June 7, 2010

Twitter Mailbag: Answers

Last week I asked for mailbag questions submitted via Twitter, so here are about 1,700 words worth of me answering 140-character queries ...

@Komencentz: Why don't the Twins put Michael Cuddyer back at third base?

My understanding is that Michael Cuddyer moved away from third base after the 2005 season in part because the Twins didn't like his defense there and in part because the loss of hearing in his left ear during childhood made it tough for him to play the position regularly. I've gotten questions about why the Twins don't put him back at third base ever since and they'd finally died down before Ron Gardenhire gave him a surprise start at second base last week.

Cuddyer was a bad defender at third base in 2005, with Ultimate Zone Rating pegging him as 10 runs below average per 150 games, so he'd presumably be downright awful moving back there after not playing the position at all for the past five years. Plus, while it would certainly improve the Twins' lineup the true impact would likely be overstated because Jim Thome and Jason Kubel aren't good versus lefties and Delmon Young isn't very effective versus righties.

@ThomasKelsey: Do you think Danny Valencia at least can be Kevin Kouzmanoff?

Danny Valencia being as good as Kevin Kouzmanoff is closer to the best-case scenario than an "at least" scenario. Kouzmanoff spent most of his career in MLB's most pitcher-friendly park, yet his numbers in the majors are more or less the same as Valencia's numbers at Triple-A. In the minors he batted .332/.395/.556--including .368/.426/.643 at Double-A and Triple-A--and Kouzmanoff was already an above-average everyday player for the Padres at Valencia's age.

@RyanHyde10: How good is Kyle Gibson?

Kyle Gibson struggled Saturday for the first time, but he still has a 2.27 ERA, .219 opponents' batting average, and 67-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75 innings. He's not quite in the elite tier of pitching prospects because he doesn't throw in the mid-90s or miss a ton of bats, but is safely in the second tier as a strike-throwing, ground-ball pitcher with upside as a low-end No. 1 starter or high-end No. 2 starter. He's the Twins' best pitching prospect since Matt Garza.

@MLBgrrl: Why do I love Joe Mauer so much? I'm happily married and have no chance of meeting him?

I'm not sure, because I have a really hard time understanding why anyone would want to lust after someone they have no chance of ever being with.

@_2244: Do you see the Twins moving on a closer this year? Any thoughts on who or the price it would take to acquire him?

I wrote tons about the closer situation this spring, basically concluding the Twins were better off seeing if Jon Rauch (or another in-house option) could get the job done than overpaying for a so-called "proven closer." Rauch is 15-for-17 converting saves with a 2.74 ERA, so my opinion certainly hasn't changed. Closer is the most overrated "position" in baseball and it's funny how everyone saying Joe Nathan's injury would cost double-digit wins have vanished.

@djjlav: Is Matt Guerrier the most underrated Twin in terms of attention received by the local/national media and fans?

Generally speaking non-closer relievers don't get much attention and Matt Guerrier is further overlooked because his raw stuff doesn't blow anyone away, but he has a 3.30 ERA over 428 career innings and has posted a mark above 3.50 just once in six full seasons. Setup men are always underrated relative to closers because of the misguided focus on saves, but since his debut in 2004 only three Twins pitchers have a higher Win Probability Added than Guerrier.

(Twins pitchers with a higher WPA since 2004: Nathan, Johan Santana, and ... Juan Rincon.)

@nicosamuelson: Now that Ken Griffey Jr. has retired, who's the greatest center fielder of all time still active?

Jim Edmonds, although many people seem to have a hard time believing that despite the fact that he's an eight-time Gold Glove winner with 385 homers and a .284/.377/.527 career line.

@ScandiAngel: Is there an overarching reason that speaks to the Twins' ineptitude versus the Yankees or is the abysmal record simply dumb luck?

I tend to believe there's been a significant amount of bad and/or dumb luck involved, but also think the Yankees have been a) extremely good, b) clearly better than the Twins nearly every season, and c) an especially poor matchup for a staff with strike-throwing, fly-ball pitchers. All of which I wrote quite a bit more about in an entry last month.

@hlrule: Will the high LOB counts and double plays eventually catch up with the Twins?

That's already caught up with the Twins in the sense that it's cost runs and wins, but it's not something that necessarily carries over to future games. Hitting poorly with the bases loaded in April and May doesn't have any impact on games played in August and September. Certainly strong on-base percentages and high ground-ball rates will continue to make the Twins prone to double plays, but hitting with runners on base is generally not a similarly sustainable skill.

@jarends703: Does the All-Star system need to be changed? How would you change it?

I really couldn't care less about the All-Star game at this point, in large part because the focus on first-half performances rather than multi-year track records leads to tons of mistakes in the selection process every season. To me the All-Star teams should feature the best players in baseball, not the guys who played the best for the first half of one season.

@bgipple: Any idea when Derek McCallum will be back for low Single-A Beloit? He's been on the seven-day disabled list for a while.

He should be back fairly soon. Derek McCallum had wrist surgery in mid-May and was given a five-week recovery timetable. This winter he ranked 31st on my list of the Twins' prospects.

@georoam: Why does Gardenhire stick with miserable Jesse Crain?

Amusingly, that was sent in before Jesse Crain blew the lead Saturday.

Coming into Saturday's game he actually had a 3.32 ERA and 14-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19 innings since back-to-back ugly outings in April, but that's the problem with Crain (and why people call him things like "miserable"). He tends to be awful, then pitch well for long enough to reclaim a prominent late-inning role, and then immediately be awful again. Crain also has a career xFIP of 4.55, including 4.34 this year, so he just isn't very good.

Also, since I haven't ranted about how stupid "wins" and "losses" are for individual pitchers in a while, allow me to point out that Crain cost Francisco Liriano a win Saturday. Liriano racked up 10 strikeouts in seven innings of two-run ball, but because the guy who relieved him stunk he doesn't get a win. On the other hand, after Crain blew the lead Alex Burnett retired the only batter he faced on four pitches ... and got the "win" when the Twins later scored. Idiotic.

@ThomasKelsey: Why do the Twins hate Anthony Slama?

As my mom always says, "Hate is a strong word." I don't think the Twins put much faith in his minor-league numbers and have never believed he's the real deal. I'm not sure he is either, but much like with Pat Neshek once upon a time at some point the guy deserves a chance to prove it one way or another and he's already 26 years old. For a lot more on Slama, check out my interview about him with Baseball America editor-in-chief John Manuel last week.

@kdoggm1214: Why aren't you ever on Paul Allen's talk show?

He's never invited me, but Paul Allen does have Seth Stohs on as a regular guest. Both things are probably to his credit.

@Mnbeersportgeek: Any chatter on the Twins trying to acquire Roy Oswalt?

I haven't seen anything to indicate the Twins are legitimate players for Roy Oswalt, although a few prominent writers have suggested they'd be a good fit. I wrote about the possibility last week and basically concluded he'd likely be too costly in terms of both salary and prospects.

@jeffboone: With the Mariners playing so poorly, what are the chances the Twins could make a move for Cliff Lee down the stretch?

Probably even lower than their chances of trading for Oswalt, since Cliff Lee is an impending free agent and the Twins obviously wouldn't be in a position to re-sign him. Would it be worth trading multiple top prospects for a few months of Lee and a couple draft picks? I doubt it and making a big splash like that would certainly be very uncharacteristic. Intriguing to think about, but ultimately pretty pointless for Twins fans.

@jarends703: Could we see a shift to a new era with offense waning?

Between increased steroid testing and various standout pitching performances many are quick to assume a huge shift is taking place in terms of offensive levels dropping, but that really isn't supported by evidence. This year the average team is scoring 4.5 runs per game, which while slightly lower than the 4.6 runs scored in 2008 and 2009 is hardly a massive change. Beyond that, run scoring in general tends to be lower early in the season due to poor weather.

@2ndSwingGolf: Are you a golfer? Big fan of Highland National?

For a couple summers back in junior high I golfed a ton, including many rounds at the course in Highland Park that was just blocks from my house, but I never loved it and was so incredibly inconsistent hitting tee shots with a driver that being decent at everything else was pointless (although I did shoot one randomly great round while vacationing at Madden's). In retrospect I probably should have taken a few lessons first.

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Ending with a question and answer that no one could possibly care about seems fitting. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions, as the response was strong enough that I'll try to make this a regular feature. In the meantime you can follow me and my 140-character ramblings on Twitter.

  • Leon

    call me an uninformed outfielder, but how does a lack of hearing in one’s left ear affect the ability to play third? I get that at third everything is on your left, but is it not possible to just turn your head and use your right ear? Especially since we’re no longer in the acoustic bubble of the Dome anymore…..

  • Pete

    How on earth does Slama “deserve” anything from the Twins? The team is trying to win games. If the front office doesn’t think a minor-leaguer has the ability to win games for them, it certainly doesn’t need to give that player a test run just to see if they’re wrong.

    That being said, Slama can’t really be any worse than Jesse Crain and plays at a fraction of the cost. I would be in favor of taking a bag of balls for Crain and calling up Slama.

  • Jesse

    Leon,
    It would have an effect if you are trying to make a play to your left and the shortstop is calling you off, or one of the other infielders is calling for you to throw to a certain bag. If you can’t hear out of your left ear, then you might not know that they are even talking to you so you would have no reason to turn your head. That would be the main things I can think about, but I’m sure there are more things that I’m not thinking of!

  • tjw

    Aaron,

    Did the Twins, perhaps, trot out the worst-hitting infield in team history this weekend? With Morneau out they had an infield (left-to-right) of Valencia, Punto, Tolbert, and Harris, who are currently hitting a combined .192/.264/.239. That’s just pathetic.

  • Adam

    Aaron,
    Is it too early to label J.J. Hardy as “soft?”

  • Rick

    Nobody asked about the Twins continuing love affair with Butera? What’s the latest excuse from the front office about why Morales is still in AAA?

  • bobojo

    Are there any stats regarding Crain and inherited runners? I expect all of them to score when he enters the game. I’ve felt this way for years.

  • ?

    “That’s just pathetic.”

    I am wondering which teams could trot out a better lineup with 3/4 of their infield out.

  • tjw

    “I am wondering which teams could trot out a better lineup with 3/4 of their infield out.”

    That would be a fine argument if they were all Triple-A call-ups, except that Punto and Harris each have over 100 PAs and Tolbert was batting second. I get that they were severely hamstrung with Hardy, Hudson, Morneau, and Cuddyer all unavailable or limited, but it was still an incredibly weak lineup.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    I am wondering which teams could trot out a better lineup with 3/4 of their infield out.

    The Twins – like most teams – were forced to put a rather weak lineup out in this circumstance. However, most teams would have at least one player on the bench available to play (in the infield) that’s better than Punto, Harris, Tolbert, and Valencia.

    They’re average or below average players that are performing far below their modest expectations so far this year – at least offensively. I’ll exclude Valencia from that since he’s just arrived from AAA. He should be given more time before one judges whether he’s average or something else.

    The crazy thing, is they almost swept the A’s with that pathetic lineup out there.

    I’d much rather have these sorts of strains on a team’s depth now than in July, August, or September. It’s good to see exactly were our depth is at.

    Yes – most teams would have issues with this situation as well.

  • Josh

    Please, for the love of all that is holy, no more Crain.

    This is obviously wishful thinking, but I say we bring up Loek Van Mil. That’s 14 feet of human between him and Rauch!

  • ewen21

    Aaron, a couple of things…
    You dubbed Delmon Young (as a 23 year old) the ‘worst outfielder in baseball’ and have consistently bashed his approach to the game from the moment he came to the Twins. It’s subsided considerably but you still take some passive-aggressive shots at him. Case in point, please clarify what you mean by: “Delmon Young isn’t very effective versus righties” because I can’t reconcile that statement with the FACTS. The facts are in 135 ABs this year YOung is hitting .309 against RHP with 6HRs, 32 RBI and an .855 OPS. What I want to know is a) How does that fall into the ‘isn’t very effective category’? and b) what do you think of Cuddy’s numbers against RHP this season?