Monday, May 02, 2011

Caught Empty-Handed

When the Twins limped out to a slow offensive start in early April, fans assumed things would turn around in short order. This was one of the better offenses in the league last year, and they'd kept their hitting corps mostly intact.

Yet, rather than improving, the offense has stagnated and at times further deteriorated as the season has unfolded, with Saturday night's effort establishing a new low point. The Twins faced crummy right-hander Sean O'Sullivan, who issued seven walks over six innings of work yet allowed only two runs. One hundred and four pitches, 55 strikes, two freaking runs. TWO!

Bad games can happen for any offense every now and then, and in isolation that kind of performance doesn't merit such agitation. But for a group of hitters that has collectively underperformed as much as this one throughout the season? Atrocious. More shameful than the eighth-inning bullpen implosion that saw the Royals add eight runs to a narrow lead in the same game.

There have been many contributors to this lingering drought. Delmon Young posted a .566 OPS over 16 games before landing on the disabled list; he now has the overmatched rookie Rene Tosoni starting in his place. Justin Morneau has looked totally lost at the plate. Michael Cuddyer inexplicably can't do a thing with the bat. The middle infield has been a giant black hole.

Yet, perhaps no position has been a bigger liability to the Twins than the one where they made a $184 million investment only a year ago.

Injuries and an inexcusable lack of depth have exposed catcher as arguably the team's biggest present weakness. Joe Mauer hasn't been right all year, slumping through nine games before landing on the disabled list indefinitely. He's given way to Drew Butera and Steve Holm, who quite obviously are not major-league caliber ball players.

Altogether, the Twins have gotten a .158/.206/.200 hitting line from the catcher position, including .111/.149/.159 from Mauer's replacements. For reference, National League pitchers have hit .133/.161/.161 this year.

Not acceptable. It's tough to concentrate blame on a single position with nearly the entire roster playing at such a miserable level, but even when Young and Tsuyoshi Nishoka return, and some other guys (hopefully) remember how to hit, the Twins will have an awfully tough time breaking out of this slump while getting sub-pitcher-level offensive production from a position their lineup was initially built around.

It's time for this front office to wake up. They blundered badly by entering the season with no quality depth behind Mauer, who they now acknowledge was never ready for the start of the campaign. They're exacerbating this mistake by continuing to alternatively trot out two of the league's worst hitters in the former MVP's stead, with plenty of offensive issues already plaguing the rest of the lineup.

The Twins need to figure out what's going on with Mauer and lay down a firm timetable for his return. If they can't do that, or if they determine that his return is still several weeks away, then find another catcher. Sign one from free agency or trade for one. This is ridiculous.


Dan said...

I still think our biggest hole is SS, with no room for serious argument. At least there is some reason for optimism at other positions. Before we look for another catcher, we should concentrate on the hole that isn't going to get better on it's own.

Nick N. said...

I agree that shortstop is a major hole, but I suspect it's one that will be addressed by the time the Twins arrive in Chicago on Tuesday. (I don't really consider Plouffe a suitable long-term solution but at least it's something.)

With Mauer gone, there is nobody in this organization who represents a potentially passable option at catcher. Nobody. And despite the sub-pitcher-level production, the Twins are not even acknowledging this position as a problem.

Jack Steal said...


I openly criticized you when you disagreed with the Hardy trade. However, you were right!! We refused to pay Hardy $6 million to save money and gave the starting position to Alexi Casilla. Casilla is completely a lost soul right now out there. The trade for Hardy right now looks real bad when you consider we also gave up Carlos Gomez a year ago. Gomez was no all-star at the plate but was great defensively. We got relief pitchers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. Neither one of them are any good and we still have a giant hole in the middile of our field. I know Hardy has been hurt with Baltimore but would rather have him for 100 games than Casilla.

I thought losing Orlando Hudson was a huge mistake because he was so good in the #2 hole. This organization was clearly looking to save money and just believed it everything would work out. It is possible the Twins will move Nishioka to SS when he comes back. I never thought he should have been moved to second base in the first place.

As fas as the catcher position is concerned the team refuses to do anything because they don't want to admit they were wrong. I still don't believe trading a Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps was as bad as everybody thinks. Capps is only 26 and is very solid. I think they should consider re-signing him depending on how much it would cost them. Trading Jose Morales for LH reliever Paul Bargas really was dumb and left the cupboards bare. There is no doubt they need to find a veteran catcher.

Every move this off-season made by GM Bill Smith looks like a mistake. Replacing 4 quality bullpen arms with unproven people, letting Hardy and Hudson leave, signing Nishioka, not finding a legitimate ace, letting Morales go. Wave the white flag because the season is close to over and it's May 2nd.

mgraves said...

As bad as the hitting has been, the Athletics are successful with some very light hitting because the play good defensive baseball (with good range) and have outstanding pitching. The Twins have the worst pitching in the majors. Outside of Baker, Duensing, Perkins, and Capps, no one else even appears to be a major league pitcher.

Casilla was a giant bolo when given the opportunity to start two (or three) years ago. Penciling him in at short was either an admission of failure or inexcusable optimism.

Butera is an acceptable backup, but unlike Redmond, he could never start and be acceptable. The Twins were only two deep at catcher--on the entire roster--and one of the two ought to be DHed for.

The Minnesota Twins are the New York Mets of the American League--awful personnel investments with predictable results. Bill Smith has made two good moves since he has been GM--picking up Kubel's option after last year and signing Thome in 2010. Other moves--Blackburn, Baker and Span--are defensible and may pan out (Baker may already be paying off).

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of the comments and am shocked at how quickly all the off-season blunders have been exposed. Mauer must move to another position. There's no choice now. He can't physically handle catcher any more. When are they going to face reality?? Silver lining is that White Sox just lost the most games in April in club history.

Ed Bast said...

Bill Smith said in the paper that he's disappointed in the play of Casila and Tolbert. I'm disappointed in Bill Smith's judgement going into this season that these two players were going to successfully man the position, given their histories of being terrible and terrible, respectively.

Nick, hate to break it to you, but the front office is too proud and incompetent to do anything about the catching situation. They can't make themselves look even worse on the Ramos deal. Also, they were prepared to roll with Butera starting 40 games anyway. What makes you think they're going to smell the roses if he'll potentially start 60?

Bill Smith needs to start fixing his terrible mistakes. Can't wait for the deadline - something needs to be done now. Unfortunately, since he so botched the payroll situation for this club, the Pohlands probably won't pony up much of anything to salvage the season.

If this season continues to go down this path, Bill Smith absolutely needs to be held accountable. Sorry, but that's what needs to happen. Year 2 with all this added payroll and a fresh new stadium and we are the worst team in baseball. With this payroll and talent, anything less than a division title (and probably a playoff win, but sadly we can't even dream about playoffs right now) is unacceptable. Our World Series window is closing - fast. Please, Pohlads, I'm begging you. Don't let Bill Smith run this beloved franchise into the ground a la Doug Risebrough with the Wild. Please.

James said...

I am not convinced that moving Mauer to LF is a good long-term solution. A good LF should be able to read the path of the ball once contact is made and make a quick first step to make the play. based on the fact that he's never played LF, the adjustment time to learn the position would be painful on the Major League level. He doesn't have the speed of a Gomez to make up for poor path's to the ball. Mauer's lack of speed, combined with his lack of experience, would be a disaster in the short term.

Mauer seems to be a good fit for first base. Problem is, we have 3 years of Morneau remaining and we have to idea if he will be able to return to his pre-concussion self, scaring off potential suitors.

His value is at catcher. If we can keep him behind the plate for another 2 years, we can move him to 1st and Morneau would be gone.

Matt said...

His value is at catcher. If we can keep him behind the plate for another 2 years, we can move him to 1st and Morneau would be gone.
I'd rather see this than moving him now, too.

What a coward, throwing Tolbert and Casilla under the bus. How about expensive guys who aren't producing, Bill? You've got plenty of them and pay them plenty to take a few bus tires for ya.

Ed Bast said...

Matt, such as the $20 mil black hole that is Cuddy and Morneau? But they're nice guys! Can't criticize them.

Yeah, how pathetic is it that our GM decides to call out a lifetime .240 hitter who has no business starting and a lifetime utility player who has no business in MLB for their poor play. That's a combined $1.5 mil right there, or 1.3% of the payroll. How about going after the so-called "leaders" of this team? Accountability starts from the top down. Probably that's what scares Bill so much - he wants to take the focus away from top (i.e., himself) and put the blame on the plebs.

Anyway, just a pathetic, classless quote to see in the paper today from our General Manager. This is like the boss blaming the intern for a poor sales quarter.

Year 2 as a big-market team, folks. Remember how we were told to pony up tax money so we could compete every year? Year 2. How much longer are fans going to put up with this incompetence?

Steve H said...

Well said Nick, well said...

I want to bring up one thing And Would LOVE to hear you're thoughts on it...

Target Field

how much of it is to blame Target Field? I hate saying this but I'm beginning to feel like the players besides (Kubel, Span) Feel like they're in some sort of a pitchers fantasy land and not a real MLB ball park, and therefore #'s start to deteriote rather quickly in the cold, misty April ball-games... Opposing Visitors, often being here in Minneapolis' fine concourse are seeing it for the ifrst time or two and just don't have any pressure on themselves and play,.,.,.,., but someone like Cuddyer I feel is almost stagnat by having the thought in the back of his mind I'll be hitting here every other game the rest of the season....plays som kind of negative role.

Nate said...

Well, if we want a quick 20 point increase in team BA we could have our catchers DH'ed for...

Ed Bast, great analogy of the boss blaming the intern.

Anonymous said...

If Mauer is out for the year or past the All-Star break then Catcher is a major problem. If he is back in a month then it's not and the current catching hasn't been the reason the Twins are losing. Everybody on the roster is hitting far below any reasonable expectation with the exception of Kubel and Span. I also don't see how the SS position will be addressed by Tuesday with the possible addition of Plouffe? His AAA stats are as good as Casilla's major league stats... Excluding 20 games this year... That doesn't solve anything. In any case SS is also not the problem. The problem again is hitting as a whole. Morneau is the worst hitting first basemen in the majors right now. He used to be a top 3 hitter at the position. If just Cuddyer and him could come close to any past numbers the Twins would be 3-4 games better. Team wide hitting is the #1 issue right now. If that improves the Twins need to look at stabilizing the rotation. Blackburn and Liriano look like they need to be removed. If they can stabilize the rotation then the bullpen needs to be shored up. The walks are unacceptable. If you fix those three things then Casilla at short and Butera at catcher aren't huge issues for the Month of May. If Mauer can't come back by June then why bother getting a catcher? Without Mauer the Twins aren't going to wint he division. Trading for a catcher that might be 1-2 games better over a year than Butera isn't worth it. If you can't get the hitting as a whole turned around or stabilize the rotation none of this matters either. The season is over Drew Butera or no Drew Butera.


SBG said...

Yeah, Target Field is a huge problem, as evidenced by the Twins' poor record there last year.

cy1time said...

I didn't expect a lot out of our shortstops with the bats, but I did expect something out of them with their gloves. If it is possible, I think they've been worse with their gloves. One thing bugs me about Casilla, and maybe it's just me, but he looks so pleased with himself on those rare occasions that he does actually make a play, like a infant that correctly point to his nose and ears.

Anonymous said...

The Twins have won in recent years with a Starts & Scrubs lineup. Your problem right now is that the stars are either hurt or under performing. That's a recipe for 9-18.

toadster said...

How about dumping Casilla and bringing up Plouffe? Casilla has shown too many times that he's not major league. Catcher is also pathetic. Gla we got rid of two decent hitting catchers and kept these schlubs!!

toadster said...

Other teams sure haven't had a problem hitting at Target Field! This is getting ridiculous. Sure glad we have Pavano for next year too! He's been getting shelled.

Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

The quote from Smith on those two players is unbelievably low, and officially cements my dislike of him. If he's not willing to call out the top-tier players or coaches, or admit to his own mistakes, man, I don't know what else to say.

I'm with Ed: Billy, you helped create this mess. Now do what you can to fix it.

Tom said...

Maybe they could do with some new equipment haha. But really, if you ever need to buy any kind of baseball equipment, I've got almost everything from pitching machines to nets and more. Check it out:

Anonymous said...

I think some people tend to jump the gun too quickly when there is a bad run. While I completely agree that this level of play and the horrible hitting and high school fielding mistakes are unacceptable, this is the same team that was 7 games back with 9 games to play three years ago. We all know what this team is capable of, and to say that the bullpen will get shelled all year, Mauer will hit below .200, etc. is not realistic. There are 135 games to play and I think even if Bill Smith made any moves right now (which he won't) he will be criticized for that too.

I suggest that you people (TWINS fans) have some faith in this team and remember some of the remarkable things we have seen. You can't expect Justin Morneau to come out and hit 10 bombs in April. Look at what we did without him for half of last season....WON THE DIVISION. Mauer is going to be fine, we all know this organization milks injuries more than any other team in the league, and in some ways its okay because they make sure people already. On the contrary, they didn't do such a good job with Mauer in the offseason because he clearly wasn't ready to go. But Morneau wouldn't be where he is today had they not played it the way they did last year and hold him out against his will.

The Twins will be fine. There is 135 games to go and we are 10 games back. Yes we are 10 games the Indians. I'm sorry but no matter what you say to me about the Indians and the Royals and no matter what stats you throw at me about either of those teams......THEY ARE NOT THAT GOOD. Period. The division is upside down right now. We should all be happy that it isn't the Tigers or White Sox we are chasing right now.

mgraves said...

Anon--the Indians and Royals may not be "that good", but nothing suggests that the Twins are not as bad as they are playing.

As has been pointed out before--the Twins no longer play Twins baseball. They don't take the extra base, they don't hustle out every ground ball, they don't play fundamentally sound baseball (every time Delmon Young sits under a fly ball and catches it with one hand I'm sick), they cannot bunt (with the possible exception of the guy hitting .105), and, outside of Duensing and Baker, walk too many people.

Pavano was due for regression. Blackburn's return last fall is looking like it was a mirage. Liriano--even with great stuff--has no stones, and I wouldn't follow him into the mess hall, let alone the field of play. Considering much of the bullpen is AAA ball players, it is more than reasonable to expect more of same the rest of the year (and Mijares looks like he ought to be playing slow pitch softball with Eric Byrnes).

The bats--Casilla and Butera, while hitting under their ceilings, are not major league regulars and never will be. Thome is 40 y/o. Morneau has had Lord knows how many concussions scramble is brain.

In sum, the Twins are a 70-75 win team, at best. Unless Mauer is able to come back, and Morneau is fully recovered from his concussion, then the Twins are a 60-65 win team.

The Twins are the Mets of the American League.

Nick N. said...

We all know what this team is capable of, and to say that the bullpen will get shelled all year, Mauer will hit below .200, etc. is not realistic.

To say the bullpen will get shelled all year is realistic. It's filled with bad pitchers. No one even knows when (or if) Mauer will be returning.

Mike said...

I think people really underestimated the importance of letting Hardy, Punto, and Hudson go. The Twins have had a relatively poor infield (minus 1B) for years, last year that largely changed, and they let those three go.

Hardy may have been on the DL this year, but at least he's MLB caliber when he plays. Hudson was solid, even if he does typically regress at the end of the season. And Punto plays hard and is fundamentally good.

There are a lot of problems with the Twins and we knew them coming in to the season. I have no idea why these huge holes were seen as no big deal. Offense is a problem, but now defense is, too. And that's just not Twins baseball- Twins baseball is hitting for average, playing fundamentally sound ball, having mediocre pitching, but good defense that makes up for the poor pitching. Instead, we have multiple starters that are offensive black holes, limited outfield defensive range, mediocre infield defense, and the same mediocre starting pitching and a poor bullpen.

Anonymous said...

like i said......long season. maybe we didn't hit tonight, but liriano's confidence is through the roof. he will be absolutely dominant....that is exactly what he needed. 134 games left people......HAVE SOME FAITH