September 12, 2011

Twins Notes: Worst season ever?

• If the Twins' season was a fight the corner would've thrown in the towel several rounds ago, as they've now lost 12 of the past 13 series, including seven in a row. Since climbing to 50-56 on July 29 to convince the front office not to become sellers at the trading deadline the Twins have gone 9-31, which is the second-worst 40-game stretch in team history ahead of only the miserable 1982 season.

That year the Twins lost 100 games for the first and only time, going 60-102 while trading both Roy Smalley and Butch Wynegar to the Yankees and breaking in rookies Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Randy Bush, and Tim Laudner. In retrospect that mess was the start of a rebuilding process that led to a championship five years later and a second title four years after that, but it's hard to imagine 2011 in similar context.

There are 16 games remaining and the Twins must go just 4-12 to avoid the second 100-loss season in team history, which sounds fairly simple except for the fact that they're 4-12 in their last 16 games and also went 4-12 in the 16 games before that. They've already lost five more games than any other team in the Ron Gardenhire era and are a near-lock to finish with the fewest wins since the 1999 team went 63-97 under Tom Kelly.

I was born in 1983, so there's a good chance this will be the worst Twins team of my lifetime. They're now in last place, two games behind the Royals, and in a virtual tie with the Orioles for the AL's worst record. They won't be able to catch the Astros for baseball's worst record, but the Twins' run differential of -160 is within range of Houston at -163. Toss in the $115 million payroll with contender expectations and this might be the worst season in Twins history.

• As ugly as things are in Minnesota they weren't any prettier at Triple-A, where manager Tom Nieto and hitting coach Floyd Rayford got fired after Rochester had consecutive 90-loss years for the first time since 1903/1904. Wins and losses aren't the most important aspect of minor-league coaching, but the Twins have been critical of the job the Rochester staff did preparing prospects for the majors and recent talk of a "shakeup" in the farm system sealed Nieto's fate.

Nieto can't be blamed for nearly all of his best players being called up to Minnesota because of the Twins' never-ending injuries and the Triple-A roster was hardly filled with top-notch young talent to begin with, but that doesn't preclude Rochester's staff from also doing a sub par job. Minor league director Jim Rantz explained that "these changes in Rochester are just part of an overall directional change that's being implemented throughout the minor league system."

• After firing Nieto and Rayford general manager Bill Smith talked about how the Twins "aren't living up to our end of the affiliation" with Rochester, which he discussed much further during a lengthy interview with Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Smith made it clear that the Twins want to continue their partnership with Rochester, but the affiliation deal ends after next season and they haven't had a winning record since going 74-70 in 2008.

Phil Mackey of 1500-ESPN wrote an interesting article about the Twins' training staff, which has come under fire in a big way this season after several years of occasional criticism. Mackey notes that they'd already added a part-time chiropractor and part-time deep-tissue massage therapist in addition to a third trainer who "stays behind at Target Field with injured players to do more one-on-one work."

Chuck James was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster space for September call-up Liam Hendriks and passed through waivers unclaimed, so he remains at Triple-A but is no longer on the 40-man roster. James was fantastic at Rochester, throwing 63 innings with a 2.30 ERA and 67-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he struggled in 10 innings for the Twins and they never seemed particularly interested in giving the 29-year-old lefty an extended chance.

• Tigers manager Jim Leyland is "thrilled" with what he's seen from Delmon Young so far:

We're thrilled with that acquisition. It's worked out pretty good so far, and when he steps in that batter's box he's a man. He's going to get his rips and has a pretty good idea how to hit and what pitchers do.

Obviously seeing Young play well elsewhere is frustrating for Twins fans, but his convincing the Tigers to keep him for $7 million next season and perhaps even give him a multi-year contract might not be such a bad thing over the long haul. Young is hitting .297 with a .465 slugging percentage in 25 games for Detroit, but also has just one walk and a .305 on-base percentage in 110 plate appearances.

Jim Thome hasn't fared nearly as well in Cleveland, batting just .239/.314/.348 in 13 games, and the Indians haven't been able to keep pace with the suddenly unbeatable Tigers. When the Indians acquired Thome they were 6.0 games out of first place with 35 games to play, yet despite going 9-8 since the trade they're now 11.0 games back with 18 games to play. Thome is in danger of finishing with an OPS below .800 for just the second time in his career.

Joe Mauer has played in 71 of 78 games since coming off the disabled list in mid-June and is batting .316/.388/.412 in his last 260 plate appearances, including .354 with two homers, four doubles, and seven walks in his last 14 games. Even in what has been an incredibly frustrating and disappointing season for Mauer he leads the Twins in batting average (.290) and on-base percentage (.358). His future defensively is unclear, but it's nice to know the bat still works.

Ben Revere has a .283 slugging percentage, which is the lowest mark by any MLB outfielder with at least 400 plate appearances since Gerald Young of the Astros slugged .276 in 1989. Revere also has a .295 on-base percentage and the last MLB outfielder to bat 400-plus times with a slugging percentage below .283 and an on-base percentage below .295 is Gary Pettis of the Tigers in 1988. Also in 1988? Revere was born in Atlanta, Georgia on May 3.

Drew Butera went 0-for-2 yesterday and is hitting .161/.198/.232 in 225 plate appearances overall. To put that in some context, NL pitchers are hitting .141/.177/.184 this season. Here's a list of all the players since 1920 to bat at least 225 times with an OPS of .430 or lower:

                  YEAR      PA      OPS
Brandon Wood      2010     243     .382
Tony Pena         2008     235     .398
Ray Oyler         1968     247     .399
John Vukovich     1971     233     .400
DREW BUTERA       2011     225     .430

Four players in the past 92 seasons have batted as many times as Butera with a lower OPS.

Brad Pitt plays A's general manager Billy Beane in the soon-to-be-released Moneyball movie, but who should play Gardenhire in the movie version of Gardyball? I vote for Jeff Bridges.

• Last but not least: This might qualify as "not safe for work" depending on where you work, but Michael Cuddyer posted a picture of the Twins' annual hazing ritual of rookies dressing up in costumes. It's a lot bigger group than usual this season because at this point half the roster is rookies, including Rene Tosoni dressing up as a trench coat-wearing flasher who appears to have gone to the same prosthetic maker as Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights:

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32 Comments »

  1. Bridges would be the more entertaining actor if you wanted to go all Cohen brothers on a Gardy script and make it a dark comedy. Seems more appropriate every day.

    But if you wanted to put an actor on the screen who makes you think of Gardenhire, wouldn’t you be almost morally obligated to go with popular comedic supporting cast man John C. Reilly?

    Old Gardenhire:
    http://www.thatstwinsbaseball.com/gardenhires-absence-caused-by-rookies-indecent-exposure/

    New Gardenhire:
    http://entertainment.stv.tv/film/229683-john-c-reilly-doesnt-expect-awards-for-comedies/

    Paste those web addresses in your browser and smoke’em.

    Now you know why you never see them in the same place at the same time. And imagine the pants-wetting comedy Reilly could deliver as Gardy going ballistic on an umpire…

    Comment by LaBombo — September 12, 2011 @ 12:52 am

  2. Remember when we could have had Jacoby Ellsbury in the Johan Santana trade? Smith’s trade looked bad at the time and looks even worse now. Sigh. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/ellsburys-mvp-candicacy-not-that-uncommon/

    Comment by Ted — September 12, 2011 @ 12:52 am

  3. Or when we could have had Lester? http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=4930&position=P

    Comment by Ted — September 12, 2011 @ 12:54 am

  4. Delmon Young in September: .333/.353/.606/.959

    Why, wasn’t just recently that a couple posters on this site (Gendo, Pedro Munoz) were belligerently insulting anyone who thought Delmon Young wasnt quote unquote a terrible baseball player? Wait, weren’t these the same guys insisting that lineup protection doesn’t exist? Why, whatever could account for the sudden uptick in Young’s offensive production? If these experts hadn’t decided that success in driving in runs doesn’t matter in baseball I”d point out that he’s driven in 18 runs in 101 AB’s for Detroit and had 32 RBI in 305 AB’s with the hapless Twins this season.

    Comment by Houston Jimenez — September 12, 2011 @ 2:14 am

  5. And to think that the Twins had D-Span2 on the block. Unless he’s permanently unable to play, there is no comparison between him and Revere.

    Comment by sbg — September 12, 2011 @ 5:44 am

  6. I think you got the wrong Bridges brother, at least in terms of looks. Beau probably fits Gardy much better than Jeff. I should know. I just watched The Wizard last weekend.

    Comment by Steve — September 12, 2011 @ 6:27 am

  7. “There are 16 games remaining and the Twins must go just 4-12 to avoid the second 100-loss season in team history, which sounds fairly simple except for the fact that they’re 4-12 in their last 16 games and also went 4-12 in the 16 games before that.” Wow! Everytime I think it can’t get worse I’m proven wrong.

    Comment by Too old Twins fan — September 12, 2011 @ 6:48 am

  8. When the Twins were healthy the lineup should have been Span, Mauer, Young, Morneau, Cuddy, Kubel, Valencia, SS, 2B. Plenty of protection for each hitter. Wishful thinking.

    Comment by Large Canine — September 12, 2011 @ 8:14 am

  9. Houston, or, maybe, it’s just a good moment in time, and he’ll hit badly later. The odds are low that a guy with that many at bats will suddenly learn to hit (not impossible, low).

    Comment by mike wants wins — September 12, 2011 @ 8:17 am

  10. Oh, and it’s 2011, maybe it’s time to move on from rookie hazing.

    Comment by mike wants wins — September 12, 2011 @ 8:18 am

  11. Given the season they’ve had so far, the Twins should have taken a pass on the rookie hazing. In the midst of the worst season in team history, that’s the last thing they should be thinking about.

    Comment by Tom — September 12, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  12. Houston, is your comment a joke? There were some ridiculous arguments made a few weeks back, but you aren’t really using a 9 game sample to argue Delmon Young’s merits and the existence of lineup protection, are you? In case you are, let me reassure you that over time Delmon will revert to being the same terrible baseball player he always has been. As Aaron points out, the good numbers Young has put up the last few weeks are helping hide the fact that he only has one walk in 110 plate appearances.

    Maybe you dictate your comments, but in the future instead of saying “quote unquote, you can use the ” ” symbols, like I just did.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — September 12, 2011 @ 8:40 am

  13. Yeah, I’m sure the Tigers must be disappointed that he hasn’t walked enough. They’ll have to settle for him hitting for a high average, slugging, and driving in runs in bunches.

    Comment by Houston Jimenez — September 12, 2011 @ 8:56 am

  14. I’ll take a guy that drives in runners and doesn’t walk to a guy that walks and doesn’t drive anyone in. Still need guys to score.

    Comment by Mike — September 12, 2011 @ 9:05 am

  15. @Mike … I”m not claiming he’s due for some kind of breakout, and the odds are that you’re right, over time he regresses to his usual rate of production. But what certain posters were claiming is that he’s a “terrible” player. That’s just inaccurate. Young is streaky, he’s moody, but when he’s content and his bat gets hot he can be a very productive offensive player. No one’s saying he’s great. But he’s far from terrible.

    Comment by Houston Jimenez — September 12, 2011 @ 9:11 am

  16. Houston, I don’t know if someone who ignores nearly five years of statistics to focus on a nine game stretch can be convinced of anything, but let me assure you that the Tigers are, as a competently run major league baseball team, concerned about Young’s poor plate dicipline. And while they are happy with the hitting, they also understand that Young is likely to revert to form. It doesn’t matter that much for them because unlike the Twins – who gave away the farm to get Young – the Tigers traded a bag of baseballs.

    Young is a terrible baseball player. He’ll be teaching gym at Kenny Powers high school in two years.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — September 12, 2011 @ 9:11 am

  17. Houston, do you understand that Young’s overall numbers (or any player’s numbers) are based on a combination of hot streaks and slumps? You can say that Young is good when he is hot, but you could say that about Drew Butera any time he strings together a couple of good games. When you look at Young’s overall numbes (which includes his hot streaks) Young is a terrible baseball player. When is why the Twins gave him away.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — September 12, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  18. I’m not Young fan, but he’s not terrible as a hitter, he’s just not all that great either. As a fielder, he is terrible. His future is as a DH, imo, a decent but not great DH. Meaning, to me, $7MM+ per year is too much, given his limitations.

    Comment by mike wants wins — September 12, 2011 @ 9:22 am

  19. I don’t really want another 50 comments worth of you two arguing and trying to out-clever each other through name-calling, so please either stop or take it somewhere else.

    Comment by aarongleeman — September 12, 2011 @ 9:28 am

  20. aaron, I don’t get the lack of promoting James either, but no on claimed him despite his production. Is it possible he’s just a AAAA pitcher? He has production that indicates he should have value to most any team, but he’s not even on a 40 man roster.

    As for the minor league shakeup, I’m intrigued. It should be more than just coaching changes, and I wonder if it will be. Will they change how they teach hitting, fielding, running?

    Comment by mike wants wins — September 12, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  21. So in ’82 we had 6 rookies who would play prominent roles for the team 5 years later. This team is worse because the same cannot be said of the ’11 team . . .

    Comment by bohemian club — September 12, 2011 @ 11:10 am

  22. I still think the 38-113 record in 1904 was the worst season ever in franchise history. That team was rebuilding to the 49-102 record in 1907 and the 42-110 record in 1909. See, things could be worse.

    Comment by Joel — September 12, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

  23. Aaron, without inciting a Delmon Young riot, maybe an article about the effectivity of lineup protection would be worth your time.

    Comment by Large Canine — September 12, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

  24. That Nishi in the sumo suit? Has to. Who else would it be? Why would you dress up as Gumby?!!?

    Comment by Diesel — September 12, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

  25. I would like to see the Twins starting the off-season on a positive note by getting back to basics, something which has been mentioned here and in related sites recently.

    Some ideas:
    1) focus better on fundamentals in the minor leagues,

    2) draft well, develop players slowly and promote only when a player is ready,

    3) make some smart personnel moves—start by signing Kubel and Cuddyer, buying out Nathan’s option and signing him for considerably less, and, yes, tendering a contract to Capps, who is very decent in a set-up role. If Capps declines, we still get a very high sandwich-round pick,

    4) continue the impressive international signings of recent years (Nishioka has not been good, but, heck, give the kid another chance next Spring),

    5) build a top-flight training/sports medicine staff,

    6) maybe bring some guys back who have a good track record for evaluating talent, like Knapp and Krivsky, and finally,

    7) learn from the mistakes of recent years and get back to the fundamental approach which has always served this franchise well.

    Comment by joe — September 12, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

  26. I can understand persistent injuries. But the Twins had better have an army of massage therapists at the ready or their organization really looks bad. For example, when Mauer missed 5 games because of a stiff neck, I couldn’t believe it. Has anyone you have known, ever, not been able to overcome even the worst neck problem in more 2-3 days through massage? And these guys could have round-the-clock care with chiropractors, therapists, etc. Besides, they are 10 years younger than me. It doesn’t add up.

    Comment by brian — September 12, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

  27. Delmon Young stat update (through 9/12):

    Delmon in 2011 with the Tigers:
    .324/.336/.481/.817

    Delmon in 2010 with the Twins:
    .298/.333/.493/.826

    I argued for years that Young was misplaced in the batting order, especially last season when the so-called “experts” dismissed what Young accomplished. The Tigers apparently understand that DY’s interest level has to remain high for him to maximize his success and are treating him like a valued team member instead of a rented mule. Batting in front of Cabrera and Martinez has to be a lot more fun than in front of Tolbert, Butera and Nishioka. I wouldn’t sweat the BB numbers too much, either (although he did get another walk tonight); with Cabrera and Martinez behind him in the order, he probably is going to get the highest ratio of strikes/balls in the league next year. Look for his power numbers to rise, as well, as the Tigers coaching staff will encourage him to redevelop his power stroke. $7 million might turn out to be a good deal for the Tigers, as they possibly could end up with the AL Central Division’s version of Big Papi.

    Comment by jokin — September 13, 2011 @ 12:25 am

  28. One would think the idiots would disappear at the tail end of a potential 100 loss season but surprisingly they have multiplied.

    Mike,
    “I’ll take a guy that drives in runners and doesn’t walk to a guy that walks and doesn’t drive anyone in. Still need guys to score.”

    Talk about a false dichotomy! RBI are a function of opportunity not a mythical skill of driving people in. And what is a great way to extend innings and provide more opportunities to score, walking!

    jokin,

    Do you have any actual evidence to back up your conclusory statements that are based on nothing more than a 25 game sample? Go look up the actual effect of lineup “protection” and get back to me.
    People have been predicting an increase in power and BB rate for Delmon every year for 6 years. Every year it doesn’t happen makes it increasingly likely it never will. He is 26 years old and has accumulated almost 3,000 PA in MLB, what you see is what you’re gonna get.

    Houston Jimenez,

    There is no hope for you, give up now.

    Comment by Brian — September 13, 2011 @ 12:54 am

  29. joe,

    I’m unclear what “getting back to basics” means. If it means the so-called “smallball” that everyone loved to fellate the Twins for over the last 10 years, then no thank you please do not do that.

    1/2. I don’t think they’ve changed anything on these fronts.

    3. Agree w/ better personnel moves but its not gonna happen without a new GM. Cuddy will be looking for a multi-year deal, I doubt he could be re-signed for a fair price. Definitely wouldn’t bring Capps back, there should be plenty of cheaper relief arms available.

    4. Agree that they need to continue to spend money on international signings, but Nishioka isn’t exactly a kid, hes 27. I don’t know what else they can do though at SS, the organization is barren of up the middle options.

    5. Sounds good to me.

    6. Sure.

    7. Disagree, don’t know what fundamental approach means but I think the Twins should have gotten much more than 1 playoff series win out of their stellar core of Santana/Hunter/Mauer/Morneau/Nathan/Cuddyer/Radke/Baker.

    Comment by Brian — September 13, 2011 @ 1:09 am

  30. Brian’s Song:
    “Do you have any actual evidence to back up your conclusory statements that are based on nothing more than a 25 game sample? Go look up the actual effect of lineup “protection” and get back to me.
    People have been predicting an increase in power and BB rate for Delmon every year for 6 years. Every year it doesn’t happen makes it increasingly likely it never will. He is 26 years old and has accumulated almost 3,000 PA in MLB, what you see is what you’re gonna get.”

    Another “expert” heard from. Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowsky clearly have nothing on you, typing away at your keyboard. TK and the Twins FO was making roughly the same argument about Ortiz back in 2002 when another wise club saw an opportunity.

    Look up the stats for Thome, Bautista, Ryne Sandberg, Michael Young, Cano and especially David Ortiz as they entered their mid–to-late 20s and check on their increases in power production and get back to me.

    Changes in teams, coach’s hitting approach, body maturity, etc… can lead to big improvements, heck, even Joe Mauer was finally showing some promise back in 2009 along the same lines. Clearly, the Tigers are getting similar-to-2010 production out of DY in his first 26 games with them, SSS notwithstanding. We can only look at what is different– place in the batting order, new hitting coach, winning team. FYI, the Tigers are 21-6 with Delmon batting in the 3-spot. The Tigers are playing at .808 clip since Delmon arrived, they were playing at a mediocre .538 on August 13, they now have closed withing 4.5 games of the best record in the league.

    Comment by jokin — September 13, 2011 @ 1:56 am

  31. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_hoc_ergo_propter_hoc

    Comment by mike wants wins — September 13, 2011 @ 7:51 am

  32. The season was lost as soon as they removed the trees in Target Field. That big black wall is a metaphor for the whole season.

    Comment by MrHockey — September 14, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

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