July 14, 2010

Anatomy of a collapse (Part 2: Hitting)

I wrote Monday about how the pitching staff has primarily been to blame for the Twins limping into the All-Star break with a 15-22 record since June 1, but the lineup hasn't been much good during that 37-game stretch either. Through two months the Twins led all non-AL East teams by scoring 4.92 runs per game, but since June 1 they've managed just 4.24 runs per game for a dropoff of 14 percent (including a 33 percent dip in walks from a once super-patient lineup).

Here's a look at the individual hitting performances since June 1:

                     PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Denard Span         161     .247     .308     .363     .671
Joe Mauer           147     .260     .333     .389     .722
Delmon Young        142     .338     .359     .537     .896
Jason Kubel         140     .300     .336     .492     .828
Michael Cuddyer     134     .254     .321     .393     .714
Justin Morneau      131     .298     .344     .529     .873
Nick Punto          120     .260     .347     .327     .674
Orlando Hudson      100     .231     .290     .319     .609
Jim Thome            65     .286     .385     .679    1.064
Danny Valencia       64     .310     .375     .345     .720
Matt Tolbert         49     .214     .292     .333     .625
J.J. Hardy           34     .212     .235     .273     .508
Drew Butera          27     .130     .192     .261     .453
TOTAL              1377     .265     .321     .409     .730

Jim Thome has clobbered the ball since June 1, batting .286/.385/.679 with an extra-base hit every five at-bats for a team-high 1.064 OPS, but started just 13 of 37 games. Delmon Young was the most productive regular during the 15-22 stretch, batting .338 with five homers, 12 doubles, and 31 RBIs in 37 games to continue a breakout year. However, amid all the hard-hit balls and bad-intentioned swings he seems to have lost his new-found plate discipline.

Young drew 13 walks in 161 plate appearances through the end of May, which was almost as nice to see as his power arriving, but since then he has a grand total of one non-intentional walk in 142 trips to the plate. Clearly walks become an afterthought when someone is hitting .330 with power, but ultimately returning to his hacktastic ways is a bad thing for Young and hopefully he can combine the good hitting with a more selective approach in the second half.

Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel have more or less duplicated their career totals since June 1, but Joe Mauer hitting just .260/.333/.389 in 34 games represents one of the worst stretches of his career and leaves him with a sub-.300 batting average at the All-Star break for the first time in seven seasons as a big leaguer. The slump has dragged his overall season line down to .293/.368/.424, which is doubly disappointing coming off his MVP-winning career-year.

There's nowhere to go but down after leading the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage while doubling your previous high for homers in one of the greatest catcher seasons ever, but obviously a 240-point drop in OPS is a massive letdown. With that said, Mauer's current .293/.368/.424 line is basically identical to his 2005 (.294/.371/.411) and 2007 (.293/.382/.426) production, and not far from his pre-2009 career mark (.317/.399/.457).

Of course, the Twins didn't pay $184 million for the pre-2009 version even if there were plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the new-found pop sticking around and hitting .260/.333/.389 since June 1 is just plain unlike Mauer. I'd heard rumblings about Mauer playing through some injuries even before he sat out the final game of the first half with shoulder soreness and his recent performance is certainly uncharacteristic enough for that to seem plausible.

Michael Cuddyer started 13 of the past 22 games at third base as Ron Gardenhire sacrificed defense to get him in the same lineup as Thome, Young, and Kubel. Unfortunately not only has that downgrade defensively contributed to some of the pitching problems, Cuddyer has hit just .245/.302/.306 at third base and .254/.321/.393 overall since June 1. On the other hand, like Mauer his season line (.267/.334/.432) is still pretty close to his career mark (.269/.343/.455).

Cuddyer has done his job versus left-handed pitchers, hitting .292/.424/.521 as much-needed right-handed thump in a lefty heavy lineup, but he's struggled all year with men on base while hitting a putrid .257/.290/.394 off righties and the ugly at-bats are magnified by Gardenhire's refusal to move him lower in the batting order. If nothing else his performance certainly hasn't justified hurting the defense by starting Cuddyer at third base. That's just bad on bad.

Cuddyer hasn't hit righties all year and hasn't been good enough against them throughout his career to make up for a bad glove at third base. Similarly, both Thome and Kubel aren't good enough versus lefties to warrant starting against them if it means sacrificing defense. In other words, shifting Cuddyer to third base merely gets him starts versus righties and Kubel/Thome starts versus lefties, neither of which is really needed. It's like killing no birds with two stones.

Denard Span and Orlando Hudson were ideal table-setters after two months, combining for a .375 OBP and 74 runs in 51 games atop the lineup, but Span has batted just .247/.308/.363 since June 1 and Hudson spent nearly half of the 37-game slide on the disabled list, returning to hit .231/.290/.319 after Matt Tolbert hit .214/.292/.333 in his place. Combined with Mauer's slump, the three guys getting the most plate appearances have had an OPS around .650.

In addition to poor performances from everyone but Thome, Young, Kubel, and Morneau since June 1, the Twins have hit into more double plays than any team in baseball during that time to continue an historic season-long weakness. Not only do the Twins lead baseball with 102 double plays at the All-Star break, that's 10 more than any other team, 56 more than the least DP-prone team, and on a pace to shatter the all-time record of 170 by the Red Sox in 1990.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When a team goes from 31-20 to 46-42 fans start calling for all sorts of moves to be made, but realistically what can and should the Twins do? Some of the most plausible "solutions" involve guys like Mauer, Cuddyer, and Span simply hitting better and ultimately there's more to worry about with the pitching and defense anyway, but here are three other ideas that don't involve dumping half the roster or trading half the farm system ...

1. Find a right-handed hitter to take at-bats from Kubel and Thome against lefties.

Against left-handed pitching Kubel has hit .235/.337/.365 this year and .239/.318/.358 for his career, while Thome has hit .190/.244/.310 this year and .238/.339/.420 for his career. Neither guy has any business starting regularly versus southpaws and the Twins would be better off giving those at-bats to just about any semi-competent right-handed hitter, including in-house options like Jason Repko or Danny Valencia.

2. Stop playing Cuddyer at third base or at least bat him lower versus righties.

The whole idea behind playing Cuddyer at third base is flawed, because he's not good enough to make it worthwhile versus righties and Kubel/Thome aren't good enough to make it pay off versus lefties. It's only necessary because Gardenhire won't bench Cuddyer versus righties, so weakening the defense is the only way to also get Young, Kubel, and Thome into the lineup. Short of a benching versus righties, at least move Cuddyer behind Thome, Kubel, and Young.

3. Call up Jose Morales from Triple-A to serve as Mauer's backup

Morales has hit his usual .274/.377/.379 in 54 games at Rochester since returning from wrist surgery, so it's time for him to reclaim the backup catcher gig. Drew Butera seems like a good guy and has done a nice job defensively, but his bat is so bad that he's just not an MLB-caliber player. Butera has hit .157 in 56 plate appearances after batting .211/.268/.292 at Triple-A, so the Twins are basically letting the pitcher bat for himself whenever Mauer isn't in the lineup.

33 Comments »

  1. “It’s like killing no birds with two stones.”
    Who says bloggers are just stat nerds that can’t write? Someone should read that line to Gardy.

    Comment by JJ Metz — July 13, 2010 @ 9:52 pm

  2. Amen, brother! Gardy sure does have his things that he sticks with – as if these major league players can’t handle changes… Let’s hope some of these ideas are put to use soon.

    Comment by grubah — July 13, 2010 @ 9:59 pm

  3. So, in short.. Garden-tool needs to take a hike.

    Comment by Gary — July 13, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

  4. Why not let Danny play third and see if he will make it. Team as to address that issue someday anyways

    Comment by Snoz22 — July 13, 2010 @ 10:22 pm

  5. I usually like your stuff but I think you are over analyzing this one. I think playing Cuddy at 3B is a great move.

    He hit 32 HR’s last year and you are criticizing Gardy for refusing to bench him against righties? Are you serious? You are starting to sound like those bloggers who just criticize everything.

    I don’t see Punto or Valencia putting up better numbers vs righties than Cuddyer. I think Cuddy would have to make 3-4 errors per week to make that worthwhile. I think there may be 2 or 3 balls in the past month he didn’t get that Punto might have, and though he isn’t hitting well, his last season (only healthy one in the past few years) more than justifies giving him AB’s everyday all season.

    Looking at one month worth of numbers can help explain why we are in this rut, but you shouldn’t use 1 month worth of numbers to suggest anything. Do you also suggest moving Mauer down in the order and not playing as much because he’s had a poor month?

    Give these guys time and they’ll come around.

    Comment by AJ — July 13, 2010 @ 10:54 pm

  6. Did anyone else think what I did when they saw Mauer sail the throw to 2nd base last night? There is something wrong with that shoulder. The guy was the top prep quarterback in the country and is regarded in the game to have one of the best arms for a catcher. He was off 10 yards to the right and 15 feet high. As someone who has rotator cuff problems, that is a sign of weakness of somesort.

    Not good, my prediction is the Twins will finish a distant second to the Tigers and Mauer will spend over 30 days on the DL.

    Comment by Jeremy — July 14, 2010 @ 6:21 am

  7. The problem is that all these common sense moves won’t be made because of the guy managing the club.

    Comment by Abe — July 14, 2010 @ 8:57 am

  8. Ah yes…it’s the manager’s fault. The same manager that has won 5 division titles in the last 8 years is the cause of all this teams problems.

    Aaron you were absolutely right when you said:

    Some of the most plausible “solutions” involve guys like Mauer, Cuddyer, and Span

    If those three were hitting to their ability the lineup wouldn’t be a problem. There wouldn’t be any need to move Cuddy to 3b in order to get Thome’s bat in the lineup, Thome would never hit a lefty, Kubel would see less time versuses a lefty and Butera’s/Punto’s futility at the plate woudl be easy to ignore. While you can’t necessarily count on it happening there is good reason to believe (past performance) that those three hitters will hit better in the second half. If that happens than there is really no reason to worry about the Twins offense.

    BTW, i’m a little surprised that you didn’t include

    #4 Bring up Anthony Slama, have him be the backup catcher/relief pitcher, punto’s late inning offensive replacement and all around wunderkind. He is the answer to all of our problems.

    Comment by Brent — July 14, 2010 @ 9:19 am

  9. The problem with Cuddyer at third is defense affects pitching, plain and simple. It’s not coincidence that when our middle infield ended up on the DL and Cuddyer began playing third regularly that our pitching dropped off. As a pitcher “pitch-to-contact” is a tough pill to swallow when you at least half of your infield playing AAA quality defense. These guys are contact pitchers trying to be strikeout pitchers because they have legitimate concerns about the quality of the defense.

    Comment by Jeff — July 14, 2010 @ 9:36 am

  10. should read “when you have at least half of your infield…” oops

    Comment by Jeff — July 14, 2010 @ 9:38 am

  11. Brent,

    Ah yes, the “5 titles in 8 years” defense. Classic. I’ll throw out “1 playoff series win in 8 years”. We’re not the little engine that could anymore. The Twins were prohibitive favorites in the division with supposedly serious World Series aspriations. We’re in 3rd place in a terrible division. This team plays with no killer instinct, no energy, little passion. Gardy’s JV lineups have cost us valuable Sunday (or other day) wins. He doesn’t hold anyone accountable for their bad play, instead soothing the team into believing there’s an excuse for everything, and that everything is bad luck, no need to change anything.

    The players aren’t blameless, definitely. But the more this season plays out, the more it’s obvious to me that this team will never be successful under this manager. And no, I don’t define winning the AL Central as success. Can’t we strive for something more?

    Comment by Arnold4321 — July 14, 2010 @ 10:24 am

  12. My problem with TK was that he was a great manager on a team that performed a little above its ability – he kept everyone’s emotions in check with his “one day at a time” mantra. However, when the team had above-average talent, like in 1990, and need a foot in the rear, TK was not the guy. I am beginning to think that Gardy’s approach might be the problem as well. Every single MLB manager makes decisions that can be second-guessed. But continuing to do the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result is insane. Yeah, gardy won 5 titles, but in everyone of those, the team performed above expectations for extended periods of the season.

    Gardy has shown that he is capable of changing – moving Cuddyer to 3rd shows that. Can he really get after the team and get them to perform to their potential? Will they play the players in the spots where they perform best as opposed to playing his favorites? Will they use players that Gardy has a grudge against – i.e., Morales, Slama and Neshek? To me, those are the things that will determine whether or not the Twins are successful in the second half.

    Comment by Tom W. — July 14, 2010 @ 11:07 am

  13. Waaah waaah waaah. You think Gardy’s platooning of Young the past couple seasons doesn’t count as holding him accountable? How about playing Valencia after Tolbert/Punto couldn’t hit their weight? If you want to complain about a coach, complain about Anderson. WTF happened to our pitching?

    I think Cuddyer’s move to 3B has affected his hitting. I agree he should be moved down in the lineup against right-handers.

    Comment by Dave T — July 14, 2010 @ 11:08 am

  14. the twins need to move the center of gravity up in their lineup and stop pretending to be a speedy small market team. against lefties, the top of the order would go
    *hudson (S)
    *mauer (L)
    *young (R)
    *morneau (L)
    *cuddyer
    - against righties, the twins would keep hudson at 1, then have span-cuddy hitting 5-6 to cut down on cuddy’s GIDP’s.there are 10 teams who’s scored more runs than the twins (including 5 NL teams). some of them are slow-footed too, but they make it work by moving their sluggers to the top of the order.

    Comment by yefrem — July 14, 2010 @ 11:12 am

  15. oops, forgot about thome. well, there is more wiggle room against righties anyway, but i would like to see cuddy stay at 3rd and let the sample pool get a little higher before judging his performance there. to me, thome, kubel, and cuddy need to be in the lineup against righties 100% of the time.

    Comment by yefrem — July 14, 2010 @ 11:19 am

  16. Arnold,

    We are striving for something more, but changing the manager isn’t going to get us there any faster. His lineups can be frustrating (sitting hardy on days when blackie, and liriano pitch in favor of having cuddy at 3b adn punto at short makes no sense, or not playing his best defensive outfield on days when Slowey is pitching is ridiculous), but giving players days off is a necessity over the course of the season and hardly ripable. A-rod gets days off, Jeter gets days off, Pujols doesn’t play everday. I’m sure Larussa, Cox, Girardi, Francona et al. trot out some JV (your word) lineups.

    BTW, when have you heard him soothing away looses and making excuses for his players? Simply because he doesn’t throw them under the bus in the press doesn’t mean he doesn’t hold them accountable.

    Get over it Gardy is not the problem, he’s not even in the top five of problems on this team.

    Comment by Brent — July 14, 2010 @ 11:21 am

  17. Tom Kelly was a really good manager early in his career, but by the end the guy was so crotchety and set in ways that he was no good anymore. What started out as a healthy desire to make young players earn their way turned into utter distain for young talent. He had also been around so long, he wouldn’t listen to anyone – he appeared to making management decisions based on spite.

    Gardy is similar to Kelly in a lot of ways, and I think he has been following the same path. Detroit is starting two true rookies in their outfield with excellent results. Does anyone think that a guy like Brennan Boesch would have more than 100 at-bats at this point playing under Gardy?

    Gardy is the biggest problem on this team because he is the obstacle to fixing the other problems. And while he has won five division titles, he basically soils himself every night when the playoffs start. The guy is an absolute laughingstock in New York.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — July 14, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

  18. Brent,

    Tolbert got hurt. Punto plays plenty. Valencia is actually hitting decent and fielding well, but Gardy plays his pal Cuddy there even though he is atrocious defensively and can’t even get a friggin sac fly, much less a base hit with runners on. Why doesn’t Cuddy shift down in the lineup? Why doesn’t Young move up? Why is Blackburn in the starting rotation? Why is Butera on this team?

    More than that, though, is that the team plays flat and without passion A LOT. Yeah, it’s a long season, but it just seems like Gardy’s extremely relaxed attitude is lulling this team to sleep.

    Comment by Arnold4321 — July 14, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

  19. One reason for the “collapse” that nobody has really mentioned is the tough schedule that the Twins have had the past two months, not to mention the entire first half. Let’s face it: they got screwed on the interleague schedule and had disappointing losses against the Braves, Rockies, and Mets (all teams in contention) in games they should have won. They could have easily gone 3-3 against the Yankees and 3-1 against the Rays. Earlier, they swept the Rangers and won 2 out of 3 from Boston. Through mid-July, they are entirely through playing the Yanks and BoSox (which you can’t say for either the Tigers or White Sox), halfway through with the Rays, Rangers, and Angels.

    Basically, they are holding their own against the good teams in the AL (and especially the AL Central). The biggest difference from years past was their poor interleague performance, a combination of bad scheduling luck, great pitchers faced, and a few slumping players *cough* Mauer and Blackburn *cough*.

    Over the next two months, they have an absurd amount of games against the AL Central teams (has anyone noticed how little they have faced Cleveland so far?), whom they have historically beaten up. The last time I remember an inner-division team noticeably crushing the Twins was the 2001 Indians.

    Apart from that, the Twins still haven’t played the now-Lee-less Mariners and they have more games against the A’s and Orioles. If they can continue to play mediocre, .500 ball against the best teams in the league (namely, they Rangers and Rays) while holding their own in their division and beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, the Twins will be fine. This first series after the break should be a good measure of how amazing the White Sox really are. I can easily envision the Twins in first place again by early August.

    Comment by Alex — July 14, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

  20. Butera is a FO decision. Blame Smith for his inclusion on the roster. Cuddy could be moved down and Young could definately be moved up, but I hardly think that is worth firing him over.

    Comment by Brent — July 14, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

  21. On the Twins problems: “is that the team plays flat and without passion A LOT. Yeah, it’s a long season, but it just seems like Gardy’s extremely relaxed attitude is lulling this team to sleep.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. The “never give up” and “little engine that could” attitude and energy level the Twins have become known for is not applicable to this team right now. Everything is so nonchalant and it frustrates me.

    Gardy sealed his own grave as far as fans are concerned a month or so back with his “Minnesota Twins! We’re in First Place guys!” comment. It discouraged me at the time that he was so content with how the Twins were playing. Then a week later, they fell to second place, and now third, and I haven’t seen anything to make me believe that attitude has changed. The team needs to wake up and reboot, hopefully the break will do that for them.

    Comment by Steve L. — July 14, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

  22. Like I said, the roster stuff and in-game management are aggravating, but most managers have to deal with some of that, and it’s easy to second-guess. My bigger problem is the overarching attitude, demeanor, culture, etc. of the team, which I think is a reflection of their manager, and I think is becoming a big problem.

    Of course, in the end, the players need to start playing better too. But I don’t think you can give Gardy a free pass here.

    Comment by Arnold4321 — July 14, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

  23. We are striving for something more, but changing the manager isn’t going to get us there any faster. His lineups can be frustrating (sitting hardy on days when blackie, and liriano pitch in favor of having cuddy at 3b adn punto at short makes no sense, or not playing his best defensive outfield on days when Slowey is pitching is ridiculous), but giving players days off is a necessity over the course of the season and hardly ripable.

    Thanks Brent, I think you just summed up some of Gardy’s deficiencies!

    I don’t think he should be fired, but he’s be a much better manager and the team would be far more successful if he used people to give them the best chance to succeed and help the team instead of stubbornly doing some of the things that he does.

    He handles the bullpen and the pitching staff relatively well. Why is he so reluctant to occasionally platoon people who would clearly benefit from it? (J Jones in years past, perhaps Kubel or Thome, now on occasion) This is what’s frustrating for followers and fans.

    Gardy isn’t the source of the teams swoon – that’s bad starting pitching and mediocre hitting, but the moves he has done haven’t alleviated those issues at all, if anything, they’ve very slightly magnified them. Anyone with a stat sheet could come up with a few different ways to address things (Cuddy at 3rd, Kubel and Thome vs. lefties). He doesn’t need to do them always, but sometimes would be nice.

    It took trading Castro to the Reds to get Gardy to quit playing him at short. That’s an example or ridiculous stubbornness. Or playing Punto everyday a few years ago despite hitting under .200 for almost the entire season. Who did that help? Certainly not the team.

    Comment by Son of Shane Mack — July 14, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

  24. “Couldn’t have said it better myself. The “never give up” and “little engine that could” attitude and energy level the Twins have become known for is not applicable to this team right now. Everything is so nonchalant and it frustrates me.”

    Need more players getting after it.

    Comment by ? — July 14, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

  25. Ya let’s trade for David Eckstein and bring Darin Erstad out of retirement. Then we’d have attitude and energy.

    Cripes what a load of crap. Since the beginning of forever, baseball teams look lethargic WHEN THEY DON’T HIT. They just do. That’s because unless you get some guys on base, you can’t really have a lot of hustling and, I don’t know, chalance?

    While I do think Mauer is hurt, it’s entirely possible that we (certainly I) may have overrated this team just a tad. (What? Cuddyer’s second half last year was a huge fluke?) It’s also entirely possible that, like last year and in ’03 (when the club was basically imploding at the break), that the Twins will bounce back. It’s even possible that, like last year, Bill Smith might actually make some moves that will help a bit.

    So, everybody chill. I think this weekend will tell us a lot about where things are headed…

    Comment by Neil — July 14, 2010 @ 5:43 pm

  26. get Koskie and Mienkievicz back, promote Jacque Jones and we are in business.

    Comment by ? — July 14, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  27. Alex, the A’s, Orioles and weak central opponents are not who the Twins will be facing if they manage to win the weak AL central. The point is that with multiple MVP’s and Gold Glover’s this team should be playing at a higher level against ALL competition. Also, no one is saying that players don’t need rest. But not all at once. Mauer had Sunday, Monday, played like 3-4 innings Tuesday had today off. Now we are hearing he may be hurt? I am so sick of players saying they are injured AFTER they perform like crepe for any period of time. Message to players: If you are hurt, tell the manager and sit that game out.

    Comment by large canine — July 14, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

  28. Its time for a change. see what another manager can do

    Comment by Scott — July 14, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

  29. Can someone tell me (or tell me how to find out) what our record is on the various days of the week (Sun, Mon etc)?

    Comment by Pat — July 15, 2010 @ 8:32 am

  30. I’m not sure it was thoroughly explored, but how many times early in the season did we have a chance to sweep teams, but because it was the last game of a series (day games often time), we lost the game. I realize this point is debatable as there are many reasons a team loses a game, but I did notice that Leland put in his best lineup against us the day before the All Star Break and we sent out a bottom third lineup that would make even the most stoic among us laugh out loud. I’ve always hated Gardenhire’s day game vacations and god dammit, Sunday games are the only games I can watch (don’t have cable).

    Comment by Brent B — July 15, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  31. Brent,

    That’s why I’d be curious to see what our record is on Sunday/Thursdays etc..does the “JV” lineup have a worse record then the “A” squad?

    Comment by Pat — July 15, 2010 @ 9:14 am

  32. Pat, see if this answers your question:

    Record when Butera starts: 6-12 (.333)
    Record when Mauer/Ramos starts: 40-30 (.571)

    Comment by Dan — July 15, 2010 @ 9:40 am

  33. I think that under the Gardenhire era we have seen him use the first half as a sort of litmus test to see what he’s working with that particular season. We’ve already seen one major move(Cuddyer to 3rd) and I bet more will be coming(pending any trades). I’m sure we’ll see Morales soon. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Duensing in the rotation or Slama get his call-up. I definitely think the lineup needs a shakeup.(move Mauer?) It will be interesting to see if there are changes starting tonight, or if they will be phased in over the next couple of weeks. Either way, I’m confident that Gardy will do what he needs to do to make this team start playing like they should. We may have an easy division, but that plays to our advantage because Gardy is able to make some changes and still stay close. The Twins are the best team in the division(but not the league), and if they fail to win it and make a playoff run, then I will start questioning Mr. Gardenhire.

    Comment by drfunke — July 15, 2010 @ 11:43 am

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