Joe Christensen at the Star Tribune reported on his blog that Nick Punto would need minor surgery on his right wrist (throwing wrist). According to Christensen, GM Bill Smith said it as a minor procedure in order to get it “cleaned up” and will be ready by the time the Grapefruit League games start.
- ANALYSIS: As it stands today, Nick Punto figures to be the Twins’ starting second baseman. Yes, there is obviously room to upgrade in either Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez but at the same time Punto is a very serviceable option for an organization that is encroaching on their budget limitations. I do not think I am going out on a limb predicting a better 2010 season at the plate either. In the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, I wrote that “Lipsticking the pig, Punto hit better than his demoralizing batting average would suggest. Hitting line drives on nearly 20 percent of the balls in play, his BABIP was a suppressive .281. Couple that with an improved walk rate (8.6 to 13.9 percent) and Punto did not deserve the overall numbers bestowed upon him in 2009.” How much better will he be in’10? That remains to be seen. While he will be restrictive offensively because of zero power (career .076 ISOP), he could turn in a batting average around .280 with a .340 on-base percentage if his BABIP this coming season is north of his career .301 average. On the field, he’s potentially the best defensive infielder on the roster. In 510 innings at second in 2009, Punto held a very solid 9.4 UZR/150 (7th best in a minimum of 500 innings). The Plus/Minus system paints a fairly different picture of his glove, noting that he is very adept at going to his left but is -8 runs when it comes to defending up the middle. Under this system, Punto was the 22nd-best second baseman in baseball. Nevertheless, Punto was the only second baseman with 500 or more innings to not commit an error. He’ll be a value menu item that you are surprised it how underappreciated it is. Still, you kind of wonder if manager Ron Gardenhire’s comments towards Orlando Hudson and the timing of this surgery doesn’t inspire Bill Smith to acquire some form of back-up plan in the event Punto does not rebound quickly post-surgery.
Both Tom Powers at the Pioneer Press and Joe Christensen have heard that the Twins seem unlikely to go through the Joe Crede Injury Experience again in 2010. Powers relayed that it seems that the Twins are “unwilling to go through the Joe Crede ‘day to day’ thing again” while Christensen tweeted that he “got hints that Joe Crede won’t be back, even with another incentive-laden deal.”
- ANALYSIS: Imagine you were running a business and you had little to no idea if one of your employees would show up for his shift. You would certainly let him go even if he was one of the best shelf-stockers or burrito-wrappers even while working at a below-standard wage. It is that kind circumstance that playoff-caliber teams have to concern themselves with when team-building. Whether you are using WAR or VORP or whatever, Crede gave the Twins an above-average contribution but at the same time, without any semblance of stability post-June 1. Despite all the value that Crede can provide when healthy, the uncertainty and the developing Daniel Valencia beckons the organization to move on. In this context, Brendan Harris’s multi-year deal now makes more sense even if he is a lateral move. Outside of Harris and Valencia, the Twins could go with Luke Hughes, Matt Tolbert or Nick Punto.
A potential backup outfield option in Eric Byrnes as been taken off the table. Byrnes signed with the Seattle Mariners after being released by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
- ANALYSIS: I don't think it was a very realistic target for the Twins nor do I particularly like his fit with the team. It’s interesting to watch the reaction of the baseball community after Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik does anything. He’s certainly getting the Emperor’s New Clothes treatment from the vast majority of analysts. Is this a naked situation or is he strutting around in fine garments? Yes, the 34-year-old Byrnes had suffered injuries and missed substantial portions of the season since 2007 except that he’s cheap and has hit left-handed pitching well in his career (.284/.345/.511) so he could wind up being a useful platoon partner with Griffey Jr if he can remain healthy. Then again, a right-handed bat at Safeco is not the best environment for one with marginal power.
Charley Walters spoke with the recently acquired JJ Hardy about his horrific 2009 season. Hardy offered this as his diagnosis for his offensive woes: “Pushing off my backside a lot, kind of jumping toward the pitcher. And when you do that, it makes your backside get really long; you can't get to inside pitches. Then you start cheating on them, and you get out in front of off-speed pitches. That was the main problem for me last year; that caused everything.”
- ANALYSIS: Hardy’s own assessment is fairly consistent with the one Alex Eisenberg provided a few months ago. Eisenberg’s video breakdown revealed that Hardy was slowly opening up his stance over several seasons – which is him “cheating” at the inside pitch. Commented Eisenberg “He looks like he strides more in the direction of the shortstop, which might cause his hips to fly open, leaving him susceptible to pitches on the outside corner of the plate.” Reviewing some of his pitch-by-pitch breakdown at Inside Edge, we find that Hardy’s biggest weakness was when left-handed pitchers worked him away. Back in November, I detailed this, showing that all his power was drained as he was unable to elevate pitches the way he did in previous seasons. Step one for Hardy is identifying the problem and step two is correcting it. Although I am predicting a bounce back year of sorts for Hardy in 2010 (there’s just no way it could get worse), he’s got a lot of work to do this spring to correct this inconsistency in his swing.
The Twins are keyed up about Francisco Liriano’s winter showing reports Kelly Thesier. Says Thesier “Liriano also was displaying a trimmer physique at TwinsFest. He said that he's lost some weight since the end of last season by placing more of a focus on his physical conditioning -- including running more often. The Twins have taken notice of the changes and are pleased by what they've seen.”
- ANALYSIS: Liriano has been the talk of the Twins blogosphere following his unbelievable showing in Game 9 (yes, 9) of the Dominican League series broadcasted on ESPN360.com. In addition to looking trimmer, his velocity was up and his slider had some vicious bite more reminiscent of ‘06. “Confidence” seems to be the tag word thrown around along when it comes to Liriano’s ’09 season, however, that’s more of a catchall jargon used when results are bad (“He’s lost his confidence”) or when they suddenly reemerge (“He’s throwing with confidence out there”). Typically, there is a physical change that a pitcher cannot adapt to which leads to the poor output. In Liriano’s case this was his surgery. Prior to the TJ, Liriano would cock his elbow well above his shoulder (here is a clip from BTF from ’06). This is scap loading or the dreaded Inverted W. Since his surgery, Liriano has adjusted this to load with his elbow below his shoulder when in the cocked position (Andrew Kneeland of TwinsTarget.com has a good video collection to view of this motion). Liriano had trouble adjusting to this new arm action (think about all the new muscle memory he had to learn in a short span). The Dominican performance shows that he can keep his new arm action and find success. The “confidence” is just a byproduct of him adapting. Rant notwithstanding, the strides that Liriano has taken should give the Twins confidence that they could have the division’s best rotation.