By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
Part 2 of my post-season player grades will hone in on the Twins’ outfield---one of the strong points on this 66-win team. As with Part 1, only players with 100+ at-bats were considered.
JOSH WILLINGHAM---519 at-bats; .260, 35 HR, 110 RBI - GRADE: A
As much as Twins fans missed Michael Cuddyer’s presence, it’s hard to find any bones to pick with this offseason acquisition. To compare directly, Willingham, making $3.5 million less than Cuddyer in 2012, hit for the exact same average as his predecessor (.260), better than doubled Michael in home runs (35 to 16), and recorded 52 more RBIs (110 to 58), good for third in the American League. By the way, Cuddyer and his 2012 Rockies were one of the three National League teams to finish below the Twins in record (64-98).
Willingham joined exclusive company by becoming the third Minnesota Twin ever to hit 35 home runs (Killebrew, Allison). If not for a late-season drop-off and eventual shoulder injury, “Hammer” likely would have threatened 40 homers. The former Athletic set career highs, not just in HRs and RBIs, but games played (145), runs (85), walks (76), slugging (.524), and OPS (.890)---all at age 33.
Willingham was a liability at times on defense. Shockingly, he put up a lower ZR (zone rating) than Delmon Young ever did in his Twins tenure. Josh also threatened the Twins single season strikeout record of 145, but at 141, didn’t eclipse the infamous Carlos Gomez total from 2008 (142).
Frankly, the Twins picked up Willingham for one reason: to add pop to a punchless lineup. He exceeded everybody’s expectations and put together the best single-season power display in three seasons of Target Field. Said GM Terry Ryan, “Forget about the dimensions [of Target Field]. He made the dimensions look small.”
DENARD SPAN---516 at-bats; .283, 4 HR, 41 RBI - GRADE: B
After playing just 70 games in 2011, Denard Span rebounded this season to play 128. He was the steadiest player on the team in April when the Twins were floundering, hitting .330 for the month. Span peaked with a torrid .361 July in which he recorded 11 multi-hit games. Unfortunately, the injury bug hit Span late in season, keeping the center fielder sidelined for nearly half the games after August 4th.
Going into this past season, Span’s career could easily be separated into two chunks: the 2008-2009 Denard Span and the 2010-2011 Denard Span. The 2012 version landed squarely in the middle, basically settling right on his career averages in each offensive category. The one outlier was doubles (38) where Span led the team and set a career high. On defense, Span put up zone ratings and range factors that were higher than his career average. He also set a career mark in outfield assists (6).
Span stabilized the top of the lineup, hit for a high average at home (.332), and covered ground well in center field. His injury proneness returned toward season’s end, but his value as a leadoff hitter, especially in tandem with Ben Revere, provides exciting possibilities if the Twins choose to hang on to their former first round pick; he’s been rumored to be on the trade block for parts of the last two seasons.
BEN REVERE---511 at-bats; .294, 0 HR, 32 RBI - GRADE: B+
There’s no doubt anymore that Ben Revere belongs in Minnesota’s outfield. The Twins made the mistake of leaving Revere out of the mix until mid-May, which happens to be when they started playing their best ball. Revere had the second highest hit total on the team (150) and the best at-bats to strikeouts ratio (9.5:1). He also hit the 40-steal plateau for the first time since Chuck Knoblauch in 1997.
Revere was brilliant in the outfield. Zero errors in over 1,000 innings. The top range factor of any AL right-fielder who played at least 35 games. The fourth-best UZR in all of baseball (behind Michael Bourn, Jason Heyward, and Josh Reddick). And his weak throwing arm? Not a problem. Revere was top-20 in outfield assists (8).
Minnesota’s 2007 first round selection proved he can hit consistently over the course of a season. His speed and defense are Grade A. At age 24, the sky seems to be the limit for Mr. Revere.
DARIN MASTROIANNI---163 at-bats; .252, 3 HR, 17 RBI - GRADE: C+
Of all the early-season experiments, Mastroianni was the one position player that stuck with the club. He stayed on the roster from May 10th until game 162, playing in 77 games. He was solid as a utility outfielder and found a niche as a pinch-runner. Mastroianni’s intelligence on the base paths vaulted him to 21 steals in 24 attempts.
Mastroianni was serviceable, but not irreplaceable. He’ll be competing for a roster spot in spring training.
Conclusion: Nothing to complain about when all three of your starting outfielders amass 500+ at-bats. When you look for scapegoats to explain the Twins’ 96-loss season, don’t search in the outfield.
Next edition looks at the starting rotation. It won’t be pretty.
If you missed Part 1 containing the grades on Minnesota’s infield, click here.