For the first time today, Twins fans could see the 2008 Twins on TV this afternoon, and thanks to TIVO, I was able to watch a little. So it's time for a few random notes....
One of the things that was supposed to excite Twins fans about Carlos Gomez was the defense he would bring to center field. That was not in evidence today. In the second inning, Gomez failed to reach one ball over his head, failed to reach another that looked like he might have got if he had read it earlier. Then he threw a ball (supposedly) home, meaning it was thirty feet up the first base line. Apparently, I missed another throw later that was similarly bad.
According to Baseball Prospectus defensive ratings, he wasn't particularly good last year either, ssaving just one run in his 35 games in left and right field. Now, to be fair, they also said he was quite a bit better than average in cetner field in AAA and AA over the last two years.
I don't particularly trust defensive metrics, and my judgement of whether those balls were catchable might not be terribly fair. Certainly, both were tagged hard, and right at him, and might have been hard to read. It appears that Gomez has the physical tools, namely speed and a strong arm, to play center field at a very high level. But my first impression is that he doesn't read hits very early, and he certainly didn't show that he has tamed that cannon on his shoulder. I hope my first impressions are wrong.
Manager Ron Gardenhire was asked by ESPN's announcers how he might like to bunch his big hitters in the regular season. He replied:
2nd - Joe Mauer
3rd - Michael Cuddyer
4th - Justin Morneau
5th - Delmon Young
6th - Mike Lamb
Bravo - Joe Mauer batting second. He's left-handed, he can get on base, he can take pitches, he can move runners around the bases, either by hitting or with his patience. I'm very excited to see what he could do in that slot for a full year.
Bravo - Cuddyer batting third and Delmon Young batting fifth. Batting between Mauer and Morneau requires enough power to move Mauer around the bases and enough on-base percentage to set the table for Morneau. Cuddyer is far from the perfect #3 hitter, but he's got some power and his on-base percentage last year was .356. Delmon Young's, on the other hand, was just .316. Young might be the long term answer, but I'd take Cuddyer right now.
Boo - Mike Lamb batting sixth. OK, this is a half-hearted boo, but I think I'd rather see Jason Kubel there. The truth is that statistically, they're very similar. Lamb had better overall stats, but he also played less and was more protected than Kubel against lefties (and that's saying something, because Kubel only faced southpaws 72 times last year). Plus, Kubel hit significantly better towards the end of last year while Lamb was a bit worse. I suspect Kubel will have a chance to gain that spot as the year goes on.
Defensive Worries 2.0
Lost in the concerns about Gomez's misplays were the nonplays that Brendan Harris made at second base. The three-run second innning could have ended with after the first run had he made a play on a ground ball between him and second base. And later in the game he failed to come up with another ball that was to his left, even though it appeared he was playing in shallow right field.
I've been a fan of the Twins acquiring Harris, and am still hopeful that he'll be able to win the second base job, but it's worth noting just how poorly he was ranked last year defensively. BP estimated he cost his team 24 runs between his time at shortstop and second base, including 12 runs in just 46 games at second. Yikes. That's bad.
Just how bad? You might remember from last week that over 500 at-bats, a 10 point change in OPS is worth about two runs. So Harris, who had a very respectable 777 OPS last year, gave back about 120 points of that with his defense. That's not as bad as Nick Punto, but it's worse overall (quite a bit worse, actually) than Jason Tyner.
In that context, Harris' defense will definitely be worth paying attention to this year. I've always felt like the Metrodome was relatively forgiving to second basemen, because the turf is fast and smooth, which allows second basemen to play in shallow right field when nobody is on base. But I would think that would have been the case for Harris in the Devil Rays' tin can of a ballpark, too.