Setting the Bar for Nishioka and Casilla

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As the Twins open their season with a new-look middle infield of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla, I got to thinking about the off-season again. Losing Orlando Hudson seemed inevitable but was disappointing nevertheless. When the Twins traded J.J. Hardy for a couple of minor league relievers I was furious. I have expressed my doubts about Nishioka all off-season long and Casilla, well, he doesn’t exactly inspire a whole lot of confidence from an offensive-standpoint. When I was thinking about it today, however, I realized that much of my disappointment and concern about this middle-infield duo comes from the potential I perceived Hudson and Hardy to have. What if we judged last year’s middle-infield based on the actual results (objective) rather than what we perceive their potential to be (subjective)? Would that change how I feel about a Nishioka/Casilla duo?

Last year, the Twins had a number of different guys play either Shortstop or 2nd base. Of the guys who played shortstop for more than a couple of starts, the list includes J.J. Hardy (95 starts), Nick Punto (31), Alexi Casilla (20) and Brendan Harris (9). The list of 2nd basemen used includes Orlando Hudson (123 starts), Alexi Casilla (16), Matt Tolbert (14), and Nick Punto (8). In other words, both Opening Day starters were injured for fairly substantial periods of time last year, causing the Twins to use backups on a number of occasions. Going even further, here is the specific offensive output for each position (irrespective of which player was starting):

2nd Base
162 Games
.261/.329/.379
169 Hits
109/64 K/BB ratio
10 HRs
59 RBI
103 Runs
7 Net Stolen Bases (Steals – Caught Stealing)
.
Shortstop
162 Games
.268/.321/.371
152 Hits
96/47 K/BB
7 HRs
56 RBI
64 Runs
1 Net Stolen Base
.
For comparison, Robinson Cano of the Yankees had 29 HRs and 109 RBIs by himself last season… The point here is, despite a high degree of unpredictability at the two middle infield positions last year, the Twins still won the division by 6 games and won 94 games overall. Even if Nishioka is as mediocre offensively as I think he will be, it wouldn’t be crazy to think he could at least match the output from the platoon the Twins had playing at 2nd base last year. The same goes for Casilla at Shortstop. No matter what I think about Hardy’s potential or how much I liked Orlando Hudson’s defense, the fact of the matter is that the group of players the Twins had in the middle infield last year didn’t perform all that well at the plate and in the end it didn’t affect the team’s ability to win. If you consider that the Twins could have Morneau all season long, and have the potential for a more stable starting rotation, that could help make up the difference in the event that Casilla and Nishioka cannot reach those meager offensive production levels. I guess I feel a little better about the Twins 2011 middle-infield, especially since the bar seems to be so low.
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Tags: Alexi Casilla J. J. Hardy Orlando Hudson Tsuyoshi Nishioka

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