Monday, January 28, 2008

A Center Field Solution

I'll give this to Bill Smith - he isn't afraid to face the music.

That's a trait he shares with his predeccessor, Terry Ryan, who never shyed away from contact with fans, or critical radio hosts, or upset, anonymous callers. On Friday night I watched Smith walk away from his radio show and become engaged with several fans who asked about, well, everything. I didn't have a chance to chat with him at that time, since I had some friends waiting for me.

Twenty minutes later, I walked by the same spot, and Smith had moved less than ten feet. He was speaking with a fan and his son, and this time I forgot all about my friends. We began talking about payroll, and then I asked him about, well, everything. Ten minutes later he still hadn't moved those ten feet. And fifteen minutes later I remembered that I was supposed to be bringing my friends their dinner.

Obviously, my first question was about payroll, and he was surprised that things worked out like the ddid. He didn't expect players like Mike Lamb to come as cheaply as he did, and that Adam Everett fell into their lap. He also referenced trying to keep some money for Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva, which blows my mind. I should have followed up more than I did on that point, but I just had so many other damn questions.

Like center field. I asked him if he would feel comfortable about center field if he entered spring training with the current roster. He said he would, because that would mean that Johan Santana was his Opening Day starter. Umm, no it doesn't - there are still free agent center fielders out there like Kenny Lofton and Corey Patterson. He said they're looking at them, too.

I don't know if that slip up was just him reciting a pat answer ("We would be very happy to have the best pitcher in baseball pitching for us on Opening Day.") or whether he really is just planning on getting his center fielder in a trade. In a later question, he felt like he didn't NEED a center fielder in return for Santana.

And I tend to agree with him. The Twins do have a decent solution for center field on the roster, or rather they appear to have two half solutions. Their names are Jason Pridie and Craig Monroe.

The biggest question about the right-handed hitting Monroe is whether he can handle center field defensively. Smith said the Twins scouting reports say he's "adequate", but probably can't play their every day. The defensive metrics in Baseball Prospectus 2007 handbook imply the same thing. In 2006, playing left field, Monroe was a single run below average, and that's in massive Comerica Park. His profile suggests he can probably handle one-third of the games in a center field platoon.

And his bat can certainly play there. Over the last three years, Monroe has hit .281 and slugged .481 against left-handers. Over those same three years, Torii Hunter hit .287 and slugged .487 overall. Monroe can't replace Hunter's bat, but he can replace one-third of Hunter's bat.

The exact opposite questions exist about Monroe's proposed platoon-mate, Jason Pridie, but that's probably a good thing. Defensively, people rave about Pridie's tools, and since he's left-handed, he would end up patrolling CF about 2/3 of the time. Offensively, the 24-year-old never did much before last year, and as Jesse at TwinkieTown pointed out, a lot of that is related to his lack of plate discipline.

That didn't change much last year, but he still had tremendous success, and it was fueled by raking right-handed pitching. Against the port-siders, he hit .326, and slugged .572(!) over 359 at-bats in AA and AAA. (Read that last sentence again.)

In fact, it looks like the Devil Rays figured out that he needed to platoon once he was promoted to AAA. He had 194 at-bats against right-handers and 48 at-bats agains lefties, or about a 4:1 ratio. That's the kind of ratio you only see when a player is being held out of the lineup against southpaws.

Would Ron Gardenhire consider such an option? While the general consensus is that he avoids platoons, this might be to his liking. It would put a good glove in center field 2/3 of the time. It would put a rookie in the best position to succeed. It would allow him to get Monroe and Kubel in the starting lineup together 1/3 of the time, and it's not like the veteran Monroe has a long history with the organization. This might be a platoon that even Gardy could embrace.

During the talk with Smith, I asked him if he needed to walk to anyplace, and pointed out to him that I was mobile. No, he replied, he was here to talk to people. And approximately 45 minutes later, I found him again roaming the floor, this time with one of the Twins minor leaguers. I was again impressed with that quiet display of confidence.

It was comforting to see that considering the pressure he faces in possibly trading Johan Santana. I don't know if he was posturing or not, but I believe him when he says he's comfortable going into spring training with the center fielders he currently has. And after looking at the options, I don't blame him.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to stray off-topic in the very first comment (I liked the post, by the way) but I was wondering if someone could help me find some specific baseball stats, please?

I would really like to know the mean number of homeruns hit by players in 1964 or 1969 as well as the standard deviation. I'd also like the same statistics for 2007 (or some other year in the steroids era-- I'm not picky). Is there any website that has this data available (I could pour over player after player's stats in each year on Baseball Reference dot com but I was kindof hoping I wouldn't have to spend 5 hours preparing a classroom example that will take up only 5 minutes of class-time). Thanks.

Jeff said...

Thanks John, this was a really interesting (and very comforting at the same time) look at our new GM. I too am impressed by his willingness to face any question, this was a great little glimpse at that trait firsthand.

The makeshift center field solution is an interesting one, one that would be, while not exactly impressive, at least adequate. Too bad we don't still have Silva. I'd be perfectly comfortable throwing Monroe into center field with that sinkerballer!