Friday, November 18, 2011

The Doumit Gamble

When TwinsCentric looked ahead to the Twins offseason this year, it’s fair to say that Ryan Doumit was prominently mentioned. Here is his writeup for the Offseason GM Handbook:

Ryan Doumit
Age: 30 (4/3/81) | 2011 Salary: $5.1M
2011 Stats: .300/.350/.478, 8 HR, 28 RBI
When the Pirates acquired Chris Snyder from Arizona at the 2010 July trade deadline, it signaled the end of regular playing time for Doumit. After playing in 124 games in 2010, Doumit played in less than half of the Pirates games in 2011. However, he posted an OPS over .800, and his career OPS in seven seasons is .776. He has thrown out 25% of would-be base stealers in his career. Not exactly a strong defensive catcher, the Pirates have also tried him out at first base and right field in recent years. Pittsburgh has options for 2012 and 2013 at a combined $15.5 million, a lot for a part-time player, so we expect Doumit to be on the market.

And then he made it into half of our offseason blueprints. First Nick Nelson:

5) Sign free agent catcher Ryan Doumit for two years, $9 million.
With Mauer’s status hanging in the balance, the Twins need to add depth at catcher, preferably in the form of a player who could play somewhat regularly and add offensive punch to the lineup. Doumit has spent his career as a part-time guy with the Pirates, never playing in more than 124 games, but his .271/.334/.442 career hitting line is very solid for a catcher and he’s only 30. He’s not considered a strong defensive backstop, but Drew Butera can be kept around to fill that role and Doumit can also fill in at first base and in right field.

Seth targeted him in his blueprint, too:

#5 – Free Agent Signings
Ryan Doumit – C – After making $5.1 million in 2011 in Pittsburgh, he has a $7.25 million option for 2012 and $8.25 million in 2013. He will likely be non-tendered. Although he is not a great defensive catcher, he can definitely hit which would make him a good #2 catcher, DH and PH option. I’d offer him 2 years and $6 million.

(As usual, I’ll just mention – you can buy that Handbook. It’s really easy. It’ll come immediately. Doumit was mentioned NINE times in it. But best of all, it’ll make the offseason more fun and a lot shorter. Just click the button below.)

Add to Cart

There are several good reasons for signing Doumit (pronounced DOUGH-mit). First, he’s not Drew Butera. Second, he’s flexible in the way that Cuddyer was flexible: he can play several non-defensively challenging positions.Also, as mentioned above, he hit last year. And finally, he’s still not Drew Butera.

But there are reasons he was available – and not just available, but available at 1-year and $3 million. It’s for these reasons that I’m more cautious than my fellow TwinsCentrists. And I’d like to illustrate these with a couple of hard-learned lessons:

Lesson 1: A catcher is only described as “flexible” when he can’t catch.
If he could catch, he would never be moved from catcher. You would never know how flexible he is. The problem with signing Doumit is that while he protects the Twins a bit if Mauer can’t catch, he won’t be a real option for any extended period of time. That is especially true for the Twins and Ron Gardenhire, who aren’t too likely to put up with his brand of defense for too long.

Doumit has caught over 100 games just twice in him MLB career. Those two years he threw out 19.6% of base stealers. Overall, he’s thrown out just 24.6% of basestealers. But there is another reason why you can’t expect him to catch for any extended period of time.

Lesson 2: Rate stats don’t help you if you can’t stay on the field.
Here are excerpts from Doumit’s yearly review from, and invaluable subscription site for MLB fans. These are yearly evaluations as captured in that moment in time. See if you can see a trend….

2004 The switch-hitting Doumit had trouble staying on the field in 2004, but if he can beat the injury bug this season he has a chance to re-assert himself as a candidate to become the Pirates catcher of the future.

2005 - Health has always been a huge concern for Doumit. The 25-year-old switch-hitting catcher stayed healthy enough in 2005 to play 100-plus games (126) for just the second time in seven seasons of professional ball.

2006 - For the sixth time in eight professional seasons, Doumit missed significant time due to injuries in 2006. A balky hamstring caused the switch-hitter to play in just 61 games for the Bucs.

2007 - The oft-injured Doumit missed nearly half of the 2007 season with ankle, hamstring and wrist injuries, appearing in just 83 games while batting .274 with nine homers and 32 RBI.

2008 - He played in only 116 games, but that number was good for the second highest mark of his 10-year professional career.

2009 - It's safe to say the Pirates expected more out of their top backstop in 2009, but injuries, slumps and the trading of numerous veterans combined to sour Doumit's season. Doumit broke a bone in his wrist in April and didn't return until July.

2010 - Concussions ruined much of Doumit's usefulness in 2010 and it remains to be seen whether he can recover from multiple bouts of head injuries.

Honestly, when I got to the part about the concussions, I laughed out loud. Of course he has concussions. In fact, he has a history of them. Last year, while catching on 9/23 he took some foul balls to the face mask. He didn’t start another game after that.

Oh, and he was placed on the 60-day DL this last year, too, with a broken ankle.

Given the Twins medical history lately, I’m seriously worried about Doumit’s future. Playing for the Twins might kill him. And if he does die, the medical staff will wait at least five days before confidently placing him on the 15-day DL.

Lesson 3: Platoon splits can lie.
Doumit is listed as a switch-hitter, and hit career splits aren’t terrible: 798 OPS versus right-handers and 718 versus left-handers. But it’s important to look at the at-bats. Doumit has had 75% of his at-bats versus right-handers, which means he’s often been hidden against left-handers, and usually that means he’s not facing the really good left-handed pitchers.

The truth is that Doumit has never been able to convince the Pirates that he was anything more than a platoon hitter for most of his career. That includes last year, when he had only 54 at-bats against southpaws. For the Twins, a platoon hitter at catcher would be fine – but Mauer also hits left-handed.

So there are warts, to be sure. Personally, I’d have rather seen a right-handed hitting defensive backup catcher signed. Coincidentally, Gerald Laird signed with the Tigers today for $1 million. But for for 1-year and $3 million, Doumit is a decent gamble by the Twins, and it could turn out to pay off big.

But make no mistake – it’s a gamble.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Handedness, Pudge & Departures

Just a couple of notes to chew on about the Twins….

Or Left-handed. Or Any-handed.

I’ve trumpeted the acquisition of right-handed hitters for the Twins lineup. But did you know that the Twins actually had a higher OPS last year against left-handed pitchers (670) than they did against right-handed pitchers (665)? I suppose all that shows is that the team was equally dismal on both sides.

Of course, most of the better left-handed bats (Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer & Denard Span) also missed several months last year. Any chance the Twins have competing next year starts with an assumption that at least two of those guys are healthy, and if they are, then the Twins will need some right-handed offense.

And Hopefully That Difference Includes Major League Service Time

Joe Christensen wrote a story about the Twins search for a backup catcher the other day, focusing on veterans Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Jason Veritek. Pudge’s son is also in the Twins farm system, leading to some natural speculation. And Pudge threw out 13 of 25 base stealers last year, showing defensive skills which the Twins value so highly.

His skills from the side of the plate, though, have deteriorated sharply. Over the last three years, he hasn’t cleared a 663 OPS and things got quite a bit worse last year when he hit just .218 with a 604 OPS. He’s enough of an offensive millstone that we didn’t profile him in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, lumping him into the “Other Names” section.

But as bad as that 604 OPS is – and it might be bad enough that he can’t find a job this winter – it is still 150 points higher than what Drew Butera posted last year (449 OPS). By way of comparison, 150 points is about the difference between Joe Mauer last year and Joe Mauer in 2010. Or between Joe Mauer in 2010 and Joe Mauer when he won the MVP award in 2009.

Yes, Rodriguez only hit .218 last year – but Butera couldn’t reach that plateau even if you included all of his walks. My point isn’t that the Twins should rush out and get Pudge. The point is that there is a huge difference between an offensively-challenged catcher and Drew Butera.

Ironically, Cuddyer's Departure Wouldn't Be A Departure At All
One other name that has been bandied about hopefully is free agent Josh Willingham, the right-handed outfielder for the A’s who slugged 29 home runs last year. We listed him in the Handbook as the 3rd most desirable free agent outfielder, just behind Michael Cuddyer. Here was the writeup:

Josh Willingham
Age: 32 (2/17/79) | 2011 Salary: $6M
Stats: .246/.332/.477, 29 HR, 98 RBI
Mr. Willingham, the USS Multi-Year has finally pulled into port. After playing a series of one-year contracts, Willingham looks poised for a big deal. He actually had a better year than Cuddyer, but lacks some of the hype. Still, don’t be surprised if the 32-year-old ends up with a longer deal, or one that includes a playable option year.
Estimated Contract: 3 years, $30 million

In the Handbook his name is in red, which means he was projected to be a Type A free agent, and the A’s will almost surely offer arbitration. That means that for the Twins to sign him, they must give up their second round pick to the A’s, which will be somewhere around the 45th overall. I can’t imagine that the Twins would do that, unless…

Unless that’s part of what the “philosophical differences” were. Willingham is clearly, at best, a backup plan if Cuddyer walks. And if Cuddyer (or Jason Kubel) walks, the Twins would end up with extra draft picks in the same vicinity. I suppose it is possible that they could give back one of those picks to sign Willingham.

But it’s worth noting that the Twins – as far as I can remember – have NEVER given up a draft pick for a free agent. Twins officials like to talk about their core philosophy of drafting, developing and giving opportunities to new players. It would be a major departure from that philosophy for them to sign Willingham.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gleeman and the Geek Episode 15

Aaron, the Geek and special guest Howard Sinker talk about Jamey Carroll, the Twins Hall of Fame and new journalism.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Good Piece, High Price

Middle infielder Jamey Carroll, who the Twins are reportedly very close to signing, is a good fit for the Twins in several ways:

  1. He brings consistent, if average, defense to a team whose infield play was anything but consistent.
  2. He’s been an on-base machine his whole career (.355 career OBP), perfect for a manager that loves the idea of having a middle infielder bat #2 in the lineup.
  3. His right-handed bat plays nicely amidst a Twins lineup that mostly leans left.
  4. He’s been relatively healthy the past few years.

That all sounds great to Twins fans, who had their expectations readjusted last year by eyeball-searing shortstop performances. Which is interesting because they had a guy like that on the roster the year before, who Twins fans sure loved to hate. That player was Nick Punto.

Carroll and Punto aren’t identical. Punto is a better defender, a switch hitter and is three years younger. Carroll has been healthier and has about 25 points of batting average (.278 career) over Punto (.249). But their similarities go beyond their infield flexibility and height (both are listed at 5’ 9”). Both have basically been viewed as very good utility players who have occasionally found themselves in the role of starter, but never for very long.

Because the Twins haven’t officially finished this transaction, it’s hard to say that Carroll will definitely be a starting middle infielder, but he’s sure being paid like it. He’s reportedly going to be making $7M over two years with an option on the 3rd year – which isn’t dissimilar to the 2-year, $8M contract with an optional 3rd year that the Twins gave Nick Punto back in 2008.

What is dissimilar is the age at which those players were given those deals. Punto had just turned 31. On Opening Day this year, Carroll is going to be 38. If Carroll performs both offensively and defensively over the next two years like he did the last two years, it is totally worth it. But for a 37-year-old, that’s far from certain. In fact, it’s probably unlikely.

(And let’s not forget that signing veteran players wasn’t a real strength during Terry Ryan’s first tenure as a general manager. This move feels awfully similar to nabbing Jeff Cirillo and Rondell White. Both were players who looked like great fits, too – right up until their skills tumbled off a cliff. I’m trying to think of counterexamples and having trouble coming up with one. Luis Castillo, I suppose, but he was 30 and came in a trade.)

Make no mistake about it: the Twins overpaid here. It sounds like there was quite a bit of interest in Carroll, so if they really wanted him, they probably needed to. The question is: why him?

It may be that Twins scouts watched Carroll and decided he was worth the considerable risk his age represents. Or it could be that this indicates that Ryan is more concerned about adding offense than defense; there were better defensive middle infielders on the market that would have been cheaper. It also might mean that Ryan wants the flexibility of having another guy who can play third base on the roster, for whatever the reason.

Usually, I’m a big picture guy, and the big picture here is a good one: Carroll is a really good fit for the Twins. If getting that puzzle piece means an extra million dollars and a second guaranteed year, that’s not such a crazy price to pay. And addressing a need like this early in the offseason can set up a team to for even bigger moves this winter.

So it’s a good move - right up until his 38-year-old body gets hurt or Mike Lambs us. At which point this looks as crazy as throwing $8 million at Punto. And then we get the pitchforks out.

Welcome back to the big chair, Terry.