Mired in Mediocrity

20081001_blackburn_33

At 43-43 44-43, this team is exactly average.  I’m certainly not the first person to notice this, nor am I the first to point out
that it’s mostly because all of the great talent on this team is
balanced by players who have no business on a major-league roster.  The
awesomeness of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau is balanced by the
suckitude of well, the entire second half of the lineup.  Nick
Blackburn is putting up the best numbers of his career, while Scott
Baker and Francisco Liriano are putting up the worst.  The comparison
between the best and worst players on the team is stark:

Hitters:

Joe Mauer:          .389/.461/.651/1.112 OPS  4.3 WAR
Justin Morneau:   .313/.390/.582/.971 OPS  2.8 WAR
Jason Kubel:    .306/.364/.540/.904 OPS  1.3 WAR
Denard Span:  .288/.375/.377/.752 OPS  1.7 WAR

Matt Tolbert:  .178/.272/.225/.497 OPS  -0.9 WAR
Nick Punto:   .211/.322/.234/.556 OPS  -0.2 WAR
Carlos Gomez:  .218/.277/.318/.595 OPS  -0.3 WAR
Delmon Young:  .270/.296/.349/.646 OPS  -1.2 WAR

The pitching is a slightly different story:

Pitchers:

Nick Blackburn:  2.94 ERA   4.94 xFIP  1.272 WHIP  1.82 K/BB  2.0 WAR
Kevin Slowey:  4.86 ERA   4.38 xFIP  1.412 WHIP  5.00 K/BB  1.4 WAR
Joe Nathan:  1.35 ERA   2.42 xFIP   0.750 WHIP  6.14 K/BB  1.4 WAR

Scott Baker:  5.31 ERA  4.24 xFIP  1.221 WHIP  3.90 K/BB  1.3 WAR
Francisco Liriano:  5.47 ERA  4.53 xFIP  1.490 WHIP  2.02 K/BB  1.3 WAR

Obviously
guys like Luis Ayala (0.1 WAR), Sean Henn (-0.2 WAR), and Jesse Crain
(-0.2 WAR) haven’t been helping much, either.  The good news is that
none of these guys are in the bullpen right now.  The bad news is that
they were here long enough to cost the team wins.

There
are a couple of things worth noting here.  First of which is that, as
much as both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano have struggled this
season, both are still above replacement-level (that is, both are more
valuable than some scrub picked up off the waiver wire), and both
obviously have tremendous upside.  So, unless the Twins are absolutely
blown away with an offer for either one, it would be wise to hang onto
them for now (and no, Jon Garland and his 5.28 xFIP is not that guy). 
Secondly, despite his .270 batting average, Delmon Young is still one
of the worst hitters in the lineup.  His .349 slugging percentage is
anemic, his 58/6 K/BB ratio is the worst on the team, besides providing
crappy defense in left (-9.1 UZR).  No wonder the Rays were so eager to
get rid of him.

Of course, this is
pretty much the way the Twins have operated for the past decade, so
none of this comes as a surprise.  The likes of Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, and Rick Reed have rounded out a rotation fronted by Johan Santana and Brad RadkeDustan Mohr, Michael Restovich, and Michael Ryan have all patrolled the outfield alongside Torii Hunter.  After Corey Koskie left, guys like Tony Batista and Mike Lamb were manning third base until Joe Crede came along.  Jason Tyner, he of the one major league home run, was the DH for 31 games in three seasons with the Twins (when Rondell White and Ruben Sierra weren’t available, of course).  Tyner, by the way, was featured on the “Best Persons in the World” awhile back when his current (former?) team traded him away for nothing.  And then there was the Luis Rodriguez-Juan Castro-Luis Rivas infield, with Terry Tiffee on the bench.  And these weren’t even the worst Twins teams.

Obviously
there was a lot of talk about the Yankees’ payroll during the series at
the Dome, and it’s true that having a larger payroll gives a team more
flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “Woe is us, how can we
ever keep up
with the Yankees and Red Sox?” post.  Simply spending a lot of money
doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a team will even make the playoffs
let alone win a championship, and there is much more parity baseball
(especially the AL) than pretty much any other major professional sport
in this country.  It’s just that a smaller payroll
gives a franchise a much smaller margin-for-error when making trades,
signing free agents, and even in the draft, since a bad move can
hamstring such an organization for decades. 

The Nick Swisher trade is a very good
example.  Now, the Yankees
acquired him from the White Sox for next to nothing, but even if he
doesn’t work out, the team isn’t completely sunk.  The Yankees
technically have six outfielders since acquiring Eric Hinske from the
Pirates, so they don’t really need Swisher and could easily trade him if
he starts to decline. 
Compare that to the Delmon Young trade (I know, I know, they’re not
really the same since the Young deal had a much higher risk, but bear
with me).  The Twins gave up a lot to
acquire Young and he has yet to live up to his potential.  To be fair,
Young isn’t the only terrible hitter on this team (and he hasn’t even
entered the prime of his career yet), but he needs to put up better
power numbers to make the trade worthwhile (and to justify giving him
so much playing time).  At this point, though, it’s hard to argue that
the Twins wouldn’t be a better team
with Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.  Worse yet, his poor performance
and perceived attitude problems mean the Twins would have a tough time
getting anything of value for him should they consider themselves
buyers the trade deadline.  Like it or not, they’re pretty much stuck
and simply have to hope that Young will eventually start to develop
some power.

By the way, I tend to consider the
Young trade karmic retribution for the A.J. Pierzynski trade. 
Although, when you think about it, the Young trade is even worse. 
Pierzynski was at least competent both at the plate and in the field,
and Giants fans only had to put up with him for one season.  Delmon, on
the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving.
 

8 Comments

You are so right about using payroll wisely. The Red Sox made a number of low-cost, low-risk pickups in the off-season (John Smoltz for example) – if they don’t work out we are not tied into long-term REALLY expensive contracts. There is a lot of wisdom in doing that.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Julia,That was sort of my point. I was really trying to say that the only real advantage of having a higher payroll is that the front office has more flexibility. On a team like the Red Sox, John Smoltz is simply there to provide depth and his performance isn’t likely to cost the team the playoffs. If he sucks, the Sox can simply release him without losing a ton of money and still have the flexibility to address the team’s needs. Smoltz would likely be a second or third starter on a team like the Twins, thus his performance would have a more direct impact on the season. Worse yet, if he sucks and the team ends up releasing him, eating his contract limits the moves the front office can make during the off-season. So not only does a bad signing cost the team the playoffs, it could also potentially affect everything else they do in the off-season and in the future (from signing an impact player, to keeping some of their current talent). This is why smaller-budget teams must be really careful when making low-risk, low-reward deals.

The Twins may be average, but Plunking Gomez ain’t! How you’ve survived the 1st half of the season without breaking something I cannot understand. Or have you?
–Jeff
http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

The Twins pitching is so great! Especially Kevin Slowey! He should win the AL cy young in my opinion! Please check me out at
http://balorioles.mlblogs.com/

It sucks that Slowey went on the DL. He would have been such a huge star this season. He has had one of the best seasons for a pitcher in the league and would have possibly been in the running for the AL Cy Young.
-Dillon
http://dillonm.mlblogs.com

Just want to say, once again, we appreciate the trades with the Twins…Garza and Bartlett are doing just fine. :)

It’s a wise move what the Red Sox did. I think more teams should do it. If they find a player that works and is a great asset they can then sign him, like Jason Bay. If they don’t fit – release them.

But it does seem time for the Twins to be on the winning end of a great trade.
Canuck
http://watercooler.mlblogs.com

No doubt, the Rays would not want to reverse the Young deal. It’s been good for us. But the primary reason Young was dumped was twofold: to make us better and to make the clubhouse better. Young had been running his mouth about how he was never going to resign with the Rays after his deal ran out. He had to go.

I think he can still be a solid player. The last few seasons had to have made him a little more humble and that can only make him better. As you said, he hasn’t even entered the prime of his career. But, for his sake, he had better get there soon.

Great post. Nice statistical analysis. Great points.
http://raysfanboy.mlblogs.com

Jeff,Thanks :) And like I said, the awesomeness of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau make the ineptitude of the rest of the team much more palatable.birdlandblog,Well, I don’t know if I’d say the pitching is great, but I will check out your blog.Dillon,I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Slowey should be in contention for the Cy Young, but not having him in the rotation really sucks. Anthony Swarzak is a decent starter, but he isn’t going to challenge anyone for their spot in the rotation.Canuck,Yes, maybe Bill Smith has finally learned how to make decent trades. At least he hasn’t made any bad ones lately.raysfanboy,I knew Delmon was a problem in Tampa Bay, but I didn’t realize he was saying things like that. This just makes the trade even more questionable from our perspective. I hope you’re right about Delmon turning into a solid major-leaguer, we would at least get replacement-level production out of him

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