More Twins notes: Questioning conventional wisdom, plus Young, Mauer, Span

Second of two parts 

As evidenced by my Thursday post, my writing certainly tends to be far more critical of the Twins than coverage that you’ll find in newspapers and on television or radio. So, even if they’re late to the party, it’s always nice to see the local mainstream media picking up on some points that I’ve been harping on.

For example, here’s Howard Sinker of the Star Tribune on the Twins’ reputation for “doing the little things” right:

Anyone who prattles on about the Twins “doing the little things” right is living in the past. It is a catchphrase of the national media, which tends to live a few years behind reality when it comes to teams not playing on the Coasts or in Chicago, and of local loyalists who need vision and comprehension checks. It’s just not happening anymore, and the sum total of the Toronto sweep should drive home that point to anyone still doubting it.

The former manager, Tom Kelly, imbued his teams with the fundamentals and Gardy’s division-winning teams were, in large part, the result of Kelly’s ways of doing things. The current group has lost the right to carry that banner.

And that was before committing three ugly errors Sunday. I’ve been trying to point out the long-expired nature of the Twins’ “doing the little things” reputation for several years now, yet the national media and much of the local fan base continue to treat it as gospel. Delmon Young possessing huge power potential is another oft-repeated notion that readers of my blog have seen me disagree with over the past six months, and now even Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan is questioning Young’s bat:

Young’s problem has not been warning-track outs, it has been getting the ball out of the infield. He rarely pulls the ball, and when he does, he does not do so with authority. He has taken the concept of the “inside-out” swing — a la Mauer — to a ridiculous degree, dragging the bat head through the hitting zone so belatedly that his hits can only be ground balls up the middle and bloops to right field.

From the moment the Twins acquired Young from the Rays this offseason, fans were treated to stories filled with quotes about his supposedly huge power potential and sky-high offensive ceiling, including the ridiculous, oft-repeated comparisons to Frank Robinson. Meanwhile, in analyzing the trade back in November, I noted that one of my concerns was that Young “has hacked at everything while showing only moderate power since advancing past Double-A in mid-2005.” Here’s more of my day-after-the-trade breakdown:

After posting a fantastic .228 Isolated Power in 936 plate appearances between Single-A and Double-A, his Isolated Power in 1,416 trips to the plate between Triple-A and majors has been a pedestrian .141. In other words, he’s lost about 40 percent of the power that he showed early in his pro career. … A big part of the decline in power is that Young has been an extreme ground-ball hitter in the majors, which makes it difficult to hit the ball into the gaps and impossible to hit the ball over the fence.

Concerns about Young’s power aren’t limited to this year and shouldn’t have surprised anyone focused on actual performance rather than optimistic quotes hyping potential. He’s a former No. 1 overall pick who scouts loved and thrived in the low minors, but hit just 14 homers in 604 plate appearances at Triple-A and has just 16 homers with a measly .406 slugging percentage through 986 trips to the plate in the majors. Even his recent surge of extra-base hits have come mostly via bloops and ground balls.

Even scouts are apparently beginning to sour on Young. Or at least “one scout” who recently talked to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com:

I’m not so sure about Delmon anymore. He swings at everything. And he’s not a very good breaking-ball hitter. You spin it, and he can’t lay off it. And if he hits it, he doesn’t do much with it.

It’s unclear whether or not he’s the same person, but Stark also quotes “one scout” opining that Gomez is “like a toolbox without a key” offensively. On Gomez’s defense, however, the scout says: “I don’t see a whole lot of difference between him and Torii, other than name and reputation.”

As of Thursday morning, after collecting multiple hits in each of the past three games, Joe Mauer led the AL with a .336 batting average. He also ranked fourth in the league with a .406 on-base percentage and only Kurt Suzuki has logged more innings behind the plate. For all the silly, Dan Barreiro-style talk about Mauer not coming through in the clutch or not making a huge impact because of a lack of power, Mauer ranks third among AL hitters in Win Probability Added, trailing only Manny Ramirez and Josh Hamilton.

Once you adjust for catcher being the worst-hitting position in baseball and throw in his considerable defensive value, a WPA-based analysis likely shows Mauer as the league’s most valuable position player thus far. Some homers would certainly be nice, but anyone complaining about a player hitting .330 and getting on base at a .400 clip while playing the most physically demanding, least-offensive position is merely doing a fine job showing how little they really know about baseball.

After his hot streak at Triple-A was spotlighted Monday on my blog, Denard Span went 0-for-14 with six strikeouts and then suffered a broken finger that will likely sideline him for a month. It’s bad timing for an injury, because Span may have been close to getting another chance with the Twins. However, the good news for Span is that the injury allows him to maintain a nice-looking .327/.431/.471 hitting line for a while when he appeared to be rapidly regressing toward his underwhelming career norms.

Last week Jason Tyner was called up from Triple-A by the Indians and took it as an opportunity to criticize the Twins for letting him go during the winter:

I thought I had earned my stripes there. I had a tough role. You’d go a week without playing, but I thought I did my job. I guess they didn’t think about that when they made the decision. I’d like to get a shot at them. I know that.

Tyner never got “a shot at them” because days after being called up by the Indians he was designated for assignment. He then went unclaimed on waivers, with the Twins and 28 other teams declining to take him for essentially nothing, and accepted his demotion back to Triple-A. Tyner spent the entire 2004 season in the minors and looks likely spend nearly the entire 2008 season in the minors, so perhaps the team that kept him in the majors from 2005-2007 wasn’t so bad to him after all.

With the draft about two weeks away, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has posted his first mock draft and projects that the Twins will select California high schooler Aaron Hicks with the 14th overall pick:

Remember how I said Hicks reportedly doesn’t want to pitch and that he was a toolsy outfielder as well? Here’s a team that might be willing to take a shot on those considerable tools. Hicks has shown the ability to be a game-changing center fielder, though it may take some time for the bat to come. You never want a fall-back for a pick this high, but any team giving Hicks a shot as an outfielder surely knows that they can always turn to pitching and his 96-mph fastball if things don’t work out after a while.

Back in 2004 many teams liked California high schooler Trevor Plouffe as a pitcher, but the Twins took him 20th overall as a shortstop and he’s now one of the system’s few decent middle-infield prospects.

Danny Graves didn’t pitch in the majors last year after posting a 6.52 ERA in 2005 and a 5.79 ERA in 2006, so when the Twins signed the 34-year-old former All-Star to a minor-league deal he looked like Triple-A roster filler. Instead, with a 3.24 ERA and 14-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 25 innings in the minors he reportedly may soon be a bullpen option. Lots of washed-up relievers have gotten chances in the Twins’ bullpen over the years, but expect him to be more Jesse Orosco than Mike Jackson.

Quote of the Decade, from FSN play-by-play man Dick Bremer during Sunday afternoon’s game: “The Twins haven’t been taking many walks lately.”

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Patrick Donnelly on 05/24/2008 - 03:12 am.

    Talk of Delmon Young’s improvement in recent weeks reminds me of the year — must have been about 1994 — when David McCarty started the year “red-hot” with the Twins. He was hitting in the high .300s in late April or early May and fans were going crazy with talk of his potential.

    But at the time, Tom Kelly consistently downplayed McCarty’s performance by pointing out that many of his hits were bloopers and broken-bat flares, suggesting that as the sample size increased, his batting average would return to its predicted spot.

    Many observers thought Kelly was just poor-mouthing another bigshot college kid (an attitude that truly did plague the Twins manager throughout his tenure in Minnesota), but sure enough, McCarty’s luck ran out, and he continued to disappoint until the Twins cut ties with him shortly thereafter.

    I’m not predicting the same for Young, but a lot of his doubles were of the down-the-line, end-of-the-bat variety. He finally started to drive the ball to the right-center gap a few times last week and perhaps that’s a sign of better at-bats to come, but it’s clear that his swing as it’s currently configured will not allow him to pull the ball with any power on a regular basis.

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