Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Credit Where Credit's Due

Ron Gardenhire, Terry Ryan, and the rest of the Twins' brain trust frequently draw the ire of Twins bloggers. Heck, disagreeing with the moves those guys make is the sole reason many Twins blogs exist in the first place. Much of the time, when the majority of Twins fans vehemently disagree with a move the Twins make, they end up being right. For instance, keeping Corky Miller on the roster out of spring training last year was a terrible decision, and taking Joe Mays out of the rotation a couple months earlier than they did probably could have prevented a few losses. It doesn't take a pro baseball analyst or sabermetric genius to realize these things ahead of time. Read entries from this blog (or almost any other) from around those times and you can see that even the casual fan could easily predict the bad outcomes of these decisions.

With that said, I think now is a good time to step back and applaud Gardenhire and Ryan for a couple controversial moves they made during the offseason and spring training. These moves were widely met with disgust and criticism from the Twins blogosphere, yet both have really turned out well, at least to this point. Many were appalled when Ryan signed Tony Batista in the offseason and essentially handed him the job of everyday starting third baseman. The move seemed bizarre considering Batista's paltry career on-base percentage and the fact that he couldn't even land a gig in this country last season. Likewise, there was a great deal of disgust felt by Twins fans everywhere when the young and promising Jason Bartlett was sent down to the minors just before the start of the season and Gardenhire dubbed light-hitting Juan Castro the starting shortstop on a team desperately in need of more offense.

Personally, I was never all that worked up about the Batista signing. I didn't expect much from him, but I recognized the fact that he could provide some much-needed pop at the bottom of the lineup and would at least be a better defender at third than Michael Cuddyer was last year. Still, the signing received a lot of harsh criticism from a number of bloggers and analysts. The decision to name Castro the starting shortstop while sending Bartlett back to the minors (again) after hitting .382 in spring training did bother me quite a bit, and both Mr. Mosvick and I were quite vocal in our disagreement with the decision.

As it turns out, the moves have made the Twins' management look pretty smart up to this point. Batista has been hitting the ball extremely well, posting a .297/.366/.568 line with two home runs and six RBIs through his first 11 games. He's also been steady with the glove, and has shown surprising patience at the plate, drawing four walks in 41 plate appearances. For those keeping track, that gives him the same number of unintentional walks as Joe Mauer, the Twins' poster boy for patience at the plate.

Castro, on the other hand, hasn't been as flashy at the dish, but he has been extremely solid overall. He has been steady defensively at shortstop, making all the necessary plays plus a few outstanding ones; he has also shown some very nice chemistry with second baseman Luis Castillo. Castro hasn't delivered any extra-base hits but he has looked quite a bit better offensively than he ever has in the past. He is hitting .355 at this point in the young season, and he's been stinging the ball pretty well. Oftentimes when a guy who historically hasn't done much at the plate has a hot streak, you can easily attribute it to luck -- bloop singles falling in the right place and grounders squeezing through the infield. Castro's offensive production hasn't struck me that way. He's had some great at-bats and come through with some big hits, routinely driving the ball to the opposite field.

Based on the long major league histories of both of these players, it is unrealistic to think that this level of play will continue much longer for either. Castro is a .230 career hitter who has never posted an on-base percentage higher than .290 in a season -- right now his OBP is nearly .400. Batista's career OPS is .757, and right now it's a monstrous .934. One has to expect these guys are going to come back down to Earth, and perhaps pretty hard. Still, it is undeniable that both players have been invaluable to the team's early success. At the very least they should continue to provide defensive stability at a couple positions that were highly unstable throughout last season. Should either one continue to produce at even close to the level they have so far at the plate, it will be a huge bonus at the bottom of the batting order.

Gardenhire and Ryan should sit back and enjoy this moment. Who knows how long it will last, but for now, they are looking mighty wise and we who criticized them so ferociously could all stand to eat some crow.

8 comments:

bjhess said...

Personally I think it would be unwise to "step back and applaud Gardenhire and Ryan" this early in the season. The nature of "stepping back" seems to be looking at all the details in a broad view, which we can't really do after a couple weeks of baseball. You use the term "young season," which is exactly right. In no way is it time for those detractors of the Batista and Castro moves to eat crow. Maybe they should enjoy the good while it lasts and make qualified positive comments on the performance of these two players, but that's about it.

Jeff said...

This is insane. Batista and Castro are going to end up with numbers similar to what they've been doing their whole careers, meaning they'll stink it up for the Twins.

They had a nice 10-game run, yippee. Should we pat GM's on the back everytime their mistakes get hot for a short stretch of time?

I look forward to reading the column called, "Oops, You Were Right and We Were Suckers."

Anonymous said...

If these guys did this any other time than the first two weeks of the year, it would be a non-story. Batting lines except for the most extreme cases at this time of the year are mostly meaningless.

Jeff A said...

The last couple paragraphs of your article seem most relevant. I will concede that Batista and Castro have played well so far. I would also say that anyone who can get to the big leagues at all is capable of having a couple of good weeks at some point. I seem to remember Castro have a couple of short good stretches last year, too, but his final numbers were still poor.

If they can do this all year, I will concede that Gardy and Ryan were right and I was wrong. As a Twins fan, nothing would please me more. I think, though, that the odds are substantially against it.

Nick M. said...

Well, I think what you can take away from this is that two things are going on that haven't historically with Batista and Castro. For one, Batista is looking more patient and that's nice to see. Sure, it may not last, but if anything, its a step in the right direction for the guy. Who knows? He may have learned something from his expulsion to Japan. As for Castro, the opposite field singles are a good trend as well. The fact is, if he hits even .260, that would be a fine improvement from last year's shortstops. Both may not happen, but my associate is right to point out that if nothing else, being key to a good start is something to write about.

Nick N. said...

However you wish to look at it, the plain and simple fact is that Castro and Batista have both been extremely valuable to the team's success in this tough early schedule. I can essentially guarantee you that having the combination of Cuddyer at third and Bartlett at short -- which many people were preaching as a better combo -- would not have been as successful up to this point in the season, particularly on defense. Those guys are both pretty slow starters, which the Twins really could not afford against this difficult early schedule. Like I said in the post, I don't expect this to last, but the decisions to start Batista and Castro have been a big reason the team has managed a .500 record in these first 12 games against four of the better teams in the American League.

At the very least, their performances to this point have been encouraging. Even if Batista goes on to hit .240 this season, if he continues to deliver extra-base hits and RBIs in bunches, I will be far more happy with his performance this season than what we had at third base last year. For 7 and 9 hitters in an offense that was the worst in the league last year, their performances to this point have been astronomical.

By no means am I trying to saint Gardy and Ryan, but as one who was relatively opposed to both moves coming into the season, I thought it would be prudent to give due credit to the fact that both moves have been invaluable to the team's early success. We'll see how long it lasts.

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