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Mid-Season Grades, Part I

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Evaluations of how our team has performed through the first half.

Grading has become a popular form of evaluation for teams and players, as it gives the opportunity for those of us foolish enough to waste all this time on sports as fans to briefly annotate the positives and negatives that each player has brought to the table.  In my run downs of each player I'll be grading different parts of their game, with certain portions weighing heavier into their overall grade.  We'll work from the fewest at-bats to the most.

Ruben Sierra

Sierra was brought in to provide veteran leadership on the bench.  In late-game situations, this guy had seen it all.  It turns out he'd seen too much as he couldn't stay healthy, and when he was healthy he still wasn't much use.  In 14 games and 28 AB's, his line was .179/.273/.214.  He managed 4 RBI, 4 walks and a double.  Sierra didn't play enough to warrant anything more than an overall grade.

Overall Grade:  F

Terry Tiffee

Captain AAAA has to be making what is his last appearance with the Minnesota Twins.  This is his third year attempting to earn a spot on the 25-man roster, meaning he's out of options, and I can't believe the Twins will make the effort to keep a player who is so easily replaceable.  So far in 2006, he's filled the need for a backup corner infielder, and on occasion has come up with a timely hit.  His defense has been of little value since Punto has taken over everyday at third base, and since squeaking his average to .300 on June 20 has gone 3-for-18 with a homer in a game where the Twins scored nearly at will.

Tiffee's range factor makes him out to be right around a league-average defender, which he is, on the occasions he's had to play.  Unfortunately his offense isn't even close.  Luis Rodriguez is not only more flexible and athletic than Tiffee, he can more than likely replicate most of his numbers.  Because of how easy he is to replace offensively, and because the Twins require a backup at the corner infield spots, Tiffee's defense is weighted more heavily.

Offensive Grade:  D-
Defensive Grade:  C+
Overall Grade:  C-

Luis Rodriguez

Even as I say Rodriguez can replicate Tiffee's numbers, Luis isn't having the greatest of years himself.  While he wasn't supposed to put up the numbers of a starter, his .269/.335/.383 line in 2005 gave reason to think he'd be a reasonable offensive backup in addition to his flexible defensive skills.  Early in the year he was just that, hitting .281/.410/.438 as late as May 10.  Since then he's collected only 4 hits, dropping him to .217/.319/.350.  Much of this can't be blamed on him, as he's been rotting on the bench for the better part of the summer.  He's played in 9 games since the beginning of June, and these are how many at-bats he's received in those games:  3, 1, 0, 1, 4, 0, 1, 2 and 1.  Nobody will survive with playing time like this.

Largely league-average at third base and shortstop, Luis has been better at second base.  With only 7 games at second this year however, his defensive grade won't hold as much weight.  Rodriguez also gets a flexibility bonus, but it has no effect on his overall grade.

Offensive Grade:  D-
Defensive Grade:  B-
Overall Grade:  C-
Flexibility Bonus:  C

Jason Bartlett

Since breaking onto the scene, Bartlett has been solid.  He's gained public praise for his glove from esteemed guys like Brad Radke, and his offensive numbers are speaking for themselves.  While his range factor isn't as high this year as it has been in the past, it's still above league-average.  Looking past the numbers, he's getting to balls behind second base, he's throwing runners out at first from deep in the hole, and on a couple of occasions after making a great play he's even caught my jaw from hitting the floor.  Not funny?  Okay.

Since being called up, there have only been two games where Bartlett did NOT reach base, be it by hit, walk, or getting beaned.  That's impressive.  After 23 games and 77 at-bats, he's holding down a .312/.411/.390 line.  While not impressive with his power, he doesn't have to be.  He's reaching base on more than 40% of his plate appearances, and that's pretty damn good.

Offensive Grade:  A-
Defensive Grade:  B+
Overall Grade:  A-

Mike Redmond

It limited time Redmond has been everything you could have asked him to be.  He doesn't have the power stroke, but he has excellent control of his bat and of the strike zone, giving him the tools necessary to be an adequate offensive presence.  Redmond has always been decent with a bat in his hands, but right now we're looking at a career-year for our backup catcher...at age 35.  In 25 games and 98 at-bats, his line is .357/.366/.418.

Behind the plate he's not shabby either, being known for calling a good game (however the "word" gets out on that).  Statistically, he's thrown out 36% of baserunners, slightly above his career average.  His range factor is a career-high 8.11, but his CERA (catcher's earned run average) is also a career high 4.83...which can mostly be attributed to a crappy defense the first couple months of the season.

Offensive Grade:  A
Defensive Grade:  B+
Overall Grade:  A-

Jason Kubel

Kubel's time has been largely mixed, due to being sent down and recalled.  Since his recall he's been solid, and getting regular playing time.  His lack of walks is still a concern to me, but he's young enough that patience could still be on the way, once experience begins to take over.  Past the walks, his defense in left field has been largely servicable, in spite of a 1.56 range factor.  He's played right field for the Twins in the past, so I'm hoping that as time goes by, he'll get better reading balls and getting jumps in left.  The arm isn't in question in any way; it's a good arm.  Hopefully his knee hasn't affected his range.

At the plate he's been largely consistent since his return, and since the start of June has gone 33-for-102, with 14 runs, 5 doubles, 6 homers and 21 RBI.  This translates to a .324/.355/.549 line.  That's PRETTY GOOD.  As he continues to get more time and more experience, he'll continue to learn and adapt his game, leading me to believe the best is yet to come for Jason Kubel.  But, for his first half OVERALL grades...not his "since his recall" grades...

Offensive Grade:  B+
Defensive Grade:  C+
Overall Grade:  B

Juan Castro

Did we really waste this many at-bats (156) on this guy?  It's a good thing Terry Ryan knows what he's doing!

Offensive Grade:  F
Defensive Grade:  C-
Overall Grade:  D-

Shannon Stewart

Poor Shannon Stewart just can't stay healthy.  136 games in 2003, 92 in 2004, 132 in 2005 and only 42 so far in 2006.  He'll be lucky to reach 100 games this year.  He's going to have to play in 58 of the remaining 76 games, and I think he'll have a hard time doing that.

I've always been a fan of Stewart, even before he joined the Soul Patrol back in '03.  Back then he was a multi-tool player, with speed, range and a little pop in his bat.  Even now he's a good contact hitter, a guy who's a professional in the box, although his .355 OBP isn't as high as years past.  Since his stint on the DL it's been feast or famine for him, but his .308/.357/.385 line since his return hasn't been as bad as advertised.  Looking at Stewart has given some the impression that he's worse than he is, but the fact is that he still has value with a bat in his hands; he just needs to accept the role of designated hitter.

On the defensive side of the ball, it's more than fair to say he's a liability in the field.  Glass arm, diminished range, all the things that have been regurgitated over the last year, they add up.  Combine these things with his seeming inability to remain healthy, why would you play him in the field?  Shannon Stewart is competetive, and he's going to do what it takes to get to the ball if he can, whether it's crashing into walls or diving, and for a team struggling with offense from the DH position why would you subject a fragile player to these conditions?

On the year Stewart is hitting .299/.355/.377.  The pop is gone, but he's still reaching base at a decent level for someone who's going to hit 7th in the order.  If the Twins are sellers at the deadline, Shannon's name is on the list, because contending teams will always pay for a hitter.  Even one with liabilities.  Stewart's offensive grade holds more weight than his defensive one, as he's now more of a DH than a fielder.

Offensive Grade:  B-
Defensive Grade:  D
Overall Grade:  C

Nick Punto

Since taking on the hot corner on an everyday basis, Punto has proved his worth on both sides of the ball.  Replacing Batista, Nick looks like Wade Boggs, but simply put his athletecism and desire to make the play has given the Twins a solid third baseman.  Where Batista's throws looked like they would sail at any moment, Punto's are accurate and true.  Where Batista flopped in the path of a ball gone by, Punto snares the sphere cleanly.

Offensively Punto's SLG (.377) would rank 16th in the American League, between Batista's .388 and Aaron Boone's .360, but his OBP (.383) is second in the AL behind only Alex Rodriguez.  Yes, he's better than Mike Lowell, Eric Chavez, Hank Blalock, Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, Joe Crede and Troy Glaus.  Nick Punto is not your everyday third baseman...and that's just fine with me.  On the year he's hitting .297/.383/.377.

Offensive Grade:  B+
Defensive Grade:  B+
Overall Grade:  B+

Tony Batista

Yes, yes, I know...I was the one who tried to temper the anger following his signing.  Yes, yes, I know...I was SSSOOOOOO wrong.

Offensive Grade:  D-
Defensive Grade:  F
Overall Grade:  F

Rondell White

Right now Rondell is serving a "rehab" stint in Rochester, hitting .222/.237/.306 in 9 games and 36 at-bats.  Small sample size, I know, but you have to admit that things just aren't looking good.  He was sent back to deal with a shoulder that was apparently not fixed correctly...or fixed too well (too tight) as it were...and in spite of hitting his first homer of the 2006 season for the Red Wings, he's still not on track.

With the Twins he began the year hitting cleanup, batting .094/.104/.109 in the process.  Since being dropped in the order his line has been raised to .182/.209/.215, which while twice as good probably won't do much to win a ballgame in the grand scheme of things.  We found out that when his shoulder last was "fixed", something was adjusted to be too tight, and because of this Rondell has been ailing the entire year.  Only because of this am I willing to give Rondell White an "incomplete" grade, because he deserves the chance to prove the shoulder was the cause of it all and not his focus and/or abilities.

Offensive Grade:  F
Defensive Grade:  D
Potential Grade:  F
Present Grade:  I

Lew Ford

The only reason the struggling Lew Ford is sixth on the Twins in at-bats is because Stewart was hurt, Kubel wasn't up yet, and White shouldn't be playing defense, either.  With a bat in his hands, Ford has been one of the most frustrating Twins to watch, as it seems everything is hit into the ground or popped harmlessly somewhere into the field of play.  Once a successful pull hitter, when people found him out he hasn't been able to adjust.

In June, when the Twins were streaking, Lew was one of the few who weren't, going .173/.259/.250 in what must have been one of the most frustrating months he's ever gone through as a professional baseball player.  On the positive side he did collect 6 hits in the last 3 games leading into the break, so hopefully he starts putting together the kind of year he wants and we want him to have.  He has a good eye at the plate and knows how to take a walk; perhaps it will start there.

In the field he's incredibly flexible, which is where he gains some marginal value.  Once in a while he misreads a ball off the bat and needs to make an adjustment, but more often than not his speed is able to make up for the initial misjudgment.  His arm is decent and accurate, but is probably the weakest among Hunter, Kubel, Cuddyer and himself.

Ford is also second on the team in steals with 8, having been caught only once.  Speed is a big part of Lew's game; it keeps him competetive and useful in the field, and it gives him value on the basepaths.  He just needs to find a way to continue getting on base.  Lew's flexibility bonus, like Rodriguez's, will not play into his final grade.  His defensive grade will hold more weight than his offensive grade however, due to his ability to play any outfield position with competence.

Offensive Grade:  D
Defensive Grade:  C
Overall Grade:  C-
Flexibility Bonus:  B




Michael Cuddyer

This has been Cuddyer's best season to date without question, and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Twins or for Cuddyer himself.  Splitting up Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau has put him in good situations, and while he hasn't been putting up typical cleanup-hitter numbers, he's been quite effective, and he's hitting with confidence.  In May he hit very well once he started playing more consistently, and in June he tempered fewer hits with a more patient approach at the plate and earning more free passes.  While he hasn't hit a home run since June 20, I believe the power will come.

In right field, now playing everyday, you can see him becoming more comfortable on balls hit to him.  He's making fewer mistakes on reads off the bat, and seems to be comfortable maneuvering in the right field corner of the Metrodome.  Additionally, Cuddyer's arm in right gives the Twins three of the strongest arms in the field that they've had in years.  As long as Cuddyer continues to get work everyday and continues to adjust to the quirks of playing right field, he's going to be just fine.  Mistakes will be made, but hopefully Kyle Lohse will be man enough to realise that they do happen, and that he was the one who allowed the ball to be hit that hard in the first place.

Offensive Grade:  B
Defensive Grade:  C
Overall Grade:  B-

Joe Mauer

It might interest you to know that coming out of June, Joe Mauer failed to reach base in only 5 of the games he played.  Once in June.  Just a fun fact for you.

In spite of cooling off as of late, Joe is still posting amazing numbers.  All year he's been raking, right up until these last couple of games.  July 8 and 9 were the first two consecutive days this year that Joe didn't get on base.  Other than that he's been hitting the ball, seemingly, wherever he chooses.  Defenses have tried shifting him, but he just hits a double to where they aren't.  Any field at any time; this is where Joe can hit the ball.

In the crouch, pitchers have talked about his cool demeanor and his timely mound visits.  While he still has some timing issues to learn, it seems he generally knows the perfect moment to take a walk to see his pitcher.  He's thrown out 39% of baserunners:  quick out of the crouch, quick release to second base, strong and accurate throws.

It's rare to see someone like Joe Mauer.  He's 23, and he plays with the poise and maturity of a man who's been playing for more than two years.  He's a lot of fun to watch, and hopefully we'll be able to watch him in a Twins uniform for years to come.

Offensive Grade:  A
Defensive Grade:  A-
Overall Grade:  A

Justin Morneau

Speaking of a guy who can rake, Justin Morneau has turned from potential power hitter to actual power hitter with average.  Coming into the break, Morneau was bashing a line of .300/.352/.587 and climbing.  He hit 10 homers in June and continues a hot streak so far in July, going .414/.455/.793 with 3 homers, 3 walks, 8 RBI, 2 doubles and 7 runs scored!  This is all in 8 games!

With the glove he's been nothing spectacular, but there's been a backlash to the initial response after Doug Mientkiewicz left.  First he was absolutely hideous, primarily because he was being compared to a perennial Gold Glove contender, even though Justin hadn't been the smoothest.  Now that those memories have faded and he's mashing the ball, he's suddenly one of the best first basemen in the league?  The truth is that he's somewhere in between.  He's no Mientkiewicz, but he's learned to stretch, make nice scoops and save errant throws.  I don't want to say he's just servicable, because he's better than that.  Justin has turned into a nice first baseman who can make a good play, and I hope he continues to improve.

Justin's offensive grade will hold more water than the defensive, as first base is generally an offensive position.

Offensive Grade:  A
Defensive Grade:  B
Overall Grade:  A-

Luis Castillo

After starting off the year with a hot bat, Castillo has cooled to an uncomfortable degree.  Only by going 10-for-23 in his last 6 games has he raised his averages to .280/.342/.355.  In July he's already taken 5 walks, compared to only 6 in all of June.  He's now stolen 9 bases, and has already hit 13 doubles, after hitting only 12 in both 2004 and 2005.  As the trade deadline nears, if the Twins are sellers Castillo will have some value.  But, if he manages to get his offense on line in the next couple of weeks, you never know what could happen.

Defensively, his range is diminishing, often seeminly by the day.  Some days he gets to some balls and makes beautiful relays; other days he seems lethargic.  While playing on turf has apparently had little effect on his offense, it's definitly possible it's playing havoc with his defense.  While he hasn't been bad, per sey, in the field, he hasn't been nearly as good as advertised or as hoped.

Offensive Grade:  C
Defensive Grade:  C
Overall Grade:  C


Torii Hunter

Hunter has been having an interesting season.  He started slow, caught fire for most of May, and has been largely himself since then.  In 2006 his line is .264/.345/.443, while his career line is .267/.323/.457.  He's been amazingly consistent on a yearly basis, but a streak hitter during the actual season.  This year the slugging is down slightly, but the patience is up as evidenced by the higher OBP.  He's currently on pace for 26 homers and 92 RBI; not a bad season.

Winner of 5 consecutive Gold Gloves, Torii will be 31 in less than a week, and will probably vie for another in 2006.  Leage average Range Factors in center field varied between 2.38 and 2.45 over the past 3 years, with Hunter above those lines each season.  This year is no exception, as Hunter is posting a range factor of 2.79.  I'll be the first to say that Range Factor isn't the best judge of defensive skills, but it's a good starting point.  Hunter's range may have diminished over the past couple of years, but I still believe he's an above average center fielder.  At least this year.

Offensive Grade:  B
Defensive Grade:  A-
Overall Grade:  B+