Twins Notes: Good Play, Bad Batting Order, Ugly Bullpen
If you missed it during yesterday's game, Joe Mauer's diving play at the plate on a ball that deflected off Jose Mijares is among the best you'll ever see from a catcher. Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has a recap of the play and MLB.com has the video. And here's the end result:
You won't find tons of analysis about batting orders in this space, because few topics are discussed more and matter less. Batting orders certainly do matter, but as long as you're doing a reasonable job putting the best hitters near the top of the lineup and the worst hitters near the bottom of the lineup the difference between "perfect" and "mediocre" is minimal in the grand scheme of things. In other words, I'm typically far more concerned about who's in the lineup than where they're batting.
As Mike Redmond put it: "That's one of the best plays I've ever seen. Instinct-wise, that play was off the charts. I told him I don't know how he did it. I would have thrown that ball on instinct."
However, sometimes the batting order is so obviously out of whack that it screams for an adjustment and Matt Tolbert hitting second directly in front of Mauer and Justin Morneau is clearly not an example of "putting the best hitters near the top of the lineup and the worst hitters near the bottom of the lineup." Instead, it's an example of a manager obsessed with sticking light-hitting, bunt-happy middle infielders between the leadoff man and No. 3 hitter. And it's an example of something that costs the Twins runs.
Ron Gardenhire may love him, Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven may fawn over everything he does, and fans may have been excited when the Twins called him up to replace Alexi Casilla at second base, but Tolbert is arguably the team's worst hitter and at the very least is among the team's worst hitters. He's hit .257/.314/.349 through 172 plate appearances in the majors after batting .287/.347/.417 in 582 plate appearances at Triple-A, and at 27 years old isn't likely to suddenly get much better.
Yet because Tolbert is a small, scrappy, switch-hitting middle infielder with little power and the ability to bunt Gardenhire is willing to a) give him the second most plate appearances on the team, and b) give added importance to those plate appearances by putting them directly in front of the team's best hitters. Given the lack of other options I'm fine with Tolbert as the short-term starter at second base, but batting him second in the lineup shows a fundamental lack of understanding about how runs are scored.
Peter Gammons of ESPN.com reports that the Twins are among a handful of teams that "are on the prowl for relievers," which is either mildly amusing or incredibly frustrating given general manager Bill Smith's refusal to address the obvious weakness of the bullpen dating back to the middle of last year. Twins relievers have a 5.51 ERA along with the third-worst Win Probability Added in the league. And it's not due to being overworked, because the bullpen's 109.1 innings rank fourth-lowest in the AL.
The bullpen is a mess and prospects Robert Delaney and Anthony Slama are thriving at Double-A, so the Twins are thinking about calling up ... Sean Henn. According to Kelly Thesier of MLB.com, Henn "features a 95-mph fastball" and "has posted a 1.23 ERA in 14 appearances at Rochester." According to reality, Henn has thrown 1,354 big-league pitches with an average fastball velocity of 91.7 miles per hour, has a 7.56 ERA in the majors, and is a 28-year-old with 77 walks in 197 career Triple-A innings.
So, why not call up Delaney or Slama? Thesier writes that they "have caught some people's attention at New Britain, but it doesn't seem like they are quite to the point of helping the club just yet." Gardenhire explains that "there are some pretty good pitchers there, but guys that are not ready." In other words, as always the Twins must waste time and wins on veteran mediocrity before turning to their young talent. Hell, Delaney and Slama are 24 and 25 years old respectively and can't even get promoted to Triple-A.
Matt Garza has a 3.50 ERA and Jason Bartlett is batting .370/.407/.563, so naturally Sid Hartman is writing about how the "Twins-Rays trade may yet pay dividend." He explains that at the time of the trade "there was a lot of enthusiasm among fans and the media" and "Smith received a lot of accolades," as if that's evidence of anything but "fans and the media" buying whatever the Twins are selling. In reality, the trade stunk from Day 1 and is getting progressively worse. Smith, of course, has "no regrets."
Remember how Gardenhire said a few weeks ago that he wouldn't use Mauer at designated hitter? Since returning from the disabled list Mauer has started 11 of 16 games at catcher and has been the DH in three of the other five games. I'm certainly not complaining, just saying.
Tim Kurkjian of ESPN.com wrote the latest in a long line of puff pieces about the Twins having "high-character players." Worth reading, if you're into that sort of thing.
Juan Rincon was designated for assignment by the Tigers after allowing six runs on 12 hits and six walks in 10.1 innings. Rincon has now played for three-fifths of the AL Central since 2007, so hopefully he completes the divisional tour.
Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.