April 27, 2011

Twins Notes: Cuddyer, Mauer, Nishioka, Casilla, Perkins, and Gibson

Michael Cuddyer has hit just .160 in six starts at second base since Tsuyoshi Nishioka went down with a fractured fibula, but Ron Gardenhire announced that Cuddyer will be the primary second baseman until Nishioka returns from the disabled list next month. Gardenhire explained the decision by saying that using Cuddyer at second base allows him to get both Jason Kubel and Jim Thome into the lineup together, but that sounds far more valuable than it actually is.

Against right-handed pitchers having Kubel and Thome in the lineup together is great, but that could just as easily be accomplished by simply benching Cuddyer versus righties, off whom he has a measly .379 slugging percentage since the beginning of 2010. And against left-handed pitchers Kubel and Thome both struggle anyway, so using Cuddyer at second base to get their left-handed bats into the lineup accomplishes little except weakening the defense.

Cuddyer isn't potent versus righties and neither Kubel nor Thome are potent versus lefties, so Gardenhire making the move to get all three bats into the lineup suggests that he doesn't fully grasp the importance of platoon splits or is vastly overrating the player Cuddyer has become at age 32. Or maybe both. Either way, the Twins would likely be better off starting a superior defender at second base while benching Cuddyer for righties and Kubel or Thome for lefties.

• General manager Bill Smith announced yesterday that Joe Mauer will not be ready to come off the disabled list when eligible Thursday, which is no surprise. Smith told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Mauer is over the viral infection that caused him to lose 15 pounds and further complicated his bilateral leg weakness, but there's no official timetable for his return and a minor-league rehab assignment will be required before rejoining the Twins.

Drew Butera has started eight of 11 games in Mauer's absence, with Steve Holm drawing the other three assignments. Butera continues to do a fantastic job controlling the running game, but the endless praise for his pitch-calling has continued despite Twins pitchers posting a 5.18 ERA with him behind the plate and he's hitting .147 to bring his career line to .188/.225/.278 in 190 plate appearances. Brandon Wood is MLB's only active hitter with a lower career OPS.

• Smith also told Christensen that Nishioka "is on schedule, if not ahead of schedule" with his recovery that was initially expected to take 4-6 weeks from an April 7 injury, so that seemingly means he could be ready to come off the disabled list within a couple weeks. Gardenhire has obviously become increasingly comfortable with Cuddyer at second base, so I'm curious to see what happens if Alexi Casilla is still struggling by the time Nishioka is ready to return.

• Speaking of Casilla, despite being a little-known role player two prominent national writers recently had notes about him in their columns that featured scouts giving unflattering reports. One scout told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com that Casilla "is too out of control for me" and "he's more of a backup.'' Another scout told Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com that "you see his lack of instincts when he plays every day." Tough to argue with either assessment, unfortunately.

• I'm highly skeptical of Glen Perkins' early success given his 5.87 ERA in the majors and 5.49 ERA in the minors over the previous two seasons, but the combination of getting healthy and moving to the bullpen full time appear to have increased his velocity. He's averaged 92.4 miles per hour on his fastball compared to a career mark of 90.5. Perkins was never well-suited for a situational left-hander role, but being better versus righties can be a positive as a setup man.

• It sounds like Kevin Slowey is on the verge of being ready to return from his shoulder injury, but because of the rainouts the Twins will likely need a spot starter Sunday against the Royals and between the injury and beginning the year in the bullpen Slowey's arm isn't stretched out for more than 50-60 pitches. Among pitchers already on the 25-man roster recent call-up Eric Hacker is the most obvious candidate to start. He has a 4.36 ERA in 311 innings at Triple-A.

Top prospect Kyle Gibson is actually in line to start Sunday at Triple-A, but calling him up to face the Royals that day is unlikely, to say the least. Gibson has certainly pitched well enough to warrant the call-up, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his first start last week and striking out eight batters in six innings of one-run ball yesterday, but the Twins can delay his future free agency for an entire season by keeping him in the minors until at least June.

Justin Morneau missed six games with the same flu bug that got Mauer and Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com reports that he also needed a cortisone shot in his neck before finally returning to the lineup. Morneau is closer to breaking out than his bad numbers suggest, but his getting on track was tough enough without a week-long flu and neck issues. Delmon Young has also missed five straight games (and counting) with a rib injury, leading to some ugly lineups.

• Swapping the much-maligned Scott Ullger for Steve Liddle as third base coach hasn't led to fewer head-scratching outs at the plate. In terms of MLB-wide criticism third base coaches may trail only umpires, as both jobs involve successes going largely unnoticed and failures being obvious. With that said, it sure seems like the Twins have had a particularly awful run with Al Newman followed by Ullger and now Liddle. Some friendly advice: Don't test Shin-Soo Choo.

• Tommy John elbow surgery is much more common for pitchers, as the Twins have learned the hard way recently, but LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that outfield prospect Angel Morales and shortstop prospect Estarlin De Los Santos both have ligament injuries that may require the well-known surgery. Position players generally recovery far more quickly, but the Twins have had enough trouble rehabbing pitchers to make me nervous.

Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus took a much different approach than I did last week in examining the "pitch to contact" advice the Twins gave to Francisco Liriano, but still came to essentially the same conclusion: "Rather than making him more of a pitcher, it would probably just make him a more ordinary pitcher."

Sergio Santos was a former first-round pick turned minor-league journeyman who spent half of 2008 playing shortstop at Triple-A for the Twins. Now he's the White Sox's closer.

• Something to keep in mind as the Twins climb to .500: If you assume the Indians and Royals aren't going to actually win the AL Central then the Twins are just two games out of first place.

• I stumbled across these two pictures from last week that are basically Casilla in a nutshell:

26 Comments »

  1. Given the context of what was mentioned about him in this post, the pics of Casilla are comedy gold. Nice one AG.

    Comment by Hinkseams — April 27, 2011 @ 1:06 am

  2. FIRST!

    Comment by Brick Baseball House — April 27, 2011 @ 1:16 am

  3. Do you really want to take Kubel out of the lineup right now, regardless of which arm an opposing pitcher throws with? I wouldn’t

    Comment by hmm — April 27, 2011 @ 1:30 am

  4. Cuddyer isn’t potent versus righties and neither Kubel nor Thome are potent versus lefties, so Gardenhire making the move to get all three bats into the lineup suggests that he doesn’t fully grasp the importance of platoon splits or is vastly overrating the player Cuddyer has become at age 32.

    Yes and Yes.

    There’s amble evidence over his managerial career to support both statements.

    Comment by Son of Shane Mack — April 27, 2011 @ 1:42 am

  5. FYI, Gibson would still need six years after this one to become a free agent. It takes six full seasons. Arbitration can be had at around 2.75 years (the top 1/6 of the “2′s” become eligible), but a spot start followed by a demotion wouldn’t really affect that. If you believe Gibson is here to stay out of spring next year, there’s basically no short term move that’s going to have a negative effect on his service time, wrt the Twins.

    Comment by Twinstalker — April 27, 2011 @ 2:15 am

  6. A rant out of nowhere.

    Johan Santana for…zero.
    Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young.
    Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps.
    I feel I’m missing one.

    I thought Ryan was horribly overmatched at the major league level of his duties. He looks like a genius compared to Bill Smith. For those who will defend the Young trade, oh to have had Bartlett for the last three years…and now especially this year. Not to mention, Garza would be their best starter over the last three years.

    I wrote Smith emails telling him he just gave away Santana for zero, that he really messed up in the Young deal, and that Ramos was exactly the player we needed to pair with Mauer this year and going forward (and that the Fuentes deal sort of showed the worth of someone like Capps). Hardy and Rauch were technically traded for Santana fodder, but both those deals were about the Twins taking on salary the other team had to get rid of.

    Given that I wrote Smith immediately after these deals were done (hence, to no avail), I decided to be proactive this year and explain to him that Slowey was probably the second best pitcher on his staff. I’ve done it twice now, but I fear Slowey will be gone anyway. At least I can do the “I told him so.”

    I kind of like Delmon and have some hope for him, but he’s been bad, worse than his basic numbers show. He’ll be good maybe right about free agency.

    I bring this all up because it’s driving me nuts, and I need to vent. We have one of the worst GMs in baseball. And he’ll likely have the job for life, just like Gardentool. Basically, we have two perennial all-stars, one a hall of famer, and it’s just about too late to have anything to show for it. Instead of adding, Smith’s subtracted.

    Comment by Twinstalker — April 27, 2011 @ 2:38 am

  7. Small sample size, but Trevor Plouffe is 13-42 with 3 2B, 1 3B, and 4 HR versus RHP this season. (.310/.385/.714) Also note, both of Plouffe’s MLB home runs were against RHP (Fausto Carmona and Jason Frasor). Maybe the Twins can swap Luke Hughes for Plouffe until Nishioka returns.

    Comment by Ben H. — April 27, 2011 @ 4:12 am

  8. I think at this point Cuddyer is the most senior Twins player on the roster. I remember seeing him in 2002 at the Metrodome against the Angels, and I am fairly sure that no one else from that team is on this one. That was also Gardy’s first year as manager, so it isn’t all that surprising that Gardy is protecting him by highlighting his versatility.

    Cuddyer can play second, just as Matt LeCroy could play catcher. OK, OK maybe I am being a little harsh. I don’t expect Cuddyer to make Gardy cry after the game. But Cuddy’s skill is between a backup and emergency middle infielder. Sub-Hocking level utility with the glove. Never have the Twins missed Punto so much.

    I would disagree overall with much of the tone of this post though. Despite all of the adversary, the meager offense, the sketchy defense, and all those blown saves, the Twins have the opportunity to end the month from scheduling hell at .500.

    The Twins always lose on the road to the AL East. And after this month, they will almost be done with all of them. The only place they didn’t go was Fenway and they have a lot better record there than at the Skydome or Yankee Stadium or Catwalk Field in recent years.

    And hopefully later in the season, Tolbert won’t be the only player at 100 percent.

    Comment by wengler — April 27, 2011 @ 4:13 am

  9. Adversity* Sorry it’s 4am after all.

    Comment by wengler — April 27, 2011 @ 4:17 am

  10. Cuddy is my favorite player. His twitter account is fun to read and his flicker page is a must see. I just wish he was pkaying better.

    Kubel has been hitting lefties this year. He is the only batter hitting well so taking him out of the lineup is not a good move.

    Comment by mark — April 27, 2011 @ 7:09 am

  11. With Nishi out, who would you suggest we put at 2nd base that’s a “superior defender”? No great options. Tolbert? I don’t want Thome sitting while Tolbert gets AB’s. Hughes? No better than Cuddyer. Sorry, but I’ll take Cuddy for a couple of weeks…

    Comment by Tom — April 27, 2011 @ 7:20 am

  12. With Punto gone, it looks like Gardy has transferred his man crush to Cuddyer.

    Twinstalker: I hope you realize that guys who send frequent unsolicited emails criticizing the GM soon have those emails forwarded to security and placed in the “potential stalker” folder.

    Comment by Tom — April 27, 2011 @ 8:25 am

  13. You don’t have to take Kubel out vs lefties, just give Thome a night off. No matter what you’re going to have a lefty DH, but you don’t need to have a lefty RF and DH on nights where we’re facing a lefty.

    Comment by sandbun — April 27, 2011 @ 8:36 am

  14. Casilla is awful. We’ve known this for several years. This organization decided it was more important to have Capps than to have Hardy. I disagree with the prioritization of the positions. I disagree with about half of what this organization does. I still just want them to win, and I still listen to the games. But, man, the desperation to keep certain veterans around and in lineups has always confused me with this coaching staff. I’m not sure what the better option than Cuddy is right now, but it’s not like Hughes got a real shot.

    Frankly, I’d like Plouffe up, and Casilla cut. He’ll always be too tempting to make a regular to keep him around (not sure how, but he will). I’d like to just hand the job to Plouffe for the year, and to see what he does.

    What I think will happen is that Nishi will move to SS, and they’ll have a weak armed SS, and a 2B with no real glove. There will be lots of balls just out of their reach, and the ERA of the team will go up.

    Can someone explain to me what defensive value a catcher actually brings to a game other than his throwing out basestealers? Butera is awful, horrible, as a hitter. I’m not sure how any defense he may have can make up for being the worst hitter in MLB.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — April 27, 2011 @ 8:39 am

  15. I hate this argument: “oh to have had Bartlett for the last three years”.

    Bartlett had one great season, and has been just as average or worse than the Twins SS’s in all others while playing average-at-his-best defense.

    Bartlett’s last year as a Twin: .699 OPS, then .690, .879 (the ‘great’ year), and .675 in his years with the Rays. His OPS is .568 so far in 2011.

    Twins Shortstops since he left – 2008: Harris .721, Punto .726. 2009: Cabrera .705, Harris .672. 2010: Hardy .714, Casilla .726.

    Hardy, in his injury riddled season last year, had a 2.4 WAR, Bartlett’s was just 0.7 in 34 more games…

    What exactly about Bartlett makes you think the Twins would be awesome with him? And I’m not saying that he wouldn’t be better than Casilla has been so far this year, but the Twins gave up on him and traded him, Rays gave up on him and traded him…seems like a trend. Bartlett’s an OK player, but not a difference maker, especially with his D…

    Comment by Steve L. — April 27, 2011 @ 9:01 am

  16. I’m with Gleeman, skeptical about Perkins so far, but if his velocity truly is up he might be able to string together some real success in the bullpen. However, when I hear about a guy who used to top out at about 91mph throwing “97″, my first instinct is to question the radar gun before getting excited about additional velocity.

    That said, if he’s able to consistently hump it up to 95+ now, that should make him a much more effective late innings guy. assuming he can stay healthy.

    The middle infield is a mess right now, but Cuddyer doesn’t look like the answer. Hopefully Nishioka will be back in a week or 2, but he still needs some time. But I do think there’s a real concern that Gardy will decide to install Cuddy in at 2B in order to ditch Casilla. Which would be fine if A) Cuddy was hitting well, B) Nishioka was established at SS, and C) Cuddy was closer to average at 2B. But none of those things are true.

    Comment by Josh — April 27, 2011 @ 9:52 am

  17. Ya, we should be clear on the service time thing with Gibson. Bringing him up in June isn’t to delay free agency another year, it’s to delay arbitration another year. I probably don’t need to tell you the rules, but just in case anyone is interested, the way it works is getting called up for opening day starts your clock running, and so the 6 years service time will be accumulated in 6 straight seasons, so anyone called up to start this year should be a FA in 2017. If you’re called up between opening day and early June, you’re likely to qualify for the “Super Two” exception and become arbitration eligible for arbitration for the 2014 season, but still won’t become a free agent until 2018, you’ll just get 4 years of arbitration. Personally, it makes sense to me to not let a hot prospect break camp with the big team so that they stay under control, but if the team is hurting (a la the Giants and Posey last year) waiting the extra 2-3 months to call them up for at most a couple million down the road seems more iffy to me.

    Comment by Paul — April 27, 2011 @ 10:10 am

  18. I haven’t seen Cuddyer suck at 2nd. He doesn’t have much range but has made some good plays. I haven’t seen anything yet to indicate he is a horrible fielder at 2nd. That may change but he only has to handle the position for a month. There is no ‘superior’ defender to replace Cuddyer with. The entire argument is pointless. If Tolbert, Hughes etc are superior defenders I would take Cuddyer. Tolbert, Hughes & company are so bad on the offensive side that any plus in the defense is totally offset. Gardy has this one spot on. The platoon split would make great sense if there was a replacement.

    Comment by Sean — April 27, 2011 @ 10:20 am

  19. Yep, this is exactly what the Nats did with Stephen Strasberg last year.

    Who would have thought at this time last year that the Twins would need a catcher?

    Comment by funoka — April 27, 2011 @ 10:22 am

  20. Steve L. – My beef with trading Bartlett is, we traded him for !@#$%% Harris. My beef with your analysis of shortstops is, you are using OPS to grade your shortstops. OPS is the tiebreaker. What the Twins need from a shortstop is superior fielding.

    Comment by Dave T — April 27, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  21. I remember when we were all wondering whether Cuddyer could play third a few years ago. There were the complaints of poor defense and a hearing problem. Now he’s playing 2nd? I’m guessing the slim hope that his bat will make him productive is keeping him around. And it better soon or he shouldn’t be starting at any position anymore. Those Casilla pictures are a riot.

    Comment by Wachs — April 27, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

  22. Bartlett graded out very well defensively when he was with the Twins, but that dropped off severely during his 3 years with the Rays, with UZRs of 2.0, -5.6, -10.4. Given that, the defense is fairly comparable between him and Casilla, hence the OPS references. Don’t get me wrong, the team has serious middle infield issues, but lets calm down with the rose-colored glasses about Bartlett.

    Comment by JS — April 27, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

  23. So, we all agree they can’t draft and develop MIF? Can we at least agree on that?

    Comment by mike wants WINS — April 27, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

  24. “What the Twins need from a shortstop is superior fielding.” -> Which Bartlett clearly is not as well…

    Comment by Steve L. — April 27, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

  25. So if the Twins have determined, say, that June 10th is the day they can safely call up Gibson and avoid him becoming a “super-two”, then why not call him up for the spot start, send him down the next day, and adjust that date to Jume 11th? I must be missing something, because that’s REALLY gaming the system. Is there a minimum number of days of service time that a guy gets for being called up? Even if it’s 10 days, I’ll take delaying the permanent call up of Gibson by 10 more days than spot starting Hacker.

    Comment by Brian — April 27, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

  26. Young may finally go to the DL. This is the third year in a row where guys have missed more than a week before going on the DL. Do other teams do this to themselves?

    Comment by mike wants wins — April 27, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

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