July 1, 2007
Notes From The Weekend
Here's a picture of her explaining to me that Kevin Slowey's 3-0 record is due largely to run support:
And here's a shot of her advising me that I should probably leave the beard-growing to Sinker:
As you might expect from someone who's so devoted to being a Twins fan that she was technically at the previous get-together in April despite not even being born yet, she was right on both counts.
With that said, Ivan Rodriguez is a future inner-circle Hall of Famer, Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez are very good players having very good seasons, Mauer has missed 31 games, and four catchers on the roster would have been overkill. Meanwhile, Pat Neshek is one of five "Final Vote" candidates and will compete with Roy Halladay, Jeremy Bonderman, Kelvim Escobar, and Hideki Okajima for the AL's final roster spot.
It will be Santana's third straight All-Star selection, while Hunter previously made the team in 2002, when he started in center field and robbed Barry Bonds of a homer in the game that infamously ended in a tie. Despite being the reigning AL MVP, this will be Morneau's first trip to an All-Star game. He was hitting .300/.352/.587 with 23 homers and 73 RBIs through last season's All-Star break (compared to .280/.354/.549 with 20 homers and 61 RBIs so far this year), but failed to make the team.
Of course, fans smart enough to realize that Baker can't control how many runs the Twins score will see that he's now turned in three straight strong starts, including holding the Blue Jays and Tigers to one run in back-to-back outings. I've never really thought of Baker as more than a back-of-the-rotation starter, but the amazingly negative reaction he gets from many Twins fans has sort of forced me into a position of defending him to some degree.
In eight starts since returning from Triple-A, Baker has three fantastic performances and has pitched reasonably well in two other outings. He now has a 5.14 ERA and 129-to-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 184 career innings, which are the type of numbers that bode well for the future of a 25-year-old pitcher with an outstanding minor-league track record. For whatever reason many fans seemingly view him as a worthless bum, but he clearly doesn't deserve that level of vitriol. He deserves some patience.
Conventional wisdom values on-base skills and speed at the top of the lineup, but at some point you're better off simply getting your best hitters to the plate most often. There are scenarios where putting two guys with a sub-.700 OPS at the top makes sense, but doing so when it means batting Morneau and Hunter fifth and sixth is not one of them. The impact of a batting order is typically overstated, but putting the team's two best power hitters so far down in the lineup is a mistake that costs runs.
Why position things so that the reigning MVP and a .303/.345/.554 hitter aren't likely to bat until the second inning? Why not give the team's top hitters the best shot at additional at-bats? Why begin each game with three hitters who've combined for six homers in nearly 800 plate appearances? It may work for conventional wisdom, but "because fast guys always bat at the top of the lineup" doesn't strike me as an especially logical answer.
Brooks Robinson 1975 .541
Don Wert 1968 .556
Aurelio Rodriguez 1974 .562
NICK PUNTO 2007 .573
Clete Boyer 1964 .573
Punto is currently on pace for the third-worst OPS of any starting third baseman since 1961, with the four other seasons in the top five coming in much lower-scoring eras. Brooks Robinson sitting atop the above list might seem odd, but Robinson was 38 years old in 1975 and it was his final season as a regular. Beyond Punto's historically horrible ranking among third basemen, his .573 OPS would also rank as the second-worst in Twins history, regardless of position:
Zoilo Versalles 1967 .531
NICK PUNTO 2007 .573
Butch Wynegar 1978 .616
Roy Smalley 1977 .631
Rich Rollins 1965 .641
Much like Robinson in 1975, that was Zoilo Versalles' final season in Minnesota. After posting a .531 OPS, he was traded to the Dodgers, where he batted .196 in 1968. However you slice it, Punto is in the midst of a historically awful season. Despite that, he's started 68 of the team's first 80 games while coming to the plate more often than all but four hitters (Michael Cuddyer, Morneau, Hunter, Castillo) and is on pace for about 600 plate appearances.
Interestingly, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported recently that the Twins talked to the Cubs about reacquiring Jacque Jones, but cut off negotiations "because of finances." Jones has plenty of faults as a player and he's off to a brutal start with the Cubs, but he'd represent a massive upgrade over Tyner. The Twins were absolutely right to let Jones leave via free agency last offseason, but he's only owed about $2 million for the remainder of this season and $5 million for next season.
Given the number of times Gardenhire has written Tyner's name in the lineup and the organization's lack of quality, MLB-ready hitting prospects, Jones would be worth picking up if the Cubs were willing to pay about half of his remaining contract and didn't require a legitimate prospect in return. The point isn't so much that the Twins should be trying desperately to bring Jones back, but rather that there are plenty of hitters like Jones who're available for reasonably cheap and would provide a boost offensively.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.