2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Minnesota Twins

Once the Twins actually trade Johan Santana, will there be anything even vaugely interesting going on in Minnesota?  Stop #14 will take a look at the entire state of Minnesota and hopefully answer that question.
Record: 79-83, 3rd in AL Central
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula):  80.26 wins (718 runs scored,  725 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Twins Killings (macabre!)
More Twins Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview: It’s odd that the Twins are only known as “That team that’s about to trade Johan Santana”  Sure, he’s “the best pitcher in the game”, but there are plenty of other things in Minnesota that don’t get any notice.  For a .500 team, they’re something of a Sabermetrician’s delight in how many lessons they personify.
What went right: Who was the third most valuable reliever in baseball last year, according to VORP?  Did you say Matt Guerrier (ahead of J.J. Putz and Takashi Saito, and just behind Rafael Betancourt and Heath Bell)?  Joe Nathan came in 6th.  Both had a VORP in excess of 30.  Pat Neshek came in with a VORP of 21.9, which put him ahead of Jose Valverde and Jason Isringhausen.  Neshek, in particular, allowed a line drive in a mere 16% of the batted balls hit against him and gets more than a strikeout per inning.  (The guy pitches from an arm angle that should be illegal.)  In his career, he’s allowed a .168/.219/.284 line to right-handers.  He does become somewhat normal against lefties, but then again a .201/.292/.308 line ain’t half-bad.  Guerrier may have gotten a bit lucky this year (his BABIP dipped), but he’s another who allows very few line drives, and he greatly improved his K/BB ratio.  Why does no one know about the Twins amazing bullpen outside of St. Paul?
Joe Mauer didn’t win the batting title again, but he continued to hit .294/.382/.426 and played the position of catcher.  Not bad.  Mauer did have a leg injury over the past year, and there is one concerning piece of information concerning Mauer.  While he’s really low on the strikeouts and does walk quite a bit, he’s not a power hitter and has relied in the past on the line drive as the main component of his game.  Over the last two years, he posted line drive percentages of 24%+, but this year, it was 17%.  I have to wonder if the injury had something to do with it.  Either way, he’s an outstanding talent (and he’ll only be 25 this year!), and if you hear that he’s back to fully healthy this spring, be prepared for news of him breaking into a whole new level.  Here’s to the people who laughed at Minnesota for picking Mauer first overall a few years ago as a “signability” pick. 
What went wrong: Nick Punto should have an article written about him here.  He must have compromising pictures of someone on the Twins coaching staff.  Punto, according to VORP was just about as un-valuable as Justin Morneau was valuable.  Think about that for a minute… I grant that he did have a pretty good 2006 campaign, and maybe someone in the Twins’ front office kept hoping against hope that he would re-capture that form, but it ain’t gonna happen.  Punto had a “breakout” season in 2006, in which he hit .290/.352/.373 and one home run.  Punto plays third base.  Even if he had sustained that line, who in the Twins front office looked at him as legitimate third base material?  Were they really that impressed with his batting average?  To make matters worse, did you know that Punto, on the rare occasions that he made it to first base, was actually picked off four times this year?
Someone in Minnesota is probably a wee bit concerned though about what happened with Juan Rincon over the past year.  How did a guy who had posted consistent 2.5o ERAs over the past few years suddenly balloon to a 5+ ERA with 9 HR surrendered in 53 IP?  Rincon’s walk rate was elevated last year, but the real culrpit was the fact that he surrendered many more fly balls last year and percentage-wise, many more of them left the yard than in previous years.  He may very well be developing into more of a fly ball pitcher, but a reminder that HR/FB is not much of a reliable stat.  I’m more concerned about his walk rate.  There’s also the suspicion that has to be addressed.  Rincon was suspended for steroid use in 2005.  In Baseball Between the Numbers, the BP folks noted that most of the players suspended for steroid use were relievers, and that they were probably using Vitamin S to help them recover more quickly.  It’s dangerous to draw conclusions from a single case and to assume post hoc ergo propter hoc, but it’s something that crossed my mind, and we have no idea of knowing whether or not Rincon continued using following his initial suspension, but it’s a theory.
Yeah, that about sums it up: Want a bit of perspective on what Ron Gardenhire thinks about Johan Santana?  Santana started 33 games.  In only one of them was Santana removed from the game in the middle of an inning.  It certainly wasn’t for quality bullpen arms to go to.  Seems that Santana has earned the right to work his way out of his own messes, thank you very much.
Garza vs. Young: Which is more important, a good young pitcher or a good young position player?  (There is no right answer to that question, btw)  The Twins, partly motivated by the fact that they lost Torii Hunter to free agency traded a good young pitcher in Matt Garza for a good young outfielder in Delmon Young.  They have several pitching prospects in the minors who are tossing up OPS against numbers in the low to mid 600s and can rack up the strikeouts (Slowey, Blackburn), so while Garza is certainly a nice commodity to have around, he’s got a few replacements lined up to take his place.  The Twins have a pretty bare cupboard when it comes to position players in the minors.  So, if you meet a Twins fan who laments the unforgiveable trading of Garza, because you should never trade away young pitching, explain to him that you should trade away young pitching when you have several other young pitchers and when another team is willing to give you something nice that you also need.
Let’s just hope (for the Twins’ sake) that this doesn’t turn into Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields.
Would a salary cap make a difference?: Of course it would.  I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that the three suitors for Johan are the Yankees (top payroll), Red Sox (2nd), and Mets (3rd) and that the reason is that Johan Santana, in the current market will get a 5/100 contract (or something like that) and that the reason that the Twins won’t sign that contract is because they can’t without crippling their team.  It’s not that the Twins have a divine right (or a reserve clause) to keep Santana.  Indeed, it’s entirely possible that the Twins may decide that commiting a large amount of money to one player is a silly way to run a business or that they think they can get better value for that $20M with someone else.  The problem is that the Twins really don’t have the chance to make that decision for themselves.  The realities of the market will make it for them.  The Yankees can pay out 5/100 contract and not have it cripple their team.  The Twins can’t. 
Let’s be clear on a few things: a salary cap won’t necessarily promote parity.  Salary cap detractors point out that the Patriots are about to win their 25th straight Super Bowl, despite the NFL having a salary cap.  It may not promote parity, but it will promote championships being won for the proper reason: brain power and planning.  Then there’s the philosophical question of the salary cap.  Should the odds be even up?  That’s a whole other discussion.
Oddly enough, though, the lack of a salary cap may explain why Nick Punto has a job.  Often times, anti-cappers point to the fact that several teams persist in playing players who clearly have no business being in a major league uniform.  Consider though: any young player is a bit of a gamble, some more so than others.  The sure-er things are more expensive.  Punto is a question mark, and one that’s turning quickly into one of those frown faces you make with a colon and a parenthsis.  If lightning strikes and Punto succeeds, the Twins are geniuses and a cap isn’t needed (see, small market teams can succeed!).  If not, it’s their own fault for playing such an obvious dud for so long and a cap won’t solve stupid. 
Outlook: Imagine what the Twins could do if instead of being constant sellers, they could add a player to this nucleus that they have here.  Think about that for a minute.

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3 Responses to 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Minnesota Twins

  1. dan says:

    This is for Mike, I don’t feel like firing up the e-mail machine…
    If I remember correctly, you said that a normal changeup will be about 8 mph slower than a fastball, with the best ones being a little slower than that. The Neshek player card linked to in the article (and below) shows his changeup being about 20 mph slower than his fastball. Any thoughts?
    http://baseball.bornbybits.com/plots/Pat_Neshek.html

  2. dan says:

    I think Bill Smith read the last paragraph of this post (Morneau and Cuddyer signings today)

  3. nathaniel dawson says:

    You mean you really couldn’t find a place for a name like Coco Crisp?

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