GM Doug Melvin called Minnesota's Terry Ryan to assure him that Melvin had nothing to do with the rumor. Ryan apologized as well, realizing it made him look silly for people to think he would ask for an emerging star such as Hall in exchange for a pitcher who was sent to the minors.

    "When things come out like that we get embarrassed as GMs," said Melvin. "It makes no sense whatsoever."

    Well, I'm glad that's settled.



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