Monday, March 28, 2011

2011 Twins Preview: Lineup

With the 25-man roster set, we can now look at the team the Twins will be bringing to Toronto to start the season. Here's the starting lineup I expect to see for just about every game in the early going, regardless of what side the starting pitcher throws from:

This lineup consists largely of guys who are neither as good as they showed in 2009 nor as bad as they showed last year. Span is the poster boy for that categorization. Everything that went right for him in the last year of the Dome went wrong in the first year of Target Field. But that's what 3-year averages are for. I've written at length about his prospects for 2011. He's not a good bet to have an IsoP much over .100, but it shouldn't be too far under .100, either. I expect a nice rebound from the IsoD into the .080 range. He should be more confident and a better communicator in CF. And Gardy's desire to run more combined with the unimpressive arms most divisional rivals will be sporting behind the plate should lead to a career high in SB.
Expected* line: .288/.367/.392, 24 2B, 10 3B, 4 HR, 30/40 SB

Here's a guy who's probably not as good as his 2010, but is undoubtedly better than his 2009. Whatever you think about his recent history, nobody can be sure how well it will translate from Japan to the big leagues. But he hasn't looked overmatched this spring, hitting .346/.370/.423 with a 2/2 K/BB ratio in a little over 50 PA. In that limited sample, we have seen him make some impressive plays in the field, as well. The power he showed in the JPL can't be expected to appear at Target Field, but the rest of his game should play OK. I think he's capable of surpassing what Orlando Hudson gave the Twins last year.
Expected line: .270/.340/.400, 30 2B, 7 3B, 5 HR, 24/36 SB

3. Joe Mauer, C
Two of the big factors behind Mauer's extraordinary 2009 were about a dozen HR that landed in the 1st or 2nd row in LF, and good health all season long. Target Field may never give those HR back, but I'd settle for the health. When he's whole, Mauer is the best pure hitter in the league, and an elite defensive C as well. With his legs under him in 2011, I look for his numbers to improve across the board this year. Maybe not to the level of his MVP campaign, but more than enough to get him a lot of votes.
Expected line: .330/.410/.510, 35 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 36% CS%

The concussion that ended Morneau's season just before the All-Star break brought a premature end to what was shaping up to be an MVP-caliber season. Through July 7th, he was hitting .345/.437/.618 with 18 HR. Then again, impressive 1st-half production was nothing new for him. On July 5th, 2009, he was hitting .323/.399/.601 with 21 HR. On July 10th, 2008, he was at .324/.387/.515 with 14 HR. On July 8th, 2007, his line was .295/.364/.581 with 24 HR. In each of those seasons, his production fell off sharply over the final 2 months of the season. We'll never know whether that would have happened in 2010, too. In 2011, he has to prove that he's back to full strength and capable of sustaining his strong offensive numbers over a full 6 month schedule.
Expected line: .295/.370/.530, 40 2B, 1 3B, 30 HR, 145 G

Last season's breakout should not have come as a surprise to anyone who studied Young's 2009 carefully. He made mechanical adjustments in his swing to start getting more balls in the air. He improved his contact rate significantly. And, though he still loves to swing early in the count, he got wise to the fact that opposing pitchers weren't going to give him a lot of 1st-pitch fastballs down the middle. He started sitting on offspeed stuff, clobbering them when they were in the zone and putting himself ahead in the count when they weren't. Coming into his age-25 season, I expect him to make at least incremental improvements in most phases of his game. Including, one would hope, an increased likelihood of him holding onto the balls he reaches in the OF.
Expected line: .300/.340/.510, 40 2B, 1 3B, 25 HR, 6/9 SB

Of all the guys I'm analyzing here, nobody benefits from a 3-year average more than Kubel. He had a solid 2008, a sensational 2009, and then a flat 2010. He had basically the same number of PA and AB between '09 and '10, and drew the same number of BB. But he had 25 fewer hits year-over-year, including 12 fewer 2B and 7 fewer HR. Target Field wasn't the culprit, as his .746 OPS there was only marginally worse than the .753 OPS he sported on the road. LHP killed him (as always), but last year was the first in recent memory in which he didn't mangle RHP. His BABIP was about .020 points below his career rates, so write most of 2010's struggles off to bad luck. He'd be better if he didn't face so many lefties, but there's not much on the bench to keep that from happening.
Expected line: .275/.345/.480, 27 2B, 3 3B, 23 HR

At this point, I don't think we're going to see anything new from Cuddyer. He's had a couple of very good years, one injury-plagued disaster, and everything else has been give or take .775 OPS. I'll throw out his first 1100 or so PA (spread over 5 seasons) and just focus on the last 5 years. I don't put much stock in 2008's disjunct playing time caused by a litany of freak injuries. Of the other 4 seasons, 2010 was by far the worst. The lack of power can apparently be attributed to Target Field/sore knee, and at least the 2Bs were there. Of greater concern to me is his IsoD, which from 2006-2008 looked to be settling in around .080, but has slid back to about .065 over the last 2 seasons. Older players should be peaking in that regard as well as HR power, so I'm looking for Cuddyer to step up his game in those categories.
Expected line: .275/.350/.460, 35 2B, 5 3B, 20 HR, 6/8 SB

I don't understand why more people aren't high on Valencia. He's hit for a high average at every level, and has earned a midseason promotion in each full season of his professional career. At each new level he struggles with his pitch recognition, but the following spring he lifts his BB% by over 4 points, leading to huge gains in OBP. For whatever reason, he failed to hit any HR during the 1st half last year, but returned to his typical mid-teens power numbers after the Break. A lot of people point to his .345 rookie BABIP as unsustainable and ripe for regression. That may be, but I would point out that the only season in his career in which his BABIP has been below .338 was 2009, when it slipped to about .311. I'll be shocked if it drops under .300 in 2011. He's typically improved in his 2nd season at each level. I'm looking for him to keep it up.
Expected line: .285/.340/.450, 30 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR

Casilla is perhaps the most difficult member of the lineup to analyze. He's never played a full season at the Major League level, and his partial seasons have yo-yoed violently between solid for a MI and God-awful. I went into a lot of depth with him (and Nishioka) last month. Basically, as a 26-year-old with over 1000 PA over parts of 5 season in the Majors, Casilla needs to step up now. He has the tools to be a good SS, and has proven that he is a high-percentage base stealer. There's value enough in that, particularly from a #9 hitter who will be most often PH for.
Expected line: .265/.320/.370, 20 2B, 10 3B, 2 HR, 20/25 SB

It's a quality lineup, with plenty of upside relative to last year. Everyone is between the ages of 25 and 32, so nobody should be over their head or over the hill. Valencia's presence for a full season along with rebound seasons from Span, Mauer, Cuddyer and Kubel should result in a more balanced attack and an increase over last season's 781 RS. The lineup is the greatest strength of the team, and should match up with anybody in the division.

*Note the distinction between "Projected" and "Expected." Projections are for the oddsmakers and fantasy analysts. As a fan, I have expectations, which the player will either meet (leaving me satisfied), exceed (leaving me overjoyed) or underperform (leaving me disappointed). The numbers I give here are what will leave me satisfied.

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