Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Midseason Position Player Grades

Yesterday's introduction fits pretty well, so I'm just going to go ahead and re-use it.

With the All-Star Game behind us, the Twins tomorrow will open a four-game home series against the Indians tomorrow. Even though the season is technically 53% complete, many people consider the All-Star break to be the unofficial halfway point in the season. With that in mind, I thought this might be a good opportunity to break down the first-half performances of each player currently on the Twins' roster. Based on what should be expected of a particular player based on their role with the team and the amount of time they've spent in the league, I will assign letter grades to each player's performance thus far.

THE STARTERS

C - Joe Mauer #7
286 AB, .378/.446/.535, 7 HR, 45 RBI, 30 K / 38 BB, 7/8 SB
GRADE: A

Before going 0-for-8 in his last two games prior to the break, Mauer was hitting .390. Even afterward, he leads the majors in batting average by a pretty wide margin at .378. Needless to say, that pretty much surpasses any expectations that might have been set for the 23-year-old catcher in just his second full year in the league. In our preseason predictions back in March, I projected Mauer to hit .300/.375/.450 with 15 home runs and 80 RBI. The run production predictions look about right (Mauer currently projects to hit 13 HR and drive in 85 runners) and so do the discipline and power predictions (I predicted an Isolated Discipline of .075, it is currently .068; I predicted an Isolated Power of .150, it is currently .157). The difference, of course, is that Mauer is hitting for a much better average than we could have possibly hoped. Meanwhile, he is playing excellent defense and controlling the opposing running game, throwing out 38.5% of potential base-stealers. If there can be one complaint about Mauer, it is that he still is not hitting for enough power, but here at the All-Star break he has already nearly matched his 2005 totals in home runs (9) and RBI (55).

1B - Justin Morneau #33
300 AB, .300/.352/.587, 23 HR, 73 RBI, 58 K / 25 BB, 1/2 SB
GRADE: A

After an extremely disappointing 2005 campaign, many were ready to give up hope on Morneau. With the gaping holes in his swing, particularly against left-handed pitchers, it was looking like his future might be as a platoon player at best. Well, after a rough April, Morneau has completely turned things around and become a legitimate power threat and a great hitter overall. Most importantly, he has improved dramatically against southpaws, posting a solid .267/.294/.525 line against them this year after hitting just .201/.255/.331 against them last year. Not only is Morneau on pace to easily break the Twins' 30-HR drought, he could well become the first Minnesota player since Killebrew to knock out 40 in a season. Of course, considering Justin's atrocious second half in 2005, we cannot just assume that he will keep up his current level of production, but right now he looks like a premier slugger who is continually improving his approach at the plate.

2B - Luis Castillo #1
307 AB, .280/.368/.356, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 25 K / 28 BB, 9/14 SB
GRADE: C

For the first month of the season, the Castillo acquisition was looking like another stroke of genius for Terry Ryan. Castillo was a sparkplug at the top of the Twins' lineup in April, hitting .362/.436/.420. However, since the beginning of May, Luis has hit just .256. He has provided almost no power, with a tiny .356 slugging percentage on the season, and his lack of hustle on the basepaths and in the field have become increasingly frustrating. A .280 batting average and a .368 on-base percentage are certainly not bad at the top of the order, but as a guy who's been in the league for quite a while and who is making around $5 million dollars, one might expect more hustle and consistency from Castillo.

SS - Jason Bartlett #18
77 AB, .312/.411/.390, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 17 K / 7 BB, 1/3 SB
GRADE: B+

The fact that Bartlett only has 77 at-bats on the year is quite sad, as it serves as a reminder that Juan Castro was the team's starting shortstop for over two months. Nonetheless, the Twins' braintrust eventually woke up and realized that Bartlett should be in the majors, and since his call-up Bartlett has responded by posting an excellent .312 batting average while getting on base at a .411 clip through his first 23 games. Perhaps most importantly, Bartlett has been exceptional defensively, having committed only one error in those 23 games while providing numerous dazzling Web Gems. Sure, he's not showing much patience at the plate and he's not hitting for any power, but Bartlett has been a tremendous improvement over Castro in all aspects. A strong second half would send a nice message that this kid is the shortstop of the future for the Minnesota Twins.

3B - Nick Punto #8
175 AB, .297/.383/.377, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 24 K / 24 BB, 7/10 SB
GRADE: B+

Punto looks and plays more like a middle infielder than a third baseman, but he has been quite productive since taking over for Tony Batista at the hot corner. His abilities to put the ball in play, to bunt and to steal bases have made him a valuable asset at the top of the order. Will the career utility player be able to maintain his excellent batting average in the second half? Maybe not, but at the very least, Punto has thus far provided the Twins with stability offensively and defensively at third base that they have lacked ever since the departure of Corey Koskie.

LF - Jason Kubel #16
134 AB, .291/.324/.485, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 24 K / 7 BB, 2/2 SB
GRADE: A-

Like with Bartlett, the Twins' irrational impatience with Kubel has prevented him from receiving a lot of at-bats this season. Also like with Bartlett, the organization's lack of patience might have translated to a lack of patience for the player. Throughout his minor league career, good plate discipline was one of Kubel's trademarks, and yet he has drawn only seven walks in 141 plate appearances this year. That probably has something to do with the fact that Kubel was demoted after one bad week at the beginning of the season, causing him to feel that he needs to make things happen in order to maintain his spot in the batting order. Yet, while he has made things happen, Ron Gardenhire continues to frequently hold him out of the lineup, especially against left-handers, against whom he is only hitting a pathetic .296/.345/.519. Makes sense. In any event, Kubel has been phenomenal offensively this season and his cannon in left field provides the Twins with perhaps the best trio of outfield arms in baseball.

CF - Torii Hunter #48
314 AB, .264/.345/.443, 14 HR, 49 RBI, 58 K / 38 BB, 6/10 SB
GRADE: C+

As usual, Hunter has hit some homers and driven in some runs. Also as usual, he has hit for a mediocre batting average and hit into numerous rally-killing double plays. To his credit, Hunter is showing much more patience at the plate than he has previously in his career, as he is on pace to draw far more walks this season than he ever has before. That said, he's still striking out a lot and still quite frequently swinging at the first pitch and grounding out (often against a pitcher who has had trouble throwing strikes). Hunter is still a spectacular defensive player and by no means is he a terrible hitter, but with the money he's making, his awful slumps and lack of consistency have become completely tiresome.

RF - Michael Cuddyer #5
260 AB, .269/.364/.496, 11 HR, 48 RBI, 60 K / 36 BB, 3/3 SB
GRADE: A-

It has been a long time since the Twins have had a good cleanup hitter, and Cuddyer's success in that spot this season has really gone to show just how invaluable one can be. It is no coincidence that as Cuddy has emerged as a dangerous hitter in the fourth spot, Mauer and Morneau have seen dramatic improvement in their production. Cuddyer strikes out quite a bit and he is nothing special defensively aside from his arm, but he has been an excellent run producer in the middle of the Twins' order which has no doubt helped the guys hitting around him thrive.

THE BENCH

3B - Terry Tiffee #32
38 AB, .237/.273/.349, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 8 K / 4 BB, 0/1 SB
GRADE: D+

As an occasional pinch-hitter and an infrequent starter, not much is expected of Tiffee. When he's played, he hasn't been anything special, having delivered just two extra-base hits (both home runs) in 38 at-bats while providing sub-par defense. It's worth noting that as a pinch-hitter, Tiffee has gone just 1-for-7.

IF - Luis Rodriguez #38
60 AB, .217/.319/.350, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 8 K / 9 BB, 0/0 SB
GRADE: C-

Elrod got off to a great start, hitting .304/.429/.522 in 23 April at-bats, but he struggled in May, picking up just three singles in 24 at-bats. Since then, he has seen a serious decline in play-time, collecting just 13 at-bats since the beginning of June. Rodriguez has not started a game since June 13, but when called upon he has at least shown decent patience at the plate and he has played solid defense.

OF - Lew Ford #20
188 AB, .234/.304/.324, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 34 K / 15 BB, 8/9 SB
GRADE: C-

Ford has had some memorable moments this year, walking in the game-tying run in an early-season game against the Angels and hitting a walk-off home run to complete a sweep against the Mariners, but for the most part he has played pretty poorly. It's pretty sad how much Ford has regressed since his terrific 2004 campaign, but it's becoming increasingly clear that he no longer has that type of performance in him. Because he has played good defense and been an asset on the basepaths, I'm inclined to go somewhat easy on Ford, but his inadequacy has made Hunter look a lot less expendable.

LF - Shannon Stewart #23
167 AB, .299/.355/.377, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 17 K / 14 BB, 3/1 SB
GRADE: C+

At this point in his career, Stewart is really nothing more than a good singles-hitter who doesn't run or field particularly well. Stewart is a decent fit as a temporary designated hitter, but I think his better days are pretty clearly behind him.

C - Mike Redmond #55
98 AB, .357/.366/.418, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 12 K / 0 BB, 0/0 SB
GRADE: A

Redmond has done pretty much everything you could ask of your backup catcher, hitting a terrific .357 while playing great defense when spelling Mauer. Even though he hasn't drawn a single walk or hit a single home run, Redmond has done very well at the plate, especially in clutch situations.

---

In looking at the grades for these hitters, an outsider might think that the Twins have one of the best offenses in the league. After all, six of their eight starting position players received a B+ or better. However, let's not forget that three players who started the year with the team and almost certainly would have received big fat F's for their production (Castro, Batista and Rondell White) are no longer with the major league club. Rather than pouting about how much better the offense might have been had such disasters been averted much earlier than they were, I think we should look ahead to the future with optimism. After all, despite being pushed around early in the year, Bartlett, Kubel, Cuddyer and Punto are pretty much locked in at their positions for the second half and if they can keep up their production along with the M&M boys, this offense should be pretty fun to watch from here on out.

4 comments:

SBG said...

I'm inclined to go somewhat easy on Ford, but his inadequacy has made Hunter look a lot less expendable.

Actually, that's why he's so disappointing. You have gone easy. He's atrocious at the plate. D.

Nick N. said...

I suppose you're right SBG. I guess I gave Ford something of a boost since he has played well defensively and he's had some great clutch performances this year... but there's no excusing his ineptitude at the plate.

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