May 31, 2009

Twins Through Two Months (Part 1: Hitters)

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were the two best hitters in all of baseball during May, combining to hit .386/.478/.773 with 20 homers, 16 doubles, 39 walks, 51 runs, and 61 RBIs in 30 games, yet despite getting Babe Ruth-like production from two spots in the lineup the Twins finished the month just 14-16. The Twins lost more than they won in May while out-scoring their opponents by 30 runs (168 to 138), which perhaps makes up for going 11-11 in April while being out-scored by 23 runs (116 to 93).

Through two months the Twins have scored 261 runs and allowed 254 runs, which would typically lead to being something like 27-25 instead of 25-27, but their run totals are skewed somewhat by the 20-1 thrashing they gave the White Sox on May 21. If the final score of that blowout win was 10-1 rather than 20-1 the Twins would've been out-scored 254 to 251 to more closely match their 25-27 record. Turn the 20-1 into 10-1 and the Twins would rank ninth among AL teams in both run scoring and run prevention.

In other words, the Twins simply haven't been a very good team through one-third of the season, which is a difficult pill to swallow given some of the outstanding individual performances they've gotten from position players. Morneau has been the best hitter in the AL through two months, Mauer was the best player in the world during May, and the Twins have also gotten good all-around play from Denard Span, Joe Crede, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel, yet the offense as a whole has been merely mediocre.

                      RAR                              RAR
Joe Mauer 27.0 Brian Buscher -1.6
Justin Morneau 22.3 Nick Punto -3.6
Joe Crede 14.7 Matt Tolbert -6.0
Denard Span 13.9 Alexi Casilla -6.9
Michael Cuddyer 12.7 Delmon Young -12.2
Jose Morales 6.1
Jason Kubel 5.6
Brendan Harris 2.8
Mike Redmond 1.1
Carlos Gomez 0.7

RAR stands for Runs Above Replacement, which calculates how many runs someone was worth both offensively and defensively compared to a replacement-level player at the same position. For instance, through 52 games Morneau has been worth 22.3 runs more than a replacement-level first baseman, which ranks as the sixth-best RAR total in the league. Mauer is one of the five players with a better RAR than Morneau, checking in at 27.0 runs above a replacement-level catcher despite missing all of April.

Along with Mauer at No. 3 and Morneau at No. 6, Crede, Span, and Cuddyer are among the AL's top 30 in RAR and Kubel has also been very solid despite the high replacement level at designated hitter. Add it all up and those six guys have been 96.2 runs better than replacement-level players offensively and defensively through 52 games. Unfortunately the lineup has nine places rather than six, and the Twins have gotten horrible production from second base, shortstop, and one of the outfield spots.

Nick Punto was placed on the disabled list over the weekend with a groin injury, but not before he hit .187/.290/.211 in 150 plate appearances while playing mediocre defense. That performance was worth 3.6 runs less than a replacement-level shortstop and not surprisingly the Twins rank 12th in the league with a measly .587 OPS from the position. We've seen this before from Punto, who somehow racked up 536 plate appearances in 2007 while hitting .210/.291/.271 to rank among MLB's worst players.

As little as the Twins have gotten from shortstop, their second basemen have been even worse. In fact, no position in the league has been less productive than Twins second basemen, who've managed a hideous .477 OPS with poor defense. Ron Gardenhire would love nothing more than to ruin the Twins' ideal batting order by sticking a speedy, light-hitting, bunt-happy second baseman in the No. 2 spot, but even he can't ignore Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert combining for 12.9 runs below replacement level.

Unlike the middle-infield trio of Punto, Tolbert, and Casilla, Carlos Gomez's great glove in center field at least cancels out his awful hitting so the end result is basically a replacement-level player. His overall .220/.282/.310 line is awful, but Gomez has shown some signs of improved plate discipline, ranks as one of the elite defensive center fielders in the league for the second straight season, and deserves to be playing every day--whether in Minnesota or Rochester--after starting just 28 of 52 games.

Gomez offsets some of his terrible hitting with an excellent glove, but Delmon Young has been useless on both sides of the ball. In fact, at 12.2 runs below replacement level offensively and defensively he's been the single worst all-around player in the AL through two months. Young has hit .239/.282/.275 in 117 plate appearances, which is good for a .557 OPS. No other corner outfielder in the league with that much playing time has an OPS below .640.

Not only has Young failed to make any significant strides at the plate for the third straight season, he's actually regressed from last year's poor performance. Young was one of the most undisciplined hitters in baseball last season, but this time around he's struck out twice as often while drawing even fewer walks. Beyond that his power has gone from bad to non-existent as he's managed just one homer and one double in 109 at-bats while once again ranking among the AL leaders in ground-ball percentage.

Believe it or not, being the AL's worst-hitting outfielder only scratches the surface of Young's awfulness because he plays an offense-driven position that's home to many big bats and complements his lack of production at the plate with horrendous defense in left field. On a per-inning basis Young has been the second-worst corner outfielder in the league defensively behind only Jose Guillen and since joining the Twins last year Ultimate Zone Rating has him 23.1 runs below average on defense alone.

All of which is a long way of saying that Gomez has been bad, but the trio of Punto, Tolbert, and Casilla have been terrible and Young has been the worst player in the league. Simply replacing Young, Punto, Tolbert, and Casilla with even replacement-level players would have saved the Twins around 30 runs, which is the difference between trailing the Tigers by 4.5 games or 1.5 games. The good news is that foursome can't help but improve. The bad news is that Mauer and Morneau won't hit like Ruth all year.


Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

May 29, 2009

Link-O-Rama

  • If you've ever wondered what Mr. T would look like throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field while wearing matching American flag bandanna and shorts, today is your lucky day. He's a southpaw!
  • One of the guests on Adam Carolla's podcast this week was James Gunn, who in addition to being a director, writer, and actor is also the brother of former The Hardball Times writer Brian Gunn. Oh, and he was married to Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Jenna Fischer for eight years. In listening to the podcast it was impossible for me decide whether I was more jealous of Gunn for being married to Fischer or for hanging out with Carolla, which I'm pretty sure means that I'm insane.
  • Speaking of the OFGoAG.com, I'm not ready to dethrone title-holder Keeley Hazell yet, but I am giving serious thought to expanding the "candidates" list to include Diora Baird, Minka Kelly, and Kelly Brook along with holdovers Fischer, Marisa Miller, Mila Kunis, Kate Beckinsale, and ex-OFGoAG.com Elisha Cuthbert. Speak now or forever hold your peace and let me know of any Link-O-Rama regulars who I'm overlooking.
  • Jose Canseco's mixed martial arts debut earlier this week predictably lasted for all of 77 seconds, as he "tapped out to avoid getting hurt" once his 7-foot-2 opponent started mounting an attack.
  • Marko Jaric didn't waste any time after marrying his then-virgin supermodel girlfriend Adriana Lima on Valentine's Day, because she's reportedly three months pregnant.
  • Amazingly, the Nationals aren't any better at spelling than they are at playing baseball.
  • My NBCSports.com colleague Tiffany Simons has been busy shooting Twins-related videos, talking to Bert Blyleven about eating worms and asking Joe Mauer why he didn't end up playing football at her beloved Florida State.
  • Zach Galifianakis interviewed The Hangover co-star Bradley Cooper between two ferns:


    "Is that f***ing Carrot Top behind me?"
  • Let this be a lesson to all the other sports: Stealing ideas from baseball will lead to pain.
  • I'm sure her audience still dwarfs AG.com's, but among the 30 blogs run by MLB.com beat reporters Kelly Thesier's apparently ranks 28th in readership. I'd say something snarky about "Kelly's Corner" as a blog name, but "AaronGleeman.com" isn't exactly an inspired title.
  • As friend of AG.com Thor Nystrom reported while subbing for Thesier at MLB.com, Brad Penny beat the Twins on Monday despite "vomiting between innings." Or as Terry Francona put it: "He would come out, throw up, laugh, go get them."
  • Rotoworld basketball guru Steve Alexander's latest NBA mock draft has the Timberwolves selecting North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson with the No. 6 pick, which would make me happy. He's by far the most underrated player in the draft and point guard is the Wolves' biggest need.
  • Speaking of the Wolves, I'll give new president of basketball operations David Kahn some credit for writing a personal message to fans upon his hiring, although it wasn't the most confidence-inspiring 600 words that I've ever read. He sounds like a very smart, capable person, but it's unclear whether he can actually evaluate basketball players.
  • My favorite television critic, Alan Sepinwall, wraps up what was an outstanding second season of In Treatment with a lengthy and revealing interview with showrunner Warren Leight. It sounds like no one is sure whether the show will come back for a third season, but I'll be Freaks and Geeks-style crushed if it doesn't. Allison Pill really shined this season and likely wouldn't be back for Season 3 regardless, but Gabriel Byrne continues to amaze in the lead role and the show is the most underrated on TV.
  • As a world-class beard-grower myself, I'm humbled by these men.
  • Speaking of awesome facial hair, Clay Zavada's mustache is getting all sorts of attention.
  • Not only did the Dodgers host a star-studded "Blogger Night" at Dodger Stadium last month, they're now "providing press credentials and full media access" to select bloggers. I've got a nice rant all cued up about how that relates to the Twins because of what some of my fellow bloggers have experienced recently, but for once I'll bite my tongue and just say that the Dodgers are way ahead of the curve.
  • In the MVN mock draft, Seth Stohs has the Twins taking high schooler Bobby Borchering at No. 22.
  • Here are some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - M&M Boys putting on a show in Minnesota
    - Rangers tell fan 'Yankees Suck' shirt is 'profane'
    - Burnett, Cash have their 'candlesticks' moment
    - Data doesn't support Bradley's claims of ump bias
    - Rickmania or Doc Porcello? Rookie wins 5 straight
    - National League has the edge in pitchers hitting
    - Chipper finally wears the Golden Sombrero
    - Smoltz's rehab start gets mixed reviews
    - Luis Hernandez, Trey Hillman, and track records
    - Are the Rockies preparing for a firesale?
    - Dodgers doing just fine without Manny

    I also wrote a brief entry about yesterday's umpire-related madness at the Metrodome.

  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Carolla favorite John Hiatt doing a live version of "Have A Little Faith In Me":


  • Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    May 27, 2009

    AG.com Live Chat Today at 3:00 PM

    This afternoon's Twins-Red Sox game should be over just in time for a 3:00 p.m. live chat. As always, I'll open the doors for questions 15 minutes early and keep going until you guys run out of stuff to ask.

    Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    May 25, 2009

    Twins Notes: Mauer, Morneau, Gomez, and Swarzak

  • Joe Mauer was out of the lineup yesterday after starting 17 straight games, so instead of collecting multiple hits he just came off the bench with a two-run homer against Jonathan Papelbon that pulled the Twins to within one run in the ninth inning. Mauer has already surpassed last season's homer total in 533 fewer plate appearances and is just two long balls shy of tying his career-high of 13 from 2006. He's up to .444/.530/.913, which is just silly. He could go into a 0-for-39 slump and still be hitting .300.
  • Lost in Mauer's ridiculousness is that Justin Morneau is batting .341/.422/.653 with 13 homers, 13 doubles, 24 walks, 41 RBIs, and 37 runs in 46 games. He's on pace to set new career-highs in nearly every key category and leads AL in OPS (at least until Mauer gets enough plate appearances to qualify). Morneau has undeservedly overshadowed Mauer, winning the MVP in 2006 and finishing second last year despite being the second-best player on his own team, so it's ironic that he's now overlooked.
  • Along with Morneau leading the AL with a 1.075 mark, the Twins also have Jason Kubel (.911) and Michael Cuddyer (.891) among the top 20 in OPS. Toss in Mauer and they've had four of the 20 best hitters, and interestingly Jason Bartlett (1.014) and Torii Hunter (.987) are sixth and ninth respectively. The quintet of Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, and Joe Crede have combined for 45 homers in 691 at-bats after the entire team totaled 111 homers in 5,641 at-bats last season. I could get used to this.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, the Twins rank dead last in OPS from second basemen at .475 and second-to-last in OPS from shortstops at .577. The 92 middle-infield starts have been divided among Nick Punto (38), Alexi Casilla (21), Brendan Harris (18), and Matt Tolbert (15), who've combined to hit .195/.254/.251 with three homers in 386 plate appearances in those games. National League pitchers have hit .138/.189/.170 with an average of two homers per 386 plate appearances this season.
  • Carlos Gomez is the leader in the clubhouse for most ridiculous injury of the year. LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that he "needed two stitches in his head after getting caught in the revolving door while entering the stadium." Phil Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press provided further details: "Gomez was walking through the door ... someone came in behind him and the door stopped, but Gomez didn't. He sustained a cut on his eyebrow." And then he went 1-for-4 with two great catches.
  • Anthony Swarzak exceeded my expectations and then some in his major-league debut Saturday, tossing seven shutout innings against the Brewers. He averaged 90 miles per hour with his fastball, throwing it on 76 of 98 pitches, and also featured an 80-mph changeup and a 75-mph curveball. While he wasn't quite as impressive as the seven scoreless frames suggest, striking three and walking two, Swarzak threw 65 percent strikes and certainly looked capable of becoming a solid mid-rotation starter.
  • There are some rumblings out of San Francisco that the Giants are shopping for a hitter and may be dangling Matt Cain in trade talks, which should be of interest to Twins fans given the offseason rumors of a Cain-for-Delmon Young swap. Back then my suggestion was to package "Nick Blackburn or Glen Perkins with Young for Cain and a lesser player," but even that may not get the job done now that Cain is 5-1 with a 2.40 ERA and Young is hitting .253/.296/.297.
  • On a related note, Joe Christensen has an update on the increasingly regrettable Tampa Bay trade.
  • Over at ESPN.com Rob Neyer wonders when Francisco Liriano is going to take "the next step" in his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery, but the answer is probably "never" if "the next step" involves reclaiming the dominance that he had in 2006. Liriano simply isn't the same pitcher that he was before going under the knife, although certainly he's still capable of looking a lot better than he has this year.
  • Last week on the FSN pregame show Jim Souhan said that he'd take Morneau over Mauer, which is a stance that he's misguidedly held for the past three years. This week Souhan wrote that Mauer is the best player in baseball, which is a stance that he'll hold until Mauer stops homering every eight at-bats.

  • Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

    May 24, 2009

    Happy Memorial Day


    Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

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