In spite of the rough starts endured by the faithful of the Red Sox and Rays, no team has had a more disappointing first month of the 2011 season than the Minnesota Twins. Co-favorites for the AL Central title this year, the club finds itself mired at the bottom of the division and tied for the fewest wins in all of baseball. In fact, with just 9 wins in the books and one game left to play in April, they stand poised to finish with their worst monthly record since September of 1999, when they finished 7-21 and the club lost 97 games. So on this edition of Simile Saturday, let’s look deeper to see exactly how this team is disappointing me.
Drew Butera is like a thousand hot needles slowly inserted into my eyeballs…
in that I cannot see through the pain and rage when he is on my TV. Drew Butera is not good at baseball. By which, I mean barely better than you or I. He excels at exactly two things: throwing the ball quickly to second base and making friends with Carl Pavano. Because of these two things, the Twins decided to overlook his monumental flaws and traded capable backup Jose Morales (an error compounded by the trade of Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps in 2010), thereby making Butera the primary option if the fragile Joe Mauer got hurt. Which, of course, he did (more on that later).
Butera has caught 14 of the Twins first 25 games. In 46 plate appearances, Butera is hitting an impossibly bad .114/.152/.159, which is a -12 OPS+. And, using Baseball Reference’s essential Play Index, we know that Butera ranks 36th from the bottom in baseball history in OPS+, among batters with more than 200 plate appearances, with a 31 mark.
Earlier this offseason, various Twins fans tried to make the argument that Butera, on the whole, would be worth maybe 5 runs less than Morales over the course of the season. While that’s true, as long as they were both backups, with Mauer on the sidelines, the difference between a capable backup and a player who is not even replacement level for replacement level players is magnified a thousand fold.
Alexi Casilla is The Last Airbender
To be clear, I’m talking about the movie. The cartoon show on which the movie was based was pretty awesome. But this was already a bad idea in its developmental phase. Let’s take a beloved cartoon filled with likable Asian characters, an intricate 60 episode TV show, that grows increasingly dark but still finds time for joy from its very young characters and we’ll boil it down into three grim movies acted solely by dour white people and have M. Night Shyamalan direct it.
This is essentially the decision the Twins made when they dealt JJ Hardy and committed to using Alexi Casilla full time. In small doses, say half-hour episodes, Casilla can be effective. However, when handed a job and given any leash, he has shown just how miscast he is as a starter. This year is no different, as he continues his five season streak of alternating terrible years with moderately acceptable ones, and through 67 plate appearances, is hitting .167/.227/.200.
And just like the producers of The Last Airbender, the Twins made a bad idea worse with a last-minute change. Just as The Last Airbender tried to capitalize on a fad by trying to make the movie 3D in post-production, thereby rendering it even grimier and blurrier than before, the Twins decided to move Tsuyoshi Nishioka off of his natural shortstop position and put him at 2B while moving Casilla to the more important defensive position. Partly because he was unfamiliar with playing 2B in the Majors, Nishioka broke his leg when Nick Swisher tried to break up a double play, and Casilla has proven to be one of the least effective defensive shortstops in the Majors. He could barely handle 2B, and expecting him to provide adequate defense at a harder position makes as little sense now as it did then.
The Twins medical staff is Inspector Clouseau
Back in the bad old days, when he still worked for Baseball Prospectus, Will Carroll began awarding the Dick Martin Award to the best MLB medical staff of the season, “named after the long-time Twins trainer that helped set the standards that today’s athletic trainers and doctors aspire to.” Martin was fired from the Twins in 2001, and neither of the Twins trainers since then have had the same success at helping players avoid injuries. Instead, the team’s medical staff constantly seem to be misdiagnosing their players, misinforming the public, and generally bumbling around in their search for how to keep the Twins healthy.
Just this year, there have been three instances that are cause for concern. Michael Cuddyer had a planter’s wart that he tried, unsuccessfully, to treat himself, and that ultimately required two weeks off during Spring Training. Francisco Liriano came to camp complaining of shoulder weakness, and has demonstrated reduced velocity this year, but the club has not taken any action to investigate. And, of course, Joe Mauer was allowed to break camp and start 9 of the team’s first 11 games behind the plate despite trainer Rick McWane’s recent pronouncement that Joe “wasn’t strong enough to handle everyday catching.”
Beyond these incidents, pitchers Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Jesse Crain, and Glen Perkins have all developed arm problems in the last couple seasons. Pat Neshek was asked to rehab injuries he should have had surgery on, which ended up costing him multiple seasons and some effectiveness. JJ Hardy was never put on the Disabled List despite a 26 day “day-to-day” injury that kept him from playing. Joe Crede also had stretches where he could barely move because of his back, but the Twins refused to shelve him. The general impression I get from the outside, is that Twins trainers either have little to do with determining who is healthy enough to play, or are unable to determine/convey that for themselves. Either way, this bumbling staff seems ill-equipped to handle this current Twins squad.
The Twins front office is Chinese Emperor Tianzuo of Liao
Tianzuo was a 12th century emperor who ordered several executions via the Ling Chi, or Death by a Thousand Cuts. It was a slow and agonizing way to die, wherein…well, you get the idea and don’t need a vivid description.
This is what the Twins front office has systematically done to the team’s farm system and Major League team. The vital organs, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Carl Pavano, etc, remain untouched, but the team has peeled away the supporting talent necessary to keep the team as a whole running. Nick Punto…gone. Jose Morales…gone. Brian Buscher…gone. Ron Mahay…gone. Look, none of these players is especially good. They all have significant weaknesses. But they represent an important second line of defense that can fill in for ailing starters without embarrassing themselves or the club. The Twins have systematically downgraded their second-level talent over the past several years, allowing players to leave via trades, free agency, and waivers, while bringing in lesser talents to fill perceived needs.
And all of the problems above, are related to this underlying cause. Casilla is playing SS because no one else can. Butera is catching because Wilson Ramos and Morales were given away. The team’s health is such an issue because they don’t have adequate replacements. The Twins are in shock and in danger of a total system failure. And I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to put them out of their misery.