Monday, October 09, 2006

Final Position Player Grades

Back in July, we assigned grades to each player on the Twins roster for their performances in the first half of the season. Now that the Twins' season has officially come to and end, I'll reflect on the season that each player had and give a final letter grade to each player, and at the end I will calculate a team grade-point average to get a numerical (albeit completely subjective) idea of how good the team was this year.

Today I'll be grading out the position players, and tomorrow we'll cover the pitching staff.

The grades will work the same as the first time around. 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. I will grade each player that spent a relatively significant amount of time on the Twins' roster this year (100+ at-bats). Not included are players that were not with the team at the end of the year (namely, Batista and Castro).

THE STARTERS

C - Joe Mauer #7
521 AB, .347/.429/.507, 13 HR, 84 RBI, 54 K / 79 BB, 8/11 SB
GRADE: A
What more could you ask for from Mauer? By posting a .347 average, he became the first catcher ever to lead the major leagues in batting. After he posted a .294 average with little power last season, I would have been happy with a slight increase in average along and a little added power. Instead, Mauer busted out with a phenomenal batting average, and he was able to increase his walk rate while decreasing his strikeout rate in the process. That strikeout-to-walk rate is simply terrific. Mauer was also very solid defensively, committing just four errors all season (.996 fielding percentage) and throwing out 38% of opposing base-stealers. He should definitely be in the Gold Glove conversation. At age 23, Mauer is the best catcher in this league, and I see plenty more top grades in his future.

1B - Justin Morneau #33
592 AB, .321/.375/.559, 34 HR, 130 RBI, 93 K / 53 BB, 3/6 SB
GRADE: A
After a disappointing 2005 campaign, Morneau put it all together this season and put up MVP-type numbers. He's become an elite power-hitting first baseman with a great batting average to boot. Morneau's ability to adjust to the way pitchers were throwing to him this year was extremely encouraging considering how much he was seemingly figured out last year. While his power numbers decreased a bit at the end of the year (just two home runs in September) but he continued to hit for an excellent average (.348 average in September) and he consistently drove in runs all year long.

2B - Luis Castillo #1
584 AB, .296/.358/.370, 3 HR, 49 RBI, 58 K / 56 BB, 25/36 SB
GRADE: B
I'll preface this by saying that Castillo was a very valuable player for the Twins this year. He is the best pure leadoff hitter they have had since Chuck Knoblauch, and also the best second baseman they've had since Knoblauch. He does a lot of the things you'd like to see in a leadoff hitter. He makes contact, he's a good bunter, and he sees a lot of pitches in almost every at-bat. He also played solid, rangy defense. Still, his knees were pretty clearly bothering him throughout the year and that prevented him from running hard all the time. Castillo hit right around his career averages and was about what we expected, which was solid.

3B - Nick Punto #8
459 AB, .290/.352/.373, 1 HR, 45 RBI, 68 K / 47 BB, 17/22 SB
GRADE: B+
Punto moved to third base as a temporary replacement for Tony Batista in June, and he made it his own by hitting .374 in July. Still, when you look outside of that great offensive burst, Punto was not great offensively, and by the end of the season it looked like he was reverting to some of his old nasty habits. His ability to walk more and cut down on strikeouts had been integral in his mid-season success, but in September he struck out 18 times and walked only three times. As a result, he hit just .252/.266/.294 in that month and he also did next-to-nothing in the playoffs. With that said, Punto was an absolutely phenomenal defensive third baseman and his offensive contributions in the middle months were crucial to the Twins' comeback. Certainly more than we could have possibly expected from the career utility-man coming into the season.

SS - Jason Bartlett #18
333 AB, .309/.367/.393, 2 HR, 32 RBI, 46 K / 22 BB, 10/15 SB
GRADE: B+
Like Punto, Bartlett saw some decline in his numbers at the end of the year (hit .228 in September), but by no means should that take away from what he was able to accomplish over the course of the season. Bartlett started literally every game at shortstop from his call-up to the end of the season, and during that span he hit .309 from the 9-spot in the batting order, which is great production. He was also very impressive in the field during the season, despite his struggles in the playoffs.

LF - Rondell White #24
337 AB, .246/.276/.365, 7 HR, 38 RBI, 54 K / 11 BB, 1/2 SB
GRADE: D+
White was signed on in the offseason to become the Twins' full-time designated hitter. He had a history of being a consistently productive batter, so the thought was that he would at least give the Twins some steady offense at a position where they have sorely lacked it over the past several years. Unfortunately, White came out of the gates extremely slowly, and it carried through the first several months of the season. It wasn't all bad though. After the All-Star break, White hit .321/.354/.538 with seven homers and 23 RBI. His performance over those last few months, and in the playoffs, is almost enough to make one forgive his wretched play before the All-Star break. Unfortunately, we can't do that. He was absolutely awful for four of the six months in the season. For some reason, he hit .195 as a DH and .328 as a left fielder. I don't know what to make of that really, but it probably means White won't be playing DH next year and it's why I've listed him as left fielder here.

CF - Torii Hunter #48
557 AB, .278/.336/.490, 31 HR, 98 RBI, 108 K / 45 BB, 6/10 SB
GRADE: B
When Hunter went down with an injury in mid-July, it was looking like 2006 was going to shake out as a pretty mediocre season for him. He was hitting .269 without much power, and it appeared that the foot injury he sustained could keep him out of the lineup for a month or more. Instead, Hunter returned to the lineup on July 31 and went 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBI, the beginning of a two-month power surge that saw Torii knock 17 homers and drive in 49 runners. Hunter's patience evaporated after the All-Star break (7 BB in 250 plate appearances) but his power shot through the roof (.551 slugging percentage) and he really did carry the team in September when he hit .314 and picked up 27 RBI. Still, Hunter's defense saw a significant decline this season, and that was a major part of his value. He also showed a decline in speed on the basepaths. Whether or not Hunter will return next season (and in the seasons following) is going to be a hot topic this offseason and one we will analyze fully on this site.

RF - Michael Cuddyer #5
557 AB, .284/.362/.504, 24 HR, 109 RBI, 130 K / 62 BB, 6/6 SB
GRADE: A-
The Twins needed a right fielder. They needed a right-handed hitter to slot between Mauer and Morneau. They needed a cleanup hitter who could consistently drive in runners. Coming into the season, nobody in the Twins organization thought it was going to be Cuddyer. I certainly didn't. Much to my surprise, Cuddy had a breakout year, hitting 24 homers and 41 doubles and driving in 109 runs. Those numbers certainly do not tell the whole story. After choking in seemingly every big situation in 2005, Cuddyer became a clutch monster in 2006, delivering big late-game hits on countless occasions. He hit .313/.412/.580 with runners in scoring position and .346/.433/.561 in "Close and Late" situations. Perhaps most importantly, he started hitting right-handed pitching much better towards the end of the year, finishing with a solid .276/.355/.497 line against them (complemented by an outstanding .297/.376/.518 line against southpaws). Cuddyer's range in right field left something to be desired and turned in occasional boneheaded plays, but his strong arm produced 11 outfield assists.

THE BENCH

OF - Jason Tyner #12
218 AB, .312/.345/.353, 0 HR, 18 RBI, 18 K / 11 BB, 4/6 SB
GRADE: B-
I'll say this much: Tyner performed better this season than anyone could have possibly imagined. For that reason, I'm inclined to give him a pretty good grade. That doesn't mean he was particularly productive. Tyner hit for a good batting average at .312, but it is one of the emptiest .300+ batting averages you will ever see. in 229 plate appearances, Tyner collected just seven extra-base hits and 11 walks. Basically, he was good for about three singles every 10 at-bats and nothing else. That's not too great, especially for a designated hitter (a role that Tyner unfortunately fell into towards the end of the season). He was playing in left field, Tyner provided very good defense with a surprisingly strong throwing arm; unfortunately, he was not able to utilize his defensive skill set for much of the year because Ron Gardenhire opted to trot the inferior White out there because he hit better when playing the field. In turn, this detracted quite a bit from Tyner's value. Still, he had a nice season for a 29-year-old journeyman.

LF - Shannon Stewart #23
174 AB, .293/.347/.368, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 19 K / 14 BB, 3/4 SB
GRADE: C
Stewart was having a decent season before suffering a foot injury in July that ended his season. His power outage carried over from last year... he hit home runs in both of the Twins' first two games and did not hit another one for the rest of the season. Still, he hit for a solid average while he was playing. Unfortunately, his injury prevented him from being too valuable to the Twins this season, and when you can't run well or hit for a power, a .293 batting average only goes so far.

OF - Lew Ford #20
234 AB, .226/.287/.312, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 43 K / 16 BB, 9/10 SB
GRADE: D-
It is a sad fact that Ford received 230 at-bats while posting a miserable .226 batting average. Ford's only value to the team came as a replacement defender and as a pinch-runner, two roles he excelled in. Unfortunately, they don't make up for the black hole he was offensively.

OF - Jason Kubel #16
220 AB, .241/.279/.386, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 45 K / 12 BB, 2/2 SB
GRADE: D+
Things were looking bright for Kubel after he was recalled from the minor leagues in late May. He became a regular in left field and went on a sudden power binge, at one point hitting four home runs over a five-game period. That included a dramatic walk-off grand slam against the Red Sox on June 13. Unfortunately, things went downhill after June for Kubel. He hit .231 in July and .152 in August, and finished up by collecting just one hit in nine September at-bats. It was apparent that Kubel's surgically repaired knee was still giving him trouble; he couldn't run at all and was unable to play the field. Hopefully a full off-season of rest will allow Kubel to come back strong and hit like we all know he can in 2007. 2006, despite one great month, was overall a failure.

IF - Luis Rodriguez #38
115 AB, .236/.303/.388, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 16 K / 14 BB, 0/0 SB
GRADE: C-
Rodriguez was the Twins' backup infielder for 2006. Little was expected of him at the plate, and he provided little. He at least showed decent patience.

C - Mike Redmond #55
179 AB, .341/.365/.413, 0 HR, 23 RBI, 18 K / 4 BB, 0/0 SB
GRADE: A
What more could you ask for from your backup catcher? Sure, Redmond hit for virtually no power and drew just four walks in 47 games, but he hit for a phenomenal average and played very solid defense. Plus, by all accounts, he was a tremendous clubhouse presence.

TEAM GPA: 2.42 (C+)

The starting nine, with the exception of White, were terrific. The bench, outside of Redmond and Tyner, left much to be desired. C+ is a low grade for this unit, and a more accurate GPA could be calculated if I were to weight the starters' grades more heavily than the bench players. Then again, I'm lazy. Pitching grades tomorrow.

7 comments:

TheBentKangaroo said...

I am impressed that Castillo was 25/36 on stolen bases considering how slow he actually looks while running, even when he's giving it his all. Granted, that's only 69% (and anything below 67% hurts a team), but just better than I thought.

Nick N. said...

Yeah 25 SB were more than I expected from Castillo, but I believe he also ranked second in the AL in CS at 11.

brianS said...

some grade inflation there, Nick :-)
All in all, not a lot to argue with. but I'll try anyway.

If you are grading on a curve, comparing across the league by position:

C: Mauer is an A or A+, Redmond an A-. Clearly the best catcher and catcher tandom in the Majors.

1b: Morneau and Konerko basically tie for 2nd best AL offensive performance by a 1b (behind Giambi). An A seems about right.

2b: Among 16 AL 2bs with 350+ PA, Castillo ranked 10th in OPS, 9th in RC/27, 11th in secondary average, 14th in XBH and he was only 25/36 (69 pct) on steals, which is pretty bad. But he was 2nd in OBP, 4th in runs, 1st in pitches per plate appearance. I'd give him a C+. B- at best.

3b: Punto's OPS was 13th of 14 AL 3bs with 350+ PA. He was 5th in OBP, tied for 12th in XBH (with Macier Izturis, who played 31 fewer games), 11th in RC/27. His offense merits a "C" at best. If you give him credit for above-average defense, maybe he merits a "C+".

SS: Bartlett was 5th of 12 AL SSs with 350+ PA, 5th in BA, 11th in XBH. Because he was batting near the bottom of the order so much, he would still suffer on counting statistics even on a full-season basis. But with PA equivalent to the typical full-timer (~650) he would rate about 7th in XBH. Solid defense, lots of "urgency". I'd give him a B, but the B+ isn't crazy.

LF: Rondell had only 134 ABs as a LF, batting a robust 328/366/507. That 873 OPS would rank him 4th among AL LFs, slightly ahead of Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher, among others. As a LF, you gotta give Rondell an A- or B+.

CF: Hunter ranked 6th in OPS among 14 AL CFs with 350+ PA, 6th in XBH. His defense was about average for the position. I'd give him a B- or C+.

RF: Cuddy ranked third among 17 AL RFs in OPS (first in doubles), 4th in RC/27, 3rd in ISO Power, 3rd in Secondary Avg, but 12th in BB/K ratio (and 1st in Ks). Middling range but an excellent arm -- led the position in assists -- I guess an A- is merited. Barely.

DH: Rondell had 202 PA as a DH, "batting" 194/215/276. Historically bad. F-. Tyner had a 692 OPS in limited appearances as a DH during the regular season. Call that a "D+" or "C-". Kubel had 103 PA at DH and a 529 OPS. F. Mauer as a DH: 1202 OPS in 71 PA (A+). Josh Rabe was next best, with a 911 OPS in 28 PA. Other than Mauer, this was a house of horrors. D or D- overall.

ubelmann said...

Castillo's interesting. Looking at his splits, it's almost impossible to think he wasn't playing hurt in June. His .206/.250/.255 clearly doesn't belong with the rest of his numbers. Anecdotally, his limp seemed to be worst around June, and of course, he got some time off in early July to rest it some. It sure seems like having a reliable backup would help Castillo's value.

Anyway, this isn't a knock on your Castillo grade, just a comment about how his knee may have been bothering him a lot more in June than the rest of the year.

Nick N. said...

Good point about the knee, ubelmann.

Brian, I agree with all your points. The main thing to keep in mind is that my grades were based greatly on expectations. Sure, Punto's offense looks pretty paltry compared to other major league third baseman, but compared to what we EXPECTED of him? Certainly over the top. As for the Rondell grade, the D+ grade was for his season as a whole, not just as a left fielder. I simply labeled him as LF in the article beacuse that's where he finished the season.

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