Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
I continue to be amused by the willingness of some people to go all smacky-wacky on Joe Mauer and Delmon Young and -- even though he's hardly been on the field over the past two months -- Nick Punto. Maybe it's that a .400+ on-base percentage or 110 RBI just invites closer scrutiny, but I doubt it. I think it has more to do with preconceived notions about what a superstar should do (in Mauer's case) or an absolute unwillingness to let go of the past (in Young's).
I know that Delmon is a defensive liability and Mauer hasn't hit 25 home runs. I think they've compensated. (Punto is a special case -- a just-because whipping boy for whom the taunts have become the creative equivalent of a pull-my-finger routine.)
Then there are the players who get unconditional love.
I can't think of a player people root harder for than Pat Neshek -- local guy, funny delivery, posts great pictures on a fun-to-follow blog. And that's fair because of the arm issues he's endured and the hope that Neshek will be in a better place when he's another season removed from the injuries and Tommy John surgery that wiped out all of 2009 and most of 2008. I know that Neshek upset Twins management with the way he talked about his finger injury earlier this season, but I challenge you to comprehend the frustration he must have been feeling in encountering yet another setback after the rehab required to come back.
I'll continue pulling for Neshek, even if the minor-league numbers didn't inspire much confidence and his current run in the majors has been dreadful.
I've kind of backed into the main reason, I wrote this: Jason Kubel.
Since having a big game against the Angels on August 20, Kubel has a .179 batting average/.237 on-base percentage/.302 slugging percentage in 27 games. Five of the 11 RBI he's had in that time came in one game. I know he's battled some wrist problems, but the numbers before and after have been about the same.
When Delmon was carrying the Twins on offense through July -- .434/.455/.736, a healthy Kubel's numbers in that time were .230/.290/.337.
But Kubel's pretty much gotten a free pass from criticism. Can someone explain that?
Just as I don't expect Mauer to put up numbers every year like he did in 2009, I don't expect Kubel to be a .300 hitter with 28 home runs every year. But his OPS+ has dropped from 136 in 2009 to 99 this season -- a tumble from excellent to average. Justin Morneau's concussion pretty much forced the Twins to play Kubel every day because Michael Cuddyer became the everyday first baseman (without a back-up) and Jason Repko is a liability as anything more than a defensive replacement.
You can choose to jump the Twins front office for not doing a better repair job, but I think it was reasonable to expect Kubel to step up. Maybe he will during the postseason.
My point: The Twins have done a good job compensating for Kubel's shortcomings.
And a lot of that compensating has come out of left field.
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