The Twins are currently on their midsummer break, checking in at a slightly worse than last year (41-48) mark of 36-49 at the turn. However, this year’s club looks a bit more poised than last year’s, and as a result, much more likely to perform better than last year’s 22-51 second half pace. As the players -- Mauer excluded -- enjoy their last bit of rest before ramping up for a steamy second half, let’s take a peek at my picks for Twins awards to date. Please hold your applause until the end, thanks.
The "Jack Morris Award" for Best Offseason Acquisition goes to Josh Willingham.
A lot of credit goes to the Twins front office for Jared Burton, but Willingham has to get the nod here. Willingham has single-handedly altered the notion that nobody on the club can hit home runs at Target Field, and has done so while hitting a scorching .261/.376/.536 with 19 home runs, well over his 29 home run pace from 2011. A big difference for the right-handed slugger has actually been his walk rate, as he’s only 12 shy of last year’s pace by boosting that rate nearly three percent. His defense has been predictably bad, but he’s pretty good in just about every other facet of the game -- even baserunning -- and to that end, he’s the best Twins acquisition of the offseason. Burton and Ryan Doumit were not reached for comment.
The "Denny Hocking Award" Worst Overall Player goes to Clete Thomas.
Yeah, I was surprised too that Denny Hocking had achieved the lowest overall WAR as a Twin, but the again, I guess I wasn’t. That is neither here nor there, however, as we examine the rough patch of the season known as Mr. Thomas’ entire tenure with the club, sans first at bat home run. Thomas’ has always had a penchant for whiffery, but this year he took it to new levels by posting a 55.0 strikeout percentage (.199 wOBA), which makes Aroldis Chapman’s K rates look like child’s play. To Thomas’ credit, he played competent defense and managed to keep his WAR at break-even, but not even a WAR-monger like me can give him the benefit of the doubt here. Dishonorable mentions go out to Danny Valencia, Brian Dozier, and Erik Komatsu.
Best First Half Moment.
There certainly haven’t been a ton of great moments, but we can gloss over a few that have been pretty awesome. Willingham’s walk-off over the recently deposed Brian Fuentes was pretty outstanding, and so was Drew Butera’s inning pitched -- including whiffing Carlos Gomez -- in Milwaukee. But I think another good ‘moment’ to focus on is when Trevor Plouffe basically broke out and became the hitter he appears to be right now. At .253/.325/.546, Plouffe certainly looks the part as a big league third baseman. Keep an eye on him out of the break, because pitchers will have invariably adjusted even more to his pull-heavy tendencies, and may work him away a lot in the second half.
Worst First Half Moment.
Where does one start? Joel Zumaya or Scott Baker in spring training? The starting rotation? Some of the bullpen handling? Booing the best catcher in the American League for any reason whatsoever? It’s been pretty ugly in a lot of ways this first half, and it’s hard to pick the worst. In the spirit of keeping it positive, we’ll just say the overall record is the low point, and that it’ll only get better in the second half of the season. Keep in mind, the Twins are still somehow only 10.5 games back.
The "Best Surprise Award" goes to Plouffe and Burton.
We’ve already seen what Plouffe has done, but let’s examine the righty splangeup artist a bit more. In Matt Capps’ stead, Burton has been part-time setup man and part-time lover, sharing ninth inning duties with Glen Perkins based on matchups. Perkins doesn’t have a discernible platoon split this year, whereas Burton has been death to righties (.384 OPS) and somewhat pedestrian (.856) against port-siders. Nevertheless, Burton has been a revelation out of the Twins bullpen, compiling a 2.55 ERA, 8.7 K/9, and a squeaky clean 0.91 WHIP in 35.1 innings pitched. The Twins have wisely tried to limit Burton’s innings so far this season -- he’s coming off a major arm injury after all -- but hopefully his signing bodes well for the club to build cheap bullpens in the future, a la San Diego and Tampa Bay.
Worst Surprise goes to Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, and Alexi Casilla.
I openly lamented re-signing Pavano prior to this deal, not because he’s a bad guy, a bad pitcher, or hadn’t provided the Twins with any value. I lamented the deal because the return on Yohan Pino was sufficient, and draft pick compensation could have been yielded for a pitcher I felt was otherwise replaceable. If the Twins have learned nothing this year, it’s that they can pull somewhat decent arms on minor league deals in the offseason and make do if it comes down to it (see: P.J. Walters, Sam Deduno, and even Scott Diamond). To spend the amount of money on a pitcher whose K rates were slipping, and who wasn’t guaranteed to age particularly well just seemed odd to me. So now Pavano and Blackburn have sort of slipped onto the back burner; Pavano is hurt with a return a ways in the offing, and Blackburn was hurt and is now toiling in Rochester, seeking the bite to his sinker which made him an effective fourth starter. But Casilla is a bit of a surprise on this list, not because expectations were high, but because aside from a pretty good April, his bat has lay dormant like a December body waiting for a spring burial.
Since May 1, Casilla has hit .202/.248/.272, with only his good defense thus far this season saving him from challenging Thomas as worst player of the year.
The "Johan Santana Award" for Second Half Breakout Candidate goes to Justin Morneau.
At times Morneau seems like he’s really on point, driving the ball back up the middle with authority. And at other times, he’ll pull off on lefties -- they’ve given him fits to the tune of a .362 OPS -- but he’s absolutely slaughtering righties (.960), and the other part of pegging him as a breakout candidate I think is that deep down want to see Morneau succeed for as hard as he’s worked to come all the way back. Joe C’s story on his diet really cemented the notion that Morneau is one of the hardest, most diligent workers on the team and he’s really vested in his and the team’s success. Godspeed, Justin.
The "Greg Gagne Award" for Infield Gold Glove goes to Jamey Carroll.
If only for a lack of competition, Carroll nails down the Twins infield Gold Glove because he’s played capable defense at three different spots. So even if he hasn’t taken his defense to Puntovian levels, he still takes home this first half hardware.
The "Torii Hunter Award" for Outfield Gold Glove goes to Ben Revere.
It really is a shame the Twins are too scared to move Denard Span to right field, as Revere has been better than Span (7.3 runs above average to 5.4), and Span has the superior arm. Nonetheless, Revere has motored around the spacious and at times hellacious right field confines at Target Field effectively, stoking the ‘range versus arm’ debate while, at least in my view, showing a better arm than previous seasons. Congrats to Revere on his late-night runs in right field, and using them to bring home this hardware.
The "Harmon Killebrew Award" for team MVP goes to Joe Mauer.
He leads the team in WAR, the AL in OBP, and for much, if not all of the first half he’s led AL catchers in games played and plate appearances. Plenty of other catchers DH or play first base on the other days, and Mauer and Ron Gardenhire have done well to come up with a formula that gets him into 90ish percent of all games. Boo him if you wish, but you’re really just proving the notion that Mauer is up against unrealistic, unreasonable expectations. You aren’t paying his salary, so just sit back and enjoy the ride.
The "Bert Blyleven Award" for Team MVP(itcher) goes to Scott Diamond.
In a development that not even Ma and Pa Diamond could have foreseen, Diamond has basically taken over for Pavano as the bulldog on this staff. Diamond has compiled a 59.0 percent ground ball rate (read: really, really good), and has posted an excellent K/BB rate in light of low K numbers (3.7 K/BB), keeping his xFIP and FIP both under 4.00 (raw ERA 2.62). Sure, he’s due for some regression, but even a full run bump makes him an adequate third starter, and that’s an excellent return on Billy Bullock. I humbly defer on that one, as someone who was incensed at that trade.