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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Twins Shortstop RX: 2011 And 1968 In Focus

[Leo Cardenas profiled in earlier post in 2010 at this site]

The 1968 and 2011 seasons were pivotal and comparable in Minnesota Twins history. Most significantly, both were massively disappointing years in which the teams underachieved following a near-miss pennant ( defeated on last weekend of '67) by the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox and a Central Division championship in 2010. Both squads were hit by crippling injuries (Harmon Killebrew, Oliva in '68, and Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, et. al. in '11). Lastly, both editions saw the Twins employing legions of middle infielders to fill the most important defensive position on the diamond. By 1967's end, the play of Zoilo Versalles at shortstop had regressedso much that the club determined to replace him come hell or high water for Twins 1968 season. The former, with a generous helping of chaos is what they got...extrapolate Jackie Hernandez' errors out to a full season of drudgery, and you get an idea of the team's quandary.

*Specifically, from offensive standpoint. BA had fallen to .200, few extra basehits (29 in 626 plate 
appearances), and k'd 113 times. He did contribute 50 RBI, scored 63 runs, and played 160 games.

The 1968 Twins shortstop platoon...
AgeGGSCGInnChPOAEDPFld%RtotRF/G
Jackie Hernandez27796648571.13411191972543.92724.00
Ron Clark25433833348.2173561061114.936-13.77
Rick Renick24403023262.21495091813.946-73.53
Cesar Tovar2735209185.295315959.947-02.57
Frank Quilici2965543.02181123.905-23.17
Rod Carew2243122.0945021.00002.25
League Average.9624.81
Team Total1621621191433.17882684695184.935-84.77
The sick part of me wishes they had kept running Hernandez out to short for the entire season.
Just to see what horrors he could have wrought.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 12/17/2011.

The remedy was to bring in a ringer. And his name was Leo Cardenas. The Winona Daily News of Nov. 24, 1968 had some great takes by Billy Martin as well as...

Calvin Griffith and his generals in the Twins front office were the benefactors of the Cincinnati Red's philosophy of trading players before they turned 30. Only 3 seasons previous, the Redlegs had dispatched the "Old At 29" Frank Robinson to Baltimore for Milt Pappas (and we know how that worked out for Cincy, what with the "old man" taking home the Triple Crown for batting in 1966). The three time All-Star Cardenas had become a favorite bullseye for Red's Manager Dave Bristol. Thus, from the Queen City of Johnny Bench and Pete Rose was he sent packing for the North Star State of Killebrew, Carew and Oliva:








Leo, looking pleased as can be
 in his early Cincy days









































LEO CARDENAS: his defensive line in '69...
YearTmLgAgePosGGSCGInnChPOAEDPFld%RtotRF/GlgFld%lgRFGAwards
1969MINAL30SS1601591551455.091231057032126.965175.50.9664.96MVP-12
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/16/2011.

Cardenas simply made the Zoilo Versalles era a distant memory, turning in a sparkling year offensively and defensively. Calvin & Co. looked like geniuses, despite their forking over the crafty Jim Merritt for the man known as "Mr. Automatic " (link to classic Topps card "Marvin Miller post).

Cardenas (left) congratulates Rich Reese (scoring), with
Frank Quilici and Rick Renick." Mr. Automatic" turned in the all-time
best Twins shortstop year in the field in 1969, all things considered.

The 2011 season for the Twins was similarly vexing, and not only for the multiple players they shifted in and out of the starters role at short. This modern edition was also painted into a corner by injuries, poor performance, and the twin terrors of quiet dissension and malingering. Tsuyoshi Nishioka achieved a level of notoriety not seen in Minnesota with his unorthodoxy, not covering second base for putouts, and just the way he'd field hard-hit grounders ("He looks like he's getting paved," quipped Minneapolis Star Trib columnist Jim Souhan). Then there's Trevor Plouffe - one could never be sure if his throws to first would arrive in the first sackers numbers, in the family jewel box, or in a fan's beer in Row A. Here were the Twins' choices at short - contributors to arguably the worst record in club history:

2011 TWINS SHORTSTOPS - boots, bombs and busts to the max!
AgeGGSCGInnChPOAEDPFld%RtotRF/G
Tsuyoshi Nishioka26605957508.1278961721034.964-114.47
Trevor Plouffe25454544396.2195731111133.944-204.09
Alexi Casilla26363630306.216256101523.969-24.36
Matt Tolbert29312221210.01104166319.973-33.45
League Average.9733.98
Team Total1621621521421.274526645029109.961-364.16
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/17/2011.
No, Trevor. We didn't like
watching this mess either.

2007 Topps Heritage card
It doesn't take much number crunching, or the scouring of modern metrics like total zone fielding metrics (i.e, "Rtot," see my sabermetrics page for definitions), to see the patient was bleeding on the table (like so many grounders through the 5-hole) with the docs apparently off shooting 18-holes somewhere. Some horrid, ugly numbers in that chart above! This time, the Twins have resolved to replace their woes with competency, if not flash and hardware. The 2012 shortstop trade equivalent to Leo Cardenas would be Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies. The pipes we're smoking would have to be pretty big indeed for us to think that the Twins would shell out for his booty (pardon the phrase). The recent acquisition of Josh Willingham slammed the Twins money vault shut. Wishful thinkers, don't even go there! Instead, we give you...[drum roll]...Jamey Carroll, acquired by the Twins on November 16th:
 
TmLgAgePosGGSCGInnChPOAEDPFld%RtotRF/GlgFld%lgRFG
LADNL37SS665448504.221478132427.981-53.18.9714.40
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/16/2011.

While definitely not blowing you away with numbers and hype, Carroll looks to be a guy who can make all the routine plays, if not being a great range guy (3.18 as compared to the National League average of 4.40 for 2011). It is legit to view him with some reserve. It took him until age 29 to become a full-time player, and he never played as many as 120 games in any one season until 2010. I'm viewing him as a super utility man in the Nick Punto mold. He doesn't have Punto's track record as a fielder, but he hits for a better average. Yes, I am aware of that RBI thing (17 in 146 games in '11). He has never played as many as 70 games at short in any of his 10 seasons, but does possess a .987 fielding percentage at the position, lifetime. My gut reaction is that he may yet wind up as the Twins everyday second baseman, and that Alexi Casilla will finally remain healthy and nail down short for a whole season. Then, too, there's some likeable minor league kid named Brian Dozier, winner of the 2011 Twins Minor League Player of the Year award. He very likely will get an opportunity to show his stuff in the 2012 Spring Training camp.

 As it's doubtful they Twins will be able to crow as they did in acquiring Cardenas 43 years ago, they will hopefully recoup some satisfaction in knowing order has been restored at short. By SOMEBODY out there!

As our old friend Herb Carneal would conclude his broadcasts:

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