Yesterday on the TwinsCentric blog, Seth Stohs presented the results of his poll for Twins 2010 MVP, with Joe Mauer claiming top honors.
I agree with the panel's decision. Mauer was my top choice, but singling him out as the team's most valuable contributor was not nearly as easy as it was last year. This division title felt like much more of a team effort than past seasons, where a few key players were forced to shoulder the load.
Today, I thought I'd highlight some of the people who didn't finish near the top of Seth's team MVP balloting (or didn't appear at all), but still deserve credit for the their important and perhaps overlooked contributions to this outstanding season.
5. Alexi Casilla
Casilla's bounce-back year has been a quiet one. He was very much a non-tender candidate after a dreadful 2009 campaign, but the switch-hitting infielder has stepped up when needed for the Twins this year. His .738 OPS would stand as a career high (granted, he's only made 162 plate appearances). He's made multiple highlight reel plays on defense. He's swiped six bags and been caught only once. A backup infielder can only make so much of an impact, but when given the chance, Casilla has shined.
4. J.J. Hardy
Trading for Hardy was a gamble, to be sure. The shortstop was coming off an absolutely miserable campaign in Milwaukee, and Bill Smith was parting with a fairly valuable asset in Carlos Gomez to bring Hardy aboard. Fortunately, the deal has worked out well. Gomez failed to take any meaningful strides with the Brewers while Hardy bounced back with a productive season in spite of some wrist problems. While his offensive numbers don't compare to the ones he posted in 2008 or 2007, Hardy's .733 OPS is significantly higher than the .695 average for big-league shortstops, and he was absolutely phenomenal on defense with an 8.4 UZR in 832 innings.
3. Orlando Hudson
I wrote recently about my frustration with Hudson's seemingly half-hearted play late in the season, and that continues to be an issue as his September numbers are even worse now than when I posted the article a couple weeks ago. Still, there's no denying Hudson's significant impact on the team over the course of the year as a whole. Last season, Twins' second basemen combined to hit .209/.302/.267, rendering the position a complete offensive black hole. This year, with Hudson leading the charge, the team has received a far more respectable .263/.332/.380 line from second. Depending on your flavor of defensive metric, Hudson also might have been the league's best defender at the position, and his strong on-base skills throughout much of the year were critical at the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
2. Jon Rauch/Matt Capps
When it was announced this spring that Joe Nathan would be forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the season, panic spread across certain factions of Twins Territory. Some believed that the elite closer's absence could cost the team several games and perhaps even a shot at the division title. Instead, Nathan's injury has been almost a complete non-factor. That's because -- while it hasn't always been pretty -- Rauch and Capps have consistently gotten the job done in the ninth inning, and in my opinion they don't get nearly the credit they deserve. The Twins are 83-2 this year when taking a lead into the ninth, and there's simply no way anyone could expect better results than that even with Nathan filling the closer role.
1. Ron Gardenhire
Alright, so I'm bending the rules a little bit. Obviously, Gardenhire isn't actually a player. But if we're looking to assign credit to those who've been overlooked in the Twins' success, there's no way I can pass over the manager. It's easy to point out areas where Gardy's questionable managerial moves have been detrimental, it's less easy to clearly identify the moves that paid dividends. After all, it is the players who dictate the outcomes of games; all a manager can do is put those players in position to succeed and keep them performing at a high level over the course of a long season. Did Gardenhire's timely resting of a banged up Mauer during a soft patch in the schedule help the catcher take his game of the next level in the second half? Did Gardenhire's easing of Brian Duensing from bullpen to rotation factor into the left-hander's outstanding results? Has Gardenhire's handling of Jim Thome helped the aging slugger stay strong late into the season, something he was unable to do last year?
We might never know the answers to those questions, because there are a lot of things that happen behind the scenes that we aren't privy to. Considering what this team has been able to achieve without its best hitter for half the year and without its best reliever for the entire year, I'm inclined to believe Gardy's done a whole lot more good than bad.