Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dwelling on the Negative

Cuz really, what else is there to do right now?


The other day I tweeted something to the affect of “It is well past time for Morneau to move out of the cleanup spot.” Statistically, there is no question it is well past time. That .214 batting average and .317 slugging average just can’t be in a critical lineup spot. Know how low a .317 slugging percentage is? Nick Punto’s career slugging percentage is .322.

You can make a pretty good argument that Morneau’s slump has had a bigger negative impact on the Twins than any other factor. Actually, you can make a statistical argument using Win Probability Added. Morneau has the lowest WPA on the team, which means his struggles in high leverage moments has hurt the team’s chances to win more than any other player. At least with Joe Mauer, when he went on the DL, his replacement haven’t bated cleanup.

But soon after I tweeted that, I realized that I was dead wrong – in a way that made me feel even worse. Because who DOES hit cleanup on this team? Cuddyer? He’s not much better. Valencia? Again, not much better. About the only thing I might suggest is swapping Jason Kubel and Morneau so Kubel protects Morneau – but that means Morneau bats third? Seriously? Seriously. Kill me.


We’re letting Michael Cuddyer off too easy. Partly that’s because he hasn’t been trusted with a prime lineup spot like Morneau. Partly that’s because his positional flexibility often allows the Twins to promote their best bench player to the starting lineup. But his 656 OPS ranks 24th among right fielders.

Looking at that list, I can’t help but realize that a lot of fairly big names are having similarly crummy starts. Just above Cuddyer on that list are Torii Hunter (673 OPS) and Ichiro Suzuki (712 OPS). Immediately below him are Shin-Soo Choo (650), Nick Swisher (637) and Nick Markakis (627).

That heartens me a bit. I full expect a lot of those names in that group to bounce back strong. I’m hoping Cuddyer, who has benefited financially from some pretty torrid hot streaks, is one of them.


Let’s count how many Twins are below the Mendoza line (.200 batting average), shall we?

Rene Tosoni (.171), Alexi Casilla (.175), Matt Tolbert (.177), Ben Revere (.188), Drew Butera (.109) and Rene Rivera (.000).

That’s six. But here’s the punchline:

On any given night at least three – and often four – of those guys MUST be in the lineup. Rivera and Butera are the only two catchers on the roster. Revere or Tosoni need to play left field. And some combination of Tolbert, Casilla and Luke Hughes (.246) man the two middle infield spots.

The good news? There is a share of potential and youth in that group. If the team had planned for a rebuilding year, that is what we would be hanging onto. Instead, I can’t help but focus on an offense that is dead last in MLB in runs scored, and has way too many vacancies to hope for much more any time soon.