Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thoughts on the Casilla Move

Let's get one thing straight - Alexi Casilla was not the Twins biggest problem. He might not have been in the top five. In fact, I'm quite sure he's not in the top five, because the top four are all starting pitchers and the next couple can be found in the bullpen. But I'm not here to talk about those problems.

Though I will justify that statement. The Twins starters' ERA this year is 5.32 which ranks 25th in the majors. They're a little bit better in quality starts, with eleven. That ties them at 17th, along with five other teams, which means they're also tied for 21st. That's as many as Cleveland, whose rotation has been a punchline. It's only one more than Detroit, and it's less than Kansas City or the White Sox.

And I'll also say that I was totally wrong about Casilla this year. I've trumpeted Casilla for years, and I viewed his quiet and workmanlike spring training as a sign of a breakout year, and for the first couple of games, I was right. But he's been terrible, both offensively and defensively, for a few weeks.

Nationally, people are wondering if Casilla is still the second baseman of the future for this team, and I still think he is. Matt Tolbert just turned 27 years old, Brendan Harris is 28, and Casilla is just 24. It's still pretty clear where the upside lies in this equation.

That doesn't mean Casilla will be a factor this year, or even be in a position to control his own destiny. If he tears up AAA for a while, he could displace Harris, because after a year-and-a-half I think we can conclude that Harris is always going to be a defensive liability at second base. But he and Tolbert bring the same skill set to the Twins roster, and if Tolbert hits consistently, Harris and Casilla might end up waiting their turn for some time.

The whole scenario is reminiscent of the Carlos Gomez/Denard Span soap opera from last year. Speaking of which, I wouldn't be shocked if we see a similar swap soon in the outfield. The only thing saving Gomez now is his defensive value, but Dustin Martin or Jason Pridie can replace Delmon Young late in games too. They don't bring Gomez's glove, but it would give him a chance to see some regular plate appearances and become more than a fourth outfielder.

Pop Quiz Hot Shot: Since April 22nd (two weeks ago) how many at-bats has Gomez had?
Answer: Nine. In twelve games. I know he missed two games because he had his first kid, but that's ridiculous.

The Gomez move should be made for the same reason that the Casilla move was made - to help him become a productive major leaguer as soon as possible. Casilla has shown a tremendous amount of potention to be a top-of-the-lineup fixture as a 22-year-old and 23-year-old in AAA. Over two shortened years there, he's sported a .348 OBP, and drew 52 walks versus 68 strikeouts. He's also stolen bases at every level, including his introduction to the majors when he stole 11 bases in 189 at-bats.

His minor league history suggest he can be a capable lead-off guy and a great complimentary #2 batter, and now he'll get to add to it. Meanwhile, Tolbert has sported similar offensive numbers in AAA, except without the speed. He'll get to try and prove that his time with the club last year, his promotion this year, and Ron Gardenhire's apparent man-crush on him, are all justified. There's a decent chance he will.


neckrolls said...

You're right about Gomez - sitting him on the bench isn't doing anybody any good. Give him 5 PA a game in Rochester where he can refine his hitting.

Nick N. said...

Pop quiz hot-shot: how many hits does Gomez have in his past 20 at-bats? Answer: nine (including three doubles). Let the man play. I can barely stand to watch Delmon in left field anymore.

John said...

I don't think Casilla will ever be a starting-caliber player. I've been a big fan since he came over from the Angels but there are some huge red flags.

For one thing, in nearly 500 PAs at AAA his OPS is around .670 and he is 28 of 43 in steal attempts, for a poor 65% rate. His hot start in the Majors made everyone (myself included) look the other way, but... if he can't hit in AAA, why should we expect him to consistently hit in the Majors?

Mostly though, it's his batted ball stats that convince me Casilla is unlikely to return to those halcyon days of Spring, 2008. He doesn't hit line drives, he pops out a lot, and he doesn't even get that many infield hits. And even accounting for those problems, Casilla still hits for a very low average on balls in play (.281 MLB career).

Usually, this happens when a player hits a lot of fly balls, as they more commonly turn into outs. So the 'leaders' in low BABIP are mostly power hitters, and also some guys who just hit too many fly balls for their skill set (e.g., Rickie Weeks). Sometimes a player just has really bad luck over the course of a season and the dip in average is not a real concern.

But with Casilla, it looks like he just doesn't hit the ball hard enough. I can't think of another explanation, that also addresses the paucity of liners and frequency of pop outs.

Anonymous said...

Casilla might or might not have been in the 'top five' for Twins problems, but that's hardly the point.

Not trying to fix "Problem F" because you don't have a ready answer for "Problems A-E" is not a good way to run a railroad.

And for what it's worth, Casilla's play so far has been worse than any of the starters, outside maybe Baker.

Anonymous said...

Tolbert has put together some pretty professional at-bats the last couple of days, some good bunts, gap power, and the defense has been ok. Tolbert at 2B and Harris at SS might not be as flashy defensively as Casilla and Punto, but I think it gives the Twins a better chance to win at this point. I hope they stay with it for a while.

Anonymous said...

Casilla's defensive lapses shortened the leash on his struggles at the plate.

We don't know what we're going to get from him ....

Thus far, 2009 has been like 2007 - Casilla was completely overmatched for whatever reason.

Good move to send him to Rochester - - get out of the spotlight and perform.