Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Minnesota Twins 2008 Preview: Life Without Johan

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

It was a very disappointing season for the Minnesota Twins. After six straight winning seasons and a 96 win campaign in 2006, the Twins fell all the way off to 79-83. The Twins weren't particularly good either at the plate or on the mound. Young starters like Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, and Kevin Slowey did not succeed the way the Twins had hoped, while the offense featured way, WAY too much of Nick Punto, Jason Tyner, Jeff Cirillo, and Alexi Casilla. Over the winter the Twins traded away the best pitcher in the game for a rather unimpressive group of prospects, and traded a very solid young pitcher and their shortstop to acquire one of the games' best hitting prospects.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

The Twins finished third to last in the AL in runs scored in 2007. Part of that is park illusion; the Metrodome actually played as an extreme pitchers park, and the Twins were last in the league in runs scored at home. Although they scored better on the road (4.83 runs per game as opposed to 4.04), the road average isn't all that great either; the league average runs per game was 4.90.

CF Carlos Gomez
C Joe Mauer
LF Delmon Young
1B Justin Morneau
RF Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel
2B Brendan Harris
3B Mike Lamb
SS Adam Everett

I hope that this is just some silly winter idea and not the lineup that the Twins actually plan on using this year. What's wrong, you ask? Let's start at the top. Gomez, acquired in the Santana trade, is not ready for a major league job, much less one as a leadoff hitter. He needs a year in triple A to polish a lot of skills, not the least being his ability to reach base. Young should hit lower in the order, allowing him to learn more about being a major league hitter with less pressure. Lamb and Harris aren't shiny, sexy, young, and cool, but they both are much more proficient at reaching base than Gomez and Young, at least right now. I'd try something like this:

2B Brendan Harris
3B Mike Lamb
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
RF Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel
LF Delmon Young
CF cannon fodder/placeholder like Jason Priddy or Dennard Span. Or Corey Patterson
SS Adam Everett

That's actually not a bad lineup, although the last two spots would amount to little. It would put the best OBP guys at the top, followed by guys hitting 4-7 who could all drive them around the bases. Mauer just needs to add some power to be one of the best hitters in the game. Morneau should never have been an MVP, but he is a solid run producer.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Following the general trend, the Twins were second in the AL in home ERA, but below average on the road. Any team with Johan Santana in the starting rotation is going to finish above average in ERA no matter who the other starters are . Joe Nathan remained one of the best closers in the game.

SP Livan Hernandez
SP Scott Baker
SP Boof Bonser
SP Francisco Liriano
SP Kevin Slowey

CL Joe Nathan
RP Pat Neshek
RP Juan Rincon

Hernandez was signed as spring training opened essentially to eat up innings and allow Baker and Bonser to not have to be a staff ace at young ages. A lot was expected from Bonser last year, but he finished with a 5.10 ERA and seemed to get worse as the season went on. Nutty the Athletic Cup and his friend Scott Baker started badly but had a 3.44 ERA and 64/17 K/BB ratio after the All-Star break. A lot of attention will be focused on Liriano, who had a 2006 season that almost rivaled Santana's before needing Tommy John surgery. The Twins should be satisfied with a good 150 innings from him this year. Nathan has posted ERAs below 2.00 three years out of the past four. Neshek a terrific setup man, and the Twins have a lot of depth in the bullpen.

Witnesses for the defense

The Twins were slightly above average defensively in 2007. Their best defender, center fielder Torii Hunter, left as a free agent over the winter. If Gomez does take over in center, the Twins won't miss Hunter defensively; Gomez is fast, covers center very well, and has a very strong arm. Everett, obtained from the Astros, is a terrible hitter but an outstanding shortstop. Cuddyer is an underrated right fielder who had 19 baserunner kills (isn't that a way cooler name than assists?) last year.

Farm aid

The Twins don't have any star level talent in the system at this time. Gomez has a lot of potential but really needs more development time. Ben Revere is another speedy centerfielder who could develop, but he's years away. Pitcher Phillip Humber, picked up in the Santana trade, was a top prospect before having Tommy John surgery in 2006. He did not pitch as well last year as he had before the surgery and will have to take a big step forward to show that he has any future as more than a back of the rotation guy. Deolis Guerra also came from the Mets; he showed promise as an 18 year old in A ball in 2006 but has a long way to go before being able to contribute in the majors.

Watch out for that tree!

There really isn't anyone here that I see as having a real good chance of the wheels coming off of any time very soon. Nathan is the only regular over 30 and there is nothing in his record or his style of pitching that suggests that he won't continue to be very effective. There is always some chance that Mauer, a very large catcher, might come up with an injury that curtails his future, but I'd be willing to take my chances with him. The Twins wisely have him take a decent amount of his at bats as the designated hitter, saving wear and tear. I should have mentioned Hernandez as being a regular over 30 but (a) he's not anything more than a placeholder in the rotation for this team and (b) he's already defied the odds on being effective as long as he has, so who knows, he could keep doing this for ten more years.

I could make a hat, or a broach...

I actually like this team more than a lot of baseball writers do. Yes, they lost Santana and Hunter. But they still have a very good core lineup, a group of decent young pitchers, and a solid bullpen. Bonser and Baker could both step forward as two of the better pitchers in the division. Liriano is a wild card; if he gets back even close to where he was in 2006 the Twins could have a very tough rotation. Mauer and Morneau are already two of the division's best hitters; rapid improvement from Young and Kubel and a batting order that makes sense would make this team a threat.

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