July 29, 2010

Twins Notes: Valencia, Mauer, Young, Harris, and Rumors

• Beating up on the cellar-dwelling Orioles and Royals tends to make teams look good, but the Twins have won 10 of 14 to go from 4.5 games behind the White Sox to just one game back despite playing that entire stretch minus Justin Morneau. Even without the AL's second-best hitter for the past 18 games the Twins now lead the league in batting average, rank second in on-base percentage, and are two runs from trailing only the Yankees and Red Sox in scoring.

Danny Valencia went 0-for-3 with a walk yesterday to snap an amazing hot streak that saw him go 14-for-19 (.737) during a four-game stretch. Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com looked it up and since 1993 the only players to rack up more than 14 hits in four games are Johnny Damon (2000), Mike Benjamin (1995), and Brett Butler (1995). Valencia is now hitting .387/.441/.495 in 30 games overall after batting just .292/.347/.387 in 49 games at Triple-A before his call-up.

Obviously he'll be coming back down to earth soon enough and if you look beyond the flukishly high batting average he hasn't shown much pop with one homer and a .108 Isolated Power in 93 at-bats, but his 12-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio is a positive sign after Valencia struck out 71 times versus 22 walks at Triple-A and his defense has been far better than I expected based on the not-so-positive reviews the Twins put out there last season and this spring.

• As noted previously in this space, I've heard rumblings for much of the season regarding Joe Mauer being more hurt (and with a wider variety of injuries) than he's let on publicly, so it was interesting to read one of my favorite writers, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, tackle the topic in a column yesterday. Passan predictably wasn't able to get Mauer or anyone else to definitively comment on specific injuries, but it's pretty clear that he's very banged up physically.

Despite that Mauer went 9-for-13 (.692) with a home run and four doubles in the three-game sweep of the Royals, including 5-for-5 with seven RBIs in Monday's slaughtering. He passed up a chance for a sixth hit in the eighth inning, amusingly telling Ron Gardenhire "no, I'm good." It was the fourth five-hit game of his career, which ties Victor Martinez for the second-most of all time by a catcher. Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi holds the record with six five-hit games.

Mauer is now 21-for-52 (.404) with two homers, nine doubles, and 17 RBIs in a dozen games to begin the second half. He's nowhere near last year's MVP-winning numbers, but duplicating that historic performance was never likely anyway and his current .310/.377/.465 line is more or less identical to his pre-2009 career mark of .317/.399/.457. In fact, it may be slightly better if you factor in the move to pitcher-friendly Target Field and scoring being down across MLB.

• Delmon Young is crushing the ball and Matt Garza tossed a no-hitter Monday night against the Tigers, so the 2007 trade that sent Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to Tampa Bay for Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie is suddenly a very popular topic again. Twins fans who're rightfully excited about Young's breakout won't want to hear it, but the Rays are still clearly in the lead based on Wins Above Replacement since the November 28, 2007 deal:

TWINS                WAR          RAYS                 WAR
Delmon Young        +0.6          Matt Garza          +7.6
Brendan Harris      +0.2          Jason Bartlett      +7.0
Jason Pridie        -0.3          Eduardo Morlan       0.0
TOTAL               +0.5          TOTAL              +14.6

To put those numbers into some context, Mauer as been worth 5.8 WAR per 150 games. So in terms of production and value received from the trade, the Rays have an edge of basically 2.5 seasons from Mauer. At the moment the trade looks far less horrible for the Twins than it did in 2008 and 2009, but Young playing well for four months doesn't wipe away his playing terribly for the previous two years or Garza and Bartlett both being huge contributors for the Rays.

Since the trade Garza has 516 innings with a 3.89 ERA, which is better than any Twins starter in that time, and Bartlett has a .761 OPS that's close to the .780 OPS from Young even without factoring in the huge defense/position gap. I'm thrilled that Young has figured things out and the deal is starting to lean in the Twins' favor, but let's not get crazy with the hyperbole. Can't we recognize his emergence without re-writing history and going completely over the top?

• Speaking of Harris, he's hit just .238/.273/.386 with a hideous 23-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 games at Rochester since being dropped off the 40-man roster, passed through waivers unclaimed, and demoted to Triple-A. He's making $1.45 million this year and is still owed $1.75 million for 2011, so a return to Minnesota remains very possible at some point, but he's looking more and more like a washed-up sunk cost. I'll never understand why he got a multi-year deal.

• Earlier this week I wrote about the negative impact outfield defense has had on the Twins' pitching staff and Adam Peterson of Twinkie Town did some serious numbers-crunching to find that my analysis "appears to be correct." He goes into a whole lot more depth than that, so if you're into learning about the pitching-defense relationship his work is worth checking out. Of course, if Jason Repko continues to start regularly in right field that changes things quite a bit.

• There is sure to be all kinds of Twins-related trade speculation between now and Saturday's deadline. I've never really filled AG.com with rumor-collecting and don't plan to start now, but I will be tracking the pre-deadline rumors for the Twins and every other team at Hardball Talk, where I've been writing an average of 15 posts per day. And, of course, if the Twins actually make a move before Saturday afternoon I'll have a full write-up here.

25 Comments »

  1. word up.

    Comment by Andrew — July 29, 2010 @ 12:17 am

  2. as always, killer analysis.

    i’m starting to not look like that much of a d-bag for buying a delmonzey jersey 2 1/2 years ago.

    i also agree with the analysis you linked to re: repko. even though he’s antiquated (at the age of 29), his speed, hustle, apparent defensive prowess and passable bat would be a shame to DFA if and when Hudson and Morneau come back. would also hate to part w/Casilla and get nothing for him on the flip side of that.

    i’m curious, what would be your (AG) solution to this presupposed problem the Twins will face w/their 25 man roster be when Morneau and Hudson come back?

    a friend and i were talking yesterday and we came to the conclusion that repko is likely the odd man out and will most assuredly latch on to another club as a fourth outfielder, if nothing else, based on his solid play w/the Twins recently.

    Comment by mike — July 29, 2010 @ 3:18 am

  3. Must keep Repko and cull Mahay from the pitching staff.

    Comment by Chris — July 29, 2010 @ 3:39 am

  4. Neither of them are coming back before the trade deadline, so its possible room could open up with some trades.

    Comment by Scott — July 29, 2010 @ 7:48 am

  5. Repko’s a good fit for this team, but let’s not go overboard. He’s still a 29-year-old with a career .690 OPS.

    What I still have a hard time understanding is how our bad outfield defense hurts Liriano and Baker, when both have pitched so much better at home. Presumably spacious Target Field would make our bad outfield defense badder, wouldn’t it?

    And I love the first comment on the Twinkie Town article. I hope AG sees it.

    Comment by Neil — July 29, 2010 @ 7:53 am

  6. Why even throw Delmon a strike? Has he walked more than once in all of July? If I am the opposing pitcher, I throw him off-speed stuff down and away, hard stuff down and in, and dare him to swing. There is absolutely no reason to throw him a strike right now: let him get himself out. The man has become a monster, and you don’t feed monsters.

    Comment by Old Twins Cap — July 29, 2010 @ 8:18 am

  7. You’re right in saying that TB has benefited from the trade most so far, but I think the way that HBT addressed it is more practical.
    The Twins traded a 24 year old pitcher for a 22 year old outfielder (ignoring the other pieces). It’s not right for anyone to expect a 22 year old to be a good hitter immediately. Yes, Delmon took his time while Garza flourished, but he’s now 24 years old and is blossoming.
    There’s no guarantee that this lasts even longer than next weekend, but it looks like he’s turned a corner of sorts.
    As desperate as we are to have answers today, I think this trade shouldn’t be really analyzed until each of them have had a chance to play in their respective primes.
    All of that said, it would be awfully nice to have a pitcher with “plus” stuff in a rotation that’s in need of it.
    Best of luck to Delmon. I hope his success continues.

    Comment by Dre — July 29, 2010 @ 9:05 am

  8. Neil — When it comes to Gleeman, there are two things people love: to agree with Gleeman, or to vehemently disagree with Gleeman. Agreeing is good.

    Comment by jesse — July 29, 2010 @ 9:08 am

  9. I ran the WAR calculations 2 days ago and according to Fangraphs Delmon/Harris was still below Garza/Bartlett for just 2010. Win Shares told the same story. With B-ref’s calculation of WAR and BP’s WARP the Tampa2 had a huge advantage over Delmon/Harris. Delmon’s continued the hot bat since then but by most calculations he’s not closing the gap, best case scenario its just not getting bigger.

    Comment by NTR — July 29, 2010 @ 9:37 am

  10. spot on analysis on the trade but I think we should consider these 2 points too while analysis the trade:
    1) How much money was paid to them. Right now, its not too much different but that might change in the future.
    2) What is there projected future value (or trade value). ie if we traded Delmon today would we get a Garza or not?

    Comment by ak103 — July 29, 2010 @ 9:44 am

  11. the real question in my mind is, is the DY trade worthwhile if the twins can’t afford to resign him? Obviously, if you go by WAR it is not. however, the statistic is cumulative, and is trending in the twins favor. so, how to afford DY in 2011?

    Comment by yefrem — July 29, 2010 @ 10:06 am

  12. Ugh, the wins above replacement argument. I’m working my way through the Jonah Keri/Baseball Prospectus book, so my knowledge of sabermetrics is still pretty novice. But I don’t think you can honestly measure up the Delmon for Garza trade by tallying up WAR values in side-by-side columns for the players involved. Even if we assumed that WAR actually measures what it claims to, you’d be totally ignoring the intangible reasons for the trade, as well as CURRENT PERFORMANCE. For example, an analysis like that would be worthless for a trade like C.C Sabathia for Matt LaPorta b/c one of them is the prime of his career, while the other was a prospect not even in the majors yet. Even though Garza and Young were more similar in age, I don’t like that comparison here either. Trades aren’t “won” or “lost” based on cumulative value–it’s about acquiring an asset that you probably couldn’t acquire through other means (free agency, the draft, pursuing other trades). The Rays have now given up on two 1st overall picks (1999 – Josh Hamiltion & 2003 – Delmon) who are both candidates for MLB Player of the Month on other teams. Except for Aaron Hicks (who was nowhere near the level of prospect Delmon was in ’03), the Twins haven’t been able to produce an OF with the skill set and potential that Delmon has. I NEVER came to the conclusion that we had lost that trade because Garza could still blow his arm out tomorrow, and we have a 24-year-old OF who is only beginning to show what he’s capable of.

    Comment by Jeff H — July 29, 2010 @ 10:22 am

  13. Also, WAR doesn’t work in that context, because when you’re talking about a specific TEAM, the “replacement” player isn’t somebody off the waiver wire…it would be somebody else on our roster, like Jason Kubel or Denard Span in LF. For the Rays, the replacement might be Wade Davis or Jeremy Hellickson. In other words, the stat tells us nothing about what the Rays and Twins would’ve done to replace those guys had the trade never been made.

    Comment by Jeff H — July 29, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  14. Well said, jeffh

    Comment by yefrem — July 29, 2010 @ 10:35 am

  15. The question should not be who got the better value. Few trades end up with both teams receiving equal value – you just can’t precisely predict future performance. Rather, the question should be whether the Twins made a trade that was indefensible. Whether Bill Smith screwed us. A year ago, it seemed like the answer was yes. With Delmon’s emergence (and Barlett’s regression) the answer now is pretty clearly no.

    Now we just need Deolis Guerra to break out.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — July 29, 2010 @ 10:42 am

  16. it raises the question, why IS the DY trade “suddenly very popular again?”

    i admit, i do feel conned out of that trade, and i think WAR is a valid measure of how unbalanced the trade was (even if your “replacement” is jason kubel or denard span). but the focus at this point should be finding payroll room to resign DY, but that conversation hasn’t gotten legs yet.

    Comment by yefrem — July 29, 2010 @ 10:44 am

  17. Always so hard for this guy (Gleeman) to give Delmon credit for anything. You know it pains him when he has to…

    Comment by anonymous — July 29, 2010 @ 11:24 am

  18. Jeff H, good points. At the time of the trade the Twins needed an out fielder and a third baseman. The Twins had excess pitching. Let’s say we kept Garza and Barlett. What would the Twins lineup looked like the past few years? We never did solve the 3b issue. We would not have signed OCab or JJ but our pitching may have been better. What would the Twins OF looked like? Span/Gomez/Cuddy with Kubel as DH? Hard to say.

    Comment by Large Canine — July 29, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  19. Maybe this is just my own mental accounting for the trade, but to me the Garza/DY part of the trade is indeterminate and still could work out very well – it’s the Bartlett/Harris part of the trade where we irrefutably lost. We thought we were downgrading modestly, a price we were willing to pay to get what we perceived to be better player in the Garza/DY swap. Instead, we got a massive downgrade, from a very good starting SS to a guy now stuck in AAA. That part of the trade may not look *as* bad if Bartlett doesn’t turn it around, but it’s hard to imagine Harris ever making up the WAR deficit he’s already racked up. So while you can at least construct a reasonable argument that DY/Garza was worth it, we really got hosed on the other half that few people talk about.

    Comment by thegeneral13 — July 29, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

  20. Where was the article telling people to settle down about their excitement over Kubel? A disdain for Young comes through in your writing. You make the trade sound like a knock on Delmon. Why should he have to out-perform two players by himself? You don’t have to be a homer, just be fair.

    Comment by jo — July 29, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

  21. Re: Harris.

    Actually, since sucking in his first 11 games or so in Rochester (in a very similar fashion to his Twins non-performance), Brendan Harris has kinda been tearing it up. I keep thinking Seth or Roger at TwinkieTown or somebody will highlight this, but since you’ve done the opposite here I think it’s worth noting his .931 OPS in the last 10 games, .354 BA since July 11th. (Sorry, that’s the only number I can calculate from the firstinning game log section — I’m not going to go game by game through milb.com to calculate OPS since the 11th, but eyeballing it it looks to be closer to or north of 1.000).

    Yes, arbitrary cut-off, etc., but the point is: he’s been going pretty good. The guy is just not the terrible baseball player he was for 2 months in MN this year, but he was a dude with a pretty F’d up psyche — no thanks to Prof. Gardenhire, to be sure. He needed to go to AAA to get it together and it looks like he may be righting the ship, and given the contract that’s a good thing.

    Comment by toby — July 29, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

  22. @toby

    jason repko, a guy the same age as harris, with identical career averages, has been hitting basically as well IN THE MAJORS since july 11.

    sorry, but i’m done with harris. too many strike 3′s looking. too passive, bad attitude. repko at least has some fire.

    Comment by yefrem — July 29, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

  23. Taking Toby’s calculations and estimations of the recent production of Harris as being accurate, I agree that he probably 1) will regain his stroke; and 2) will thus likely be back up here before the September callups. My issue with Harris was never his bat (even this year – as stated above, he is better than he performed – although the same is true of Bartlett). My problem is that he is and always has been barely a shadow of Bartlett when it comes to fielding. No range, no arm and no confidence – and he is now no longer young – what we see and saw is all the Twins will ever get from him with the glove. This part of the 2007 trade is abysmal.

    Comment by marietta mouthpiece — July 29, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

  24. Jeff H,

    In terms of value, there’s not a better measure than WAR, so why isn’t that a valid tool in analyzing the trade, especially when the two major compenents of the deal (Young and Garza) are a left fielder and a pitcher? Did you have a better statistic in mind for comparing players at different positions? Plus, Span and Kubel are not replacement level players. Replacement is exactly defined as a minor leaguer or waiver player, or even a player from a team’s bench. But I think Aaron’s primary point is that the Rays still have the edge and Young is going to have to do a lot more to balance it out.

    Also, Aaron, did you only calcuate WAR through last season? I come up with 1.8 WAR for DY through this season, and that’s according to Fan Graphs.

    Comment by Scott — July 29, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

  25. Aaron, please tell us Wilson Ramos will not be traded for Matt Capps, as hardballtalk suggests. How can a guy rumored to anchor a deal for Cliff Lee anchor a deal for Matt Capps?!

    Comment by doug — July 29, 2010 @ 8:59 pm

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