June 15, 2011

Twins Notes: Immobilized, underrated, grated, deteriorated, and elevated

• Just when the Twins are finally getting key players healthy Justin Morneau has been put on the disabled list. And not with symptoms from last year's concussion or the neck pain that led to cortisone injections last month, but because of a wrist injury the origin of which was never really explained. Answers given last night were oddly vague, but Nick Nelson had a source tell him that "Morneau's wrist injury was the result of a locker room tirade after a strikeout."

Whatever the case, the Twins announced last night that Morneau's wrist will be "immobilized" for 10 days. General manager Bill Smith explained that "we're looking at this as a short-term event," but nearly every recovery timetable the Twins have issued this season has proven to be wildly optimistic. Morneau being shut down with Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka on the verge of rejoining the lineup is unfortunate, but Morneau hasn't looked like himself anyway.

He showed some flashes at various points, but was never able to string together any kind of hot streak and went 2-for-27 following a two-homer game on May 31. Morneau was batting .345 with 18 homers and a 1.055 OPS in 81 games at the time of his concussion last July. After nine months on the sidelines he's hit just .225 with four homers and a .619 OPS in 55 games this season. At this point some more time on the DL might be the best thing for Morneau.

• With the Twins now playing well enough to get people thinking about winning the thoroughly mediocre division MinnPost boss Joel Kramer passed along 2007 analysis from Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus examining the largest comebacks of all time. Baseball Prospectus recently made its archives free and the article is worth checking out, as you can see where the Twins overcoming their current deficit would rank and where their amazing 2006 comeback fits.

Carson Cistulli at Fan Graphs crunched the numbers and concluded that Denard Span might be the most underrated player in baseball. I wouldn't go quite that far, but twice in the past week I've written that Span has been the Twins' most valuable all-around player this year and both times multiple comments and e-mails strongly disagreed. His performance has definitely flown under the radar, so hopefully the concussion doesn't derail Span's season.

• Speaking of Span being underrated ... I couldn't care less about the All-Star game, but given what I wrote here last month about the local media's treatment of Michael Cuddyer (and the reaction I got from some members of the local media) it was amusing to see Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune devote an entire column to Cuddyer being deserving of an All-Star spot with a .273/.339/.423 hitting line and versatile but poor defense.

• With every Matt Capps blown save giving up Wilson Ramos for a "proven closer" looks even worse. Capps is 24-for-31 (78 percent) converting saves since the deal, whereas Jon Rauch was 21-for-25 (84 percent) prior to being replaced and is now 7-for-9 (78 percent) in Toronto while earning half as much as Capps. Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently wrote that Rauch "might have been a keeper if his personality hadn't grated on the Twins."

Flawed logic regarding the closer role led to mistakenly thinking Capps was a big upgrade over Rauch, poor decision-making led to paying a premium for that non-existent upgrade in the form of a top catching prospect, and the Twins compounded the problem by evaluating Rauch based more on personality than performance or cost. Ramos' current OPS is 30 points above average for a catcher and he's thrown out an MLB-high 50 percent of steal attempts at age 23.

• Christensen also penned a lengthy article about something that has been a frequent topic in this space, which is that the oft-repeated notion of "playing the right way" and "doing the little things" being "the Twins way" has become more perception and less reality with each season. National media members and people who mostly pay attention to other teams haven't caught on yet, but I'm glad to see someone with a mainstream audience busting the myth.

• My grandpa has said for years now that Toby Gardenhire will eventually be the Twins' utility infielder, which I've always laughed off because ... well, he's a career .230/.293/.268 hitter in the minors and nepotism can only go so far, right? Maybe. Tyler Mason wrote a lengthy profile of the manager's 28-year-old son for FSN's website, and between the "Toby Gardenhire moves closer to MLB debut" title and article's content it no longer seems so far fetched. An excerpt:

Gardenhire, now with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, is closer than ever to his dream. A call to the majors, however, would mean something more for him: the chance to be coached by his father, Ron, the Minnesota Twins' manager. "Having my dad up there, it would probably just be an added bonus," said Toby Gardenhire, 28, who is primarily a shortstop but has been a jack-of-all-trades in the minor leagues.

"If somebody told me Toby's the guy, we think he deserves a shot to come up here, I don't know how I'd handle it, to tell you the truth," said his dad. "I'd have to regroup. But I know he's worked really, really hard and he's played very well. If that ever happens, it would be a really, really cool thing."

Gardenhire is hitting .254 with a .291 on-base percentage and .349 slugging percentage in 39 games at Rochester for a .640 OPS that's dead last on the team. Yet his dad says "he's played very well" and "has actually swung the bat very, very well." Triple-A manager Tom Nieto says "he's really progressed." Mason notes his "elevated play." Meanwhile, even Drew Butera beat Gardenhire's career OPS by 70 points in the minors. I'm starting to think my grandpa is right.

Anthony Slama's latest "opportunity" lasted all of two games, as the Twins didn't even see fit to give him a chance when they had the league's worst record and a bullpen in flux. He has a 2.10 ERA and 370 strikeouts in 274 innings as a minor leaguer, including a 2.71 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 106 innings at Triple-A, yet is 27 years old with a grand total of seven games in the majors. Slama isn't going to be great, but he might be useful and they'll never know.

• If the Twins opt to move Mauer to another position in 2012 they ought to call the Reds. John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote recently that catcher prospect Devin Mesoraco "killing it in Triple-A" may soon force the Reds to call him up, at which point "a lot of teams would likely be interested in Ramon Hernandez or Ryan Hanigan." Hernandez is 35 years old, but Hanigan is a 30-year-old career .275/.375/.365 hitter with a good arm under team control through 2014.

• Old friend J.J. Hardy hasn't been injury free in Baltimore, missing a month with a strained oblique muscle, but he's yet to make an error in 37 games while hitting .299/.371/.493 for an .864 OPS that ranks third among all MLB shortstops. He's played so well that Orioles president and former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail wants to keep Hardy from becoming a free agent after the season by signing him to a contract extension before the All-Star break. Sigh.

• Earlier this week Nick Nelson and I had a Twitter discussion about Francisco Liriano and all this "pitch to contact" stuff, which Sean Schulte at Hitting The Foul Pole pieced together along with his own take.

• To preview the (now rain-shortened) Chicago series marvelously named White Sox blogger J.J. Stankevitz asked me some questions over at Beerleaguer.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota computer repair shop TCPC Services, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your computer problems.

21 Comments »

  1. I hadn’t realized that Toby was 28. Its kind of sad to be that old and playing in the minors unless you had some major injury or something. Given (big) Gardy’s love of mediocre middle infielders, he’s certainly in the right organization.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — June 14, 2011 @ 10:45 pm

  2. Pedro, the average age of the Red Wings is just over 27 and the average age in the International League is just under 27, so no one is exactly ready to name Toby “Grandpa.” The fact he got to AAA has more to do with Twins injuries than anything.

    Comment by SoCalTwinsfan — June 15, 2011 @ 12:25 am

  3. have we the wrong doctors??? or whats happening out here????

    Comment by chris — June 15, 2011 @ 12:54 am

  4. He’s been struggling with a sore wrist for a while now. I’m willing to place my bets on TFCC. (google it, but it’s damage to the cartilage ‘package’ on the outside of the wrist) It’s the sort of thing that can be chronic and comes and goes, common in tennis players. When it kicks in, your wrist strength goes to zip in some directions, and the pain excruciating, especially when you do any rotation of the forearm. Initial ‘cure’ is to immobilize it and let it settle down. Sometimes they need to go in and clean up the damage, other times, the cartilage tears free of the bone and requires a much more intensive surgery, and longer rehab (several months). My guess is that it’s been bothering him a while and he took a wild, uncontrolled swing at something and damaged (aggravated) it even more. (I know quite a bit about it, having it myself, and considering learning to play disc golf right handed)

    Comment by JB (the original) — June 15, 2011 @ 6:59 am

  5. What’s up with all thsi “grating personality” crap? Isn’t it the job of the front office to find the best talent available, and the job of the manager to MANAGE THE TALENT AT HAND? Hey, it’d be great if everybody in the world could be as wonderful in the clubhouse as Michael Cuddyer, but wins and losses occur because a team has skilled players. I’m not saying they need to go out and find a bunch of players with the skills and personality of a Ty Cobb, but if they are using personality compatibility as a major metric in their evaluation of players . . . they need to stop.

    Comment by CBC — June 15, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  6. So…this would be the positivity column? :P

    The idea of Toby Gardenhire as our utility guy makes me want to puke. I hate to say it, because it’s not his fault and he sounds like a nice guy, but the only reason he’s moving in the system and and has the MLB in range even a little is because he father is managing the Twins. Seriously, that’s just horrible and if I were a Twins INF in the minors (or in the Majors) I’d be seriously pissed about this. Other guys have to get there on talent.

    The personality crap is getting old, but it’s hardly suprising. It’s how Gardy handles his team. If he had to manage the personalities more he wouldn’t be able to do some of the things he does in terms of playing favorites and/or burying guys.

    Comment by Josh — June 15, 2011 @ 10:51 am

  7. I’m not sure why the Capps/Ramos trade looks that bad. It’s only bad because Joe Mauer got hurt. You can’t predict/expect that. Wilson Ramos isn’t even that good. Everybody brought it up more when he was hitting 300 but only somewhat now that he is hitting 242 with a 320 OBP and is only going down as the season goes on. Capps was lights out last year. He was the perfect pickup and did everything asked and more. This season he has been medicore especially for 7.2 million. He has been unlucky as well with balls in play. He is a solid bullpen guy overall. The Twins got 1 and a half seasons of Capps for a guy that won’t get the playing time he needs with the Twins and is hitting poorly overall in a weak NL. AND Ramos doesn’t fit the bill at DH so that’s a moot point going forward and Mauer WILL be playing catcher full-time going forward. Yeah again, due to circumstance he would have been great to have this year. But that’s circumstance that cannot be predicted. Mauer has played more at catcher than any other since 2006 before this season. He has been durable.

    Comment by Sean — June 15, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  8. You realize the Twins could have traded Ramos for something else, right? It’s not as if the only two choices were “trade him for an overrated, overpaid reliever” or “keep him stuck behind Mauer for the rest of his career.”

    Trading him wasn’t the biggest mistake. Trading him for Capps was.

    Comment by Craiggers — June 15, 2011 @ 11:12 am

  9. SoCalTwinsfan, the Red Wings roster is old in part because they signed a lot of minor league veterans to improve on last year’s awful record. The fact that Gardenhire is almost 29 (in September) and the league average is almost 27, means that he is about two years older than the average AAA player, which kind of makes my point. He’s an old AAA player, especially given that he hasn’t had an major injury or some other excuse for his slow development. If you are 28 and still playing minor league baseball, someone really needs to sit you down and have a talk with you.

    I was going to respond to Sean’s Capps/Ramos comment, but then it occurred to me that it couldn’t possbily be serious. Good one, Sean – you got me for a minute.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — June 15, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

  10. It seems like the Twins favor squares. Guys who just shut up and play, nothing colorful. Then they treat them like dogs. LNP. I don’t understand why the Twins hold personality in such high regard.

    Comment by Wachs — June 15, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

  11. I’ll take a stab at the Capps/Ramos comment.

    If anyone thinks on the face of things that dealing a young, cheap, scarce commodity for an older, expensive common commodity is ever a good idea they need to retake economics 101.

    Let’s say you bought season tickets to the Twins game in an awesome section, lets say Row 5 on the Aisle in the puffy seats behind the home dugout for $500. The catch is: every year you renew these tickets – the price doubles. Let’s also say for the sake of this that the face value on the tickets is $5,000. So you are getting a pretty good deal. You now hold a very valuable commodity unless the Twins start performing like the T-Wolves or in year 5 and beyond you are paying more than the actual face value. (In this fantasy illustration these tickets are Ramos).

    Now, you also have the best possible season tickets, Row 1 on the aisle in the puffy seats directly behind home plate. (For the sake of this argument these tickets are Mauer). So the “Ramos” tickets you just bought are going to go unused. Kind of a waste of two damn nice seats, unless you have out of town guests or bigamy becomes legal in Minnesota.

    You decide that you should trade the Ramos tickets for something you can use to impress your wife. It will improve your relationship with her – and that is your number one overriding goal in life – to make your wife happy. There is a pretty big market for these tickets so you should be able to trade them for something pretty valuable. It seems easy that you could come away with something nice because of the relative demand for these tickets.

    So after a week of craigslist – suprisingly the best offer you get is a 2004 Honda accord – the body is in Mint condition, but it needs you to put $3000 worth of engine work into it to run. The Kelley blue book value on the car after the repairs is $5000. (For the sake of this argument the Accord is Capps.) You decide to take the offer, because well, you didn’t get any better ones immediately. I mean it is a pretty decent car – and a slight upgrade to the 2003 Ford Focus that your wife currently drives.

    Wouldn’t it be way better to just hang on to the Ramos tickets, renew them next season for $1000 and see if you get a better offer?

    The lesson here is inherent value – yes you traded an item that had a face value of $5000 for $5000, but you had to put more cash into maintenence of the car than you would have to maintain the tickets.

    And the real lesson to be had here kids: at the end of the day you are now the proud owner of a 2004 Honda Accord.

    Congrats. Nice job of bargaining on the open market.

    Comment by Karl — June 15, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

  12. An ’04 Honda Accord ain’t that bad.

    Capps is more like a ’99 Saturn with rust.

    Comment by Fasterandfuriouser — June 15, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

  13. I think the way to totally destroy the analogy above is that the Twins (guy) were going to add pieces to win the Series(Wife happy forever!) and traded an unproven propsect at (obstructed view seats) a position they are set at (home plate tickets) for a guy who was then lights out for them for 70 games. Wilson Ramos has a better value currently than he did last season but that’s changing. Wilson Ramos has a 194 average since May 1st in the weak NL not AL. While his fielding is good its not Drew Butera good. His minor league track numbers also suggest he isn’t a super stud. A lot of Twins bloggers don’t mention this. They are happy to mention Twins players short comings or if they are on streak that probably won’t last (Casilla). Well Ramos was on a April streak. Now he totally can’t hit anything in the weaker NL. That isn’t brought up only how he is still having a good season at 23. I like how it’s just assumed as well that Ramos could have brought in a better player as well. I doubt at the time he could have. So now it’s easy to rip on the decision as the Twins didn’t win the Series (wife cheated) and totally suck this year (beam collasped home plate seats) Capps isn’t the cause of that though nor is not having Ramos (crappy obstructed view seats). Not even close. If you want to moan about the 7 million they gave Capps that’s something. To me Ramos for Capps for just 70 games was worth it. They could have used the 7 million on J.J Hardy. And hats off to Pavano really bringing it.

    Comment by Sean — June 15, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

  14. The analogy is flawed – the point remains the same.

    Why trade a rare, young cheap commodity for an older, common, expensive one.

    Agreed Ramos is not Our Lord and Saviour. Nor will he ever be.

    However to argue that everyday major league level catchers
    who can play above average defense and above average offense for their position is a commodity worth trading for a really expensive dime a dozen reliever is pure ignorance.

    I am not making a results based argument here – the points about Ramos doing this and Capps doing that are irrelevant.

    I am making (a poorly worded) argument that trading these two commodities is pure folly.

    Comment by Karl — June 15, 2011 @ 9:41 pm

  15. It’s also garbage to those who say Capps has thrown too many strikes this year and is using his fastball too much. Hitters are hitting 250 off his fastball while walking two batters. He has been hurt off his change up and slider. He hasn’t thrown them well. He still has a XFIP of 3.80 quite below his actual ERA. He has been unlucky and has given up some shots while hanging some of those pitches. If he has a little more luck he would be having a much better season. As for Jon Rauch he goes the opposite where he is pitching lucky this year. XFIP 4.39 9 walks 5 HRs 19Ks in 28 Innings pitched. The blown saved percentage is a stupid stat to prove a closers or relief pitchers ability. Capps is a solid relief pitcher. Again not 7.1 million but no relief pitcher is really worth that. Rauch is worth about the Vets minimum but getting paid solid dollar (3.5 Million no way) as well.

    Comment by Sean — June 15, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

  16. Solid relief pitching is sought after in a Divisonal race. Capps is that not a dime a dozen relief pitcher. If Capps was a dime a dozen the Twins would have at least 7 of them. They don’t and can’t seem to find many of value. Ramos is NOT an above average hitter and one good month of hitting doesn’t prove he is even average. If Capps is easily found then I don’t see why teams are giving out 3 year deals to relief pitchers or paying Rauch 3.5 million for a season. It’s hard to find pitching. Capps has a proven record and was outstanding last year for the Twins. This year he has some crazy numbers as well and has pitched better than his ERA suggests. He is also hurt as they used him to pitch multiple innings because he was a dime a dozen relief pitcher while the rest of the pen was God awfull.

    Comment by Sean — June 15, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

  17. Sean: First rule of holes is — when you’re in one, stop digging.

    Comment by savant — June 15, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

  18. I was hoping AG was going to so the rare thing and put Sean out of his misery, but that would be tiresome rehash of old columns. Read them. It’s 2011. The closer role is way overrated, relief pitchers are often misused in high leverage situations, and we’ll need a catcher when Mauer stops catching. Bad trade.

    Comment by brian — June 16, 2011 @ 3:14 am

  19. Aaron, can you check to see if the IP address for “Sean” is coming from Bill Smith’s office?

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — June 16, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

  20. “Immobilized, underrated, grated, deteriorated, and elevated”

    You can get any .550 OPS catcher you want, at Rochester’s Restaurant.

    Comment by PierreTheLion — June 16, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

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