Wednesday, April 19, 2006

On Swings And Misses

by Twins Geek

The following is an excerpt from the Dugout Splinters for the Twins-Angels series, included in GameDay.

The Twins have seen slow starts that are comparable to what poor Rondell White is going through, including one very recently. Last year, Corky Miller snuck his way onto the 25-man roster, had twelve major league at-bats with the Twins, and no hits. He left the Twins last year as the non-pitcher with the most at-bats to never get a hit. The same record for the Twins/Senators franchise belongs to Ike Davis whose futility extended to 14 at-bats over 8 games as a 24-year-old in 1919. He did finally get a major league hit, but it took awhile. Five years later he made it back to the show with the White Sox and played for them for two years.

White, Miller, and Davis are blessed compared to George Foss and Bill Andruss. Foss had seven at-bats with the Senators in 1921 in four games as a 24-year-old. He never had another at-bat. Andruss was called up in 1931 and also had no hits in seven at-bats, though he did have an RBI. He waited six years to get back to the majors, and finally did, with the Phillies. He made it into three games, had two at-bats – and still didn’t get a hit.

Unlike Andruss, White has his hit, it just seems like it was six years ago. But White differs from these other guys in a more important way. Rondell White is a really, really good hitter. Over thirteen years, he’s had almost 1500 hits and 187 home runs. While it isn’t unusual for a 34-year-old’s production to decline, it’s important to note that this 34-year-old hit .313 just last year.

That kind of history should count for something, and on Ron Gardenhire’s lineup card, it has. He has kept White in the cleanup spot even though White is hitting .085. Gardenhire recognized the reality of the situation. White isn’t a bad hitter. White is a good hitter who is hitting badly. He is in a slump.

Twins fans haven’t been quite so understanding, especially when they booed him loudly in his last couple of games versus the Yankees. Of course, fans aren’t supposed to be understanding. Fan is short for fanatic. The crazy people that will drop 100 bucks on a night at the ballpark may not want to look at the big picture. That’s someone else’s job.

It would be nice if that someone else included the media. While White’s start has been covered almost every way possible, the one angle that hasn’t been emphasized is that White isn’t some 30-year-old rookie that may or may not be able to handle the pressure. He’s Rondell friggin White, and there are 5000+ data points that tell you he’s going to smack that ball around on a regular basis when he gets his head back on straight. Suggesting Ruben Sierra or Lew Ford should replace him in the middle of the lineup might pay dividends one night, but it ignores the next 24 weeks. Not to mention the dozen years that preceded this one.

So what should the Twins do with White? Whatever they think is going to help him. If they think keeping him the cleanup spot will help him get pitches he can handle, they should do that. If they think moving him down in the order will release some pressure, they should do that. If they think playing him in the outfield … well, let’s not get crazy. If one is going to trust White’s history of hitting, one should also trust White’s injury history.

Whatever they do, White has earned the chances he’s received, and has earned plenty more. We’re overreacting to this stretch of 47 at-bats because it’s the only 47 at-bats of his that we ever really cared about. It seems the Twins understand that. We might be happier if we did too.


Jimmy said...

Good on you TG for giving us a healthy dose of perspective. Obviously any other season, I'd be laughing and throwing sarcastic jabs at whichever schmoe gambled on Rondell in my fantasy league. But now that the ABs count, you just want what's best for the team. I'm of the same opinion that Rondell will shake this off and produce like management expects. As G&R are prone to say- just a little patience. Yeah

AdamOnFirst said...

I think if you compiled various comments I have made all over the place about White and edited them to form one coherent essay, it would be almost exactly that. I couldn't have said it better myself.