Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Willingham Shift: The 25th man

Drew Butera: Is a
third catcher more
useful than a
second shortstop?
For most of camp, the assumption has been that the Twins bench would have this composition:

  1. A third catcher
  2. Trevor Plouffe (outfield)
  3. Luke Hughes (corner infield/second base)
  4. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (middle infield)

The first crack in that assumption came when Nishioka washed out. It seemed likely at that point that the Twins would be looking outside the organization for a reserve infielder who could play shortstop once a week or so.

But now it appears that Chris Parmelee will be somewhere in the starting lineup, and that Ben Revere will be  one of the four reserves:

  1. Revere (outfield)
  2. Plouffe
  3. Hughes
  4. ???

To identify the 25th man, we must first identify his role. To identify his role, we need to know what Justin Morneau can do, because Morneau's role will determine if Ryan Doumit is in the lineup at a position or as the designated hitter.

If Doumit is in the outfield (or even at first), he's more available as a mid-game substitute for Joe Mauer at catcher than if he's the designated hitter. Use the DH in the field, and the pitchers now have to bat.

The Butera Corollary to the Cuddyer Principle comes into play here: Catcher is a different beast. The Cuddyer Principle holds that one can put a right-handed major leaguer (Luke Hughes, let us say) at just about any position and get away with it for a while; put Hughes at shortstop, and it will take a few days, weeks, months to realize that he's not a shortstop. The Butera Corollary holds that if you put Hughes behind the plate, it will be real obvious within an inning that he's no catcher.

This is why managers hate being without a bona fide catcher in reserve. Ron Gardenhire is not eager to give up the DH and ask his pitchers to do something they're not trained to do (hit and run the bases); he's not eager to embarrass Hughes (or anybody else) by having him catch.

So ... If Morneau plays first base, and Doumit is the DH (with Parmelee as the usual right fielder), I would expect a third catcher. If Morneau is the standard DH, Doumit's playing time will come in in the field, and the Twins have less need for a third catcher, and could go with a shortstop-ready infielder to fill out their bench.

The Twins do have emergency options. Willingham spent most of his minor league days as a catcher; he hasn't, however, been behind the plate in years. Morneau was signed as a catcher, but was quickly moved to first base, and given his concussion history, exposing him to foul tips isn't a good idea.

As for shortstop: As written here already, the Twins don't have a good reserve shortstop option on their roster. Brian Dozier has to play, not sit.

I think it likely that a usable reserve shortstop will be available on waivers; I think it more likely that the Twins will go with a third catcher. They may not have a real use for him, but I suspect Gardenhire will feel more comfortable with that security blanket.

Friday: Ben Revere

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