This isn't a call for change. It isn't a vision of doom. Simply this is a statement of fact which could shift to a louder voice should performances remain unchanged.
Yeah, I know. Our 2007 season is only six games into life, merely 3.7% complete, and here I am preaching Doom and Gloom for our offense. Mr. Pessimistic. Mr. Never-Sees-the-Bright-Side-of-Things. I know, I KNOW. My mother still tells me the same thing. You ruin all the best days of the year with your negativity, especially Christmas, she says. I can't help it.
My thoughts on the Twins offense have to do with some of the supplemental characters. Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Castillo and Hunter--I'm not worried about what kind of numbers these players put up. Not yet. The players whose performances worry me are players who don't have the well-rounded tools these aforementioned players have. The players who concern me may be short on power, or plate discipline, or health or any combination of these three things and more.
Jeff Cirillo was brought in for his veteran presence and his versatility. Additionally, over the last few years of his career, he has a particular strength at the plate:
Year VS LEFT VS RIGHT
AB OPS AB OPS
2002 148 .788 337 .560
2003 88 .608 170 .527
2004 29 .583 46 .533
2005 55 1.120 130 .662
2006 75 .944 188 .720
As in every single example I'll use in this post, the sample sizes are small. Still--each year in the above chart shows, at the very least, a 50 point advantage in Cirillo's totals in OPS against left-handed versus right-handed pitchers. Certainly there's nothing impressive about his OPS against southpaws in 2003 or 2004, but there's also no denying that batting against left-handed pitchers plays to Cirillo's strengths at the dish.
Jeff Cirillo has been placed on the 15-day disabled list, although he is going to be out much longer than 15 days (MLB.com reports it will be more than 15 days). The primary reason the loss of Cirillo hurts the Twins is because of the chart above--he has a specialized ability at the plate that no one else on the bench has. His success against left-handed pitchers was second to none on the Minnesota bench, and now he's lost.
Rondell had an absolutely pitiful season on the whole in 2006...but he showed signs of life after the All Star break. Coming into this season I've been positive on the re-signing (not resigning) of White, because I believe he can make a positive impact on our offense. Now, White is heading to the 15-day disabled list along with Cirillo, and suddenly the entire bottom of the order is filled with question marks.
Including White's disappointing 2006 campaign, his career line is still .286/.338/.465. Yes, last summer sucked with him in the lineup, until July. Yes, he throws pies, even if not to the level of Damon or Stewart. Yes, he has problems staying healthy for an entire season. But our offense needs him to play, and play regularly. If not, it's one more unknown our offense needs to rely on to be effective, and the chances of that happening are much lower than White's chances or repeating 2006's numbers.
In 10 at-bats, Kubel is 2-for-10 with 2 singles, 2 walks and 3 strikeouts. Certainly the numbers shouldn't be too disconcerting at this point, and they aren't. It's the way Kubel has looked at the plate that concerns me. He's looked lost. He's looked like that poor kid who was sent up to pinch-hit against Mariano Rivera in some long-lost playoff game, representing the Twins' last out of the game. He stands in bravely and he swings, but he swings awkwardly, and at pitches at his eyes, and at pitches floating away from the strike zone.
Kubel has strong history as a hitter. His career line in the minors is .320/.385/.499 in 448 at-bats with only 207 stikeouts matching up against 183 walks. He projects as a contact hitter who can flash power, maybe 20 homers per year if not 25...but none of that has come through at the major league level as of yet. And there's nothing I've seen so far in 2007 to make me think that there are better things to come.
Jason Bartlett/Nick Punto/Jason Tyner
Let's talk about nick names in sports, especially names for a group of players. Apparently, nobody told advertisers or announcers that nick names belong to the year they were coined, for the most part. Sure, it's still cute to talk about Bartlett, Punto, Castillo and Tyner as "piranhas"...or "pirhantas" if you're Bert, but until they start playing like they did last year and playing crucial roles in the outcome of a game like they did last year, the nick name needs to stay in 2006.
The reason this is all such a problem is because of three of the "piranhas" performances. After last night's game, Bartlett and Punto have combined to go 4-for-41 (.096) with respective OPS marks of .206 and .448. Tyner has had fewer chances, but it's safe to say his numbers look closer to his career numbers than they do 2006's numbers.
Everywhere barring perhaps the bullpen, the Twins aren't strong enough to compete for the entire season without significant contributions from what you could describe as "supplemental" or "role" players. It's imperative that guys like Ortiz, Silva, Bonser, Bartlett, Punto and Kubel perform, or else the Twins will find themselves on the short end of the post season stick come October.
Most teams, when competitive, will require a certain number of players outside the primary talent circle to step up and play a role in the success of the team. One week into the season, the Twins have seen these performances from the pitching staff, but not from the position players. If the Twins are to avoid the inevitable collapse to mediocrity of certain teams at some unknown point this coming summer, these "supplemental" players will need to emerge.
But, once again, it's early. We don't need to worry about any of these things--not just yet. The time will come, however, when these "little things" will matter, and I'd prefer these things started showing up earlier in the season as opposed to later.