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2006 Team Previews: Minnesota Twins, Positional Players

After being hailed by various media outlets as the obvious choice for the 2005 World Series champion, the Twins hit rough spot after rough spot, and saw their rival Chicago White Sox play their way to rings instead. It isn't that the Twins lacked the talent to win the division and go on to the World Series, it was more of a case of a failure to maximize the potential talent that was on the roster. For example, Jacque Jones was once again an everyday player, rather than platooned, despite extreme (and detrimental to the already weak offense) splits that dictate he ride the pine versus the southpaws. Shannon Stewart, who is known to possess certain defensive ineffiencies, continued to play in left field and hit out of the leadoff spot for a great deal of the season (562 plate appearances) with an on-base percentage of just .323. Jason Bartlett was not given a significant chance to prove he could play shortstop everyday, and the club instead handed the job to the light hitting (but one of the best in the league with the glove) Juan Castro. Bret Boone was picked up in an attempt to rejuvenate the offense and his career, and subsequently wasted 53 at-bats the Twins couldn't afford to give away. Justin Morneau played with an injury all season long, after an offseason that included a myriad of ailments, and his production was awful. Torii Hunter lost a fight with the triangle in centerfield in Fenway, and subsequently, the Twins lost one of the few bats that were doing the job for the rest of the season. At least Joe Mauer's knee survived the season.

The Twins offseason pickups are both promising and worthy of head scratching.

  • Acquired
  • Rondell White
  • Tony Batista
  • Ruben Sierra
  • Shawn Wooten
  • Luis Castillo
  • Lost
  • Brent Abernathy
  • Bret Boone
  • Jacque Jones
  • Matt LeCroy
  • Augie Ojeda
Rondell White is a very good pickup for a few reasons. First of all, he most likely won't play 150 games, or even 120. In fact, 70 might be the ceiling. It is tough to tell with Rondell...the Twins do just happen to have the recently repaired Jason Kubel in their system, and he can take over for White when he inevitably goes down. And secondly, when White does play, he can hit, and well. Luis Castillo is a great pickup for the Twins due to their problems with second base last year. Bret Boone? I'm pretty sure I was next in line for the job before they acquired Castillo via trade. Ruben Sierra? I'm not a fan of this acquisition, although he always scared the hell out of me as a Red Sox fan. Then again, so did Tanyon Sturtze for a time. Tony Batista...I'll attack that when the time is right.

Losing Matt LeCroy was most likely the worst decision of the offseason in regards to letting players go. LeCroy is another example of needing to use players for what they can do, rather than focusing on what they cannot. LeCroy can't run and he can't use him as a Designated Hitter to lefty mash (.307/.382/.554 against southpaws since 2003). The Twins are better off with Jacque Jones on another team, since for some ridiculous reason they still do not apply platoons for players who need them. Used correctly, Jones is a very useful player, considering his fine defensive play and his ability to hit right handers adequately enough.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

2005: Joe Mauer .294/.372/.411; +25.13 pNRAA; +32.93 pNRAA/GP

2006: Joe Mauer .298/.360/.451; +27.70 pNRAA; +36.83 pNRAA/GP

There is not much I can say about Joe Mauer that has not already been said. When healthy, he is one of the very best players in the league: He is a catcher with a very good bat, very good plate patience, potential power, speed and ability on the basepaths, and top notch defensive skills. If Mauer is not already the best catcher in all the land, he will be after this year. Assuming his health is where it should be of course. His knee seems to have held up very well, but I can't shake that nagging feeling.

First Base
2005: Justin Morneau .239/.304/.437; -27.65 pNRAA; -39.98 pNRAA/GP

2006: Justin Morneau .270/.336/.493; +0.21 pNRAA; +0.29 pNRAA/GP

Justin Morneau was the worst regular on the Minnesota Twins last year according to pNRAA. His poor hitting (an Eqa of only .248, compared to league average .284 at first) contributed a great deal, but his horrid fielding had just as much to do with it. His Rate2 of 89 (11 runs below average per 100 games played) took a large chunk of value away from Morneau at first. PECOTA expects him to be much better defensively this season, although still below average, and his bat should recover. Now if he hits like he did when healthy in the second half of 2004 (.271/.340/.536), the Twins will be even better off. By the way, David Gassko's Runs Above Average defensive system agrees with Rate in that Morneau was awful defensively, ranked 26th of 30 eligible among first basemen. If his defensive issues continue, I think the Twins might have to bite the bullet and move Morneau to DH, where he would most likely continue to develop as a hitter without taking away from his value due to poor defensive play.

Second Base
2005: Luis Rivas .257/.311/.316; -14.09 pNRAA; -8.32 pNRAA/GP
2005: Nick Punto .239/.301/.335; -14.02 pNRAA; -15.70 pNRAA/GP
2005: Luis Rodriguez .269/.335/.382; -3.12 pNRAA; -2.47 pNRAA/GP
2005: Brent Abernathy .239/.316/.299; -17.12 pNRAA; -4.11 pNRAA/GP
2005: Bret Boone .170/.241/.170; -48.17 pNRAA; -6.74 pNRAA/GP

2006: Luis Castillo .299/.374/.364; +7.75 pNRAA; +10.54 pNRAA/GP

I normally don't list every player who played a position in a single season, usually just going for those who played significant portions of the season. I felt the need to highlight the inadequate play of everyone with over 10 Adjusted Games worth of playing time (90+ innings in the field) so that the impact of the upgrade the Twins received in Luis Castillo could be conveyed correctly. If all of the Twins second basemen combined to be one player, they would have been the worst everyday player in the league. They combined for -37.34 pNRAA/GP (I'm still not sure if I can just add that up, but for conveniences sake in this dirty exercise, we will), while Cristian Guzman came in at -36.20 pNRAA/GP. If Luis Castillo was just league average for a second basemen, the Twins would still have an improvement roughly equal to Vladimir Guerrero's 2005 campaign. I'm not sure how his legs will react to playing on turf everyday, since he is supposed to have injury issues, but to be fair, I am confident anything short of losing a limb to turf isn't going to derail Castillo to the level of suckitude that the 2005 Twins exhibited at second base. By the way, before the Twins acquired Castillo, I was rooting for Luis Rodriguez to take over the position. If Castillo goes down, he's the one I'd like to play there.

Third Base
2005: Michael Cuddyer .263/.330/.422; -13.20 pNRAA; -16.63 pNRAA/GP

2006: Tony Batista .245/.282/.401; -8.40 pNRAA; -5.54 pNRAA/GP

I have a few problems with the Tony Batista projection. First of all, 2-3 of those runs in his value come from a defensive projection he is most likely not going to fulfill. He is expected to have a Rate2 of 103, which under normal circumstances, would be fine, but when you show up to camp overweight after playing poor defense with a lack of range in Japan, there is an issue. His projected EqA is .242; league average for third base in 2005 was .265. And of course, the last thing the Twins need is a new out machine in their lineup after they jettisoned the old ones.

Cuddyer on the other hand, had a very poor defensive season that cut into his value as a third basemen in 2005. If he is able to recover defensively, he is a much better option than Batista, and due to the potential of Cuddyer versus Batista, I'd start Cuddyer anyways.

Did I mention Twins fans don't seem excited about the Batista signing?

2005: Jason Bartlett .241/.316/.335; +9.54 pNRAA; +7.06 pNRAA/GP
2005: Juan Castro .257/.279/.396; +1.91 pNRAA; +1.85 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jason Bartlett .271/.339/.393; +14.81 pNRAA; +15.55 pNRAA/GP

Interesting...Bartlett was the second best player on the team according to pNRAA in 2005 (behind Mauer), and is expected to be the second best this year as well. He is very good defensively, and his bat is superior to Castro's. If they send him down again in favor of Castro, I think Twins fans should have some sort of rally. Possibly rise up against management, although the fifth of November has already passed. Wait til next year, as they like to say.

Left Field
2005: Shannon Stewart .274/.323/.388; -13.29 pNRAA; -17.54 pNRAA/GP

2006: Shannon Stewart .276/.330/.399; -7.55 pNRAA; -8.91 pNRAA/GP

Let's see...Stewart is well below average offensively at his position, Rate says he is an average fielder, but everything I've heard/read says the contrary, excepting David Gassko's RAA, which has him above average, and David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range, which also has a smidge above average. So now I don't know what to think about him defensively. The eyes say one thing, and every fielding metric I use says another...I still don't own the Fielding Bible (I will eventually, just short on cash at the moment) so if someone could enlighten me with that, it would be much appreciated. All I have is what ESPN's Player Cards supply to me as far as scouting goes:

  • Stewart Scouting Report
  • Arm Accuracy Rating: AVERAGE - MINUS
  • Arm Hinders Him In The Field
  • Arm Strength Rating: MINUS; Notes: Well Below
  • Range Rating: PLUS; Notes: Good For Lf; Good Jumps
So he obviously cannot throw, but he seems to have good range. Feel free to comment though. Either way, Stewart doesn't field well enough to justify his place in this light hitting lineup. They need another bat, and either Rondell White or Jason Kubel could provide that. Hitting Stewart in the leadoff spot certainly doesn't help things either. This team just gives away outs, and it frustrates me, even as someone who is just analyzing the team.

Center Field
2005: Torii Hunter .269/.337/.452; +6.44 pNRAA; +6.32 pNRAA/GP
2005: Lew Ford .264/.338/.377; -3.37 pNRAA; -4.96 pNRAA/GP

2006: Torii Hunter .272/.330/.460; +8.30 pNRAA; +9.47 pNRAA/GP

After Hunter's awful ankle explosion in Fenway park (bad enough that I remember I was eating chicken crispers with french fries and corn on the cob at Chile's with two other couples and my girlfriend at the time in Salem, New Hampshire, and that our waitress was very nice on the day that it happened...I went "Gah!" when it did) the Twins fell out of the race. They absolutely need Hunter to come back healthy, because the Twins lineup without Torii, albeit better than in 2005, certainly won't be able to compete with the other teams in this suddenly stacked division. Lew Ford is there to take his place if something happens again, and Jason Kubel and Rondell White are both capable of filling in that corner spot, but the Twins would be better off with Hunter in center and one of the aforementioned two taking over in left.

Right Field
2005: Jacque Jones .249/.319/.438; +2.21 pNRAA; +3.14 pNRAA/GP

2006: Lew Ford .278/.343/.416; -1.48 pNRAA; -1.91 pNRAA/GP

Sadly, for all the complaining about Jacque Jones that many Twins fans have utterered, he was one of the better players on the 2005 version of the team. That isn't meant to praise Jones (or his usage patterns); that is entirely meant to stress how badly the Twins needed help last year in their lineup. When used as an everyday player, Jones is a slightly above average player who has absolutely no use (excepting his defense) against lefties. If he could be platooned properly, a team could get a great deal more value out of him, mostly by eliminating his putrid .240/.296/.365 line against southpaws (since 2003).

As for Lew Ford, last year looks out of place next to his other seasons, so I expect a rebound. PECOTA does as well, but it looks like a conservative projection. Ford is better defensively in the corners than he is in centerfield, so you can bump his pNRAA up an additional 2-3 runs.

Designated Hitter
2005: Matt LeCroy .260/.354/.444; -3.10 pNRAA; -3.13 pNRAA/GP

2006: Rondell White .292/.338/.463; +2.15 pNRAA; +2.00 pNRAA/GP

Matt LeCroy is below average according to pNRAA thanks to his time in the field. If he was solely a DH, he would still be a tad below average, but less so. And if he was only used against lefties, his value would actually rise significantly. Alas, his time with the Twins is over, and he has been replaced by Rondell White at DH. White is still a capable hitter, as previously mentioned, and as shown by his 2006 projection, but he certainly is a health risk. The Twins have options to replace him, whereas last year they were sort of strapped in that regard. Kubel would be a capable DH (3.74 pNRAA), although thanks to his defense (if still intact after his knee injury) he would be a better option in the corner spots of the outfield (12.83 pNRAA).

Using David Pinto's lineup analysis tool, let's take a look at the Twins likely lineup, and then compare it to my choice.

  1. Projected Lineup
  2. Stewart
  3. Castillo
  4. Mauer
  5. Morneau
  6. Hunter
  7. White
  8. Ford
  9. Batista
  10. Bartlett
This first lineup is expected to score 4.946 runs per game, or 801 runs. The only thing I enjoy about this lineup really is that Tony Batista (most likely the worst hitter on the team) is in the eighth spot, and according to the research done by Cy Morong, Pinto and Ken Arneson, as well as work done in The Book, this is the best place for that particular player rather than the nine hole.
  1. Marc's Projected
  2. Castillo
  3. Mauer
  4. Hunter
  5. Morneau
  6. Kubel
  7. White
  8. Cuddyer
  9. Bartlett
  10. Ford
Now doesn't that just seem to be a deeper lineup? I understand most Twins fans want Kubel starting and Stewart out, so that isn't necessarily a revolutionary idea I'm setting forth with, but I just mean the arrangement as well as the personnel. The tool agrees with me, as it gives this lineup 5.196 runs per game, or 842 runs on the season; a difference of 41 runs; basically, four offensive wins in a vacuum. Considering the pitching staff this team has, 41 runs would be a major boost, and would most likely help them win the division, or at the least, to be in a better position to contend for the Wild Card. Considering the pitching, you might even argue it is more than four wins worth of runs. Certainly something to think about; now if only we could get Ron Gardenhire to read BtB...