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September 24, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Post-Mortem

by Joe Sheehan

The dream died this weekend. The Twins, with one last chance to make a run in the AL Central, dropped two of three games to the Indians, making their tragic number six and basically ending the divisional race.

The Twins scored just four runs in their two losses, continuing an offensive slide that is the root cause of their second-half problems.


                         AVG    OBP    SLG     R/G     ERA     W-L
April through July      .275   .338   .423    4.93    4.41   60-46
Since                   .260   .312   .461    4.43    4.57   19-25

The Twins had success for four months despite a borderline offense for a contender, and couldn't afford much slippage if they were going to remain in the race. Despite this, GM Terry Ryan's big move at the deadline was to trade his best OBP guy, Matt Lawton, to the Mets for a fourth starter in Rick Reed. That deal cost them a half-run a game at the plate, and now stands as a shining example of how the groupthink of "we don't have enough pitching," put into action, ruined what could have been a great story.

This isn't about what the two players have done since the deal. Reed has been unimpressive, making nine starts and being worth about a half-win above a replacement-level starter. Lawton has hit .248/.360/.383 for the Mets, poor figures for a corner outfielder, even in Shea Stadium. You could argue that neither team won the trade based on this information, but evaluating deals based on what happens in the wake of them is a poor method. At the time, the trade looked like a backbreaker for a Twins' offense already hampered by a slew of low-OBP players, which is exactly what it turned out to be.

The shame is that the remaining Twins hit pretty well in Lawton's absence:


                         Overall            August          September
Luis Rivas           .264/.317/.365    .241/.322/.352    .400/.423/.500
Cristian Guzman      .300/.337/.481    .316/.371/.368    .242/.254/.452
Doug Mientkiewicz    .311/.390/.473    .305/.403/.488    .191/.339/.234
David Ortiz          .241/.325/.482    .196/.305/.402    .212/.236/.500
Corey Koskie         .279/.363/.504    .255/.345/.510    .304/.355/.554
Torii Hunter         .261/.300/.475    .213/.252/.380    .393/.443/.679
Jacque Jones         .271/.326/.407    .309/.391/.383    .256/.289/.448
A.J. Pierzynski      .291/.325/.440    .310/.365/.517    .257/.316/.429

As you can see by the team totals, the Twins hit for a lot more power than they did early in the year, fueled by Corey Koskie's surge. They even got OBP bumps from some previous hopeless cases, like Luis Rivas, Torii Hunter, and Jacque Jones. The loss of Lawton's OBP at the top of the lineup, though, kept them from having enough runners on base to make use of the power. The inability of David Ortiz to do anything after his return from a wrist injury was the other primary factor in the lineup's lack of production.

The performance of the guys who played for Lawton wasn't very good:


                        August             September
Brian Buchanan     .326/.404/.630       .310/.412/.517
Chad Allen         .200/.226/.300             DNP
Bobby Kielty       .206/.243/.353       .286/.304/.524
Dustan Mohr        .111/.100/.111       .100/.182/.100
John Barnes        .048/.130/.048             DNP

Brian Buchanan hit well, but he was primarily a platoon player, facing left-handed pitching. Against right-handers, which is where the Twins felt Lawton's absence most acutely, the Twins watched as players like Dustan Mohr and John Barnes simply didn't hit; nor did top prospect Bobby Kielty, nor did Buchanan when given a chance to play against righties.

Would not making the trade have meant October baseball for the Twins? Well, that's hard to say, but we can say that they missed Lawton's OBP badly, to the tune of a half-run a game. It's hard to imagine that they couldn't have acquired a cheaper solution for the back of the rotation, one that would have allowed them to keep Lawton while eliminating Adam Johnson's role. Then again, we don't know whether Johnson or some unknown veteran might have pitched even worse than Reed has, with the Twins ending up with the same half-run per game shortfall, just distributed differently.

The important thing is to shed no tears for the Twins, and to not point to their late-season submission as supporting a Chicken Little viewpoint on baseball economics. They did this to themselves, for baseball reasons; blaming their coming up short on money would do them, and the game, a disservice.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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