Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Before I get into the Twins stuff, first let me congratulate Josh Hamilton on winning last night's homerun derby. What a tremendous....what? Oh, right, Justin Morneau won. You wouldn't have known it from the media coverage. Look, I get that Hamilton put on a show for the ages in round one, and it really was incredible. If that was the reason for the Favre-like gushing I would understand. But enough already about the "Josh Hamilton Story." We know it. We get it. We're getting sick of it. Just talk about what an amazing year he is having and drop the Movie of the Week stuff (note: there WILL be a movie at some point here.) I want to hear about his run for the AL triple crown, not about how "The demons he has faced make facing the ghosts of Yankee Stadium easy", a quote actually said last night. Let's move on.
A quick look at the Twins at the season's mid-point (ok, all-star break, close enough):
The M&M Boys: I really hate this moniker for Mauer and Morneau, but it seems to have stuck and I suppose it is fitting, seeing as their last names both start with M. The boys have obviously had a strong season, both making the all-star team, and I'm not sure how much more you could ask of either of them. They rank #2 and #3 in the AL in batting average with nearly identical .323 and .322. Expected of Mauer, a nice surprise from Morneau who is hitting a lot more line drives this season. Morneau's homeruns are down a bit, but his doubles and slugging percentage are up and his walks and OBP are way up, so I see no reason to complain. Now that I've made peace with Mauer's lack of power, I can really appreciate his game, although Charley Walters claims he could hit 30 a year with a minor swing adjustment, which seems totally realistic and not made up crap at all. High average and high OBP, he'd actually be an excellent lead-off or 2 hitter, but on this team has to hit third. In any case, he's having a tremendous season, as a 140 OPS+ from the catcher position is truly exceptional.
The Young Pitchers: This, without question, is my favorite part of this team. In contention with what I'm going to assume without looking anything up is the youngest group of four pitchers in the rotation, all doing well and looking like they have extremely bright futures. Perkins is the shakiest of the group, and he gets hit pretty hard at times, but his excellent control helps mitigate a lot of the damage. Slowey is the one who I was the least sold on going into the season, but he looks extremely strong lately and leads the team in WHIP despite having the highest ERA of the four. He's still prone to meltdowns, but as with most young pitchers you take the good with the bad. Baker and Blackburn are both looking really, really good. Not just the numbers, which are outstanding, but the way they handle themselves on the mound and seem in control at all times both make me believe they will have long, successful careers with other teams once their initial contracts are up. With Liriano starting to come around, the rotation could be one of the best in baseball next year from top-to-bottom. (Is that homerish? I'm a delusional? Tell me if I am.)
The Bullpen: Nathan has been awesome and practically unhittable, but the rest of the bullpen has been pretty blah since Neshek went down. Crain is back and trying to fill that role, but has been mediocre at best. The top bullpen arms this year have been Reyes, Breslow, and Korecky in their limited work. Reyes is a specialist, so I get that, but why not use Breslow and Korecky instead of trotting Guerrier and Bass out there every game? Bass is first in relief innings in the AL and Guerrier is seventh. Guerrier has been ok, but Bass is brutally bad. His ERA is bad. His WHIP is bad. His walk rate is bad. His homerun rate is bad. His strikeout rate is bad. But he leads the AL in relief innings, and not just mop up innings where he started, he's now being used in high impact situations. This does not bode well.
Free Agent Accusations: I don't even want to look here. Out of the three hitters they signed, Craig Monroe is the best pick up and he's hitting .203/.280/.419. At least he has a little pop. Lamb and Everett's sluggin percentages of .292 and .324 beat only Glen Perkins on the team - even all the other pitchers have managed to outslug those two children. OBP is only slighly better, as Everett is still at the bottom but Lamb manages to climb just above Kevin Slowey and someone named Howie Clark.
As far as Livan, well, they got him to be an innings eater and that's exactly what he is. That would actually be pretty useful if this team was as bad as expected, but they aren't, they're contending. He needs to go away someone or other. Nobody would trade for him and his $5 million, so he just needs to be released. I'm not sure what kind of financial impact that would have, but he's not doing the team any good, so as soon as they figure out a viable fifth starter he needs to gone. Here's a prediction for you, the Twins call up Liriano right at the trade deadline and there is at least one quote rationalizing their lack of making an actual trade that goes something like this, "We get Liriano back, which is as good as making a trade."
The Garza Trade: Garza continues to look like a top prospect for the Rays, and has started to make some major strides, while Bartlett has taken a step backwards offensively. For our beloved Twins, Brendan Harris has been less of an offensive threat than advertised taking a step back in average, OBP, and slugging, but has been a decent surprise in the field. He's still more of a 2b/3b type than an actual shortstop, but hasn't been terrible.
As far as Delmon Young goes, I'm backing off on my "he sucks" opinion slightly. I heard on the radio the other day someone talking about maybe trying to trade Young while he still has some value - let's not get crazy just yet. As others have told me, he's just 22. His power loss is still something of a mystery, but he seems to be getting smarter at the plate and showing more discipline (not much, but some) and will walk more this year than last (with 21 walks now compared to 26 all of last season). I still think he has potential and I still think he's a terrible fielder, but I'm no longer totally down on him. I don't think he's going to end up being particularly special, and right now I think the Twins got the bad end of the trade, but hopefully he can develop further. And in case you're wondering, Eduardo Morlan is having a bit of a down year in AA for the Rays, but is still a top young relief prospect. Jason Pridie will never be anything more than a fifth outfielder at best.
The Santana Trade: Johan continues to be strong over in the NL, fourth in ERA, seventh in strikeouts, and ninth in WHIP. If his second half surge continues again this year, he'll be in the Cy Young discussion once again.
Meanwhile, Carlos Gomez needs to be in triple A, Deolis Guerra is struggling in high A, while Mulvey and Humber are ho-hum in triple A (actually Humber pretty much sucks). All of these guys have the tools to still develop into quality players, but as of right now, it's pretty clear who won this trade. Gomez is reallly overmatched right now.
The Call-Ups: It's pretty clear that the biggest boost this team has gotten outside of the performance of the young staff is from the call-ups. Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, and Brian Buscher are all hitting over .300 and have an OPS over .747. Even Matt Tolbert and Matt Macri performed well before getting hurt. Span and Casilla both show signs that they've figured it out and could keep playing well the rest of the season (not at the rate they are now, but still good). A big, big key to how far the Twins can go the rest of the year.
The Returnees: Cuddyer has been hurt most of the year, and when he eventually comes back the Twins are going to have some tough decisions to make with the outfield/DH position. Look again for some quote about how getting Cuddyer back is as good as making a trade, even though he hasn't look very good when he has played. Jason Kubel has made some strides, and is giving a glimpse of what he can be - which is Matt Stairs. He clearly has a place, and it's not in the outfield, but he could be a quality full-time DH. He's not the hitter he once was before all his knees fell off, but still - Matt Stairs isn't too bad. We like to call him a "professional hitter."
Overall: The season has been a huge shocker to me. I figured this was a full on rebuilding year, and that's why I didn't understand why they bothered to sign Nathan instead of trading him at this year's deadline. Now it looks like the Twins should be buyers rather than sellers, and get Adrian Beltre and another arm so they can get rid of Livan. They are in it this year due to good pitching (which should continue) and amazingly timely hitting (which shouldn't). If they want to make a run, they need to make a move or two. It's been fun, but let's hope they go for more.