Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Organizational Failing?

Martin Andrade, St. Cloud radio personality and friend, has a post on his blog about David Ortiz's comments to Sports Illustrated, particularly the suggestion that the Twins try to fit square players into round holes, for lack of a better metaphor.

He throws out the statement at the end of the post that "hopefully Joe Vavra knows better." I thought it would make sense to post a couple of thoughts on that topic.

David Ortiz made his Major League debut in 1997, getting into 15 games. He would appear in 86 games for the Twins in 1998, then just 10 in 1999 before becoming a full-time Twin in 2000. Ortiz was acquired by the Twins on September 13, 1996 as the "player-to-be-named" in the deal that sent Dave Hollins to Seattle.

Why am I going through all of this? Because it's relevant to the discussion of whether the Twins somehow "botched" it with Ortiz. What's unfortunate is that I can't find his minor league stats for his time with the Mariners. If I did, it would make it a little bit easier to look at his rate of development, but there's nothing I can do about that. I'll do my best, then, to look at his major league stats and try to figure out what was going on with Ortiz.

If you look at Ortiz's career stats, you'll notice that in the homerun category he has been consistently improving from the year before. In fact, if you throw out the 1999 season, where he played in just 10 games, he has improved that category every season without fail. If you ask Ortiz why this is, he would presumably say that it is because he felt free to swing away with the Red Sox. But that doesn't explain why "Big Papi" improved every season he was with the Twins. The jump from 2002, his last year with the Twins, to 2003, his first year with the Red Sox, was 20-31. That's a pretty big jump. But I think there are more answers to why this took place than Martin's favorite "Tom Kelly is an idiot" approach.

For one thing, playing in Boston, Ortiz had a player hitting behind him in Manny Ramirez who was a tremendous homerun threat. The 2002 Twins had Torii Hunter and Jacques Jones. Now, both had very good seasons, Hunter hitting 29 homeruns and Jones hitting 27. But neither is Manny Ramirez, and you're going to see better pitches hitting in front of Manny than hitting in front of Jones or Hunter. While I don't remember the batting order from 2002, I'm pretty sure Ortiz was hitting cleanup anyway. In other words, there was a protection problem.

Now, I don't want to get bogged down too much here in trying to provide "reasons" that Ortiz didn't develop, because there are about a thousand directions we could go with that (ballpark factor, which actually favors the pro-Ortiz line because Fenway is historically a tougher homerun park than the Metrodome, etc.). I wanted to provide one possible piece of the puzzle, but I'm not suggesting the protection issue was definitive or even all that important.

Instead, I think the most important factor was Ortiz's experience and comfort at the plate. Now, while I love Tom Kelly, I will admit he wasn't the best with handling young players. I think Ortiz is exaggerating the impact of what the Twins were trying to do with him, however. The Twins essentially wanted power hitters to be able to add something to their game; rather than popping up that outside fastball for an out, they wanted players to take it the other way. Preferably, they would like to see a power hitter drive it the other way. Prime example of this: Morneau's grand slam against Boston the other night. I don't see this as being all that sinister; it's common sense and good hitting. Unfortunately, I don't think Ortiz was ready to absorb that message. He wanted to pull the ball with every swing (or at least, that's what he says he wanted...he actually was remarkably good at going with pitches when he wanted to).

I don't have the energy to dig too far into this, because ultimately it's irrelevant. Ortiz is gone, and he's going to just keep ragging on the Twins. Who cares? The more important question is not whether the TK run Twins were ruining players, but whether the current Twins are.

I think the answer is no. I don't have a lot of evidence of this; how do you measure the performance of a hitting coach? Performance? If that's the case, it's presumably the same for pitching coaches, but I think Rick Anderson is a good pitching coach in spite of the horrible starts experienced by Radke, Lohse, Silva and Crain. So, again, I don't think there's a satisfactory measure for coaching performance.

Nevertheless, I cite as exhibit #1 the hitting of Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel. They are two young lefties, like Ortiz was as a Twin. And they seem to be starting to hit homeruns with increasing frequency. Most of Kubel's have even been to right-field. I think this is evidence that these players are being allowed to hit in a manner that they're comfortable with.

I don't have much else to say on this, other than I don't think it was ever as bad as Ortiz makes it out to be. He was young and had to develop, and he did the developing as a Twin. I'm sure Tom Kelly would have a different view of what the team was trying to do with him than Ortiz does. But that is all water under the bridge. Hopefully Ortiz gets over his fixation with Twins-bashing, and hopefully Justin Morneau, on pace for about 35 homeruns, can break the 30 homer drought so people stop complaining about it.


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