In 2005, they flashed occasional brilliance on offense. In 2006, they have some pitching, too.
It's a testiment to how great of a team Detroit is, that after the run the Twins have had since June 8 we've barely gained three games on the division leaders. Last year the Tigers' offense began the year with a bang, only to be let down by their pitching staff. By the end of the season the offense stagnated as well, finishing 11th in the American League in runs scored. This season they're 8th in all of baseball. To boot, Detroit boasts baseball's lowest staff ERA at 3.70, clearing second place by more than 1/3 of a run.
As the Twins jettisoned themselves into baseball's limelight by going 34-8 in their last 42, Detroit simply continued to do what they've done all season by going 31-11. Tonight's matchup between the unstoppable Tigers and the soaring Twins is more than just another test for Minnesota...it will be the biggest series played in baseball over the weekend. Angles v. Red Sox, Mets v. Braves, these games may gain more attention as they entertain larger markets. But the Tigers and the Twins are the hottest teams in the game, and when the dust settles a tone will be set for coming weeks.
Name Age Gam H Avg Obp Slg CS EQA VORP
Joe Mauer 23 88 123 .375 .449 .534 37% .325 50.8
Ivan Rodriguez 34 83 107 .311 .337 .456 59% .265 18.7
These are two of the top catchers in the game. One is just beginning what promises to be a long and productive career, while the other continues to defy his age and the physical demands of the position. Both Mauer and Rodriguez have played 75 games as a catcher in 2006, each logging more than 650 innings in the crouch. Looking at the Caught Stealing percentages, Pudge has the clear advantage. Runners have tempted their fate only 22 times this year, and Rodriguez has gunned down 13 of them. Mauer has had more runners test his arm, and he's caught 15 of 41.
Offensively there's no comparison as to who has the advantage, as Joe Mauer isn't just the best hitting catcher in baseball, he's the best hitter in baseball OVERALL. He doesn't have the home run stroke, but he more than makes up for it in other areas. He's racking up doubles, is still slugging well over .500 and the very idea of a hitter reaching base in 45% of his plate appearances is foreign to me as a Twins fan.
Name Age Gam HR RBI Avg Obp Slg EQA VORP
Justin Morneau 25 95 27 84 .313 .359 .597 .299 33.5
Chris Shelton 26 99 16 44 .275 .340 .480 .269 12.5
Shelton came out of the gate like a gangbuster, hitting .326/.404/.783 with 10 homers in April. Since then he's been quite mediocre with a significant power lapse. He's already struck out 95 times, but he's still one of the reasons the Tigers are where they are. He may be slumping in power, but he's still a hitter to be reckoned with. Justin Morneau came out of the gate like a snail, however, hitting .208/.274/.416 the first month of the season. Now we all know what a different matter it is, as he belted .364/.400/.737 in June and .393/.418/.702 in July.
Defensively neither player is a Gold Glove contender, but neither player is a liability in the field, either. Being primarily an offensive position, both men are capable defenders, and their defensive play shouldn't have too much of an impact in the outcome of any game.
Name Age Gam H SB RF Avg Obp Slg EQA VORP
Luis Castillo 30 89 103 12 4.70 .278 .334 .370 .239 8.2
Placido Polanco 30 86 105 1 5.25 .290 .320 .359 .230 4.4
Both of these players will turn 31 before the first snowfall of the winter, and both are maintaining characters of light-hitting middle infielders. Castillo's speed still gives him a significant advantage on the basebaths, and his OBP is inches better than Polcano's, but in the end each player is worth about the same with a bat in his hands. The biggest difference between the two is a statistic that largely is reliant on the batters who follow them to the plate: runs. Castillo has been plated 59 times in 2006 to Polanco's 44.
Second base is a defensive position, and you can see by looking at the numbers I posted for Range Factor that Placido Polanco has a significant advantage over Luis Castillo. As continued proof that Castillo's injuries are having an effect on his defense, his defensive rate of production is 97. Polanco's defensive rate of production is 105. While Polanco isn't flashing a stellar glove, he's been better than Castillo.
I know Castillo is ailing. Everyone knows it. The fact that the guy can come out day after day and still play at the level he does, when something just isn't right, is a testament to him as a man. He has heart, and in all honestly he's been a decent second baseman for the Twins, in spite of what I've said. Unfortunately, even through his VORP nearly doubles Polanco's, it doesn't take into account any defensive measure. Polanco has contributed more, if only just slightly, on the defensive side of the ball, and being a defensive position I have to give the Tigers the advantage at second base.
Name Age Gam H HR RBI RF Avg Obp Slg EQA VORP
Nick Punto 28 77 72 0 23 2.37 .321 .403 .420 .282 15.9
Brandon Inge 29 98 83 20 60 3.28 .249 .307 .494 .259 6.0
This is the classic scenario of one spectrum versus the other. On one side you have your regular, run-of-the-mill, just-what-you'd-expect third baseman: decent glove, lots of power, mediocre overall hitter. On the other side you have Nick Punto: no power, quick, gets on base. Third base, while definitely not to the extent of first base, has transformed itself into more of an offensive position over the last 10-15 years. However, over the past couple of seasons, defense has again become a valuable commodity at the hot corner, and another trend may be on the horizon.
So, where do you sit? With Punto, you're going to get solid at-bats. With Inge, you have a scoring threat even with nobody on base. Defensively, Inge has the better Range Factor. Furthermore, Punto's defensive rate of production is 91; Inge's is 114.
If you're looking for flexibility as a tie-breaker, good friggin' luck. Punto can play any outfield position, third base, short and second. Inge can play any outfield position, third base, first base and catcher. Push.
In fact, I have to score third base a push in general. Inge has the edge on defense, but in spite of his power Punto is given the nod offensively. Punto's EQA and Value Over Replacemnt Player are better proof than OBP or SLG.
Name Age Gam H SB RF Avg Obp Slg EQA VORP
Jason Bartlett 26 37 41 1 4.02 .336 .415 .467 .291 12.2
Carlos Guillen 30 97 104 12 4.50 .304 .390 .509 .298 37.9
Looking at the lines you see above, the advantage should already be clear. If Jason Bartlett had played at this level, with the Twins all season instead of the last 5 weeks, there would be some more competition. Unfortunately this is not the case, and in spite of how great Jason has been since his callup, Guillen has been just as good for a longer period.
Guillen sports the Tigers' top VORP. For a shortstop, he carries a big stick, even if not as big as Miguel Tejada's or Alex Rodriguez when he didn't play third. He's jacked 12 homers on the year, driven in 61 runs (2nd in Detroit), and is slugging over .500, all the while maintaining not just a high batting average but a high on-base percentage as well. On top of all this, he's not bad in the field, either. He has great range, but his defensive rate is 95; 5 runs below average. The same as Jason Bartlett.
I'm happy with Bartlett, I'm glad he's ours. Guillen turns 31 in September, so as soon as next year you could see a reversal in who the better player is. Until then, however...
Outfield & Designated Hitter
Name Age Gam H HR RBI RF Avg Obp Slg EQA VORP
Jason Kubel 24 49 45 8 25 1.56 .281 .310 .463 .252 3.6
Jason Tyner 29 13 18 0 7 3.31 .353 .389 .373 .253 1.9
Rondell White 34 65 48 3 25 1.52 .215 .246 .296 .173 -17.2
Michael Cuddyer 27 88 85 14 63 1.83 .270 .355 .495 .279 16.7
Craig Monroe 29 86 81 14 51 1.99 .260 .290 .471 .247 2.8
Magglio Ordonez 32 95 111 16 70 1.86 .300 .347 .478 .271 16.5
Dmitri Young 32 20 18 2 9 2.26 .231 .277 .346 .209 -2.5
Marcus Thames 29 71 65 19 43 1.75 .275 .351 .597 .299 21.3
A couple of things here. I've listed the designated hitters and outfielders together because it's the same case with both teams--each are alternating DH at-bats between players who generally are outfielders. Second, as a complete and total homer, I have to point out this list would favor the Twins were both Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart healthy.
As it is, there are no outstanding defenders on either side of the ball. Jason Tyner's Range Factor indicates he can cover some ground, and indeed, his defensive rates in left and center fields are 131 and 120 respectively. While the sample size isn't the largest, he's been quite effective so far. Beyond this, however, everyone is remarkably mediocre.
Offensively, the Tigers' Maggio Ordonez is a significantly larger threat than anyone else on this list. Their second-best threat, Marcus Thames, is also rated better offensively than our biggest stick, Michael Cuddyer. For reference purposes, Torii Hunter is hitting .269/.346/.441, with 14 homers and 49 RBI. His EQA is .260, Range Factor is 2.76, and his defensive rate is 106.
What the Twins have on their side here is youth and potential, in both Kubel and to an extent Cuddyer. Tyner has been extremely valuable as a stop-gap until Hunter returns. Against the Twins are the sheer numbers: Detroit's outfielders and designated hitter have lodged prettier statistics. This is what counts.