Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Best Laid Plans.

According to the Hardball Times the Twins infielders are 12 out of 14 teams in the American League in revised zone rating at .765.

Infield RZR Infield Out Of Zone
1) Oakland Athletics .831 46
2) Toronto Blue Jays .817 65
12) Minnesota Twins .765 31
13) Detroit Tigers .756 51
14) Seattle Mariners .753 61
League Average .784 51

Only the aging Detroit Tigers (.756) and the American League West cellar-dwelling Seattle Mariners (.753) infields have found themselves executing less plays than the Minnesota Twins. This, of course, is reasonable in the case of the Tigers who have played musical position with Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen at the corner bases. The Tigers started the stone-legged Cabrera at third to begin the season. It was there in 116 innings that Cabrera held a RZR of .600, bad enough to incite Jim Leyland to swap him with Carlos Guillen at first base. Moved across the diamond Guillen's difference was negligible as he had produced at RZR of .667 in 143 innings. Out west the Seattle Mariners have the putrid Richie Sexson (.673 RZR) who is playing first as Jose Vidro mans the designated hitter role. Across the field from Sexson, Andre Beltre is having a substandard season as well (.651 RZR) already committing 8 errors in 386 innings however he has gloved 29 balls out of zone, by far the most by a third baseman.

Though the Twins have completed more anticipated plays than just the Tigers or Mariners, it is the unexpected ones that have been absent. As a unit, the Twins infield has managed only to track down 31 balls out of zone. Even Detroit (51 ooz) and Seattle (61) are outpacing the Twins. The 31 plays made out of zone is 33 less than the league leading Tampa Bay Rays and 20 less than the league average. Being able to track an additional 20-30 balls in plays would have eliminated 20 to 30 base-runners which of course lead to subsequent runs. Limiting opponents' presence on base also benefits the Twins pitching staff who have the highest home runs per game allowed (1.1) in the American League. As obvious as it is, multi-run home runs do more damage than solo home runs.

As bad as Guillen, Cabrera and Beltre have been, Lamb by far is the most inefficient at third. At the plate, Lamb has a .518 ops. Comparatively, Beltre (.760), Guillen (.790) and Cabrera (.824) are all carrying their weight at the plate. At the plate as he continues failing to live up to lofty offensive expectations, but on the field he exacerbates the problem. Lamb had 75 balls within his zone and has only been able to convert outs on 42 of them. Consider that the current Fielding Bible from Bill James Online has Lamb is currently ranked 32 of all starting third basemen. Based upon the Plus/Minus grading system, Lamb is graded as a -7 when making plays to his right (towards the foul line), +1 with balls straight on and -1 ranging to his left (towards short). This isn't exactly news as the Twins understood what they had purchased. MLB.com's Kelly Theiser wrote in January 2008 that "the questions concerning Lamb's range at third were enough to have some teams back off pursuing the veteran for a starting role this winter. Some teams, like the Rangers, weren't even looking at him for the position at all, but rather as an option for first base." There are several similar internal candidates that could replicate the same defense as Lamb such as Brian Buscher and Matt Macri (or at least provide more offense) but neither of those two candidates play exceptional defense.

Minnesota Twins' Mike Lamb reacts after striking out swinging with runners on first and third base on a pitch from Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Brian Fuentes to end the ninth inning of the Rockies' 3-2 victory in an interleague Major League Baseball game on Saturday, May 17, 2008, in Denver.

The contract offered to Adam Everett came with plenty of of unknowns. For starters, the Twins would have no idea how a 31-year-old shortstop would recover from a broken leg. Now Everett is experiencing shoulder problems diminishing his ability to throw across the diamond, which makes him particularly vulnerable during the double-play or ranging to his right (compensating for Lamb's lack of range). The Fielding Bible has indicated that Everett has had 20 opportunities to turn a double-play and has only done so in 10 of those occasions (.500, ranked 28th among shortstops). Ranging to his right, Everett has a -3 grading making the hole between third and short exposed when Lamb and Everett are on the field. The Twins, however, cannot go to the well to replace Adam Everett with a Jason Bartlett as they did to remove Juan Castro in 2006 - there isn't one there, at least one not major league ready (sorry, Alexi).

DENVER - MAY 18:  Shortstop Adam Everett #12 of the Minnesota Twins commits an error as he misses a pop fly by Willy Taveras the Colorado Rockies in the eighth inning during Interleague MLB action at Coors Field on May 18, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Twins 6-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

"I hope we don't have to deal with something like that again," Manager Ron Gardenhire said after Sunday's game against the Rockies. "Missing pop flies and failures to get runners in and executing, the whole package. A disappointing baseball game... Dropping throws to first base. I don't know how you prepare for all those things. We're not used to seeing those things. It's embarrassing for our organization and for our fans." Gardenhire had designs on relocating Brendan Harris to third and inserting Matt Tolbert at second thereby upgrading the defensive alignment. This, of course, was thrown out the window when Tolbert dislodged his left thumb from his hand so the Twins are forced to soldier on with their original plan.

This development, in spite of Gardy's quote, should not be a surprise to no one in this organization. During the onset of the season the idea was that Lamb and Harris were brought in to upgrade the lineup: high-quality defense would be conceded to adding runs at the plate. Everett was going to be the sure-handed glove to bridge third and second, that any offense that he would generate would be a bonus. With this game plan in mind the Twins entered 2008 hoping to score more runs than they defend. To date, this plan has yet to come to fruition.