June 29, 2005

Whole Lotta Twins Notes

My entry earlier this week about Ron Gardenhire's refusal to bench Jacque Jones against left-handed pitching generated a ton of e-mails (as the topic always does), including quite a few that asked exactly who I thought the Twins should replace Jones in the lineup with when facing a lefty. There are several answers, all of them fairly simple.

The most obvious one involves moving Lew Ford from designated hitter to right field. Ford is a career .282/.357/.454 hitter against lefties (whereas Jones is at .233/.286/.336) and should be starting in left field anyway. Getting him some time in the outfield when a southpaw is on the mound for the other team kills two birds (including one who can't hit lefties) with one stone.

Then, with the DH spot opened up, Matthew LeCroy can get some at-bats doing what he does best, which is smacking around lefties. Whenever the Twins' offense struggles, I get e-mails from people wondering why they don't play LeCroy more. The thought being that his power could help the lineup. However, the fact is that LeCroy doesn't have great power unless he is hitting against a lefty.

CAREER          AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
vs Left .287 .355 .506 .861
vs Right .250 .302 .415 .717

2002-2004 AVG OBP SLG OPS
vs Left .302 .363 .518 .881
vs Right .257 .303 .420 .723

vs Left .288 .387 .519 .906
vs Right .262 .342 .431 .773

If he could play a premium defensive position, LeCroy's production against right-handed pitching would be acceptable. But since he care barely handle DH defensively, LeCroy should be firmly planted on the bench when a righty is pitching. That doesn't make him a bad person or a useless player, it just means a good manager would take advantage of his strength, which is hitting lefties, and minimize his weakness, which is everything else. His skill set is like the opposite of Jones'.

So, when the Twins face a lefty they should move Ford to right field, LeCroy to DH, and Jones to the bench. But wait, there's one more thing to consider. Gardenhire has shown that he likes to occasionally bench Justin Morneau against left-handed pitching. On the surface this makes as much sense as benching Jones against lefties does, since Morneau hasn't shown that he can hit lefties yet. On the other hand, he hasn't been given much of a chance to.

Jones has flailed away at left-handed pitching for seven seasons now without showing any ability to hold his own against them, while Morneau has a grand total of 174 at-bats against lefties in his entire career. I believe that Morneau needs everyday playing time over the next couple years to determine whether or not he can grow into a player capable of hitting left-handed pitching on a consistent basis. That's tough to do during a pennant race, obviously, but it is something that needs to be done.

However, if Gardenhire believes he is better off both in the short term and the long term with Morneau sitting against lefties and LeCroy replacing him at first base (a strange decision based on his dealings with Jones over the years), then that leaves one spot open in the lineup under our (dream) scenario of Jones being benched against lefties. Who steps into the DH spot, with Ford in right field and LeCroy at first base?

Well, the problem is that the Twins don't have anyone who is well suited for that job. They did just a few months ago, however, and his name was Michael Restovich. I campaigned for Restovich to make the team out of spring training, but the Twins decided to go in a different direction. And so Restovich's journey began, as he jumped from Tampa Bay to Colorado, before ending up in Pittsburgh.

Yes, that's four different big-league teams in the span of about four months, although he never actually played for the Devil Rays this season (or the Twins, for that matter). In 32 games between all of those stops, Restovich has hit .257/.316/.443, giving him a .268/.346/.443 hitting line in 93 career games. Those are about the numbers I would expect from Restovich based on his minor-league track record, and that's not great production from a corner outfielder without much defensive value.

With that said, Restovich is very similar to LeCroy in that he can be utilized for his strengths if managed correctly. As I pointed out over a year ago when making the case for a Jones/Restovich platoon in right field, Restovich put up sick numbers against lefties in the minors. And since coming to the majors he has batted a very solid (and LeCroy-like) .297/.349/.515 against lefties. In other words, had the Twins kept Restovich he would have been a perfect platoon partner for Jones, and together they would have provided excellent offensive production for one spot in the lineup.

Instead, Restovich is doing a nice job off Pittsburgh's bench, the Twins continue to trot Jones out against lefties so he can post a .650 OPS, and they no longer have anyone capable of bashing lefties off the bench aside from LeCroy. If this season comes down to a game or two in the standings -- and it's looking more and more like it will -- this is the sort of stuff that we can look back on as part of the cause.

Other Twins notes ...

  • With the lineup turning in yet another listless performance against yet another unspectacular starting pitcher yesterday, the rumors about the Twins looking at add a veteran bat keep getting louder and louder. Aside from finding a suitable platoon partner for Jones whom Gardenhire will never use, the spots the Twins could easily upgrade offensively are second base, third base, and shortstop.

    On that front, here are a few rumors from Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

    The Twins, wanting to improve their infield, have set their sights on Blue Jays infielders Shea Hillenbrand and second baseman Orlando Hudson, along with Reds third baseman Joe Randa.

    As I've said here before, I'm a big Orlando Hudson fan. He is an amazing defensive second baseman, and although his offense has been sub par this year, he represents a clear overall upgrade at second base. I'm not so high on Shea Hillenbrand, who is limited defensively and not as good as he's shown thus far at the plate. As for Joe Randa? Well, he's average in just about every way, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if it can be acquired cheaply. The key to any of these potential trades is not giving up the team's top prospects, and I am confident Terry Ryan feels the same way.

  • On the other hand, if you're going to part with the big boys down on the farm, how about making a run at Adam Dunn? That'd solve a few power issues, although he wouldn't do much about the middle of the lineup being so lefty dominated.
  • Oh, and about the Randa rumors ... The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal, had this to say about them in the Minneapolis Star Tribune a few days ago:

    After chewing on Cincinnati third baseman Joe Randa's name a little bit, the Twins have decided to look elsewhere for help.

    So ... the Twins have either "set their sights" on Randa or they "have decided to look elsewhere."

  • With Johan Santana struggling this month, the talk of pitch tipping has started up again. From Sid Hartman's column in the Star Tribune:

    Twins lefthander Johan Santana has walked four batters in each of his past two games. "He was tipping off his pitches, he made a change, and the result is his control is not what it was before," manager Ron Gardenhire said.

    I love reading stuff like that in the newspaper, because it inevitably comes along with absolutely no other details or explanation. I mean, if someone told you something like that, wouldn't you want to follow up with a few questions? It's not the sort of statement that should lend itself to a "reporter" shaking his head and saying, "Cool, thanks for the quote." We're talking about Sid, admittedly, but still.

  • He's been at Triple-A for about six weeks now, so I figure it's time for a Jason Bartlett update:
     G      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG     2B     HR     BB     SO
    34 127 .291 .372 .402 6 2 15 17

    I have no clue how Bartlett's defense has been, but he has a good batting average, nice plate discipline, and solid strike zone control. Oh, and while he gets on base 37% of the time at Rochester, the Twins' infielders are dropping like flies.

    Luis Rivas is fresh off the disabled list, Nick Punto and Brent Abernathy are still on the DL, Glenn Williams joined them yesterday and will likely be there for the remainder of the season, and now Juan Castro is having dizzy spells. All of which leads to things like Rivas starting at shortstop and Michael Ryan playing third base, both of which happened yesterday afternoon.

    The sad state of the Twins' infield is concerning, as is their unwillingness to give Bartlett another chance. However, what we've learned is that while Bartlett may not be the greatest shortstop in the world, there are few people better with a voodoo doll.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Ten Things About One-Run Games (by Dave Studeman)

    Today's Picks (69-57, +$1,235):
    Chicago (Garcia) -130 over Detroit (Maroth)

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