May 31, 2009

Twins Through Two Months (Part 1: Hitters)

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were the two best hitters in all of baseball during May, combining to hit .386/.478/.773 with 20 homers, 16 doubles, 39 walks, 51 runs, and 61 RBIs in 30 games, yet despite getting Babe Ruth-like production from two spots in the lineup the Twins finished the month just 14-16. The Twins lost more than they won in May while out-scoring their opponents by 30 runs (168 to 138), which perhaps makes up for going 11-11 in April while being out-scored by 23 runs (116 to 93).

Through two months the Twins have scored 261 runs and allowed 254 runs, which would typically lead to being something like 27-25 instead of 25-27, but their run totals are skewed somewhat by the 20-1 thrashing they gave the White Sox on May 21. If the final score of that blowout win was 10-1 rather than 20-1 the Twins would've been out-scored 254 to 251 to more closely match their 25-27 record. Turn the 20-1 into 10-1 and the Twins would rank ninth among AL teams in both run scoring and run prevention.

In other words, the Twins simply haven't been a very good team through one-third of the season, which is a difficult pill to swallow given some of the outstanding individual performances they've gotten from position players. Morneau has been the best hitter in the AL through two months, Mauer was the best player in the world during May, and the Twins have also gotten good all-around play from Denard Span, Joe Crede, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel, yet the offense as a whole has been merely mediocre.

                      RAR                              RAR
Joe Mauer 27.0 Brian Buscher -1.6
Justin Morneau 22.3 Nick Punto -3.6
Joe Crede 14.7 Matt Tolbert -6.0
Denard Span 13.9 Alexi Casilla -6.9
Michael Cuddyer 12.7 Delmon Young -12.2
Jose Morales 6.1
Jason Kubel 5.6
Brendan Harris 2.8
Mike Redmond 1.1
Carlos Gomez 0.7

RAR stands for Runs Above Replacement, which calculates how many runs someone was worth both offensively and defensively compared to a replacement-level player at the same position. For instance, through 52 games Morneau has been worth 22.3 runs more than a replacement-level first baseman, which ranks as the sixth-best RAR total in the league. Mauer is one of the five players with a better RAR than Morneau, checking in at 27.0 runs above a replacement-level catcher despite missing all of April.

Along with Mauer at No. 3 and Morneau at No. 6, Crede, Span, and Cuddyer are among the AL's top 30 in RAR and Kubel has also been very solid despite the high replacement level at designated hitter. Add it all up and those six guys have been 96.2 runs better than replacement-level players offensively and defensively through 52 games. Unfortunately the lineup has nine places rather than six, and the Twins have gotten horrible production from second base, shortstop, and one of the outfield spots.

Nick Punto was placed on the disabled list over the weekend with a groin injury, but not before he hit .187/.290/.211 in 150 plate appearances while playing mediocre defense. That performance was worth 3.6 runs less than a replacement-level shortstop and not surprisingly the Twins rank 12th in the league with a measly .587 OPS from the position. We've seen this before from Punto, who somehow racked up 536 plate appearances in 2007 while hitting .210/.291/.271 to rank among MLB's worst players.

As little as the Twins have gotten from shortstop, their second basemen have been even worse. In fact, no position in the league has been less productive than Twins second basemen, who've managed a hideous .477 OPS with poor defense. Ron Gardenhire would love nothing more than to ruin the Twins' ideal batting order by sticking a speedy, light-hitting, bunt-happy second baseman in the No. 2 spot, but even he can't ignore Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert combining for 12.9 runs below replacement level.

Unlike the middle-infield trio of Punto, Tolbert, and Casilla, Carlos Gomez's great glove in center field at least cancels out his awful hitting so the end result is basically a replacement-level player. His overall .220/.282/.310 line is awful, but Gomez has shown some signs of improved plate discipline, ranks as one of the elite defensive center fielders in the league for the second straight season, and deserves to be playing every day--whether in Minnesota or Rochester--after starting just 28 of 52 games.

Gomez offsets some of his terrible hitting with an excellent glove, but Delmon Young has been useless on both sides of the ball. In fact, at 12.2 runs below replacement level offensively and defensively he's been the single worst all-around player in the AL through two months. Young has hit .239/.282/.275 in 117 plate appearances, which is good for a .557 OPS. No other corner outfielder in the league with that much playing time has an OPS below .640.

Not only has Young failed to make any significant strides at the plate for the third straight season, he's actually regressed from last year's poor performance. Young was one of the most undisciplined hitters in baseball last season, but this time around he's struck out twice as often while drawing even fewer walks. Beyond that his power has gone from bad to non-existent as he's managed just one homer and one double in 109 at-bats while once again ranking among the AL leaders in ground-ball percentage.

Believe it or not, being the AL's worst-hitting outfielder only scratches the surface of Young's awfulness because he plays an offense-driven position that's home to many big bats and complements his lack of production at the plate with horrendous defense in left field. On a per-inning basis Young has been the second-worst corner outfielder in the league defensively behind only Jose Guillen and since joining the Twins last year Ultimate Zone Rating has him 23.1 runs below average on defense alone.

All of which is a long way of saying that Gomez has been bad, but the trio of Punto, Tolbert, and Casilla have been terrible and Young has been the worst player in the league. Simply replacing Young, Punto, Tolbert, and Casilla with even replacement-level players would have saved the Twins around 30 runs, which is the difference between trailing the Tigers by 4.5 games or 1.5 games. The good news is that foursome can't help but improve. The bad news is that Mauer and Morneau won't hit like Ruth all year.

Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at

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