Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Planning for Next Year

In the midst of his capital improvement plan for the 2010 season, Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse submitted some very bold and very blunt proposal for the offseason.  The veteran scribe prods the Twins organization to making several transactions this winter – including sending Carlos Gomez to Rochester in 2010, presumably for horse tranquilizer to slow him down on the basepaths, trading closer Joe Nathan to save cash ($22.5 million to be exact) and playing Delmon Young everyday.  The problem, however, with being blunt is that it comes off as rash rather than calculated. 


While I am not going to expound too deep on the merits of the other items since I’ve outlined my 2010 blueprint in the Offseason GM Handbook, I will submit the abridged version on my reactions to several of Mr. Reusse’s statements: 

1.) Gomez to Rochester.

    Disagree.  Wholeheartedly. 

    Admittedly, the standard numbers (BA/OBP/SLG) definitely went in the wrong direction for Gomez in 2009 but when you evaluate him through other methods, you start to see how small steps were taken in the right direction.  The simplest is that his walk rate went up, while his strike out rate decreased.  He significantly reduced the number of bad pitches chases (from 37% in ’08 to 30% in ’09).  Also, when he did put the ball in play, he was behind the curve in obtaining base hits.  Considering how he was putting the ball in play (20% LD, 45% GB) in comparison to his batting average on balls in play .288, you realize that Gomez was slighted several hits over the course of the season.

    Above all, his defensive value alone supersedes his offensive malfeasances resulting in 0.6 WAR center fielder in 86 games played in 2009.  With flyball pitchers in Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano on the staff, Gomez (partnered with Denard Span) creates the best defenders and will aid their ERA and you cannot allow your staff to suffer while one of the league’s best outfielder languishes in Rochester. 

2.) Trading Joe Nathan.

    Agree…to a certain extent.   

    On the surface, this appears to be a knee-jerk response to Alex Rodriguez’s disembowelment Nathan in the playoffs but in reality, this is should be considered.  Seriously.  At 35 years of age in 2010, there is no telling how long Nathan has remaining as a premium closer.  The Mariano Riveras and Trevor Hoffmans are exceptions rather than the rules when it comes to aging and coming off a season in which he held 0.93 WHIP and 11.67 K/9, Nathan’s value might not get any better. 

    In the past several years, Nathan has lost confidence in his fastball (one that has dropped from 94.8-mph to 93.6-mph in velocity) and as such, he’s thrown it far less frequently (58% in ’09 compared to 61% in ’08 and 65% in ’07).  Since 2006, Nathan has had more issues with his favorite secondary pitch – the slider.  That season, it was his best pitch (4.09 wSL/c) but since then it has seen a steady decline in effectiveness (2.52 to 2.03 to 1.36 this year).  In September, I documented some of the problems he was having staying on top of his release which was causing the slider to have more horizontal break as opposed to vertical break.  This lateral movement is far easily to hit when it stays on the same plane.  With a increased insecurity regarding his fastball and a higher dosage of breaking pitches, it is no small wonder that Nathan’s zone presence was the lowest in years (44% of pitches in zone). 

    Sure Nathan could provide above-average service as a closer in the next two years however the Twins should try to find out what the return on investment could be in the trade market.  As a student of Eric Walker’s (who had a great write-up at Deadspin, by the way) philosophy, the organization should consider trading all players by the age of 29 (or at least in the very early 30s).  This is when they have burned through prime playing years and still have maximum value.  At 35, Nathan probably does not have many dominate seasons left.  Furthermore, short of Danny Valencia, there are no major-league ready prospects within the system so a trade of Nathan, similar to the one that brought him to Minnesota, should be explored.  At the same time, if no team (like the Cubs) is willing to part with three major-league ready prospects, the Twins do not need to move Nathan.  In summary, it would be wise for the Twins to attempt to leverage Nathan but if the trade market is low, remember that you still have an elite closer at market-rate.

3.) Make Young an everyday player - cut him if he does not hit 25 HRs or 85 RBIs.

    Mixed emotions…but disagree.  The problem I have most with Reusse’s presentation, is his stipulation that Young has to drive in 85 runs or the Twins should outright cut him.  This again perpetuates the notion that the RBI is a controllable statistic.  RBIs, like robbery, is more about opportunity than anything else.  There have been terrible hitters than have achieved 100 RBIs only because they had been positioned well within a lineup of on-base men who may or may not run the bases particularly well.  This year alone, the Phillies Pedro Feliz drove in 82 men but held an unsightly 694 OPS.  In the AL, Aubrey Huff somehow finagled 85 ribbies while presenting a 690 OPS.  This is hardly the gold standard by which to judge talent.

    After getting past his all-hail-RBI screed, I set out to write a Pros list to figure out what value Young might present this team in 2010: 

  • He should be reasonably priced in arbitration ($2M-ish). 
  • He is a right-handed (quasi) power bat. 
  • He is almost to the point where you can say he is a better option against lefties (88 OPS point difference LHP^RHP). 
  • He has not yet entered his prime years. 
  • Hit .340/.364/.544 with 12 extra base hits from September 1st on. 

     Those are the only positive attributes I can come up.  Everything else you can use to evaluate a player’s progress is putrid for a professional.  His ability to work himself into favorable counts rescinded in 2009.  Strikeouts went up, walks went down.  His defense sucks.  His plate discipline sucks harder.  Overall, he was a -1.3 WAR player this year. 

    People will most likely reference that last bulletpoint – his final month’s performance – as the reason he should start and play everyday.  To this I direct everyone back a year, where in 2008, Young hit .330/.368/.455 and thought he would have a breakout season in 2009.  Young might simply be a warhead that never explodes. 

    Then again, I circle back to the two critical elements regarding Delmon which is that he is A) relatively cheap and B) young (literally).  As a right-handed stick, Young could alleviate Jason Kubel at DH when the Twins face a particularly nasty left-hander.  The words “everyday player” just does not fit Young’s current skill set. 

    Building a ballclub is like skinning a cat - there’s more than one way and it’s very satisfying.  That is, unless you are a Royals fan or a cat, I suppose.  Either way, these topics are some of many that we exhausted in the now available TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, providing you with talking points to last all winter so - CLICK HERE FOR YOUR FREE SAMPLE.