"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Thursday, November 03, 2005

2005: What Went Right

Okay, so 2005 as a season kind of sucked. And the "kind of" is probably unjustified. The pitching staff was great, but most days the Twins couldn't get a run across the plate if you took out the three bases in between.

Still, there were some positives, buried deep in the agonizing tide of ineptitude.

Carlos Silva
Can we say enough about this guy? Two years ago he's a decent middle reliever in the National League with two pitches to his name. He gets traded to the American League and thrown willy-nilly into the starting rotation, where he uses his satanic slider to induce an avalanche of double plays, while pitching almost three times the number of innings he had the previous year. He works with the pitching coach, slips a third pitch into his arsenal, and in his second year as a starter breaks a record that had stood for over a century--the fewest walks allowed per nine innings. That is no trivial record, my friends. That is utter mastery of the art of control.
(He also threw no wild pitches. Not one.)

Juan Rincón
He just keeps getting better. Did you know his ERA has declined every year he's been in the majors? It's true. He led the Twins staff with a 2.45 this season.

Joe Nathan
Our fearless closer (aka "Twitchy McXanax") came in second in the Twins ERA stakes at 2.70 while racking up 43 saves (wow!) and 94 strikeouts in 70 innings of work. He was also a loyal and frequent contributor to the growing pile of evidence that my maxim "Catchers and closers--they're all crazy" is, in fact, true.

Jesse Crain
I've got your Rookie of the Year, right here. Maybe not for the AL, but definitely for the Twins. 12-5 record. 2.71 ERA. 80 innings pitched. 31 of 42 inherited runners prevented from scoring. If he can get that walk rate down, and maybe try not to hit quite so many batters, he could be nigh-unstoppable.

Justin Morneau
Yes, you read that right. Yes, Justin ended the season with a .239 batting average. BUT.
But, he maintained a good SLG (.430) and OPS (.741), hit 22 homers despite the general lack of hitting, took 44 walks, and managed to get through the whole season despite bone spurs, a nasty concussion, pneumonia, pleurisy, chicken pox, appendicitis, minor surgery, spontaneous human combustion and absolutely no offseason training due to a combination of the preceding.
He also (and this is important) went from being an average first baseman to a pretty darn good one. I'm also noticing a distinct upward trend in his range factor. He's young, and he's only going to improve.

Joe Mauer
The only Twin who lived up to his potential at the plate. Calls a pretty good game, too. One of the best-hitting catchers in the AL, he led the team with 61 walks (!!) and a .372 OBP. He's a fair fielder and getting better at throwing runners out. He needs to watch those passed balls, though.

Luis Rodriguez
On the lamentably infrequent occasions L-Rod got to play, he almost inevitably impressed. He was flawless in the field at second and short (his only errors came at third, a position he rarely played in the minors) and steady at the plate, hitting .269 with doubles for 20% of his hits and a walk every 11 plate appearances. He also hit .375 with runners in scoring position (I leave it to you to decide for yourselves how meaningful that stat is), racking up 20 RBI in less than 200 at-bats. I could easily envision this guy as an everyday player. Don't we have an opening at second?

2 rejoinders:

Jeff sounded off...

I was glad to see you include Morneau. Granted, he didn't do what we expected, but that's because we expected 30-40 homers and 100 RBIs. I haven't done it, but I suspect that if you looked, you could find lots of guys who turned out to be pretty darned good who looked worse than Morneau in their first full year in the big leagues. I still expect him to be a good player.

Third Base Line sounded off...

Your idea intrigued me, so I called up the rookie/first full season stats for a few big power hitters (which is what we're hoping Justin will become, right?). It's a small and random sample, but:

Justin hit .239 with 22 HR and 79 RBI in 2005.

Barry Bonds hit .223 with 16 HR and 48 RBI his first full season. (Of course, I don't think Justin will be using the same, er, workout program that helped ol' Barry so much.)

Jason Giambi hit .291 his first full year, with 20 HR and 79 RBI. Again, though...different program for our boy.

Sammy Sosa hit .233 with 15 HR and 70 RBI.

Jim Thome got 4 partial seasons before his first full season, so I'm leaving him out--too much experience before that "first" year to compare him to Justin.

Frank Thomas hit .318 with 32 HR and 109 RBI. But at least he kind of stinks now, right?

David Ortiz hit .282 with 10 HR and 63 RBI.

Andruw Jones hit .231 with 18 HR and 70 RBI.

Those are all the sluggers I can think of before my first cup of coffee. And Justin comes out fine by comparison, don't you think?