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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Werner Bros. Offseason Guide and Notes: Part I

The following is the first installment of a five part series analyzing the 2009 offseason for the Minnesota Twins. This is another exciting new addition to MVB written by a good friend Brett Werner with help from his brother, Mark Werner. The Werner Brothers (WB) are devoted Twins fans who look at the game in a SABRmetric scope. Brett's detailed analysis will certainly intrigue.

2008 Recap

To consider some trade options for the Twins in the 2008-9 offseason, I start with the Twins 2008 batters and the OPS numbers (On-Base + Slugging). OPS isn’t a perfect statistic (none are), but it does gauge overall productivity pretty well.

Player (position): Bats / CareerOPS (vs. RHP/LHP Split) 2008

Justin Morneau (1B) LHB 846 (899 / 739) 873 (928 / 778)
Joe Mauer (C) LHB 856 (910 / 744) 864 (826 / 939)
Jason Kubel (DH/OF) LHB 771 (790 / 688) 806 (833 / 704)
Delmon Young (LF) RHB 739 (721 / 790) 741 (720 / 791)
Michael Cuddyer (RF) RHB 785 (772 / 812) 699 (700 / 694)
To be fair, Cuddyer was injured in 2008 so … 2007 789 (759 / 865)

Depending on their positions, players have adjusted expectations or benchmarks for OPS. The players who defend the middle (C, 2B, SS, CF) have lower OPS expectations than those playing the corners or not at all (1B, 3B, LF, RF, DH). A player with an OPS of 850 of higher is usually an All-Star (see Mauer and Morneau), much more so if he plays down the middle. A corner player has slightly higher expectations.

OPS - Middle - Corner/DH
600-650 - Defensive Sub - AAA or retirement
650-700 - Off Year? - 4th OF or worse
700-750 - Good, Solid - Off year? Maybe look elsewhere
750-800 - Very good - Solid
800-850 - All-Star - Very Good
850-higher - Superstar, chance at HoF - Extremely good, likely All-Star

Looking closely at batting strengths and weaknesses, 2008 was a decent year because we had three batters with an OPS over 825 (and Morneau over 925) against RHP, but we also had Mauer hitting LHP at a 939 clip (a reversal of his career split, almost 200 points higher against LHPs and 85 points lower against RHPs). Unlike Morneau who has a large split but still quite good on his off-side, a player whose splits make him very good against RHP and bad against LHP (or the reverse) will usually be a platoon player, pinch hitter, or in the minors. A good example of this is Brian Buscher, who did very well against RHP, but awful against LHP (a reason why the Twins can’t afford to keep him as an everyday 3B (he would at least platoon with Harris).

Brian Buscher LHB 708 (764 / 454) 730 (799 / 455)
Brendan Harris RHB 738 (711 / 800) 721 (725 / 714)

If you had enough roster spots to keep both Buscher and Harris, to platoon them at 3B, and they both performed somewhere in between their career and 2008 numbers, you’d have a very good 3B situation (if you could split the OPS at 780 / 775 or so). But finding a 3B who can hit in the 775 (760 / 790), splitting this way in hopes of a RHB as the Twins are LHB heavy. But this is what makes 3B a great place to look to improve your roster. Not only can you use one roster spot rather than two, you might be able to improve on these expectations offensively or defensively.

This also brings up the question of defense. Given that the Twins have a particular team pitching style (throw strikes, don’t walk anyone, let them put it in play), the Twins absolutely need to have a stronger than average defense behind their pitchers, especially up the middle, but everywhere. This is why the Adam Everett signing made sense: even if he batted the way people expected him to (which he did), he’d still have been a good choice for our team if his defense had also been as expected (which it wasn’t). His shoulder injury caused a lot of troubles for the Twins middle infield, but if his shoulder was to improve by 2009, I’d definitely give him a shot (especially if we could improve team OPS elsewhere (Everett’s career OPS is 653, which is only MLB quality with amazing defense, which he had).

Finally, it’s worth noting that if Cuddyer could have stayed healthy and batted fifth with an OPS vs. LHPs of 865 (like he did in ’07) or 894 (like ’06) with solid numbers against RHPs, the team would have been in pretty good shape. Similarly, if Delmon had batted with the upside the Twins Front Office was hoping for, the Twins would have again been in good shape. But any team that faced the Twins this year could use LHPs and pitch around Mauer, leaving the Twins with a bottom of the majors lineup. This is one good reason to hope that the Twins can have another strong year in 2009 even if someone else gets hurt or they can’t keep the team batting average with runners in scoring position above .300 or if any of their young pitchers have a sophomore (or junior) slump.

Off-season Targets

Having given a quick update on what the Twins did this year OPS-wise, I move on to offseason targets and possibilities. There are three ways to “acquire” players in the offseason: (1) sign a free agent, (2) make a trade for players, or (and this is why I put “acquire” in scare quotes) (3) promote from the Minor League System. The Twins are set at 1B, C, OF, and likely 2B (if that’s where Casilla ends up). They have utility infielder options (either Punto or Tolbert), a pair of players destined for a trade or platoon duty in the infield (Harris and Buscher), and a few holes. The Twins are lucky to have one of their better hitters at the Catcher position, which gives them a little flexibility for finding other good hitters (they can look in the normal places and build with batting beyond the corner positions).

The Twins have a well-known history of signing weak free agents (won’t even mention them), but Twins fans can safely expect a better free agent signing this year given that the Twins saved money in 2008 (down to $57 million from $71 million in 2007) with a chance for contracts to go as high as $80 or so million in 2009 and beyond (especially with the new ballpark coming online in 2010). I’ll get to how I generally approach offseason targets in a bit, but here are a few of those targets.

Offseason Target Positions: 3B / SS /RP(?)
Offseason Excesses: OF / SP(?)

The following guys are improving in the Minors at 2B, SS, and 3B (allowing for the possibility of Casilla at SS). They may be options for the Twins to “acquire” them (bring them up from the minors out of spring training or during the year). They are also people that should be considered if we are signing free agents or making trades. Do we keep them around as backup plans (see Punto, Buscher, and Casilla for Everett, Lamb, and Harris). Do we try to trade them, or do we release them? Rather than going into detail for the minor leaguers, I’ll just post their OPS numbers in the Minors and send you to Seth’s site for his take on their performances (I follow these things, but not quite as closely as he does). Look for Gleeman and Baseball Prospectus to have prospect lists sometime soon also.

Luke Hughes (3B/2B/CF, RHB): Seth’s #9 Twins Prospect
Career OPS 746
2008 AAA OPS 936
2008 AA OPS 778

Danny Valencia (3B, RHB): Seth’s #4 Twins Prospect
Career OPS 846
2008 AA OPS 920
2008 A+ OPS 819
2008 AZ Fall OPS 488 (in only 20 ABs so far)

Trevor Plouffe (SS, RHB): Seth’s #11 Twins Prospect
Career OPS 699
2008 AAA OPS 712
2008 AA OPS 735

Plouffe doesn’t look like he can bat well enough to play everyday in the Majors. Both Hughes and Valencia have shown some promise somewhere along the way in the minors, but only Valencia appears to be the kind of hitter the Twins need on the left side of the infield. Valencia may be ready in 2009, but is likely a better bet for 2010, which means maybe the Twins should go after a 3B for one year (or stick with the platoon option mentioned above). If we trade for a younger player, we might want to use Valencia as part of the trading equation. The question is: how do the options mentioned to this point stack up against the guys below?

Offseason Target Players
(Status, Position, Bats) OPS (vs RHP/LHP Split) 2008

Orlando Cabrera (Free Agent SS, RHB) 721 (713 / 744) 705 (688 / 754)
Adrian Beltre (1 year left on contract 3B, RHB) 786 (779 / 806) 784 (704 / 994)
JJ Hardy (Arb Elig Brewers SS, RHB) 775 (716 / 938) 821 (764 / 977)
Orlando Hudson (Free Agent 2B, SWIT) 779 (805 / 703) 817 (862 / 720)
Casey Blake (Free Agent 3B, RHB) 781 (765 / 823) 808 (803 / 823)
Chris Davis (young Rangers 3B, LHB) Minors 952 (? / ?) 880 (866 / 916)
Adam Dunn (Free Agent Corner OF/DH, LHB) 899 (931 / 833) 899 (951 / 773)

The top five are guys I’ve seen mentioned on other blogs and news sites. My most worrisome moments are when the Star Tribune guys are talking up Orlando Cabrera. I wish that more fans and blogs were talking up the guys I’d like to see the Twin pick up via trade or free agency. My preferred order would be: Chris Davis, Adam Dunn, JJ Hardy, Orlando Hudson, Casey Blake, and Orlando Cabrera. Out of the names on this list, I would be most disappointed if the Twins signed Cabrera given the full package of expected contract, the risk (attitude and injury), his age, and his production/performance.

Come back tomorrow for part II of Brett's series to hear about potential offseason acquisitions, including Brett's own developed model to observe potential gain/loss to acquiring new players.


Scott D. Meyer said...

Great analysis. What is holding us back on picking up the young ranger? are they asking too much? any rumors on that? seems like a no-brainer. we trade our young prospect plus another piece for him...

Brett Werner said...

That's a great question (and one that Gleeman and LEN3 have avoided when I asked them), and one which I will address in the next few parts, but the short answer is: he has star potential, is MLB ready, is under control and cheap for a while, and is close to "untouchable" in the minds of many Rangers fans.

As an example, a Texas fan on MLBTradeRumors thought a Liriano for Davis swap might be fair. That seems an overestimation of Davis' worth, but we do have think about the Rangers' perspective.

More on this soon...

MVB said...

I certainly love the idea of making a trade where you acquire a piece that is still young, affordable, and shows potential but it's certainly a rare occurence for the Twins.

That being said, Bill Smith made an uncommon "Twins Trade" last year by dealing Garza for Young. Who knows what'll happen.

Keep pestering LEN3 and AG on this. I really wanted to send your DOC to them. I thin you should brett!