If the Twins infield is filled with question marks, is their outfield anymore certain of a productive situation? The Twins major signing of the offseason–Josh Willingham, 3-years, $21 million–was an outfielder, but the Twins also lost Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. Cuddyer did fill in at first (46 games, 41 starts) and second (17 games, 14 starts), but he still played the majority (77 games, 73 starts) at his normal outfield position while Kubel dealt with injury issues, he still played the majority of his games (58 games, 57 starts) at outfield, with 37 games/starts at DH. With those two gone, will the Twins struggle to replace their production? After all, of players with over 400 PAs, only Cuddyer and Kubel had OPS+ above 100. (That’s a arbitrary cutoff, but players like Joe Mauer (333 PAs), Jim Thome (242 PAs), and Chris Parmelee (88 PAs) still didn’t play as often as the departed players in question) At least, on the other hand, the Twins no longer have Delmon Young’s fickle bat around (.266/.305/.357 in 305 at-bats last season, 83 OPS+).
One would be inclined to imagine that the Twins might not be able to fully replace those bats and I suspect that’s true. Willingham is the main replacement bat and he might be a better hitter than either departing player, but that’s not probably not enough to make up for the loss of both. Willingham is a career .262/.361/.475 hitter with a 121 OPS+ in 2,707 career at-bats. Willingham has had some injury woes over his career, having played 142, 144, 102, 133, 114, and 136 games in his six seasons since becoming a regular at 27. He’s 33, the same age as Cuddyer, is slow-footed, and poor defensively. Cuddyer, though he offers a little more speed (11 steals last year), is also a poor defensive player despite his arm in the outfield who’s been the lesser hitter throughout his career (.272/.343/.451) . What Cuddyer does hold over him is the ability to play multiple positions, even if he doesn’t play any of them particularly well, as well as the fact that Cuddyer has been better able to stay on the field over the course of his career.
With all that, will Willingham perform better than Cuddyer in the coming season? One question that immediately comes to mind is whether or not his new park, Target Field, will hurt him. Willingham has spent his career playing in either pitcher’s parks (Oakland Coliseum, Dolphins Field) or relatively neutral parks (Nationals Stadium). Last year, according to HitTrackerOnline, the average “True Distance” of his 29 homers last year was 400.1 feet, with over half (16) going over 400 ft. 10 were of the “lucky” or “just enough” category. Willingham seems to have plenty of power to hit the ball out of any park, but perhaps something in the 20-25 range is more feasible. That though might be more than enough to lead the Twins team. It will likely make him one of their more valuable players, even if he has a nothing glove in the corner outfield.
Here’s my projection for Willingham at right field:
.250/.360/.460, 24 HRs, 135 games (ZIPS: .247/.347/.450, 20 HRs, 120 games)
What about Denard Span? Span had serious concussion issues last year, but he’s been relatively injury-free absent some neck soreness throughout spring training, having played in 10 games and hit 10-for-27 with 4 walks (.452 OBP). It’s spring training, so the stats are meaningless, but Span’s ability to play games is not. Before Span got hurt last year on June 3rd, he was hitting .300/.367/.392 and playing excellent defense in center (all the advanced fielding metrics agree on this). He struggled greatly after coming back from the injury, finishing with a .264/.328/.359 line. Assuming Span can come back healthy, here’s how I’d project him:
My projection: .290/.370/.380, 15 SBs, 140 games (ZIPS: .273/.342/.367, 124 games, 19 SBs)
The corner–left–projects to be split between Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe. Revere was unquestionably a disappointment with the bat in his rookie season last year, hitting only .267/.310/.309 with 34 SBs (at a 81% rate). Despite that, he was still had some value as a player (2.0 fWAR, 0.8 refWAR) due to his baserunning skills (he scored from second to home on every opportunity) and his defense (though Total Zone and FRAA are neutral on that point). Will he have even less value as a corner outfielder though? It depends. With his athleticism and range, moving from center to left might mean that he is more of a plus fielder. On the other hand, while the move expose him for a weak arm? We’ll have to wait and see. Offensively, the speed isn’t enough to make him an asset as a corner outfielder. Because he has basically no power and produces groundballs at a astonishing 68.5% rate, he’s going to have to learn patience at the plate. The .293 BABIP last year could go up some as well, as he posted rates between .325 and .358 in the minors, which might bolster his average next year.
As for Plouffe, he was a horrendous defensive shortstop at least by the numbers (-15.4 UZR, -2.7 defensive WAR by refWAR, -7.8 FRAA), so the move over might be warranted. What Plouffe did offer last year was some semblance of power–he hit .238/.305/.392. Notably, he hit .313/.384/.635 with 15 HRs in 193 at-bats at AAA last year (his .319 BABIP there was not unfathomably high, though the 26.8% HR/FB ratio likely was) I suspect Plouffe didn’t really get enough at-bats to assume a strong split, but in AAA, he did hit .333/.390/.741 in 54 at-bats against lefties. Perhaps that will be his role, but his manager really isn’t one to play the splits too often. Regardless, I’d expect Revere to get more starts and for Plouffe to find himself at first base and DH some times to get into the lineup–I think he’ll have enough relative power for this lineup that he’ll force himself into the lineup. With that, here’s my projections for left-field:
Revere: .290/.340/.330, 50 SBs, 140 games (ZIPS: .276/.322/.325, 147 games, 40 SBs)
Plouffe: .245/.305/.415, 18 HRs, 110 games (ZIPS: .244/.296/.398, 142 games, 13 HRs)