Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Overreactions

Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse had an article in yesterday's paper laying out his offseason plan for the recently eliminated Twins. The first two steps on his list (both plastered on the title of the column): Trading Joe Nathan, demoting Carlos Gomez.

My problem with Reusse's suggestions isn't so much that they are unreasonable; one can make an argument that this is the right time to move Nathan and it's certainly fair to say that Gomez needs some more time in Triple-A. My problem is that I fully believe Reusse -- like many other Twins fans -- is basing his current convictions on the small sample size provided by the past week's playoff series against the Yankees. Had Gomez batted .400 and made a game-saving catch during the series, or had Nathan pitched lights-out in his two appearances, I sincerely doubt we'd be seeing the columnist clamoring for their dismissal from Minnesota. That's not a good way to make personnel decisions.

Many people are frustrated with the handful of players who are perceived to be heavily responsible to the Twins' defeat. In particular, I've seen plenty of folks directing vitriol at Nathan, and the "Trade Nathan" bandwagon seems to be gaining steam on numerous fronts. But it's important to keep in mind how heavily the deck was stacked against the Twins and many of their players in this series. Yes, Nathan blew an opportunity for the Twins to even the series on Friday night by blowing a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. But it's not like he gave up a walk-off grand slam to David Eckstein. Nathan was facing the heart of baseball's best lineup in a hostile stadium. He walked one of the league's elite offensive players -- a likely top three MVP finisher -- and then gave up a home run to one of the most accomplished hitters in baseball history. It was tough, but it happens, and Nathan was hardly the only closer to struggle in the first round of this postseason.

It sort of astonishes me that this unfortunate turn of events has so quickly caused fans to sour on a guy who turned in a 2.10 ERA and 11.7 K/9 rate while notching 47 saves this season. Are people really forgetting that there was a stretch this year where Nathan went 24 straight appearances without allowing a run? That he was the steady rock for much of the year in an often erratic bullpen? He seemed to wear down at the end of the year, yes, but Nathan can still pitch and his contributions this season were absolutely elemental to the team's success. He remains one of the game's very best closers in spite of some rough patches against an offensive juggernaut in New York.

Laughably, Reusse's candidates for replacing Nathan are Jose Mijares -- who was playing over his head for much of the year and who looked worse than almost any Twins reliever over the final week -- and Pat Neshek -- who hasn't thrown a pitch since early 2008. If Twins fans are annoyed now by having a mostly dominant closer who gives up a couple runs every now and then, I hate to think how they'd react to the number of ninth-inning leads that would slip away under that inferior pairing. It's almost like we've become spoiled around these parts; Nathan has been so good for much of the year that any team he gives up a lead it gets blown wildly out of proportion. An outside observer would have no trouble noticing that Nathan was one of the very best in the league this year at converting slim ninth-inning leads into victories, just like he has been in past years. It is unfortunate that a couple of his rare misfires had to come at such inopportune times, but no pitcher is perfect.

The Twins have performed terribly in the postseason ever since 2003. This understandably causes fans to grow exceptionally frustrated when they are forced to suffer through another quick first-round exit. But understand that while Nathan did blow that Game 2 save and subsequently allow a couple crucial insurance runs across in Game 3, he was facing a powerhouse offense that any pitcher is liable to get nailed by. Understand that while Gomez struggled at the plate and made a costly baserunning error, he was just a kid who'd barely played over the past month, in over his head on the biggest of stages and in the harshest of environments. Understand that while Jason Kubel looked completely overwhelmed at the plate in this series, he drew unfavorable starts against two tough left-handed pitchers along with one of the league's best right-handed strikeout pitchers. That while Nick Punto committed a rather inexcusable error on the basepaths, he had been a key contributor over the rest of the series.

There's a tendency to dwell on the negatives at a time like this, but the Twins did hold their own in that series, largely thanks to some stellar contributions from Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, Joe Mauer, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer. The challenges those players faced should only be magnified by the struggles experienced by some of their teammates, and those strong performances should not be forgotten.

The time will come during this offseason to make many important decisions about the future of this ballclub. But don't let the disappointing outcome of a three-game series shade your viewpoint on these decisions too much.

23 comments:

Chiasmus said...

I had a conflicted reaction to this, because in general I'm inclined to like the idea of trading Nathan. But that's not because of the last week, it's because closers and saves are overvalued in general.

But basically, I think you're right. The thing is, the ideal time to trade Nathan was after last season, when he would have gotten the maximum return. At this point, his value is lower than it's been at any time in the past year, and probably also lower than it will be at any point next season, since there's no good reason to think he will be as bad in the spring as he has been in the last few weeks.

John said...

I don't agree that Reusse was unfair to Gomez. It is just obvious something has to be done with the outfield situation, and the post-season does not really figure into it (Young didn't exactly tear up the Yankees either).

He was too harsh on Nathan. I think the Twins should listen, if another team is willing to overpay, but that applies to almost any player.

Beau said...

Tex didn't walk in front of A-Rod; he singled, no?

We have become spoiled on Nathan. He's so damn good that when he has three or four games where he allows a baserunner or two we think he's falling apart. But I have no desire to go back to the days of Eddie G and the "heart attack" saves or LaTroy Hawkins and the blown saves.

Closers may be underutilized and overpaid, but I don't feel comfortable yet that Nathan's performance can be replaced cheaper. Unless Sabean is willing to help us out again.

rghrbek said...

The Twins held their own in that series? Are you kidding me? Holding your own means winning one of 4 games, or making the Yankees sweat more than just in a "close" game.
It's that attitude, along with "what a great season" because of the last 3 weeks, that will prevent Billy Smith from being held accountable and this team ever really improving.

That being said, I agree with your take on Nathan. Gomez needs to be in the minor leagues. He needs a complete overhaul. I also do not like the idea of Young playing every day, but what choice do we have?
I would get a more reliable starter than Pravano, even if it costs more, and try to shore up 3rd and short. Who and how are difficult, no doubt. No OC!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

perhaps Boston will have the same over reaction and we can trade Nathan for Papelbon and get a younger pitcher. Other than that or trading for a young good hitting non-1st base infielder, it seems like a bad idea (actively shopping him is definitely a bad idea).

I doubt sending Gomez to the minors is going to help. He needs to learn how to use his speed to steal bases and a series improvement in his pitch selection. Seeing that most people the Twins have developed have neither of these skills, it seems unlikely the farm system will help him.

Livingston said...

Simple proposition: Yes, send Gomez down to AAA (based on his body of work - specifically OBP - with the Twins at the ML level), and sign Mike Cameron for 2/$10M. Hope that in 2011, Gomez can be Michael Bourn. If he's not able to get on base, he's a AAAA player. It also gives the luxury of another year of trying to get Delmon Young to be the player he can be. Hoping that one of them will work out and be a solid contributor, Cameron can play either CF or LF in his second year.

Then sign Adrian Beltre 1/$5M. Trade Nathan for a young SP, or keep him. Whichever. Sign Mauer to an extension, and go for it in the new stadium.

Nick N. said...

Beltre had a tough year, but I'm not sure he'll settle for a one-year deal. He's still only 30.

TB said...

The fact is that Nathan really had a bad September and October. Whether that translates into "Nathan sucks and should be traded" remains to be seen, but perhaps the argument can be made that we should trade him now in case he doesn't recover. He's shown a bit of uncertainty about his fastball and has given up home runs at some horrible times--do you remember how we felt when he blew that save against the White Sox?

Nick N. said...

You may recall that Matt Guerrier had a pretty rough finish last year as well, but in retrospect I'm awfully glad the Twins chose not to get rid of him.

Yes, I remember Nathan's blown-save against the White Sox. It was rough. But I can almost guarantee that fans of every team can point out a few such outings for their closer over the course of the season. As I said, nobody's perfect. There is no denying, however, that Nathan's overall body of work this season was phenomenal.

Livingston said...

What do you think about Cameron, though? He seems likely to be overlooked: older, nothing outstanding about his triple crown stats.

However, he still plays good D, gets on base, and hits for power. If Abreu only got $5M last year (even though last year was last year), I doubt Cameron would get more than that this year. Twins' outfield D needs an upgrade if Gomez isn't going to be with the ML club.

Nick N. said...

Cameron is intriguing as a short-term fix but I doubt the Twins are going to add an outfielder during the offseason.

Anonymous said...

One thing you have to consider is that Reusse is a hack. The day after the NBA draft two years ago, he wrote an article about how OJ Mayo was easily the best pick and Kevin Love wouldn't be able to make the transition to the NBA. One day and one trade later, Reusse's column claimed that OJ Mayo couldn't handle playing in the NBA and trading him for Love was a brilliant move. Total hack.

Nathan doesn't make a lot of sense to hold on to any longer. If the Twins had been able to pitch a guy like Santana or Garza against the Yankees, that gives you 8 great innings rather than 1. The Twinkies aren't known for going on spending sprees. I'd love to see the front office go out there and get a real ace, because they have a chance to give this city not just a new stadium, but a legitimate shot at winning a title.

Leslie said...

Overreacting? Reusse is right on both fronts with Go-Go and Nathan.

Reusse has been down on Nathan since last year, and I grew tired of Nathan after he blew a save at Anaheim in July. Nathan's struggles became a trend not a mirage. This is a closer who struggles to get his saves now rather than make it easy. I look at it as a sign his skill are diminishing, and this started last September.

I cringe when you talk about how Nathan faced two great hitters in baseball. Guess what? Nathan is being paid good money to go get it done. I don't want to hear who he is facing, and I don't want to hear that his number of appearances affected his workload. My issue with Nathan in that Game 2was that he pitched like a coward.
Think Eddie Guardado would have pitched like a coward?

Great closers figure it out, and at one time, Nathan did. BTW, Nathan would have likely struggled against the other hitters in that Yankees lineup.

As for the number of apperances that affected Nathan, I hope you realize Rivera and Papelbon pitched a lot too yet they manage to succeed so that does not fly with me. Either Nathan is tough enough to handle the workload or he is not, and from what I saw, he is not.

Gomez? Here's my issue with this retard. The guy does not listen to coaching. The guy is lazy. The guy acts stupid out on the field. He makes mistakes too many times. He can't steal. He can't hit. He can't do anything. Why keep him around?

I have been down on those two for awhile now. It wasn't the three games that turned me off with those two.

Beau said...

When Eddie Guardado gave up a three-run homer to Mark Ellis in Game 5 of the 2002 ALDS he did that in an uncowardly way?

Nick N. said...

Reusse has been down on Nathan since last year, and I grew tired of Nathan after he blew a save at Anaheim in July.

Nathan from that appearance until the end of the year: 30.1 IP, 2.67 ERA, .179 BAA, 43/14 K/BB, 21/23 SV.

If you consider that trending struggles, your expectations are absurdly high.

As for the number of apperances that affected Nathan, I hope you realize Rivera and Papelbon pitched a lot too yet they manage to succeed so that does not fly with me.

Papelbon allowed far more baserunners and struck out fewer hitters than Nathan this season, and also blew up worse than Nathan in the ALDS. Ludicrous argument.

My issue with Nathan in that Game 2was that he pitched like a coward.
Think Eddie Guardado would have pitched like a coward?


This is where I stopped being able to take your argument comment seriously. Not only did Guardado have his own history over blowing up in the playoffs -- as Beau points out -- but his best season as a closer was not even close to being as good as Nathan's worst.

Anonymous said...

Who replaces Nathan? There are no serious replacements. The fact is that even if he does blow saves from time to time the chances of him getting the save are easily double that of anyone in our pen. If closers were guarantees they would start playing 8 innings instead of 9.

As far as Gomez and the outfield, I don't understand why Gardenhire expects players to improve from the bench. It's time to grow a pair and choose an outfielder. After all, that's what managing is about.

-jeff/mpls

Anonymous said...

Nick, THANK you for your blog and particularly this posting. Thanks for reminding us (or, those of us that aren't so blinded with ridiculous expectations) that the reactions are (almost always) overblown. Every fan of baseball has their moments of frustration over the players they wish had performed better. But the fact that people actually think we could realistically do better than Nathan is mind-blowing. What gets me most are these people who actually think they know more or could do better than Gardenhire or any player on the field. I'd pay money to see them try. It's one thing to analyze the game, it's another to seriously expect that you could do better.

This post-season was hard for Twins fans, and I was screaming at Nathan and Gomez from my TV in the living room just like the rest of us, but I'm still glad for the amazing run they had. They didn't roll over and die when they were 7 games back - they fought hard and they got back in the race.

Teams lose. Players choke. They're human. It's part of the game. I'd rather experience some heartbreak in the post-season if it means knowing we got there by playing hard rather than expecting we get there because we have infallible players on the team who can't ever make mistakes.

-M Simo

Ryan said...

Haha re: Guardado.

The ol' 89 mph "heat" and flat slider nearly cost the Twins in 2002 at Oakland. I was at that game. Ouch.

Kell Bean said...

I missed this article, but really, you have to consider Guerrier the closer to replace Nathan. Guerrier's WHIP and ERA were remarkably close to Nathan's, whereas Mijares is a much larger danger to put guys on base. The thing is, trading Nathan drops $11.25M off next year's payroll, and leaves Guerrier and Mijares on the roster with (hopefully) Neshek returning as a solid closer.

That $11.25M could be huge to bringing in a free agent that could make a difference and settle the outfield dilemma. Why not make a run at Holliday and trade Delmon Young while his value is higher? Maybe the money could be used to resign Cabrera (who made huge veteran contributions off the field to the organization) or add infield talent or sign an additional solid arm for the bullpen or starting rotation?

The bottom line is that I don't believe Nathan adds $11.25M of value to the Twins bullpen at this point, and he's getting older.

Nick N. said...

Kell, thanks for your input.

With regards to Guerrier, you're right in stating that he had similar numbers in some respects to Nathan this year and on the surface he appears to be an adequate replacement. However, Guerrier puts the ball in play a LOT more frequently than Nathan does, which is dangerous. Guerrier's BABIP (batting average on balls in play) this season was .214, which was the lowest of his career by a huge margin (previous low was .250). Sure, you can throw Guerrier into that closer spot and hope he repeats that number, but if he deviates from his career norm in the opposite direction -- like he did last year with a .306 BABIP -- you're looking at some potentially frightening results.

Anonymous said...

The thing is, Gomez is improving.

Line Drive % 2007- 15.9% 2008- 17.4% 2009 19.2%

BB% 2007- 6.0% 2008- 4.2 % 2009- 6.5%

O-Swing% 2007- 41.4% 2008- 36.8% 2009- 29.9%.

Also, unlike Delmon Young, Gomez performed above replacement level this year, at .6 WAR. The main reason for Gomez's decline in offensive production was a .04 decline in BABIP, which is partly dependent on luck. I don't see any reason to send him to AAA.

Anonymous said...

I know this is not in time (due to the Carlos Gomez trade) but I agree that Joe Nathan needs to be traded. The reason is because we have somewhat better players down in the farm system and they can't come up with Nathan on the team. In the meantime, I wouldn't lose sleep over Franciso Larino pitching the 9th for samves. Eddie Guardado was a fine pitcher for us as a closer. Yes he gave up a homerun in game five of the 2002 ALDS vs Oakland, but we won that game as well as 94 more while Eddie saved 45 of those games for us that season.

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