(Note from Howard: With 100 games left in the season, it seems like a good time to take a short break. As I’ve mentioned before, I like turning Section 220 over now and again to those I know have something to say. This weekend’s Guest Post is longtime commenter Thrylos98 from Tenth Inning Stretch, who explains the case for Brendan Harris to continue at shortstop. Gardy has said Harris will stay there even though Nick Punto has been activated from the disabled list, but these numbers are meant to explain why Gardy should resist any temptation to backslide. Enjoy — and I’ll be back at it early next week. By the way, for those of you reading while in Chicago for the Twins-Cubs series, sources say to check in the bars around Wrigley Field if you’re looking to upgrade your seats.)
Could the Twins’ next starting shortstop be closer than it may appear?
I am not much a follower of the proposed approach that the Twins look at the rear view mirror and trade for Christian Guzman who at 31 has accumulated a very respectable .816 OPS so far this season, which translates to an OPS+ of 112, compared to the other shortstops in the majors and neutralized for the different ball parks. I cannot think of a single Twins’ fan, front office person, manager, coach or player (ok, maybe of one single player) who would not cherish the idea of having a starting shortstop with a solid OPS, especially if he contributes at least respectable (i.e. average or above) defense.
I think that the Twins are very close to featuring such a player for the remaining of the season without trading for Guzman.
How can they accomplish that? Through a trade with the Houston Astros for Miguel Tejada? By plucking Yunel Escobar from the Altanta Braves? I think that the solution could be right before our eyes in the form of a certain 28 year old player who is hitting .333/.376/.471 with a .848 OPS while at shortstop, while having an above average defense (3.1 UZR/150. “UZR” or “Ultimate Zone Rating” is a statistical measurement of fielding ability that combines the ability of a player to turn double plays, his errors and his range. (For outfielders, assists, is additionally factored in.)
UZR/150 is a projection of how many runs above or below average he would allow over 150 games.
Midsummer night’s dream? Wishful thinking? Who is that guy and what would it take for the Twins to get him? It is easier than one might think; he is none other than (drum roll):
The aforementioned statistics are Harris’ when he is playing shortstop. It has been shown more than once that some players produce better at the plate, when they are comfortable on the field and have a single position they play. A definite example of such a player is Michael Cuddyer, who in 2006 had a breakthrough season, upon his move to RF full-time from a utility jack-of-all-trades in 2005 and before.
Harris does not feel comfortable in the field on second base. This season so far he is batting .163/.178/.279 (.457 OPS) when playing at 2B; he finished last season batting .254/.327/.351 (.677 OPS) while at 2B. Even in Tampa Bay as a SS in 2007 he batted .302/.362/.449 (.811 OPS), which translates to an 120 OPS+ if compared to other shortstops. This indicates that his success at the plate this season, while playing SS, is more than a coincidence and it will likely continue as long as he is the starting shortstop.
Another interesting ability of Harris as a hitter is that he has been very good against opposing starters the first time he faces them in a game. At these situations he is hitting .353/.421/.618 with 1.039 OPS this season. This is especially remarkable, since the AL hitters as a whole hit .259/.327/.417 (.744 OPS) the first time they face a starter in a game and the Twins’ hitters (including Harris, so the overall is a bit inflated) hit .268/.341/.417 (.757 OPS) in that situation this season.
Harris’ defense has shown a particular improvement this season, as well, particularly his range that has improved to a league average this season at SS (it is still below league average at 2B.) Even since his Tampa years, Harris has been very accurate defensively and never committed a lot of errors. These factors combined make him a slightly above average fielding shortstop, as expressed in his UZR or UZR/150. Furthermore, Harris is under club control, albeit arbitration-eligible, for the next 3 seasons, including 2012.
Could it be that obvious and that easy? Time will tell, but my magic 8 ball is stuck at “As I see it, yes”.
The $8.5 million question is whether Ron Gardehire’s has the same answer.
(Comment on this post here)