November 7, 2007

Twins Notes: Surveys, Splits, and Bud Light

  • Last month I mentioned Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com as one of my favorite mainstream writers and he's been producing a ton of good hot-stove content while at the annual general manager meetings in Florida. He surveyed front-office personnel from various teams about "five key offseason questions" and three of them involved the Twins, which makes the article a must-read even if you're sick of hearing about Alex Rodriguez at this point.

    Of 15 insiders surveyed by Crasnick, 14 responded that they expect Johan Santana to be the Twins' Opening Day starter. Crasnick suggests that "the folks at the players' union would love to see Santana go the distance and send starting pitchers' salaries into the stratosphere" after Carlos Zambrano settled for $91.5 million from the Cubs. He also notes that "if Barry Zito's seven-year, $126 million deal set the standard, it's hard to imagine what Santana might fetch once he's available to 29 other clubs."

    Most observers think Smith might as well wait until July to assess his options, because teams still will be lining up to make a run at Santana if he's out there at the non-waiver trade deadline.

    "Zito was riding a little off reputation, and there were some clubs that just weren't in on him," an AL executive said. "There isn't a team in baseball that wouldn't be in on Santana if it had the opportunity. There's a big difference."

    Asked whether they'd rather have Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones in center field, 14 of 15 respondents chose Hunter. That initially struck me as surprising because in addition to being younger, Jones has a 5-to-2 edge in All-Star appearances and a 10-to-7 advantage in Gold Glove awards. Of course, Hunter is coming off what was arguably the best season of his career, while Jones is coming off what was arguably the worst of his. Still, there's little doubt that Jones was the superior hitter prior to 2007:

    2006        G      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     HR     RBI
    Jones 156 .262 .363 .531 .894 41 129
    Hunter 147 .278 .336 .490 .826 31 98

    2005 G AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI
    Jones 160 .263 .347 .575 .922 51 128
    Hunter 98 .269 .337 .452 .789 14 56

    2004 G AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI
    Jones 154 .261 .345 .488 .833 29 91
    Hunter 138 .271 .330 .475 .805 23 81

    2003 G AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI
    Jones 156 .277 .338 .513 .851 36 116
    Hunter 154 .250 .312 .451 .763 26 102

    2002 G AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI
    Jones 154 .264 .366 .513 .879 35 94
    Hunter 148 .289 .334 .524 .858 29 94

    Hunter was far better than Jones in 2007, but in each of the previous five seasons Jones played more games, hit more homers, got on base at a better clip, and posted a higher OPS, often by wide margins. Jones' .263/.342/.497 career hitting line is clearly superior to Hunter's .271/.324/.469. It's human nature to place more value on what's happened recently and perhaps Jones' sub par showing in 2007 is a sign of things to come, but I'd bet on the long-term track records holding true going forward.

    Lastly, Crasnick asked which free-agent starter was most desirable. That Carlos Silva tied for the most votes isn't surprising, because I've suggested several times over the past month that he'll end up with a much bigger contract than most people seem to think given the incredibly weak market for starting pitcher. However, that he tied with Kyle Lohse is somewhat surprising given that he's been dealt for a mid-level prospect twice in the past 18 months (including once by the Twins).

    I'd expect Silva to end up getting a four- or five-year deal worth $40 or $50 million, in which case Terry Ryan's decision to hold onto him at the trading deadline will look like a major mistake. Unlike Hunter the Twins will receive no draft-pick compensation for losing Silva, so Ryan essentially chose keeping him for a final dozen starts over whatever prospects he could have fetched. Of course, perhaps Silva began looking good only after general managers saw the pathetic list of free-agent starters.

  • After posting a lengthy entry earlier this week breaking down 25 potential replacements for Hunter, there were several e-mails and comments asking why Jason Bay wasn't included. The answer is that Bay isn't a viable option in center field defensively, playing just 274 career innings there, including zero innings over the past two seasons. With that said, the Pirates are rumored to be shopping Bay and he's someone who the Twins would be smart to target as a left fielder.
    YEAR       G      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     IsoP     IsoD      BIP
    2004 120 .282 .358 .550 .908 .268 .076 .345
    2005 162 .306 .402 .559 .961 .253 .096 .350
    2006 159 .286 .386 .532 .928 .246 .100 .330
    2007 145 .247 .327 .418 .745 .171 .080 .292

    Bay had a tremendously disappointing 2007 season, but much like with Jones I'd trust his outstanding track record. He's a 29-year-old career .281/.375/.515 hitter with good power and plate discipline who figures to see a rise in batting average if his ball-in-play numbers return to previous norms. Bay has been a better hitter than Justin Morneau during their respective careers, his right-handed bat would fit nicely in a lefty-heavy lineup, and he's signed for a reasonable $13.25 million over the next two years.

  • While looking up some other numbers I stumbled upon Joe Mauer's career home-road splits:
               AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     BIP
    Home .294 .374 .410 .784 .316
    Road .332 .414 .509 .923 .353

    Mauer's career is 1,756 plate appearances long, so it's still a relatively small sample, but the numbers are extreme. He's been about 16 more effective away from the Metrodome, which includes 53 percent more Isolated Power. Mauer has also hit 38 points higher on the road, which is due largely to a .353 batting average on balls in play that's 12 percent higher than at home. I'm not sure what to make of his splits, but I am sure that Dan Barreiro would use them as evidence that Mauer should be traded.

  • Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune suggested in one of his columns last week that the Twins should trade Santana to the Yankees for Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and Jose Tabata, which is exactly the sort of far-fetched notion that makes me shy away from specific trade suggestions in this space. You'll find no bigger fan of Santana than me, but that's vastly overstating the value of a player who's eligible for free agency in 11 months.

    Why would the Yankees part with their 22-year-old starting center fielder, arguably the best pitching prospect in all of baseball, and two other top-50 prospects for a pitcher who has 33 starts left before hitting the open market and will then perhaps allow them to pay him $25 million per season beginning in 2009? I'm not necessarily in favor of trading Santana at this point, but if Bill Smith is getting offers that are even remotely close to the deal that Reusse suggested, he'd be a fool to pass on them.

    Along those same lines, Reusse also suggested that the Twins trade Joe Nathan to the Yankees "and get bullet-throwing Joba Chamberlain." Much like Reusse's proposed Santana package that would be a no-brainer move for the Twins, but at some point you have to consider why in the world the Yankees would ever consider that trade. Nathan is an elite closer, but he's also 32 years old and becomes a free agent after one more season.

    After posting a 2.00 ERA and 169-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 112.1 innings during his pro debut, including a 0.38 ERA in New York, Chamberlain also looks capable of being a dominant late-inning reliever. The difference is that he's 21 years old, will be making the minimum for several seasons, and is under the Yankees' control through 2012. Age, salary, and service time are all things that warrant a lot more attention from message-board posters, radio-show callers, and newspaper columnists.

  • Back when Andy MacPhail was the Twins' general manager, his three right-hand men were Ryan, Smith, and Larry Corrigan. Earlier this week Corrigan resigned after 20 years with the organization and quickly found a job with the Pirates. I don't know the official story on Corrigan's decision--although I've heard some interesting off-the-record rumblings--but it seems obvious that either working under Smith or working without Ryan didn't agree with him.
  • Landon Evanson over at Bugs and Cranks recently posted interviews with Nathan and Boof Bonser. Aside from "I'd love to finish my career in Minnesota" Nathan didn't say much of note in his interview, but Bonser's interview contained a few interesting tidbits:
    Evanson: This past season, what area of your game improved the most and what will you be working on for next spring?

    Bonser: Actually, the mental game was the big part for me. Having a full year in and learning from our veteran guys, Santana and Silva. As far as things I'm working on, there are a couple things; the thing they don't like was how heavy I was. I was a little bit heavier than I was last year, so that's one of the biggest keys that they want me to work on so that's what I'm going to try to do.

    [...]

    Evanson: Beer of choice?

    Bonser: Who says I drink beer? I like drinkin' Bud Light. That's my beer of choice.

    I'd imagine that there's some sort of correlation.


  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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