Bottom of the sixth inning Friday night, two outs, a man on third. J.J. Hardy, the Twins shortstop, hits a grounder to the right of Texas counterpart Elvis Andrus, who bobbles the ball, scoops it up, and bounces the throw to first, where Hardy is called out to end the inning.
And yes, the umpire missed the call, but you needed stop-motion replay to see that. The real takeaways from the play:
- Andrus has a gun;
- Hardy is not a fast runner.
We've seen plenty of indications of the latter point already this season. Hardy is mobile enough to be a quality shortstop defensively and he has a pair of 20-homer seasons on his stat sheet, but he's not going to be a first-to-third marvel on the bases, he's not going to steal bases (he has five steals in his career) and he's a chronic double play risk at the plate.
And when you look up and down the Twins lineup, that's the rule. There's not a lot of speed on this club.
As a general rule, there are four positions for "plus speed" — the scouting term for above-average runners: center field, shortstop, second base and left field. (Not right field — generally, if you have plus speed and throw well, you're a center fielder. If you can run but can't throw, you're a left fielder; throw but can't run, right field; can't do either, first base.)
The Twins have Denard Span in center — checkmark for plus speed there. They have Hardy at short, Orlando Hudson at second, and either Delmon Young or Jason Kubel in left. None of them are burners.
Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer aren't fast either. Catching is rapidly slowing Mauer; in 2008, Baseball Info Systems rated Mauer a plus 20 as a baserunner; in 2009, minus 1. This season's heel problem isn't going to help matters.
This is part of why the Twins hit into so many double plays. Not only is the batter generally slow to first base, the baserunner is seldom going to get to second fast enough to disrupt the pivot man.
Third base is generally regarded as a power position, a place where marginal speed (or no speed) can play. The Twins do not have an obvious top-drawer option at third base — there's no Brooks Robinson or even Scott Rolen lurking on the roster. They have a collection of marginal talents.
And given the lack of speed elsewhere, it makes sense to give preference to a marginal player who can run — Nick Punto (photo above) or Matt Tolbert or Alexi Casilla — over Brendan Harris, who runs like Hardy but doesn't hit as well.
None of them have the power to be an above-average major league hitter. A lot of us fans have trouble seeing past that. This team doesn't need another lead-foot. There might be one too many in the lineup already.