September 26, 2011

Why can’t the Twins find any infielders who can hit?

One of the constants throughout my 10 seasons of blogging about the Twins is their inability to develop or acquire middle infielders who can hit. I started blogging in 2002, when the Twins hadn't been to the postseason in a decade, Ron Gardenhire was a rookie manager, and the double-play duo was Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas. In the 10 years since then they've had 10 different players start at least 100 games at shortstop or second base:

                      G      OPS
Nick Punto          430     .652
Cristian Guzman     423     .684
Luis Rivas          359     .686
Alexi Casilla       335     .643
Jason Bartlett      301     .706
Luis Castillo       227     .720
Brendan Harris      160     .666
Orlando Hudson      124     .712
Juan Castro         117     .599
Matt Tolbert        113     .570

Yuck.

During that 10-season span the average American League middle infielder has posted a .730 OPS, yet all 10 of the middle infielders to start at least 100 games for the Twins posted an OPS below .730. In fact, each of the Twins' four most-used middle infielders had an OPS below .690 and the 10-player group combined for a .670 OPS that's 60 points below the league average, with the high-water mark being Luis Castillo's mediocre .720 OPS from 2006 to mid-2007.

Here's how Twins shortstops have ranked in OPS for the 14-team league each year:

YEAR     RANK     SHORTSTOPS
2002     12th     Guzman, Hocking
2003      8th     Guzman, Hocking, Gomez
2004     11th     Guzman, Punto
2005     14th     Bartlett, Castro, Punto
2006      8th     Bartlett, Castro, Punto
2007     10th     Bartlett, Punto
2008     12th     Punto, Harris, Everett
2009      9th     Cabrera, Punto, Harris
2010      6th     Hardy, Punto, Casilla
2011     13th     Nishioka, Casilla, Plouffe, Tolbert

On average during the past 10 seasons Twins shortstops have ranked 10th among AL teams in OPS and the only time they've finished higher than the middle of the pack was last season, when J.J. Hardy's decent .714 OPS helped them rise to sixth and they immediately jettisoned him. Twins shortstops have been above average offensively once in 10 years and even then it was just barely, whereas they've been 10th or worse six times and 12th or worse four times.

And now here's the same list, but with Twins second basemen:

YEAR     RANK     SECOND BASEMEN
2002      9th     Rivas, Hocking, Canizaro
2003     12th     Rivas, Hocking, Gomez
2004      7th     Rivas, Cuddyer
2005     12th     Punto, Rivas, Rodriguez, Boone
2006      9th     Castillo, Punto
2007     13th     Castillo, Casilla, Punto
2008     10th     Casilla, Harris, Punto
2009     14th     Casilla, Punto, Tolbert
2010      9th     Hudson, Casilla, Tolbert
2011     13th     Casilla, Hughes, Tolbert, Cuddyer

Believe it or not the Twins' second basemen have actually been slightly worse than the woeful shortstops, ranking 11th among AL teams in OPS on average during the past 10 seasons and never placing higher than seventh. In those 10 years they've been ninth or worse nine times and 12th or worse five times. And this year both the Twins' shortstops and second basemen are second-to-last among AL teams in OPS.

It's also worth noting that they haven't been any better at finding productive third basemen, at least since Corey Koskie left as a free agent. Koskie was the Twins' starting third baseman from 2000-2004 and on average during those five seasons their OPS at third base ranked fifth in the league. Koskie signed with the Blue Jays after the 2004 season and since then here's how Twins third basemen have ranked in OPS among AL teams:

YEAR     RANK     THIRD BASEMEN
2005     10th     Cuddyer, Rodriguez, Tiffee, Castro
2006     13th     Punto, Batista, Rodriguez
2007     14th     Punto, Rodriguez, Buscher
2008     11th     Buscher, Lamb, Harris
2009     11th     Crede, Harris, Buscher, Tolbert
2010     10th     Valencia, Punto, Tolbert
2011      9th     Valencia, Hughes

Actually that's even uglier than the middle-infield picture. This year is the first time since Koskie left that Twins third basemen have ranked better than 10th in the league in OPS and they're still below average in ninth place. Koskie started 762 total games at third base for the Twins, producing an .839 OPS. In the seven seasons since his departure they've started six different players at least 75 times at third base and none of them have cracked a .750 OPS:

                      G      OPS
Nick Punto          246     .653
Danny Valencia      222     .724
Michael Cuddyer     107     .741
Brian Buscher       106     .702
Brendan Harris       86     .688
Joe Crede            84     .729

If you combine their shortstops from 2002-2011, second basemen from 2002-2011, and third basemen from 2005-2011 that's 27 total years of infielders. And in those 27 positional years the Twins have had an above average OPS twice (shortstops in 2010 and second basemen in 2004) and have never finished higher than sixth in the league while ranking 10th or worse 18 times. All of which is a very long way of saying they can't find any infielders who can hit.

As for why they can't find any infielders who can hit ... well, there are a few theories that seem to make sense. First and foremost is that the Twins clearly focus on speed and defense more than most teams. Whether they do so successfully is up for debate, but when Nick Punto has the team's most middle-infield starts since 2002 and most third base starts since 2005 glove work and running fast are obviously priorities.

There are some exceptions, of course, particularly at third base, but even in the cases where the Twins attempted to sacrifice defense for offense they did so with non-sluggers. Third base has long been a power-hitting position and during the past 15-20 years more and more teams have viewed second base and to a lesser extent shortstop as a spot for guys with the power for 20-plus homers, but the Twins have never really come around to that approach.

Their shortstops and second basemen have almost always been diminutive players with a low strikeout rate, above-average speed, and below-average power, and that skill set rarely adds up to strong offensive production. They've been more willing to stray from that player type at third base in guys like Tony Batista, Mike Lamb, Joe Crede, Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris, and now Danny Valencia, but in none of those cases was there upside beyond solid regular.

As a tall, slow shortstop with 25-homer power Hardy is perhaps the most obvious example of the Twins going against their usual infield focus and not surprisingly they tired of him after just one year despite the highest OPS by a Twins shortstop since Guzman in 2001. Hardy's injuries were a big factor, but so was Gardenhire's desire to add speed to the infield. And now Hardy has 30 homers and an .800 OPS for the Orioles while Twins shortstops are back to not hitting.

Hardy and his .750 career OPS were sent packing because of injuries and lack of speed, while Valencia and his .735 career OPS are entrenched in the doghouse because of shaky defense and a general lack of awareness. Valencia is hardly a long-term building block, but he's a solid all-around player with a better bat than most Twins third basemen since Koskie and has plenty of value while earning the minimum salary.

It'll be interesting to see if the Twins ditch Valencia a year after ditching Hardy because neither player fits the organization's preferred infield mold and there's little indication they've realized how ineffective that mold is at finding competent hitters. Trevor Plouffe might be another test case, because in addition to possessing 20-homer power he's bigger, slower, and considerably less reliable defensively than the Twins like.

Trading away Hardy and replacing him with Tsuyoshi Nishioka showed a discouraging inability to properly evaluate those two players, but it also speaks to an overall approach to acquiring and developing infielders that's resulted in a decade of consistently awful offensive production from second base, shortstop, and third base. It's long past time to find infielders who can hit, but it remains to be seen if the Twins are capable of learning from mistakes and adapting.

45 Comments »

  1. “Yuck” is right!

    Comment by JeMiHami — September 25, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

  2. Wow. I knew they were bad, but wow.

    What AL teams are worse at 2b/ss OPS than the twins this year? Hard to believe any team could be worse at either position.

    Comment by phil — September 25, 2011 @ 11:02 pm

  3. Great topic, but- This does not compute-

    Average MI: “.730″
    Castillo: “mediocre .720″
    Hardy: “decent .714″

    I think the 2B problem stems partly from the sour experience the Twins had first with Knoblauch, and then Walker. These were guys whose first priority was hitting, second was making TK’s life miserable, and then third, maybe a little (to very little, in Walker’s case) defense. Knoblauch for his Twins career: 304/391/416/897
    Walker: 285/341/413/754

    Both were considered lauts by TK and Management, and ever since, the Twins have chosen to field the position with “punchless wonders” that are fairly decent fielders that won’t command high salaries at best, or wouldn’t make the roster of any other MLB club at worst. The exception was Hudson (OPS .710, not sure if that’s “mediocre” or “decent”), who again, had too much personality for Gardy, and was quickly run out of town.

    To show how overall stats can be deceiving and to be completely fair to Danny Valencia, he finished 5th in OPS in BOTH LEAGUES in 2010 for all 3Bs, behind only 4 All Star players- Bautista, Beltre, Longoria and A-Rod. I think Valencia deserves another shot next season, as he gets past his sophomore jinx year and the overall disfunctionality of the whole Twins team that typified 2011. Knowing the Twins Way though, he’ll probably get dealt like JJ Hardy, for another lousy reliver.

    Comment by jokin — September 26, 2011 @ 1:21 am

  4. Great topic, but- This does not compute-

    Average MI: “.730″
    Castillo: “mediocre .720″
    Hardy: “decent .714″

    Why does it not “compute?”

    Average, mediocre, and decent all mean essentially the same thing. And all three OPS totals are nearly identical.

    Comment by aarongleeman — September 26, 2011 @ 1:24 am

  5. Aaron, no need to go all Nick Nelson on me. I think most people would reasonably agree that mediocre would be at or slightly below the .730 average and decent would be slightly above the .730 average. Still, an excellent topic for discussion, and I do agree that all OPS’s are close, but decent will always be better than mediocre to me. Do you think the lack of MI production has been more a budget issue, a Gardy/Kelly self-identification issue or just poor scouting/evaluation?

    From thesaurus.com:

    Main Entry: decent
    Part of Speech: adjective
    Definition: respectable, appropriate
    Synonyms: approved, becoming, befitting, chaste, clean, comely, comme il faut, conforming, continent, correct, decorous, delicate, ethical, fit, fitting, good, honest, honorable, immaculate, mannerly, modest, moral, nice, noble, on the up and up, polite, presentable, proper, prudent, pure, reserved, right, seemly, spotless, stainless, standard, straight, straight arrow, straight shooting, suitable, trustworthy, unblemished, undefiled, untarnished, upright, virtuous, worthy

    Comment by jokin — September 26, 2011 @ 1:48 am

  6. You’re using the wrong definition of “decent.”

    And in fact the definition I’m using here includes both “mediocre” and “average” as synonyms.

    Main Entry: decent
    Part of Speech: adjective
    Definition: sufficient, tolerable
    Synonyms: acceptable, adequate, all right, ample, average, comfortable, common, competent, enough, fair, fair to middling, good, mediocre, middling, moderately good, passable, presentable, reasonable, respectable, right, satisfactory, sufficing, unexceptional, unimpeachable, unobjectionable
    Antonyms: indecent, insufficient, intolerable, unsuitable

    Comment by aarongleeman — September 26, 2011 @ 1:55 am

  7. Plouffe looks interesting in the sense, I’m sure he could outhit any one they have but I’m also certain he can’t play SS and I’m not sure he can hold down any other infield spot. I’ve never seen so many mental errors out of one ball player… hopefully he straightens out but I don’t think that’s likely.

    Comment by MC — September 26, 2011 @ 6:28 am

  8. You are certain he can’t play shortstop because that is what we have been hearing from EVERYONE since spring training started. Don’t think that Plouffe hasn’t heard the same message. The other thing we hear from the Twins almost daily is how these “kids” need to play with “confidence.” Sorry, but not the way I would nurture and encourage my kids. Plouffe needs a year or two to sink or swim on this meddling and rebuilding Twins team. If he sinks, then the 2011 first round draft pick should be ready to step in.

    Plouffe doesn’t have the greatest range and his glove is probably average or slightly below. His biggest problem has been his throwing and seeing multiple people deal with the yips, I think it is fair to say most players who are good enough to make it to the big leagues can throw a ball. The part that worries me is that the Twins are taking the worst approach with Plouffe, by basically telling him to man-up and make the throws.

    I think both he and Valencia should be starters next year and I’d probably lean towards Hughes at 2nd also. Those 3 guys would probably give you 40-55 homers next year which should make up for a bunch of the errors and misplays. How would that homerun production look in all of the 1 run losses the Twins have had? Get a catcher.

    Comment by spoofbonser — September 26, 2011 @ 7:43 am

  9. They need to completely reassess their scouting and development of players. Their abiliy to draft and develop players is nowhere near their reputation. For a team that refuses to sign or trade for players in their prime (ability and earning) years, you have to be better than everyone else at developing players, not worse. Not looking good, frankly.

    Comment by mike wants wins — September 26, 2011 @ 8:07 am

  10. This was a clear (semantics aside!) presentation of the glaring problem with the Twins in the past 10 years (well, and beyond).

    What I don’t understand is Plouffe making it to the Twins AS A SHORTSTOP if he can’t play if effectively. Or is this a case of nerves? Don’t mean to burden you Aaron (but I do, actually), but is there some similar analysis to be done for the defensive prowess over the same span, with particular attention to the odd mix of infielders in the works for 2012?

    Comment by Shane — September 26, 2011 @ 8:57 am

  11. They just seem to get players in the managers image. Gardy had a .232/.277/.296/.573 line. The entire minor and major league operation needs to be overhauled at this point.

    Comment by Mike — September 26, 2011 @ 9:12 am

  12. It’ll be interesting to see if the Twins ditch Valencia a year after ditching Hardy because neither player fits the organization’s preferred infield mold and there’s little indication they’ve realized how ineffective that mold is at finding competent hitters

    Follow the organizational indictment all the way through to the end, Aaron. Both Hardy and Valencia are also not “Gardy guys”, which seems at times to have as much weight as ability in whether or not the Twins keep/play a guy. Managerial preference (demand?) seems to have as much as anything to do with much of the Twins current predicament in the INF. Guess Gardy wants to keep giving jobs to marginal MLB players like him, “scrappy” no-hit INFs. Unfortunately in today’s game unless those guys are truly exceptional defensively, they shouldn’t be here.

    I also think the fact that Twins are piling up 3 or more of these no-hit guys in the lineup at a time is one of the things that is really killing them. Too many rally-killers, too many outs, too many easy ABs for the opposing pitchers.

    I agree Valencia is hardly a cornerstone, but he’s a respectable MLB player and moving him at a time when he’s A) cheap, and B) productive when they have many other holes to fill is foolish. But “organizational philosophy” aka, “what Gardy wants” seems to be the most important thing in the Twins front office…

    Comment by Josh — September 26, 2011 @ 9:13 am

  13. Check out Gardenhire’s stats as a player. He’s still looking for the kind of player he wanted to be at 2B-SS, and the Twins keep ending up with the player he was.

    Comment by prairiejack — September 26, 2011 @ 9:14 am

  14. I recognize the theme of this article is offense but, more important than his superior bat, Hardy made EVERY play in the field. Dumbest trade in Twins history.

    Comment by Curt — September 26, 2011 @ 9:22 am

  15. Your shortstop has to be your best fielder. If Plouffe is our best infielder, we’re doomed.

    Comment by Dave T — September 26, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  16. Just out of curiosity, how much of the 2011 Twins’ defensive woes are because of legitimately bad play and not just because we as Twins fans have been “spoiled” by years of sharp defense at the cost of offense?

    Plouffe is no Hardy defensively, and he’s certainly no Punto, but if his bat gets to where it was in AAA does that offset his defensive “shortcomings”?

    Comment by T — September 26, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  17. Is Plouffe really good enough to make to the bigs???

    Comment by Dirleton — September 26, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  18. There clearly are players and types of players that Gardy likes and doesn’t like, and that unfortunaely sometimes replaces talent and productivity in deciding who to play. But the main reason that Hardy and Hudson were dumped was because of salary. Hardy was due for $7M and Hudson’s one-year contract was for $5M. Mauer’s bump pushed the payroll over $100 million, and they simply couldn’t afford to spend another $12M. These were new guys and not stars, and thus easy to get rid of. I never heard a word about Hudson or Hardy causing trouble while they were on the team and I suspect that badmouthing them afterwards is just a strategy to justify the moves.

    I don’t see them dealing Valencia just because Gardy doesn’t like him because they can’t afford to bring someone else in via free agency, and there is no one in the farm system that is any better. The same goes with Plouffe – who else are you going to play there? Nishioka? He’s worse than Plouffe.

    I don’t think Gardy needs to be replaced, at least not yet, based on his track record. But if this team is rebuilding from scratch, he may not be the guy to do it. Tom Kelly was a great manager in his early years, but became so set in his ways and so hostile to young players that by the end he was a terrible manager. The longer Gardy is here the more his power in the organization grows, and when Gardy’s stupid ideas about personnel go from being jokes about playing Punto too much to actually driving front office decisions, then we’ve got a real problem.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — September 26, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  19. Pedro’s best post ever.

    Comment by mike wants wins — September 26, 2011 @ 11:14 am

  20. The answer to the Twins middle infield woes is on the free agent market this year. I would much rather the Twins give Jose Reyes $15 plus million a year than re-sign Cuddiier at $10+ and bring in another retread for the middle infield.

    Comment by zack — September 26, 2011 @ 11:59 am

  21. Doesn’t Nishi in effect cost as much as Hardy with salary and pro-rated posting fee? The line was more speed and with his 2 stolen bases Nishi does bring more speed. His 0 hr and ops+ of 48 PLUS 2 stolen bases probably make up for 0 stolen bases, 29 hr with an ops+ 115 of Hardy, at least in Gardy’s mind!.

    Comment by Mike — September 26, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

  22. All you’ve done is confirm that the Twins value fielding over hitting, which we already know from countless testimonies from everybody in the organization. Trouble is, a really good defensive team will never get past the Yankees or Red Sox, and can’t beat the Phillies in a World Series.

    The Twins have entered a difficult middle ground, and they’ve hamstrung themselves by pouring too much money on a few players that are breaking down physically. The best thing they could do (and they won’t, of course), would be to dump Mauer, Morneau and all their mega-buck superstars, then become more like the New England Patriots, which is to bring in above-average players at every position, but avoid superstars. Bring in eight good position players and pay them each $6 million dollars per year, saving the rest for the pitching staff.

    You could even announce it publicly as your new business model. A starter on the Twins will be a rich man, and if you win a gold glove, you’ve got the option to go to the Yankees and get even richer, or stay here and win a championship.

    Imagine how that deal would motivate your farm system. All those guys in AA and AAA earning chicken feed would be busting their butts to get on the major league roster. No more $500,000 dollar screw job contracts for good rookies. You start, you get paid the standard $6 million per year rate, just like all the other starters. You falter, you go back to what you earned before, chicken feed.

    Comment by jimbo92107 — September 26, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

  23. A good article, Aaron.

    It may sound boring, but the Twins should require above-average statistical defensive criteria for ALL positions, within parameters, at the Major League level. This approach can be implemented early in the minors in player development.

    At the Major League level, players who handle their positions well should be recognized and appreciated. Trading Hardy away was a bad mistake. He’s a very good shortstop, with high zone rating stats, in addition to good offensive numbers.

    In my opinion, Casilla played his best baseball in 2011 as a shortstop, his natural position. Put him there to start 2012, and move Nishioka to Rochester for more development. Hughes has been impressive defensively, but needs seasoning as a hitter. Dozier might be the best surprise coming out of the minors, aside from Parmelee’s bat. Plouffe is a question mark defensively; second base seems to be a better fit for him than shortstop.

    If I was Bill Smith, I would sign the Indians’ Jack Hannahan (St. Paul native), who can play solid defense practically anywhere in the infield.

    With a probable 100-loss season, this is now a great time to start with a clean slate and re-commit to basics. Nieto was the fall guy for a mediocre system which has neglected the basics for a while now.

    Comment by joe — September 26, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  24. The Twins could get Reyes for “$15 plus million” if the “plus” = $6M or so. For 7 years. Gulp. He’s looking for and will probably get Carl Crawford $. The Twins aren’t going there unless they’ve suddenly decided to increase payroll to the $125M level.

    Comment by BR — September 26, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  25. Just a footnote to the entry above: reasonable exceptions should be considered when using statistical criteria. Thus, the “within parameters” hedge. For example, Valencia showed a good amount of solid defense in 2010. I would stick with the kid at third base, despite his inconsistent defense this year. And for whatever reason, Tom Kelly saw some promise in a young shortstop —Greg Gagne —whose defensive numbers were average at best prior to his stellar 1987 season.

    Finally, Cuddyer’s defensive stats in right field may be declining as he gets older and loses a few steps, but he still has a strong, accurate arm.

    Comment by joe — September 26, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  26. I’ll take an average arm and good range over a strong arm and no range any day. Cuddeyer cannot get to balls in this field. A samller field (where his flyballs will fly out more) would help his defense and offense.

    Comment by mike wants wins — September 26, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

  27. Check out Gardenhire’s stats as a player. He’s still looking for the kind of player he wanted to be at 2B-SS, and the Twins keep ending up with the player he was.
    So friggin’ true!

    Gardy was delusional about what kind of player he was – not surprising. Gardy is delusional about what kind of player is valuable – basically him. The problem isn’t just that the Twinks end up with “actually Gardy” as opposed to “fantasy Gardy” it’s also that neither are that good anyway.

    There’s nothing wrong with battling your tail off. The problem is that’s all these stiff can actually do, since they lack any real baseball talent.

    So, the overall problem is the twins idea of middle infield is from the ’50′s and everyone else is playing modern baseball.

    Comment by Son of Shane Mack — September 26, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  28. I agree that Gardy is generally to tough on the young guys but what I recall was that Plouffe had that track record in the minors as well.

    Comment by MC — September 26, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

  29. “but it remains to be seen if the Twins are capable of learning from mistakes and adapting.”

    Most important part of this article.

    Comment by Hurricane Cake — September 26, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

  30. i have no idea how Jack Hannahan fits into this mess other than that he is a st. paul native, joe can go cuddle with sid a dream that dream.

    Jimbo thinks joe mauer and his contract are the problem, let me let you in on something jimbo. we got this new thing called target field, 23 million aint the problem and joe mauer is one of the top 3 catchers in mlb, like it or not. oh and another thing we can learn after watching the Hardy debacle….injury does not preclude future injury (brain and spine injuries are different).. in other words, just because Mauer has been hurt for a long time, doesn’t mean he will always be hurt.

    The Twins can fix this thing with some sound moves. I would feel good about it if aaron had bill smith’s ear, but the twins don’t think like aaron. they have had a ton of success in the past decade and they deserve credit for that, but this feels like a ship headed for an iceberg with everyone sans the lower class fast asleep.

    Comment by spoofbonser — September 26, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

  31. I’ll beat this dead horse just one more time, promise!

    Choosing Natural Adjective Ladders
    By Fred Hicks, Lee Valentine, John Morrow, and Ian McDonald

    http://www.ianm.eclipse.co.uk/storytelling/lichert_article.htm

    Results in detail:
    Rated on a scale from 1 to 10
    Below is the mean and standard deviation of the ratings words were given out of ten to a sample of primary-language English-speakers.

    Adjective Mean SD
    Phenomenal 9.5 1.2
    World-Class 9.5 0.6
    Incredible 9.0 0.9
    Amazing 8.9 1.0
    Exceptional 8.7 1.1
    Excellent 8.3 1.0
    Superior 8.2 1.0
    Great 8.0 1.1
    Good 6.9 1.1
    Fine 6.6 1.2
    Decent 6.2 0.9
    Fair 5.4 0.9
    Average 5.0 0.8
    Mediocre 4.4 0.9
    Limited 3.8 1.0
    Weak 3.4 0.9
    Deficient 3.2 0.9
    Inferior 3.1 1.0
    Poor 2.9 1.1
    Bad 2.6 1.0
    Awful 1.9 0.9
    Terrible 1.8 1.3
    Dreadful 1.9 0.9
    Abysmal 1.3 0.8

    Personally, I rate most of the Twins’ performances as “Weak” to “Deficiently Inferior” (and the numbers likely suggest worse), Gardy, Vavra and Anderson’s performances at “Bad” to “Awful” and Bill Smith’s performance at “Dreadfully Abysmal”, the MI problem is entirely on Gardy and Smith. I’m struggling to come up with any Twins name in 2011 that could even qualify as “Decent”, probably Perkins, until the last month. Nishioka and Butera would definitely require a new rung on the adjective ladder below “Abysmal”.

    Comment by jokin — September 26, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

  32. I suspect recent personnel moves have been greatly influenced by Gardenhire. For one, sending Hardy away and getting Nishioka had Gardy’s fingerprints all over it. Remember how he was talking about getting speed at the shortstop position? And while he may not have said, “……get me this Nishioka guy” he most certainly was looking for a player with a certain profile. Bill Smith and the scouting team gave him that.

    Aaron has discussed this before it has to be part of the dialogue although I don’t think these clowns even use sabremetrics. I have no idea why the middle infield is anemic offensively seemingly by default. Can they not find players with some speed and defense who can hit the ball 400 feet every once in a blue moon? It’s almost as if they’d rather have a guy who’ll hit 0 HRs over a guy who can hit 12-15 all other things equal. Invariably the guy with the 0 HRs will more than likely be lauded as a player who ‘gets after it’ and ‘does stuff good’ while the other player with the HRs gets criticized. That’s how things go here. It’s mystifying as well as annoying.

    Gardy is just too stubborn to accept certain realities. One of the reasons the Twins were successful last year was because they had a deep lineup. They’ve completely gutted it. This team will lose 90 games EASILY next season and the offense will likely be one of the worst–if not the worst–in the AL. I almost blame Gardenhire more than I do Smith. He seems to not have the first clue on how to construct a roster. Specifically when we are talking about offense.

    I get a kick out of people who think we need to run out and get an ace. That wouldn’t make a difference anyway. I don’t care if we had Verlander AND Halladay….we’d probably still have a losing record. With a lineup that will probably field Ben Revere, Nishioka, Butera and Casilla many times over don’t expect to score enough runs to compete. As Danny Valencia so cogently pointed out, “you can’t win if you don’t score any runs’

    Comment by ewen21 — September 26, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

  33. I almost blame Gardenhire more than I do Smith. He seems to not have the first clue on how to construct a roster.

    AMEN!

    The more the Twins have listened to his “needs” and “wants” the worse they have gotten.

    Back when Terry Ryan – not that he was perfect – was GM, he gave Gardy what he needed, not what he wanted.

    Gardy’s a decent manager when he gets tools to win. Sadly, the tools he thinks he needs and the ones that are actually useful are often two different things.

    Comment by Son of Shane Mack — September 26, 2011 @ 11:04 pm

  34. Hardy strained his left wrist sliding into 3rd base on May 4 (.699 OPS at that point). He went on the DL and missed 17 games. He then came back before the wrist was fully healed, and played 12 games (10 starts). He tried to play with the injury, going 5-38 with a double and 2 walks (.333 OPS).

    By June 6, he had a .599 OPS, so the Twins put him back on the DL and he missed 23 games. From July 3 (1st game back from DL) to October 3 (last game of season), he had a .791 OPS.

    If you take away the 2-week period between DL stints, he’d have a .761 OPS for the season (If I did the math correctly).

    In conclusion, a .714 OPS is decent for a SS with a bad wrist.

    Comment by Ben H. — September 27, 2011 @ 5:48 am

  35. Very interesting article. You are very correct, they have not had good hitting middle infielders.

    Comment by Jon L. — September 27, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

  36. Good article, Aaron. Uncanny, isn’t it? But I gotta say it. Give me a good defensive team first. Please, Billy. I was at the game last night. Plouffe can’t play MLB defense. Valencia can’t play MLB defense. Dinkelman in left was a vast improvement over Delmon, and he still sucks. The list goes on. Hughes. Cuddyer. Kubel. Span. Revere. Tolbert. Yuk.

    Comment by birdofprey — September 27, 2011 @ 7:32 pm

  37. People are still questioning this!? I’m sorry, defense is important, but the difference between an average fielder and a superior fielder is very small. Maybe one or two plays a week for a player, maybe one or two plays a game for the whole team. Might we give up an extra base here or there? Yes, but when it brings down the average run production by a factor of 1-3 runs, that is hard to make up.

    You can’t put defense first at C, SS, 2B, LF, CF, and 3B. We have been blessed to have a catcher in Mauer who could produce with the bat and the glove.

    My personal opinion is that defense is very important at C and CF. Beyond that, make sure your infield can make the routine plays and your LF/RF aren’t complete statutes. Also, speed is nice, but an OF arm is important too. Revere can track them down but anything hit his direction with a runner on first is an automatic 1st and 3rd.

    The pendulum has swung a bit too far in recent years towards defense first, in my opinion. Its important but you have to score runs too.

    Comment by Andy — September 28, 2011 @ 2:09 am

  38. Not only has the pendulum swung too far remember this is the org that judges fielding, at least publicly, almost exclusively on errors. So I don’t even trust their ability to asses defensive prospects.

    Comment by Gendo — September 28, 2011 @ 2:49 am

  39. Jokin: wonderful post on the natural adjective ladder. Kind of a sabremetric analysis of words. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it.

    Jimbo 92107: Signing Mauer and Morneau was the first step in this downward spiral. Small market teams cannont afford superstars. We saw it in 1991 with the signing of Puckett and Hrbek. I saw it here in Baltimore with Cal Ripken. The large contracts become cement overshoes for the franchise. It is not possible to do the right thing (the fans would scream bloody murder), but each superstar should have been traded for three top prospects.

    Comment by Martin Arrowsmith — September 28, 2011 @ 11:35 am

  40. Martin, the Twins are not a small market team anymore. $115 mil payroll, top third in MLB. Not a small market team.

    Also, I shudder to think about the “three top prospects” Billy Smith would have gotten for Mauer. Two single-A relievers and a “speedy” middle infielder to appease Gardy?

    Comment by Ed Bast — September 28, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  41. Ed: I’m a big believer in the “1 for 3″ trade, but of course the devil in in the choices. I despise the reverse: the “3 for 1″ trade.

    As to the “small market” designation, to me it is binary: you have the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Angels and a few others perhaps. The rest of us are all small market relative to them. It comes down to whether you can buy a player to fill any particular need at the moment, and whether you can afford to sign a long term star who then goes sour. No on both accounts for the Twins, unfortunately.

    Comment by Martin Arrowsmith — September 28, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  42. Martin,

    Please explain to me how Joe Mauer’s 2011-2017 contract prevented the Twins from acquiring offensively above-average middle infielders from 2002-2011.

    Comment by Brian — September 28, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

  43. The idea that signing Mauer and Morneau to big contracts led to the Twins downfall is nonsense. With the new ballpark, the Twins have the ability to support a payroll in excess of $100 million, and there is nothing wrong with paying two guys 30 to 35 percent of the payroll when those guys are MVP caliber players. If you look at the value numbers on Fangraphs, both those guys have exceeded their current salaries multiple times. It looks bad now because Morneau suffered a freak injury and Mauer had an injury-filled and down year, but at the time I think both those signings were justified. The same goes for Puckett and Hrbek (who actually took at lot less than market value to stay). They were top caliber players whose salaries were justified by their performance even though they ate up significant parts of the payroll. The Twins really went downhill after they retired, but their performance (and salaries) were far from the reason the Twins fell apart.

    Ripken did not provide good value at the end of his career, but the Orioles were stuck because he was a legend. The problems that team has had over the years have very little to do with Ripken’s salary. The Orioles were also stuck with the fact that Ripken was a selfish asshole who put his individual record over the good of the team.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — September 28, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

  44. So the Twins were purportedly choosing fielding over hitting. Is there any evidence that even their fielding was good? Do you have a similar retrospective look at the MI’s UZR or TZL ratings perhaps? I sure hope that given those hitting numbers their defense actually measured out well in more than reputation. Relatedly, was their MI defense ever good enough to make up for their (lack of) hitting?

    Comment by Westy — October 3, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

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