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  • Issues in the Outfield

    The Indians’ David Murphy should send the Minnesota Twins’ front office and coaching staff a bottle of champagne. After all, the struggling left-handed outfielder hast just six doubles this season but two of those came courtesy of the Twins when they have infielders positioned in the outfield.

    While the 2014 Twins infield numbers have flourished, the outfield has languished.

    The Twins’ outfield was a defensive liability last year. In 2013, they posted an unsightly -35.3 UZR as an outfield unit. Of course, if you solely relied on the broadcasts of the games, you would have likely heard that the Twins outfield had a .991 fielding percentage, 4th best in the game. In short, last year’s outfield was very good...if the ball was hit directly at them. But overall they converted a lowly 84.4% of all outfield flies into outs -- a rate that was 29 out of 30 MLB teams.

    With the knowledge that the team had issues in this department, the Twins front office did little to address that particular need in the offseason. Naturally, starting pitching took precedence. Yet little preparation was made to provide any safety net, or improvement. In fact, the only outfield addition this past year, Jason Kubel, provided questionable defense in corner outfield spots at his best.

    There was a method to this madness. The Twins had Josh Willingham locked in. They had to find out if Aaron Hicks could manage center field and if Oswaldo Arcia could claim right field. Beyond that, heading into camp, there was some depth (some depth in the same way there is some water in the desert). Kubel could take over for either Willingham or Arcia if necessary. Alex Presley had played a decent center field and Darin Mastroianni was certainly capable as well. But what is clear now -- as much as it seemed obvious even then -- is that there was a razor thin margin for error. Would Willingham, a much maligned player coming off knee surgery, survive an entire year? Hicks had little track record to suggest he was going to capture the position, which could be the same thing said about Arcia.

    At the very least, in the case with Hicks and Arcia, the Twins deserve credit for wanting to see the kids play. The problem is that they purchased a very ****ty insurance policy. When it came time to make the final roster decisions, the leadership, including the manager, decided that Jason Bartlett would be a super utility-type -- a move that was necessitated just as much by the lack of confidence in Pedro Florimon as anything -- which came at the expense of Presley, an actual outfielder, who would be claimed by the Houston Astros.

    In terms of that final roster spot, Twins assistant GM Rob Antony had stated that the decision was influenced by the manager.

    “When you get down to the tail-end of your roster, I think the manager sort of has to determine how he’s using different guys and it doesn’t make much sense to fill out a roster any other way than how he’s going to use them,” said Antony shortly after the final roster was announced in spring training.

    As camp wound down, Bartlett saw more time in different outfield positions. After one afternoon in right field, manager Ron Gardenhire weighed in with his thoughts on Bartlett’s performance.

    “He hasn’t played much out there, he’s just an athlete,” Gardenhire said in March when asked what his thoughts were on Bartlett in the outfield. “He actually ran the ball down great today -- the one ball in the corner, he just got too close to the wall. He’s had no practice in right field and balls in the corner. None whatsoever. He’s just taken balls off the bat. He got some great jumps on a few balls out there. Right field is the toughest out here. You can’t hardly see the ball out there -- everybody will tell you the same thing. I thought he did pretty damn good out there. To tell you the truth I was pleasantly surprised.”

    Gardenhire went on to say that Bartlett would be receiving plenty of outfield practice, alongside Chris Colabello and Eduardo Escobar, once the season began. The notion, however, that Bartlett would be needed almost immediately in the outfield did not seem to cross his mind. Additionally, the front office said that Bartlett would be available in emergency situations to fill in for Hicks but that Mastroianni would be a phone call away in Rochester.

    The emergency situations arose in Cleveland just six games into the season when left fielder Josh Willingham was destroyed by a Justin Masterson fastball. With Jason Kubel in right field and Oswaldo Arcia out because of an injury, Bartlett was pressed into left field duty.

    In the sixth inning, the Indians began to pick on Barlett. First it was Lonnie Chisenhall getting a bonus base because of Bartlett’s play, then Jason Kipnis landing a single in short left field and finally, David Murphy’s first gift double:


    In both instances, the likelihood of actually making the play was remote. According to Inside Edge’s fielding data available at Fangraphs, the IE video scouts suggested that the initial double allowed to Chisenhall had a 40-60% chance of being converted into an out. Murphy’s bloop, on the other hand, received a near 0% chance of being caught. The issue came in Bartlett’s approach -- the attempted dive rather than play it safe and get behind the play and limit Murphy to a one-base hit rather than move into scoring position. His hustle was admirable but his inexperience was on display.


    Source: FanGraphs

    This outing resulted in Bartlett’s eventual retirement after he sprained his ankle and opted not to continue through the rehab process.

    When the Twins returned to Cleveland, they were once again left with a short bench thanks to a pair of concussions to Aaron Hicks and Sam Fuld. With depth being a significant issue, Gardenhire decided to use Escobar in left field. Despite the vote of confidence from his manager after the game, it became apparent during the game that his inexperience -- like not knowing exactly how to read a warning track -- came into play. In that case, Inside Edge’s video scouts said Asdrubal Cabrera’s double was a play that should have been made 90-100% of the time. It essentially cost the Twins that game.


    Source: FanGraphs

    The next afternoon, still short of outfielders, Gardenhire promoted Escobar to center field action. This is where David Murphy received his second double from the Twins:

    Undoubtedly a tough read. Line drives that are smoked straight at an outfielder have the tendency to be difficult to read. As of this posting, Inside Edge’s data from that game has not been uploaded to Fangraphs.com so there’s not baseline as to what professional video scouts feel about that particular play. That said, a player like Hicks or Fuld who has a history of seeing those types of plays would be able to get a better jump and route than Escobar did.

    Through Monday night, the Twins have had infielders in the outfield for 45.2 innings (or 4.6% of the total innings). Of those innings, the players involved have a combined 64 innings of professional outfield experience between them (Danny Santana did have 15 games in center in 2011 with Beloit). While a small sampling, that still is too large. Clearly health-related issues have forced several of these decisions but those were born from the inability to properly build -- or in the case of losing Presley and Mastroianni, manage -- outfield depth in the system. It was the offseason gamble, not the final decision to keep Bartlett on the 25-man roster, that caused so many issues that are resonating today.

    You are welcome, David Murphy.
    Comments 46 Comments
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Well written Parker! My only argument is keeping Bartlett made an already bad situation worse. Keeping Mastro or Presley would have mitigated the pain of watching IF play OF, and the hitting would be about the same, poor.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      Through Monday night, the Twins have had infielders in the outfield for 45.2 innings
      Meanwhile Parmelee, who was born and raised an outfielder, was sent to AAA. Is it hindsight to say that Parmelee should have made the team ahead of Bartlett?
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Who positioned Escobar so shallow? The infielders turned outfielders get direction from the dugout. That Escobar looked bad is on the coaches for positioning him that shallow. I don't think he is the speedster that has patrolled shallow out there in the past
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hosken Bombo Disco View Post
      Meanwhile Parmelee, who was born and raised an outfielder, was sent to AAA. Is it hindsight to say that Parmelee should have made the team ahead of Bartlett?
      Pretty sure Gardy was the only person in mn that thought Bartlett should make the team, unfortunately his was the only opinion that mattered
    1. PopRiveter's Avatar
      PopRiveter -
      I don't know how many teams could field a quality outfield while all 3 starters, + a first baseman and a reinforcement outfielder are all out at once.
      Mastro and Presley were not going to make an impactful difference and there are always Sam Fulds showing up on the wire (see Mastroianni, Presley, Thomas, Wilson.)
      IMO, the true issue isn't depth as much as having a quality starting centerfielder. Hicks' leash is waaaaaaaaay too long. The corners will be fine in short order, but this rash of injuries might mean the loss of Parmelee from the org, and it definitely means we watch some funny routes.
    1. kblack1011's Avatar
      kblack1011 -
      The front office really has no plan for the outfield. They just bring up players and tell them that they are now outfielders. Even with Parmelee, if they wanted him to be an outfielders, why did he play most his games at first base at AAA? Can't be because we had other major league OF's at AAA. Now with Santana, they have a player who needs to develop his skills as a shortstop (another position of weakness in the organization), but they throw him to centerfield at the majors.

      Then they cut players from the 40 man roster who can actually play the outfield. It's becoming clear that they have no real plan to field a competitive team this year.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      So the implication was that Gardy made the call on Bartlett over Presley?

      Sigh.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      There is a difference between "quality", and "play someone out there that has less than 20 gams experience", isnt there?

      How can there be zero, zero, CF in AAA or AA? No one could move up to AA when Buxton went down, not even for a month or two? That implies, to me, there is no one in A+ either. Really hard to believe.

      We've been over this, Hicks can't hit ML pitching. There should have 100% been a plan for his possible failure. There wasn't. The plan to back up Willingham (often injured and older) was to sign an injured older player. With no one in AAA that they wanted to call up if it didn't work.
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      The Twins made a serious run at Raj Davis over the offseason. Would we have this discussion if he chose us over Detroit? So saying the Twins did nothing to address the OF is wrong. There really wasn't any better options out there. I do think the Twins should have brought Pierre in to compete in spring training but I don't remember seeing many available options out there. I also thought it was odd the Twins were going after Raj David so what do I know.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      There were myriad options....they chose not to pursue them. I'd guess over a dozen OF were available they could have signed. They could have traded one of their young RP (since they refuse to promote them, and realy only want verteraniness out there to walk in runs) for a AAA OF. Lots of ways to plan for this. Lots and lots of ways.
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      Not to defend the front office, but they also were planning on Buxton starting at AA this year and many of us wouldn't have been shocked for him to be pressing for the big leagues by sometime in June if he continued to progress like last year. To me, he was part of the backup plan. The injuries to Hicks and Buxton were tough to foresee. However, once they knew Buxton was hurt it's almost unforgiveable to cut Pressley/Mastroianni knowing we lack depth behind Hicks and that Hicks isn't proven himself.

      I was ok with what we brought into training camp MLB(Hicks/Pressley) AAA(Maistro) AA(Buxton) but keeping Bartlett over Pressley seemed dumb then and now it's come back to bite them.
    1. REPETE's Avatar
      REPETE -
      it drove me nuts when Gardy played Cuddy at 2B, and raved about what a great team player he was, and how he battled his tail off out there. Cuddy did what his manager asked, but HE COULDN'T PLAY 2B!! There should never be a time a MLB player is so completely out of position, barring late inning replacement necessitated by pinch hitters. Keeping Bartlett, and saying he'll learn how to play OF made no sense. Gardy manages the Twins like a softball team.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      "It essentially cost the Twins that game. " Well, much like the Buckner grounder its more that it cost the Twins a fair chance at the game. If you make the play and you would have won then an error costs you the game. If the score is tied when you make it then there was probably a close to even chance you were going to lose anyway.
    1. Cris E's Avatar
      Cris E -
      They were too worried about blocking Hicks/Buxton, too concerned about Willingham's feelings to not consider playing him more at DH and less in LF, and way too optimistic in assuming guys would stay healthy. As said above, the insurance policy for the happy path was not well conceived.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      This is exactly what I've been saying, but more elegantly written and strongly argued. Great job.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      So the implication was that Gardy made the call on Bartlett over Presley?

      Sigh.
      Yes. My question is, where is the accountability for decisions like this? Someone said Gardy was the only one in MN who thought it was a good idea. I can say he was the only person in the universe. Bartlett could barely get the bat on the ball in spring training. He had never played professionally in the outfield. So why not give him the chance to play his way onto the 40 man in AAA? If he opts out, I guess he didn't want it enough. But why rush him back from nearly two years away from the game? And why risk losing the only back-up center fielder on the 40 man to do it? Gardy's response was "I don't need a back-up center fielder." If an employee of mine made such a bone-head decision, I'd fire him.
    1. Beezer07's Avatar
      Beezer07 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post

      We've been over this, Hicks can't hit ML pitching.
      Hicks has not been good in the majors thus far in his career. But this seems like an awfully bold statement to make considering he's only had 400+ PAs. I know he can't hit ML pitching yet, but why are people so quick to give up on a guy who's part of a team that is BAD? What benefit is there to the Twins in picking up waiver wire garbage with no higher ceiling? I say let Hicks keep struggling and hope he figures it out over the next year, much like hundreds of MLers before him.
    1. SweetOne69's Avatar
      SweetOne69 -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Yes. My question is, where is the accountability for decisions like this? Someone said Gardy was the only one in MN who thought it was a good idea. I can say he was the only person in the universe. Bartlett could barely get the bat on the ball in spring training. He had never played professionally in the outfield. So why not give him the chance to play his way onto the 40 man in AAA? If he opts out, I guess he didn't want it enough. But why rush him back from nearly two years away from the game? And why risk losing the only back-up center fielder on the 40 man to do it? Gardy's response was "I don't need a back-up center fielder." If an employee of mine made such a bone-head decision, I'd fire him.
      I agree.

      The conversation should've gone something like this:
      Gardy: I want Bartlett on the roster.
      FO: I understand you like the guy, but he doesn't look ready. We should keep him in the minors to see if is offense comes around.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      The Bartlett decision was not Gardenhire's alone.

      He had an enabler in the front office. (That is the part that should be of most concern).
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Thank You Parker!!!

      Your article helped explain some of the things that was confusing the crap out of me. The quote from Antony explaining the 25th man does answer my question on who the inside advocate was for Bartlett. I suspected it was Gardy and that suspicion is now stronger.

      I want to be clear... that I don't want to hang anyone over all of this but it's obvious that they missed.

      Hicks shouldn't have been handed the starting gig in CF after witnessing 2013. I believe in Hicks... He has the potential to be exciting and he has the tools to get it done. But... Let him conquer AAA first. I was shocked that he made the opening day roster after 2013. And I was triple shocked that no safety net was in place. It's the same scenario as 2013 and it failed. Why try the same approach again? I have no idea.

      Another thing... If you are going to create a utility player... There is only one way to do it. You have to take that player and play him somewhere else. Saying that someone is the backup in CF and waiting for every other possible option to get hurt before playing there does nobody any good. Utility players are created by playing elsewhere. Bonofacio is the Cadillac of utility players. He started as 2B in 2007... Moved to 3B in 2009... Moved to the OF in 2010 and moved to SS in 2011. He got a bunch of playing time at each position.

      If you want to play your SS in the OF... I'm all for it... But you have to commit to it and create it. Play him... It might be rough for a while but it will get better. If he is only going to play in emergency situations. He will never get better and we will be in a constant state of looking like we have in the OF. The Season is young... Dive in with both feet.

      However... Creating a utility guy is goofy and time consuming when you could have just signed the best one out there free of charge.

      The Twins approach to CF is a head scratcher. Your article helped but I still don't totally get it.
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