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First Half Report Card

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I was recently asked to do a "Report Card" for the Twins' first half for a site called Sports Projections.  Stop by and check out the site, I'm not sure when this will be posted but I'll let you know.  They have some power rankings up and some predictions for different sports.  What follows is what I sumbitted to them as my Report Card on the Minnesota Twins.

FIRST HALF REPORT CARD

Pitching Grade:  B
Hitting Grade:  C-
Fielding Grade:  B
Managing Grade:  A-
Overall Grade:  C

First Half Summary:

Minnesota has been a perfect study in mediocrity the first half of the year.  While the Twins have their share of stars, once you get past these few players (specifically looking at position players), the talent seems to drop off the deep end.  You could take the 4-game set against the White Sox to end the first half as a microcosm of the 2007 campaign.  Dominating Chicago in games one and two before reverting to typical ground-ball, non-extra-base-hit offense in games three and four, there seems to be little logic for how the team will perform on any given night.  The results:  pretty decent pitching with a schizophrenic offense.

The problem offensively is that once you get through the first half of the lineup, there isn't much to be concerned about as an opposing pitcher.  Here are some pretty sad lines for the Twins:

Split          At-Bats   Avg   Obp   Slg   XBH
As #7 hitter:    324    .235  .303  .346    24
As #8 hitter:    315    .213  .280  .295    14
As #9 hitter:    298    .221  .297  .279    14
As LF:           324    .238  .288  .370    25
As 3B:           327    .229  .306  .321    19
As DH:           288    .243  .319  .337    21

The only three homers from the designated hitter position have come from Justin Morneau.  There are three major offensive black holes in the lineup nearly everyday, and because of a weak bench oftentimes there are more.

On the other side of the ball, both veterans who were brought in have lost their positions in the rotation, Sidney Ponson to the black recesses of assignment designation and Ramon Ortiz to mop-up duty in the bullpen.  In their places are 25-year old Scott Baker and 23-year old Matt Garza.  Baker has been up and down, but has had good outings in three of his last four starts.  Garza just completed his first start of the season on Friday evening, throwing six innings of shutout baseball.  With Kevin Slowey back in AAA Rochester, the rotation of Santana, Bonser, Silva, Baker and Garza isn't nearly as tough as Minnesota rotations in the recent past, but if we can take a lead out of the fifth or sixth inning, our bullpen is tough to get around.

First Half Struggling Players:

Juan Rincon (3.98 ERA, 31.2 IP, 1.61 WHIP, .808 OppOPS, 7.67 K/9, 4.55 BB/9)  Arguably the best set-up man from 2004-2006, Rincon is having an off year.  His walks and hits are both up, and his 5 HR's allowed are more than '05 and '06 combined.  I believe his confidence was shaken during a rough 3-appearance stint in June, but if he can bounce back he can still play a vital role in relief.

Nick Punto (279 AB, .211/.313/.272, 13 XBH, 13 SB, 41 BB, 48 K)  Everyone knew that 2006 was a career year for Punto, but not many in Minnesota thought his offense would be this disappointing.  While his defense, speed and versatility make him an ideal utility player off the bench, Punto doesn't have the skills to be an everyday third baseman.  I like him as a player and I believe he does have a role on the 25-man roster, but if the Twins aren't going to throw up the white flag by September that role can't be as a starting player.

Jason Kubel  (240 AB, .250/.302/.404, 16 2B, 7 HR, 18 BB, 46 K)  Recently, Kubel has been hitting a little bit better.  He's started to generate some power, and has an .853 OPS so far in July.  Still, his current performance is far from what the Twins were hoping for considering his .320/.385/.499 career line in the minor leagues.  Because of the options the Twins have available, Kubel isn't going to be losing at-bats, which is good for his future and in all honesty, probably good for the Twins' immediate future as well.  His defense has gotten better but can still be a circus.  If the Twins are going to make a run after the break, Kubel will need to continue his recent trend at the dish.

Others:  Jason Tyner, Lew Ford, Rondell White, Luis Rodriguez

First Half Stars:

Johan Santana  (2.75 ERA, 121 IP, 1.03 WHIP, .650 OppOPS, 9.30 K/9, 2.23 K/9)  My favorite part of the spring was when anyone (especially ESPN because, you know, the big dawgs always do their research) said that Santana "just wasn't himself".  The only thing off about Johan this season are the number of homers he's allowed (17).  In all other aspects, Santana has been as good as, if not better than, "himself".  In his last four starts:  28 IP, 20 K, 4 BB, 1.80 ERA.  He'll contend for another Cy Young, with the only difference between '06 and '07 being that this year will probably have other pitchers just as deserving of the award on the ballot.

Torii Hunter (326 AB, .301/.342/.558, 25 2B, 1 3B, 19 HR, 11 SB, 19 BB, 58 K)  I've said before that THIS is the Torii Hunter most Twins fans thought they were getting after seeing Hunter thrash through the first half of 2002.  It's hard to say what's different about Torii.  His approach at the plate hasn't changed, he's still aggresive and likes to swing himself out of his shoes.  Perhaps the one thing I've seen that concretely is leading to better results is his disciline in laying off outer-half breaking balls early in the count.  Whatever the case may be, he's hitting the ball hard and square, and he's getting results.  In the field, Hunter looks the best he has in three years.  His range isn't phenomenal like it used to be, but it's still a plus.  He's fast, has an accurate arm and some pretty decent power behind his throws, and is still one of the better defensive center fielders in the game.

Justin Morneau  (322 AB, .295/.364/.581, 16 2B, 2 3B, 24 HR, 35 BB, 48 K)  It's beautiful watching what Justin Morneau has turned into.  He's an amazing offensive talent, and there's nothing better than seeing how big his eyes get when he sees a fat pitch.  Over the last couple of years he's learned to recognize pitches, has reigned in his desire to swing at low-and-away breaking balls, and as a result doesn't have much of a hole in his swing.  While a majority of his home runs are pulled, he has power to all fields, and is just as happy to shoot a tough outer-half pitch the other way as he is to take advantage of your inside mistake.  Defensively he's above average, using his large frame well around first base both in range and in stretching to scoop errant throws.

Joe Mauer (217 AB, .309/.401/.456, 16 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 5 SB, 32 BB, 31 K)  Joe Mauer reminds me of Paul Molitor at the plate in his swing, in his athletic frame and in his demeanor.  While many experts predict that Mauer will generate 25-HR power, I believe that Mauer's home runs will be the result of mechanics, strength and quality of contact rather than pure power, i.e., his home run totals could fluctuate pretty widely from year-to-year.  Is he capable of 25 homers?  Yes.  Will he hit 25 consistently?  I don't think so.  Instead, he's going to walk more than he strikes out, is going to take better at-bats than anyone else in the league, and will post lines of .340/.410/.490 on a yearly basis.  Mauer is a natural hitter with no holes in his swing, and at 24 is going to get better.  Behind the plate he's nearly as good with a powerful and accurate arm, and he has what appears to be a natural instinct to block the plate on relay throws.  You know that Pepsi commercial with  Mauer and Johnny Damon?  Damon would have been out on a play that close, because Joe wouldn't have caught the ball behind the plate.

Pat Neshek (1.70 ERA, 42.1 IP, 0.73 WHIP, .448 OppOPS, 11.06 K/9, 2.76 BB/9)  What is there to say about Neshek?  He's had an amazing season and probably should have made the All-Star team.  With Rincon struggling he's become the new set-up man for Joe Nathan, and he's been virtually lights out thanks to two and a half nasty pitches and one of the funkiest throwing motions I've ever seen.  Those mechanics, combined with his quality of pitches, make him the perfect short relief man.

Others:  Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Luis Castillo, Matt Guerrier

Second Half Projection:

What the Twins and GM Terry Ryan have to decide is this:  Are the Twins good enough to sacrifice a piece of the future in order to get help now?  With payroll restrictions in coming years and difficult decisions on players to be made in the short term, is it worth mortgaging 5-6 years of cheap talent for an expensive bat who, more than likely, won't be around more than a year...or two at the most?  If Minnesota wants to make a significant trade, they have to believe that picking up that player will give them a very realistic shot at winning the ultimate title in October (what, November?).  If picking up that one player isn't going to push the Twins to a realistic shot at a World Series title, then there's zero use in making a trade just to make a trade.  Right now, as much as I am dying to see a change, I don't think the Twins should do it.  I don't think they're good enough right now to take the chance.  If in the last half of July and early August the Twins go on a 17-4 run, then things will change and Ryan probably would make a move.  But right now the Twins are barely above .500, and that kind of a team won't make it to the post-season in this division.

I predict the Twins will play better than .500 ball the rest of the season, but not play well enough to break out of third place in the AL Central.

2007 Final Projected Record:

The Twins will go 42-32 in the second half, to finish 87-75.

Projected Divison Standings at end of the year

  1. Detroit
  2. Cleveland
  3. Minnesota
  4. Chicago
  5. Kansas City