July 17, 2014

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Hitters

mauer dozier bartlett

After getting on base at a .353 clip and averaging 5.5 runs per game in April to inspire talk of a new, ultra-patient offensive approach the Twins have a .310 on-base percentage and 3.9 runs per game since May 1. Overall they're in the middle of the pack in offense, walking a lot and hitting a bunch of doubles but struggling to hit for average or home run power. Before the second half gets underway here's a hitter-by-hitter look at the individual performances ...

Brian Dozier: .242/.340/.436 in 424 plate appearances

I once mocked people for thinking Brian Dozier had star-caliber upside, because he was elderly for a prospect and never showed power in the minors, but now at age 27 and three seasons into his Twins career he's one of the best all-around second basemen in baseball. And a power hitter, too. In the minors Dozier was a high-contact, low-power hitter with a .298 batting average and a grand total of 16 homers in 365 games, but he's taken the opposite approach in the majors.

Dozier has hit just .242 with 79 strikeouts in 92 games, which no doubt played a part in his being overlooked for the All-Star game, but that comes with 18 homers and 52 walks for a .777 OPS. Among the 27 players to start at least 50 games at second base this year Dozier ranks 11th in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging percentage, and seventh in OPS. And in Twins history his 115 adjusted OPS+ is the highest by a second baseman since Todd Walker in 1998.

Being among the top 5-10 offensive second basemen in MLB is impressive enough for a guy who hit just .232/.286/.337 in 48 games at Triple-A as recently as 2012, but Dozier has also made the transition from poor-fielding shortstop to good-fielding second baseman. Add it all up and Dozier ranks fourth among all MLB second basemen in Wins Above Replacement behind only Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Chase Utley. He was the Twins' best player in the first half.

Joe Mauer: .271/.342/.353 in 339 plate appearances

Joe Mauer's move from catcher to first base was supposed to keep him healthier and hopefully lead to an increase in offensive production, but instead he struggled throughout most of the first half before going on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle. Mauer's first half was ugly overall, but the injury came at a particularly bad time because he was quietly starting to turn things around and look like his old self.

In the 20 games prior to going on the disabled list Mauer hit .320 with nine doubles, including a 12-game hitting streak that he took with him to the DL. Those are baby steps, of course, and Mauer's increased strikeout rate and surprisingly unimpressive defense at first base suggest that perhaps last year's season-ending concussion may still be an issue. Brain injuries don't just vanish with the start of a new season, after all, and so far he's been a replacement-level first baseman.

Trevor Plouffe: .245/.317/.409 in 334 plate appearances

He looked like a totally different hitter in April, sacrificing power for batting average and plate discipline while using the opposite field far more than ever before, but Trevor Plouffe eventually turned back into Trevor Plouffe. He batted .218/.272/.379 with 48 strikeouts and 15 walks in 53 games after May 1 and his overall mark of .245/.317/.409 is nearly identical to his .243/.305/.414 line from 2011-2013.

What has changed are Plouffe's defensive numbers. Ultimate Zone Rating previously pegged him among the majors' worst fielders, but he graded out slightly above average in the first half. As an average defender with a .725 OPS he's a decent starting third baseman, but I'd bet on his UZR dipping into the negatives by season's end and he's now a 28-year-old career .241/.304/.411 hitter after hitting .258/.320/.405 in the minors. Funny how that works.

Kurt Suzuki: .309/.365/.396 in 311 plate appearances

Available for a one-year, $2.75 million contract this offseason because he hit just .237/.294/.357 from 2010-2013 while struggling to throw out base-stealers, Kurt Suzuki posted career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS in the first half on the way to making his first All-Star team at age 30. He also received a ton of credit for "handling" the Twins' pitching staff, but the numbers and particularly pitch-framing data don't really back up that notion.

Suzuki was a promising young catcher for the A's, but quickly wore down after huge workloads early in his career. My theory is that playing his way out of a full-time gig actually helped him physically, so it'll be interesting to see what happens if he starts 5-6 times a week in the second half. The signing has worked out better than anyone could have expected, especially since the Twins' other free agent catching targets, A.J. Pierzynski and John Buck, have had brutal years.

Eduardo Escobar: .271/.313/.404 in 274 plate appearances

After beginning the season in a utility role Eduardo Escobar took over for Pedro Florimon as the starting shortstop and hit .328/.362/.479 through the end of May. That came as a complete shock from a guy who hit just .228/.280/.307 in the majors and .269/.319/.358 in the minors prior to this season. And sure enough Escobar's magic wore off and he finished the first half by hitting .221/.269/.338 in his final 37 games.

Even with the predictable slide to end the first half Escobar was an above-average hitter for a shortstop and graded out well defensively according to Ultimate Zone Rating. Still, his terrible track record and ugly 57/16 K/BB ratio this season are strong reasons for skepticism that he can be a starting-caliber shortstop, although given the Twins' underwhelming alternatives he should get a chance to prove himself one way or another in the second half.

Josh Willingham: .212/.362/.410 in 199 plate appearances

Josh Willingham got hurt right away and then returned from the disabled list on fire in late May, hitting .316/.467/.632 with five homers and 14 walks in his first 17 games. Then he went into a prolonged slump that carried into the All-Star break, hitting .122 with 33 strikeouts in his final 26 games of the first half. Even with that brutal stretch his season totals are still decent, but when combined with terrible defense he's been a below-average corner outfielder.

Investing three years and $21 million in Willingham looked like a brilliant move after one season, but in the next two seasons he's hit .209/.348/.380 while missing 96 of a possible 256 games. He's a prime example of why multi-year contracts for mid-30s players are so sketchy and it's hard to imagine the Twins getting anything of value for him in trade. That ship sailed two offseasons ago, when they refused to consider moving Willingham coming off a career-year.

Oswaldo Arcia: .222/.312/.371 in 189 plate appearances

Oswaldo Arcia, much like Willingham, was injured one week into the season and then performed very well upon coming off the disabled list in late May only to slump horribly. His slump can be traced back to an ankle injury, although certainly Arcia has shown himself to be capable of extreme ups and downs without any other factors playing a part. His power remains very good, but he's yet to show any semblance of plate discipline or ability to handle left-handed pitching.

The good news is that he's still just 23 years old. The bad news is that even in the minors he couldn't hit lefties or control the strike zone. Through his first 143 games as a big leaguer Arcia has hit just .221/.266/.331 off lefties and his overall K/BB ratio is a pathetic 173/39. He continues to possess a ton of long-term upside, but tapping into it will prove difficult unless he makes some big strides in those two areas.

Chris Colabello: .246/.295/.427 in 183 plate appearances

Chris Colabello got off to an extremely fast start, fell into a brutal slump that got him demoted back to Triple-A, and has fared well in limited action since rejoining the team following Mauer's injury. Blended together he's been a slightly below average hitter with good power and horrible strike zone control, posting a 56/11 K/BB ratio after debuting with a 58/20 mark in 55 games last season. At age 30 he's a marginal big leaguer best suited for a part-time role.

Jason Kubel: .224/.313/.295 in 176 plate appearances

After making the team out of spring training and hitting .400 through 10 games Jason Kubel batted .168 with zero homers and 49 strikeouts in the next 36 games before being released in early June. Providing a home for his comeback attempt wasn't an idea without merit and the price was certainly right, but he looked totally washed up and by the end had trouble simply making contact at the plate. And yet Kubel still has a higher OPS than Kendrys Morales.

Sam Fuld: .285/.367/.380 in 159 plate appearances

Picked up off the waiver wire in mid-April as an Aaron Hicks alternative, Sam Fuld has exceeded expectations offensively while showing that he still has the wheels to be a standout defensively at age 32. He's definitely played well over his head, but thanks to his speed and defense Fuld has generally been a solid backup outfielder and with Hicks looking like more of a question mark than ever the Twins figure to give him plenty of action in the second half.

Josmil Pinto: .222/.323/.407 in 158 plate appearances

After an excellent September debut Josmil Pinto picked up where he left off this year as one of the Twins' best hitters, but then he fell into the first slump of his career and immediately got demoted to Triple-A so the team could make room for Morales. Pinto's defense may be bad enough that he'll never stick as more than an emergency catcher, but he's a 25-year-old career .265/.349/.464 hitter through 64 games as a big leaguer and deserved a much longer leash.

Aaron Hicks: .198/.338/.262 in 156 plate appearances

For the second straight season the Twins handed Hicks a starting job without any backup plan and for the second straight season he hit below .200 to lose the gig. Along the way this time he gave up switch-hitting only to take it back up again weeks later and is now at Double-A, where his performance in 2012 convinced the Twins he was ready to make the jump to the majors. Hicks has shown that he can draw walks, but everything else--including defense--is in major question.

Chris Parmelee: .271/.304/.400 in 148 plate appearances

It's time to give up on Chris Parmelee developing into an impact player. For all the optimism that surrounds any decent stretch the former first-round pick puts together he's a 26-year-old career .251/.318/.396 hitter in 800 plate appearances and hasn't shown the ability to control the strike zone versus big-league pitching. There's probably a role for him in the majors as a platoon first baseman or corner outfielder, but that's always a very deep player pool.

Danny Santana: .328/.366/.448 in 143 plate appearances

Called up from Triple-A in early May despite hitting just .268/.311/.381 with poor plate discipline, Danny Santana hit .330 for the Twins while also being thrust into center field duties with little previous experience at the position. Before suffering a knee injury he showed a great arm, elite speed, and surprising pop, but a 27/7 K/BB ratio hints at the same overall lack of readiness that his minor-league numbers did even if there's no denying his first 37 games were impressive.

Kendrys Morales: .229/.254/.328 in 138 plate appearances

Morales' strong first week quieted talk of his being rusty after sitting out two months waiting for a better contract, but since then he's hit .198 with a 17/3 K/BB ratio in 27 games. There was always good reason to wonder if he was even an upgrade over the demoted Pinto and so far he certainly hasn't been, although recently Morales has at least shown some signs of life. At a cost of $8 million the Twins overestimated how good they'd be and how good Morales would be.


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July 9, 2014

Twins Notes: Nolasco, Buxton, Sano, Gordon, Parmelee, and Dozier

ricky nolasco and ron gardenhire

• In signing Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract the Twins touted his durability as a major selling point, as the 31-year-old right-hander had started at least 30 games and logged at least 185 innings in five of the previous six seasons. Now, just four months into his Twins career and with an ugly 5.90 ERA in 18 starts, Nolasco has been shut down with elbow soreness that he's apparently been pitching through since spring training.

If everyone involved is to be believed that news came as a surprise to the Twins, which means either Nolasco went out of his way to hide the injury from trainers and coaches or those same trainers and coaches went out of their way not to investigate his season-long struggles. Or maybe a mixture of both. Certainly if he was hiding the elbow injury that has to be very frustrating for the Twins and Nolasco is absolutely at fault.

However, it's also worth noting that the Twins--from the front office to manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff--have created and repeatedly fed into a culture in which acting like a tough guy and playing through pain is considered noble rather than stupid or irresponsible. Even in discussing how Nolasco hid the injury from the team Gardenhire almost couldn't help acting as if there was something positive about the so-called "old school" approach taken by the pitcher.

Meanwhile, seemingly every season one or two key players try to tough their way through injuries with disastrous results and no one ever seems to learn a lesson from it. Who knows whether that played a role in Nolasco pitching through pain, but it certainly didn't play a role in convincing him to do otherwise. When can we end this outdated, shortsighted approach of letting hugely valuable athletes risk their short- and long-term health and productivity in the name of being tough guys?

If you're a player and you're hurt, tell someone in charge. And if you're someone in charge and a player tells you he's hurt, don't let him continue playing. As simple as those two directives sound, they've been sadly lacking for the Twins in recent years. This time around it led to their trotting out an injured pitcher for 18 horrible starts and putting at risk a $48 million investment. If that's "old school" then everyone flunked out.

• Worst single-season adjusted ERA+ in Twins history among pitchers with 100 or more innings:

68 - Jim Deshaies, 1994
66 - Ricky Nolasco, 2014
71 - Boof Bonser, 2008
72 - Ray Corbin, 1974
72 - Joe Mays, 2003
72 - Jim Hughes, 1976

Helluva list.

• MLB starting pitchers have a combined 3.90 ERA. Twins starters have the following ERAs:

3.70 - Phil Hughes
4.17 - Kyle Gibson
4.79 - Kevin Correia
4.98 - Yohan Pino
5.90 - Ricky Nolasco
6.52 - Sam Deduno
7.99 - Mike Pelfrey

As a group Twins starting pitchers rank 29th among MLB teams in ERA, ahead of only the Coors Field-inflated Rockies. Last season they ranked 30th in ERA and in 2012 they ranked 29th in ERA, also ahead of only Colorado.

Byron Buxton finally returned from a wrist injury after sitting out the first three-plus months of the season and despite all the missed time Baseball America's midseason update still ranked him as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. Miguel Sano also ranked No. 9 even though the Twins just announced that he'll miss the entire season following elbow surgery and pitchers Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, and Alex Meyer also cracked Baseball America's updated top 40.

• Meyer looks to be back on track at Triple-A after some struggles last month. He struck out 10 last night and has a 2.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings over his last three starts.

• No. 5 overall draft pick Nick Gordon has hit .359/.408/.500 with five extra-base hits and four stolen bases through his first 15 pro games for rookie-level Elizabethon.

Chris Parmelee is 26 years old and has batted .235 with a .299 on-base percentage and .370 slugging percentage in 677 plate appearances since his big September debut, so it's probably time to stop getting excited whenever he has a decent week.

• His batting average isn't pretty, but Brian Dozier's current 112 adjusted OPS+ is the best by a Twins middle infielder since Todd Walker in 1998 and Chuck Knoblauch in 1994-1996.

• He's a deserving All-Star, but it's odd to hear Kurt Suzuki endlessly praised for "handling" a pitching staff that ranks 28th in ERA, especially when pitch-framing stats show him as poor.

• This offseason the Twins were believed to be deciding between Suzuki and John Buck as their veteran catcher addition. Buck hit .226/.293/.286 for the Mariners and just got released.

• I looked this up after watching him leg out a single Monday evening: Kendrys Morales has 48 career infield hits, including at least 10 in three different years. Imagine that.

Eduardo Escobar was hitting .314/.357/.473 on June 15. Since then he's 9-for-66 (.136) with 17 strikeouts and 2 walks. Track records: Trust 'em.

Hisashi Iwakuma owns the Twins, with a 5-0 record and 0.00 ERA in five starts against them.

Vance Worley has a 2.28 ERA and 18/5 K/BB ratio in four starts for the Pirates, who think they've fixed whatever ailed him with the Twins last season.

Pat Neshek, who has a 2.39 ERA since being waived by the Twins in 2011, made his first All-Star team at age 33.

Lew Ford, now 37 years old, is hitting .372 with a .445 on-base percentage and .568 slugging percentage in the independent Atlantic League. And he's the team's hitting coach too.

• One-time Twins minor leaguer Yangervis Solarte turned back into a pumpkin after a big April and May for the Yankees.


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May 7, 2014

Who should be the Twins’ starting shortstop?

eduardo escobar and pedro florimon

Pedro Florimon started 127 games at shortstop for the Twins last season and began this season in the same role, but now the 27-year-old defensive specialist finds himself mostly on the bench in favor of Eduardo Escobar. Ron Gardenhire has said that he plans to mix and match, but with Florimon hitting .109 and Escobar hitting .348 it seems safe to assume that Escobar will get an extended opportunity to claim the gig as his own.

Florimon was always ill-suited to be an everyday player because he just can't hit and his defense, while very good, is not at the elite level needed to cancel out his lack of offense. For his career he's hit .208/.268/.306 in 678 plate appearances as a big leaguer and .250/.317/.352 in 1,150 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A. For some context, consider that bad-hit, good-glove role model Nick Punto's career OPS is 73 points higher than Florimon's mark in the majors.

On defense Florimon makes lots of slick-looking plays, but he also botches his fair share of routine plays and overall Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him as 3.4 runs above average per 150 games. That's good but not great and when combined with a terrible bat makes him a utility man-caliber player being pushed into a larger role because the Twins lack other decent options. Or do they? Escobar is hitting .348 and delivered a game-winning homer Monday night, after all.

Of course, even with his good work in a small sample of action this season Escobar is still a career .244/.295/.335 hitter in 383 plate appearances as a big leaguer. He also hit just .266/.312/.376 in 875 plate appearances at Triple-A, which is basically what Florimon did with slightly more power. However, it's worth noting that Escobar is a couple years younger than Florimon and has recently shown some actual signs of improvement offensively.

In addition to hitting .348/.380/.522 in 53 plate appearances for the Twins this season Escobar also hit .307/.380/.500 in 188 plate appearances at Triple-A last season. That's still far too small of a sample to get particularly excited about, especially when the good overall production comes along with poor strike zone control, but unlike with Florimon there's at least a little something on which to base some level of optimism for Escobar's bat.

Defensively he's logged a grand total of just 375 innings at shortstop in the majors, so it's tough to make any real judgments, but Ultimate Zone Rating shows Escobar as 11.3 runs above average there per 150 games. Toss in the consistent praise he received defensively in the minors and it seems fairly safe to say that Escobar probably has at least an above-average glove there. So he's younger than Florimon, can't be any worse offensively, and may be as good defensively.

That's enough to convince me Escobar should be above Florimon on the shortstop depth chart, but then again they aren't the only two options. Eduardo Nunez, who was claimed off waivers from the Yankees last month, has plenty of experience as a starting shortstop in the majors subbing for Derek Jeter and the Twins seem convinced that he has offensive potential at age 26. Sadly, his defensive numbers are historically awful and there's little evidence that he's not a terrible hitter.

For his career Nunez has hit .268/.314/.379 in the majors and .272/.315/.365 in the minors, including .275/.318/.360 in 716 plate appearances at Triple-A. He's a better hitter than Florimon and might be a slightly better hitter than Escobar, but Ultimate Zone Rating pegs Nunez as 33.9 runs below average per 150 games at shortstop. Even if you give him the benefit of the doubt and cut that number in half Nunez isn't so much a shortstop as a guy who has played shortstop.

And then there's Danny Santana, a 23-year-old prospect called up from Triple-A way ahead of schedule because injuries left the Twins short-handed. Santana has gotten a surprising amount of prospect hype for someone who hasn't actually done much to deserve it. He's posted some decent batting averages in the minors, which along with good speed and athleticism tend to get lots of people excited, but he's also never cracked a .750 OPS in a season and makes a ton of errors.

Last season at Double-A he hit .297 with 30 steals in 137 games, but he also managed just two homers and 24 walks in 587 plate appearances. This season at Triple-A prior to being called up Santana hit .268/.311/.381 with zero homers and a 28-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 games. He's clearly not close to being MLB ready and there's plenty of reason to question whether he'll ever be ready to contribute as more than a utility man.

In the short term Escobar over Florimon seems like a fairly easy choice for Gardenhire and in the slightly longer term perhaps Santana will emerge as a viable option late this season or next, but as has been the case for more than a decade now the Twins lack long-term shortstop options that look capable of being assets both offensively and defensively. Their next good shortstop probably isn't in the organization, assuming such a person has even been born yet or will ever exist.


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September 11, 2013

Twins Notes: September call-ups, bad Buxton, and cleaning up young

aaron hicks september1

• Rochester's playoff run ended Sunday at Triple-A, so the Twins made seven September call-ups after initially not adding reinforcements. Eduardo Escobar, Chris Parmelee, Scott Diamond, and Michael Tonkin return after playing for the Twins previously this season and Cole De Vries is back in Minnesota for the first time this year after spending much of last season in the Twins' rotation, leaving Shairon Martis and Eric Fryer as the surprising call-ups.

Fryer is a 28-year-old journeyman catcher with 2,081 plate appearances in the minors compared to 34 plate appearances in the majors. He hit just .219/.339/.365 in 65 games for Rochester and is a career .208/.312/.313 hitter at Triple-A, but with Joe Mauer on the disabled list recovering from a brain injury and the Twins apparently no longer as willing to use Ryan Doumit behind the plate they wanted another catcher around for the final three weeks.

Martis is a 26-year-old right-hander who spent most of last season and all of this season in the Twins' farm system after being signed to a minor-league deal. He was a full-time starter until this year, shifting to the bullpen in Rochester and throwing 80 innings with a 4.26 ERA and 65-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio. There is absolutely nothing about his performance that stands out, this season or in past seasons, so aside from "they just wanted an extra arm" his call-up is odd.

My assumption is that Fryer and Martis will be dropped from the 40-man roster immediately after the season, in which case adding them now has no real impact aside from not giving those same temporary spots to more deserving options this month. De Vries also seems likely to be dropped, along with a handful of other names as part of the annual season-ending purge. Tonkin is the only call-up in the group with big upside, although certainly some people still believe in Diamond.

• As for who the Twins didn't add, the healthy players on the 40-man roster who haven't joined the team are Aaron Hicks, Trevor May, Danny Santana, and B.J. Hermsen. Of that group only Hicks' lack of a call-up is at all surprising, because May, Santana, and Hermsen all spent the season at Double-A and Hermsen was bad enough to potentially be dropped from the roster soon. Hicks, meanwhile, was the Opening Day center fielder and spent four months in the majors.

Hicks was terrible following an August 1 demotion to Triple-A, hitting .221/.317/.333 with zero homers and a 21-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22 games to continue a miserable season that began with the Twins shoving aside development and service time considerations by rushing him from Double-A to the majors at age 23. Of course, Parmelee hit just .231/.318/.370 in 45 games at Triple-A following his midseason demotion and still got a September call-up.

• I dug through the minor-league records back when the Twins promoted Byron Buxton from low Single-A to high Single-A in late June and found that he was one of just six teenagers in the past 30 years to post an OPS of .975 or higher in the Midwest League:

Byron Buxton       2013     .990
Javier Baez        2012     .979
Oscar Taveras      2011    1.028
Mike Trout         2010     .979
Alex Rodriguez     1994     .984
Larry Walker       1986    1.011

After the promotion to high Single-A he played 57 games for Fort Myers, hitting .326/.415/.472 with 23 steals. Here's a list of all the teenagers in the past 30 years to post an OPS of .875 or higher in the Florida State League:

Byron Buxton       2013     .887
Jesus Montero      2009     .989
Giancarlo Stanton  2009     .968
Joel Guzman        2004     .899
Nick Johnson       1998    1.004
Adrian Beltre      1997     .967

So during the first half of the season Buxton did something only five other players have done in the past 30 years and then during the second half of the season Buxton did a different thing only five other players have done in the past 30 years. Overall he hit .334/.424/.520 with 55 steals, 49 extra-base hits, and 76 walks in 125 games between two levels where the average pitchers were 23 years old. He doesn't turn 20 until mid-December. Buxton is a bad, bad man (or kid, I guess).

UPDATE: Right on cue, Baseball America just announced that Buxton is their minor league player of the year, joining Mauer in 2003 as the only Twins to win the award.

• Sunday afternoon Oswaldo Arcia batted fourth for the first time in his career, making his debut in the cleanup spot at 22 years and 122 days old. He's the youngest player to bat cleanup for the Twins since Mauer did it at 22 years and 88 days old in July of 2005 and Justin Morneau did it at 22 years and 26 days old in June of 2003. Here's the complete list of every Twins hitter to bat cleanup before turning 23:

Kent Hrbek        156
Butch Wynegar     101
David Ortiz        44
Justin Morneau     12
Tom Brunansky      12
Joe Mauer           6
Steve Brye          6
OSWALDO ARCIA       3
Don Mincher         1

Butch Wynegar, one of the biggest phenoms in team history, was the youngest Twins cleanup hitter at 20 years and 63 days old in May of 1976. In fact, the 90 youngest instances of a Twins hitter batting cleanup all belong Wynegar and then the 91st spot is Tom Brunansky at 21 years and 266 days old. Steve Brye is the odd man out on that list, batting cleanup six times for the Twins as a 22-year-old in 1971 despite going on to be a career .258/.309/.365 hitter.

• After missing all of last season and the first five months of this season following Tommy John elbow surgery Scott Baker finally made his 2013 debut Sunday for the Cubs. He'd been very ineffective while rehabbing in the minors, but Baker tossed five shutout innings against the Brewers in his first start since August 8, 2011. He'll be a free agent again this offseason.

• There was some talk of the Twins being in the mix for Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, but he ended up signing with the Dodgers for $32 million.

• While looking up some stats I stumbled across this tidbit: In their respective Double-A careers Michael Jordan (.289) had a higher on-base percentage than Drew Butera (.287).

Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote an interesting column about Morneau's first two weeks with the Pirates and how he relates to Penguins star Sidney Crosby.

• For a lot more on Buxton's great season, plus talk about Mauer's concussion, Josmil Pinto's hot start, and Trevor Plouffe's future, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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July 17, 2013

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Hitters

joe mauer and aaron hicks

Offense was expected to be a relative strength for the Twins this season, but instead they finished the first half hitting just .245/.316/.386 with the second-fewest homers in the league, rank 10th among AL teams in runs per game with 4.12, and are on pace to score the second-fewest runs of any Twins team during the past 30 years. Before the second half gets underway here's a hitter-by-hitter look at the individual performances ...

Joe Mauer: .320/.402/.473 in 403 plate appearances

Joe Mauer has done his part following the oft-debated decision to move him into the No. 2 spot, basically matching his career numbers by hitting .320 with a .402 on-base percentage that ranks second in the league. He's scored 32 percent more runs than anyone else on the team despite the guys hitting behind him not exactly thriving, but his RBI chances have dried up because the Twins' leadoff men and No. 9 hitters have combined for a laughable .262 on-base percentage.

Within the standard production is a huge spike in strikeouts, as 75 in 88 games is already the second-most of his career and a 75 percent increase per plate appearance. He's made up for that with career-highs in line drives and batting average on balls play in, leading MLB in both stats, but it's a different path to the usual destination. Defensively he's thrown out an AL-best 46 percent of steal attempts after sagging last year and his all-around value is on pace to surpass $30 million.

Justin Morneau: .273/.331/.406 in 366 plate appearances

At this point every time Justin Morneau homers fans and media members start talking about how it might be the start of him getting back on track, which is perhaps the surest sign that he's now just a shell of his former self. This season's power outage has been well-documented, but going all the way back to his mid-2010 concussion Morneau has hit just .259/.321/.404 in 289 games and 1,224 plate appearances.

There are 193 hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2011 and Morneau ranks 128th in batting average, 134th in on-base percentage, 138th in slugging percentage, and 143rd in OPS. He hasn't been even an average first baseman in a long time and at 32 years old with a lengthy injury history in addition to the concussion re-signing the impending free agent just doesn't make sense for the Twins. If they can get any kind of decent return for him a trade, they should.

Ryan Doumit: .237/.295/.393 in 325 plate appearances

Signed to a two-year, $7 million contract extension midway through last season, Ryan Doumit is having the worst season of his career. He's been particularly awful in 24 starts as the No. 3 hitter, batting .245/.299/.316 with one homer, and for the second straight season Twins pitchers have an ERA above 5.00 throwing to him. Doumit is a poor defensive catcher and very stretched in the outfield, so with an OPS below .700 he's been one of the worst regulars in baseball.

The good news is that his power is in line with his career norms, he's already drawn 25 walks in 81 games after totaling 29 walks in 134 games last season, and Doumit is actually striking out less than usual. His struggles mostly stem from a .256 batting average on balls in play, which is 43 points below his career mark. That suggests Doumit should bounce back in the second half, but whatever chance the Twins had of getting a decent return for him in trade is probably gone.

Brian Dozier: .235/.310/.386 in 322 plate appearances

After a brutal rookie season shifting from shortstop to second base dramatically changed Brian Dozier's outlook defensively, but through two months he was again bad enough offensively that the Twins were hinting at giving up on the 26-year-old. However, in his final 44 first-half games Dozier hit .270/.372/.493 with seven homers, 12 doubles, and nearly as many walks (20) as strikeouts (24), which is more than enough to buy him some more time.

In the minors Dozier generally controlled the strike zone very well, so that aspect of his recent improvement was particularly encouraging, and even while struggling overall he showed more power than expected. Of course, he's still 26 with a .235/.290/.358 career line in 165 games after hitting even worse than that at Triple-A, so the clock is definitely ticking on Dozier. He benefits from the lack of other MLB-ready middle infielders in the Twins' system.

Josh Willingham: .224/.356/.398 in 298 plate appearances

Josh Willingham followed up a career-year in 2012 with a big April, but then the 34-year-old's knee started bothering him and he hit .213/.338/.343 in 50 games from May 1 until the Twins finally shut him down in late June. Willingham needed regular days off and cortisone injections to stay in the lineup at what was obviously less than full strength and it didn't do anyone any good anyway, as he stopped hitting and was even worse than usual in the outfield.

It turns out he had a torn meniscus, undergoing surgery that will likely keep him out until at least mid-August and could cost him the rest of the season. Willingham is under contract for $7 million next season, which is reasonable enough, but whatever chance the Twins had of cashing him in for some long-term help in a trade last July or this offseason is long gone and it's hard to know what to expect from a 35-year-old should-be designated hitter coming off knee surgery.

Chris Parmelee: .223/.303/.372 in 274 plate appearances

Chris Parmelee's defense in right field was the highlight of his first half, which isn't exactly how things were supposed to go. Parmelee had a big September debut in 2011 and destroyed Triple-A pitching for two months last season, but he's hit just .226/.298/.376 in 147 games for the Twins since then. During that span he managed just 13 homers in 484 plate appearances while striking out 118 times versus 40 walks, which is why he was demoted back to Triple-A on Sunday.

Prior to the dominant stretch at Triple-A last season Parmelee's track record in the minors wasn't especially impressive and included a measly .416 slugging percentage in 253 games at Double-A. He's also 25 years old, so in terms of inexperienced hitters struggling Parmelee is much different than some other Twins. There's no need to give up on him yet, but it's looking more and more likely that Parmelee's overall track record is right and he's simply not a starting-caliber hitter.

Trevor Plouffe: .265/.323/.445 in 264 plate appearances

Last year Trevor Plouffe started slow, hit like Babe Ruth for a month, and then slumped down the stretch while dealing with a thumb injury. This season has been much less extreme, but his .265/.323/.445 overall line is close to his .235/.301/.455 mark last year. Plouffe's transformation from light-hitting shortstop prospect to big-league power hitter looks to be for real, as he's now hit .250 with 20-homer pop for 1,000 plate appearances dating back to 2011.

Unfortunately his defense cancels out most of that offensive value and his putrid .223/.285/.391 mark versus right-handed pitching suggests that Plouffe would be better suited in a platoon role. Plouffe can smack around left-handed pitching and that should keep in the majors for a while, but as an everyday player he's not really an asset and while a move across the diamond to first base would make him less of a defensive liability the standard for offense there is much higher.

Aaron Hicks: .197/.264/.366 in 263 plate appearances

Despite a brutal 2-for-48 start to his career after jumping from Double-A to an Opening Day job the Twins stuck with Aaron Hicks and he recovered to hit .237/.288/.447 with eight homers in his final 55 first-half games. He's still striking out a ton and Hicks' formerly strong plate discipline has vanished, but his power has been better than expected, he's made a handful of spectacular defensive plays, and now he simply looks like a 23-year-old rookie learning on the job.

Nothing has changed my opinion that he should have started the season at Triple-A, both for his development and service time considerations, but in contrast to their handling of Oswaldo Arcia the Twins have kept Hicks in the majors all season. Hicks has always projected as a low-average hitter, so the key will be rediscovering his ability to draw walks and cleaning up his defense so that the highlight-reel catches and throws aren't mixed in with poor routes and misplays.

Pedro Florimon: .235/.295/.342 in 261 plate appearances

Pedro Florimon's defense has been as advertised, with very strong overall numbers and plenty of standout plays along with a relatively high error count. Unfortunately his offense has also been as advertised. Florimon's fast start soon gave way to him being terrible at the plate and he's now hit .227/.285/.327 in 124 games as a major leaguer after hitting .250/.319/.352 in 290 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

Every few weeks Florimon unleashes a swing that shows he has plenty of power, but it's resulted in just six homers in 421 career plate appearances. Similarly, his relatively patient approach at the plate has led to just 31 walks versus 91 strikeouts. Florimon's defense is good enough that he's definitely worthy of a big-league job, but in an organization that wasn't so devoid of shortstop options he'd be headed for a utility man role.

Oswaldo Arcia: .257/.317/.403 in 224 plate appearances

Fast start, slump, demotion. Fast start, slump, demotion. Oswaldo Arcia has gone through that same three-stage cycle twice in his rookie season and now he's back at Triple-A. There's no doubt that Arcia looked brutal during his slumps, but they were 20 or 30 at-bats in length and the Twins have shown a far more patient approach with Hicks' prolonged rough patches. They also pushed Arcia very aggressively through the minors, so growing pains should have been expected.

His overall performance has been right around league-average offensively, which is both far from impressive from a poor defensive corner outfielder and very impressive from a 22-year-old with fewer than 100 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Arcia projects as a middle-of-the-order bat long term, but his plate discipline and ability to handle left-handed pitching are potential stumbling blocks. Remember, though: Arcia is younger than the average player at high Single-A.

Jamey Carroll: .219/.276/.252 in 164 plate appearances

Last season Jamey Carroll hit .315 in the second half, suggesting he'd have plenty of value this season at age 39, but instead he's struggled in a part-time role. He's made 22 starts at third base and 13 starts at second base compared to two starts at shortstop, which is where he began last season as the starter before giving way to Dozier and then Florimon. Controlling the strike zone has long been Carroll's main strength, but he had 28 strikeouts versus 12 walks in the first half.

Carroll has a $4 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option if he reaches 401 plate appearances, but with just 164 plate appearances through 92 team games that obviously won't happen. He's not part of the Twins' future plans and looks just about washed up, but it's possible that a contending team could be interested in Carroll as a utility man. If the Twins do find a taker for Carroll they aren't going to get much in return.

Eduardo Escobar: .214/.268/.328 in 143 plate appearances

Hitting well for a few weeks in April had an awful lot of people excitedly overlooking Eduardo Escobar's terrible track record, but he hit .137 in his final 41 games before being demoted back to Triple-A. Escobar has now hit .216/.273/.294 in 114 games as a big leaguer, which is exactly what you'd expect from someone who hit .267/.312/.348 in the minors. He's a good, versatile defender, but at no point has Escobar's bat looked better than utility man-caliber.

Clete Thomas: .234/.309/.351 in 123 plate appearances

Clete Thomas got off to a good enough start after being called up from Triple-A in June that he stuck around when Hicks returned from the disabled list, but he quickly came back down to earth by hitting .152 in July. Thomas' overall numbers more or less match his career totals, which is to say they're backup-caliber at most, but he's started 28 of 33 games since his call-up and is in line for continued regular action following the demotions of Arcia and Parmelee.

Note: For a similar first-half review of the Twins' pitchers, click here.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl/Twins game, where you can join Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, and Seth Stohs for a day of bar-hopping and baseball on September 14. Space is limited, so book your spot.

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