...Frightwig, of Sundappled Wood!
TBL's Note: The excellence of the following is not in any way diminished by the fact that it was the only entry. What, are you all out of town already? Lucky sods...
I don't think there are just one or two problems that could be easily addressed with a team that is carrying poor-to-mediocre hitters at every position but Catcher. Joe Mauer is a sound hitter, and one of the best bats at Catcher in the majors, but even he has a flaw--which is that he hasn't developed much power at the plate, yet.
* The 1st baseman's line has slid to .241/.310/.441. Dougie haters, say what you will, but he never stuck us with a .310 on-base pct. even in his down seasons. And when Doug was going good (2001, 2003), he was much better than Justin. I'm sad to say that, measuring by VORP (Value Over Replacement-level Player), Morneau ranks 16th amongst AL 1st basemen. The list of those above him includes some part-timers such as Eduardo Perez, Travis Lee, Tino Martinez, and Matt Stairs. I wouldn't have thought this possible before the season, but Justin Morneau is the least productive regular 1st baseman in the AL this year.
* At 2nd base, Nick Punto for some reason has hit much better (.282/.335/.420) than he has when playing anywhere else on the field (a sad, sad .185/.257/.215). Abernathy has been a decent fill-in when he's played there (.308/.378/.385 in 44 PA's). Far too many at-bats were wasted on Luis Rivas and Bret Boone, however, and it hurt to see Luis Rodriguez tail off badly after a promising start. Those latter three combined to hit .230/.281/.274 at 2B, turning the position into an absolute sinkhole most of the season.
* At SS, Bartlett provided Guzman-level offense for the first 5 weeks. Then the manager pulled the plug on him and replaced him with a veteran utilityman whom we knew most certainly would be much worse at the plate. No surprise: Castro has hit .257/.276/.383 as the SS. Punto and Rivas have been auto-outs at the position, as well. The team's most promising option spent half the season raking AAA pitching. Ron Gardenhire made that choice.
* At 3rd base, Michael Cuddyer has hit pretty well since the start of May, and Glenn Williams had a hot couple weeks. However, Cuddles did have an atrocious April, and Gardenhire again wasted a lot of at-bats at the position this summer on utilitymen who blotted out the sun whenever they came to bat. Terry Tiffee, .200/.211/.236 in 56 PA's at 3B, has been a terrible disappointment, too.
* In LF, Shannon Stewart is having the worst season of his career, batting .283/.333/.403 when playing the position. A poor obp for a leadoff man, and a lousy slg pct. for a corner OF. By VORP, the only everyday LF in the American League who rates lower than Stewart is Scott Podsednik--and Pods has 108 fewer plate appearances. Nobody in the local media talks about this, but Stewart has been a huge drag on the team this season.
* In CF, Torii Hunter had one good month, when he hit .330/.410/.681 in June. The other three months, he hit .249/.315/.377. Then he broke his ankle. Most of the time, the most expensive player in the lineup this year was making outs and generating no power. Playing in his place, Lew Ford in about 160 PA's has hit .255/.323/.403 at CF. For all the talk about how "Lew needs to play the field to keep him focused at the plate," his .246/.316/.369 line when he plays the outfield this season really fails to back up the theory.
* In RF, the lineup has Jacque Jones hitting .255/.338/.454 at the position. By VORP, he rates 10th amongst Rightfielders in the AL. He still struggles to hit lefties consistently (.213/.265/.385), which handicaps the lineup since Gardenhire has given him 131 plate appearances against LHP this year. This season he's also lumped most of his best production in two months, April and July, while disappearing for much of the rest of the season, the charms of the Tony Gwynn Fairy notwithstanding. He would be very good in a platoon, but as an everyday regular his overall production is just mediocre for the position.
* At DH, LeCroy is hitting .255/.339/.490 in about 177 PA's; Ford is hitting .265/.339/.400 in 190 PA's. Matty is a nice weapon against lefty pitching (an eye-popping .319/.427/.648 vs. LHP) but struggles with righthanders. Ford is hitting .280/.355/.420 vs. righthanders, but is struggling badly with lefty pitching and leaves the lineup short of much power when he's the DH. When other players have been given a day to rest as the DH, it's generally been a disaster. Batters at DH besides Ford & LeCroy have hit .237/.310/.313. Ouch.
A team could get along OK with a few of these noodle bats in the lineup, but a decent offense generally needs a few average bats, a couple more who aren't All-Stars but still very good, and at least one or two Stars who can carry the show. The 2005 Twins don't have any real Stars in the lineup, not a single hitter who remotely resembles an MVP candidate, and there aren't even many average hitters on this team, either. Combine that with the manager's preference for no-stick utility players, and his refusal to platoon Jones, and there you have it. An offensive disaster.
Terry Ryan has his work cut out for him this winter.
I love the position-by-position analysis. I'd like to take a moment to consider just what Terry Ryan needs to do this winter so that we're not looking at the same problems again next year.
1. It's about time this team made a commitment to Jason Bartlett.
The kid's young--only 25--and certainly not stable offensively, but he's got a metric ****load of talent and needs the time and space to develop against major league pitching. The rest of this season will do for a start. But yanking him between Minnesota's starting nine, Minnesota's bench and Rochester didn't do him (or us) any favors this year.
2. Fix Justin Morneau.
I don't know what's wrong with him this season (though I have my suspicions--see item #3), but he's certainly not living up to his potential. I still believe he can become a .280-ish hitter with awesome power, but whatever he needs to get out of this rut, he's obviously not getting it. Time for better baseball minds than mine to bend their frontal lobes to the problem
3. Get a hitting coach.
I'm sure Scotty Ullger is a perfectly nice man, and he makes a swell substitute manager when Gardy gets his weekly ejection from the game, but he's not getting the best out of even a small percentage of the Twins hitters, and we need to get the best out of at least half of them to compete. I remain unnerved by the sheer quantities of players who have trooped through this roster after doing unnatural things to AAA pitching only to fall abruptly and permanently flat on their faces upon reaching the major leagues. Of course a certain percentage of AAA players will never make a successful transition to the bigs, but did we sign all of them?
4. Free Matthew LeCroy.
He needs playing time to get into his ball-flattening groove, and history has shown us that he just won't find it here. We could use that roster spot and he could use a team that could use him frequently.
5. Solve the second-base problem.
Inside or outside the organization, we need a second baseman. It could be Punto. It could be Rodriguez. It could be an offseason acquisition. But the infield chaos that pushed our defense to the brink of collapse in the first half still threatens. Presumably Cuddyer is back in the role of anointed third baseman, and if Bartlett is given the starting shortstop role for real this time, that only leaves us with one question mark--right in the middle of every double play. (While this isn't strictly a suggestion to improve the offense, one could argue that instability in the field takes players' minds off their duties in the other half of the inning.)
I'm a big advocate of promotion from within, but I think we've pretty much picked our AAA organization clean of ML-ready hitters, with notable lack of success. The right guy (who by virtue of playing for another team hasn't been listening to certain people's advice for the last few years) could breathe life into the offense, and maybe teach our homegrown boys a thing or two.
That's all for now. Silva pitches tonight, and that's always a good time! Be sure to tune in.