Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Central thoughts: Greinke, V-Mart, Twins
By Christina Kahrl
Both Central Divisions have their share of first-month flops. If you were to look at the AL Central’s standings, you might think they were making like the redcoats at Yorktown, marching to the beat of "The World Turned Upside Down." The NL Central is a below .500 mess, with the Cardinals the only team whose beaks are above that mark despite being two games worse than their expected record. However, slow starts can owe a lot to who’s been available, and Wednesday the Brewers, Tigers and Twins are all making significant moves.
Zack Greinke returns to the rotation after starting the season on the disabled list.
The Brewers’ situation is straightforward enough as they get Zack Greinke back. Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke did the smart thing and exploited the schedule to limit Greinke’s replacement, former Nats farmhand Marco Estrada, to just four starts (including Wednesday’s turn). Estrada exceeded expectations by delivering two quality starts in his first three games. It's a small sample, but one that reflects the rewards of hitting his spots low and away and (per Inside Edge data) using his changeup as a chase pitch. It might be hard to count on that forever, but with Greinke back the Brewers don’t need to. They get to bank Estrada's contributions and move on.
The Tigers getting Victor Martinez back is more a matter of outright need. The lack of offense from the outfield and DH slots is contributing to one of the worst team-wide Isolated Power marks in the league. It isn’t that Martinez will fix that all by himself. In his absence Alex Avila has been fine as a regular and the initial job-sharing arrangement that Dave Dombrowski had in mind behind the plate isn’t quite as important. Why hook one of the lineup’s better hitters to plug in another?
V-Mart’s return figures to eat into the playing time of those slack bats in the outfield/DH mix: Magglio Ordonez, Ryan Raburn, and Brennan Boesch. Until Raburn finds some patience, Boesch finds his power stroke, and Ordonez finds that hitting tool commonly referred to as a bat, Jim Leyland is going to be better off mixing and matching that trio while letting Avila continue to play.
For the Twins, the news goes from bad to worse now that Jim Thome is headed to the DL. Even if Thome wasn’t technically one of the starting nine when everyone’s healthy, he did figure to be one of the top 10 Twins in at-bats before season’s end. Even Thome was due to drop off from last season’s .362 True Average, falling almost 100 points to .273. That's a below-average clip for a first baseman or a DH, which should be up around .290. Whether you want to refer to ZiPS or PECOTA, Thome was projected to produce an ISO in the .240-.260 range, almost 100 points more than what they were getting from him.
Now Thome’s on the shelf, along with a full third of the starting nine: Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. They’ve also had to deal with Justin Morneau's weak production -- blame his slow recovery from last year’s concussion, blame the lack of Cactus League at-bats, blame the weather, it still bodes ill. Mauer is at least swinging the bat, while Young is out on a rehab assignment, but in the meantime, don’t expect much power from who they have left.
A shortage of quality replacements exacerbates the issue. The Twins have little power to call up, and plugging Drew Butera, maybe the worst-hitting backup backstop in baseball, reflects this problem. Calling up speedster Ben Revere might be the most dramatic adaptation they could ask for, at least if you want to see Ron Gardenhire get back to a crew of latter-day piranhas. Projected for little power after delivering an .080 ISO in more than 1600 minor-league plate appearances, Revere has stolen bases at a 75 percent clip. Unfortunately, his walk rate has bounced around seven percent, so his ability to contribute depends on the vagaries of ball-in-play outcomes. In Young’s absence, plugging Revere into the outfield might inspire Gardenhire to compensate for his slugless offense with little-ball machinations and better defense with Revere’s center fielder’s range in left.