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Head Trainer: Rick McWane
Days Lost: 607
Dollars Lost: $5.9 million
Injury Cost: $18.2 million
Trend: Neutral. The Twins under Rick McWane have been a bit better than average in most of the major indicators, with less variance than expected. Some might think that the combination of mid-market economics and young players would hurt these stats, and yes, the gap between actual dollars lost and injury cost is huge. Injury cost attempts to measure the true value of the players lost, rather than the often undervalued salaries of pre-arbitration players. Given the turf as an additional complication, McWane and his staff deserve some credit for the mid-pack finish, but it’s clear that their focus on rehab is leaving holes in their game. Getting Francisco Liriano back is one thing, but having him end up injured in the first place was troubling. The injuries to Joe Mauer could be blamed on the field staff and front office more than on the medical staff. Their true test will be to keep the young pitching staff healthy over the next few years; losing more than one to an extensive injury will doom this team. The Twins might be most affected by their upcoming stadium switch.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Aaron Gleeman of Rotoworld/NBC asks: “What can be expected from Francisco Liriano in [his second year] following Tommy John surgery?”
In the modern world of baseball, where the return from Tommy John surgery is almost considered routine, the return to performance level is anything but. Liriano’s 2008 season is hard to assess due to the terrible beginning, the long stay in the minors, and the up-and-down nature of his performance once he made it back to Minnesota. The loss of command often seen in post-TJ pitchers was evident in his first three starts for the Twins, but soon after hitting Rochester, things began to click. By the look of the game logs, the change was sudden. He went from walking nine in 9
Fantasy Tip: It might be a bit early to think about this, but with the move to Target Field in 2010, the new park will affect more than just injury proclivity. Both the weather and the change in surface could alter how this team is constructed. Will speed players like Denard Span and Carlos Gomez be as valuable on grass? Will the pitchers be helped or hurt by the extremes in weather, or by a slower infield? The Twins of 2009 might tell us more about 2010 by their performance, since the inherent conservatism of the front office will likely inject some inertia into a winning team. Most of the players aside from Mauer and Justin Morneau are undervalued and present some opportunities. The ADP’s of Francisco Liriano and Delmon Young seem to have the biggest gap between perception and reality.
C Joe Mauer: This looks a little prescient given his recent troubles, but with as high a baseline as he has, the red rating isn’t that out of line. The concern here is that continued work behind the plate will result in small injuries that will cost him some time now, and more down the line. His knees are already an issue, and if the current problems with the back can’t be controlled, it’s going to result in a quick spiral downward and the loss of some of his offensive value.
CF Carlos Gomez: Consider this one as a quirk. The plate discipline that he failed to show, combined with the shifts in his position and his spot in the batting order, makes the system think that he was hurt. He wasn’t. Young speed guys don’t react well to injuries, but he’s much more of a moderate risk than the circumstances that the system thinks are there would indicate.
3B Joe Crede: Crede didn’t make the THR Matrix, but his recurrent back problems would have rated him red. Add in the Twins’ turf, and it’s a very red red. The fact that the surgery during the ’08 offseason didn’t help him make it through the year is the biggest negative. As with Mauer, he could probably be spotted in and be very valuable, but there’s no hint that Gardenhire is inclined to make that move.
RF Michael Cuddyer: Cuddyer has had enough injuries over his career to compare him to Andre Dawson or Vladimir Guerrero, who both aged quickly playing on turf. The injuries weren’t as severe for Cuddyer or Guerrero; Guerrero escaped the Montreal carpet, while Cuddyer gets the more modern plastic under his cleats. I’ve often wondered if today’s environment helps, with the NL all grass, and the AL down to two artificial surfaces next year; most guys are playing a maximum of 81 games on turf now, instead of 100 or 120 from years past.
DH Jason Kubel: Kubel is not Harold Baines as some thought (including me), but he’s not bad either. The knee’s impact on his game now is very debatable, though the view the Twins have of Kubel seems locked in from his past.
SP Francisco Liriano: See today’s Big Question.
SP Nick Blackburn: Having a knee scoped is really no big deal in the short term. At worst, it pushes a player off schedule, but as long as it’s done as early in the offseason as possible, it’s usually not an issue. Blackburn is a bit behind, but he should be fine.
SP Glen Perkins: The real trouble here is how badly Perkins wore down during the second half, which worries those who remember his 2007 shoulder injury. He’s a point under red, and I’d watch him very closely.
RP Jesse Crain: Crain is also just a point under red, a result of his shoulder surgery and the team’s inability to keep their relievers healthy (Dennys Reyes, Pat Neshek, Crain). There is the fungibility of relievers to consider, as well as the ability of the Twins to keep generating arms to fill the slots effectively.
1B Justin Morneau: Dig through Morneau’s minor league history, and you’d think he would be just another injury-prone catcher. There’s a BPR somewhere that has Morneau complaining about being held back from catching by an intestinal problem. It’s worked out, though I often wonder if he could still do it; it would make for one heck of a platoon at catcher and first base. That he’s green now is a testament to the Twins’ foresight, in his case.
SS Nick Punto: Punto’s rating assumes that he’s playing one position. If he shifts back to the utility role, he’s right on the green/yellow borderline.
LF Delmon Young
SP Scott Baker
SP Kevin Slowey: If I were asked to point to a player as a model of “how to develop a pitcher,” then Slowey is one that would come to mind. Just look at how he has progressed, and how all of his stats seem to follow. He’s going to be huge this year.
CL Joe Nathan: Nathan stands in sharp contrast to most of the fungible Twins relief pitchers. He’s been solid since coming over from the Giants, and WBC-itis aside, he’s durable as well. What are they doing for him that they’re not doing for the others, or is Nathan’s ability to stay healthy the biggest part of his success?