October 6, 2008

Twins Notes: Mauer, Lohse, Cabrera, Bartlett, and Media

  • For some reason Joe Mauer winning the batting title again is seemingly being viewed as sort of a ho-hum thing, but it's really a pretty historic accomplishment. Prior to 2006 no catcher in AL history had ever won the batting title, yet Mauer has now done it twice in three years at the age of 25. Beyond that, he now sports a .317/.399/.457 hitting line for his career, which works out to an adjusted OPS+ of 127. Here are the OPS+ leaders for AL catchers with at least 1,500 plate appearances through age 25:
                        OPS+      PA
    JOE MAUER 127 2388
    Yogi Berra 123 1925
    Bill Dickey 119 1932
    Mickey Cochrane 115 2001
    Thurman Munson 114 1707

    Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, and Mickey Cochrane are in the Hall of Fame, and Thurman Munson was an MVP winner and seven-time All-Star before dying in a plane crash midway through his age-32 season. None of them can match Mauer's production through the age of 25, which ranks as the best in league history for a catcher with at least 1,500 plate appearances. On a slightly less historic note, Mauer also broke his own single-season records for most RBIs and runs scored by a Twins catcher:

                        RBI     YEAR                              RUN     YEAR
    JOE MAUER 85 2008 JOE MAUER 98 2008
    JOE MAUER 84 2006 JOE MAUER 86 2006
    Earl Battey 84 1963 Butch Wynegar 76 1977
    Butch Wynegar 79 1977 Butch Wynegar 74 1979
    A.J. Pierzynski 74 2003 Earl Battey 70 1961

    Along with his oddly overlooked hitting exploits, Mauer also tied for second in the AL by throwing out 36 percent of steal attempts and was one of just four MLB catchers to log 1,200 innings behind the plate. Not bad for a guy who gets criticized constantly for what he doesn't do. As always, most people fail to realize how difficult it is for catchers to consistently post great numbers offensively, but Mauer is in truly rarefied air for his position through the age of 25 even if some critics can't get past his lack of homers.

  • Former Twins rotation-mates Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse were both free agents last offseason. At the time Silva was 29 years old and had a 4.31 ERA in 945 career innings, including a 4.19 ERA in his most recent season. Meanwhile, Lohse was 29 years old and had a 4.82 ERA in 1,164 career innings, including a 4.62 ERA in his most recent season. Silva had been the more effective pitcher, but the gap wasn't very wide and they both essentially looked like mid-rotation starters.

    However, Silva somehow managed to get a four-year, $48 million deal from the Mariners, while Lohse had to settle for a one-year, $4.25 million contract from the Cardinals. Fast forward to a year later. Silva went 4-15 with a 6.46 ERA for the Mariners, who likely regretted signing him shortly after the ink dried. Lohse went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA for the Cardinals, who got great value out of a low-risk, one-year deal and then decided to follow in the Mariners' footsteps by signing him to a four-year, $41 million contract.

    While examining the Twins' payroll situation for next season, Twins Geek recently noted that the team's current five-man starting rotation of Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Nick Blackburn will make a combined $2 million in 2009 while Silva and Lohse combine to make right around $20 million. As always developing and then trusting young, cheap talent is incredibly important, but so is letting those same players leave when they aren't so young or cheap any more.

  • Speaking of Lohse, the St. Louis Post Dispatch article about his signing had this Twins-related note:

    Lohse has thrived when equipped with pitching coach Dave Duncan's game plans. Lohse embraced the Cardinals' culture and a strong working relationship with manager Tony La Russa and Duncan. After butting heads with manager Ron Gardenhire while with the Minnesota Twins, Lohse placed high value on this year's relative tranquility.

    When asked about Lohse's new contract, the door to Ron Gardenhire's office had no comment.

  • On the subject of mediocre veterans getting too much money, Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that "the Twins have identified White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera as someone they might pursue on the free agent market this offseason." Setting aside the fact that Cabrera's current teammates don't like him very much, Christensen accurately speculates that "he could probably get a three-year, $30 million deal." There's little chance of that being a sound investment for the Twins.

    Cabrera is 34 years old and hasn't had an above average Revised Zone Rating in five seasons. Plus, even if you're willing to assume that he's still a solid defender, Cabrera hit .281/.334/.371 this season, batted .288/.338/.390 over the past three years, and has a .274/.322/.399 career mark. MLB shortstops as a whole batted .272/.327/.391 this season, so if everything goes well in terms of staying healthy and avoiding a dropoff in his mid-30s, Cabrera has a chance to be an average all-around shortstop.

    Not only isn't that the type of player the Twins should be looking to pay anywhere close to $10 million per year, odds are that Cabrera will decline both offensively and defensively over the next few seasons. If he was young and cheap Cabrera would absolutely be worth targeting, but at 34 and the likely cost of around $10 million per season for multiple years he shouldn't even be on the Twins' radar. And if you're not yet convinced, take a look at this comparison of 2008 numbers:

                    PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      RZR
    Cabrera 730 .281 .334 .371 .705 .834
    Player X 377 .284 .344 .382 .726 .860

    Player X is none other than Nick Punto, another impending free agent who along with edging Cabrera this season in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and Revised Zone Rating is also three years younger. Shortstop is absolutely a big area of need for the Twins and they should be looking to upgrade over Punto this winter, but paying an aging, overrated Cabrera five times as much for similar production isn't the way to go.

  • Interestingly, not long ago the Twins had a "young and cheap" version of Cabrera in Jason Bartlett:
    2006-2008       PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      RZR
    Cabrera 2106 .288 .338 .390 .728 .808
    Bartlett 1436 .284 .343 .369 .712 .823

    Considering how most Twins fans slagged Bartlett during his underrated time in Minnesota, my guess is that not many of them would be too keen about paying his 34-year-old clone $10 million per season. Speaking of Bartlett, he was recently voted the Rays' most valuable player by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which is amazing given that his first season with the Rays was essentially identical to his last season with the Twins:

                       PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      RZR
    Bartlett '07 570 .265 .339 .361 .699 .804
    Bartlett '08 494 .286 .329 .361 .690 .807

    Prior to that BBWAA vote this blog had been home to some of the most pro-Bartlett talk anywhere, but the notion of him as MVP of a 97-win team featuring Evan Longoria, Scott Kazmir, B.J. Upton, James Shields, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Grant Balfour, Dioner Navarro, and J.P. Howell is absurd. In fact, Bartlett had the lowest Win Probability Added on the team. He's a nice, solid player who was never fully appreciated in Minnesota, but the perception pendulum has now swung too far in the other direction.

  • Here's a Twins-related note from a recent Arizona Republic article about the unique season turned in by Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds:

    Third baseman Mark Reynolds committed his 33rd error of season and struck out twice, giving him 198, one short of Ryan Howard's major-league record established last season. Reynolds leads the league in both categories, something only seven players in baseball history have done before. He would be the first to do so since Minnesota's Zoilo Versalles in 1965. Versalles, who had 122 strikeouts and 39 errors at shortstop, won the American League MVP that season.

    For more on Zoilo Versalles and his MVP-winning 1965 season, check out my write-up ranking him the 22nd-best player in Twins history.

  • Similarly, a recent St. Petersburg Times article featured this Twins-related note relating to Longoria's amazing playoff debut last week:

    Triple-A hitting coach Gary Gaetti was sitting home in Houston on Thursday, watching Evan Longoria homer in his first two career postseason at-bats, when the memories flooded back. "I think Evan and I are the only two people that have ever done that," he told his wife, Donna.

    Indeed they are. Gaetti, playing for the Twins, homered in his first two at-bats of the 1987 AL playoffs against Detroit. Longoria, whom Gaetti coached in 2007 and briefly this season, matched him. "I think that's really cool," Gaetti said.

    For more on Gary Gaetti and his postseason heroics, check out my write-up ranking him the 21st-best player in Twins history.

  • Totally Out of Context Quote of the Week, courtesy of Randy Ruiz: "I knew there were a couple kids in there that I touched."
  • While this doesn't really make me feel better about how the Twins' season ended, it certainly doesn't make me feel worse.
  • I'll be doing a "live chat" tomorrow at noon, so clear your work schedule, skip class, and join me.
  • The following photo of Punto speaking to the local media last week gives us an opportunity to play a game that's sweeping the nation: Identify The Local Media!

    Having met some of the people pictured I'm able to identify at least three and possibly as many as five of the media members surrounding Punto--seriously, look at them swarm around Nick Punto!--but I'll shut up and give everyone else a chance to guess. Here's one hint: Sid Hartman is not pictured, most likely because when the interviewing started he was either still finishing off his free soup in the press box or cleaning his tie after spilling the aforementioned free soup in the press box. And ... go!

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

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