February 25, 2008

Comparing the Infields

Looking back to last season and the Opening Day infield, the moves that the Twins have made this off-season don’t seem so bad. On March 31, when the Twins open their season against the Angels, three of the four positions will likely have different starters. This is projecting that Brendan Harris be at second, Adam Everett at short and Mike Lamb at third.

The question is, which infield is better?

Last season on Opening Day, the Twins sent out Justin Morneau at first, Luis Castillo at second, Jason Bartlett at shortstop and Nick Punto at third.

Let go position-by-position for a better look.

First Base:
First off, we’ll skip first base. This is the lone position that will remain the same, and it should provide more productivity assuming that Morneau has gotten even better on defense and will hit homeruns after the break unlike last season.

Second Base:
Last season at second base, the Twins sent Luis Castillo to the field. Castillo wasn’t bad, he put up a .304 batting average with no homeruns and 18 runs batted in. The main upgrade that Brendan Harris will provide is more run support. He is a much bigger power threat, belting 12 homeruns last season from a low-power position and also collecting 59 runs batting in. His average was lower at .286, but their on-base percentages were comparable as Castillo posted a .356 OBP and Harris a .343 OBP.

Its hard to argue that Harris’ defense will be any better than what Castillo did for the Twins, because Castillo was pretty solid. He made about as few errors as you possibly can and even had a shot at the longest streak without an error at one point. The main thing was his health. Harris should be easier to count on with good knees.

I’d have to say that Harris is an upgrade. Castillo has good defense, but Harris should be able to hold his own at one of the easier defensive positions. And for a team starving for offense last season, the 12 homeruns and 59 runs batted in will definitely help.

Comparing the shortstops for this season and last season is pretty hard since both are basically opposites. Last season, Jason Bartlett hit .265 with 5 homeruns and 43 runs batted in. Adam Everett didn’t play in many games after getting injured early in a collision (66), and returned to hit only .232. Neither player really had a great offensive season, and while Bartlett does have an edge in this spot, the fact that Everett missed so much time does make it hard to compare.

On defense, there is no argument for who is the better player. Last season, Bartlett committed 26 errors in 138 games. In his 66 games, Everett committed 8 errors. This may sound like an unfair comparison because of the big differential in games played, but in his seven major league seasons, Everett has never committed more than 17 errors and only twice committed more than 10. Everett has never won a gold glove, but has always been known as one of the best defenders.

At this position, I’d say its a toss-up. The Twins are swapping a small amount of offense for a lot better defense that will probably save them the runs that Bartlett will score more than Everett.

Third Base:
Last season, the Twins had Nick Punto at third after having a stellar 2006 season. Things didn’t go well at all as Punto hit just .210 in 150 games. Basically any change that the Twins made would have been an upgrade, and Lamb is definitely that. Lamb hit .289 for the Astros is just 124 games last season. Plus these numbers are better because 45 of those games were as a pinch hitter. So change his stats to 79 games with a .289 average, 11 homeruns and 40 runs batted in, and you have the best hitting third baseman for the Twins since Corey Koskie. The biggest key for Lamb will be how he adjusts to playing everyday.

On the defensive side, the advantage goes to Nick Punto. Defense is really the only thing that went right for Punto last season. In 138 games at third last season, Punto made just seven errors, and made about that many spectacular plays as well. On the other side, Lamb has always been known for his hitting and not his defense. Last season, Lamb played in 58 games at third and made eight errors.

The Twins made an upgrade at third this off-season, and Lamb is definitely going to help the Twins a lot more than Punto. If he can adjust to getting 500 at-bats instead of the 311 that he received last season, and still put up the same production, then the Twins will have a huge upgrade offensively. The biggest question will be his defense. As long as he doesn’t cost the team a lot of runs, it shouldn’t be a huge problem. And the Twins will have Punto on the bench for late game defense.

So take your pick, which infield is better, the projected Opening Day infield of 2008, or last season’s Opening Day infield?

2008 Infield:
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - Brendan Harris
SS - Adam Everett
3B - Mike Lamb

2007 Infield:
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - Luis Castillo
SS - Jason Bartlett
3B - Nick Punto