June 5, 2014

Joe Mauer vs. Kirby Puckett

kirby-puckett

Presented without comment: Joe Mauer is 31 years old. Here are his career numbers with four months left in his age-31 season compared to Kirby Puckett's career numbers through age 31:

THROUGH AGE 31           KIRBY     MAUER
Batting Average          .320      .321
On-Base Percentage       .357      .403
Slugging Percentage      .466      .463
OPS                      .823      .866
Wins Above Replacement   35.8      44.7

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June 27, 2013

Who are the best old hitters in Twins history?

twins best old hitters

Last week I wrote about the best young hitters in Twins history, using OPS to highlight the most productive seasons by players at ages 20 (Butch Wynegar), 21 (Tom Brunansky), 22 (Kent Hrbek), 23 (Joe Mauer), 24 (Hrbek), and 25 (Harmon Killebrew). I'm going to focus on the other side of the age spectrum today, examining the best old hitters in Twins history. Let's start with the 35-year-olds ...


AGE 35              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kirby Puckett       1995     602     .894
Harmon Killebrew    1971     624     .850
Tony Oliva          1974     494     .739
Terry Steinbach     1997     489     .696
Vic Power           1963     578     .682
John Roseboro       1968     435     .611

Those are the only six 35-year-olds in Twins history to log 300 plate appearances, led by Kirby Puckett in the strike-shortened 1995 season. In what was his final season he hit .314/.379/.515 with 23 homers and 39 doubles in 137 games. Defensively he'd shifted to right field, but Puckett remained a force offensively with an OPS that was 60 points above his career mark. He smacked his most homers since 1988 and set career-highs with 56 walks and a .379 on-base percentage.

And adjusting for the offensive levels of the two eras Killebrew's age-35 season was arguably even more productive than Puckett's despite lower raw numbers. Puckett edged Killebrew by 44 points of OPS, but the league average was .771 in 1995 compared to .681 in 1971. Killebrew split time between third base and first base while hitting .254/.386/.464 for the league's 10th-best OPS and led the AL in both RBIs (119) and walks (114).

Tony Oliva joins Puckett and Killebrew as the only other Twins who were above average at 35, hitting .285/.325/.414 in league that hit just .258 with a .371 slugging percentage as a whole. Terry Steinbach was well below average while hitting .248/.302/.392 in 1997, but his modest .696 OPS was just slightly below the AL average for catchers and he caught 116 games in his first of three seasons with the Twins. Oh, and he doubled his career-high with six steals.


AGE 36              YEAR      PA      OPS
Harmon Killebrew    1972     532     .817
Tony Oliva          1975     515     .722
Terry Steinbach     1998     465     .720
John Roseboro       1969     406     .654

Only four 36-year-olds in Twins history topped 300 plate appearances and all of them were also on the age-35 list, led by Killebrew hitting .231/.367/.450 with 26 homers and 94 walks in 139 games. Those may not stand out as huge raw numbers, but in 1972 he ranked third in the league in both homers and walks while placing among the AL's top 10 in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.

Just like the previous season Oliva remained a slightly above average bat, hitting .270/.344/.378 in a league that hit just .258/.328/.379 in 1975. Steinbach was actually better at 36 than he was at 35, upping his OPS by 25 points and catching 119 games. John Roseboro made his name with the Dodgers, but after a decade in Los Angeles he moved on to the Twins for two seasons and, like Steinbach, was remarkably durable for a mid-30s catcher.


AGE 37              YEAR      PA      OPS
Terry Steinbach     1999     380     .748
Harmon Killebrew    1973     290     .698

For the young hitters lists the cutoff was 300 plate appearances, but because there aren't nearly as many old hitters I've reduced the minimum to 200 plate appearances for age 37 and up. And even then Steinbach and Killebrew are the only 37-year-old regulars in Twins history. Steinbach again raised his OPS, going from .696 at 35 and .730 at 36 to .748 at 37. He wasn't as durable, but still started 96 games behind the plate and posted a career-high .358 on-base percentage.

Killebrew was a shell of his former self in 1973, as major knee problems limited him to 69 games and he managed just five homers, although he still walked 41 times and posted a .352 on-base percentage. Oliva fell too short on playing time in 1976 to make the list, but he played his final season at age 37 and was a below-average hitter for the only time in his career, struggling for 67 games before calling it quits.


AGE 38              YEAR      PA      OPS
Harmon Killebrew    1974     382     .672
Jamey Carroll       2012     537     .660

Killebrew is technically the most productive 38-year-old in team history, but it wasn't pretty. He was healthy enough to play 122 games in 1974, but hit just .222/.312/.360 with 12 homers in his final Twins season before moving on to the Royals for one last forgettable season. Meanwhile, in basically matching Killebrew's age-38 production Jamey Carroll set a career-high with 537 plate appearances and also drove in the most runs of his career.

Mike Redmond's limited action as a backup catcher keeps him from appearing on any of these lists, but he spent ages 34-38 with the Twins and hit .294/.337/.352 for them after turning 35. Only six players in Twins history logged more plate appearances than Redmond after age 35 and his .690 OPS is plenty solid for a catcher. In fact, Redmond's adjusted OPS+ was the exact same as Steinbach's post-35 mark.


AGE 39              YEAR      PA      OPS
Jim Thome           2010     340    1.039
Paul Molitor        1996     729     .858
Jim Dwyer           1989     254     .794
Otis Nixon          1998     500     .705

When the Twins signed Jim Thome for just $1.5 million in 2010 he was supposed to fill a limited role as a bench bat and occasional designated hitter, but instead he turned in one of the best age-39 seasons of all time. Thome hit .283/.412/.627 with 25 homers and 60 walks in 340 plate appearances for a 1.039 OPS that's the fourth-highest age-35 mark in MLB history, one spot ahead of Babe Ruth and trailing only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Ted Williams.

Not only is his 1.039 OPS in 2010 the best mark by any Twins hitter after age 35, no one else has even cracked .900. And regardless of age his 1.039 OPS in 2010 is the highest in Twins history for all hitters to play at least 100 games, with only Killebrew twice and Mauer and Rod Carew one apiece joining Thome in the 1.000 OPS/100 games club. Not bad for a guy who signed for $1.5 million and began the season behind Delmon Young in the line for playing time.

Thome's age-39 season is so amazing that it overshadows an incredible age-39 season by Paul Molitor, who batted .341 with a league-leading 225 hits in 1996. Molitor signed with the Twins after three seasons in Toronto and joined the 3,000-hit club in September, missing just one game while setting a career-high with 113 RBIs, tying a career-high with 41 doubles, and stealing 18 bases. Molitor is the only 39-year-old in MLB history to top 200 hits or 110 RBIs.

Otis Nixon looked 39 years old for his entire career and had one of his best seasons as an actual 39-year-old, hitting .297 with a .361 on-base percentage and 37 steals in 110 games during his one-season stay in Minnesota. Nixon broke his jaw in April when Royals shortstop Felix Martinez kicked him in the face during a double play, yet still managed the second-most steals in MLB history for a 39-year-old behind Rickey Henderson.


AGE 40              YEAR      PA      OPS
Jim Thome           2011     242     .827
Paul Molitor        1997     597     .786

Here's how ridiculous Thome's age-39 season was: He lost more than 200 points from his OPS the next year and still had one of the most productive age-40 seasons ever. Thome hit .243/.351/.476 with 12 homers in 240 plate appearances for an .827 OPS that tops the Twins' age-39 list ahead of his lone competition in Molitor. And then Thome was even better after being traded to the Indians in August, hitting .296/.390/.479 in 22 games back where his career started.

Molitor was also very good as a 40-year-old, hitting .305/.351/.435 in 135 games to join fellow Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Sam Rice, Luke Appling, and Henderson as the only players in MLB history to bat .300 at age 40. Thome and Molitor are the only Twins to get regular playing time at 40 and the only other hitters in team history to see any sort of game action at 40 are Jim Dwyer, Ruben Sierra, and Elmer Valo, who combined to bat .179 in 144 trips to the plate.


AGE 41              YEAR      PA      OPS
Dave Winfield       1993     594     .767
Paul Molitor        1998     559     .718

Three seasons before Molitor notched his 3,000th hit in Minnesota fellow St. Paul native Dave Winfield signed with the Twins and did the same at age 41. And he was hardly just a novelty act, hitting .271/.325/.442 with 21 homers in 143 games in 1993. Winfield joins Williams, Bonds, and Darrell Evans as the only 41-year-olds with 20 homers. Molitor managed a nice-looking .281 batting average at age 41, but his .718 OPS in his final season was below the AL average of .771.


AGE 42              YEAR      PA      OPS
Dave Winfield       1994     328     .746

Winfield is the only hitter in Twins history to appear in a game at age 42 or older and he was still a decent hitter in 1994, batting .252/.321/.425 with 10 homers and 15 doubles in 77 games before the strike ended the season. Unfortunately he didn't call it quits during the strike, instead coming back in 1995 with the Indians and hitting .191 in 46 games to end a Hall of Fame career. Winfield has the ninth-most plate appearances in MLB history after turning 40 with 1,722.


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June 19, 2013

Who are the best young hitters in Twins history?

best young hitters

Oswaldo Arcia has thrived as a 22-year-old rookie, Aaron Hicks has struggled as a 23-year-old rookie, and Twins fans are counting down the days until stud prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton arrive in Minnesota. All of which got me thinking about the best young hitters in Twins history, so I looked up the most productive seasons for each age based on OPS. No teenage hitter has even gotten regular playing time for the Twins, so let's start with 20-year-olds ...


AGE 20              YEAR      PA      OPS
Butch Wynegar       1976     622     .719

Butch Wynegar is the only hitter in Twins history to see regular action at age 20 and he logged 622 plate appearances, started 133 games at catcher, threw out 35 percent of steal attempts, and made the All-Star team while hitting .260/.356/.363 with more walks (79) than strikeouts (63) in a pitcher-friendly era. Adjusting for the time it was a Joe Mauer-esque year, which is why he was such a phenom and why, despite a solid 13-year career, he was ultimately a disappointment.

Bert Blyleven actually has the second-most plate appearances by a 20-year-old in Twins history with 100, because he was an amazing young pitcher who debuted before the designated hitter. In fact, he also has the most plate appearances by a 19-year-old in Twins history with 58. Through age 20 he hit .135 in 158 trips to the plate ... and tossed 442 innings with a 2.95 ERA. Blyleven ended up with 514 career plate appearances and hit .131 with a 193-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Among position players Luis Rivas has the second-most plate appearances by a 20-year-old in Twins history with 64. In the early days of this blog the Twins rushing Rivas to the majors and repeatedly handing him a starting job based almost solely on his age was a frequent source of frustration. He debuted at 20 and got the sixth-most plate appearances in team history through age 24--Wynegar got the most by a wide margin--but Rivas basically never improved.


AGE 21              YEAR      PA      OPS
Tom Brunansky       1982     545     .848
Rod Carew           1967     561     .750
Butch Wynegar       1977     617     .715
Zoilo Versalles     1961     542     .704
Luis Rivas          2001     619     .682
Cristian Guzman     1999     456     .543

Those are the only six 21-year-olds in Twins history to log at least 300 plate appearances. Tom Brunansky actually began that 1982 season at Triple-A in the Angels organization and was hitting just .205/.317/.330 in 25 games there when they traded him to the Twins in mid-May along with Mike Walters for Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong. He was immediately handed a starting job and hit .272/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 30 doubles, and 71 walks in 127 games.

Rod Carew was also no slouch at 21, hitting .292/.341/.409 in one of the lowest-scoring eras in baseball history. Seriously, in 1967 the American League as a whole hit .236 with a .303 on-base percentage and .351 slugging percentage. If you adjust Carew's raw numbers to today's offensive environment he hit around .315/.360/.475, which is amazing from a 21-year-old second baseman and explains how he missed being the unanimous Rookie of the Year winner by one vote.

Wynegar cracks the list again and Rivas shows up too, along with shortstops Zoilo Versalles and Cristian Guzman. In six decades of Twins history only two regulars have been above-average hitters at 21, which is something to remember when Sano and Buxton show up. Mauer doesn't make the age-21 list because a knee injury cut short his rookie season, but he hit .308/.369/.570 in 122 plate appearances for what would be the top OPS by a wide margin.


AGE 22              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kent Hrbek          1982     591     .848
David Ortiz         1998     326     .817
Joe Mauer           2005     554     .783
Oswaldo Arcia       2013     133     .759
Tom Brunansky       1983     611     .753

I've included Arcia on the age-22 list despite his not having enough plate appearances to qualify yet because he's actually what got me thinking about this topic in the first place. Arcia has fared well enough in the early going that I wondered how his production compares to other 22-year-old Twins, discovering that he's in some pretty nice company with Kent Hrbek, David Ortiz, Mauer, and Brunansky.

In all a total of 12 different Twins have gotten at least 300 plate appearances at age 22 and Hrbek leads the way by hitting .301/.363/.485 with 23 homers in 140 games as a rookie in 1981. The worst OPS in the group of 22-year-olds belongs to Wynegar, who fell to .229/.307/.308 in his third season after being an All-Star at 20 and 21. Rivas, Guzman, Versalles, Carew, and Carlos Gomez also posted a sub-.700 OPS at 22.


AGE 23              YEAR      PA      OPS
Joe Mauer           2006     608     .936
Justin Morneau      2004     312     .875
Kent Hrbek          1983     582     .855
Rod Carew           1969     504     .853
Cristian Guzman     2001     527     .811

Four of the truly elite hitters in Twins history ... and Guzman. He'd been terrible in his first two seasons with the Twins, but in 2001 he hit .308/.346/.507 with seven homers, 22 doubles, and an incredible 13 triples in the first half to make the All-Star team. And then just as everyone was getting excited about a switch-hitting 23-year-old shortstop emerging as a star Guzman hurt his shoulder, missed much of the second half, and resumed being a terrible hitter.

Mauer hit .347/.429/.507 in 140 games at age 23, becoming the first catcher in AL history to win a batting title. He likely should have finished either first or second in the MVP voting, but instead placed sixth while teammate Justin Morneau won the award based largely on racking up RBIs with Mauer on base in front of him. Two years earlier Morneau posted the second-best OPS by a 23-year-old in Twins history, hitting .271/.340/.536 in 74 games after a midseason call-up.

Carew, like Mauer, won his first batting title at age 23, hitting .332/.386/.467 in 1969 to boost his OPS by 200 points compared to 1968, which happened to be one of the lowest-scoring seasons in baseball history and the final season before MLB lowered the pitching mound. In all 28 different Twins have gotten at least 300 plate appearances at age 23 and 13 failed to crack a .700 OPS, including Torii Hunter and Roy Smalley.

Hicks hasn't reached 300 plate appearances yet, but his current .575 OPS at age 23 would rank third-worst ahead of only David McCarty (.542) and Danny Thompson (.482). Greg Gagne (.596) and Rich Becker (.599) also aren't very far ahead of Hicks and two guys who preceded him in center field, Gomez and Ben Revere, posted an OPS under .625 at 23. Next season Arcia will try to become the sixth Twins hitter to crack an .800 OPS at 23.


AGE 24              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kent Hrbek          1984     635     .906
Delmon Young        2010     613     .826
Denard Span         2008     411     .819
David Ortiz         2000     478     .810
Joe Mauer           2007     471     .808

Hrbek has the best OPS for 22-year-olds, the third-best OPS for 23-year-olds, and the best OPS for 24-year-olds. In his age-24 season listed above he hit .311/.383/.522 with 27 homers in 149 games, finishing runner-up in the MVP voting behind Tigers reliever Willie Hernandez despite not even making the All-Star team. Hrbek never finished in the top 15 in MVP voting before or after that season, although he had plenty of other productive years.

Delmon Young appeared to have a breakout season in 2010, hitting .298/.333/.493 with 21 homers and 46 doubles in 153 games at age 24 to convince a lot of people he was finally living up to the hype he received as a prospect. He finished 10th in the MVP balloting because some voters overlooked his terrible defense and focused on his high RBI total, but in three seasons since then he's hit just .263/.297/.404.

Ortiz has the second-best OPS for 22-year-olds and the fourth-best OPS for 24-year-olds, so while no one could have predicted that he'd become one of the elite hitters in baseball after leaving the Twins there was certainly plenty of promise shown at a young age. In all Ortiz hit .266/.348/.461 in 455 games for the Twins through age 25. In team history only Mauer, Hrbek, Morneau, and Rich Rollins had more plate appearances and a higher OPS than Ortiz through age 25.

By age 24 plenty of hitters are regulars in the majors and a total of 38 different Twins hitters got at least 300 plate appearances as 24-year-olds. Kirby Puckett ranks 34th out of 38 with a .655 OPS, hitting .296/.320/.336 with zero homers in 128 games as a rookie. Carew would hold the top spot among 24-year-olds with a .930 OPS in 1970, but a knee injury ended his season after 51 games with a .366 batting average.


AGE 25              YEAR      PA      OPS
Harmon Killebrew    1961     656    1.012
Justin Morneau      2006     661     .934
Tony Oliva          1964     719     .916
Bobby Kielty        2002     348     .890
Joe Mauer           2008     633     .864

Harmon Killebrew couldn't crack any of these lists before age 25 because the team didn't move to Minnesota until then. In his first Twins season Killebrew hit .288/.405/.606 with 46 homers and 107 walks. Five decades later he's still the only Twins hitter to top a .950 OPS by age 25. Tony Oliva also cracks these lists for the first time at 25 because it was his rookie season. He led the AL in batting average, runs, doubles, and total bases, winning Rookie of the Year.

Morneau's aforementioned MVP-winning 2006 season came at age 25, as he hit .321/.375/.556 with 34 homers and 37 doubles in 159 games. Morneau has the second-best OPS for 23-year-olds and 25-year-olds, but hit just .239/.304/.437 in between as a 24-year-old. Mauer cracks the top five in OPS for ages 22, 23, 24, and 25. And he likely would've had the top OPS for 21-year-olds too if not for the knee injury.

Bobby Kielty is the odd man out on the age-25 list, which reminds me that I've never been more wrong about a player. He was a switch-hitting outfielder with power and plate discipline, and as you can see Kielty put up big numbers at an early age. When the Twins traded Kielty to the Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart in 2006 he was a 26-year-old .269/.375/.444 hitter. I thought they'd made a terrible mistake. And then Kielty hit .246/.333/.389 after the trade, flaming out at 30.


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April 17, 2013

Twins Notes: Four hits, two strikes, leading off, and mystery pitchers

joe mauer four hits

• Monday night Joe Mauer went 4-for-5 with a homer and a double for his 20th career four-hit game and then he followed that up Tuesday night by going 4-for-5 for his 21st career four-hit game, which ranks fourth in Twins history and third in Twins history through age 30:

OVERALL                      THROUGH AGE 30
Kirby Puckett      47        Kirby Puckett      33
Rod Carew          42        Rod Carew          29
Tony Oliva         28        Joe Mauer          21
Joe Mauer          21        Tony Oliva         15
Chuck Knoblauch    15        Chuck Knoblauch    15

You certainly wouldn't know it based on this week, but strictly in terms of racking up hits Mauer is at a small disadvantage because he draws so many walks, especially compared to a free-swinger like Kirby Puckett. Here's the Twins' leaderboard for games getting on base at least four times:

OVERALL                      THROUGH AGE 30
Rod Carew         117        Rod Carew          84
Kirby Puckett      94        Joe Mauer          79
Harmon Killebrew   92        Chuck Knoblauch    76
Joe Mauer          79        Kirby Puckett      59
Chuck Knoblauch    76        Kent Hrbek         59

"Four-hit game" rolls off the tongue a lot smoother than "four-times-on-base game" but as always walks are a good thing too. Either way, Mauer is ridiculous right now.

• Three of Mauer's four hits Monday night came with two strikes, which prompted manager Ron Gardenhire to comment:

One of the best hitters I've ever seen with two strikes. It's incredible how he can go deep into a count and never panic, never have any fear, have a nice swing and barrel it just about every time.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com recently adding splits data to the already amazing Play Index here are the active leaders in batting average and OPS with two strikes:

TWO-STRIKE AVG                 TWO-STRIKE OPS
Todd Helton        .263        Albert Pujols      .789
Juan Pierre        .261        Todd Helton        .784
Ichiro Suzuki      .260        David Ortiz        .698
Albert Pujols      .258        Ryan Braun         .697
Joe Mauer          .256        Miguel Cabrera     .696
                               ...
                               Joe Mauer          .668

As you might expect, guys with low strikeout rates have the best two-strike batting average and guys who're simply great all-around hitters have the best two-strike OPS. Mauer ranks fifth in batting average and 17th in OPS with two strikes.

• Last night Gardenhire moved Aaron Hicks out of the leadoff spot for the first time, which got me thinking about the history of Twins leadoff hitters. First, here's a list of the most starts in the leadoff spot in Twins history:

Cesar Tovar        742
Chuck Knoblauch    695
Denard Span        549
Zoilo Versalles    547
Dan Gladden        478
Kirby Puckett      417
Jacque Jones       320
Shannon Stewart    313
Lenny Green        263
Hosken Powell      225

Zoilo Versalles and Dan Gladden are two of the five most-used leadoff hitters in Twins history despite posting on-base percentages of .299 and .318 in the role. Jacque Jones and Hosken Powell weren't a whole lot better at .329 and .327, although at least Jones also slugged .472 for the highest mark by a Twins leadoff man. In all 25 hitters have started at least 100 games in the leadoff spot for the Twins and here are the leaders in on-base percentage:

Chuck Knoblauch    .399
Steve Braun        .386
Lyman Bostock      .362
Otis Nixon         .360
Shane Mack         .359
Shannon Stewart    .358
Luis Castillo      .357
Denard Span        .354
Lenny Green        .350
Larry Hisle        .348

As part of my "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series I compared Steve Braun to Chuck Knoblauch and called him one of the most underrated players in team history. Braun played in a low-offense era, so his OBP was even better than it looks. The worst OBP by a Twins leadoff man with at least 100 starts belongs to Carlos Gomez at .280, which won't surprise anyone. Hicks has led off 10 times so far, which ties him for 69th in Twins history with Pedro Munoz and Mark Davidson.

• Hicks tied the all-time record for most strikeouts in a hitter's first 10 career games:

Aaron Hicks       2013     20
Brett Jackson     2012     20
Matt Williams     1987     19
Russell Branyan   1999     18
Ray Durham        1995     18

There's no real positive way to spin 20 strikeouts in 10 games--particularly when combined with just two hits--but Matt Williams and Ray Durham went on to have very good, long careers and Russell Branyan was a productive slugger for quite a while. And just short of cracking the above top-five is Giancarlo Stanton, who had 17 strikeouts in his first 10 games in 2010 and is now one of the elite hitters in baseball.

• Just a few weeks ago Terry Ryan said this about Hicks as the Opening Day center fielder:

The guy has earned it. I find it almost humorous that people are talking about service time, starting the clock. We didn't trade Span and Revere to stall the next guy. ... I can't ever feel guilt about stopping a guy that deserves to be there because I know if I put myself in that man's shoes, I would be severely disappointed.

Are we trying to win, or what are we doing? Can you imagine if we sent somebody out that did what the kid did, and I had to look at Willingham and Morneau and Perkins and Mauer and those guys that are trying to win, and I'm going to stop that guy? I just don't believe in that. I hear this stuff. Not here.

"Earning" something by playing well for 20 spring training games can be a funny thing, although perhaps not as "humorous" as Ryan found the service time discussion.

Oswaldo Arcia's first taste of the big leagues lasted all of one game before Wilkin Ramirez returned from paternity leave, but he managed to get his first hit, make his first error, and have Mike Trout rob him of his first extra-base hit. And now with Darin Mastroianni going on the disabled list Arcia is coming back up after a 24-hour demotion to Triple-A. Arcia debuted about three weeks before his 22nd birthday, making him the 10th-youngest Twins player since 1991:

Joe Mauer           20.352
Cristian Guzman     21.016
Luis Rivas          21.017
Johan Santana       21.021
Rich Becker         21.221
Pat Mahomes         21.247
A.J. Pierzynski     21.253
David Ortiz         21.288
Francisco Liriano   21.314
Oswaldo Arcia       21.341
Javier Valentin     21.359

I believe the technical term for that list is "mixed bag." Jim Manning was the youngest player in Twins history, debuting in 1962 at 18 years and 268 days. He pitched seven innings that season and never played in the majors again. As for Arcia, it may take a trade or an injury but the odds seem pretty strong that he'll be a regular in the Twins' lineup for good by August. I rated him as the Twins' third-best prospect coming into the season, one spot ahead of Hicks.

• It's possible that the Twins demoted Liam Hendriks to Triple-A primarily because the various off days mean they won't need a fifth starter for a while and liked Pedro Hernandez more as a bullpen option during that time, but clearly their faith in Hendriks isn't very high right now. Faith in a pitcher with an ERA near 6.00 tends to be minimal and I've never been especially high on Hendriks as a prospect, but writing him off after 22 career starts would be a mistake.

Compare the following three Twins pitchers through 22 career starts:

                 IP      ERA     SO9     BB9     HR9
Pitcher X       118     5.63     5.4     2.5     1.4
Pitcher Y       137     5.40     3.8     2.2     1.6
Pitcher Z       121     5.20     6.5     2.1     1.5

One set of those lines is Hendriks and the others are Brad Radke and Scott Baker, who also frequently got dinged early on for not throwing hard and giving up too many homers. I'm certainly not suggesting he's the next Radke or even the next Baker, but if there's any benefit to being a bad team with a poor rotation it should be having few qualms about giving a 24-year-old like Hendriks an extended opportunity to sink or swim in the majors.

• Back in January team president Dave St. Peter was our guest on "Gleeman and The Geek" and we asked him if the Twins' recent struggles played a part in the inability to sign some free agent pitchers they targeted. St. Peter denied that was the case, repeatedly saying that "dollars and years" were the main factor:

No. It's dollars and years. It's dollars and years. And at the end of the day, a player might have Option A and Option B, depending where they're from. He may be able to take less in Option A, but at the end of the day it's ultimately going to come down to dollars and years.

I found that interesting at the time, because it seemingly differed from some previous things said by other members of the organization. Fast forward to last week, when Jesse Lund of Twinkie Town interviewed assistant general manager Rob Antony and got a much different answer to a question about the inability to sign targeted pitchers:

We made very competitive offers to a couple pitchers, and maybe even better offers than what players signed for. You get into a situation when you're coming off of two 90-plus loss seasons, some pitchers, and to their credit they are looking to land in a place where they'll get a chance to win, and some teams can just offer that and a player will look at it and believe it more so than when we say "Hey, we're trying to win, too." ...

So we tried to get some guys. We went after some free agents who basically didn't have a lot of interest in coming here, just because they thought that at this point in their career they wanted to win and they thought they could get the money and win somewhere else better than ... be in a better situation than they would be here.

That's about as far from "dollars and years" as you can get.

Glen Perkins continued his recent media tour by talking to my favorite interviewer, David Brown of Yahoo! Sports. It's great, because how could it not be? For example:

DB: How are you personally coping without Denard Span? I don’t think I’d be doing too well.

GP: This is the first year since 2004 that we won't be teammates. It's weird. I unfollowed him on Twitter. I guess that's my coping mechanism.

Perkins actually unfollowed Denard Span right after the trade in January, later refollowed him, and then unfollowed him again. I know this because Span pointed it out each time on Twitter.

• On a related note, Span had no idea what a double-switch was until this week despite playing two dozen interleague games under NL rules while with the Twins. And also, you know, being a professional baseball player.

Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus did some really interesting research about catchers and framing high and low pitches, with Mauer playing a prominent role in the analysis.

Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times tells the story of the time Bert Blyleven charged the mound.

• For a lot more about Hicks, Hendriks, and Arcia, plus the Twins' premature press release, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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November 7, 2010

Twins Notes: Mauer, Puckett, Hudson, Guerrier, and Crain

Joe Mauer has taken a lot of criticism for his lack of playoff production, which includes hitting .286/.359/.314 in nine career games. My hope is that anyone who's been reading this blog for any length of time would realize that a sample size of nine games spread over three different postseason appearances is hardly meaningful, but Seth Stohs recently took a different view of Mauer's playoff performances that should hammer that point home even further.

Mauer has participated in the playoffs in 2006, 2009, and 2010. In all three seasons the Twins were eliminated in three games. Kirby Puckett has a reputation for being a postseason hero, and rightfully so, but much of that comes from his actually having the opportunity to play more than three playoff games at a time. For instance, Puckett made his postseason debut in 1987 against the Tigers and went 1-for-13 through three games of the ALCS.

What if, like Mauer after just three games in 2006, 2009, and 2010, the 1987 playoffs would've been over for Puckett at that point? They weren't, of course, but in the World Series that same year Puckett was 3-for-12 through three games. Again, what if he wouldn't have had a chance to play beyond a third game? And then in 1991 he was just 3-for-12 through three games of the ALCS and 1-for-12 through three games of the World Series.

My point isn't to take anything away from Puckett's postseason greatness, but rather to show that focusing on three-game samples spread out over multiple seasons as a way to conclude something about Mauer (or any player) is silly. If you take the first three games of Puckett's first three playoff series--essentially matching Mauer's career playoff opportunities--one of the greatest playoff heroes of all time would instead be 7-for-37 (.189). Mauer is 10-for-35 (.286).

• I wrote last month that several people who know about such things have told me that the Twins are highly unlikely to re-sign Orlando Hudson, in part because of payroll limitations and in part because the veteran second baseman wasn't universally beloved within the clubhouse. After talking to Hudson recently Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported more or less the same thing, but in slightly nicer terms, writing:

Hudson, who turns 33 in December, told me he would love to return to the Twins, but he's a pending free agent, and the writing is on the wall with their payroll situation. It looks like he'll be playing for his fourth team in four years in 2011.

Hudson provided nice value for the Twins on a one-year, $5 million deal, hitting .268/.338/.372 with good defense in 126 games, but right now my guess is Alexi Casilla will be the Opening Day second baseman in 2011.

• Speaking of Hudson, the official Elias Sports Bureau free agent rankings used to determine draft pick compensation have classified Carl Pavano and Matt Guerrier as Type A and Hudson, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch as Type B. Teams that lose Type A free agents receive the signing team's first-round pick and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds, while teams that lose Type B free agents receive only a sandwich pick.

And in order to receive any compensation the team losing a free agent must first offer salary arbitration, with the risk being that the player may accept and force them into a one-year deal. Guerrier being ranked Type A complicates his status quite a bit, because many teams won't be interested in losing their first-round pick to sign him. That makes him far more likely to accept the Twins' offer of arbitration, which would mean a one-year contract for at least $5 million.

• Crain has said he'd like to remain with the Twins, but indicated that his chances of re-signing depend largely on whether other teams offer him an opportunity to be their closer:

Obviously, I'd love an opportunity to do that. I guess we'll see what happens this offseason. A team might come and offer me that. I'm kind of looking forward to seeing what happens. I'd love to be back here. I love the guys, I love the organization. It's the only place I've ever been. I feel comfortable. We'll just have to see what happens.

Crain has never closed for the Twins, saving a total of just three games in seven seasons, but certainly has the velocity most teams look for in the role and is hitting the open market at an ideal time after posting a 1.42 ERA, .170 opponents' batting average, and 42/20 K/BB ratio in his final 45 appearances (before serving up a homer to Mark Teixeira in the playoffs).

Justin Morneau told Kelly Thesier of MLB.com that there's "nothing really new to report" on his recovery from the July 7 concussion that caused him to miss the final three months of the season. Morneau ramped up his workouts in September in the hopes of perhaps being ready at some point during the playoffs, but was ultimately shut down again after experiencing more post-concussion symptoms and has yet to resume working out.

• While appearing on 1500-ESPN with Patrick Reusse and Phil Mackey general manager Bill Smith made it clear that the Twins will attempt to re-sign Jim Thome, which is no surprise.

Jacque Jones was among the many Twins minor leaguers who became free agents once the season ended and he's unlikely to be back after batting just .280/.319/.386 in 96 games at Rochester. Some other relatively well-known minor-league free agents: Brock Peterson, Matt Macri, Mike Maroth, D'Angelo Jimenez, Tim Lahey. No major losses and the bigger decisions will come when better prospects have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft next month.

• Bodog.com has posted some very early odds on each team winning the World Series in 2011 and the Twins are listed at 16-to-1, which is tied with the Rangers for seventh-best.