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Feb 082011

A couple of weeks ago we looked what CAIRO, the projection system, had to say about the Yankees bench. Now we’ll take a look at PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus’s projection system. Keep in mind that these numbers ARE park adjusted.

LASTNAME FIRSTNAME BATS POS PA HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
Jones Andruw R CF 455 21 55 7 0.224 0.326 0.431
Cervelli Francisco R C 450 5 40 3 0.257 0.325 0.354
Maxwell Justin R CF 450 13 45 23 0.222 0.318 0.377
Laird Brandon R 3B 539 20 67 1 0.25 0.293 0.421
Russo Kevin R 2B 450 4 37 10 0.25 0.314 0.334
Belliard Ronnie R 2B 450 9 45 4 0.249 0.311 0.371
Nunez Eduardo S SS 496 7 49 15 0.268 0.299 0.365
Pena Ramiro S SS 450 5 38 9 0.241 0.287 0.326
Chavez Eric L 3B 450 10 43 2 0.223 0.293 0.353
Curtis Colin L LF 486 8 46 3 0.239 0.299 0.353
Golson Gregory R CF 480 9 47 15 0.24 0.281 0.354

The Yankees will almost certainly break camp with Andruw Jones and Frankie Cervelli. They’ll also want one backup SS which would be either Nunez or Pena. So the last spot could be up for grabs in a sense. Brandon Laird would be an interesting option but he hasn’t really shown the ability to hit in AAA much less the majors. It’s best for him to get regular at bats. Russo, Belliard and Chavez are interesting cases. Chavez can hit when he’s healthy, but that hasn’t happened for about half a decade. Belliard has a lot of positional utility and can kind of hit while the same can be said of Kevin Russo.  I think the smart money is probably on Ronnie Belliard.

For giggles, I put together this graph of positional players who are somewhat close to the Yankees 25 man roster. True average is on the X axis while fielding runs above average is on the Y.

Easy to get excited about Montero, no? I thought the Justin Snyder projection was interesting. He’s more of an organizational guy who does two things well- reach base and play defense. He’ll be at AAA in 2010 as he only has 6 ABs so far in Scranton. PECOTA also has Cervelli as better than Romine right now which I think is totally correct. While a lot of fans are chattering about Romine taking over for Cervelli this season, I think that’s getting a little too crazy. He’s not major league ready yet. I Ditto on Jorge Vazquez. I know a lot of people think he’s a hot commodity right now because of his Caribbean series exploits but I wouldn’t get carried away with that, or him for that matter.

Feb 032011

Courtesy thenextweb.com

Seemingly every time a baseball team is on the brink of being sold we start hearing a lot about Mark Cuban. The 52-year-old billionaire is the owner of the perennially successful Dallas Mavericks, a team which he transformed from a league doormat to a top Western Conference talent. While he’s widely known for his antics at Mavericks games (he attends them all home and away) his personality has overshadowed his accomplishments as an owner.

Cuban was a breath of fresh air for Dallas, changing the way the entire front office thought about basketball operations. He hired statistical analysts, one of the first basketball owners to do so. He changed the way the players were accommodated, hired nutritionists to develop individualized meals for the athletes, upgraded their travel accommodations and even was the first owner to personally ask for and answer e-mail in the early 2000s. He’s a complete paragon as an owner. He doesn’t attend games in a luxury box dressed in a suit with his pals. He sits behind the bench in a Mav’s Jersey screaming at officials. He’s as much a fan as he is an owner. He’s even responsible for the 3 sided shot clock- after readers e-mailed him complaining that the shot clock on top of the basket wasn’t visible from all angles, he went ahead and installed a 3 sided clock which can now be found in every arena in the NBA.

So is it really surprising that Bud Selig keeps a guy like this out of ownership in favor of this idiot who literally bought the team with borrowed money and a big parking lot? Well if you know Bud, it’s not. Here’s a money quote from Rob Neyer:

“Major League Baseball prefers – and maybe requires, unofficially – prospective owners with plenty of money but very little public credibility. That way, they’re more likely to be grateful for being allowed into the club, and willing to (mostly) take their marching orders from the Commissioner’s Office. Go along to get along.

Mark Cuban never really had a chance, for the simple reason that his money is largely irrelevant. Baseball teams are worth what they’re worth. You might figure they simply go to the highest bidder, but that’s not really how it works. Essentially, MLB decides how much the team is worth, three or four ownership groups put together financial packages for that amount, and MLB chooses one of them. In that scenario, Mark Cuban’s going to finish last every time, because MLB doesn’t need his money and MLB doesn’t want an owner who’s already famous and won’t keep his mouth shut. “

And that’s really the problem with baseball isn’t it? From instant replay to the way it fails to market its smaller franchises and younger stars, Major League baseball has languished in a way. Of course the league is making money and people still go to games but how much better could it be doing? Will baseball continue to get completely eclipsed by the NFL forever? There hasn’t been any outcry about the two small market teams in the super bowl on Sunday, has there? I can’t imagine what the whining would be like for a Pirates Twins World Series. Have you SEEN these commercials? Have you had to endure watching the MLB Network?

I digress. This isn’t about Bud Selig being the worst commissioner in sports (although he is). This is about how good it would be for the game to have an owner like Mark Cuban leading the Pirates or Astros. The way the New York fans lionize George Steinbrenner is there any reason to think Mets fans wouldn’t do the same for Mark Cuban? How much fun would it be to have another giant monolith of an owner to root against? How great would it be to have Mark Cuban pushing the innovation of a league that still likes to think of itself as planted in the 1970s?

Sadly we’ll probably never find out. After running into all the roadblocks it looks like Cuban is done chasing the elusive grasp of MLB ownership. I think that’s really too bad for all of us.

Recently I was thinking about fielding data, something that’s admittedly an unperfected area of sabermetrics. Debate over just how imperfect the data is has been raging for some time now. I think most of us know that UZR and the likes have serious flaws- prone to sample size issues the data can skew analysis in a variety of ways when used improperly. That being said, it’s currently the best we have. I think it can all be used as long as we keep in perspective the myriad problems with the data- I think of it as a legitimate asterisk when looking through fielding data.

So with all that being said I got curious and wanted to look at the Yankees defensive data that’s available. As you’ll see, I ran into some problems though that I think should be addressed. So keeping in mind that this is a pretty imperfect study and just conversation fodder, away we go.

Did you know the Yankees have had the worst fielders in baseball since 1980? For the past 30 years the Yankees have had some pretty poor defenders. This probably isn’t surprising to fans who remember the days of Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams and Gary Sheffield patrolling the outfield (we’ll see how horrifying this was shortly).

Of course it didn’t always used to be like this. If you look at all defenders from 1920 to 2010, 90 years of baseball, the Yankees rank 3rd out of 30 teams in fielding runs above average. From 1950 to 2010 they were 8th. Then they really fall off a cliff. Looking at just players from 1970 to 2010 the Yankees rank 26th in defensive runs above average. Finally from 1977 to 2010 the Yankees ranked dead last in defensive runs above average. Obviously the fact that the Marlins, Rays, Diamondbacks and Rockies haven’t been around for very long skew those rankings.

I put together a quick leader board from Fangraphs to look at the worst Yankee defenders over their careers in pinstripes since 1920. I added wRC+ just to make everyone feel a bit better about this. Check it out:

NAME wRC+ Fielding
Bernie Williams 125 -152.5
Derek Jeter 125 -113.4
Hideki Matsui 124 -73.7
Dave Winfield 134 -60
Mickey Mantle 171 -44
Gary Sheffield 136 -41.2
Robinson Cano 116 -36.8
Alfonso Soriano 118 -36.2
Bobby Murcer 129 -35
Sammy Byrd 110 -34
Paul O’Neill 125 -31
Chuck Knoblauch 108 -31
Reggie Jackson 148 -30
Bobby Abreu 125 -28.3
Jim Leyritz 109 -26
Dion James 115 -23
Jorge Posada 125 -22.3
Jason Giambi 145 -20.2
Mel Hall 102 -20
Danny Tartabull 127 -19
Mike Pagliarulo 96 -19
Mark Koenig 87 -19
Alex Rodriguez 151 -17.6
Tim Raines 121 -17
Ken Griffey 110 -16
Matt Nokes 99 -16
Felipe Alou 101 -15
Tony Womack 55 -14

What can you really say about Derek Jeter and his defense that hasn’t already been said? E tu, Bernie? Just think back to 2004 folks when Bernie, Matsui and Sheffield were all in the same outfield. That’s mind numbing, isn’t it? Seeing so many familiar names from the past 20 years or so really explains why those defensive rankings plummeted the more the data was thinned out, no? Poor Mickey. What was he doing at 1st base? Those knees would have really benefited from some DH time.

After looking at this for awhile, I realized there was a problem. This list is from Fangraphs which uses UZR from 2002 on. Before that, it uses Sean Smith’s TZ data for the WAR components. So is it really fair to consider this list that mixes the two data sets? Not really. Using TZ alone looking at Jeter’s career for instance, he’s 129 runs below average. Both systems agree that Jeter has been really, really bad. On the other hand, Bernie Williams 2002-2006 TZ has him as a -70 fielder which is still awful. However when you switch the 2002-2006 data with UZR, which is what these leader boards do, it gets even worse- UZR rates him as -110 for 5 SEASONS. So Bernies total career fielding total looks this way:

TZ alone:                                - 118

TZ plus UZR after 2002: -152.5

That’s 35.5 runs difference.

So after bouncing around with this stuff what’s my conclusion? I think it would be a whole lot more fair if these WAR numbers found on fangraphs would stick to one fielding system or another. The numbers you see on fangraphs historical WAR charts use BOTH fielding systems: TZ for anything before 2002 and UZR for anything after. If you played before 2002 and after, your Fangraphs defensive WAR component uses both systems. That just seems inconsistent, no? Why not use TZ for any player whose career began before 2002?

I love WAR and the data that Fangraphs provides. I think we should always use the best available methods to help evaluate the game. For me, Fangraphs is the place to go for baseball statistics. I hope that someone can shed some more light on this issue though because its one I don’t really understand.

Jan 132011

Thanks to everyone for their warm welcomes and hospitality. I’m sure I’ll be receiving your deepest and most virulent filled e-mails within days and alienating scores of you in just a few paragraphs, but thank you. Also should you come across any grammatical mistakes, spelling or anything of that sort, be kind enough to send me an e-mail about it, preferably 2 pages, double spaced that include notations and a bibliography that specifies which MLA handbook you’re using. I’ll be running it through Turnitin.com so be sure to use your own words. Thanks.

Anyhow, I wanted my first post to be about something that’s on my mind constantly concerning this team which is this: In the coming years as the nucleus of the current team passes into old age, how will Brian Cashman restock the team with young talent while maintaining the same level of success? Is that even possible? Personally I have no idea (you’ll be hearing this from me a lot) but I’m really excited to see what happens.

I think without doubt this is obviously the penultimate challenge for the Yankees moving forward. It’s really no secret the team as currently constituted is built around aging expensive stars. Here are the scary details:

2013 Payroll Obligations

NAME AGE (in 2013) SALARY
Alex Rodriguez 37 $28 Million
Mark Teixeira 33 $22.5 Million
CC Sabathia 32 $23 Million
AJ Burnett 36 $16.5 Million
Robinson Cano 30 $15 Million (team option)
Derek Jeter 39 $17 Million
Jorge Posada 41 ????

That’s 123 million dollars on 6 players past their peaks (although Sabathia and Cano are probably still right there). Posada, if he’s still around at this point, would probably have a pretty meager salary in some Jason Varitek type roll so he doesn’t really count. You could put Granderson in here as well- he’ll be 32 and have a 13 million dollar team option. Now I think you could argue that even past their primes, these players are still likely to be pretty valuable in 2013. It’s only 2 seasons away. But if 2010 is a harbinger for Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter in any way, it may be a scarier picture to imagine.

This is why I think Jesus Montero is such an integral part of this team’s future (even if he’s technically not even on the team). He’ll be 23 years old in 2013 and if he reaches his potential, a middle of the order cost controlled bat. Think about this: Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano are the only Yankee position players in the past 15 years to post 5 win seasons (rWAR) while being 25 or younger. Montero will have until 2015 to match that. Yes, this is certainly hubristic on my part, putting the cart before the horse and all that but Montero is a rare asset for any team, let alone the Yankees.

So you can see why I’ve been against trading Montero for another 30+ pitcher this off season. I think Montero will be a big part of Cashman’s plan to turn the team younger, a goal he’s had since 2006 or so. For me, Montero is the center piece, the guy around which Cashman can add and build for the future. If Derek Jeter has been the central figure of the team for the past 15 years, Montero COULD play that role for the next 15. He has the sort of potential to be a “franchise” player”.

However I think it would be extremely myopic to expect this entire process to take off without a hitch. I’m sure there will be plenty of growing pains. Looking at the 2010 rotation, you could make a case this will be one of them. Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova are not the answers to any long term questions but may be more like short term placeholders. Patience will play a big key in all of this. Can New York fans handle that? Can they live with sacrificing, even slightly, short term gains for long term opportunities? We’ll find out soon enough.

I also know that Brian Cashman is a much smarter man than I am and the Yankees are uniquely suited to weather this transition, more so than any other team. With the depth of pitching prospects in the minors right now there will be some conceivable rotation candidates emerging as well as trade bait to further propel this drive. There is certainly going to be nothing like a “rebuilding” period for the Yankees. I would hope anyway. In any other division there would probably not be any need to seriously worry about their position in the standings. But with Boston, Tampa Bay and even Toronto (!?) It is a concern.

I’ll admit freely I don’t have any answers just plenty of questions. Even if you reject the notion that this is a serious concern, on some level, it still is a concern. It probably won’t happen all at once or be without a few missteps and mistakes. I would guess it will at times be frustrating and invoke plenty of invective from fans. For me though I’ll try and remain patient and keep perspective. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

This is part 4 of 6 of The Yankee U’s preview of the 2010 American League Championship Series.  Part 1 examined CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis.  Part 2 looked at Cliff Lee and Tommy Hunter.  Part 3 examined Texas’ offense.

The Bullpen

Texas has a solid bullpen with a lot of decent parts.  I’ve prepared a chart with all vital data, and we’ll start with that.

texas

I’ve highlighted in teal blue the numbers I find to be the most interesting.  You can peruse the chart for yourself, but I’m going to take a guided tour of the most relevant data. Neftali Feliz and Darren Oliver are alike in several key respects.  They both have great strikeout stuff with fantastic K/BB ratios.  Their underlying statistics confirm their low ERAs, Oliver registering low marks across the board.  Feliz has a great WXRL score, meaning that he’s done well in high leverage spots in 2010.  The Yankees have touched Feliz before, but he’s been a very good reliever for the Rangers this year and throws 98 mph fastballs like it’s just no thing.  Interestingly, Feliz has a reverse split.  He’s been far tougher on lefties than righties in 2010, holding them to an OPS-against of .409.  It’s a very small sample (131 plate appearances), so it’s something to watch going forward.  Oliver also has two unique skills: getting groundballs and pitching to lefty hitters.  His GB/FB ratio is the highest amongst all Texas relievers, and he’ll be used primarily in the seventh and eighth innings, particularly to face lefties.

Another notable reliever is Darren O’Day, who is particularly adept at limiting walks.  He’s also likely to see time in the seventh and eighth innings, especially to face right-handed hitters. Other relievers are lower on the totem pole, but it will be interesting to see how the Rangers utilize Derek Holland.  He’s been tough on lefties in 2010, but often struggles with his command.

Note: after this preview was completed I learned that the Rangers had made two roster changes, adding LHPs Kirkman and Rapada.  Dustin Nippert and Esteban German were removed.  You can learn about Kirkman and Rapada here and here.  Nippert is no great loss for Texas, and Kirkman and Rapada are no great gains.  I hope you’ll forgive me for not updating the chart. If you won’t forgive me for not updating the chart then you can go make your own chart.

The Bench

I’ve also prepared a chart with relevant data for the Rangers’ bench.

bench

All the relevant data is there, the PA, tripleslash, wOBA and HR.  I’ve also included a column called Special Skill.  Each one of these players has a special purpose on the Rangers’ lineup.  The Special Skill is why.

Jorge Cantu’s special skill is twofold.  For one, he can play both first and third base. He’s primarily a first baseman, but he’s essentially their corner infielder backup.  Secondly, I’ve listed “0.446″ for his Special Skill.  0.446 is his lifetime SLG percentage, showing that Cantu has a history of having a bit of pop in the bat.  He’s certainly having a down year in 2010, but his track record suggests a decent amount of power, not a bad thing for someone who could possibly pinch-hit in late innings.

Julio Borbon’s Special Skill is “15″, which represents the number of stolen bases he’s accumulated in 2010.  This number would most assuredly be higher if he had any way of getting on base with any regularity.  Since he doesn’t, he’ll be used primarily as a backup outfielder and pinch runner.  He’s fast, and he’d be a tough out on the basepaths.

Andres Blanco is the other backup infielder on the Rangers’ roster, and for that reason I’ve listed his Special Skill as “IF”.  Blanco can play 2B, SS or 3B, and he doesn’t have much use with the bat.

The fourth bench bat for the Rangers is Matt Treanor, and his special skill is “C”.  Treanor’s the backup catcher, and his skills involve being the backup catcher and being married to Misty May Treanor.

Last and definitely least, is Jeff “Smiley McChuckleface” Francoeur.  I’ve listed his Special Skill as ” :) ” because Francoeur is known to woo local media members with the power of his smile, leading them to write articles like this.  So, this is the part of my ALCS preview where I refuse to acknowledge that Francouer has limited use as a platoon player hitting left-handed pitchers, and simply assert the following: Jeff Francoeur is a replacement-level player who gets love from the media simply because he smiles at reporters.  He’s awful and everything you need to know about Jeff Francoeur you can find in this quote from him while he played in Atlanta, a quote that has been seared permanently into my memory:

frenchy

The best part of all?

obp

That’s the scoreboard at Turner Field.  See that OBP section?

Oh Jeff.  May you find your rightful place in indy ball ever so soon.

This concludes part 4 of The Yankee U’s 2010 American League Championship Series preview.  Come back later for part 5, when Moshe examines Texas’ defense.  Following that will be Part 6: Summary and Prediction.

This is part 3 of 5 of The Yankee U’s preview of the 2010 American League Championship Series.  Part 1 examined C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis.  Part 2 featured Cliff Lee and Tommy Hunter.

Batting 1st, SS Elvis Andrus

It’s a good thing Elvis Andrus is slick with the glove, because boy is this fellow bad at the plate.  This year’s line: .265/.342/.301.  Folks, you read that right: his slugging percentage is .301.  Andrus has a .643 OPS on the year with 0 HRs and a .298 wOBA.  That’s abysmal for a major league regular.  On the plus side, his walk rate in 2010 was 9.5%, good for 5th best among shortstops with at least 300 plate appearances, and he possesses good speed.  The only way Elvis Andrus can hurt the Yankees is by taking first base on a walk and stealing second.  For that reason pitchers should not be afraid to challenge him and pound the zone.  The likelihood of him making the pitcher pay with an extra-base hit is, frankly, very low.

Batting 2nd, 3B Michael Young

Behind Andrus is the soon to be 35 year old Michael Young.  Young is a lifetime .300/.347/.448 hitter and this year is slightly under that with a line of .284/.330/.444.  Young has decent power – he’s hit over 20 home runs in four of his last seven seasons.  Young has always hit the fastball well but struggled with breaking pitches.  This year is no exception.  He’s whiffing on 15.3% of sliders and 13.8% of changeups.  Against righties he notably struggles against the cut fastball, whiffing on 17.6% of all cutters he’s seen.  It’ll be interesting to see how Hughes works him with his cutter.

Batting 3rd, CF Josh Hamilton

Following Young is public enemy number one, Josh Hamilton.  Like Cliff Lee, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe Hamilton’s year.  His tripleslash is pumped up: .359/.411/.633.  He’s knocked 32 home runs and 40 doubles, and even swiped 8 bases.  His OPS+ is 175.  He’s the presumptive American League MVP, and he’s lethal when he’s hot.  For instance, from June 1 to September 4th (when he went down with his rib injury), he batted .410/.461/.717 over 349 plate appearances.  That’s like Barry Bonds in his prime.

There are two notable factors to consider about Josh Hamilton.  The first one is the aforementioned injury.  Hamilton cracked a few ribs against Minnesota in early September and missed the final month of the season.  His first game action back was against the Rays and he batted a lowly .111/.200/.111 in five games.  He singled twice, walked twice and struck out six times.  He had no extra-base hits.  There’s no way of knowing whether his timing is slightly off, or whether his rib injury is hindering him.  Joe Pawlikowski addresses the issue in-depth over at Fangraphs, so check it out there.

The other notable factor about Josh Hamilton is his platoon split.  Hamilton has murdered righties in 2010, hitting .401/.447/.716 with 24 home runs.  The best way Hughes, Burnett and other righties like Robertson and Wood can limit Hamilton’s platoon advantage against them is with the offspeed stuff.  Hamilton has a particular weakness to changeups and curveballs from righties, whiffing 22.1% and 15% of the time respectively.  If a right-handed pitcher must face Hamilton, off-speed and in the dirt is the way to go.  Hopefully, though, Girardi can attack Hamilton with Logan.  Against lefties Hamilton is hitting a far less formidable, hitting .271/.331/.458, an OPS of .789 with only 8 home runs.

Batting 4th, DH Vladimir Guerrero

There was a whole lot made of Vladimir Guerrero’s demise in 2009 and his Ponce de Leon resurgence in 2010, but that’s more narrative than fact now that we have the benefit of hindsight.  Sure, Vlad had a bad year in 2009, but he was hurt for a lot of it and he was only 34 years old.  The days of him slugging in the .580s and .590s are long gone, but his 2010 line of .300/.345/.496 is hardly surprising with the benefit of hindsight.  He’s healthier, he’s playing in a hitter-friendly park, and life is good.   You know the book on Vlad: he swings at everything and he can golf the ball off the tops of his shoes.  Like Hamilton, he’s more vulnerable to the offspeed stuff and he hits opposite-handed pitchers far better than same-handed pitchers. Kerry Wood would be a formidable foe for Guerrero.

Batting 5th, RF Nelson Cruz

After a breakout year in 2009, Cruz continued his hot-hitting ways in 2010 when he mashed his way to a .318/.374/.576 line.  His slugging percentage was fifty points higher than his 2009 mark, but he also hit 11 fewer home runs in 2009.  Part of the reason for the discrepancy is that Cruz missed 20 more games in 2010 than 2009.  So when Cruz was healthy and on the field he crushed the ball, but he only played in 108 of the team’s games this year.  Unfortunately for the Yankees he’s healthy now, and in the ALDS he clubbed three home runs on his way to a .400/.400/.950 line.  Cruz doesn’t show too much of a platoon split over his career or in 2010, but you have to imagine that he’ll face mostly right-handed relievers.  Nellie is to be feared.

Batting 6th, 2B Ian Kinsler

Ian Kinsler is no Robinson Cano, but he’s still a top 10 second baseman.  Like Cruz, he has struggled with injuries this year as well.  His batting line is a bit odd: .286/.382/.412.  It’s odd because Kinsler has historically been more of a low-OBP, high-SLG guy, hitting 31 home runs last year and slugging .517 the year before.  His meager HR/FB ratio may have something to do with it.  Regardless, Kinsler did have a wOBA of .357 this year and remains a threat on the basepaths.  I’ll take Cano over Kinsler any day, but Kinsler’s no slouch.

Batting 7th, LF David Murphy

David Murphy.  David Murphy.  Where have I heard this name before?  Oh yes.  That’s right.  This former Red Sox outfielder has quietly hit his way to a good year in 2010, hitting .291/.358/.449 in 2010 with 12 home runs and a decent wOBA of .358.  His biggest issue is his difficulty with left-handed pitching, though.  Murphy mashes righties, hitting a robust .288/.354/.487 against them over the course of his career, but struggles against lefties: .264/.307/.383.  It’s for this reason that the Rangers acquired Jeff “Mr. 100” Franceour, media darling and replacement level outfielder extraordinaire.  Perhaps Franceour can smile his way into all of Murphy’s at bats.

Batting 8th, C Bengie Molina

I was one of the scoffers when the Rangers acquired Bengie Molina from the Giants in July.  It was good for the Giants, of course, because it cleared the way for Buster Posey, but it showed how disastrous the Rangers’ attempt to turn one of their many, many catching prospects into an every day starter had gone.  Like his brothers, Molina is not a great-hitting catcher and is the proud owner of a career line of .274/.307/.411.  He’s a useful part in the major leagues, but his 2010 .275 wOBA isn’t scaring anyone.

Except the Rays, of course.  After hitting a meager .240/.279/.320 for the Rangers in the regular season, Molina torched the Rays in the ALDS, hitting .357/.357/.571 with 1 home run and 4 singles.  Three of those hits, including the home run, came in Game 1 where Molina registered a WPA of 0.145.  Hopefully he turns back into a pumpkin in the ALCS.

Batting 9th, 1B Mitch Moreland

The first base position has really been a rotating door for the Rangers in the past few years.  In 2009 they tried out Chris Davis, but he flailed and couldn’t hang on to the position.  Davis was thought to be a place-holder anyway for prospect Justin Smoak, but the Rangers dealt him at the deadline to the Mariners for Cliff Lee.  Enter Mitch Moreland.  Moreland is a 24 year old who posted a line of .313/.383/.509 in the minor leagues.  In his final AAA season as a 24 year old, he hit .289/.371/.484 with 12 home runs in 353 ABs and responded well to his promotion to the bigs, going for .255/.364/.469 with 9 home runs in 145 ABs.  Moreland is a lefty and shows a giant platoon split with an OPS of .869 off right-handed pitchers and .604 against left-handed pitchers.  Ultimately this is a player with decent long-term potential, but Kevin Goldstein had this to say of him: “I like Moreland, but I don’t think he’s an everyday 1B on a championship team”.

This is the fifth and final piece of The Yankee U’s 2010 ALDS Preview.

Conclusion

In the first piece, we examined Twins’ ace Francisco Liriano.  After detailing how spectacular Liriano has been this season, and he’s really been quite good, I noted that Liriano is very reliant on his slider, especially when ahead in the count.  The question will be how the Yankees attack him tonight.  Will they be aggressive and try to attack the fastballs that he throws early in the count, or will they be able to work the count and lay off the deadly slider that he throws when he’s up in the count?  The other question is how Liriano will do this series.  Is he fatigued, and will it show?

After examining Liriano from every possible angle we moved on to the rest of the Twins’ rotation in the second piece. We saw that the Twins would be relying on ~4.00 FIP pitcher Carl Pavano in Game 2, and noted two distinct advantages for the Yankees: he’s struggled down the stretch and he pitches to contact.  Beyond Pavano is Game 3 starter Brian Duensing.  While Duensing has been a revelation for the Twins in the past few months, he has several factors working against him: righties hit him well, and he had trouble getting his left shoulder loose in the cold weather.  Finally, we looked at Nick Blackburn.  Blackburn started the season about as bad as any pitcher could, and ended up spending a solid month in AAA.  When he returned he pitched better, but he still didn’t show any ability to strike batters out.  He’s the ultimate pitch to contact type pitcher.  Additionally, we saw that 3.16 ERA in 9 appearances after returning from AAA had come largely against weak-hitting teams.

In the third piece of the series we looked at every batter in the Twins’ starting lineup. The Twins have plenty of offensive strength in Mauer, Young and Thome, and there is upside with Kubel and Cuddyer.  However, there are significant questions about the ability of Span and Hudson to get on base ahead of the heavy hitters, as well as whether Valencia can keep his magic going into October.  Finally, we looked at the bullpen, bench and defense of the Twins in the fourth piece of the series this morning.  The Twins have a good bullpen with plenty of tools and more depth than the Yankees, but lack the type of shutdown reliever that the Yankees have in spades this year.  Their bench is adequate, and they are an overall solid defensive team, albeit one with a few holes.

Prediction

In forming my prediction for this series I’m well aware of the vagaries of a short series.  When you’re dealing with teams as good as the Twins and the Yankees, anything can happen in a 5 game set.  If Sabathia is cold and Andy is rusty, it could be an early exit for the Yankees this year.  Yet, in the course of this series preview I’ve written over 5,500 words in an attempt to best understand the roster that the Twins bring into the playoffs.  The longer I’ve spent analyzing them, the more confident I’ve gotten about the Yankees chances.  Maybe it’s only natural to amplify the faults of the opponent.  Maybe it’s only natural to see more weakness the longer you spend staring at something, turning it over in your head, and taking it apart and putting it back together.  Maybe I just want the Yankees to win.  I can’t say.

What I can say is that I like our starters more than the Twins starters.  I would rather have CC in Game 1 of the ALDS than Liriano.  I’d rather have Andy and Phil than Pavano and Duensing.  I’m certain that I’d rather have CC on short rest than Nick Blackburn. With all the questions surrounding Pettitte’s health and Hughes’ home/road splits, I think the Yankees rotation can get it done in the ALDS.  I’m very happy about the fact that 4 of 5 games will be started by quality left-handed pitchers.  I respect the Twins’ bullpen.  They have a slew of good arms and they’ll probably use them properly.  The two lefties are a particular advantage.  I like our bullpen just as much, though, and I agree with Gleeman that there’s greater upside and shutdown potential in Robertson, Wood, Logan, Chamberlain and Rivera than in the Twins bunch.  I prefer our offense to Minnesota’s.  The Twins have Mauer and Thome and they’re formidable forces to be sure.  But it seems to me that we have more slugging potential, better on-base skill, more speed, more firepower, more patience and more depth in our lineup than Minnesota.  I like that.

Maybe it’s because I love the Yankees and I desperately want them to win.  Maybe it’s because I’ve avoided reading and listening to any playoff preview other than the good stuff done over at Yankeeist and River Ave Blues, thereby avoiding the those that make their living off criticizing New York’s better team.  Maybe it’s because I’m not a bridge-jumper.  But I don’t think that’s it.  I think this team can win without home field advantage.  I think the Yankees are fundamentally better than the Minnesota Twins and for that reason I feel confident with my prediction:

Yankees in 3.

*******************************************************************

I also have the predictions from Moshe and Matt, and I’ll update this post if EJ, Steve S. and Eric post their predictions in the comments.

Moshe: Yankees in 4

Matt: Yankees in 4.

As a part of The Yankee U’s effort to get you prepared for war against the loathesome Twins of Minnesota, I have interviewed the fine fellas over at Twins blog The Bat Shatters.  I highly recommend them for all things Twins, so be sure to bookmark it and add it to your GReader.

TYU: At first glance the rotation of Liriano-Pavano-Duensing-Blackburn doesn’t appear too intimidating.  How confident are you in the ability of the back-end of the rotation to win against the likes of Hughes, Pettitte and Sabathia (on short rest)

TBS: Despiting struggling a bit in a few recent starts, the body of work that Liriano has put together this season stands with the elite pitchers in the game, giving the Twins the legitimate ace that they’ve been missing since Santana left for New York. Pavano, while maybe not not having the big peripherals, has gobbled up 221 innings and provided 3.1 WAR, a bargain at $7MM. If Game 1 is a battle of the left-handed aces, Game 2 is a matchup of the crafty veterans. Pettitte outdueled Pavano in Game 3 of last year’s ALDS, but I don’t need to tell the readers of this blog that he hasn’t looked especially sharp since returning from injury. However, this question specifically asks about the back end of the rotation, and there’s where the biggest question marks are. Duensing has been very effective since joining the rotation after Blackburn went down, and he showed in last year’s Game 1 that he won’t completely fold under pressure. He doesn’t have overwhelming stuff (5.37 K/9) but gets an above average number of ground balls (52.9% on the season, 58.9% in 33 September innings) and possesses a good slider that is particularly effective against left-handed batters. Although both he and Hughes have struggled a bit with control in their most recent starts, the advantage probably goes to Hughes here based on overall stuff and Hughes pitching at home. Blackburn is in the same mold as Duensing, a pitch-to-contact guy who relies on a lot of ground balls to get outs. He’s rebounded nicely after a historically awful June and July (and subsequent demotion to the minors) and has also had success in high-pressure situations (Game 163 in 2008, Game 2 of last year’s ALDS) but most, if not all, Twins fans would tell you this is the guy they trust the least. He allowed only three hits and struck out six Blue Jays in his final regular season start, hopefully a sign that he’s got some confidence heading into the playoffs. Overall, the pitching matchups are favorable for the Twins at home in the first two games, but the Yankees certainly have the edge in the Bronx.

TYU: Do you think there was any consideration given to having Liriano start Game 4 on short rest?  If not, why not?

TBS: I’m sure that there was at least a discussion about it, but I don’t think it was ever close to reality. I’ve having trouble finding the exact quote, but I’m pretty sure that Liriano has expressed in the past that he’s not generally a fan of pitching on short rest, nor is he especially effective when he does.

TYU: After a sparkling start, Liriano has cooled off a bit in August and September.  Are you worried that he’s tiring down the stretch?

TBS: He’s obviously thrown more innings this season (191) than he ever has, and despite what you think of the Verducci effect, the simple fact is that he’s still young and isn’t used to a 200+ inning workload. The results the last few games haven’t been stellar, but positive signs are that his velocity isn’t showing significant signs of tapering off (94.0 mph average fastball in July, 93.4 in September) and there hasn’t been any hint of arm issues. His fly ball rate jumped a bit in September (and thus perhaps by extension his HR/FB rate, which partly explains the higher ERA on the month) but his LD% was also the lowest monthly split of the season. I don’t see any extremely worrisome signs that Liriano won’t be the pitcher in the playoffs that we’ve enjoyed watching all year. He’s certainly susceptible to a little “jumpiness” and over-throwing in the first few innings, but I like our chances if he can get past the first time through the order without major damage.

TYU: Does Liriano throw anything other than sliders when he’s ahead in the count?

TBS: It’s no secret that Liriano’s slider is his best offering and preferred out pitch, and with a two-strike count, odds are that’s what you’re going to get. This year, on an 0-2 count he’s throwing the slider 64% of the time, and interestingly, he’s throwing the slider a whopping 75% on a full count. On 1-2 and 2-2 counts, there seems a to be a little better chance that he’ll throw a changeup (14% and 12%, respectively) but the slider is still favored.

TYU: Do you expect Jon Rauch to be ready to go for the ALDS?

TBS: This is a tough question and one that I don’t really have the answer for yet. He got fluid drained from his knee and had a cortisone shot last week, which generally take effect in 48-72 hrs. Rauch is throwing a bullpen session on Monday, and I’d assume that the results of that are going to determine who gets that roster spot. At this point, I’d lean towards him being ready, but it certainly could go either way. If not Rauch, that spot will go to Scott Baker as another long relief option. Baker’s pitched well his last few outings, but I think there are enough questions about his elbow tendonitis that the Twins aren’t entrusting him with a chance to start.

TYU: Which player is most likely to come out of nowhere and have a big series?

TBS: I wouldn’t say that it would be out of nowhere per se, but I could see Jason Kubel stepping up and having a big series. After posting career numbers last year (.300/.369/.539, .383 wOBA, .239 ISO) he’s fallen off significantly (.249/.323/.427, .326 wOBA, .178 ISO). The HR and RBI totals are still there, but he’s definitely been a source of disappointment. Yankee Stadium is certainly friendly to left-handed power bats, which could benefit him against Pettitte and Hughes who both give up a fair number of fly balls (Hughes being one of the most fly-ball prone starters in the majors).  He had a brutal postseason last year, going 1 for 14; maybe this is the year he steps up his game on the big stage.

TYU:  Who’s the Twins’ biggest secret weapon that most Yankee fans have never heard of?

TBS: Despite a brutal start to the year and some very recent struggles, Jesse Crain has become one of the better relievers in the Twins’ bullpen this year. He’s posted an overall 3.45 FIP on the year while striking out 8.21 per nine, which aren’t completely dominant numbers, but he’s shown stretches this year where he’s been absolutely unhittable. His fastball is fairly pedestrian with good velocity but not much movement, but his breaking stuff (which he’s used much more often this season) is truly special. Based on the pitch type values at FanGraphs, he’s got far and away the most valuable slider among AL relievers at 14.6 runs above average, and his curveball ranks second to only Neftali Feliz at 3.8 RAA. From July to August, Crain allowed only three earned runs, striking out 32 in 33.4 innings and walking 13. He’s become the main “fireman” of the bullpen, a role that he’ll need to continue in the playoffs.

TYU: Compare the 2009 Twins to the 2010 Twins.

TBS: Talent-wise, much improved. Jim Thome has been an absolute monster in the DH slot, whereas last year in the ALDS, the Twins trotted out Brendan Harris for one game and Jose Morales for another. *shudders*  When he’s been healthy, JJ Hardy has provided solid offensive numbers (.304/.363/.442 since the All-Star break) and been excellent defensively (12.9 UZR/150 for what it’s worth for a single season). Joe Mauer is still Joe Mauer, if perhaps not the superhuman offensive machine we saw last year. The bullpen (at least depth-wise) is much improved with the emergence of Jesse Crain and the addition of Brian Fuentes and Matt Capps, as much as it hurt to lose Joe Nathan. Justin Morneau will again not factor into postseason play, and with the way he was hitting before his injury, the offense could have been truly great. Although certainly playing over his head at the moment (evidenced by a .345 BABIP), Danny Valencia has solidified his grasp on the third base job, breaking out for a .311/.351/.448 line and returning Nick Punto to his role as a defensive utility man. I’ve already discussed the rotation a bit, and although Liriano has become a dominant force and Pavano has been very steady, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey both took steps back this year. That said, team FIP for starters this year (3.92) is a marked improvement over last year (4.42), and as a team, the Twins’ xFIP ranked first in the AL at 4.01. In almost all facets of the game (outfield defense being a notable exception), this is a much better team.

TYU: Why will the Twins finally be able to get over the hump and beat the Yankees this year?

As I just mentioned, the Twins have a much deeper lineup than in previous years, in addition possessing the as-of-yet-difficult-to-quantify-for-the-stat-community enigma known as home field advantage. The Yankees, although certainly a formidable lineup, haven’t been quite the offensive juggernaut that they’ve been in the past, and there are some questions about the starting pitching outside of CC Sabathia (who, this year, isn’t perhaps as seemingly untouchable as in years past with a 3.54 FIP, his highest since 2005). And although it certainly didn’t erase the Twins’ past struggles in the House that Ruth Built, Kubel’s grand slam off of Rivera back in May served at least some notice that the Twins aren’t totally inept on the road in New York. The front office has finally made the sort of investment in the team that we’ve been hoping for, and if there’s been a year that the Twins could do it, this looks like it.

TYU:.  Alright.  Let’s have it.  Give me your series prediction.

TBS: I could actually see this one going the distance, so my homer pick is going to be Twins in five. Vegas is treating the Twins as slight underdogs, which is probably fair. It would be hard for me to say without a doubt that the Twins should win this series, but there are plenty of reasons that I’ve outlined that shows that they could. I realize this is hostile territory and most of you will come up with plenty of reasons why the Yankees are going to win, blah blah blah, but I also think you have to admit that the Yankees are a more flawed team this year than they’ve been before.

TYU: I will not admit that.  Screw you, we will own you guys!

TBS: NO U

TYU: That’s tough, but fair.  Big thanks to Matt, and be sure to check out their awesome Twins blog The Bat Shatters and give them a follow on Twitter.

This part 4 of 5 of TheYankeeU’s preview of the 2010 American League Division Series.  Part 1 covered Francisco Liriano, part 2 looked at the rest of the Twins’ rotation and part 3 examined the Twins’ lineup

As our preview of the Twins rolls on, today we’re looking at the three remaining components of the 2010 Minnesota Twins: their bullpen, bench and defense.  Beginning with the bullpen, it’s obvious that the Twins have a very deep pen filled with solid options from both the left and the right side.  I’ve prepared a chart that graphs many important statistical components of each reliever: their IP in 2010, their strikeout and walk rates, their ERA, FIP and xFIP, their SIERA and WXRL, their groundball to flyball ratio, their splits versus same-handed batters and their splits against opposite-handed batters.  As an explanation, check out this post for more on SIERA and WXLR.

twins bullpen

As you can see, the Twins have a very good bullpen.  Their closer is Matt Capps and is probably their best or second-best reliever. Capps isn’t a strikeout-heavy reliever, but he does a good job limiting the walks and he gets a lot of ground balls.  Behind Capps is Rauch, who almost didn’t make the ALDS roster due to a knee injury.  Rauch had fluid drained from his left knee and then received a cortisone shot, but has pronounced himself healthy and ready to go.  Since his injury is to his left knee though, the one bearing all his weight during his delivery, his effectiveness will be something to watch.  Rauch profiles a lot like Matt Capps, getting a decent amount of strikeouts, limiting the walks, and proving tough on right-handed hitters.  Another right-handed option for the Twins is Jesse Crain, who is probably a bit underrated reliever.  While Crain has a tendency to hand out more free passes than Rauch or Capps, he gets a good amount of strikeouts. The last right-handed option for the Twins is Matt Guerrier, he of the funky sidearm delivery.  Guerrier doesn’t get many strikeouts at all, and his advanced stats suggest he should be a bit lower down on the totem pole for Gardenhire.  Regardless, he is tough on right-handed batters and isn’t a bad option as the 4th right-handed reliever.

The Twins have two great choices from the left side.  First is Jose Mijares, whom you might remember from this glorious moment last year (the fun starts at 0:50, give it a watch, feel the chills and prepare yourself for more this October).  Mijares is very tough on lefties and can get strikeouts and limit the walks.  Used effectively, he is a good LOOGY option for the Twins.  The other left-hander is Brian Fuentes, whom the Twins picked up from the Angels this year. You might remember Fuentes from this glorious moment in the ALCS last year.  Fuentes is equally tough on lefties, and has the highest strikeout rate of any Twins’ reliever.  Again, if he’s used effectively and isn’t brought in to face Alex Rodriguez Fuentes ought to be a fearsome weapon.  All in all, the Twins have a very deep bullpen with a lot of good options.  The one thing they don’t have is a shutdown, dominant reliever option like the Yankees do with David Robertson, Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera.  As Aaron Gleeman put it, the Yankees may have the advantage in the bullpen despite the Twins’ superior depth:

In terms of top-to-bottom bullpen depth the Twins perhaps have an advantage, but teams can typically rely on just three or four relievers in the playoffs and New York’s foursome of Rivera, Chamberlain, Wood, and Robertson is as good and overpowering as any in baseball.

Next up is the Twins’ bench, which is comprised of five players in the 2010 ALDS:

twins bench

There’s not a whole lot to get excited about if you’re a Twins fan. Nick Punto has been moved to an infield utility role thanks to the emergence of Danny Valencia at 3B. He plays 2B, SS and 3B and has good defensive scores throughout his entire career at those positions. He has decent enough speed, swiping a combined 31 bags in 2008 and 2009, which means the Twins may use him as a late-inning pinch-runner and defensive substitute.  The other infield option is Matt Tolbert, who has played all four infield positions in the last two years.  He’s not as good as Punto defensively, and doesn’t possess flashy speed, but is versatile.  I imagine that counts for something, but I’m not sure what.

Another bench option can play both the infield and the outfield: Alexi Casilla.  Casilla generally plays in the infield but can play CF in a pinch.  He generally does well on defense, and has decent enough speed.  He doesn’t possess the speed of prospect CF Ben Revere though, meaning that the Twins’ off-the-bench SB options aren’t the strongest.  The other OF substitute is Jason Repko.  Repko’s calling card is his ability to play all three outfield positions, and he’s put up very good UZR scores in limited work in RF for the Twins this year.  As The Bat Shatters noted back in July, Repko is mostly a solid defensive option with decent wheels and is likely to be used as a late-inning defensive replacement for Kubel or Young.  The final bench option is backup catcher Drew Butera.  Butera is best known for being Carl Pavano’s personal catcher, and could see a Game 2 start in this series.  If this happens, Mauer would be moved to DH and Jim Thome would be benched, a significant offensive downgrade for the Twins.  The only plus side to Butera is that he’s known for having a decent enough arm, but this hardly makes up for his offensive futility.

All in all, the Twins’ bench is adequate if unspectacular.  There seem to be two primary quibbles with the way it’s constructed.  By not including Revere, the Twins don’t really have a very good pinch-running option off the bench.  Secondly, Butera’s bat is considered far worse than the other backup catcher Jose Morales.  Yet, since he’s Pavano’s battery-mate he may see some Game 2 action.  Yankees fans can only hope.

defense

Finally, we look to the defensive scores of the Twins’ position players.  By looking at the last three years’ worth of data, it becomes possible to get a more accurate view of their defensive skill.  The Twins have several good defenders.  Hudson has long had a reputation for solid defensive work, and his UZR scores over the last three years indicate that he’s at least average.  Hardy also has a good reputation, and his UZR scores agree.  In center field Denard Span grades out around average, meaning the Twins are solid up the middle defensively.  Finally, Valencia scores well in his first season of work.  The Twins infield, less Cuddyer, is solid defensively.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, they also have several position players with bad defensive reputations.  Cuddyer is primarily a right-fielder and is playing 1B only in the absence of Morneau.  It seems to show.  Delmon Young is simply horrific in the field, and Kubel is equally inept.  As Mike Axisa from River Ave Blues noted yesterday, Kubel has poor range and a bad arm.  Given the size of Target Field, this could be a real liability for the Twins in the ALDS.

This concludes the analysis of the Twins’ bullpen, bench and defense.  Later today we will post an interview with Twins’ blog The Bat Shatters, and then conclude with a final wrap-up and prediction post.

This is part 3 of 5 of TheYankeeU’s preview of the 2010 American League Division Series.  Part 1 covered Francisco Liriano and part 2 covered the rest of the Twins’ rotation.

Now that we’ve spent some quality time with the Twins’ putative top 4 starters, it’s time to take a look at their starting lineup and see how the offense stacks up.

thome

Keep this to a minimum, pl0x.

Batting 1st, CF Denard Span

In 2009 Span put together a decent batting line of .311/.392/.415 and a wOBA of .359 that was probably fueled by some good luck on balls in play (.353).  This year he’s seen sixty points knocked off his BABIP and his line has suffered accordingly: .264/.331/.348 and a .312 wOBA.  It’s hard to know what his true talent level BABIP since he’s only put together about two and a half full seasons of plate appearances, but suffice it to say that Span doesn’t walk very much and he doesn’t hit for much power.  Interestingly, he has a slight reverse platoon split, hitting lefties a bit better over the course of his career than righties.  The one thing that Span is good at is stealing bases.  He swiped 26 bags this year, 3 more than last year, and cut down on his caught stealing mark from 10 to 4 this year.  This is a sign that he’s learning how to better pick his spots.  All things considered, Span is the prototypical leadoff hitter for the types of managers that value speed at the top of the lineup.  I value the ability to get on base, so I’d bat Span 8th or 9th in the lineup.  Needless to say, Yankees pitchers had best not get beaten by Denard Span.

Batting 2nd, 2B Orlando Hudson

Hitting behind Span is Orlando Hudson, who is himself in the midst of a down year.  A lifetime .337 wOBA hitter, Hudson is posting a .320 wOBA this year with a batting line of .268/.338/.372.  Hudson’s BABIP is only 0.04 south of his career average, so it seems that Hudson is simply experiencing a power outage.  The result is that he’s been almost exactly replacement level with the bat in 2010.  His HR/FB ratio is slightly down, which may suggest that Target Field is cramping his style, but the fact that Hudson hits so many groundballs has always been a potential liability.  Simply put, the first two batters in the lineup will find it hard to get on base ahead of the real offensive threats that follow.

Batting 3rd, C Joe Mauer

Shockingly (note: not shocking at all), Joe Mauer has been unable to replicate his 20.4% HR/FB ratio this year, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting together a very good year at the plate.  His .373 wOBA represents the second-highest mark for all catchers in baseball with a minimum of 250 plate appearances, and he has continued to get on base (.402 OBP) and hit with power (.469 SLG, .141 ISO).  Mauer has punished right-handed pitching his entire career with an OPS-against of .952 but is far worse against lefties, batting .303/.367/.401.  This could be problematic for the Twins.  Four out of the potential five ALDS games will be started by a left-handed pitcher, and beyond that Mauer will probably be facing either Boone Logan or Mariano Rivera.  The Twins will need Mauer to produce anyway.

Batting 4th, RF Delmon Young

Perennially frustrating prospect Delmon Young finally turned a corner in 2010.  Unfortunately for the Twins he’s finally getting good now that he’s no longer inexpensive, but they still have to be happy with his production. Delmon has never been one to take a walk and has a career OBP of .325.  His best tool is his power, and he’s mashed his way to a .298/.333/.493 line and a .352 wOBA in 2010.  Young hits lefties far better than righties (career OPS of .834 and .729, respectively), a welcome relief given that the 3 and 5 hitters are susceptible to left-handed pitching.  More on this in a minute.

Batting 5th, DH Jim Thome

Easily the best free agent signing of the 2009 offseason, Jim Thome has come up huge for the Twins this season and is only pulling in $1.5M on the year with $750,000 in incentives.  Pardon me for a moment while I silently fume thinking about what could have been had the Yankees signed him.

OK, I’m done.  Thome slugged .627 this year, the highest mark he had since 2002 when he was with the Indians and the second-highest mark of his career.  He’s batting .283 with an on-base percentage of .412 and has a team-high wOBA of .437.  He’s easily been the most potent bat in the Twins lineup this year when he’s been healthy, clubbing 25 home runs in only 340 plate appearances.  He isn’t intimidated in the slightest by the Twins’ pitcher-friendly park, and has been the offensive powerhouse the Twins needed when they lost Justin Morneau.  The only knock on Thome is the one against Mauer: his weakness is left-handed pitching.  Over the course of his career he has an OPS of 1.047 when facing righties.  That number drops to .763 when facing lefties and in 2010 the split is virtually identical.  In this sense, Gardenhire’s lineup construction is strong in the 3-4-5 holes.  Delmon Young isn’t the Twins’ best hitter, but splitting up lefties Mauer and Thome means that Girardi would have to decide whether to use Logan for just Mauer and then bring in a righty to face Young.  This means he’d have to leave the righty in to face Thome.  It might make more sense to leave Logan in to face the 3-4-5 hitters and hope that Delmon Young can’t make them pay.  In this sense Delmon Young – not Mauer or Thome – could become the most important offensive factor for the Twins.

Batting 6th, 1B Michael Cuddyer

Thrust into the starting 1B job when Morneau went down with a concussion, Cuddyer had a bit of a disappointing year.  His batting average and on-base percentage were roughly similar to last year at .271 and .336, respectively, but his slugging percentage dropped a solid hundred points off his 2009 results and 30 points off his career average.  A career .343 wOBA hitter, Cuddyer put up a .329 mark this year with only 14 home runs.  Like Mauer, Cuddyer had posted an rather high HR/FB% of 17.1 in 2009, so the power outage isn’t entirely unexpected given that he’s moved to a home park more hospitable to pitchers.  In fact, he hit three more doubles in 2010 than in 2009, suggesting that he may not have the juice to clear the fences in Target Field.  Like Young, Cuddyer hits left-handed pitchers better than right-handed pitchers, OPSing nearly 100 points better against lefties.

Batting 7th, RF Jason Kubel

Behind Cuddyer is one of the more disappointing members of the 2010 Twins, Jason Kubel.  After what many viewed as a breakout season in 2009 (.300/.369/.539 with 28 home runs and a .383 wOBA) Kubel took a giant step backwards in 2010 when he hit .249/.323/.426 with 21 home runs and a .326 wOBA.  One of the biggest differences between the two years was the wild swing in BABIP year over year.  Unlike Cuddyer, Kubel hit 12 fewer doubles in 2010 in addition to his 7 fewer home runs.  In 2010 Kubel is still showing a normal platoon split and is hitting righties better than lefties, but he isn’t punishing righties like he did in 2009.  In 2009 he slugged .617 against righties; this year that number has dropped to .427.  For what it’s worth, and these types of metrics can be tricky, Kubel isn’t hitting fastballs the same way he has in the past.  Fangraphs’ Pitch Type Values’ chart shows a giant dropoff in his performance against fastballs.  Yet one has to imagine that some of the blame should go to Target Field, not just batted ball regression and struggles against fastballs.  Target Field is death to balls hit to center and right-center, and Texas Leaguers shows that that’s where Kubel’s been sending them:

kubel spray chart

Poor Kubel.  He must hate the new digs.

Batting 8th, 3B Danny Valencia

Batting eighth is the Twins’ rookie surprise, Danny Valencia.  On Fangraphs a month ago Joe Pawlikowski covered Valencia’s case for the Rookie of the Year award, and argued persuasively for his inclusion into the conversation.   Valencia’s great performance (.311/.351/.448) earned him the starting 3B job for the Twins, pushing Nick Punto to a utility role. As you’ve no doubt heard any time his name is brought up, Valencia is in a bit over his head from a BABIP perspective.  His .345 mark is fairly high for someone with a normal-looking batted ball profile.  Given a relatively low walk rate, it may not be smart money to wager on Valencia replicating his performance in 2011.  Of course, there’s no reason to say that he won’t keep up his torrid pace in the next three to five games.  Equally, there’s no reason to say that he won’t be subject to an instant and harsh regression.  As Matt Klaassen wrote on Fangraphs yesterday, 2010 is not a constant:

Given roughly the same playing time in 2010 as in 2009, a player’s 2010 performance is obviously more relevant. But just as we shouldn’t expect a player to repeat his 2010 performance in 2011, we shouldn’t expect him to duplicate his 2010 performance in the 2010 playoffs. Regression to the mean isn’t a process a player goes through over the winter, but is an essential part of how a player’s “true talent” is estimated at any point in time. When Zack Greinke was not projected to repeat 2009′s 2.16 ERA in 2010, it wasn’t on the basis of him becoming less talented, but rather that he was quite unlikely to have been a true talent 2.16 ERA pitcher in the first place — he was an very talented player who nonetheless was likely pitching “over his head” during 2009. Ryan Hanigan has hit well this season, especially for a catcher, but he’s probably not going to hit for a .368 wOBA in 2011. For the same reasons (past performance, regression to the mean, etc.), he probably isn’t a .368 wOBA true-talent hitter right now, either.

Whether Valencia can keep the magic going into the 2010 playoffs is anyone’s guess.  Regression may not wait til 2011.

Batting 9th, SS J.J. Hardy

Bringing up the rear is shortstop J.J. Hardy, the player the Twins received in exchange for Carlos Gomez in the offseason.  Going into the 2010 season, Hardy was a candidate for a rebound given that his disastrous 2009 campaign was marked by a .260 BABIP that appeared to be the root cause of his struggles. In 2010 his BABIP rebounded back to normal levels, but Hardy wasn’t able to find the power that distinguished him in 2007 and 2008 in Milwaukee.  On the year, he hit a meager .268/.320/.394 with a .313 wOBA and only 6 home runs.  Hardy hits the ball pretty equally to all fields so he doesn’t appear to be a victim of Target Field like Kubel.  The fact remains that this has been another disappointing year for Hardy, and given his low walk rate Hardy’s offensive value disappears pretty quickly if he can’t hit with power.

This concludes the analysis of the Twins lineup.  Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the Twins’ bullpen, bench and defense before wrapping things up and making a prediction.

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