Winning the division and going to the postseason is not a treat awarded every team. Many would agree that the Twins enjoyed a respectable 2009 campaign, despite it being a roller coaster of emotion. Fans survived the low moments, and enjoyed the high points.
Mishandling the re-signing of Joe Mauer, however, could derail the roller coaster for years to come.
Coming off perhaps the best offensive season by a catcher in the history of baseball, Mauer has all the contract leverage in the world. He is currently signed through 2010, but re-signing him to a long deal as soon as possible is obviously desirable.
On the free agent market, a player typically earns anywhere from $4 to $5 million per Win Above Replacement (WAR) annually. Considering various stints on the disabled list throughout Mauer's short career, he has amassed 27.9 WAR through about 4.3 seasons, which breaks down to about 6.48 WAR per full season. On the open market, Mauer could get roughly $30 million a year. That's just about the yearly payroll of the Florida Marlins.
And that's the last you will hear me talk of Mauer on the free agent market, as it cannot happen. Baseball would never be the same if there were a bidding war for the rights to a 26-year old catcher with Mauer's resume. Just about every head would roll in the Twins' organization if Mauer were allowed to walk.
Besides, if Mauer were gone, Twins' fans would burn the publicly-funded Target Field to the ground.no comments
Following the infamous Game 3 baserunning error, Nick Punto may be one of the most hated men in Minnesota. He ignored the (possibly late) stop signal from third-base coach Scott Ullger in favor of the roaring crowd. Punto probably ended up costing the Twins a run in that fateful Game 3, which ended up being the last of 2009, and the last in Metrodome history.
But that one mistake cannot replace a surprisingly solid season from the veteran utility infielder.
The following is a statement that may shock you, so please be warned: Punto leads the team in pitches taken per plate appearance with 4.2. Yes, more than Denard Span. Yes, more than even Joe Mauer. 13.9 percent of Punto's 440 plate appearances this past season resulted in walks. That percentage is higher than Mauer's 12.5 percent, and, again, leads the team.
Both his 4.20 pitches per plate appearance and 13.9 walk percentage are well above the league average.
While Punto swings at more first-pitches than Mauer does, Punto swings at fewer pitches outside of the zone than his MVP-caliber teammate. (This could be accounted for by Mauer's sheer ability to hit poor pitches better than Punto, but it still an interesting stat.) It seems ridiculous, but one could legitimately argue that Punto is the most patient hitter in Minnesota.
Putting aside the fateful miscue in Game 3, Punto remains one of the most effective base-runners in the league. In Baseball Prospectus' Eqivalent Baserunning Runs (EqBRR), Punto is ranked as the fourteenth best base-runner in the major-leagues, and by far the best on the Twins. EqBRR takes into account virtually all aspects of baserunning, including actual stolen bases, advancement on fly balls, advancement on ground balls, and other such elements.
Punto is obviously a light-hitter, and that is what alienates him to many fans, but he has his value. While he won't be leading any team in doubles or home runs, Punto is an above-average number nine hitter. His Wins Above Replacement this year was 1.2, and he has averaged just under 1.5 per full season. 1.5 WAR is certainly acceptable for the last hitter in your batting lineup.
Finally, on a point that could probably stand alone, Punto's fielding makes him entirely worth a full-time position in the lineup. His combined UZR this year was 5.1 -- not Franklin Gutierrez by any stretch, but essential for the ground-ball pitchers in Minnesota's rotation.
Perhaps the most compelling argument on Punto's worthiness to be a regular in the 2010 Minnesota infield, though, is the lack of other options. Brendan Harris is up for arbitration, Alexi Casilla is out of options, and Orlando Cabrera's contract is up. Punto's salary is the only one guaranteed, so if you put him on the bench or attempt to trade him you will be forced to fill second base, third base, and shortstop this winter.
Hardly a position you would want the Twins in, right?
Whichever middle infield position the Twins choose to address this winter—and I'll dive deeper into that as the season wears on—Nick Punto needs to start at one of them.no comments
Well, it was fun while it lasted.
I really don't want to dwell on this series for very long, for two main reasons: one, outside of Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano the Twins did virtually nothing right, and two, this was an incredibly winnable series.
If I had to choose one description of this series, it would without a doubt be "missed opportunities." Minnesota left 17 base-runners -- at least one in every of the game's eleven innings -- stranded on base during the second game, which, when coupled with Phil Cuzzi, makes it incredibly difficult to win a game.
Joe Nathan is staring to prove that he isn't the best postseason pitcher. During his postseason career, Nathan has amassed an ERA of 7.88, albeit in just eight innings. Nick Punto, meanwhile, has played spectacularly as of late -- minus that one baserunning blunder that probably cost the Twins a run last night. In the three postseason games this year, Punto has hit .444/.583/.556 with an OPS of 1.139.
Clearly, the Twins weren't playing the Yankees this postseason; they were playing themselves. And lost.
Minnesota has lost the nine straight playoff games since their Game 1 victory over the Yankees in 2004. That's a painful statistic for any team, but even more so for a team that supposedly "does the little things right."
Newsflash: they don't.
Feel free to let loose your pent-up anger in the comment section (remembering, of course, that this is a family-friendly site), or share other things that you think went wrong.
For now, though, I need at least 24 hours away from the Twins. (I doubt that will actually happen, but it's a novel idea, isn't it?) After that I may or may not launch back into analyzing this especially painful series. Haven't decided yet.
But you can count on the fact that I'll be providing all the offseason analysis, rumors, and predictions any Twins fan could ever dream of. Be sure to visit TwinsTarget as often as possible. We're going to have some fun this winter!no comments
3,208 and counting. That's the number of seismographs that have registered Joe Nathan's implosion in the bottom of the ninth inning Friday night against the New York Yankees.
Just days removed from one of the greatest victories in team history, the Twins lost perhaps the most frustrating game this side of 2002.
There are plenty of scapegoats ready for the very public dressing-down they are sure to receive from many Twins' fans, but none more so than All-Star closer Joe Nathan. Minnesota entered the bottom of the ninth inning three outs away from tying the series. It's not that difficult to retire three batters before surrendering a run -- as 73 percent of all innings have no runs scored, according to Baseball Prospectus -- but against the heart of the New York order it is another matter entirely.
That said, there is still no excuse for allowing a single to Mark Teixeira and a home run to Alex Rodriguez to tie the game. Fangraphs lists Nathan's WPA as -.458, which is extremely high yet doesn't quite seem high enough.
Of course, there are other blame-able parties in this extremely frustrating game. 17 runners left on base may be humorous in high-school junior varsity, but in a major league baseball game, it is purely unacceptable.
The most telling instance of this ineptitude with runners on base came in the most crucial situation: the top of the eleventh. Minnesota had managed to load the bases with no outs. Unfortunately, Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez were due up. All that was needed was a well-placed ground ball. Or a walk. Even a deep fly ball would have scored the go-ahead run.
But, obviously, this was too difficult for the Twins. Young lined out on the first pitch from David Robertson, and good baserunning prevented the double play. Gomez, not to be out-done, also swung mightily at the first pitch, grounding directly to first base, resulting in a force out at home.
The night's "hero" -- Brendan Harris -- flied out to center to end the threat. As everyone on this hemisphere foresaw, the Yankees hit a walk-off home run the next half-inning to permanently dampen all hopes of a Game 2 victory.
That's really all I have to say about this game. I won't even mention the Gomez base-running blunder or the infuriating missed call by left-field umpire Phil Cuzzi. After all, I can only take so much heart-break in one night.
Another much-needed off day will come tomorrow, then the series will move to the Metrodome. Another loss and the Twins will be eliminated, but with every win our postseason lives are extended.
In the words of Michael Cuddyer, "The guys have to remember what it was like last weekend when we were in the exact same no lose situation." Call me a homer, but anything is still possible, Twins' fans!
You have to hand it to the Yankees—they are exactly who we thought they were.
Brian Duensing didn't pitch poorly by any stretch of the imagination, but it is not difficult to surrender runs to this potent New York offense. Early on, Duensing was locked in, sprinkling his fastball in among his great breaking balls. He was getting ahead in the count and kept the ball on the ground, doing everything possible for his team.
It's cliche, I know, but one poor pitch to Derek Jeter was a major turnaround point in this game. After that two-run shot off the bat of Jeter, Duensing never returned to the dominant pitching he had going in the first few innings. I'll admit, however, that Duensing's final line of 4.2 IP, 5 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 3 SO is better than I expected out of a rookie making the first postseason start of his career.
It should be noted that Duensing gave up five runs in the tiny Yankee Stadium. Playing in this new stadium seems like the baseball equivalent of the Arena Football League: Everything is so small, you know it can't be "real" baseball.
C.C. Sabathia was perhaps the largest—no pun intended—reason the Twins lost. His slider was flawless tonight, and he struck out eight Twins batters in just under seven innings of work. He seemed virtually unhittable, even though he did scatter eight hits during his start. Even though we'll likely have to face Sabathia again this series (providing we win a game), it's good to know that it likely won't be before Game Four.
Like I said, the Twins did manage to get runners on base, tallying more hits than the Yankees on the night. The Twins were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, which should be considered totally unacceptable. Runs are worth their weight in gold in any baseball game, but even more so when playing the Yankees in New York.
The first three batters in the Minnesota lineup and Nick Punto went a combined 8-17 (.471), while the 4-5-6 hitters went 1-12 (.083). Delmon Young and Jason Kubel went a combined 0-8 with four strikeouts, which is also unacceptable, especially in the postseason.
As a side note, Kubel should not be in right field. He is a liability and, while the defensive aspect doesn't matter as much in the diminutive Yankee Stadium, his bat seems to come alive when he doesn't have to track down fly balls on defense. Denard Span should be in left field, Carlos Gomez in center, and Delmon Young in right with Kubel as the designated hitter. This allows Kubel to stay in the game if Gardenhire should opt to make a late-inning defensive substitution.
Fatigue was an issue in this game, but not the kind that has you falling asleep in the dugout. Gomez claimed to have slept from about 4 a.m. until noon, and I'm sure most other players had their fair share of shut-eye as well. No, the fatigue was not the kind displayed via bags under the eyes, but through sloppy play.
Minnesota now has the much-needed opportunity to spend a day napping on the couch and allowing themselves time for emotional and mental recovery. Although just a five-game set, this series is far from over.
Nick Blackburn will start on Friday for the Twins. Be sure to stick around here at TwinsTarget.com for all the ALDS coverage you can handle!no comments
Last season, the Twins were in a Game 163 against the Chicago White Sox. Casilla was the final batter retired. On Tuesday night, Casilla had the last at-bat, but knocked in the game-winning run.
Funny how things like that work out, isn't it?