October 19, 2008

Twins Notes: Redmond, Batting Titles, Rumors, and Knapp

  • General manager Bill Smith was forced to make several huge decisions almost immediately after taking over for Terry Ryan last year, but his second offseason on the job began with a no-brainer, as the Twins picked up the $950,000 option on Mike Redmond for 2009. Not only was the price right, as a good defensive catcher and right-handed hitter who's said to be a vocal leader in a clubhouse where the stars reportedly aren't very outspoken, Redmond is essentially the perfect backup for Joe Mauer.

    Mauer had a career-best performance versus left-handed pitching this year, faring much better against lefties than he did against righties, but that's the result of random chance and a small sample of plate appearances. Nearly all left-handed hitters are significantly worse against left-handed pitchers over the long haul, and even including his 205 plate appearances against southpaws this year that's certainly been true of Mauer during his career:

                  PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    vs RHP 1626 .326 .417 .493 .910
    vs LHP 762 .300 .361 .383 .744

    Mauer is obviously a good enough hitter that he warrants being in the lineup regardless of the pitcher's handedness, but catchers need regular days off and over his career he's been about 18 percent worse against lefties. Redmond was actually better against righties than lefties in an even smaller sample of plate appearances this year, but like Mauer he's been far better against opposite-handed pitchers over his 11-season career:

                  PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    vs RHP 1479 .273 .329 .332 .660
    vs LHP 809 .327 .382 .426 .809

    Redmond has been 23 percent better versus lefties over his career, including 32 percent better during the past three seasons. In four years with the Twins he's hit .308/.347/.372 overall and thrown out 37 percent of steal attempts while never complaining about averaging just 182 plate appearances per season playing behind Mauer. There's tremendous risk of decline with any 37-year-old catcher, but for a one-season commitment Redmond is a perfect fit on the Twins' payroll and roster.

    Thanks to the ideal combination of Mauer and Redmond, the Twins have ranked first, fourth, first, and third among AL teams in OPS from the catcher spot over the past four seasons.

  • Not only is Mauer the only catcher in AL history to win the batting title, doing it twice in three seasons at the age of 25, the Twins have accounted for a remarkable 13 batting titles in 48 years of existence:
                          YEAR      AVG
    Tony Oliva 1964 .323
    Tony Oliva 1965 .321
    Rod Carew 1969 .332
    Tony Oliva 1971 .337
    Rod Carew 1972 .318
    Rod Carew 1973 .350
    Rod Carew 1974 .364
    Rod Carew 1975 .359
    Rod Carew 1977 .388
    Rod Carew 1978 .333
    Kirby Puckett 1989 .339
    Joe Mauer 2006 .347
    Joe Mauer 2008 .328

    Over the 15 seasons from 1964 to 1978, Rod Carew and Tony Oliva combined to win 10 batting titles, including six in seven years from Carew. Not surprisingly Carew is the Twins' all-time leader in batting average at .334, followed by Kirby Puckett (.318) and Mauer (.317). No. 4 on the list may surprise you.

  • When both Sid Hartman and Charley Walters have notes about Delmon Young being on the trading block within the same week, you can be fairly certain that information is purposely being made public by someone from the Twins. First, here's Hartman:
    The Twins won't talk about it, but it's expected that Delmon Young, the left fielder they obtained from Tampa Bay before this past season, will be made available on the trade market.

    Right, so "the Twins won't talk about it," but the 88-year-old columnist who serves as a mouthpiece for every team in the state has the inside scoop. Meanwhile, here's Walters:

    It wouldn't be surprising if the Twins have trade talks about moving outfielder Delmon Young to the San Francisco Giants, from whom they acquired pitchers Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano. The Giants' leading home run hitter this season was catcher Bengie Molina with 16.

    Oh, to be a "journalist" and write stuff like "it wouldn't be surprising if" before throwing a random rumor against the wall. Amusingly, Walters mentions Bengie Molina leading the Giants with 16 homers as if Young's arrival would change that, except that he hit 10 homers this year. My take was that the Twins vastly overrated Young's potential long before that become a relatively popular opinion and dealing him now would alleviate the outfield logjam, so hopefully some teams still have a rosy view of his upside.

  • Speaking of last offseason's the regrettable Young trade, Matt Garza pitched the Rays into the World Series last night and was named MVP of the ALCS.
  • So far this offseason the Twins are 1-for-2 keeping key non-player personnel from jumping to other organizations. Longtime scouting director and current vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff recently turned down the chance to interview for the Mariners' vacant general manager gig, but after a dozen years as the Twins' minor league pitching coordinator Rick Knapp has been hired as the Tigers' new pitching coach. According to the Associated Press:
    Knapp has drawn plenty of praise from the Twins organization over the years for his work with several prospects. He was instrumental in helping Nick Blackburn overcome a knee problem, weight gain and confidence loss to rise through the system and land a spot in the Twins’ rotation this spring.

    It's tough to say how much of a loss Knapp represents considering how little media coverage is given to the non-MLB members of the organization, but certainly during his decade-plus on the job the Twins have had tremendous success developing young pitchers. Hopefully his departure follows the same script as longtime assistant general manager Wayne Krivsky's exit a few years ago, because the last thing the Twins need is to lose an important piece of their system while making the Tigers stronger.

  • In reviewing the year's top international free-agent signings, Baseball America reports that the Twins signed a pair intriguing players in 16-year-old Australian third baseman Rory Rhodes and 19-year-old South Korean first baseman Kyun Kang. According to BA, "the 6-foot-7, 200-pound Rhodes ... has plus power to all fields from the right side" and received "the second-highest bonus for an Australian player this year" at $220,000.

    To put Rhodes' bonus in some context this year's fourth-round pick, Danny Ortiz, signed for $253,000. BA notes that Kang "signed for a low six-figure bonus" and calls him "a 6-foot-1, 202-pound lefty-hitting first baseman" with "a fluid swing and a chance to have above-average power." Internationally signed teenagers are impossible to project and the Twins sadly lag behind other teams in foreign spending, but given the system-wide lack of impact bats Rhodes and Kang at least sound like interesting players.

  • In recapping the Red Sox's victory over the Angels in the ALDS, Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan wrote the following about Torii Hunter:
    However, what's up with the Angels? ... Hunter has seven Gold Gloves cluttering up his mantel, but he allowed a very routine fly ball off the bat of Kotsay to bounce off his glove two nights later. That stuff never happened when he was with the Twins.

    Obviously "that stuff never happened when he was with the Twins," because as every Twins fan knows when it came playoff time Hunter never made big, game-changing mistakes defensively. Some things never change and the emperor is still making that whole no-clothes look work for him.

  • For all the talk of "small ball" and "doing the little things," the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that "the Twins lost a major league-leading five 1-0 games this season."

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

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