Monday, May 16, 2005

Moloch in the Garden

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

--Allen Ginsberg

The word in the press has it that Juan Castro may be claiming more regular playing time at Shortstop, after the rookie Jason Bartlett made a crucial error in Friday's game against Texas and Castro had 3 hits in 6 at-bats in his place on Saturday and Sunday. Gardy told the Strib:

"We're not worried about feelings too much around here. We're trying to develop along with putting a winning team out there. ... As a manager, I'm going to put what I think is the best team out there. If I think on Tuesday I want to play Castro again, I'll stick him back out there. If it doesn't happen the way you expect, you start making adjustments. [Bartlett] has been struggling a little lately. Castro, he's the veteran who can step in and make the plays for you. We've been struggling not making enough plays, so you put the guys out there that know how to play a little when you're trying to get out of a funk."

A couple weeks ago, Gardy similarly decided to pull Rivas from the regular lineup in favor of the hot hand, Nick Punto; and I felt a warm tingle like he'd given me a swig of Schnapps in the late days of a hard, cold winter. I didn't mind that Punto is most likely just a light-hitting stopgap. He plays hard, he has genuinely good range in the field, he seems to know how to take a walk, he's a good bunter and can steal a base--and he's not Luis Rivas. That's enough for me. After more than 4 long years, Ron Gardenhire had finally run out of patience for Luis Rivas! Huzzah.

At least I hoped that was the case: that after more than 1900 plate appearances, Rivas had finally played his way out of his job, and Punto was simply the lucky beneficiary who happened to be the best replacement the club had onhand for the time being.

These rumblings about Castro and Bartlett, however, paint a less reassuring picture of an unsteady hand at the helm who is simply making gut reactions to small samples and the most recent game he's just seen.

It's true that Bartlett is batting just .242/.310/.374; and in the three games he got to play last week, he had 1 hit in 9 at-bats. However, for the month of May he has a respectable .346 on-base pct., and keep in mind that he's replacing a SS who hit .272/.303/.379 over the last three years. In other words, his plate production to this point in the season is roughly the same as the club had been getting out of Cristian Guzman; and meanwhile Bartlett's fielding range is better than anything I ever witnessed from Guzy at the position. Now he's getting benched, and Jim Souhan thinks he may even be headed back to the minors, because he had a couple hitless games in Baltimore and made a costly error on Friday?

Granted, Juan Castro has a track record of steady glovework, spring training gaffes aside. I see how it can be useful to have an experienced hand like him around in a supporting reserve role. But the kid's fielding looks like an upgrade over the previous starter at the position, his bat has been no different than what we've come to expect from the SS, and Castro's bat is likely going to be worse in the long run. Castro to date is hitting .244/.295/.317 for the Twins, and that's about representative of his abilities. Why would a manager pull the rug out from under his rookie and talk to the press about things 'not happening the way you expect,' because the kid made an error and a guy like Castro happened to go 3-for-6 over two games in his place? It looks like the man in charge can't stop himself from caressing the panic button, while maybe he's doing a little too much scoreboard watching in mid-May.

Snap out of it, Gardy. Your man Castro is a career utilityman for a reason. Your best player at SS is still the rookie. Let him play and have a chance to grow into the position. You got along with Guzy and Rivas for three years while you were in charge, didn't you?

Don't tell me that Rivas is on the bench only waiting for Punto to go oh-fer-4 and throw a ball into leftfield.... Jason Bartlett, I am with you in Rockland where you laugh at this invisible humor... I am with you in Rockland where the faculties of the skull no longer admit the worms of the senses.... While you are not safe I am not safe... We are not our skin of grime... We are beautiful golden sunflowers inside... Gardentool, tend to his progress and watch him grow.


At 5/17/2005 12:10 PM, Anonymous Jim H. said...

Mr. Wig:

An excellent analysis of Mr. Gardenhire's enigmatic ways. Stick with Rivas through thick and thin (mostly thin), but jack young Bartlett around? There may be a perverse logic at work, though: patience didn't pay off with Luis, therefore I should be less patient with Jason.

At 5/17/2005 6:18 PM, Blogger TwinsJunkie said...

I just think that if Juan Castro is playing good and Jason Bartlett is in a short slump, why not change? Because Bartlett is young, should he automatically start despite his performance when there is a guy behind him who is playing good (and with Castro, you can rest assured it won't last long. Tap him dry!)

Also, isn't "learning from your mistakes" part of everyday life? If Gardy actually does realize that he made a mistake in sticking with Luis Rivas "through thick and thin" then is he obligated to go against his judgement and make this "mistake" with every player? Juan Castro won't be an everyday starter. He'll slow down. Jason will get the job, and his game, back. We just need to let things take their course.

At 5/17/2005 9:52 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

I think that waiting on Rivas for over 4 years was an extreme case of patience given to a fault.

Jerking around the rookie SS just six weeks into the season, because he's 1-for-9 in his last 3 games and made an error while the utility backup had 2 good games, is another extreme that shows no rational thought process behind the decision.

The manager made a commitment to his prospect, and he's responded by hitting no worse than the previous occupant of the position and I think his glove has been an upgrade. He's also hitting better than Castro on the season. How is it a "mistake" to stick with the kid? What has he done to deserve losing his job?

It also bothers me that Gardy has let this play out in the press. You want to bench the kid for a couple games, fine. But what does it accomplish to let the press know that he's being punished with some kind of formal demotion? Who whispered to Souhan that Bartlett might even go back to the minors? What does that accomplish?

The manager needs to remember who Juan Castro really is, which of his players at SS has the greatest upside from playing every day, and generally he should keep his eye on the big picture. Snap judgments based on what happened in just the last couple days makes it look like Gardy is managing by the seat of his pants.

At 10/30/2005 12:16 AM, Anonymous ugly said...

Hi frightwig, I recently started a new blog called Ugly Blog so I've been searching around for ugliest related blogs to check out and possibly trade links with. I found this entry (Moloch in the Garden) in my search so I thought I'd drop a line to let you know. Anyway nice blog and have a good day!


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