July 11, 2005

Reusse's Column

I got a number of e-mails this weekend regarding Patrick Reusse's Sunday column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. While a lot of you expressed emotions bordering on outrage, I have to say that I don't think it was a horrible column.

I agree with one of Reusse's main points, which is that he's sick of Ron Gardenhire's whole "we came to the ballpark and we battled our tails off" act. Plus, Reusse managed to get off a very nice shot at Luis Rivas, saying, "He should do that now-popular point-to-the-sky show of gratitude every morning that he wakes up and finds himself still in the big leagues."

With that said, there were certainly a few aspects of the column that I disagreed with. For instance, Reusse writes:

The outfield of Torii Hunter, Shannon Stewart and Jacque Jones -- the lineup's strength -- has been fully available.

Then, a few paragraphs later, he writes:

Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer were going to be ready to produce in the middle of a contending team's order. They aren't.

Lew Ford was going to be a productive, everyday DH. He isn't.

This lineup doesn't work. Period.

No infield, no major help for Hunter, Stewart and Jones as of yet from the alleged rest of the nucleus -- from Mauer, Morneau and Ford.

I just don't understand how Shannon Stewart and Jacque Jones can be considered part of "the lineup's strength" while Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Lew Ford are considered disappointments, weaknesses, and unproductive. Here are the five players in question, ranked by their OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage):

                     AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Justin Morneau .267 .331 .477 .808
Joe Mauer .305 .373 .427 .800
Jacque Jones .262 .350 .424 .774
Shannon Stewart .290 .339 .422 .761
Lew Ford .271 .353 .396 .750

Mauer leads both Jones and Stewart in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. Mauer is also 22 years old, in his first full major-league season, and a catcher. Jones and Stewart are 30 and 31 years old, respectively, major-league veterans, and corner outfielders. The positional differences in particular should not be glossed over, as Mauer currently ranks as the second-best offensive catcher in baseball.

If you want to say that Mauer has not been productive enough to bat in the middle of the lineup, that's one thing (and more a criticism of the overall lineup than a rookie catcher). If you want to say that Mauer has been any less of an asset to the lineup than Jones and Stewart, that's just plain wrong. Mauer has been a better hitter than both Jones and Stewart according to just about any stat you want to look at, and he plays one of the most important defensive positions while they each play one of the least.

Similarly, both Morneau and Ford have offensive numbers that are very close to the numbers put up by Jones and Stewart. The case could easily be made that Morneau has been the best hitter among the four this year, and Ford has the best on-base percentage in the group. The fact is that no one on the team is having a great season at the plate, but that's no reason to praise two guys having mediocre years while criticizing other players with nearly identical numbers.

Wait, I know what you're saying ... Morneau has slumped horribly after getting off to a great start. But guess what? So has Jones.

                     AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Morneau April .439 .442 .707 1.149
Jones April .353 .471 .603 1.074

Morneau Since .223 .308 .426 .734
Jones Since .231 .308 .370 .678

Yes, for all the talk about Morneau going in the talk about a great first month, Jones has actually been worse since the end of April.

And yes, Morneau and Mauer are each having a lot of trouble hitting lefties this year. But guess what? So are Jones, Stewart, and Ford.

                     AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Shannon Stewart .247 .299 .348 .647
Jacque Jones .216 .271 .352 .623
Lew Ford .227 .314 .307 .621
Justin Morneau .241 .267 .325 .593
Joe Mauer .237 .288 .288 .576

Again, if you're going to blame one, blame all. Don't pretend as if there's some big difference between the players that just isn't there.

To blame Mauer and Morneau for the Twins' perceived problems this year is beyond ridiculous. They are both in essentially their rookie seasons and both have numbers that make them one of the top three hitters on the team. If anything, I see the mediocre offensive numbers Jones and Stewart are putting up this season as far more disappointing than the numbers from Mauer and Morneau.

Oh, and the Twins' plan that "doesn't work" has them at 48-38 and leading the Wild Card by 1.5 games at the All-Star break. After 86 games last season, the Twins were 47-39. After 86 games in 2003, the Twins were 44-42. After 86 games in 2002, the Twins were 48-38. In other words, the plan is working the same as it has always worked.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- News, Notes and Quotes (July 11, 2005) (by Aaron Gleeman)

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