Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Early Season Twins Thoughts

By Matt Tschida

Time for Valencia/Burroughs Platoon?
I never really bought into the Danny Valencia hype back when he was among the Twins' top minor league prospects. His career minor league production wasn't great, but rather solid, with an average of .298 and an OBP of .353. Moreover, the most home runs he ever hit in one season was 17. Granted, if he could hit .298 with 15-20 home runs while playing solid defense, the Twins would be thrilled. The problem is that he's gotten pull-happy, which has made it easy for opposing teams to pitch him away. 

When Valencia stays focused on using the whole field, he can drive balls to both gaps for extra base hits, as he did in his rookie season when he hit .311 in 85 games. Valencia's lack of focus at the plate has been coupled with struggles in the field, which is something we grew accustomed to last year. 

So far this season, Valencia is already a -3 in the defensive runs saved—a stat that shows how many runs a player saves (or gives up) defensively compared to the average defender. Last season, Valencia was 13 runs saved below the average third baseman. If he's not pulling his share of the load at the plate or in the field, there's no reason to continue to trot him out to third base on an everyday basis. With Terry Ryan taking over, the “scholarship” era was supposed to be over. Other than Valencia’s 85 games as a rookie, he hasn’t done anything to warrant the opportunities he continues to get from this club. 

My solution for the immediate future would be to start platooning Valencia with Sean Burroughs. Burroughs is the far superior fielder, and could face right handed pitchers (career .290 hitter vs. right handed pitchers) while Valencia would play against left handed pitchers (career .327 hitter vs. LHP compared to .241 vs. RHP). Considering how much the Twins' pitching staff relies on its defense, they would be better served with the sure-handed Burroughs playing the hot corner more often.

Terry Ryan’s Signings Off to a Good Start
Despite the team's early season woes, Terry Ryan's offseason signings have gotten off to solid starts. Josh Willingham, the hottest Twins' bat, has shown that he can fill the void left by Cuddyer by hitting .311 with 5 home runs and 12 RBIs. Ryan Doumit and Jamey Carroll have also produced early. Doumit, who gives Gardenhire much-needed flexibility with his ability to play C/OF/1B, is hitting .245, but is second on the team with his 10 RBI so far. Carroll, whose ability to play shortstop full time was questioned, has stabilized the infield and while coming up with some clutch hits (he’s hitting only .245, but is fourth on the team with an OBP of .338).

The pitching that was added this offseason has also gotten off to a good start. In his two starts so far, Jason Marquis has done what the Twins expect from him; pitch into the 6th or 7th inning and give the Twins a chance to win. The three bullpen arms added (Jeff Gray, Jared Burton and Matt Maloney) have all succeeded in their early roles, with Gray and Maloney carrying ERA’s under 3.00. After Burton’s shaky first outing, he's only given up one run in six innings. 

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