June 12, 2003

Reader Mail (Weekly Wrap-Up Edition)

I covered a lot of different topics this week. The all-star game, Justin Morneau's debut, Hideki Matsui's lack of power, Luis Oh-For-ThRivas - and I got a lot of really great emails from readers regarding all of them.

Here are just a few...

The first email is from Robert Dudek of Baseball Primer and the Batter's Box, in response to Thursday's entry on Hideki Matsui:

Craig [Burley, also of Baseball Primer and the Batter's Box] and I were speculating about Matsui's lack of power a few weeks ago. Craig had heard that Japanese pitchers don't throw sinkers. Matsui has a very level swing and it would figure that almost all of his home runs (even in Japan) are line drives on balls up in the zone. If AL pitchers keep the ball low with sink on it consistently, it becomes very difficult to hit homers without a significant uppercut.

Shorter distances to the fences might make a difference for Matsui too. It's pretty difficult to hit a line drive over a 10 foot wall that is 370-400 feet away because the ball never gets very high off the ground - we don't see it happen very often in the majors. It might be just a little bit easier if the fences are pulled in 20 feet (my theory is that a hard hit line drive reaches it's maximum height above the ground about 300 feet from home plate).

Thanks for the email Robert, some very interesting thoughts.

I don't know nearly enough about Japanese pitchers (or Japanese baseball in general) to comment on the whole sinkers thing. I do know that Japanese pitchers that have come to the major leagues (Kaz Sasaki, Hideo Nomo, etc) often throw split-fingered fastballs, which aren't the same as sinkers, but are generally thrown low in the zone and have some "sink" on them. I also remember reading/hearing somewhere that the splitter is featured by many/most Japanese pitchers.

Regarding the fences in America, I absolutely think the extra distance is having a big impact on his power-production, but I also think everyone (including myself) expected that to happen and, regardless of fence height or distance, Matsui is hitting far too many ground balls to hit for any serious power.

By the way, Matsui continued his hot month yesterday afternoon, going 2-4 with two singles and an RBI against the Astros. However, of the 4 balls he put in play yesterday, 3 were ground balls, 1 was a line drive (the second single) and he didn't hit any fly balls. There is no doubt he is turning his season around, but he is still not looking like someone that is capable of hitting a lot of homers.

The second email is from "John" in regard to my entry about the massive logjam the Twins have throughout their organization at first base, DH, left field and right field:

I've just finished Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups (though it is the type of book that one skims through over and over), and one thing that I kept noticing was how many times teams would have a surplus of talent at one or two positions and would either:

a) trade the wrong player

b) trade away too many, leaving themselves with none (the Oakland OF situation in the late 70s was mentioned as an example like this)

c) trade away future stars while getting very little in return (perhaps because the future star was perceived as less valuable by the team that had 6 other guys with similar ability)

d) fail to give any of the talented youngsters enough playing time, halting their development

Right now, the biggest fear that you and other Twins fans appear to have is that all the young OF/DH/1B prospects will rot on the pine while Mientkiewicz and Jones take up the spots in the order. But just because there is a great deal of talent available in the Twins system, does not mean that the talent should be devalued.

To avoid making silly Jeff Bagwell-for-Larry Andersen trades (Bagwell was a third baseman, and the Red Sox had Boggs, Cooper, and Naehring ahead of Bagwell on the depth chart, with Mo Vaughn ahead of Bagwell at 1B, meaning Boston didn't terribly need Bagwell) the Twins have to evaluate their players and assess each's value. Based mostly on what I've read at yours and other websites, here is how I would assess them:

Most Current Value (How they will play in the majors for the rest of this year)

1) Kielty

2) Mientkiewicz

3) Jones

4) Cuddyer

5) Morneau (he could move up three or down three . . .we cannot really be sure)

6) Mohr

7) Ford

8) Restovich

9) Sears

10) LeCroy

Most Future Value (ability to help a team in the next 3 years, or become a star in 4-6)

1) Morneau

2) Kielty

3) Cuddyer

4) Ford

5) Mientkiewicz

6) Jones

7) Mohr

8) Restovich

9) LeCroy

10) Sears

I could be off on these; I did not put too much thought into it.

But anyway. . .aside from the fact that almost anyone you get will be better than Rivas, who would you want to trade away. Probably the guys whose absence will not hurt much now (since a less potent lineup could damage your divisional chances, assuming that Chicago starts playing well ever), and who will not get tremendously better in the future. But are guys like Restovich, Dustin Mohr, or even Jacque Jones attractive enough to other teams to get players like Vidro, or even Bobby Hill?

That is not a negotiation that we are privy to, of course. But it seems to me that for the Expos to make a deal for Vidro (who has been an All-Star and is a decent candidate to be one again this year) they would want a player who either is as good now, or has a good shot at being better in the future. That seems to narrow it to Kielty, Morneau, maybe Cuddyer, and maybe Mientkiewicz.

The first three are guys the Twins should under no circumstances want to get rid of, and Mientkiewicz will be very difficult to deal, because of his standing as team leader and all-around good guy. For Alomar, it will be easier to deal (though he is overpriced, I would expect his hitting to come around a bit in the Dome), but still I do not think the Mets are going to be looking for Dustin Mohr or Todd Sears, or even both. Thus, wishing that the Twins trade away part of their surplus to fill one of their holes is good thinking, but it is better to trade away the lesser part of their surplus.

Some guesswork is involved, but it might be better if they had overhyped a player or two, and then dealt him rather than have a bunch of nice young players, only a few of whom could legitimately become stars. Those few are the ones who everyone will want, and who the Twins will be sorely tempted to deal ("after all, we've got Jones, Mohr, and Kielty in the OF/DH spots, with Morneau to fill in at DH also, so Cuddyer is really expendable") and those are also precisely the players who the Twins should not deem expendable. Instead, those are the players the Twins should want in their starting lineup for the next four or five seasons. It is an enviable situation to be in, but also a risky one.

Wow, not that is a "Gleeman-length" email! There were a lot of points raised by John, so let me try to touch on a bunch of them...

First, John says that, "the biggest fear that you and other Twins fans appear to have is that all the young OF/DH/1B prospects will rot on the pine while Mientkiewicz and Jones take up the spots in the order." This, at least in my case, is far from my greatest fear. I don't have a problem with having a ton of depth, I don't have a problem with good players sitting on the bench and I don't even have a problem with Jacque Jones and Doug Mientkiewicz getting lots of playing time. What I do have a problem with (or a fear of) is that the Twins will continue to have a surplus of talent at several positions and a complete lack of talent at second base and, to a lesser extent, shortstop.

Another one of John's main points is that the Twins need to do a good job identifying which of the players in the surplus they want to/should keep, which is, of course, very important. However, saying they shouldn't deal away anyone that isn't "at the bottom" of the list of those 10 players is a little silly. A guy being #5 or #6 on the list doesn't do you much good when you've only got 3-4 starting positions and maybe 1-2 bench spots for him and you could potentially get a player in exchange that could end up being #1 at another position (second base!).

I think John's short-term and long-term lists are interesting, mostly because I think about that sort of thing all the time. That said, I think he's a little off on some of his rankings, particularly his "future value" list. There is no way Lew Ford is more valuable long-term than Jacque Jones, even if salary considerations are taken into account. Ford turns 27 in about 2 months, while Jones just turned 28 at the beginning of the year. And Jacque has over 2,000 major league at bats and a career .291 batting average, while Ford just made his major league debut a few weeks ago.

All of that is likely irrelvevant, because I don't think Jacque Jones is going anywhere anytime soon and I don't really have a problem with that. He's proven he is a good hitter and I love his defense in left field. So, what we are left with are openings at 1B, DH and RF. Justin Morneau is going to play one of those positions - either 1B or DH - and he's going to play it for the next decade or so, so what you've really got truly available is right field and then either 1B or DH.

And who do you have for those two spots?

Bobby Kielty

Michael Cuddyer

Lew Ford

Doug Mientkiewicz

Dustan Mohr

Michael Restovich

Matthew LeCroy

Todd Sears

If the Twins want to acquire a player the quality of Jose Vidro, they are going to need to be willing to trade Montreal a good player or two, that's just the reality of the situation. The idea that there are several players that the Twins "should under no circumstances want to get rid of" is, in my opinion, crazy. And to say that one of those players is Doug Mientkiewicz is...well, insane. I think Bobby Kielty is awesome and I love Michael Cuddyer's potential, but they are far from "untradable" players. They are players who are very valuable and should not be dealt away without getting fair value in return, but they are not "untradable" in the same sense that I think Justin Morneau is.

I think Cuddyer will be an outstanding hitter in the major leagues, but is keeping him when you already have Kielty, Ford, Mohr and Restovich available to play right field really worth having Rivas and not Vidro at second base? I don't think so, but I could be wrong. The point is, they have a tremendous amount of depth at some positions and a tremendous lack of depth at others. In order to gain depth at the bad positions, they are going to need to deal away some very good players, but they are lucky in that they have several to spare. If they wait a couple of years to address the situation, not only are they going to have to watch Rivas suck up outs on offense and give away outs on defense for that much longer, but players like Restovich, Sears, Ford, Cuddyer, etc are going to lose trade value because they will be getting older and will have been stuck either in Triple-A or on the Twins' bench.

I'd call Montreal and ask them what it would take to get Jose Vidro right now. If they tell me they would accept a package built around Michael Restovich and Lew Ford, plus another prospect or two, I'd jump at it. If they tell me it would take Michael Cuddyer, I think I would jump at that too. Vidro is an extremely valuable player, the type of value that Michael Cuddyer could potentially provide one day, if everything breaks right for him. And the Twins are in a position to win and win right now - they should take advantage of that.

Our third and final email is from the same "John" that wrote that massive second email. John, may I suggest you get your own damn blog! 🙂 This email is regarding the entry on my 2003 all-star selections, specifically my "75/25 rule" regarding otherwise mediocre players off to hot starts:

You can call it the 75/25 rule; I just call it common sense. If a player is a grade-A certified All-Star, then he deserves to be on the All-Star team (this would actually have me replace Thomas with Giambi; although I'm a big Thomas fan, it is more clear to me that Giambi is just having a bad two months than it is that Thomas has returned to his former greatness).

At any rate, I wanted to share a Bill James line that sums up your argument (since Bill James has great lines for every occasion, and it is a shame not to use them). In the 1983 Abstract, James discusses an All-Star controversey of a different era. James says:

"Let's review the facts: Toby Harrah plays in the major leagues for roughly 40 years, during which he clearly and unmistakably establishes that he is not an All-Star. George Brett, over a period of several years, establishes beyond any shadow of a doubt that he is an All-Star. Toby Harrah has a hot streak early in the year, on the strength of which he carries a .336 batting average into the All-Star break with 17 home runs and 45 RBI, while George Brett was stumbling along barely over .300 with only 10 homers. Nevertheless, the nation's baseball fans elect George Brett to the All-Star team, which strikes me as an act of abundant good sense, because everybody in the country knows that George Brett is a better ballplayer than Toby Harrah.

But what comes of this? Why do we have to put up, every All-Star season, with these asinine editorials about why is this guy on the All-Star team . . . Was there one of you out there who really thought that Toby Harrah became a .336 hitter? And if you didn't think that he was a .336 hitter, why did you think that he should have been on the All-Star team? Would you be happy if we scheduled an All-Mediocrities-Who-Had-Good-First-Halves Game? We could play it in Cleveland every year."

Shea Hillenbrand, Bill Mueller, and Preston Wilson can play in the All-Mediocrities Game. This year, though, maybe we should play it in Kansas City.

Two awesome emails John. If I had a prize (or money to buy a prize) I would definitely give it to you. John's right, the great thing about Bill James is not only how incredible his writing is, but also the fact that he seems to have a good paragraph or two on just about any topic you can think of.

Today's picks:

Philadelphia (Millwood) -140 over Cincinnati (Haynes)

Minnesota (Santana) -150 over Arizona (Webb)

Atlanta (Ortiz) +125 over Seattle (Garcia)

Total to date: + $1,380

W/L record: 129-125 (4-1 yesterday for +325, with one rainout)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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