Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Taking the Ball the Other Way, Advancing the Runner: How the Twins Philosophy is Harming the Franchise

     Carlos Gomez has the Brewers out to a terrific start this year. Last year he was one of the biggest surprises in the league when he hit .284 with 24 homers. When he was with the Twins he hit .248 with ten homers total in two seasons.
     Meanwhile in Boston, David Ortiz is beginning another long season, six months removed from winning the World Series MVP and his tenth season of having at least 100 RBIs, all with the Red Sox. In parts of six years with the Twins he hit .266 with 238 RBIs.
     In 2003, as the story goes, Ortiz was in his first year with the Sox, and there was a runner on second with less than two outs. Doing as he was taught to do in the Twins organization, he concentrated on making contact and advancing the runner to third base. After getting back to the dugout, Grady Little said to him, something along the lines of, "Next time try to drive him home instead of advancing him." Ortiz has been a feared power hitter ever since.
     Turning back to Gomez, as a Twin, he never quite seemed comfortable at the plate. He was too tense, he swung at too many bad pitches. But every couple weeks, he would put together a game that made him look like the player he is now. One of the most frustrating parts of the Gomez experience was knowing that he had the tools to do that consistently but couldn't put it all together. Finally, the Twins flipped him for J.J. Hardy, a solid move at the time that would have been even better if Bill Smith hadn't idiotically later traded Hardy for two relief pitchers, but that's a story for later.
     The first two years for Milwaukee, Gomez was a backup and generally the same player he was for the Twins. But then in 2012, things began to change. He was a regular for the first time in Milwaukee, and he had hit 19 homers. The next year he really broke out. Some say he just got more mature and is finally figuring it out and there's a chance of that, but switching teams might have been the real deal breaker.
     The Twins philosophy is, and almost always has been, small ball. They've always preached taking it the other way, advancing the runners, and good placement. Many think this over-complicates hitting by having so many things in their head. Carlos Gomez seems to be one of them.
     What I'm saying about the Twins is that they're too old school. Too dependent on small ball and it's hurting the team. Gomez is infinitely more comfortable hitting for the Brewers than he ever was here. He isn't concentrating on anything but making solid contact and hitting line drives.
      I would bring up his gold glove as well if not for two reasons, 1) This is about hitting, and 2) Gomez was always that good of a fielder, but he wasn't a good enough hitter to win a gold glove in Minnesota. Why do you need to be a good hitter to win gold gloves you ask? Because the gold glove awards are incredibly stupid. Sorry about that rant, now back to the regularly scheduled column.
     Imagine a center fielder for the Twins, who has loads of potential, is very fast, covers a lot of ground in the field and has a rocket for an arm. Despite all of this, he's struggled in the big leagues and isn't living up to his potential. You're thinking of Carlos Gomez right? He could be the answer, it could also be Aaron Hicks. To me, he seems like Carlos Gomez 2.0. He shares all those attributes with him as well as the occasional flashes of brilliance that they've showed. In the Sports Illustrated MLB Preview issue it said on Hicks, "Too many players think they're supposed to be power guys instead of learning to handle the bat." I can see that as a problem for the Hicks as well, but mental issues are easier to fix. The most important thing is good mechanics and letting the ball go wherever it goes. Don't overthink it, if you hit liners, good things will happen. Let's hope the Twins realize this before it's too late.

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