July 22, 2007

Twins Notes: DPs, Strike Threes, and Injuries

  • When Joe Mauer grounded into a double play in the third inning yesterday afternoon, it struck me that he hasn't done that a whole lot this season. Mauer grounded into a team-high 24 double plays last year, which is something that people looking hard for reasons to criticize him focused on while he put together arguably the most-valuable season in the AL and became the first catcher in the history of baseball to lead both leagues in batting average.

    Often overlooked is that Mauer was an extreme ground-ball hitter batting third in a lineup that featured a pair of singles hitters with solid on-base percentages (Luis Castillo, Nick Punto) in front of him. Sticking a bunch of runners on first base and bringing a ground-ball hitter to the plate is a recipe for double plays, and Mauer's team-leading total was largely a product of opportunity. Because of his place in the batting order, Mauer had more chances to hit into a double play than anyone else.

    Without looking at the actual numbers, you might have been led to believe that Mauer's propensity to bounce into a double play was a massive, team-crushing weakness worthy of focusing on (especially if you regularly listened to, say, Dan Barreiro's radio show). In reality, Mauer "converted" 19.1 percent of his double-play opportunities, which was far from the worst rate on the team. In fact, seven of the Twins' hitters converted a higher percentage of their double-play opportunities than Mauer last season:

    Jason Kubel 34.0
    Lew Ford 25.0
    Rondell White 23.8
    Juan Castro 23.1
    Shannon Stewart 22.9
    Mike Redmond 22.0
    Luis Rodriguez 21.4
    JOE MAUER 19.1
    Jason Tyner 18.4
    Torii Hunter 16.2

    Whether grounding into two dozen double plays last season was simply a product of opportunity or a legitimate weakness, Mauer has cut way back this season. Even after yesterday's third-inning double play, Mauer has hit into just six double plays this year, which ranks seventh on the team. Of course, he missed a month with a quadriceps injury and his place in the lineup no doubt impacts his total again, so let's look instead at his double-play rate:

    Mike Redmond 23.7
    Jason Tyner 21.1
    Jeff Cirillo 20.4
    Michael Cuddyer 16.5
    Lew Ford 16.0
    Torii Hunter 14.3
    Jason Kubel 14.0
    Justin Morneau 12.1
    JOE MAUER 12.1
    Luis Rodriguez 11.8

    Like last season, seven Twins have converted a higher percentage of their double-play opportunities than Mauer, who's sliced his percentage from 19.1 to 12.1. Jason Kubel has cut his percentage from 34.0 to 14.0, and the team as a whole is on pace to hit into 16 percent fewer double plays after ranking third in the league last year. Interestingly, note that for all his speed and supposed small-ball skills, Jason Tyner has converted 20 percent of his double-play opportunities over the past two years.

  • Another oft-cited knock against Mauer is that he's too passive at the plate and takes too many called third strikes. Along with grounding into a double play, he also did that yesterday afternoon. However, as Ubelmann points out over at Stick and Ball Guy's blog, Mauer has struck out looking just 10 times this season. That works out to taking a called third strike once every couple weeks and, much like with the double-play percentages, is far from the worst rate on the team:
    Jason Kubel 21
    Nick Punto 20
    Michael Cuddyer 15
    Torii Hunter 11
    Justin Morneau 10
    JOE MAUER 10
    Luis Castillo 9
    Mike Redmond 8
    Jason Tyner 8
    Jason Bartlett 6

    Those are the raw called-third-strike totals, but here they are as a percentage of plate appearances:

    Jason Kubel 7.3
    Nick Punto 5.6
    Jason Tyner 4.7
    Lew Ford 4.7
    Michael Cuddyer 3.8
    Mike Redmond 3.8
    JOE MAUER 3.4
    Torii Hunter 2.9
    Justin Morneau 2.5
    Luis Castillo 2.5
    Jeff Cirillo 1.9
    Jason Bartlett 1.7

    Mauer has taken a called third strike in 3.4 percent of his plate appearances, which ranks seventh on the team and is less than half as often as Kubel and 40 percent less often than Nick Punto. Much like with the double plays, Tyner is the overlooked offender here, striking out looking in 4.7 percent of his plate appearances to rank third on the team. Of course, Barreiro spending a few hours every week railing against Tyner probably isn't as good for ratings.

  • Our long national nightmare is over: Rondell White is coming off the disabled list. For someone who batted .246/.276/.365 while missing 63 games last year and has missed at least 25 games in all but one of his seasons, the amount of space devoted to White updates in the local media over the past few months is staggering. White made it through just three games before a strained calf put him on the shelf and ever since then we've been treated to seemingly daily updates on his setbacks and delays.

    Looking only at the print edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, there were no fewer than 16 updates on White that were at least one paragraph in length over the past month alone. Seriously, count for yourself: June 26, June 28, July 1, July 3, July 4, July 6, July 8, July 10, July 13, July 15, July 16, July 18, July 20, July 21. For those of you who didn't bother to count them, that adds up to 14. The 15th and 16th White updates in the past 30 days can be found in today's newspaper.

    In one update, Joe Christensen reports that White is due back in the lineup tonight against the Blue Jays. In another update, Melissa Rosenberg reports that White "told team officials Sunday he'd prefer to return to the team as the DH, not in left field." I had relatively high hopes for White coming into the season, because after hitting .189/.209/.215 in the first half last year, he batted .321/.354/.538 in 45 games after the All-Star break.

    With that said, given his latest health problems and the Twins' lack of production at multiple positions, the notion (put forth at various points and in varying degrees by Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire, and Torii Hunter, among others) that getting White back is the solution to improving an inconsistent, punchless offense is silly. Having White's bat in the lineup was the starting point and the fact that the Twins didn't have a capable backup plan in place for his inevitable injury was a huge and predictable mistake.

    Adding his bat to the lineup now certainly beats wasting more playing time on Tyner or Garrett Jones, but it's beyond wishful thinking to hope that he'll remain healthy and productive while playing regularly for the remainder of the season. If the Twins have been holding off on making a trade because of White's uncertain status (which has been implied, at the very least), it's almost as big a mistake as counting on him to be an everyday player while having no depth behind him in the first place.

    If White miraculously manages to stay healthy and productive, Michael Cuddyer's potentially serious thumb injury could create an even bigger hole in the lineup and third base remains a major weakness (as Howard Sinker of the Star Tribune points out, Punto's lack of hitting isn't his only problem lately). Plus, as the various late-inning moves Gardenhire has had at his disposal over the past week or so have shown, the bench is severely lacking. Getting White back is a bonus, not an answer.

  • After picking up his first major-league victory last week, former Twins prospect J.D. Durbin tossed a complete-game shutout last night against the Padres. Durbin began his big-league career 0-3 with a 10.91 ERA, but has since gone 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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