Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First-Half Review: Three Signings

The Twins made three free agent signings this offseason addressing needs at third, the bullpen and short.  How have they fared so far?
Signing Joe Crede.


In my preseason baseball predictions at, I had forewarned of a not so distant future in which Crede’s back would turned to cooked spaghetti and we would be watching a Brian Buscher/Brendan Harris combination as the Twins gutted out Crede’s $5 million contract.  Minus the respite, Crede has been able to provide above-average defense and power at third (relative to what we are used to seeing anyways).  According to John Dewan’s Fielding Bible, Crede is tied with the Angels’ Chone Figgins as the second-best defender at third with saving 16 runs.  This has been an invaluable addition to the left-side of the infield. 


His offense is sugarcoated with 14 home runs and the one walk-off grand slam against the Tigers on May 13th has solidified Crede as a clutch-type despite supplying a marginal 0.80 WPA, 13th overall among third basemen, but he still trails 17 other third basemen in OPS and 18 others according to wOBA.  One of his biggest offensive impediments is that he continues to elevate the ball.  Putting 55.2 percent of his batted balls into play as a fly ball has hindered his overall average (which is now at .234) but his has generated a few more line drives then he had in previous years. In January I noted that his transition to the Metrodome versus USCellular would cost him some of his home run totals due to the suppressive nature of the facility.  I calculated that Crede's AB-to-HR ratio would jump to near 26 AB/HR after putting together a season in which he hit a home run every 14 at-bats.  Fortunately, he did not regress that far, hitting a home run every 18 at-bats instead of the near-doubled prediction. 
Since he's already hit 272 plate appearances, Crede has triggered some of his incentive clauses in his contract and will be looking to get his full $7 million once he hits 525 plate appearances.  If he continues the pace that he is on, Crede will play 55 of the next 73 games and fall short of of the 525 PAs by 21.  For that sort of economic incentive, expect him to play through a few more aches then he would have in the first-half. 

Signing Luis Ayala.
I don't know if 'disaster' would be the appropriate label, but like the situation with the dikes in New Orleans, it could have been prevent had someone in the front office listened to the due diligence warnings.  The Twins' company line behind Ayala was that he was a groundball pitcher with a dominate sinking fastball.  Turns out, neither were true.  His groundball tendencies weren't converted into American currency once he left Montreal in 2004 and visual evidence at revealed that his "sinker" really wasn't sinking all that much. 
For the most part Ayala was consistent with his 2008 season.  There were a few less line drives and a few more fly balls but at the crux of the matter he was a high-contact, low strikeout pitcher.  His ERA was whittled down to 4.18 from over 5.00 in 2008 thanks in part to a much improved 71 percent strand rate which was at 60.2 the year before.  Ultimately, the Twins grew disenfranchised by his hanging, spinning slider, one that was tattooed around the ballpark (4.45 wSL/C), and then release after Ayala demanded to be trade right-effin-now.
The Twins paid him a pro-rated of his $1.3 million contract to disappear.  The opening New Orleans reference is fitting considering that is where he wound up pitching for the AAA Marlin team after a desperate Florida organization signed him to help an injury-riddled bullpen.  The unfortunate part is that the Twins could not work out a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates who had been inquiring about his availability.

Signing Nick Punto.
Most Twins fans probably view signing Punto to $8 million, two-year deal as the contractual equivalent of burning a pile of the same amount of money, yet let's not be too hasty in condemnation of this deal.   
Defensively, Punto's been atrocious.  This is the troublesome part considering his extension was based around his glove-work.  At minus-7 runs, his shortstop abilities rank 30th among his MLB counterparts.  After posting 40.3 and 42.2 UZR/150 in 2006 and 2007, his rating slipped to 17.9 in 2008 as he approached his age-30 season.  A lot of players see decline in their 30's put at age-31, Punto slipped to -1.8 UZR/150 this year, an indication that he is not defensively suitable for a demanding position like short.  His subsequent relocation to second base has been a big improvement, posting a UZR/150 of 13.
His offense has been the source of most of the criticism.   His lowly .543 OPS coupled with his diminutive .268 wOBA has the community screaming for a trade.  From the right-handed batter's box, Punto has struggled, batting .205 in 2009 after hitting .302 in 2008.  One of the biggest difference between this season and last is Punto's ability to pull the ball:

Punto's Pull Rate 



RHB - Pull Pct



LHB - Pull Pct



If you look at his batted ball statistics and peripherals, you'll see some encouraging signs.  His line drive rate is near 20 percent while walk rate has jumped from 8 percent to 15 percent.  These would both be indications of a higher BA and OBP.  Punto's bad luck is epic; as the rest of the league is hitting .235 GB/.223 FB/.741 LD, Punto is batting .172 GB/.132 FB/.702 LD on his balls in play.  If his line drive and walk rates stay the same in the second-half, Punto has a chance of bring his batting average back up.  
TwinsCentric Trade Deadline Prime 2009's free preview available at