August 13, 2008

Won't Get Fooled Again (Kielty for Stewart, Revisited)

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

- The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again"

News of the Twins inking Bobby Kielty to a minor-league contract brings back all sorts of memories for me and this blog. Five years ago, in the early days of this blog, Kielty was the subject of perhaps my very first campaign for freedom. A switch-hitter with good power, excellent plate discipline, and a strong minor-league resume, he hit .269/.375/.444 with 23 homers, 61 total extra-base hits, and a 147-to-102 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 750 plate appearances as a part-time player for the Twins.

That's my kind of player and so this blog featured regular calls for the Twins to "Free Bobby Kielty!" They eventually did in July of 2003, trading him to the Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart in a deal that struck me at the time as "horrible." Kielty was a 26-year-old switch-hitter with a .269/.375/.444 career line who played solid defense in all three outfield spots and cost little. To a 20-year-old blogger who loved young hitters who got on base and hit homers, he seemed like someone to build around, not trade away.

Plus, Stewart was a 29-year-old impending free agent whose .299/.365/.447 career line was so close to Kielty's .269/.375/.444 mark that an upgrade seemed unlikely, let alone an upgrade big enough to warrant giving up Kielty's entire career for a half-season rental. Why trade a good, young, cheap player for a veteran version who doesn't appear to be any better, makes far more money, and can become a free agent at season's end?

It seemed to me five years ago like "a horrendously awful trade" and five years later the logic involved in coming to that admittedly hyperbolic conclusion still strikes me as fairly sound. Of course, logical or not my reaction (or perhaps overreaction) to the Kielty-Stewart trade is something that longtime fans (and critics) of this blog can point to as a moment where my analysis turned out to be completely wrong. The first of many, some might say.

Stewart indeed supplied a short-term upgrade over Kielty, hitting .322/.384/.470 in 65 games to help lead the Twins to their second straight division title. He was rightfully credited with jump-starting the lineup from the leadoff spot and wrongfully viewed by some misguided voters as a "good story" MVP candidate based on a strong but unspectacular half-season for a playoff-bound team. Meanwhile in Toronto, Kielty hit just .233/.342/.376 in 62 games with the Blue Jays.

After hitting the open market that winter Stewart ended up staying in Minnesota, signing a three-year, $18 million contract that ultimately didn't work out all that well for the Twins. He hit just .287/.347/.405 while missing 200 of the team's 486 games (41 percent) with injuries, seeing his stock drop so much that he had to settle for a one-year, $1 million deal from the A's once free agency rolled around for the second time.

One very good half-season followed by three mediocre, injury filled years at a total cost of around $20 million wasn't especially good value for a small-payroll team, yet the trade still didn't come back to bite the Twins long term because Kielty never turned into even half the player that he seemed destined to become. Actually, that's not true: Kielty turned into almost exactly half that player. It turns out that while Kielty was a switch-hitter, his bat proved everyday-caliber from only the right side of the plate.

              PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS 
vs RHP 1281 .228 .329 .348 .677
vs LHP 803 .296 .379 .503 .881

Batting from the left side against right-handed pitchers, he's hit like Nick Punto. Batting from the right side against left-handed pitchers, he's hit like Justin Morneau. Unfortunately for Kielty that's the recipe for a career spent as a part-time player and so despite my optimistic view of his potential five years ago the 509 plate appearances that he got between Minnesota and Toronto in 2003 remains a career-high. And it'll stay that way for good, because Kielty is now fighting just to reclaim a part-time gig.

Kielty has yet to stop knocking around southpaws, but he's now 32 years old and injuries limited him to just 101 plate appearances last season before relegating him to the minors this year. Cut by the Red Sox after an uninspiring 28-game stint at Triple-A--despite hitting .333/.485/.625 against lefties--Kielty sat around for a month before hooking back on with the Twins. He'll report to Triple-A and likely just replace Randy Ruiz in the Rochester lineup, but could find himself back in Minnesota.

Ruiz is perfectly capable of filling the role of Jason Kubel's platoon partner, but if the Twins decide to add another right-handed bat and Michael Cuddyer's latest injury keeps him sidelined Kielty would be the obvious choice. Either that or they could bring back Stewart again, because in an odd twist of fate on the same day that Kielty re-signed with his original organization Stewart was released by the Blue Jays following an unsuccessful second stint with his original team.


Shannon Stewart 2353 .289 .349 .402 .751
Bobby Kielty 1334 .246 .333 .389 .723

Who'd have thought that just five years later the Twins could have both and perhaps want neither.

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

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