Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Southpaw Stuggles (Part 2)

OK, we GET it. Our boys struggle against left-handed pitchers. They have for years. We don’t need you guys to prove it to use. You can stop sucking now. Because, as we covered yesterday, our Twins, do, in fact, suck against left-handers. Like one of those nasty eel things that are invading Lake Superior. With big pointy teeth.

But as I mentioned yesterday, things should get better. And not just because the Twins shouldn’t be facing this many left-handed pitchers the rest of the year. The Twins should get better because this team has been hit by a perfect storm, and one that should pass blow over soon (though not as soon as we might have hoped).

Listen, any team whose two star hitters hit left-handed (and by “star” I mean Ursa Major kinda large, bringing home hardware and such) would probably struggle against left-handed pitching. But it’s not the guys that you would expect that are struggling against southpaws:

Joe Mauer is leading the team, for chrissakes, and Justin Morneau, while still relatively weak, is less than totally revolting. The biggest culprit right now is (right-handed hitting) Michael Cuddyer who is pasting right-handers (1.039 OPS!) but can’t hit lefties to save his life. He posted an 894 OPS against them last year, by the way.

Another Twins who would seem due for a rebound is Jason Bartlett. Bartlett and his groin are struggling across the board – southpaws, righties, fielding, probably sexually – but a right-handed hitter is going to finish better than that.

But most infuriating for Twins management is that they planned for this, but a string of injuries has absolutely decimated their ability to respond. You’ll notice Mike Redmond on that list, and while the number under “OPS” is bad, the number under “AB” is worse. Like Dante in Clerks, Mike wasn’t even supposed to BE here today. He’s only playing because the two guys who were supposed to hold down the job – Rondell White and Jeff Cirillo – are both injured.

And it’s not like just one of them could help. Because there is another name that you would expect to see at that bottom of this list, and he hasn’t disappointed. That’s Nick Punto, who has never hit left-handed pitchers. Cirillo was specifically signed this offseason because he can play third base and past left-handers, and that’s awfully handy when Punto is on a roster.

Even more frustrating is that the Twins also worked hard in the offseason to provide additional insurance for those guys – and that’s not working out either. Before either White or Cirillo one was signed, Ken Harvey was signed. He’s a former all-star (which unfortunately says loads about that particular title), who nonetheless can be a fairly suitable DH in a pinch, especially against left-handers. He’s out until mid-May with knee surgery.

And you might also remember a certain lovable chicken-fried-steak poster boy who was in spring training. Matt LeCroy didn’t do much in his major league career, like, for instance, catch things that weren’t chocolate-covered. But he always hit left-handed pitching, and he hit it awfully hard. He’s got to be kicking himself right now, because this is maybe the worst possible time to be hitting .186 in Rochester.

So let’s count up the carnage, shall we? Two solid right-handed hitters who suddenly are slumping, plus two right-handed hitters who are injured, plus two right-handed replacements in Rochester who are unavailable. That’s some solid work just as the team is facing a left-handed pitcher pretty much every other night.

The good news is that the first impression will likely stay with us long past the actual reality. The Twins aren’t going to thrive against left-handers, but they also aren’t going to be this bad for most of the rest of the year.


SoCalTwinsfan said...

You might want to check your numbers on Punto. His career OPS against lefties is 40 points higher than against righties. .691 is nothing special, but I don't think that qualifies as "never" hitting them.

With Castillo hitting better against lefties for his career, that means 6 of the 9 normal starters in the lineup should be happy to see a lefty. Plus, Mauer doesn't care what side you throw from for the most part and Morneau is still a threat to go deep against lefties. This is why it is bizarre that the Twins continue to struggle against lefties.

Cuddyer is the key. He has to make teams pay for bringing in a lefty to face Mauer and Morneau, which he did most of last year.

Of course, now that FSN and the STrib have played this up, it's going to be on the forefront of the players' minds until they pound a couple lefties in a row. Hopefully, it won't become a major mind block like hitting with the bases loaded was for the Twins in 2005.

Other SoCal Twins (and Wolves) fan said...

Let's just say you both are right and Nick Punto has only hit in one four month stretch of his career. Ugh.

Brian said...

I'm actually more interested in how LeCroy is hitting left-handers in AAA. His overall average isn't as important if he's playing down there every day, including against RHP - cause he really, really sucks against RHP.

Honestly - bring him up - it's a better bet than Redmond.