2008 Shadow Twins

In a year with more new faces than we've seen in a long time, it might be more important than ever to make those faces recognizable -- thus, the 2008 Shadow Twins!

Folks who've seen this schtick before know that it's about taking the expected regulars at a number of Twins positions and replacing them with a more recognizable player from their top-10 comps by Bill James's Similarity Score.

This isn't intended to be a 'serious' analysis, in that I'd use it for an academic study or put money down based on the results -- heck, I don't even figure a final record based on the results. However, I will note that, despite the alleged 'youth' on the ballclub, it's actually significantly easier to come up with reasonable comps this year than in seasons past: guys like Mauer and Morneau who didn't have enough big-league time to have more than a few scattershot comps in 2006 have more time and thus more interesting comps now in 2008, and the guys who were acquired who are expected to be among the regulars are largely (outside of Delmon Young) guys with track records as well. (It's almost as if, prior to each deal, Mike Smith gave Ron Gardenhire a call and said, 'Hey, here's a deal we have on the table; would you actually play the guy we're going to get?')

So, without further ado, your 2008 Shadow Twins:

Catcher - Jason Kendall

Like Mauer, Kendall was a first-round pick (of the Pirates in 1992, drafted 23rd overall), and like Mauer, Kendall was a young, high-average, excellent-OBP (hiw OBP in his age-24 season was .411) catcher who only needed to develop some power to become one of the all-time greats.

He never did -- his career high for homers in a season is and remains 14 in his age-26 season, and he'll be lucky to break 100 career homers before he leaves the game (he's currently sitting on 71, having not had a double-digit homer season at all since 2001).

Kendall missed about half of his age-25 season with injuries, so it's hard to use Kendall's numbers as a prediction of what Mauer might accomplish. His base numbers, though were .332/939, both of which ended up being career-highs for him. If Mauer does that well this year, nobody will be disappointed.

First base - Paul Konerko

Morneau has three identical of-age comps at 948, but I'm going with the 4th place 947 comp as being more recognizable. (Those with a more optimistic mindset regarding Morneau are welcome to replace Konerko above with Carlos Delgado.)

Konerko's youth couldn't be more different than Morneau's -- Konerko bounced around the NL as a youngster before being acquired by the White Sox in a straight-up exchange for Mike Cameron. Since then, Konerko has been a solid if unspectacular first-baseman for Chicago -- with the exception of an abysmal 2003, Konerko has hit about .280 with about 30 homers or so just about every year. He's not a star, but he's precisely the sort of player a championship team needs, because he's solid.

Konerko's age-26 season: .304/857, 27 HR

Second base - Geronimo Pena

This one kind of violates the concept of the Shadow Twins, because you likely only remember Pena, a better-hitting version of Nick Punto for the Cardinals in the early-to-mid 1990s, if you actually followed baseball in general in those days. In that sense, there might not be a better comp for Brendan Harris than Harris himself -- Harris's main claim to fame in his career thus far is that he's been involved in trades for much more highly-regarded players: the 2004 four-team blockbuster that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox, and a 2006 deal that sent Austin Kearns to the Nationals.

The idea that Harris is a building-block is a bit misleading, since he's about to turn 27; whatever he does this year should be considered his 'real level' of performance. It should also be noted that his Shadow Twin, Pena, was out of baseball before age 30.

Pena's age-27 season: .254/823, 11 HR in 213 AB

Shortstop - Rob Wilfong

You'd have to be a pretty long-time Twins fan to remember Wilfong, a defensive-minded, weak-hitting second-baseman who was a favorite of then-manager Gene Mauch; so much so that when Mauch left the Twins and went to manage the Angels, he convinced the club to trade for Wilfong (as part of a larger deal where the Twins acquired Tom Brunansky). The scary thing to consider is that Wilfong is a 967 comp for Adam Everett despite Wilfong putting up his numbers in the late '70s and 80's in parks that were neutral or pitcher's parks, rather than through the 2000s in one of the better hitter's parks in baseball. In other words, there's reason to believe that Wilfong was a markedly better hitter than Everett is or will be.

Wilfong's age-31 season: .189/501, OPS+ 38

Third base - Jay Payton

Like Pena above, Payton is a pick that comes close to violating the concept of the Shadow Twins, except that there aren't really any better choices among the top 10. (Leon Roberts? Gene Woodling?) Payton was a first-round pick of the New York Mets who didn't have a full rookie year until his age-27 season. Despite finishing third in the RoY voting that year, Payton never really developed above that level of performance, which as noted above in the Harris/Pena comment should probably be expected. He had a solid year in 2006 with the A's, where veterans go to rehab their careers, and got a decent free agent deal with the Orioles as a result (which is another reason in the long list of why the Orioles, despite one of the largest payrolls in baseball, aren't competitive).

The best you can say is that Lamb has a chance to contribute with his bat, if all goes well.

Payton's age-31 season: .260/693, 55 RBI, 56 K

Left field - Rocco Baldelli

Delmon Young simply doesn't have enough big-league playing time to have really good comps yet -- the comp system shows players from Tris Speaker and Roberto Clemente to Greg Luzinski as his of-age comps, and at this point it's hard to say what's most likely.

I'm going with Baldelli, the player the Rays kept out of their stable of talented young outfielders. On one hand, this is a sign that Tampa thinks that Baldelli has a better upside than Young (otherwise they'd have worked the trade the other way around). On the other hand, they are the Tampa Bay Rays...

Baldelli's age-21 season: .289/742, OPS+ 99

Center field - Marty Cordova

Twins fans should need no introduction to Cordova, who won the 1995 Rookie of the Year, improved in 2006, and then had three disappointing seasons before being let go as a free agent prior to the 2000 season. Like Cordova, Craig Monroe had a couple of good seasons when he was younger and has struggled since to duplicate or build on them. Cordova did eventually have one more big year with the Indians, at age 31 no less, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that Monroe could have another big year in him, but if I had to bet, I'd say this probably won't be it.

Cordova's age-31 season: .301/854, 20 HR

Right field - Milton Bradley

You might not think Michael Cuddyer needs a comp, since we know him so well, but again, this is a situation where seeing Cuddyer's comps tells you something about Cuddyer himself -- while Bradley is the bsst comp, Cuddyer's list is full of guys who are solid hitters, excellent defenders, or both (Carl Everett, Aaron Rowand, Trot Nixon, Erik Hinske, Larry Hisle). There's a big lesson here in the selection of Bradley as Cuddyer's comp as well -- a player as different from Bradley in temprament could hardly be imagined. Teams keep giving Bradley chances, despite his temper, because the man can hit. Well, Cuddyer is just about the same hitter, likely a better defensive outfielder, and doesn't come with all that baggage. Win for Cuddy, in my book.

Bradley's age-28 season: .276/817, 13 HR in 283 AB

So to recap, your 2008 Shadow Twins offense:

C - Jason Kendall
1B - Paul Konerko
2B - Geronimo Pena
SS - Rob Wilfong
3B - Jay Payton
LF - Rocco Baldelli
CF - Marty Cordova
RF - Milton Bradley

Bat Kendall second and DH a leadoff man, and this club could actually put some offense on the board. Bat Kendall third with Pena and Wilfong ahead of him (which seems more likely), and...well, not so much.

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