Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Twins Roster Preview - Hitter guys

With the depressing but not terribly surprising news that the Twins sent all the interesting young people back down to the minors and kept a bunch of lame-o veterans on the big league roster, I suppose it's time to turn my thoughts to baseball.  Also, there's a 75% chance I hate the college basketball national champion (actually probably more like 98%) so I'm going to ignore that until it's on TV because of course I'll watch.  Anyway, here's what we're dealing with from the guys who will try to hit the ball this year.

CATCHER:  It'll be Kurt Suzuki and Josmil Pinto once again.  Although it's kind of boring, this is sadly probably the Twins strength given Suzuki's solid season in 2014 and Pinto's possible upside.  The handling of the catcher position last year was bizarre.  Signing Suzuki in case Pinto wasn't ready made sense, but then extending Suzuki and demoting Pinto was the kind of move a contending team would make, and in case you forgot the Twins were not a contending team.  Suzuki's value was likely at an all-time high given his career year and All-Star appearance and moving him at the trade deadline was probably the smart move, but here we are.

Suzuki will of course be the starter again.  Last year he put up a slash line of .288/.345/.383 which smashed his career numbers.  His peripherals suggest some regression but not as much as I had feared, so he should be solid behind the plate again.  He's not horrible defensively either, so the Twins have a legit, competent player.  Neat.  Hopefully he gets traded.  Pinto had a solid minor league track record of hitting and had a splashy debut in 2013, but last season his bat deserted him to the tune of .219/.315/.391 and given that he's a pretty terrible fielder most/all of his value comes from his bat.  He did start hitting once demoted down to AAA last year, and even in struggles he still showed good plate discipline and power when he did make contact so there's probably not too much to worry about.  Other than his path being completely blocked by the stupid 2-year deal given to Suzuki.  Trade him!

INFIELD:  Your guy Joe Mauer will be the first baseman again, which is pretty brutal.  Mauer's line of .277/.361/.371 would be slightly above average for a middle infielder, but that OPS ranked 15th among all first basemen who qualified last season, just a slight tick better than Garrett Jones.  I don't know what's up with Mauer, but an increase in strikeouts coupled with a complete loss of power is fairly terrifying given his salary.  He's stopped hitting fly balls, and the fly balls he does hit don't go anywhere.  I don't know why or what he's doing differently but whatever it is somebody please fix it!

I'm pretty stoked about the middle infield combo of Danny Santana and Brian Dozier, and these guys could be fixtures of the team when it gets good again which it will eventually so shut up.  A lot of Santana's detractors point to his BABIP of .405 and say it's unsustainable, and it is, but I found a neato expected BABIP calculator that takes a players line drive percent and all that other stuff and spits out what the BABIP should be and his came out at .369 last year, so that .405 represents a bit of luck but not this massive amount you'd usually expect from a number north of .400.  I expect him to bat close to .300 again and play a shaky shortstop.

Dozier just signed what could be a steal of a deal at 4/$20, assuring the Twins won't have to shell out big money any time soon if he continues to get better or even stays the same.  Of course they could be stuck with him if he goes back to sucking, but I choose to believe that isn't going to happen.  He doesn't hit for a high average which makes old people sad, but he has good power and great plate discipline, not to mention an above average glove and according to fangraphs base running metric (takes into account both stealing bases and taking an extra base on a hit) he was the 3rd best base runner in the game.  Add all that up, and his hair, and you get one of the best second basemen in all of baseball.  Too many tools for him to breakdown.  He's going to be a nice bargain for the next four years, and probably traded at the deadline in 2018.

Trevor Plouffe will be back at third again, probably for the last time.  With Miguel Sano breathing down his neck and still no indication Sano's going to be anything other than a third baseman this is Plouffe's last chance to prove his value.  Whether he ends up being a trade casualty (probably the best case scenario), is non-tendered in the offseason, or shows enough they want to keep him around and make him an outfielder or something he's probably done at third.  He's had a solid, if mostly unspectacular (other than that one time he was super hot hitting homers) 3-4 year run and has worked hard to go from a terrible fielder to an above average one, all while being a good, not great, hitter.  He's been an important part of a consistent 90-game loser and it's time to start winning.  Not this year, of course, be real, but next year maybe we can think about it.

Backing these nerds up we have the two headed crap factory of Eduardo Escobar and Eduardo Nunez who I still don't know why he was resigned.  Escobar showed a weird flash of power last year with 35 doubles and is a capable defender all over the place so I like having him around.  Nunez is terrible at everything.

Designated Hitter should be a fun spot with Kennys Vargas (who will also back-up at 1B) now here since he can hit the crap out of a baseball.  Vargs knocked out nine dingers and ten doubles in just 234 plate appearances, racking up an isolated power metric that would have put him in the Top 40 in the majors if he had qualified.  Considering he's like 16 years old or something that bodes well for the future.  Assuming more experience helps move his walk and strikeout rates closer to his minor league numbers (a dangerous assumption, to be sure), he could be in for a big year.  He crushed the ball in spring training with 1 HR every 14 ABs and everyone loves to watch fat guys launch baseballs out of the yard so expect him to be a fan favorite.

OUTFIELD:  What a mess.  Aaron Hicks ruined everything, and he's back in the minors again meaning Jordan Schafer, he of the career .621 OPS, will man center, flanked by the immobile Oswaldo Arcia and the ancient Torii Hunter in what is basically guaranteed to be the worst defensive outfield in the majors.  Backing up a bunch of pitchers who don't strike anyone out.  Great plan.

Ok I guess there's some upside.  Arcia is still really young at 24 and he was one of just three players under 24 last year to hit more than 20 home runs.  He still strikes out a ton but at least his power and walk rates got better last year, which is a good sign for future development.  His fielding also improved from "oh my god" to "jeez this guy is terrible", which might be his ceiling.  Hunter has been pretty much the same player the last five years, at least offensively, and if he can do it again and provide "leadership" or whatever he's probably worth having around.  That being said, if you think he's any kind of defensive wizard anymore you're sorely mistaken as he's now well below average even at a corner spot (stupid Father Time!).  That said he can't be any worse than the Willingham/Kubel/Parmelee trio of death that spent time out there last year, so he's got that going for him.

Schafer is the wild card, sort of, mainly because the Twins opted against giving Hicks a third year out of camp (or something radical like bringing Eddie Rosario up ahead of schedule) despite Schafer never really doing much of anything batted ball-wise.  He's fast, bad at hitting, and white so you know he's gritty and full of hustle and heart, but in his 147 plate appearance sample with the Twins last year he managed to hit exactly league average and it was, by far, the most successful stint of his major league career.  Somehow between the Twins and Braves last year he stole 30 bases (in 37 attempts) despite just 240 plate appearances which seems completely insane to me since "getting on base" isn't really in his wheelhouse but clearly he can run, which feels exciting.  He can play a passable CF as well, so I guess it's better than throwing an inanimate carbon rod out there.

Outfield back-ups will include a handful of starts from Escobar, that god damn Nunez, and teeny tiny Shane Robinson who goes by Suga Shane on Twitter.  He'll fit in with the Twins since he's proven he can't hit over 452 career plate appearances.  He's a 30 year old non-prospect who didn't hit in the minors either until he was much older than his competition, but a mediocre Spring Training won him a job over Hicks, though perhaps giving Hicks a regular role at AAA is for the best and I really don't know who else would be better than Robinson since they didn't sign anybody else and let's be honest it probably would have been a former Twin who was well beyond his prime anyway.  Robinson is a good fielder so he'll probably have some value plugging in as a defensive replacement in the late innings when the Twins stumble into a lead.

Overall, looking like a so-so offense.  They'll most likely have above average hitters in 7 of the 9 spots and the other two either have serious bounce back potential (Mauer) or tremendous speed as an asset (Schafer).  The bench is pretty bad unless Pinto bounces back but it's the American League so there probably won't be too much pinch hitting anyway.  Switch hitting Escobar is the only possible lefty swinger off the bench but he's been brutal against righties in his career so yeah, I'd expect a lot of sticking with the main nine guys.  It's a decent offense.  The real problem is the pitching, which I don't have the heart, energy, or ambition to tackle right now.  Later.

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