August 29, 2012

Twins Notes: Morneau, Hendriks, Pavano, Sano, Liriano, Mauer, and Battey

• Within the Los Angeles Times' story about the Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster trade was this tidbit from beat reporter Dylan Hernandez:

A four-time All-Star first baseman, [Adrian] Gonzalez was the prize in the deal. The Dodgers inquired about him leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and approached the Red Sox again after a failed attempt to land Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau last week.

Not shocking, as the Dodgers were also linked to Justin Morneau in July, but the notion of the Twins turning them down multiple times is certainly interesting. Morneau has been excellent since the All-Star break, hitting .320/.365/.523 in 39 games, but his overall production this season still qualifies as good but not great and his health remains an issue. Toss in the fact that he has one year and $14 million left on his contract and Morneau's trade value isn't great.

Or at least it shouldn't be, which makes me wonder if they should've jumped at the Dodgers' offer assuming it included any kind of decent prospect. Simply clearing Morneau's salary off the books for 2013 has value to the Twins, especially with Chris Parmelee waiting in the wings as a minimum-salaried replacement, and the Dodgers ended up sending a surprisingly strong package of players to the Red Sox for the right to take on $275 million in mostly bad contracts.

Given how the Dodgers are throwing around money it's not safe to assume their interest in Morneau and his contract guarantees similar interest from other teams, and now Los Angeles is no longer an option for a future deal. Obviously every Twins fan would love to see Morneau resume being an elite hitter, but $14 million would come in handy and letting him walk for nothing as a free agent in 15 months would be a missed opportunity.

Liam Hendriks came into Monday with an 0-8 record and 6.75 ERA in 13 career starts, threw a one-run complete game while allowing just three hits ... and lost 1-0 to Felix Hernandez. Setting aside the silliness of "wins" and "losses" for pitchers it was a very encouraging outing and it's nice to see the Twins giving Hendriks an opportunity to start every fifth day down the stretch following another good stint at Triple-A. At age 23 he maintains mid-rotation potential.

Carl Pavano has been ruled out for the season and--you may want to sit down for this--the Twins' medical staff apparently failed to properly diagnose his injury for three months before a second opinion found the source of the problem:

It's too bad it took three months diagnose that. I could have been resting. The good news is, it doesn't require surgery. I've had this in the past and gotten through it, and obviously I've pitched a lot since then. But as far as I'm concerned, this whole season has been a failure on many levels, for myself, for the team. It's just kind of lousy that it took this long.

Pavano went on to blame himself, rather than the Twins, but it's tough not to connect those dots after reading John Shipley's article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Keith Law of recently stopped by Beloit to watch the Twins' low Single-A team and had some interesting observations about Miguel Sano. First, the good:

Sano has incredibly easy power, with a clean, rotational swing that generates most of its power from his hips and legs, a textbook example of how to make hard contact and drive the ball to all fields. His home run on Friday night went over the batter's eye in Beloit, which is 380 feet from home plate, and he drove two more balls to left without even squaring either up fully.

And now, the bad:

Sano's biggest drawback is his obvious disdain for the defensive side of the game. ... So while he has the arm and hands for [third base] now, the question of whether he'll outgrow the position is secondary to the question of whether he'll work enough to make third base a possibility.

Law also wrote up reports on Eddie Rosario, Kennys Vargas, and Taylor Rogers.

• Monday night Lew Ford started at designated hitter and batted fifth for the Orioles, going deep off White Sox starter Francisco Liriano for his first homer since 2007. What a world.

• Speaking of Liriano, since being traded to the White Sox he's started six games with a 4.26 ERA and 33-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32 innings. Liriano has allowed two or fewer runs in five of those six starts and dating back to rejoining the Twins' rotation in May he's started 17 games with a 3.87 ERA, .211 opponents' batting average, and 112 strikeouts in 98 innings.

Joe Mauer passed Earl Battey for the most games caught in Twins history, which provides a good reason to remind everyone that Battey was a helluva player.

• While researching a future article about prospect development, I stumbled across this:

Mauer in the minors: .330 batting average, .406 on-base percentage, 1.2 walks per strikeout
Mauer in the majors: .322 batting average, .404 on-base percentage, 1.2 walks per strikeout

It's probably also worth noting that Mauer was done playing in the minors at age 20, played only 73 games above Single-A, and skipped Triple-A altogether.

Joe Benson's nightmare season now includes left knee surgery, along with a demotion from Triple-A to Double-A and a broken wrist. Coming into the year he looked just about ready to claim a starting job in the majors at age 24, but instead he hit .202/.288/.336 while missing half the season with injuries and never even got to Minnesota.

• Twins' record in their last 300 games: 117-183.

Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times depressingly notes that all the recent losing has dropped the Twins' all-time record since moving to Minnesota below .500.

• Hundreds of players are placed on revocable waivers every August. Mauer is reportedly one of them. Probably isn't the first time. Probably won't be the last time. The end.

• I'm not sure what exactly is going on here with Mauer, but I watched it about 50 times.

• I went to last night's Twins-Mariners game (the weather was nice, at least), which means I was part of the smallest crowd in Target Field history.

• For a lot more about Morneau and Hendriks, check out this week's Gleeman and The Geek.

May 26, 2011

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #17 Earl Battey

Earl Jesse Battey Jr. | C | 1961-1967 | Career Stats

Signed by the White Sox in 1953 out of a Los Angeles high school, Earl Battey made his MLB debut in 1955 at age 20. He collected a pair of hits in a five-game cup of coffee, but didn't see his first extended action in the majors until 1957. Battey then spent the next three seasons serving as Sherm Lollar's backup in Chicago, playing sparingly behind the seven-time All-Star while batting just .209/.301/.377 in 413 total plate appearances.

In the last of those three seasons backing up Lollar a 24-year-old Battey lost playing time to another 24-year-old catcher, rookie Johnny Romano. Romano hit .294/.407/.468 in 53 games to overtake Battey for the second spot on the depth chart during Chicago's run to the World Series. Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Lollar was showing no signs of slowing down, turning in his second straight 20-homer, 80-RBI season while batting .265/.345/.451 in 140 games.

Lollar had been one of the AL's best catchers for a decade, so the White Sox decided to stick with him. That offseason owner Bill Veeck dealt Romano and 24-year-old first baseman Norm Cash to the Indians for a four-player package that included Minnie Minoso. Then two weeks before Opening Day the White Sox sent Battey, 22-year-old first baseman Don Mincher, and $150,000 to the Senators for Roy Sievers.

The trades paid immediate dividends, as both the 33-year-old Minoso and 34-year-old Sievers gave Chicago two strong seasons before leaving, but the moves were long-term disasters. Cash batted .361 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs for Detroit in 1961 and went on to make five All-Star teams. While not quite the hitter that Cash became, Mincher made two All-Star teams and hit .249/.348/.450 with 200 homers.

Romano, who went on to make a pair of All-Star teams while batting .255/.354/.443 during his 10-year career, immediately took over as the Indians' starting catcher, hitting .272/.349/.475 in 1960 while the 35-year-old Lollar hit just .252/.326/.356 for the White Sox. Similarly, 1960 also saw Battey become an instant starter for the Senators, winning the AL Gold Glove award while batting .270/.346/.406 with 15 homers during the team's final season in Washington.

They moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1961 and Harmon Killebrew starred by hitting .288/.405/.606 with 46 homers and 122 RBIs. While he was putting together the first of what would be seven 40-homer seasons, Battey was quickly establishing himself as one of the premier all-around catchers. Battey, now 26, won his second straight Gold Glove award and hit .302/.377/.470 with 17 homers while starting 127 games and catching over 1,100 innings.

Battey declined in 1962, hitting .280/.348/.393, but won his third straight Gold Glove and made the first of four All-Star teams. He bounced back to have the best season of his career in 1963, hitting .285/.369/.476 with 26 homers while catching an AL-leading 1,237 innings in an AL-high 142 starts and finishing seventh in the MVP voting. Yankees catcher Elston Howard won the MVP, but Battey produced similar numbers while batting 55 more times in 12 more games:

            G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     HR     RBI
Howard    135     531     .287     .342     .528     .870     28      85
Battey    147     586     .285     .369     .476     .845     26      84

Battey declined in 1964, hitting a still-solid .272/.348/.407, but bounced back in 1965 to finish 10th in the MVP voting. Twins teammates Zoilo Versalles and Tony Oliva finished one-two in the balloting and Mudcat Grant placed sixth, with Battey hitting .297/.375/.409 as the team won 102 games and the AL crown before falling to the Dodgers in the World Series. He caught all seven games despite running neck-first into a railing chasing a foul ball in Game 3.

Despite being just 30 years old 1965 proved to be his final great season as weight problems, injuries, and big workloads caught up to Battey. He hit .255/.337/.327 in 1966, but split time with Russ Nixon and Jerry Zimmerman in 1966, batting .165. After retiring he worked with inner-city kids in New York before going to college at age 45, graduating Summa Cum Laude. He then became a high-school teacher and coach in Florida before dying from cancer in 2003.

Battey's relatively brief career ended shortly after his 30th birthday and one of his best years came in Washington for the Senators, yet for four decades he ranked as the best catcher in Twins history. His raw offensive numbers during seven seasons in Minnesota (.278/.356/.409 with 76 homers) look solid and the multiple Gold Gloves awards tell the story of his defensive reputation, but without a closer look at Battey's career it's easy to undersell his impact.

His entire career was spent in one of the lowest-scoring eras ever and he played a position that was the most physically demanding and often home to no-hit defensive specialists. Battey was a stud on both sides of the ball, logging a huge number of innings, frequently catching one of the league's best pitching staffs, throwing out a high percentage of steal attempts, and putting up numbers offensively that were far more impressive than they initially appear.

For instance, when Battey hit .285/.369/.476 with 26 homers in 1963 the AL as a whole hit just .247/.312/.380. Go forward 40 years to 2003 and the AL hit .267/.333/.428, which means Battey's line in 1963 was the equivalent of batting .315/.400/.530 in 2003 and he would have cleared 30 homers with ease. As it stands, he ranked among the AL's top five catchers in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) in each of his six full seasons with the Twins:

1961              VORP     1962              VORP     1963              VORP
Elston Howard     52.6     Johnny Romano     33.8     Elston Howard     44.0
Johnny Romano     41.5     Elston Howard     26.1     EARL BATTEY       41.1
Johnny Blanchard  32.6     EARL BATTEY       17.2     John Orsino       28.0
EARL BATTEY       32.0     Jim Pagliaroni    13.4     Joe Azcue         17.6
Earl Averill      21.6     Ken Retzer        11.9     Yogi Berra        14.0

1964              VORP     1965              VORP     1966              VORP
Elston Howard     43.1     EARL BATTEY       29.8     Johnny Romano     16.7
Bill Freehan      37.0     Johnny Romano     24.1     Joe Azcue         10.4
Bob Tillman       24.7     Billy Bryan       18.4     Elston Howard      7.9
Johnny Romano     21.1     Charlie Lau       10.4     Paul Casanova      7.8
EARL BATTEY       19.0     John Orsino        9.7     EARL BATTEY        5.8

No other catcher cracked the top five in each of those six seasons and the only guys to make it five times were Howard and Battey's old competition, Romano (see what I mean about those trades not working out especially well for the White Sox long term?). And VORP only accounts for hitting. As outstanding as Battey was offensively, it's his defense--and specifically his great arm behind the plate--that actually may have been the strongest part of his game.

Battey was never especially mobile to begin with and became perhaps MLB's slowest player once age, the rigors of five straight 1,000-inning seasons defensively, and excess weight from a goiter problem sapped him of whatever limited quickness he once had. Despite that, Battey never lost his amazing arm and remained the league's best-throwing catcher throughout his career. Battey allowed just 226 stolen bases in over 6,700 innings at catcher for the Twins.

Allowing one steal for every 30 innings during the run-heavy 1960s is amazing enough, but he also gunned down nearly 40 percent of steal attempts. Teams rarely tested him despite the huge steal totals being posted throughout baseball, yet Battey still managed a league-leading caught-stealing total three times. He also led the AL in pickoffs four times, including 15 in 1962. That season Battey allowed 34 steals and picked off or threw out 42 runners.

On-Base Percentage   .356    18th
Walks                 328    19th
Adjusted OPS+         109    21st
Games                 853    22nd
Hits                  768    22nd
Times On Base        1113    22nd
Runs Created          399    22nd
Plate Appearances    3161    24th
Homers                 76    24th
Total Bases          1131    24th
Batting Average      .278    25th
RBIs                  350    25th