June 22, 2006

Twins Notes

  • Now that Juan Castro is no longer the Twins' problem, I can finally laugh at stuff like this from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

    Reds manager Jerry Narron is sensitive to players' feelings - to a degree.

    The addition of Juan Castro means Felipe Lopez or Edwin Encarnacion might be spending the eighth or ninth inning on the bench should Castro come in as part of a double switch or a straight defensive replacement. That plays on a young player's confidence.

    "I worry about it a little bit," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "But I worry about winning the game more than I worry about their confidence."

    It's laughable that a team would even consider benching guys like Felipe Lopez or Edwin Encarnacion to get Castro into games as a defensive replacement. Not only are Lopez and Encarnacion two of the Reds' best players and two of the best young infielders in baseball, at this point in his career Castro is about as qualified to be a defensive replacement as I am to be a pinch-runner.

    Last week in this space I speculated that Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky "was behind signing Castro two years ago" when he was Terry Ryan's assistant. I've since seen that confirmed in several places, which makes me glad that Krivsky and Castro are together again ... in Cincinnati. Ryan has enough trouble staying away from crappy veterans without someone like Krivsky egging him on.

  • Speaking of former Twins, apparently the Cubs are just now discovering that Jacque Jones has trouble consistently making good throws from the outfield:

    Right fielder Jacque Jones' throwing problems might be more mental than physical.

    "He can't find his release point right now," [manager Dusty] Baker said, preferring not to say a great deal.

    It's certainly possible that Jones' throwing problems are "more mental than physical," but anyone who saw him play in Minnesota knows it's not a "right now" situation. In fact, in writing Jones up for my "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series I described one of his most memorable traits as "throws from the outfield that were either air-mailed past the catcher or launched directly into the turf."

    To Jones' credit, he's bounced back from some early-season struggles and is currently on pace for arguably the second-best year of his career. He still can't hit lefties and has walked a grand total of 10 times in 65 games, but Jones is batting .296/.328/.517 with 13 homers and 36 RBIs. If you're curious, Twins right fielders are hitting .254/.343/.412 with eight homers and 33 RBIs.

  • Shocking but true: Matt Garza is human.
  • One of the nice things about Ron Gardenhire is that he frequently comes up with quotes like this:

    With Jason Bartlett replacing Juan Castro at shortstop and Nick Punto replacing Tony Batista at third base, Gardenhire likes the athleticism on the left side of the infield.

    "We couldn't catch people in rundowns before," Gardenhire said. "Tony couldn't catch anybody. Juany's not the fastest guy, and it was kind of amazing watching us get in a rundown and have to make like six throws because nobody could catch anybody to tag them."

    Of course, one of the bad things about Gardenhire is that he frequently does things like let Castro and Tony Batista play together for 50 games. As much as I enjoy the quotes, I'm pretty sure I'd prefer a mute who wouldn't have given Castro 450 plate appearances.

  • I've been campaigning for Gardenhire to move Shannon Stewart to designated hitter full time once he returns from the disabled list, and it sounds like that's the plan:

    When Shannon Stewart returns from the disabled list, he'll be used mostly as the designated hitter, not in left field, Gardenhire said.

    The Twins don't want to displace left fielder Jason Kubel, who had homered in four of five games before Tuesday.

    "I'll talk to Shannon about it," Gardenhire said. "But we're looking to probably to DH him and maybe spot play [in left field] here and there when he comes back to protect him, before he hurts himself out on the AstroTurf."

    It seems likely that Stewart still thinks he should be the everyday left fielder, in which case it's smart for Gardenhire to act like his decision is about keeping Stewart healthy rather than keeping Stewart away from fly balls.

  • It's reassuring to know that going from starting to relieving hasn't made one bit of difference when it comes to Kyle Lohse's maddening inability to put hitters away once he gets two strikes on them. So much for increasing his trade value out of the bullpen, huh? At least the Twins won't have to worry about some bum making his first start of the season ending their winning streak.
  • Once Joe Mauer's batting average rose above .350 it was only a matter of time before the national media started paying attention. Sure enough, stories on Mauer have started popping up all over the place of late.

    ESPN.com's Peter Gammons writes that Mauer is "the Twins' franchise player" and brings up the now-tired talk of Mauer moving out from behind the plate:

    He's had the knee operation and some leg problems, and some on the Minnesota staff believe that eventually getting him out from behind the plate will free his legs and allow him to be a middle-of-the-order star.

    Not that Mauer isn't a good catcher. He is. He has soft hands, an excellent presentation, a good arm and a selfless approach. But like Joe Torre and Craig Biggio, sometimes a player is so good offensively that he needs to get out from behind the plate and let his offense be a priority. Ron Gardenhire believes Mauer is so athletic that he will have no problem playing third base.

    As I've said here numerous times, anyone who thinks moving Mauer to another position is a good idea simply doesn't have a proper understanding of positional adjustments. As a third baseman Mauer is merely another very good hitter, but as a catcher he has a chance to be something truly special. What makes guys like Johnny Bench and Ivan Rodriguez inner-circle Hall of Famers isn't that they're great hitters, it's that they're great hitters and outstanding defensive catchers.

    Consider that Mauer's .968 OPS is 30 percent better than the MLB average for catchers (.744), but just 20 percent better than the MLB average for third basemen (.802). That means switching positions would cause Mauer to immediately lose about 10 percent of his value without even accounting for his game-calling and ability to gun down would-be basestealers.

    It's possible that he could be Brooks Robinson defensively at third base while tacking on an additional 75 points of OPS, but why risk that when he's already the best catcher in all of baseball? The guy is hitting .375, playing great defense, and has been healthy for going on two seasons. Why people insist on changing something that couldn't possibly be going any better is beyond me.

  • Meanwhile, the amount of energy wasted on Mauer's lack of votes for the All-Star game continues to rise. The Twins have launched a campaign to get him more votes, fans continue to act offended at the notion that he won't start, and Jason Williams of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote earlier this week that "there is a chance Mauer will be snubbed" for a spot, starting or otherwise.

    As someone who cares little about the All-Star game, allow me to be the voice of reason. First, there's almost zero chance of Mauer being "snubbed" if he enters the break hitting anywhere close to .370. Beyond that, the uproar over his lack of votes seems to imply that the system for choosing the game's starters is anything close to fair. It's not and never has been.

    As of right now the AL's starting lineup consists of Vladimir Guerrero and seven players from the Red Sox and Yankees. Not only do Boston and New York have the top vote-getters at nearly every position, they have the second-place guy at three spots. That's not "fair" in the sense that it doesn't actually lead to the most deserving players getting starting spots, but that's what happens you hand decision-making power to people sitting at games or logging on to MLB.com 50 times a day.

    The Yankees and Red Sox play in two of the country's biggest markets, they're on national television more than any other teams, they have significantly more people attend their games than the Twins do, and they have nationally recognizable players who the average fan has seen play (and heard Joe Buck and Tim McCarver gush over) numerous times in October.

    Getting worked up over the fact that Mauer doesn't have more votes than Jason Varitek is like being angry when a so-called psychic doesn't correctly predict your future. Instead of letting something that was never going to happen in the first place bother you, perhaps think twice about why you attach value to something that is so clearly valueless. Hell, next you'll probably tell me the writers didn't chose the right guy for last year's AL Cy Young Award or something.

  • Last but not least: This still stings.

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