Monday, December 13, 2010

Three-Bagger: Greinke, Hardy & Speed

"Three-Bagger" is a new feature I'll be running here from time to time. It refers to posts, like the one below, where I briefly cover three different topics rather than dedicating an entire lengthy entry to one subject.

* Joel Sherman of the New York Post and Jerry Crasnick of both suggested today that the Yankees aren't interested in trading for Zack Greinke because they don't believe he'd deal well with the pressure of pitching in New York. That's amusing because so many Twins fans have been clamoring for the team to pursue Greinke, reasoning that he'd be the true bulldog "ace" that Liriano isn't. Incidentally, the Yankees have apparently inquired about the availability of Liriano.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'd take Liriano over Greinke as my No. 1 starter on a contending team. That's not to say I wouldn't love to add Greinke to the Twins' rotation, but people who think he'd automatically solve the supposed "ace" dilemma aren't seeing things very clearly.

* Today's bitter J.J. Hardy fact: His .714 OPS last year ranks as the highest for a Minnesota shortstop who played 100-plus games since Cristian Guzman in 2001. For being such a replaceable commodity in the eyes of many, Hardy's production was awfully rare around these parts.

* The Twins supposedly are focused on increasing team speed this offseason. They claim that it's the main reason they've elected to part with both of their starting middle infielders from 2010. Yet, both Hardy and Orlando Hudson rated extremely well defensively, helping contribute to the Twins' No. 6 ranking among MLB teams in UZR. Among those clubs that finished among the top 10 in UZR, five made the playoffs. The Giants, who ranked second, won the World Series. Meanwhile, only one team ranking in the bottom 10 reached the postseason -- the Braves, who were ousted in the first round with ease.

On the flip side, three of the five lowest-ranked teams in stolen bases made the playoffs last year. That includes the Giants, who ranked dead last. Only one playoff team -- the Rays -- ranked among the top five in stolen bases.

If you believe their claims, the Twins' front office seems to think they can improve their 94-win team by subtracting defensive proficiency and adding foot speed. That's a shaky proposition based on the way things played out last year. Whether or not you put much stock into UZR as a statistic, it was clearly more closely correlated with success this past year than stolen bases. 

Of course, I don't really buy the rhetoric from the front office, and believe (and hope) their decisions this offseason have been guided almost entirely by a desire to cut costs.


Ben said...

Nick, you made me think with this post. I'm definitely of the belief that the Twins will need 3 capable Middle Infield options this season. Lexi and Yoshi being two, the 3rd option remains a big question.

If Thome is re-signed I believe Cuddyer will be the 3rd MI option should there be a long term need. Yoshi would be the backup SS and Cuddy would play 2nd if Casilla missed significant time.

If Thome is not re-signed this could be a problem. Your mention of Christian Guzman made me think, dealing for him (I think he's still under contract?) as a backup SS wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.

I do believe the real reason for dealing Hardy was to free up enough cash to sign Pavano. We'll see how that works out but I think that's the reason they dumped their next two best Middle Infield options. A guy like Guzman (or another vet who can hit for decent avg and play decent defense) is an important piece of the puzzle should they choose to keep Cuddy in the OF.

I'm not as down on the Twins moves this offseason as most, I do expect them to sign Pavano and if we can get a rebound this year from Blackburn, Slowey and/or Baker the staff should be very solid again.

Anonymous said...

I know UZR is a flawed stat, but are you telling me the Giants who's defense includes Huff, Molina, Sanchez, Uribe, Fat Panda, Pat Burrel, Torres and Schierholtz lead were in the top 4 in UZR. I don't need stats to tell me that's a garbage defense.

Nick N. said...

I know UZR is a flawed stat, but are you telling me the Giants who's defense includes Huff, Molina, Sanchez, Uribe, Fat Panda, Pat Burrel, Torres and Schierholtz lead were in the top 4 in UZR. I don't need stats to tell me that's a garbage defense.

Did you watch them play regularly or are you making that statement based completely on distant presumptions?

Matt said...

The Twins are overreacting to the Yankee beat down, but in the wrong way.
It was well known that the Yanks struggled against teams that put pressure on them via the running game due to Posada et all's lack of ability to throw runners out.
What they're forgetting is that starting pitching needs an upgrade, and a RH bat wouldn't hurt, either.
Sacrificing defense for offense when you're talking middle defenders (CF, SS, 2B, C) is sketchy at best. When you're claiming a sacrifice there to add SPEED alone, you're beyond sketchy. It's still likely just a salary dump but Smith's words indicate that speed is the honest to goodness reason for their actions.

I know I'm theorizing but it's worth repeating that the Twins have/are overreacting to the Yankee beatdown. I just wish that they overreacted appropriately. To give them the benefit of the doubt, the offseason is just starting...

Anonymous said...

So why does the speed have to come from the middle infield, why not right field? And if you need to downsize contracts, Cuddy's is pretty high.

No, something else is going on here. I think its that Hardy is a ceramic giraffe

elkboy3 said...

I wish they would realize the importance of SPEED in the outfield. The Twins' excellent UZR numbers are thanks entirely to the infield (+45.4) while the outfield put in a below-average -10. DRS was kinder (+6 for OF, +49 for IF).

Downgrading your infield defense doesn't help that.

Anonymous said...

If Hardy was fast the Twins would have lost more games last season.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget, Nishioka doesn't steal bases. The only way his speed plays into this is the ability to score from second on singles. A salary dump for sure. We will miss Hardy. I hope Pavano (assuming we sign him) is worth it.

Nice article Nick!

rghrbek said...


Slightly disagree on your Liriano comparisons to Grienke. Liriano has had chances to pitch in meaningful games, and mostly made a pee spot in his pants. Don't get me wrong, he is a solid number 2, who's stats sometimes put him up into the ace category (an instance where the stats don't tell the whole story, as he is not a number 1).

However, we just don't know with Grienke. He didn't pitch well this year, especially compared to his amazing year last year. But, having him and Liriano on the same staff for at least 2 years helps immensely.

This is all moot, if they want Hicks, Gibson and Sano. It's also moot cause they won't trade in the division.

Anonymous said...

Enough with the JJ Hardy love. He was a solid fielder and but a bit of a disappointment from the plate. He was brought in to provide some pop and stabilize the infield, instead he hit .268 with 6 HRs and 38 RBI and kept landing on the DL. He isn't the JJ Hardy of 2007 and 2008 when his power numbers landed him in the all-star game, he is now more of a marginal power hitter who would be lucky to hit a dozen homers in Target field. He should have a bit more success in a park like the one in Baltimore.

Target Field is more suited to the skill set of Casilla, hitting the ball to the gaps and flying around the bases. He put up some promising numbers...26 runs, 7 doubles, 4 triples and 20 RBI in only 152 ABs while posting a .276 avg, .331 OBP and .726 OPS. He and Nishioka could be a bit more dynamic than their double play combo predecessors moving around the bases and giving Mauer more RBI. His fielding seems to be in question but we've never really seen Casilla at SS for a long stretch of time and it happens to be his natural position. No one can say that Hardy has better range than Casilla, the trick for Gardy will be to keep Alexi focused and working with him to improve. As Twins fans we've been fed some tired refrains over the years one is how certain players like Dougie Baseball and Nicky Punto save so many runs every year. Then Morneau and Valencia come along and we quickly forget all about their slick fielding predecessors.

The reason speed is an asset in baseball is not based solely on how many bases you can steal. The value in speed is moving around the bases, first to third on a single, first to home on a double, etc...taking advantage of speed when the opportunity presents itself. The 2010 version of the Twins was fairly slow with a lot of station to station movement which did score a lot of runs...but could have scored a lot more with the injection of speed along with some contact and gap hitting. Span was the only speedster in the lineup on a consistent basis with the likes of Hardy, Hudson, Thome, Kubel, Cuddyer clogging up the basepaths like cholesterol in the blood stream. A lineup like that works out a little better if the ball is flying out of the park, but that was not the case at Target Field last year. Let a few more burners into the lineup and watch the big bats drive them in...they might even be able to scratch out a few more runs that way in the playoffs.

And Ben Cuddy at 2B should give you nightmares...he was leaden and uncomfortable as a middle infielder. He is an above average RF, an acceptable backup at 1b and probably a decent RH DH but no more attempts at the middle IF positions, please. Guzman would be a wildly overpaid backup and his skills are as much on the decline as Hardy. Give Plouffe a shot at backing up the IF, the Twins are high on him let's see if he can back it up.

The buzz kill would be a failure in the Nishioka signing. He seems to be the key to their offseason plan for the middle infield.

The middle IF situation is a minor concern. The health of Morneau and Nathan are a much bigger concern as is the state of the pitching staff. Many starters not named Pavano and Liriano had bad years and it looks like we will have to get to know a lot of young arms in the bullpen. Also Kubel, Cuddyer and Span need to improve both from a hitting and fielding standpoint. So enough with the Hardy prattle. He's gone and I doubt we'll miss him much.

Dave said...

Goddamn, the Phills, Lee, whoda thunk it.

I can't wait for the world series this year, Boston v. Philly. I can't think of a time that a team had zero incentive to go with a three man rotation in the playoffs. Seriously, Philly is loaded, and Utley should bounce back this year and replace the production of Werth. I just hope Lee got a no trade clause this time, you don't want to find yourself Seattle bound again.

On the AL side I would like to extend a hearty booya to the poster that argued against me saying the Yanks would get Lee. Boston clearly has the AL to lose, nobody else even comes close. The Yanks will have to settle for some crap consolation prize. I doubt they will sign Pavano, or trade for Grineke or Garza. They are forced to either overspend on a mediocre trade or get one of the injured guys, Webb/Young/Francis. I would personally love for them to give way too much for Blanton from the Phills, to double the blow from the Lee deal.

WWCD said...

It's so nice to see the top free agent NOT land with the Yankees.

Twins interested Brendan Ryan for short according to Fox. From a salary standpoint it makes sense over Hardy.

Anonymous said...

Team speed, for crissakes! You get *** little fleas on the *** bases getting picked off, trying to steal, getting thrown out, taking runs away from you. Get some big ***s who can hit the *** ball out of the ballpark and you can't make any *** mistakes

rghrbek said...

anon with the super long post'

Agree with your no Cuddy at middle infield spots.

However in reference to cuddy, "He is an above average RF, an acceptable backup at 1b."

You lost all credibility there. Above average in RF, laughable? He's a notch below adequate at 1b.

Polish Sausage said...

The Yanks don't want Greinke because of the pressure of pitching in NY but they inquired about Liriano? That's friggin hilarious, Frankie would melt like the wicked witch in NYC. In this town people say "well 4 runs in 6 innings vs. the almighty yanks is pretty good, way to go kid." over there he'd probably get run out of town.

If the Yanks are that desperate we should make them really overpay for him. Judging by the offseason so far the club's 2011 motto seems to be "hopefully we can merely hang around in the central" mode again, so its not like we're in any danger of contending for a world series or anything.

Josh said...

I think cost was a factor, but I'm increasingly thinking it was an issue of cost + injuries + style, not just cost.

The O-Dog, when healthy, was a terrific 2B & proto-typical 2-hole hitter. But he missed time because of injury & had his performance suffer because of lingering injury issues. His style in the clubhouse apparently grated and his contract would have cost $5-$6M.

Hardy, while excellent in the field and providing plus offense when healthy, also missed time with injury, and his hitting suffered badly when he tried to play with a lingering injury. And his contract would cost $6M+.

I think the Twins are having issues with paying guys like Hardy & Hudson $5-$7M range contracts when they miss significant time. And when their style of play/personality doesn't fit what the manager wants. Is it fair? Questionable.

I like Liriano as an ace as well. But pairing him with Grienke would be excellent and I think he'd do very well here. But I think it's basically a pipe dream that we'll get him at a price that most Twins fans would consider reasonable. The Royals do need need OF prospects, but I just don't see them taking Ben Revere, Scott Baker & 2 A-ball guys for Grienke...

Dave said...

My personal feeling is that the Royals won't trade Grienke away until next season. He is under control for two seasons so no need to ship him now, and sometimes contenders feel more compelled to make a big acquisition during the year instead of before. Watch CC get injured in June and Cashman offer Ruth's bust with his top prospects for Grienke, especially if he comes back from this last down year.

Anonymous said...

I am starting to think some of JJ's friends and relatives are posting on here. Slicing and dicing stats to try to prove he was valuable is meaningless. He showed up for 2 out of 3 games, hit a measly .268, and has no power, no speed, and a good, but replaceable glove. His departure is a complete non-factor. The potential loss of Pavano and Crain both loom more largly than this. Hardy has already been adequately replaced by the options available. Yes, he was likely collateral damage from Cuddy's contract, but so be it.

Nick N. said...

Slicing and dicing stats to try to prove he was valuable is meaningless.

No one's slicing and dicing anything. There were two better offensive shortstops in the AL this year and he was a very good defender at a key position. Those kinds of players don't grow on trees, and I suspect you're going to figure that out next season.

Matt said...

He showed up for 2 out of 3 games, hit a measly .268, and has no power, no speed, and a good, but replaceable glove. His departure is a complete non-factor. The potential loss of Pavano and Crain both loom more largly than this.
While I don't agree with all this, I was never mezmorized by Hardy's play in the field. Sure, he is a good fielder, but not a GREAT one like some people seem to think. While his hitting "production" is probably replaceable, the fielding production may not be. We shall see.

However, I 1000% agree that the looming departure of quality pitching should be a much bigger concern.

Matt said...

There were two better offensive shortstops in the AL this year
True, but it could also have been a down year for SS. Are you going by OPS?

Nick N. said...

True, but it could also have been a down year for SS. Are you going by OPS?

Whatever measure you want to go by. I challenge you to my find me more than two or three shortstops who were meaningfully better at the plate. And when you factor in his defensive edge over most others, it's not even a contest. The Twins traded away one of the top five shortstops in the AL for minimal return, and that's a bad move.

I'll also point out that in the second half, when his wrist was healthy, Hardy hit .304/.363/.442. Yeah, it's hardly a certainty he'll hit like that next year but to give up that potential for minor league pitchers when you're already in need of more right-handed thump... ugh.

Polish Sausage said...

"Slicing and dicing stats to try to prove he was valuable is meaningless."

And then you slice and dice stats to show how replaceable he is. I agree, at first blush his numbers are unimpressive. And then you look at the numbers the other shortstops in the league put up, you realize JJ beat most of them in 2/3 the games, and you realize that at premium defensive positions you often sacrifice offense for defense. This should be readily apparent to Twins fans, considering we've had about 50 Punto-hitting SS since Gagne, and even he wasn't a great hitter.

Most AL shortstops are good fielders and poor hitters. JJ is a great fielder and decent hitter. Alexi is a good or average or awful fielder (depending on the day) and decent or awful or so-bad-he-needs-to-go-back-down-to-AAA as a hitter.

"His departure is a complete non-factor."

Casilla was handed a starting job in 09. How did that one work out?

Anonymous said...

Holy Mother of Pearl. The Twins are just one of 31, staring up at the Phillies in awe, wonder, and unbelief.

Matt said...

I'll give you that.
Even more troubling...
The Twins overall SS offensive line was: .268/.321/.371.
Right along with JJ, right?
Well, he hit six of the seven homers and most of the other extra base hits.
They're losing some pop at the plate, it would seem, plus an above average defender.
Too bad Cuddy is un-shoppable at this time...