April 30, 2006

Limping Into May

When I initially looked at the Twins' tough opening-month schedule, I had hoped for a 12-12 April. With seven of the season's first eight series against legitimate contenders, a .500 start would have kept the Twins from falling behind much in the division while allowing them to build some momentum once the schedule let up a bit. Instead, the Twins finished April at 9-15 and find themselves in fourth place, eight games back.

There isn't a ton of difference between 12-12 and 9-15, but it's the way the Twins played in April that's so disappointing. The offense was predictably ineffective and the pitching was shockingly horrible, and the team often looked both overmatched and disinterested. The defense was sloppy, the starting pitchers put the team in an early hole nearly every time out, and the manager continued his annual tradition of giving at-bats to the wrong guys.

The month came to a fitting end in Detroit, where the Tigers embarrassed the Twins over the course of three games, outscoring them 33-1 while exposing nearly every conceivable flaw. It's easy to point to the pitching staff as the main problem, both for the Detroit series and the entire season, but in reality the pitching and hitting have been equally responsible for the team's 9-15 start.

The offense has produced 22 percent fewer runs than the AL average, while the pitching has given up 23 percent more runs than the rest of the league. That the pitching staff has received so much more of the blame is due entirely to expectations, because while the pitchers have been more disappointing they haven't been any worse. In an effort to balance the blame-to-responsibility ratio a bit, I'd like to focus on the hitters' April performances today.

First, the team as a whole ...

YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG     R/G
2005 .259 .323 .391 4.2
2006 .250 .311 .355 4.0

I'd have thought it impossible, but for all the talk about improving the offense and all the offseason moves, the Twins' lineup has been even more punchless than last season. The Twins are getting on base four percent less often and their already-pathetic slugging percentage has dropped nine percent. The end result is that the worst offense in the league last season has scored even less frequently this time around, with only the Royals keeping the Twins from bringing up the rear in the AL again.

Now, the individuals ...

                      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG
Torii Hunter 96 .189 .240 .378
Rondell White 91 .136 .143 .148
Shannon Stewart 86 .325 .372 .413
Justin Morneau 84 .208 .274 .416
Tony Batista 83 .267 .337 .427
Joe Mauer 82 .319 .402 .406
Luis Castillo 81 .362 .436 .420
Juan Castro 67 .234 .258 .266
Lew Ford 62 .214 .290 .286
Michael Cuddyer 43 .256 .326 .564
Nick Punto 29 .231 .310 .346
Luis Rodriguez 28 .304 .429 .522
Mike Redmond 25 .375 .400 .500
Ruben Sierra 20 .188 .300 .250
Jason Kubel 18 .188 .278 .188

The sad thing about the continued lack of scoring is that it's come despite outstanding performances from the top three spots in the lineup. Shannon Stewart, Luis Castillo, and Joe Mauer have set the table beautifully by getting on base at .372, .436, and .402 clips, respectively. That's about as good as you can ask for and under normal circumstances would put the Twins in position to score a ton of runs.

Instead, the supposed big boppers in the middle of the lineup who are being counted on to drive all of those runners in have been absolutely pathetic. One good April performance from Rondell White, Torii Hunter or Justin Morneau and things would have been a lot different. White in particular has killed the offense, driving in just five runs despite the top third of the lineup working perfectly to provide him with 83 runners to drive in.

Not only has White hit an execrable .136/.143/.148 and matched his measly RBI total by grounding into five double plays, he's eaten up an astounding 83 outs in 91 plate appearances while doing so. That'd be difficult to do if you tried and it has washed away nearly all of the good work the top of the lineup did. Hunter's .189/.240/.378 line and Morneau's .208/.274/.416 performance have safely wiped away the rest.

While the middle of the lineup has dragged the offense down the most, at the bottom of the lineup Tony Batista and Juan Castro have been as bad as I feared. Batista's .267/.337/.427 line for the year is certainly above my lowly expectations, but when combined with statuesque defense at third base has made him the overall liability I expected. Meanwhile, Castro's magical ability to bloop singles into right field expired some time ago and he's now hitting a wretched .234/.258/.266.

The Twins can blame much of their struggles to score runs in April on surprisingly awful months from White, Hunter, and Morneau, but they certainly have no one to blame but themselves when it comes to Batista and Castro. Right field has also been a source of offensive futility, with Lew Ford starting the bulk of the time and hitting .214/.290/.286 while Michael Cuddyer stays glued to the bench with a .564 slugging percentage and Jason Kubel bats .303/.385/.545 at Triple-A.

One of the many things I've repeatedly opined here over the years is that if given everyday playing time for an entire season, Cuddyer is capable of hitting .275/.350/.450. Dating back to May 1 of last year--one full baseball season's worth of time--Cuddyer is batting .273/.343/.461. Yet despite that and the defensive versatility to play nearly anywhere on the diamond, Cuddyer has been given a grand total of 43 plate appearances in 24 games.

It's easy to blame the lack off offense on White, Hunter, and Morneau, but at some point the manager and general manager have to be held accountable as well. Terry Ryan chose to ignore extensive track records of sub par performances to bring in proven out-makers Batista and Castro rather than give chances to young players with actual upside or seek out more capable veteran options, and both decisions have predictably hurt the team.

Ron Gardenhire has done his part to keep the offense down by giving Batista, Castro, Ruben Sierra, and Nick Punto nearly one-fourth of the team's plate appearances while Cuddyer and Luis Rodriguez rot on the bench and Kubel and Jason Bartlett beat up on International League pitching. And in case simply handing out playing time to undeserving players isn't enough, he's further compromised the offense by drawing up faulty batting orders on a regular basis.

Given the highly flawed offseason maneuvering, the short-sighted refusal to trust the current batch of young talent, the organization's complete lack of planning, and the manager's illogical lineup preferences, the Twins are getting exactly what they asked for. A crappy offense.

April 27, 2006


  • If you only click on one of the links provided here today, make it this one: The truly amazing thing about Vin Diesel--aside from his entire career, obviously--is that all of the incredibly boring stuff he says in interviews are actually completely scripted, carefully practiced, and frequently repeated.
  • After seeing this story, I'm fairly certain that the term "supermodel" is thrown around far too easily these days.
  • A few weeks ago I poked fun at J.C. Romero for being delusional about thinking that he was known for pitching well in tight spots while with the Twins when the exact opposite is true. This time I'd like to poke fun at Romero for thinking the following:

    When he was with the Minnesota Twins, Romero faced [Jim] Thome often when Thome played for the Cleveland Indians. ... "Knock on wood, I've had success against him," Romero said of Thome. "We both respect each other. It's going to be a good challenge for me."

    Thome, who is a career .282/.409/.565 hitter, has batted .333/.412/.533 against Romero. Considering Thome bats left-handed and Romero throws left-handed, that shouldn't exactly be a great source of pride for Romero. The funny thing is that aside from Romero, Thome typically struggles against southpaws, hitting just .246/.346/.429 against them during his career.

    Considering what goes in his deluded mind, within the next couple weeks I expect to see a quote from Romero about how he is known for his reluctance to adjust his athletic supporter in front of thousands of people.

  • The Hardball Times was mentioned Thursday in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, with Michael Rand calling THT "a steak sandwich with new potatoes in a burger-and-fries cyberworld." Not bad, although since I rarely read the actual newspaper that is delivered to my house each day, someone else had to tell me it was in there.
  • Remember all the talk this spring that if Francisco Liriano wasn't in the starting rotation he would at least get stretched out a bit pitching in a long-relief role? Like most of the Twins' plans, that one lasted all of a month. Now Ron Gardenhire is thinking about moving Liriano into a setup role, which is fine except for the fact that the team eventually wants him to be a starter.

    Instead of keeping Liriano at Triple-A to let him pitch every fifth day or keeping him at the back of the bullpen to let him at least work multiple innings at a time, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the Twins are discussing whether he's "ready to pitch on back-to-back days." In other words, the Twins were so committed to their plan for perhaps the best pitching prospect in all of baseball that they completely abandoned it because Jesse Crain pitched poorly for 10 innings.

  • Remember my little rant about J.J. Redick in last week's Link-O-Rama? ESPN.com college football writer Bruce Feldman agreed with me and quoted it (scroll all the way to the bottom).
  • I'm always a sucker for end-of-the-season video montages, and this NBA one from ESPN is no different.
  • Ricky Manning Jr., who recently signed a long-term contract with the Bears, was arrested last weekend on assault charges. Here's an interesting quote from a story about the incident in the Chicago Sun-Times:

    According to [LAPD officers], Manning was in a group that attacked a man in a Denny's restaurant after teasing him for working on a laptop computer.

    "The group began by making comments that the victim looked like a geek or a nerd," Lewis said.

    The victim asked the group to stop and then complained to a Denny's manager before someone in the group punched him in the face. He then was punched and kicked by multiple attackers until losing consciousness, Lewis said.

    Thankfully Manning signed with the Bears and not the Vikings, because otherwise I think I'd be in serious danger. See, there's a good reason to do most of your writing from bed.

  • I'm a Twins fan and spent a large portion of my youth collecting (and selling) baseball cards, so this new blog featuring a card-by-card history of the team is right up my alley.
  • When asked if sending Justin Morneau back to Triple-A if he continues to struggle is an option, Terry Ryan certainly didn't say no:

    I think it's way too early for that. We're going to try to help him. We keep putting him out there [in the lineup]. There's a reason why we do that.

    Ryan also added some interesting thoughts on Morneau's problems at the plate:

    He's got a lot of talent. He's got a lot of strength and he's got a lot of power. All he has to do is swing at strikes, and he's going to be fine. Taking a walk's not all that bad. Those are the things that young hitters -- I don't think they comprehend that taking a walk is a plus.

    That's a great thing for a general manager to say, but unfortunately that sort of philosophy hasn't filtered down to the actual players. What reason is there to believe that Morneau can learn to "swing at strikes" and realize that "taking a walk is a plus" when Torii Hunter hasn't improved his plate discipline one bit in a decade. Jacque Jones swung at everything for over 976 games in Minnesota and Morneau has taken up that awful habit for the past year and a half.

    Plus, Ryan certainly isn't putting his money where his mouth is. He says all the right things about wanting hitters to swing at strikes and draw walks, but then he signs hacktastic out-makers Tony Batista and Juan Castro to take up two-ninths of the lineup. If you stick Morneau in a lineup with guys like Batista, Castro, Jones, Hunter and even Rondell White--who has zero walks in 20 games this season--is it any wonder that he can't stop swinging at everything?

  • So close, yet so far.

  • April 26, 2006

    Deja Vu

    Perhaps it's just a carry over from last season, but I'm already sick of watching the Twins' feeble attempts at scoring runs. The hitters were largely let off the hook for their mediocre early numbers because the pitching staff was horrendous, but when the pitchers finally managed to get their act together for a couple starts in a row the offense went right back to looking as bad as last season.

    Look at what the opponent's starting pitchers have done against the Twins over the past five games:

    Mark Buehrle 8.0 4 1 1 1 6 1 102
    Freddy Garcia 6.2 7 2 2 1 3 1 113
    Jose Contreras 8.0 6 2 2 3 2 1 108
    Scott Elarton 7.0 3 0 0 2 2 0 96
    Runelvys Hernandez 7.0 2 1 1 0 1 1 82

    Add it all up and you get a 1.47 ERA in 36.2 innings of work. And not only have the Twins managed just 22 hits and seven walks against starters over that span, they've used up a measly 13.7 pitches per inning. As with last year, the lineup makes life far too easy on the pitcher. In fact, this is a case where I'd almost like to see the hitters striking out more, because at least that would mean they were going deep into counts instead of hacking at whatever junk is thrown near the plate.

    There is certainly no shame in being shut down by the likes of Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, and Jose Contreras, although it would have been nice to do a little damage against one of them. However, scoring a grand total of one run on five hits in 14 innings against Scott Elarton and Runelvys Hernandez is the same sort of pathetic hitting that was so depressing to watch last year.

    Elarton had a 4.61 ERA last year and had been having significant control problems prior to facing the Twins this season. Hernandez had a 5.52 ERA last year and went 1-2 with a 10.52 ERA in three starts at Double-A to begin this season. Yet just like last season, it rarely seems to matter who the pitcher is or how bad he's been. Against the Twins everyone looks good and cruises to a Quality Start.

    I'm not sure I can handle another season of 3-1 losses to guys like Hernandez, although I'll hold off complaining further in the hopes that Johan Santana can cheer me up this afternoon. Of course, if Santana has a good outing and drops to 0-4 because Mark Redman shuts the lineup down ... well, I may go insane (or insaner).

    The good news? By 2010 the Twins might be playing home games outdoors. With some luck, they may even have a major league-quality lineup in place by then.

    April 25, 2006

    Rosen's Sports Sunday (and Twins Notes)

    A piece about me aired on Rosen's Sports Sunday over the weekend on the local CBS affiliate. I was hoping to have some video of the segment to link to, but unfortunately I've been told by WCCO that they are unable to post footage online because they "are under restrictions by Major League Baseball." That doesn't really make much sense to me, but it's probably not worth getting worked up over.

    They came to my house several weeks ago and shot about an hour of footage, with me talking non-stop for at least half that time, yet the entire segment was about 45 seconds long. As with the story in Sports Illustrated and the piece on Channel 5 Eyewitness News earlier this month, the main focus was that I often write in bed. I'm not sure why that fascinates the mainstream media so much, but apparently it's the only thing worth covering when it comes to me.

    Mark Rosen introduced the segment by making a weird face while he called me "a blogger who writes from his bedroom." And then the actual piece showed footage of me working on my laptop while sitting in bed, and had a few soundbites of me talking about blogging interspersed with clips of the Twins. Once it was over Rosen talked about how he now has a blog of his own on WCCO.com, and then they showed a 10-second clip of me giving him pointers on blogging.

    I don't mean to complain, since it's flattering to be featured on TV, but I'm sort of amazed by how little actual substance ends up in these things. Not only was it incredibly short and failed to go into anything really meaningful, they cut out all of my one-liners about Sid Hartman and Ron Gardenhire. While you sadly can't watch the footage to judge the piece's quality for yourself, WCCO was kind enough to post a transcript online.

    The highlight of the experience was the fact that Rosen's in-studio guest Sunday night was none other than Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim "Shecky" Souhan, whose lame attempts at hacky humor I've been known to criticize here. I'm not sure how familiar Souhan is with this blog, but I'm fairly certain that he's not a big fan of mine. It was amusing to know that he had to sit through a taped piece about me and then probably ripped me to Rosen during the commercial break.

    While I wait for the Twin Cities' NBC affiliate to contact me for a fluff piece to complete my local TV trifecta, here are some Twins notes ...

  • The St. Petersburg Times had an article last week about hitters working the count that included the following:

    Hitting styles vary, and working the count isn't for everyone. "I don't have time for that," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. "I'm more aggressive. I just hack. If I went up there and was patient, I wouldn't be the guy I am."

    But his teammate, leadoff man and left fielder Shannon Stewart, gets plenty of kudos for his knack at running up the count.

    "I can't get a hit every time," said Stewart, a career .300 hitter in 11 seasons. "So the next best thing for me is to walk. I try to work a pitcher. You go up there and take a couple of pitches and go deep in the count and it helps the other hitters out, too. They're all watching to see what the guy's got."

    It's a shame that Torii Hunter feels that way, because his lack discipline at the plate has kept him from becoming a great player. He has power and speed, and plays outstanding defense at a key position, but has never drawn more than 50 walks in a season and strikes out about 20 percent of the time. While Hunter is right when he says that he wouldn't be the same guy if he "went up there and was patient," I wonder if he ever considered that the new guy might actually be a better hitter.

    Shannon Stewart's quote makes more sense, although it's odd that Stewart is often credited with being incredibly patient. From the moment the Twins traded for him everyone talked about Stewart as if he was a walking machine, even giving him credit for making the hitters around him more patient. That sounds good, of course, but it's not actually true.

    While nowhere near the hacker that Hunter is, Stewart has drawn just 102 non-intentional walks in 1,394 plate appearances with the Twins. Over that same span the American League as a whole has averaged 101 non-intentional walks per 1,394 plate appearances. In other words, Stewart walks at almost exactly an average rate. Just one more reason not to automatically trust everything that comes out of Dick Bremer's mouth.

  • Speaking of Twins hitters and plate discipline, here's an amusing quote from Jacque Jones, who is off to a slow start with the Cubs:

    They're trying to walk me, bottom line. They're throwing everything in off the plate, trying to walk me. They're just not throwing strikes, and I'm not letting them walk me.

    Jones, like Hunter, has always been a hacker. He fails to understand that pitchers aren't trying to walk him--Jones is far from a dangerous hitter at this point--but rather realize that he'll chase crappy pitches outside of the strike zone, eliminating the need to consistently throw him strikes.

    Jones also complained about the fans in Chicago booing him:

    I'm angry right now, you know what I mean? ... I've seen friends go through it. Sammy Sosa hit 60 home runs three years in a row, went into a little slump and hey, like I said earlier, they have a right to voice whatever opinion they want to voice. But it's not going to make me play any better.


    I'm just getting used to it. Where I came from, they were passionate about baseball. We probably didn't draw as many [in Minnesota], but they were there through thick and thin. [The booing] is something I've got to get used to. I'm blocking it out as much as I can.

    As I've said before, I think fans booing a player on their own team is silly, particularly when he's been on the team for all of three weeks. As Jones said, the booing isn't going to make him play any better and as far as I know no one is accusing him of not trying.

  • With each passing game I become less convinced that Justin Morneau will ever become a star. Yes, he has huge power. And yes, he's still just 25 years old. However, his approach at the plate has not improved one bit in four seasons, and the case could be made that he's actually regressed in how he approaches an at-bat. He wouldn't be the first young Twins hitter who failed to develop at the big-league level.

    Morneau now swings at just about everything (notice a pattern?), yet he doesn't make consistent contact and too often gives the pitcher an easy out because he's over-aggressive and pull-happy. After going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against a mediocre right-handed pitcher who he should have feasted on last night, Morneau has now gone 18 straight at-bats without a hit and is down to .203/.257/.391 on the year.

    Since June 1 of last season, this is what Morneau's combined numbers look like:

      G      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG     2B     HR     BB     SO
    123 428 .217 .285 .399 17 19 37 88

    That's ugly, and it gets even worse once you account for seven of those 37 walks being intentional. In three-fourths of a full season, Morneau has barely stayed above the Mendoza Line while making an out 72 percent of the time and slugging below .400. That wouldn't be good production from a shortstop; from a slugging first baseman it's simply awful.

    For once I'd like to see a young Twins hitter come up to the majors, do well early on, and then build upon that success by developing his skills further in future seasons. You wouldn't think it'd be all that much to ask for, yet when was the last time it happened? Who was the last young hitter to do well early on--like Morneau did, hitting .271/.340/.536 in 2004--and then steadily develop into an even better and more complete offensive player?

    After some early success Twins hitters--Hunter, Jones, A.J. Pierzynski, Corey Koskie, Luis Rivas, Cristian Guzman, Doug Mientkiewicz, Matthew LeCroy, Michael Cuddyer--have either stagnated or regressed. Aside from David Ortiz once he got away from the Twins' coaching, no one has added considerable plate discipline or developed significant power, and no left-handed hitters learned to handle southpaw pitching. At this point I'd take some stagnation from Morneau, because he appears to be going downhill fast.

  • Here's an interesting tidbit pointed out by someone in the comments section Monday: The Twins' defense has committed the fewest errors in the league, but rank dead last in Defensive Efficiency Ratio. Considering the pitching staff's struggles to keep runs off the board, which stat do you think is more telling when judging a defense? I'll give you a hint: It isn't the one constantly quoted by fans and the media.
  • I saw this headline on the front page of the Star Tribune's website the other day and got really scared: "Hunter seriously injured in attack." Then I clicked on the story and started reading:

    A hunter mauled by a black bear had been chasing the animal on private timberland when the animal turned the tables on its pursuers, officials said.


  • April 24, 2006

    WPA Through 18 Games

    Yesterday's off day gave me a chance to update the Twins' Win Probability Added totals for this season. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, WPA tracks what each play does to change the probability of a team winning a specific game. In other words, Torii Hunter hitting a grand slam in a blowout win over the Blue Jays wasn't worth nearly as much WPA as Lew Ford drawing a game-tying walk with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Angels.

    On the surface Hunter's homer and the four RBIs that came along with it were more impressive, but in terms of actual impact on the game it pales in comparison to Ford's walk. Ford scratching and clawing his way to a free pass in a do-or-die spot against Francisco Rodriguez radically changed the Twins' chances of winning the game, while Hunter's grand slam basically just made things a little uglier for the Blue Jays in a game that was already pretty much in the bag.

    The value of WPA is that it is able to account for both the event and the situation, and can spit out a value based on how things actually impacted wins and losses. It is far from a perfect stat and I'm certainly not comfortable relying on it to definitively decide who the best and worst players are, but it's certainly an interesting tool to have.

    Before I get to the WPA totals through 18 games, I want to remind everyone that Will Young has been tracking WPA for every single game over at his blog. Will not only calculates the totals mere hours after the final out is recorded and posts them each night along with a handy graph showing how each team's odds of winning fluctuated throughout the game, he often includes an amusing bit of photo-shopping too.

    It's not my intention to step on Will's toes, because I think what he's doing is great and I'll be linking to it constantly all season. In fact, his method for tracking WPA has additional value because he adds in a personal touch, adjusting the amount of credit given in special circumstances when a normal WPA calculation simply goes by what the play-by-play account says.

    In other words, if Brad Radke gives up a 400-foot fly ball that Torii Hunter pulls back into the ballpark with a spectacular, homer-robbing catch at the wall, Will correctly gives Hunter the credit. Meanwhile, the by-the-book WPA calculation that I'll be tracking simply sees that Radke got an out in the situation and adjusts the Twins' chances of winning accordingly.

    I've talked to Will about his methods for handing out WPA and I think it adds a ton of value to what is an excellent resource. However, I'm also curious about what the WPA totals look like without any biases or subjective adjustments thrown in. Think of Will's WPA tracking as a hot-fudge sundae and mine as a small bowl of vanilla ice cream. Most of the time the sundae is much better, but occasionally you just want the plain ice cream.

    Grab a spoon ...

    Joe Nathan            48.2%        Luis Rodriguez        -5.4%
    Luis Castillo 44.1% Juan Castro -14.3%
    Joe Mauer 40.0% Michael Cuddyer -15.2%
    Justin Morneau 34.2% Matt Guerrier -19.3%
    Shannon Stewart 31.4% Torii Hunter -20.1%
    Lew Ford 30.4% Tony Batista -31.6%
    Juan Rincon 28.7% Brad Radke -59.3%
    Mike Redmond 27.5% Jesse Crain -66.1%
    Francisco Liriano 20.0% Kyle Lohse -88.5%
    Ruben Sierra 16.8% Carlos Silva -93.2%
    Willie Eyre 7.0% Rondell White -125.3%
    Johan Santana 4.0%
    Scott Baker 3.4%
    Nick Punto 1.4%
    Jason Kubel 1.3%

    WPA assumes that both teams begin each game with a 50-percent chance to win, which means there are 50.0 points of WPA handed out to the winners and 50.0 points of WPA subtracted from the losers. A team with a cumulative WPA of zero will go 81-81, so every 50.0 points of WPA a player contributes pushes the team one game above .500 and every 50.0 points of WPA a player loses pushes the team one game below .500. It sounds complicated, but it's actually fairly simple.

    The first thing that struck me about the above numbers is that 15 of the 26 players who have played for the Twins this year have posted a positive WPA total, yet because the Twins are four games below .500 the team total is -200.0. The reason for that is simple: Rondell White. White has been so bad thus far that his -125.3 WPA has nearly offset the combined contributions of the team's top three players.

    Joe Nathan (48.2), Luis Castillo (44.2), and Joe Mauer (40.0) have each been worth slightly less than one win above .500, yet White has done nearly as much to drag the team below .500 all by himself. His .149/.157/.164 hitting line is not only horrendous, White has managed to fail in a remarkable number of important spots. Since WPA gives extra weight to at-bats that come in key moments, White's total suffers.

    After White's jaw-droppingly low total, the next four least-valuable Twins have been pitchers. Carlos Silva's -93.2 WPA jives with his 8.33 ERA in four starts, and Kyle Lohse's -88.5 WPA matches up with his 11.57 ERA in three starts. Jesse Crain has been the worst of the relievers at -66.1 WPA, while Radke's -59.3 WPA ranking as just the third-worst total among the starters tells you all you need to know about the rotation's struggles.

    Prior to the season I would have guessed that Tony Batista would be among the team's least-valuable players, but given his .279/.353/.459 hitting line thus far his -31.6 WPA is surprising. Batista has also come up with several memorable hits already and has two big WPA totals on his early resume--29.8 WPA in Game 7 and 25.1 WPA in Game 15--making his poor season total even more shocking. And remember that I didn't jury-rig these numbers one bit, so Batista earned them fair and square by coming up with games of -30.7, -21.0, -13.3, -12.8, -9.0, and -7.1 WPA.

    Similarly, Juan Castro received a lot of praise for a hot start and some timely hits early on, but for the season his punchless .280/.308/.300 hitting line has dragged the offense down. Through 11 games Castro was among the team leaders in WPA at 31.2, but since then he's racked up a remarkable -45.5 WPA in seven games to push his season total down to -14.3 WPA. Once defense is properly factored in Castro becomes more valuable, but he's been far from the bright spot many fans and media members have made him out to be.

    As a group the pitching staff has a cumulative -215.0 WPA and the hitters are at 15.0, which makes sense given that the pitching has been horrendous and the offense has simply been thoroughly mediocre. The few bright spots among pitchers have been Nathan and Francisco Liriano, who have each been nearly flawless, and Juan Rincon, whose one bad outing came when the Twins were already behind.

    Among position players Castillo, Mauer, Justin Morneau, Shannon Stewart, Ford, and Mike Redmond have been very valuable, although nearly all of Morneau's value comes from the game-winning bloop single against Mariano Rivera in Game 11. Thanks to that hit Morneau had a 43.7 WPA for that game alone, which is the highest single-game WPA on the team. In terms of the impact on winning or losing a game, it's tough to top a game-winning hit off Rivera when your team is trailing with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

    Once you factor in some quick-and-dirty defensive value along with the WPA totals, the Twins' MVPs through 18 games are clearly Castillo and Mauer. That's not surprising given that Castillo has hit .404/.481/.468 with good defense at second base and Mauer has hit .316/.403/.421 with solid work behind the plate. Unfortunately, Mauer is a catcher who is not in the lineup every day and Castillo has already missed five games because of leg problems.

    Nathan has also been fantastic, but thanks to Ron Gardenhire's hesitance to use him in non-save situations he's only gotten into five of the 18 games. The fact that Nathan has thrown 35 percent fewer innings than anyone else on the team and has been used about half as much as Rincon and Crain is simply poor strategy. Regardless of how bad the starting pitching has been and how few late leads there are to protect, a good manager would find a way to use his best reliever for more than five of the first 155 innings.

    Oh, and one more thing: Bring on the Royals! (Please.)

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