Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Familiar Headaches

Last season, the second spot in the batting order was an enormous liability for the Twins. The crucial lineup position produced an execrable .232/.272/.326 hitting line when occupied by anyone other than Joe Mauer. That means that when Mauer, the league's finest hitter, was batting third, the players in front of him were making outs about 73 percent of the time. It was depressing.

This ineptitude prompted me to posit back in early spring training that the signing of free agent Orlando Hudson late in the offseason was bound to be Bill Smith's most impactful winter move. Sure enough, Hudson was an absolute revelation in the two-spot through the first two months of the season, batting .300 with an outstanding .377 on-base percentage while chipping in a bit of power as well, as attested by his three homers and .421 slugging percentage. That's production that we're just not accustomed to seeing from that spot in the batting order.

Unfortunately, an outfield collision with Denard Span at the end of May has put Orlando Hudson on the shelf for the first half of June, and in his absence we're experiencing some familiar headaches at the top of the lineup. Rather than simply shifting Mauer into the No. 2 spot and moving everyone else up a spot, Ron Gardenhire has elected to cycle different lousy middle infielders through the two-hole, writing in either J.J. Hardy, Matt Tolbert or Trevor Plouffe each day. The results have been disastrous. With Hudson gone in June, the team's No. 2 hitters entered last night's game having gone 4-for-47, good for a batting average of .085. They'd not managed one extra-base hit. They'd struck out 13 times and drawn four walks. They'd crossed the plate only four times in 12 games despite having Mauer and Justin Morneau behind them in the lineup. Tolbert had a solid performance in last night's blowout victory, homering and walking twice, but that doesn't change the fact that it has been a problem.

Gardenhire's stubborn fixation on keeping a middle infielder in the second lineup spot has been a major source of frustration for me over the years and it continues to this day. Some think I blow the issue out of proportion, but having an automatic out jammed in the middle of all your best hitters is clearly detrimental to run production, and the Twins simply haven't been producing many runs this month. Obviously, Gardenhire is handcuffed to some degree by the wrist injuries that have ravaged his middle infielders, but sticking three of the team's worst hitters in one of the most important positions in the lineup is absolutely not the answer.

It's not like Gardenhire doesn't want the team to win, and I find it impossible to believe that he doesn't notice how consistently these players have been failing to get the job done in front of the team's best hitters. I'd think that at some point he'd finally start resisting the urge to write one of the team's no-hit backup infielders into that lineup spot, yet he just keeps doing it, as demonstrated by Tolbert's presence there last night.

If Gardenhire's oft-stated excuses were once valid, they're not anymore. He claims he wants to have players in the No. 2 spot who can "handle the bat." If the guys he's trotting out there can handle the bat so well, one would think that they'd be able to get a hit once every 10 at-bats. They're not moving runners over, they're not getting on base and they're not working great at-bats. They're just making outs at a catastrophic rate and killing potential rallies.

Gardenhire says he doesn't want to throw everyone else out of their rhythm by moving people all over the lineup but this offense could use a shake-up. They scored a total of six runs in three games at home over the weekend. Mauer responded well to hitting in the two-spot last year (he hit .398 in 33 games there) so sliding him up should be an option. And if Gardenhire refuses to remove Mauer from the No. 3 spot, he should consider Delmon Young, who's been the team's hottest hitter. Even Nick Punto has proven to be less of a black hole than Tolbert and Plouffe.

The lingering injuries that are affecting Hudson and Hardy have put Gardenhire in a tough spot when it comes to constructing lineups, without a doubt. But a great manager adjusts to tough circumstances and makes move to keep the team on track. Gardenhire has not been making those adjustments, and the team's struggles to score runs over the past few weeks have been -- at least partially -- a reflection of that.


Tim said...

I rarely want to give people hugs as much as I'd like to give you one right now for comments that seem to echo everyone's frustration so well.

Thank the Lord for some competence in professionals in Twins Territory.

Jim H said...

I think the 2nd spot in the lineup had less to do with the Twins scoring runs during this time frame than, well everything else. During this time both Morneau and Cuddyer missed chunks of playing time, Span basically went o fer a nine game road trip, everyone behind Young in the lineup has been putrid. You can move Mauer up to the 2nd spot if you want, but if you only got 4 out 9 hitting it don't much matter what order you put them.

Ed Bast said...

I have a feeling Tolbert's career night last night will make Gardy feel justified in his decisions - so we should get used to that abyss in the lineup.

Nick N. said...

I have a feeling Tolbert's career night last night will make Gardy feel justified in his decisions - so we should get used to that abyss in the lineup.

Unfortunately I think you might be right. I wrote most of this post prior to last night's game and when I saw Tolbert hit that ball over the fence I could do nothing but shake my head.

rghrbek said...

Did anyone see Gardy's post game comments last night? He is not happy with the criticism, and clearly was crabby. The Pioneer Press had him yelling at the reporters "the minnesota twins. were in first place guys!" I am tired of FSN being Twins apologists, as they were after his pissy additude.

He's got thin skin.
Souhan's article is partly right, but at the same time, when your team has high, high expectations, you should be critical of a manager who does things consistently, that just don't work.

Boston is a great baseball town, and yes fans there overreact and live and die from game to game. If Gardy managed a game in a market like that, he would probably have some immediate health issues.

Nick your post is 100% accurate. Now that we are suspecting that O-Hud is out through the weekend, we can expect more of Tolbert, as he got a hit.

Sebastion said...

Until Hudson comes back...

1. Span, 2. Mauer, 3. Morneau, 4. Young, 5. Kubel, 6. Cuddyer...and then your requisite mix of Nicktolbertuntoplouffe.

Time to reward Delmon for his hitting and back Cuddyer down a bit.

One O-Hud comes back just stick him in the two hole and slide the rest of the guys down.

Rob said...

Sebastion -

I would go one step further and go with this (permanently?)

1. Span (CF)
2. Hudson (2B)
3. Mauer (CA)
4. Morneau (1B)
5. Young (LF)
6. Kubel (DH)
7. Valencia (3B)
8. Cuddyer (RF)
9. Punto (SS)

Hardy can get axed in my opinion. I'm sick of his DL time (sliding feet first into third put him out for a month??), plus, he (although great defensively) can't hit a soccer ball if thrown underhand. Cuddyer (yeah sure, he got LUCKY last night his ball hit the bag on that double) continues to hit .200 with RISP and loves to hit to the SS for a DP when asked to do what he gets paid $9m for (which is not that). Maybe this way, he can lead off some innings when there is no pressure on him and then Punto can sacrifice him to 2B.

When O-Puppy is not playing, then move the entire lineup up a notch and stick Tolbert in there at #9 or something.

Mauer sits - he goes to DH, and Sal's kid goes to #9 - Kubel gets the day off, or sit Cuddyer and put Kubel in RF (yeah, Cuddy has a great arm - only matters once a game anyway typically).

Or, if none of this matters, then maybe we can start having Luigi (Carl Pavano) bat second if Gardy isn't willing to change anything (he can't be that much worse than Tolbert at hitting or fielding)!

Josh said...

Heh, it's nice to be in good company: I had the same thought about Gardy thinking he was justified about Tolbert because of a fluke HR.

But the truth is, Tolbert can't hit in the majors, and his D isn't good enough to keep him on the roster. He has NO business hitting in the 2-hole, ever, but Gardy is going to keep running him out there. And now that he's catching a little crap about his lineup, he's going to be even more determined to do it his way.

Souhan had a point, barely, in that most guys do need a day off here and there to stay fresh. But at the same time, it's unreasonable to expect fans to look at a lineup featuring Tolbert, Punto, Butera, et al and wonder if they're really trying for a win that day. And here's where Souhan doesn't get it: a win in June is worth just as much as one in Sept. If you pile up enough wins earlier in the season, then you can rest guys more down the stretch.

t's time to send Butera back down where he belongs and bring up Morales (who has had enough rehab time). It's time to dump Tolbert, who isn't good enough to be on a contending team.

David said...

Since we're talking about lineups, I'm just gonna' throw this out there. Theoretically, according to Tom Tango and Mitch Litchman, the most important spots in the lineup are 2 and 4. Essentially, it comes down to the fact that your best hitter should hit second so that your three hitter has a good chance of coming up with less than two outs, making his impact greater and furthering the likelihood of getting to your 4 hitter, the second most important spot in the lineup. I believe the order of importance went 2, 4, 1, 5, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 (though 3 and 5 might flip). On that basis, I propose the following lineup once O-Dogg (Dogg or Dawg?) and Hardy come back:


Of course, given that Gardy can't seem to get his mind around a non-infielder batting second, or mis-using his bullpen, or the fact that the sac bunt is a huge rally killer, God knows we'll all be dead before this happens.

Ed Bast said...

Thing about Gardy is, he doesn't let things like on-the-field performance dictate his lineup - he looks at things like...

Does this player remind me of myself?

Is this player capable of playing more than one infield position, if even barely adequately?

Does this player run hard when they ground out?

Have I ever felt disrespected by this player, and thus must hold a grudge against him until one of us dies?

Is the player a "good guy"?

Is it Sunday, which is apparently the only day I am allowed to rest players (even though we have Monday off), so I must rest everyone at once (except Morneau of course, although he's the only one over the course of the last 2-3 years who has needed it)?

As you can see it's complicated enough as it is. Can you imagine how hard it would be to take into account things like batting average/ability?

Raymond said...

Yes the Twins are in 1st place - so what - are the Twins trying to make the playoffs every year or are they trying to win a championship - most likely they are just winning to make the playoffs - I love the Twins - but this is their time - you have Mauer for 9 years including the rest of this year - you should be in the World Series about 3 times and win it at least once - Punto is a career back up infielder - good guy - great team player - not a starter on any team in the league though, not even the Pirates - see .245 career batting average - so either get M. Lowell or someone else in the next 6 weeks or go with Valencia and spell him with Punto - my line up would currently be something like this

CF Span
C Mauer
LF Young
1B Morneau
RF Cuddyer
DH Kubel
3B Valencia
SS Hardy / Punto / Casilla
2B Hudson

give Young a chance - if it doesnt work go back to Cuddyer batting 3rd - with Morneau batting 4th the Twins batter in the 3rd spot will see better pitches, especially with men on base

if Gardenhire wants a guy in the 2nd spot who can "handle the bat" - Mauer is one of the best in the league

Anonymous said...

MoRon Tardenhire should be fired. Case closed

Nick N. said...

Can't say I get all the Cuddy hate. Bat him eighth?? Really?

Since Young is on a hot streak right now, it's easy to look at him and say that he's the better player, but by year's end I'd bet Cuddyer has better overall numbers. Also, Cuddy hasn't grounded into a double play in nearly a month.

Ed Bast said...

Okay Nick, maybe not 8th, but what about 7th? Delmon's got 10 more RBIs than Cuddy from the 7 spot. Why not switch them, see what Delmon can do with more opportunities?

The Cuddyer hate, by the way, is probably due to the fact that he can't hit with RISP for the life of him.

I'd like to hear why he should continue to hit 5th.

rghrbek said...

Cuddy has avoided the double play lately. I'm confident, he will make another charge, considering how often he comes up with men on base.

Mauer is 2nd in AL, Cuddy is 4th.

Who has the highest rate of DPs hit into per at bats???? Jim Thome, at 16%.

Not encouraging.

Anonymous said...

You can put someone with some speed who can (handle the bat) get productive outs in the 2 hole so they provide more value than they would swinging away hitting 8 or 9.

Span hasn't been getting on base for the second hitter to make productive outs though. There is a reasonable argument, but it's more fun to pile on.

Also, the temporary lineup while half your infield is on the DL in June is not going to make a difference in the post season.

Finally, the Twins ARE in first place and they just won 8-3.

Anonymous said...

9-3 even

Anonymous said...

Mauer is Hot!!!

Rob said...

I for one am not a "Cuddy-Hater." However, I am getting tired of the woman and I watching every game when there are runners in scoring position with Cuddy at bat and stating, "will it be a double-play this time?" And then we get EXCITED when we realize there are two outs already so the result will only be a FC! Now that's sad. And, yes, I agree that statistically he will do "fine" by the end of the season. However, we are not a big market team, yet we're spending $90 million a year to be contenders. Cuddyer is third highest paid and I'd like to have a little more confidence than that when he's up to bat.

And whereas I will admit that Cuddyer has hit into less DPs over the month of June, there are other variables associated with that - like - there wasn't anyone on base when he hit that one hopper to the SS this month (poor team hitting).

Anonymous said...

there are other variables associated with that - like - there wasn't anyone on base when he hit that one hopper to the SS this month

Are you suggesting Cuddyer's GIDP numbers are somehow tied to circumstances out of his control?!

Rob said...

Well, it's tough to GDIP when there is nobody on base. So, yes, theoretically, his stats are skewed! It's a conspiracy!

Ed Bast said...

If anyone could find a way to GIDP with nobody on, though, it would have to be Cuddy. Especially if the Twins were down 1 in the 9th.

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Dave said...

I love it. Absolutely love it. Delmon gets on a hot streak, lets bat him 3'rd!! Cuddy goes on a hot streak and he is lucky, gets cheap hits, is overpaid, blah blah blah. Delmon goes on a cold streak and oh my, the problem is that he isn't getting enough at bats of course! I would be willing to bet money that barring injury cuddy winds up with better #'s than Delmon at the end of the season.

thanatoschristou said...

I'm going to be pretty upset if Valencia continues to bat like this and he ends of losing the starting spot when Hardy and Hudson gets back. My biggest frustration with Gardy is his veteren fetish. If a young guy is out performing a vet he needs to start.

Josh said...

I like Cuddyer, and I think he'll end up having a fine year for the club. that said, he's flailing a bit and his approach at the plate isn't great, so he could use a drop in the lineup to get his swing back in less pressure. Moving him down to 6-7 seems like a good idea and shifting Delmon up (who is on a TEAR) makes sense.

It won't happen, because Cuddyer's a Twins vet and Delmon didn't immediately play "the right way". This is Gardy's Twins. National writers (and some local buffoons) don't get why a segment of Twins fans aren't enamored of Gardy...but this is why. Logical moves won't happen unless they already fit the manager's ethos.

Dave said...

It would be unsettling if Cuddy is having a cold streak because of "pressure" brought on by his batting order. Dropping guys down the order to give them easier at bats is deffinately a good idea for some (namely younger) players. If a vet like Cuddy can't take the game one at bat at a time at this stage in his career it is definately a red flag.

Leslie said...

Add Mauer's ability to hit into double play as a familiar headache. After a career year last year, he is back to doing what he does best. He has become a singles' hitter again and he has become a guy that hits DP more often than not.

His mechanics are out of whack, and he can't pull the ball well.

Right now, it's just not working for him. I can't help but think Target Field psyched him out.

The Twins need to get more out of their $184 million catcher.

Peter said...

Twins might feel sorry in October for giving the No2 to guys that can handle the bat well again in the bat bag. This is the year to gain home field avantage in the play offs, but too much lineups as last Sundays's costs wins.

Schruender said...

It doesn't even have to be Mauer that slides up in the order, but someone from the heart of the order should move up. It really comes back to haunt you when Tolbert or whoever hitting second makes the last out.

Jim H said...

I think these lineup discussions are a bit overblown as to the effect on runs scored. The fact that Tolbert has an OBP 100 pts less than Hudson means that over the course of the average week he will be on base 3 less times than Hudson. That's all. The trade off of moving Mauer up to 2nd, means that in the first inning he now has a 35% chance of having a runner on when he is hitting compared to at least a 50% chance of having at least one runner on base even if Tolbert is the 2nd place hitter, when Mauer bats 3rd.

When Morneau bats 4th, if he bats in the first he will likely have at least one batter on base. If nobody gets on, he leads off the 2nd with his 450 OBP. I am not sure that you really gain anything at all by dropping Tolbert to the 8th position and moving everyone up. After the first inning, Mauer is now the clean up hitter for Tolbert, Punto and Span; instead of being clean up for Punto, Span, and Tolbert.