Sunday, June 27, 2010

Road Trip Thoughts

You can tell when I’m either lazy or out of touch, because the columns take the form of bullet points. Especially when I’m both….

Cuddy at 3B
Manager Ron Gardenhire gets a lot of criticism for his staying the course, so it was fun to see him start Michael Cuddyer at third base in the National League parks. In the initial series vs the Phillies, Cuddyer only did so against right-handers. That allowed Jason Kubel to get his hacks against right-handers, but protected him against left-handers. However, as the road trip went on, the Twins kept seeing left-handed starter (four of their last six games were against southpaws) so Cuddyer played third against some of them, too. That was interesting in and of itself, because Gardenhire has pretty consistently dissuaded any talk of moving Cuddyer to the infield.

But what could really be interesting is if Gardenhire continues to do something similar back in the American League ballparks. I haven’t been able to see most of the games on this road trip, but my understanding is that Cuddyer didn’t embarrass himself at the hot corner. According to, he had six assists there, or about one per game. Defensively, that seems like a pretty small risk to take.

And the offensive upside of such a move isn’t insignificant. Playing Cuddyer at third allows Jim Thome to be in the lineup (at DH) instead of Danny Valancia. Given Thome’s inconsistent health status, that isn’t a trade you want to make every day, but it could certainly be something to try semi-regularly. If Cuddyer is open to that flexibility, it could be something the Twins could employ versus some tough right-handers.

Kubel versus the Southpaws
I keep looking for evidence that Jason Kubel is relatively effective against left-handed pitchers. And I keep not finding it.

This year, I thought it might be different. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed several good games against southpaws by Kubel, including this weekend’s game against Johan Santana. Kubel hit a home run late in the game, but his key at-bat was the ground rule double against Santana. Delmon Young’s double scored more runs, but Young is right-handed, Kubel is left-handed, and Kubel was the guy the Mets needed to get out. (Young was probably the guy the Mets needed to walk, but that’s another story.)

So I thought Kubel was doing better against left-handers. He isn't. He’s hitting just .219, he’s slugging just .359, and only his on-base percentage of .346 shows any real sign of improvement. The really depressing thing is that he continues to lack any semblance of power against lefties. Here are his slugging percentage the last four years against lefties:

.359, .345, .374, .333

His career slugging percentage against lefties is .357. As a point of comparison, Brendan Harris’ career slugging percentage is .383, 26 points higher than that. And he’s not even in the majors any more.

I’m not saying that Kubel shouldn’t be in the majors, or even that he shouldn’t be in the lineup against left-handers. But it might make sense to move him down the order a bit against southpaws, even if that means having Cuddyer and Young (who both bat right-handed) bat back to back.

The Twins versus Left-handers
Yesterday’s game is the second time in the last two series that the Twins ended up losing to a young pitcher without a great record, the first being last Tuesday against Chris Narveson. But those two pitchers have something else in common besides their relative inexperience - they were both left-handed.

The Twins sport a 760 OPS overall, good for 6th overall in the major leagues. But that number falls to 740 versus left-handers, which puts them in the middle of the pack in MLB. Its not a huge weakness, but it’s worth keeping an eye on as the Twins face lefties.

Incidentally, getting JJ Hardy back could help a lot with that. He has hit lefties quite a bit better over the course of his career.

The Mariners Trade
This weekend the Seattle Mariners surprised the baseball world a bit, nabbing slugger Russell Branyan for a couple of marginal prospects. It wasn’t a surprise that they liked Branyan, since he worked out pretty well when he was on their team last year. It was a surprise because that’s the kind of move a contending team makes, and the Mariners aren’t especially close to contending. They’re 15 games back in their division.

In fact, if any trade was going to be made by the Mariners, most expected the exact opposite. For a couple of weeks baseball has speculated that Seattle’s ace pitcher Cliff Lee could be available, with the Twins being mentioned as frontrunners to acquire him. Does this trade me that won’t happen?

Probably not. It might mean that the Mariners aren’t ready to give up just yet. But is also might mean that Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik took a look at the trade prospects for his guy and didn’t like what he saw. The trade market works like any other market, determining value based on supply and demand. Unfortunately, there isn't that much demand just yet, especially for a pitcher that is going to cost a lot of money, like Lee.

But further depressing the value is that there is a big supply. There are plenty of pretty good pitchers that could be available in trade, many who might be considerably cheaper than Lee. Furthermore, there are still some pitchers who are available as free agents, like Pedro Martinez who showed just how useful he can be in when used in a short season last year with the NL champion Phillies.

With little opportunity to move Lee now, why not trade a couple of very marginal guys for a possible shot in the arm for the team? Worst case is the Mariners keep Lee and end up getting a couple of good draft picks next year, right?

That sounds good. At least until the end of July….