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2010 Archives http://www.twinstarget.com/table/2010-archives/ Sat, 12 Jul 2014 17:14:53 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb Baseball's Most Important Position http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/november/baseballs-most-important-position.html http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/november/baseballs-most-important-position.html By noon on Wednesday, December 1, several of my favorite baseball bloggers will be posting their answer to this question: "What is baseball's most important position?" The question is purposely vague and open to interpretation. How do you define "importance?"

Tulowitzki
Alex Gallardo | Associated Press (via LA Times)

Here's my take on the question:

Green Valley News: Ranking baseball's most important positions

What is baseball’s most important position?

The answer to this seemingly straightforward question depends entirely which question you ask yourself: No. 1: Which position is most essential for fielding a team on any given day? No. 2: Which position has the greatest impact on any given game? Or, No. 3: Which position would you address first if you were building a team from the ground up?

In terms of skills and abilities, the pitcher would be the toughest position to do without on any given day. A strong outfielder could throw the ball over the plate at a high velocity, but that patchwork solution wouldn’t last long.

The starting pitcher is also the winner of my second question, as he has the greatest influence on the outcome of the game, often pitching six or seven innings.

But the third question is by far the most interesting and subject to debate. In order to be a successful team, which position needs to be given priority?


To read the rest, please visit the Green Valley News' (recently-upgraded as of Wednesday) web site!

Below you can find a compilation of every answer to the question of baseball's most important position. If your blog entry isn't listed below, shoot me an email and I'll be sure to get it up there!

Knuckleballs - How Do You Score a 10?
K-Bro - Most Important Baseball Position: Starting Pitcher
Platoon Advantage - The Most Important Position in Baseball Today
Twinkie Town - What's the Most Important Position In Baseball?
Off The Mark - The Most Important Position In Baseball

Compare live MLB odds and get winning baseball picks from the experts at BetFirms.

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akneeland@twinstarget.com (Andrew Kneeland) November Tue, 30 Nov 2010 23:14:45 +0000
Trick or Treat? A Special Halloween look at the Twins 2010-11 Free Agents http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/october/trick-or-treat-a-special-halloween-look-at-the-twins-2010-11-free-agentsat.html http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/october/trick-or-treat-a-special-halloween-look-at-the-twins-2010-11-free-agentsat.html By Matt McCabe

Allow myself to introduce...myself.

Ah, Halloween: the unique Holiday celebration with a very convoluted and bastardized history (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html). Halloween is a wary time for me. Call it my own personal superstition. With all the madness going down I feel like something or someone will get me in trouble. So I stay in-doors.

Fortunately, this year's Halloween falls on a Sunday. The day will be full of NFL action followed by a night of the World Series-and more football because, let's face it, who can sit through an entire baseball game anymore, especially when your favorite team isn't involved?

And with this blog entry, Halloween assumes a new kind of identity for me. (Allow me one last self-indulgence before we get to the good stuff.)

Ever since I could read I was drawn to the Star Tribune, first for the funnies but not long after for the sports pages. At first it was all about checking the leader boards for every Minnesota kid's favorite player: Kirby Puckett. Eventually I'd read Twins game recaps and finally I graduated to the sophisticated rants and ramblings of Sid Hartman and Patrick Reusee among others-though I didn't "know" who those writers were in the way I kind of do now. Looking back it seemed a matter of fate that I would one day follow in their footsteps to become a sports writer myself. Admittedly, the pipe dream of writing for the Star Tribune is most likely just that. Sid's only been doing this for 60 years, Reusse for like 40 so it's obviously tough to get your foot in the door when the big guns never leave. I am, however, writing about high school sports and actually making money doing it. So I got that going for me.

Here's my point: this blog post is quite meaningful for me. It is the first time I'll have written freely about my first and favorite sports team, the Minnesota Twins. And tying this momentous personal triumph with the day's theme, it's time for me to finally exorcise the demons of Halloween's past by churning out my first ever entry on TwinsTarget.com and thereby assigning new meaning to this holiday (much in the same way Christians altered the originally pagan celebration). So, without further ado, here is a breakdown of the Twins free agents this offseason and one man's opinion of who should go ("tricks") and who should stay ("treats"). Enjoy.

 

The Twins ranked 13th in 2010 with a payroll of just over $90 million (that salary went up with trades). In 2010, team salaries didn't really start getting obscene until the #6 team, Detroit at $122 million. The Red Sox were 2nd at $161 million and the Yankees of course were #1 at $207 million. *All figures based on start of the season.

Many of the Twins top players are in line for raises in 2011, led by Joe Mauer's $10.5 million increase.  Also getting bumps are Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Nick Blackburn, and Scott Baker. Increases to contracts add up to $19.35 million; the Twins have over $70 million invested in eight players next year. So, decisions need to be made and the organization started the process off wisely on Friday.

Picking up Jason Kubel's $5.25 million option was a good deal for the Twins. Not picking up Nick Punto's $5 million was also smart. Although Kubel's constipation at the postseason plate is well-documented, the guy is a regular season boon, capable of hitting for average, homeruns, and RBI's. As for Punto, well what can you say? The guy Twins fans love to hate finally demonstrated enough stupidity on the base paths, weakness at the plate, and overall fragility to make Gardy and the front office come to their senses. He will have a job next year because he fields better than any player at multiple positions, but I don't think it will be for the Twins.

Final verdict: Kubel's a treat, Punto is a trick(ster).

Other than Kubel and Punto, the Twins have 10 free agents. Two besides Kubel are Type A's which means they're considered among the top 20% of players in baseball: Carl Pavano and Matt Guerrier. Five Twins are Type B's which means they're considered among the next top 20% in baseball: Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Orlando Hudson, Jon Rauch, and Jim Thome. Three Twins are unclassified free agents which means they are in the bottom 60% of players: J.J. Hardy, Randy Flores, and Ron Mahay.

Let's begin with the bullpen.

I'm sure the Twins will let veteran relief men Fuentes ($9 million last year), Mahay ($4), and Flores ($650,000) walk unless they agree to some bare minimum deals. All are guys you use to shore up the bullpen's holes and none of the three did great at that last year so we'll all call them tricks for 2011.

That leaves the enigmatic trio of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, and Jon Rauch. LaVelle E. Neil III said on KFAN radio Friday that the Twins strategy may be to offer the same deal to each of the three players-that is, they'd offer something in the range of 2 years, 6-8 million first to Guerrier, if he turned it down, they'd offer it to Crain, if Crain turned it down, it's on to Rauch. Bottom line, all three guys alone are expendable but the Twins will likely need two out of the three to maintain a respectable bullpen. Twins fans can expect two of the three to set up Matt Capps until (a big if) Joe Nathan is back and healthy.

Final verdict: even though they both drive me crazy at different times over the years, I'd like to see the Twins keep treats Crain and Guerrier. The trick man of this group would then be Rauch, appropriate because he seemed to use "smoke and mirrors" to get opposing batters out last year.

On to the infield which is as dicey and unknown as ever. Up for free agency are shortstop J.J. Hardy ($5.1 million in 2010) and 2nd baseman Orlando Hudson ($5 million in 2010). Of all the Twins' issues going into 2011 their up-the-middle defense may be the most glaring. Do the Twins have enough faith in Alexi Casilla to be the regular 2nd baseman? If it's up to Gardy, I'd say probably not. Yet, as Neil III reported on Friday, Hudson left the Twin Cities after our latest postseason sweep convinced he wouldn't be with the team next year. The shortstop position is even more problematic. The Twins are evidently high on Trevor Plouffe, for what reasons I don't know. Hardy showed once again in 2010 that he can't stay on the field. It also seems his supposed punch at the plate is still lost somewhere in Milwaukee. It simply would not make sense to resign Hardy unless it was a dirt-cheap deal, except that leaves Plouffe or (gasp) a resigned Punto as our only other options.

Final verdict: the whole lot of them are tricksters. This is a hung jury that needs to see more evidence (i.e. free agent options) before making a decision.

That leads us to two of the most important players for the Twins last season: Jim Thome and Carl Pavano.  It's astounding looking back that we got Thome for the low low price of $1.5 million last year. He led the team in homeruns (25), slugging % (.627), and was 2nd in OPS (1.039 to Morneau's 1.055) in 276 at bats. Granted, Thome can't play the field, can't run, and needs to rest regularly. But the Twins certainly benefited from his leadership, his bulldog mentality, and his flair for the dramatics (Chicago walkoff anyone?). If he doesn't elect to retire, the Twins ought to pay him at least as much as Kubel since even at 41 he's every bit the player Kubel is. That means $5+. Sign that treat!

And then there was one. A Mr. Carl Pavano. Knowing the Twins, I think odds are that Pavano will not be returning as our #2 starter next season. Starting pitchers who give you 200 innings with an ERA at or below 4.00 get overpaid. Even when they're 34 years old like Pavano. Case in point: the Dodgers signed 34-year-old Ted Lilly to 3 years and $33 million two weeks ago. Here is a split between Lilly and Pavano

Lilly last season: 193.2 innings, 30 games, 166 k's, 10-12 record, 3.62 ERA; career: 113-96 record, 4.18 ERA, 1474 K's.

Pavano last season: 221 innings, 32 games, 117 k's, 17-11 record, 3.75 ERA; career: 97-89 record, 4.34 ERA, 956 K's.

Pretty similar aren't they?

Unfortunately working against the Twins favor is the fact that beyond Cliff Lee, Pavano may be the best starting pitcher free agent available. Someone overpays for him and it isn't going to be Minnesota.

Final verdict: you were a treat to watch Pavano, but you're going to trick someone.

That's it for now, Twins fans. Thanks for checking out my first blog effort. I'll do better the next time. I'll leave you with a couple suggestions from the world of popular culture to hold you over until my next post.

  • Book suggestion of the week: You are not a Gadget, A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier. Lanier, one of Time magazine's 100 most Influentional People of 2010, offers a cautionary look at the way the web and computers transform our lives for better and for worse. Just started this non-fiction book but already its wisdom has been enlightening and entertaining.
  • Book suggestion of the week from a friend: Especially appropriate for Halloween: my pal poopy_magoo suggests the fiction work Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick III. To try to summarize would be a ridiculous waste of space-even more than I've already wasted. Suffice it to say, Mellick is called this generation's Vonnegut which is a pretty damn cool title to claim.
  • Movie I've seen lately: With all the potentially great movies in theaters now (Social Network, Hereafter, Secretariat) I opted for Jackass 3D and boy was I satisfied. You know what you're getting with the Jackass franchise so you really don't need my suggestion but let me just say it was crazy fun.
  • TV special you should've watched: Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Great showmanship, great music, great message, no politics. Just an outstanding three hours of television.
  • TV special you must purchase on DVD: "Once Brothers" This was a 30-30 special on ESPN which aired a few weeks ago that tells the story of Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, fragmentation in Yugoslavia, and the tragedy of circumstance. I dare you not to cry. Available on DVD at your fine online stores.

 

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stjames.sports@mchsi.com (Matt McCabe) October Sun, 31 Oct 2010 19:33:17 +0000
Manny Ramirez: More Than a Marginal Upgrade http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/august/manny-ramirez-more-than-a-marginal-upgrade.html http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/august/manny-ramirez-more-than-a-marginal-upgrade.html Manny Ramirez these days.

Known to have one of the most egocentric personalities in sports, Ramirez's “Manny Being Manny” moniker hasn't been making many headlines since his move to Los Angeles. Despite the lack of press, though, Ramirez still possesses one of baseball's best bats.

Once Ramirez was dealt to the Chicago White Sox this past week, the national coverage returned. Forgive me if I'm a little surprised to see one of baseball's most powerful outfielders suddenly described as a useless player whose prime is long past. Last I checked, this “old-timer” was hitting .311/.405/.510 with a very good walk rate. Is the reason for Manny's dismissal because of his low home run and RBI figures?

I thought we were smarter than that.

Yes, Ramirez has suffered through a series of three costly injuries this season, the most recent of which sidelined him for 35 days according to Corey Dawkin's Baseball Injury Tool. Over the next month, Ramirez could very easily re-aggravate his calf or hamstring and be sent right back to the disabled list. But if he stays healthy he makes the White Sox a much better team.

None of Ramirez's numbers this season indicate any serious regression on the horizon. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is right around his career average, and none of his batted ball ratios are very far from what is usually expected of the slugger. Yes, the 38-year old has lost any foot speed he once had, and is miserable defensively, but there is no reason to expect anything less than “very good” from Ramirez for the remainder of the 2010 season.

Ramirez will certainly make Chicago a better team, especially considering whose playing time he will be assuming. Currently manning the designated hitter role in the Windy City is Mark Kotsay, whose .239/.310/.388 triple-slash line is laughably poor, especially considering his position.

By replacing Kotsay's at-bats with Ramirez' for the remaining 31 games of the regular season improves the White Sox by roughly one win. Especially in the AL Central, where a Game 163 has been required the last two years, one win makes a huge difference.

Ramirez certainly doesn't give the White Sox a better chance of winning the division than the Twins, but it evens the race up by a considerable margin. Don't start the “woe is me” chants yet, though, the Twins are a better team with plenty of opportunities to further cushion their divisional lead.

Besides, even if Ramirez goes on an offensive rampage and makes the two AL Central teams more evenly matched, Minnesota has a four-game head start.

But let's be honest: Minnesota is a better offensive team than Chicago, even factoring in Ramirez's impact over the next month. The Twins also have a better rotation, and a much better bullpen. If the two teams were to play 31 head-to-head contests, Minnesota would certainly come out on top.

Let's just hope that any lucky breaks Chicago receives isn't enough to overcome the Twins' superiority.

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akneeland@twinstarget.com (Andrew Kneeland) August Tue, 31 Aug 2010 23:09:14 +0000
Twins Trade For Matt Capps, Improve Bullpen http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/july/twins-trade-for-matt-capps-improve-bullpen.html http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/july/twins-trade-for-matt-capps-improve-bullpen.html During a year in which pitchers are being sold for remarkably low prices, the Minnesota Twins announced last night that they had traded Wilson Ramos to the Washington Nationals for closer Matt Capps. On the face of things it seems a very high price to pay for a closer.

Ramos, 22, was one of the most-blocked prospects in baseball. Being a catcher in Minnesota's organization doesn't exactly qualify you for much playing time, and Ramos was a virtual lock to be traded eventually. That he was only able to bring Matt Capps as a return, though, is disappointing. Many thought Ramos was worth much more than an expensive relief pitcher, but a lot of that can probably be attributed to a fan base over-valuing a prospect's worth.

The fact is, Ramos hasn't helped the Twins out much this year. By hitting a paltry .241/.280/.345 in Triple-A Rochester this season, Ramos' value has either dropped significantly or Minnesota's front office panicked and sold Ramos for less than he was worth.

Capps is owed around $1.3 million for the rest of this season, and is set for another raise for the 2011 campaign. With Joe Nathan expected to attempt a comeback next year, though, Capps may not even be tendered a contract. If Nathan can make a full recovery, Capps would be a very expensive set-up man, to say the least. While it would be nice to have a Capps-Nathan combo in the 2011 bullpen, the duo would combine to make entirely too much money for the impact they could make on the team as a whole. But while it wouldn't be cost-effective to keep both a functional Nathan and Capps next year, the 26-year old reliever from Washington will be available should Nathan not recover from Tommy John surgery.

Expensive though he is, Capps makes the Twins a better team than they were yesterday. Being inserted directly into the 9th-inning role, Capps will force the entire bullpen chain down a notch, which should help other Minnesota relievers improve, or, in some cases, take high-leverage innings away from relievers who have no business pitching in them.

Capps has induced quite a few ground balls this year, and has seen a healthy drop in his fly-ball rate. The transition from Nationals Park to Target Field will be negligible, so the Twins are hoping Capps can keep batted balls on the ground. Minnesota's infield is much more prepared to handle an increased work-load than the outfield.*

* Minnesota's currently outfield deserves a post of its own. The primary culprit for Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn's poor seasons this year, the outfield could use an infusion of range. As Beth Sickella opined last night on Twitter, the Twins should consider giving Cuddyer a few games at third (once Morneau is healthy again, of course) during starts from Slowey and Baker. This will hurt the infield defense, but allow both Repko and Span to play in the outfield. An interesting idea, to say the least.

By bringing in Capps, the Twins will increase the final win total of the regular season by a fraction of a win, at best. Still, in the very tight American League Central, a division that has required a couple Game 163's, even a fraction of a win could make a huge difference.

Get the latest MLB odds and win more money with your baseball betting this summer.

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akneeland@twinstarget.com (Andrew Kneeland) July Fri, 30 Jul 2010 03:46:37 +0000
Twins/Rays Series Preview: 7/1-7/4 http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/june/twinsrays-series-preview-71-74.html http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/june/twinsrays-series-preview-71-74.html

Originally published at TwinsMVB.com.

After a satisfying series victory over the divisional rival Detroit Tigers, the Twins will end their homestand with a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Bay started the season off on an excellent note, perching themselves atop the American League East while the Yankees and Red Sox tried to re-group. Now, though, the Rays have struggled to maintain their pitching prowess, and have slipped in the standings.

Still one of the best teams in baseball, though, the Rays will be trying to accomplish the same thing as the Twins during this series: closing the door on a rotten June in an attempt to get back on track in July.

Game One – Jeff Niemann (6-2, 2.72) vs. Carl Pavano (9-6, 3.33)

Niemann, 27, was a major factor into Tampa Bay’s incredible start to the season, posting a 2.38 ERA through the month of May. Like his team, though, Niemann took a step back in June. This step back has been minimal, but could be the start of a major regression.

Despite coming off two successful starts against National League squads, Niemann is a classic example of a pitcher with artificially impressive stats. With an extremely low BABIP, a low line drive percentage, and a very high strand rate, it’s not a question of whether or not Niemann will regress; it’s a question of when.

While he’s certainly not as good of a pitcher as his stats suggest, Niemann may not return to earth for quite a while. The longer he keeps up this façade, though, the harder his fall will be.

Pavano’s success, meanwhile, appears to be more a result of ability. Although he has the benefit of a low BABIP and high strand rate, Pavano hasn’t given up any fewer line drives than is usual for the 34-year old. His overall talent level is probably worse than his current 3.33 ERA, but to expect a 4.00 ERA on the season would be fair.

Though not the case for most Twins, the month of June has been extremely friendly to Pavano. Coming off two consecutive complete games, Pavano has an ERA of 2.25 through 40 June innings. Pavano (and teammate Francisco Liriano) have been paramount to Minnesota’s ability to avoid a free-fall this month.

Both BJ Upton and Carl Crawford have dealt with minor bumps and buises these past few days, and they may miss a game or two during this series.

Game Two – David Price (11-3, 2.44) vs. Scott Baker (4-7, 4.97)

A few weeks ago, David Price was in the same boat as Niemann; a lucky pitcher who would likely plummet back to a more realistic realm. Instead of regressing, though, Price seems to be finally tapping into his incredible potential.

Price, 24, has marginal success last year with basically two pitches: a four-seam fastball and a slider. This season Price has introduced two new pitches: a curveball and a two-seam fastball. With the ability to better deceive opposing batters, Price has had great success in 2010. His ERA won’t stay below 2.50 for too long, and he won’t be able to strand nearly as many runners as he is now, but Price, the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, has started to realize his potential. Which should frighten batters across the American League.

Baker has been one of the most disappointing players for Minnesota this season. A career 4.36 ERA pitcher, Baker’s near-5.00 ERA this season has angered many fans. Looking at the stats, though, shows that Baker has BABIP slightly higher than is usual for the right-hander, and that more fly balls than usual are ending up as home runs. Both of these will likely regress eventually, though, Minnesota fans could be treated to a start along the lines of Baker’s most recent.

Game Three – Wade Davis (5-9, 4.68) vs. Francisco Liriano (6-6, 3.47)

When looking at opposing pitchers in these series previews, I usually make sure to mention whether or not that pitcher has had “luck” on their side. In Davis’ case, though, his poor stats are simply because he hasn’t pitched very well.

Whether his issues are mental or mechanical isn’t necessarily known, but he has garnered far fewer swinging strikes than in the past. This lack of deception has greatly hurt his stats, and Price could be replaced by top prospect Jeremy Hellickson very soon.

Liriano has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this season, and “luck” hasn’t played too big a factor in his success. He will give up more home runs per fly ball than he is now, but all signs point back to the biggest reason for Liriano’s success: his improved slider.

Game Four – James Shields (6-8, 4.76) vs. Nick Blackburn (7-5, 6.02)

On the face of things, it appears that Shields has been unimpressive this season. When trying to root out the reason for this mediocrity, though, I can’t find any glaring abnormalities. Most of his batted-ball and plate discipline stats have remained the same from years past, as Shields is still inducing plenty of ground balls and getting ahead in the count at a very impressive clip.

So why is the ground-ball pitcher struggling? For one, his BABIP is slightly higher, but something intangible is also a likely culprit. In any case, Shields hasn’t been very effective this season, and there is no reason to believe that his mediocrity will end against the Twins.

Blackburn has also struggled to get batters out this year, but we can pinpoint exactly what is ailing the 28-year old righty: He just isn’t very good. He is dead-last in the league in strikeouts per nine innings, and when he throws a pitch in the strike zone, opposing batters make contact an astounding 96.6 percent of the time, which is also tops in the league.

Marginally successful for the past few years, Blackburn relied upon his extremely accurate arm to paint the corners of the plate and walk very few opposing batters. This year, however, it appears the league knows that most of Blackburn’s pitches are hittable.

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akneeland@twinstarget.com (Andrew Kneeland) June Thu, 01 Jul 2010 01:10:52 +0000
Why All The Danny Valencia Hype? http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/may/why-all-the-danny-valencia-hype.html http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/may/why-all-the-danny-valencia-hype.html This post comes courtesy of Bill Parker, from "The Daily Something." Providing excellent write-ups on baseball topics on a daily basis, The Daily Something is a site that needs to be in your bookmarks. Because this post relates to the Twins, Bill asked me to double-post it here, as well as his blog. To reach the author, you can contact him via Twitter.

Valencia

It's funny how certain players come to take up certain lofty positions in their team's fans' collective consciousness, and you just have no idea how they might have gotten there. To me, one such player is Twins prospect Danny Valencia. Taken in the 19th round in the 2006 draft out of the University of Miami, Valencia didn't make the top ten of any team prospect list I can find, reputable or otherwise, for either 2007 or 2008, despite some pretty solid numbers in the low minors in 2007.

Then came the 2008 season, which is perceived as his big breakout year. Valencia started the year in high-A Fort Myers, the same place he'd spent the last 60 games of 2007, and he played another 61 games there, hitting .336/.402/.518 with 19 doubles and 5 homers. Valencia was approximately the average age for that league, and it's not a great hitters' league, so those numbers were legitimately encouraging, though (a) it was way too early to get too excited and (b) those numbers were bolstered by a .392 average on balls in play, an average well over his career norms (and well past anything that would be sustainable by anybody). Moved up to AA New Britain in mid-June, Valencia put up much less exciting numbers, but still promising ones for his first trip around the league: .289/.334/.485, 10 HR in 287 PA, with a still high but more reasonable .356 BABIP. Across the two levels, he ended the year hitting .311/.366/.500. Per the wRC+ numbers on FanGraphs, Valencia was about 56% better than average for Fort Myers, but just 17% better in New Britain.

The Twins again chose not to promote Valencia to begin the 2009 season, and he got another 57 games in New Britain. Once again, Valencia put up promising numbers on his second time through a league, hitting .284/.373/.482 (134 wRC+) with 7 homers in 252 PA, numbers which did not depend (for once) on an unreasonably high BABIP. And most encouragingly, he nearly doubled his walk rate; Valencia took a free pass in 12.3% of his plate appearances, up from just 6.3% in his 2008 New Britain tour. He was right around the average age for his league, and he really seemed to have started figuring things out.

Then came the call up to AAA Rochester in late June. Valencia continued to show decent power and to hit for a solid average with a reasonable BABIP, but the patience Valencia seemed to find in his second trip through New Britain was lost again...and lost completely. In 71 games and 269 PA, his walk rate plummeted to an eye-popping 2.8%, and he managed just a .305 OBP despite a .286 batting average, posting a perfectly average 100 wRC+. Repeating in Rochester in 2010, he's improved his walk rate (back to its barely acceptable pre-2009 level of around 6%), but his power has disappeared; in 46 games (which is what's showing on BBREF as of Monday night), he has zero homers. He's hit .303/.356/.388, and he's back to relying on a very high BABIP (currently .372, by my calculations). It's a good bet that unless he makes some real changes, those numbers will start looking worse before they get better.

So it's been a pretty bumpy road for Valencia. For all that, though, if he had been a high school draftee and was still 22 or 23 years old, Valencia would look like a very promising prospect. But he's 25, and will turn 26 before the season ends. It's certainly not unheard of for players to get a lot better at or beyond Valencia's age, but it's no longer a good bet. For planning purposes, unless the scouts have seen something to make them think Valencia is a very special case (and I don't think they have), you have to assume that what you see is more or less what you're going to get.

And what you see doesn't translate well to the big leagues. Not well at all. Using the Minor League Equivalency Calculator made available on MinorLeagueSplits.com, I plugged in his career AAA numbers to see how we could expect those 117 games and 434 PA to translate to Minnesota. Here's what it came out with:

.256/.285/.366, 452 AB, 33 2B, 0 3B, 6 HR, 17 BB, 75 K

His superficially prettier AA numbers come out almost exactly the same way. There's no wRC+ associated with that, but as luck would have it, that's almost exactly J.J. Hardy's current line (.238/.285/.369), and FanGraphs gives him an unsightly 78 wRC+. That's borderline acceptable for a slick-fielding shortstop like Hardy, but not for a barely-passably-fielding third baseman like Valencia. And for what it's worth, the CHONE and ZIPS projection systems expected about the same thing, calling for wRC+es of 79 and 76, respectively.

Here's another comparison that should throw water on Twins fans' collective pro-Valencia fire: Nick Punto's career wRC+ is 78, and his last two before this season were 99 and 80. I've gone on record as being pro-Punto, but it's not because of his bat, it's because his fantastic defense, his baserunning and his ability to draw a walk make him (in my opinion) a roughly average starting third baseman even despite his inability to hit. Those are three things -- well, I don't know much about his baserunning, but definitely his defense and ability to draw a walk -- that Valencia most assuredly does not have.

Or, to put it another way, all the best methods available -- his MLEs, CHONE, and ZiPS -- point to the same one sad conclusion: Valencia, as a Major League player, looks a lot like Nick Punto, except without any of those things that make Punto a useful player. Put yet another way: blech.

The interesting thing is that most analysts seem to recognize this. Yes, he's crept into the organization's top ten prospects on most lists, but usually at number 6 or 7; past occupants of those slots include Alexi Casilla and Jason Pridie. Unless your organization is very deep, your #6 or #7 prospect is not usually going to be a guy you expect to be very likely to contribute as a starter. Especially not if he's already 25, and especially not if you're expecting him to start contributing right away. So the analysts don't see it. I'm guessing the team doesn't see it, either; with the less-than-formidable Punto and Brendan Harris blocking his path, if the team thought Valencia had anything significant to contribute right now, he'd be up already.

It's the Twins fans (perhaps encouraged by the manager at some point), and some bloggers, who have taken it upon themselves to conclude that Valencia is a long-term answer at third base. And maybe he is. Anything can happen, and from what I've seen, he sure looks like a player. But he hasn't done anything to show that he can handle it. His performance so far gives some reason for optimism for the future -- not much, given his age, but some -- but no reason to believe that Valencia is anything close to ready to step into the lineup and make a difference (at least not a positive one).

I hope I'm wrong. But if you're looking for a 3B for 2010 who's better than Punto or Harris, the numbers suggest that you're going to have to look outside the organization.

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akneeland@twinstarget.com (Andrew Kneeland) May Tue, 01 Jun 2010 04:40:45 +0000
Guest Post: Analyzing Third Base http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/april/guest-post-analyzing-third-base.html http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/april/guest-post-analyzing-third-base.html Sam Tastad is back with another guest post. Read more of Sam's work here.

The Twins have always had trouble finding a consistent third baseman, and here I will look at the present and future status of who is playing third base  for the Twins:

This year, Nick Punto started the year off at third base. He is currently on the disabled list, but while he played he did fairly well. He hit .269, had seven hits, four runs, three extra base hits, two stolen bases, one walk, and five strikeouts in nine games. That is average, and better than other years. He has started the year off fairly well. Punto is known as Ron Gardenhire's favorite player, and contributes more than just offense. He is an excellent defender, and hustles every game. I say let's give Punto some more starts this year, but if starts to not contribute, sit him or put him in the minors. The Twins do already have a loaded lineup, and don't always need production from him, but it would be nice once in awhile to get a steady player at third base who can hit, play defense, and hustle.

Brendan Harris has been our other option at third base, and has played alright. He has hit .200 with seven hits and runs, one home run, two doubles, four RBIs,  five strikeouts, and seven walks in fifteen games. Harris is also a good defender, decent hustler, and an alright hitter. Harris has played decent for the Twins since being acquired in the Delmon Young trade. He will continue to get time, but if he wants to stay on this team, he'll have to step up and play better.

In the minors, Danny Valencia, Matt Macri, Matt Tolbert, and Luke Hughes. Hughes was just called up for Nick Punto. Everyone of these guys have had some major league experience but Valencia. Valencia, however has some special talent, and it's just a matter of time when the Twins think he's ready to use that in the major leagues.

Valencia is currently in AAA Rochester. He is currently hitting .243, with zero home runs, seven RBIs, and one stolen base. He's played in nineteen games, and gotten 18 hits, and seven runs. He's gotten off to a slow start but he does have potential to be a 15 home run guy. Look for Valencia to warm up, and maybe be called up soon.

Matt Macri and Matt Tolbert are also having slow starts to the 2010 season. They are hitting .231, and .244, respectively. Both are good fill in guys, and have times where they have big games. I wouldn't be surprised to see one of their names called up this year.

Luke Hughes is currently in the majors, and has played in seven games, batting .286 with one home run. He doing a good job, but hasn't played much. Harris has gotten much of the playing time in Punto's absence. Hughes will look though to be in the future conversation at third base.

There you have it, a look at the present and future third base situation for your Minnesota Twins!

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akneeland@twinstarget.com (Andrew Kneeland) April Fri, 30 Apr 2010 19:10:22 +0000
The Obligatory Ramos/Butera Post http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/march/the-obligatory-ramosbutera-post.html http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/march/the-obligatory-ramosbutera-post.html Originally published at TwinsMVB.com.

I participated in a Twitter-debate last night that spanned several hours. The topic? “Who should start the season as back-up catcher: Wilson Ramos or Drew Butera?” While very intense, it also cast an illuminating light onto how badly the regular season is needed so we can all move on to more meaningful discussion topics.

While I try to justify wasting a couple of hours debating the temporary backup catcher role, I'll remind you of something Allen Iverson said: “Practice? We're talking about practice? I'm the star player and we're talking about practice?”

Just replace “practice” with “temporary backup catcher,” and “I'm the star player” with “We have the star player” and Iverson's sentiments echo my own. The Twins have the best catcher in baseball in Joe Mauer. Why are we even discussing who should be the backup catcher for a few months? As Eric Johnson said, “So let's be honest, the Twins could put one of those screens that bounces the ball back to you (you know, the ones that everyone had as a kid) behind the plate and it probably wouldn't cost them any games.”

But, as the regular season has yet to grace us with her presence, I'll take some time to address this issue.

Jose Morales was the Twins' backup catcher last year and did an admirable job, hitting .311/.381/.361 in 134 plate appearances over 54 games. While he absolutely won't be able to continue to hit at that average, he is certainly a viable option for the Twins in both the backup catcher role and as a pinch-hitter off the bench, even though he has no power. Morales, however, had wrist surgery this past January is expected to miss at least a month of the regular season. This rough estimate has hardly been verified, though, and some are questioning its authenticity.

In my (very uninformed) opinion, the Twins will be lacking Morales for two months at the very most. Who replaces him as backup catcher for those two months matters to me almost as much as what I ate for lunch today matters to you. Which is not much.

The bottom line is this: Wilson Ramos is a better player than Drew Butera. Minnesota fans would be thrilled if Butera could maintain a .200 batting average over the course of the season. His defensive abilities are well documented, but he is a clear liability at the plate.

If the Twins care solely about adding half a win to their regular season total, they will let Ramos sit on the major-league bench for the first third of the season. More likely, however, is that the Twins care about Ramos as a prospect – and his potential trade value -- and will allow him to hit away in Triple-A, (where he has yet to take an at-bat, by the way.)

There are several ways you could give Ramos consistent playing time with the big-league club, but none of which that wouldn't limit the playing time of others. Ramos could be the designated hitter twice a week, or he could even be stuck out in left field for a game or two. Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, and even Delmon Young or Michael Cuddyer could receive fewer at-bats if Ramos were given the backup catcher job for Opening Day.

Isolating Ramos' future, it is clear that he would be best served by beginning 2010 with the Rochester Red Wings. Sitting on the bench would do nothing for his development, nor his trade potential.*

*I hold the mostly unpopular opinion that Ramos should eventually be traded. He is a great catching prospect who is stuck behind the best catcher in baseball, who is locked up for the foreseeable future.

Some suggest that Ramos should ease into the catcher role while Mauer eases out of it, but that process (hopefully) would take three or four years. Mauer will be behind the plate as often as possible for as long as possible. Ramos will either need to be a regular DH, learn a new position, or be traded. Jason Kubel is a perfectly acceptable DH with no other position, and Ramos is a good defensive catcher and won't accept a position change without some resistance.

That isn't to say the Twins should unload Ramos for the first player they find attractive (see: Bell, Heath), but they should eventually trade the catching prospect.

It comes down to this: If the Twins have nothing but their own 2010 success as a purpose, they will probably give Ramos the nod to start the 2010 season. If Bill Smith understands Ramos' prospect status and that he hasn't played above Double-A in his career, he will allow the 22-year-old time to develop.

The Twins have a special catching prospect on their hands, and would be best served by not spoiling him.

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akneeland@twinstarget.com (Andrew Kneeland) March Wed, 31 Mar 2010 17:04:11 +0000
2010 MLB Preview: NL West http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/february/2010-mlb-preview-nl-west.html http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/february/2010-mlb-preview-nl-west.html Historically, the NL West has been an extremely competitive division. Although there was a 25-game difference between the first- and late-place teams in the NL West this past season, each team in the division has had some degree of success in the past.

While the Los Angeles Dodgers have enjoyed the greatest amount of success in the NL West this past decade, the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants are right behind them. The San Diego Padres have won two division titles since 2000, the same total as the Giants. Both the Dodgers and D-Backs have three crowns, while the closest the Colorado Rockies have come is 2nd place.

Here is how I see the NL West playing out in 2010:

Click here to read the rest!

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akneeland@twinstarget.com (Andrew Kneeland) February Sat, 27 Feb 2010 22:57:26 +0000
An Owner’s Perspective http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/january/an-owners-perspective.html http://www.twinstarget.com/2010-archives/january/an-owners-perspective.html
For the most part, owners of MLB teams are very wealthy individuals. Quite a few owners, in fact, possess hundreds of millions of dollars in addition to what they have invested in the team. They could buy up an entire roster of free agents, if they wanted. Because of this wealth, millions of fans become frustrated when a free agent they feel could have helped the club signs with another team. For just a few million dollars, some fans reason, the owner could have improved his team.

Simply improving a team, though, isn’t the only objective for an owner. Baseball is a business, where fortunes are both won and lost. Successful owners make money through their team and re-invest that money to further improve the team.

An owner’s purpose is not to simply win games. If a free agent can bring a team three additional wins, but cost more money than he brings in, very few owners would make the signing.

Based on data provided by the Cleveland Indians of the late 1990s, Nate Silver found in “Baseball Between the Numbers” that one additional win is worth about $1,196,000. This means that a free agent who is expected to increase your teams’ win total by three should be paid just over $3.5 million. This obviously isn’t the case. On the free agent market, teams have paid anywhere between $4 and $5 million per win because of limited supply, pressure brought about by the start of the season, and millions of fans screaming for a move.

Clearly, unless a team has bottomless pockets, the only fiscally reasonable way to build a team is internally. After reaching the major leagues, most players are under team control for six years before they become a free agent. Because of this, very few free agents are under the age of 28, and almost all are being paid based on past performances, not future potential.

Now, it’s important to realize that the $1.196 million figure I presented above is an average. It will not be the same for all teams. For example, a team on the brink of the playoffs would value a talented free agent much higher than a team that is expected to lose 100 games.

For this reason, accurately evaluating a team is the most important aspect of an owner’s job description. If an owner estimates that his team is capable of winning 85 games next season, he will probably pay more than most other teams on a free agent that could provide him with two or three additional wins. The increase in playoff probability alone would make the extra money spent moot.

Conversely, a team that is expected to win just 65 games will need a lot of help in order to have a chance at postseason play. They wouldn’t want to spend any more than market value for a free agent. If an owner either overestimates or underestimates his teams’ ability, though, he or she could be on the hook for millions of “wasted” dollars.

As a fan, we should remember this before cursing Bill Smith and the team’s ownership for sitting on their hands. If you were put in their position, there’s a good chance you’d be doing the same thing.

They just don’t want to waste money.]]>
akneeland@twinstarget.com (Andrew Kneeland) January Tue, 02 Feb 2010 23:33:55 +0000