Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dugout Splinters

by Twins Geek

From this weekend's Dugout Splinters in GameDay

Seattle - What’s Working

The Meeting A week ago, the buzzards were circling. There was open speculation in the Seattle Times that General Manager Bill Bavasi or Manager Mike Hargrove would soon be fired. The Mariners had just been swept by division foe Oakland, and so a 57-minute closed door meeting was called. Pitcher Jamie Moyer called it “one of the best I've ever been in on”, and judging by the results, he’s right. The Mariners won four straight games after the meeting, and have gone 5-2 since.

The Icon Right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki continues to be the most recognizable Mariner, so it’s easy to forget that the Mariners were a pretty successful team before he arrived. In 2000, when Jay “Bone” Buhner was still playing right field for the Mariners, they finished 91-71 and lost to the Yankees in the playoffs. In Ichiro’s first year, the Mariners improved to 116 wins, but still lost to the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs.

The debate rages on as to whether Ichiro is overrated. On the one hand, there aren’t too many teams that couldn’t use a leadoff hitter with a career on-base percentage (OBP) of .377 and an average of 38 stolen bases per season. On the other hand, to compare Suzuki to the premier players in the league like Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez ignores the power of, um, power.

So he’s great, but not elite, unless you’re talking about his entertainment value. The free swinging, slap hitting, remarkable speed, and the cannon arm are each worth the price of admission. His 2001 MVP award may not accurately reflect his contribution that year, but you can’t blame voters for getting carried away a bit when they first saw his game. He’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

The New Import This offseason, the Mariners signed Kenji Johjima, who was regarded as the best catcher (and one of the best power hitters) in Japan to a three-year contract. Not too surprisingly, his 30 home run seasons haven’t translated in the majors (especially playing in spacious Safeco park) but hitting .275 with five home runs has earned him rookie-of-the-year attention. However, he’s recently started to be criticized for the performance of the Mariners pitching staff. In particular, scouts are wondering if he’s calling for enough fastballs, a pitch which is used less often in Japan.

Breakthrough Want to see the numerical progression for a breakthrough player? It’s 2, 8, 23, 29, 36, 51, 54, 76, 82. That’s the percentage of fantasy baseball owners on commissioner.com that started Jose Lopez on their squad each week since the beginning of the year. The 23-year-old, after a couple of years of part time duty, is blossoming the way Twins fans hoped Luis Rivas would. He’s hitting .302 (previous career average was .239) and has already hit seven home runs (which doubles his career output). He’s a rare success story for a franchise that has bought what little success it’s had.

Minnesota - I Don’t Know is on Third

So, let me get this straight. Tony Batista, a 32-year-old free swinger who last played in the majors in 2004 when he slugged .455, returns to the big leagues and slugs .404, and fans are disappointed? Who did they think we were getting, Roy Hobbs?

But it isn’t the fans’ expectations that are the problem, it’s the team’s. One can argue that based on the timing of the signing, the amount of the contract, and the inclusion of a spring training out-clause, that the Twins recognized that he was a gamble and a temporary solution at best.

One could also argue that at some point those expectations changed, because they left themselves without any sort of backup plan. How else does one explain passing on Corey Koskie when the Blue Jays were willing to ship him and $7+ million for a bucket of warm spit? How else do you explain the Twins refusing to have Michael Cuddyer (who, by the way, leads the team in slugging at .566) spend any time at third base during spring training, despite starting there last year?

Which leaves the backup options of Luis Rodriguez (.379 career slugging %), Terry Tiffee (slugging .379 in AAA ), and Glenn Williams (slugging .337 in AAA). Unless fans are ready to embrace Matt Moses, the 2003 first round draft pick who is playing in AA-New Britain, they had better start rooting for Batista to defy any sort of reasonable destiny - or adjust their expectations.

1 comment:

MNPundit said...

Look I know you bleed Canadian Red for Koskie, but he's having his career year right now. He's never hit this well before.

I think it's easy to see why he was passed on considering the reduction of his numbers with the Jays , his age, and his propensity for injury. Sure it was a mistake, but it was one that wouldn't be unusual to make.