Sunday, April 02, 2006

Same Old Gardy

Juan Castro will be the starting shortstop for the Twins when they open the season in Toronto on Tuesday, as Jason Bartlett was optioned to Triple-A Friday. At first, some attributed this to Bartlett's need to heal from a hamstring injury he suffered in camp, but as we learn in Joe Christensen's article in Saturday's Star Tribune, that is not the case.
In the end, the main issue for Bartlett wasn't his hamstring injury. Gardenhire said this team needs a shortstop with a commanding defensive presence, and Bartlett just hasn't shown it.
I don't really know what to make of this. Gardenhire's reasoning is flawed in so many ways. Over the course of their careers, Castro is a .230/.271/.339 hitter, and Bartlett is a .233/.308/.322 hitter. That is in 1,871 at-bats for Castro and 236 for Bartlett. Based on his minor league performances, most people agree that Bartlett could hit at least .280 given a full season of at-bats in the Majors. Anything above .240 for Castro is surplus.

So then, it comes down to defense. I'm not going to argue that Bartlett is a better defender than Castro, but I think he clearly has better range (Bartlett's zone rating at SS last season: .865; Castro's: .813). Range will be key with the sluggish Tony Batista manning third base. Even though Bartlett will probably not be as consistent with the glove as Castro, I think that is an affordable luxury considering the tremendous upgrades the team has made defensively at third base and second base.

"[Bartlett is] a quiet kid," Gardenhire said. "But in the middle, you have to be vocal. You have to lead, and that's what I told him you need to do. 'You go down there and take control of the infield. You be the leader. Once you start getting that part of the game down, you'll be more confident all the way around.' "

Gardenhire compared it to the presence of a quarterback in football. He referred back to the Twins infields from their World Series teams of 1987 and 1991, the way Kent Hrbek served as the infield leader.

He also mentioned former Twins shortstop Cristian Guzman.

"Guzy controlled the game out there with [Luis] Rivas, and that was hard to do; Luis wasn't always on the same page," Gardenhire said. "As quiet as [Guzman] was, when he saw something, he'd run to the mound if he didn't like something."

The Twins have contradicted this attitude several times in the past. Doug Mientkiewicz was a vocal leader in the infield, but the Twins traded him to make room for a quieter, lesser defensive player who could hit. Luis Rivas was, by all accounts, very quiet and indifferent in the field, and yet he was the everyday starter at second for almost five years.

I cannot comprehend why Gardenhire feels the need to put the impetus on the 26-year-old Bartlett to be a vocal leader and quarterback of the infield when it is something that clearly has not been asked of many of the team's young infielders in the past. It's particularly confusing when you consider the fact that Bartlett would be surrounded on either side by experienced veterans who were brought in in the offseason largely due to their defensive qualities.

The fact of the matter is this: Gardenhire needs to do anything and everything he can this year to improve his team's offensive production. If they can't hit the ball considerably better than they did last year, then they have no chance. Naming Castro as the team's opening day starter at shortstop and sending your best-hitting shortstop to the minors to open the season is indicative to me that this team really isn't all that serious about improving upon the mess that was the 2005 season.

6 comments:

TheBentKangaroo said...

I think the problem with Gardy is that he thinks he's a coach. He's not; he's a manager. Other than the relationship between pitcher and catcher, intangibles mean less in baseball than in any other sport, because each play is an event with limited factors. Hockey and basketball have ten people continuously involved. Football has 22 people on every play. Baseball has at least three, usually around four or five doing something at a time.

Bartlett doesn't always look pretty out there, which is probably the problem. Rivas sucked, but he looked pretty (and turned a mean double play). But you're right, they're being hypocritical. If Bartlett had hit 10 homers during spring, they'd keep him in there. Unfortunately, this organization still looks at the middle infield as defensive positions, without looking at the value across the board. And it's not like Castro is The Wizard out there.

Of course, we wouldn't be the first team. The Mets put a black hole in Rafael Santana at short for five years. He was better than HoJo at fielding, but not enough to make up for is bat. They move to HoJo to short permanently, and work out platoons around the infield with Ray Knight, Kevin Mitchell, Bakcman, Teufel, and Hernandez, and that team wins more than one championship.

Nick N. said...

Rafael Santana is a really good comparison. Of course, the Mets in those years -- who had guys like Keith Hernandez, Wally Backman, Lenny Dykstra, and Darryl Strawberry -- were not quite as starved for offense as the Twins currently are, so they could more easily afford to have a no-hit defender at short. In my mind, the Twins need to put their absolute best offensive players at each position in the lineup every night, as long as it's not going to cost them ridiculously on defense. I just don't think Castro-to-Bartlett is that huge of a regression.

Kris Richardson said...

I'd rather see Bartlett at SS, but in defense of Gardy's decision:

You say that defensively Bartlett-to-Castro is that much of a regression, but offensively Castro-to-Bartlett probably isn't that much of an improvement. Either way we have a #9 hitter playing SS.

Nick N. said...

I would certainly disagree with the notion that Castro-to-Bartlett is not a dramatic improvement offensively. The best you could expect from Castro for the season is about .250/.290/.380. Bartlett's upside for this year is at least .280/.340/.400. Just because either one would be hitting last in the order doesn't mean it's an excuse to provide nothing offensively. Bartlett can also steal bases.

Mike said...

The lone fact that Gardenhire is asking Bartlett to be more like Cristian Guzman proves he doesn't get it.

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