May 5, 2009

What Should Be Done With Second?

Coming into the season, Alexi Casilla was one position player with a huge question mark over his head. Despite hitting a career-best .281, his performance from first-half to second-half were pretty staggering. After hitting .315/.357/.440 with 17 extra base hits. But in the second half, he hit a horrendous .243/.305/.303 with seven extra base hits in just 15 less at-bats. Obviously these dramatic splits raised the question whether or not Casilla’s first-half numbers were a fluke.

So far this season, his critics look to be right while the 25-year-old Casilla is hitting a ghastly .163/.230/.200 despite receiving the majority of the playing time at second base. His sub-par offense has lead to him having an early -8.6 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which was at 8.4 at the end of the 2008 season. Even his defense has been suspect thus far this season, despite having only two official errors on the season. He has had many mental lapses this season despite them not all showing up in the stat books. His Revised Zone Rating (RZR) is .828 (as of 5/3/09) which ranks 14th out of 27 eligible players throughout MLB.

All these really goes to show you is that despite putting up atrociously bad offensive numbers, his defense is truly not strong enough to continue letting him receive as many at-bats as he’s had. If the Twins had no options to replace him with, I could see them justifying a reason to continue giving him at-bats. But the team does have an option, although the two seem to be polar opposites in their respective skill sets.

Brendan Harris has found himself in manager Ron Gardenhire’s doghouse, a place Casilla has become familiar with in the past. Harris has received 31 less at-bats as Casilla has this season, despite scoring two more runs and driving in as many runners as the switch-hitting Casilla. Harris has also recorded five multi-hit games this season, something Casilla has only done twice.

Harris’ bat at least makes up for his less-desirable defense, which by all accounts is not great. Harris has played enough second base to have learned how to turn a smooth double-play, but for some reason he still has a shortstop’s mentality and needs to work on his footwork. Still, Harris’ poor defense is made up for by his bat and ability to play fundamental baseball. Another thing Casilla has shown an inability to do.

Casilla’s mental lapses haven’t just been on the defensive side of the ball, he’s hitting a horrific .083/.120/.083 from the right side of the plate (2 hits in 24 at-bats), and has also had Gardenhire speak to him about his lack of motivation and hustle on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

Whatever is wrong with Casilla is a mystery that maybe only he himself knows, but how much longer the Twins give him to figure things out shouldn’t require such a complex answer. A trip to the Minor Leagues seems unlikely, but it could be the wakeup call he needs. He benefited from it last year and maybe that is what will fire him up again. He could land a spot on the bench, but he needs to play. However he cannot continue hurting the Twins with his lack of production and lack of concentration.

While we’re on this topic, here are a couple interesting tidbits that relate on some level. In an article posted before the season, in which the Twins Writers over at Baseball Digest made some Bold Predictions, Nick Nelson added “Alexi Casilla will lose his starting job at second base a few months into the year.” In another article titled Keys to Success, yours truly wrote “…to not be afraid to pull the plug on a player sooner rather than later.”

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