Twins Roster Analysis: Corner Infield

In the previous post, I went over my expectations for Justin Morneau with regards to the DH, but that plays into first base as well. I just don’t expect Morneau to remain too healthy this season and I’m not sure how much he can come back. Because of his health issues, I suspect that he’ll get more DH starts than the team or fans might expect, which might cause problems since the Twins have no clear backup first baseman.

Of course, they might have a great option if they are willing to take Joe Mauer away from catcher. I suspect Mauer will play a good amount of games at first–I mentioned 50 in my previous post–and i project good overall numbers for him (.310/.395/.440). Who else might play first? Early in spring training, it doesn’t seem like Ryan Doumit will spend any time there. I think there is a chance Trevor Plouffe could get some time there, if only because the Twins are already trying to move him to the outfield. But the real wildcard will be Chris Parmelee.

Twitter commentary has already suggested that many bloggers understand this, but Tom Powers’ expectations for Parmelee are a little too high. Keith Law may be the sultan of snark to some, but he’s right that it’s a little tough to ignore Parmelee’s .416 slugging at AA in 941 at-bats. In fact, he’s never hit more than 16 homers in any minor-league season. Yes, he was a former first-rounder, but that only means so much with a 24-year-old who’s yet to seriously damage AA pitching. Sure, he hit .355/.443/.592 in September last year, but that was in only 76 at-bats against September pitching, aided by a .390 BABIP. The BABIP is unsustainable for almost any hitter, but case-by-case, the highest in a full minor league season posted by Parmelee was .322 last year in AA.

It’s these considerations I believe that ZIPS projects only a .243/.311/.357 line from Parmelee this year. Other systems are more optimistic, but I think Parmelee will get significant at-bats this year and I think he’ll struggle. He certainly looked good in his brief audition, but that’s just it–it was brief and not in line with his minor-league numbers. Certainly it’s possible that he stepped up his talent in the jump up, but to do so, he would have had to become a whole new hitter when he stepped onto the Twins squad.

Projections for Parmelee: .245/.320/.370, 80 games, 12 HRs

As for third base, the situation remains largely unchanged from last season. Utility man Jamey Carroll should see a lot of time at short, so if he plays third, I’d guess it would be sparingly. Danny Valencia will see by far the most time there and he’s the player to focus on. Last year, Valencia managed only a .246/.294/.383 line in 154 games at third. In 2010, Valencia played 85 games and hit .311/.351/.448. Which one is the real Valencia?

The answer is familiar, but it does lie somewhere in the middle. Many will point to his BABIP to explain some of his struggles and that makes sense. Last year, his BABIP sat at a low .275, more typical of sluggers who swing and miss frequently while looking to hit flyballs. In 2010, it was at .345. One might say that was too high to sustain, but it’s worth noting that in the minors, Valencia’s BABIP totals went as follows at various levels: .338, .350, .339, .392, .356, .318, .305, and .355. A high BABIP was not necessarily an outlier for Valencia, but .275 appears to be.

Of course, Valencia’s profile as a hitter did change some last. He did swing and miss more, with his swinging strike percentage going from 6.9% to 8.6% and his K% going from 14.3% to 16.8%. His outside the zone swinging percentage went from 24.9% to 30.9%. So, he certainly was a little more aggressive at the plate. But not enough that I wouldn’t expect a bounceback from such a low BABIP. His batted ball profile did not change much at all, though he struggled against fastballs last year. Regardless, I think he’s a hitter probably between those two seasons–which right now, would make him around a league-average hitter.

The other major question is his defense. In 2010, the various systems (Total Zone, UZR, BP’s FRAA) all rated him as a above-average defense. Last year, they rated anywhere from bad (FRAA, UZR) to one of the worst (Total Zone), a conclusion that seem to gel with the observations of scouts, managers, and fans. Valencia was known to have defensive struggles in the minors, at least in the eyes of the Twins organization, so perhaps his 2010 performance was merely a mirage. On the other hand, the rule of thumb with defensive metrics is the more numbers we have, the more we know. Right now, that suggests we don’t really know what kind of defender Valencia is. If he’s merely league average and his bat is the same, he’ll still be providing worthwhile value to the Twins on a meager salary.

Projection for Valencia: .280/.330/.415, 16 HRs, 155 games

ZIPS: .260/.305/.392, 151 games, 12 HRs

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