Thursday, July 21, 2005


A letter to Patrick Reusse, in response to this column in the Star Tribune.


People aren't pointing fingers at Scott Ullger just because of Morneau's slump.

Name one Twins farm product who has progressed to meet his potential at the plate in the last few years. (Maybe Mauer will do it, but we'll see.)

Torii Hunter isn't close to becoming the player Terry Ryan thought he had when he gave his CF that big backloaded contract. Cristian Guzman regressed from an All-Star to a hole in the lineup, after the new coaching regime took over. Luis Rivas is a flop who showed no improvement since his rookie year. Jacque Jones regressed since his nice 2002 season, still struggles against lefties, and still has the same bad habits he always did.

Michael Cuddyer, a blue chip prospect, has shown flashes of his talent but is still struggling to settle into the lineup. Michael Restovich came up and did well, until he was told by his coaches to start hacking for the fences, and he's never been the same since. Scotty Ullger apparently couldn't work with Jason Bartlett, either; they cast him back down to AAA after giving him all of 6 weeks in the majors.

Why is it that David Ortiz became a feared run producer in Boston, a STAR after working with Ron Jackson, but never got to be more than a one-dimensional, expendable part under the guidance of Twins coaching?

Now, Justin Morneau is legitimately one of the best young prospects in baseball. Terry Ryan must believe it, otherwise he shouldn't have dumped Mientkiewicz halfway through last season to clear the way for his young slugger. Gardy must have thought so when he started the season with Morneau in the cleanup spot, too. So don't try to pass off that line about gullible fans swallowing media hype. The club expected Morneau to anchor the lineup this season.

Morneau has done it all in AAA, and he's shown in stretches of a month or two what he could do in the majors, too. Of course slumps are to be expected, but it is Ullger's job to help him through it. The talent is there, and it's up to Ullger to bring it out. If he can't do it any better than he could help all the others who regressed or hit a plateau under his tutoring, then he should be accountable for the lack of results.

If Scott Ullger can't help Justin Morneau now, the Twins should hire someone who can.

When a club has a farm system that is consistently rated as one of the best in baseball, yet struggles to develop any true elite players in the regular lineup, who is accountable for that failing?


At 7/22/2005 4:35 AM, Blogger Jonzard said...

Great Job

At 7/22/2005 7:13 AM, Anonymous zellar said...

I hope you sent that.

At 7/22/2005 7:41 AM, Blogger SBG said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. And, I tried.

At 7/22/2005 9:43 AM, Blogger Third Base Line said...


At 7/22/2005 11:03 AM, Blogger Moss said...

FW, Moss wonders what the downside is in cutting ties with Ullger. (See comments at SBG's blog.) Why have they been so shy to do it? Especially of late, they seem to be high on low-risk moves.

Moss would even live with Ullger being promoted to manager, with Gardentool put out to pasture.

At 7/22/2005 2:51 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

I did send the letter to Reusse. Of course, I was inspired by SBG's take on his blog.

Moss, it seems to me that the Twins organization is loathe to make any changes in the coaching and management ranks. I don't know why. Maybe they just have a bedrock faith in the system and everyone involved in running it. But when the organization has failed to produce an elite bat since Kirby Puckett, or perhaps Chuck Knoblauch, something is clearly wrong. And Terry Ryan needs to confront the question: is there something wrong with his farm system, or is there a problem with the coaches at the major league level?

At 7/22/2005 4:09 PM, Blogger SBG said...

But when the organization has failed to produce an elite bat since Kirby Puckett, or perhaps Chuck Knoblauch...

Wow that hurts, FW! Back in the early '90s, the Twins were blessed with Terry Crowley as a hitting coach. Players improved under Crowley.

Take the Chuckster. Yes, before he imploded, Knoblauch was an elite bat (OPS of .841, .911, .965 in his '94-'96 seasons).

Another point to drive home about Knoblauch is that he improved at the major league level. His OPS numbers from his rookie seasion in 1991 to his career year in 1996 went from .701 to .743 to .699 (off year) to .841 to .911 to .965. Surely, some of this had to do with Chuck's immense talent. But, the Twins today have some talented players, too. Imagine, for example if Torii Hunter had improved like this. His contract would look like a bargain. We'd be watching him in the All-Star game every year. We wouldn't be out looking for a right-handed bat in the lineup.

Back to the story. Knoblauch had 59 walks as a rookie... he had 98 in his career year. His OBP went from .351 to .448. He had a .517 slugging percentage with just 13 home runs. How? He sprayed doubles and triples all over the park. And these numbers didn't just spike up. They systematically increased.

There's another player to consider that prospered under Terry Crowley... Shane Mack. Mack was considered a complete bust until he came to the Twins. Almost overnight he became a hitting machine, having four seasons out of five with an OPS over .850. Oh, and Chuckster was 25 when he started his run in 1994. And Mack was 26 and had never played a full year in the majors in 1991. These guys were no older or had more experience than some of our guys right now (ok, maybe a little).

Like you, I'm waiting for the first example of someone that Scotty Ullger helped like this. Every time I see the talented Hunter swing at pitches out of the strike zone, every time I see the talented Jacque Jones get busted up and in and then flail at a pitch low and away, every time I see the talented Mike Cuddyer scuffle and every time I cringe when the talented Justin Morneau struggles instead of destroying the ball, I think maybe a change would do these guys some good.

At 7/22/2005 6:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Normally I agree with a lot of what you have to say, frightwig, but on this issue I think you're a bit off.

If you look at how a big-league organization promotes its non-pitchers through the minor leagues, in 99 cases out of a hundred the first question asked is, "Has this guy shown he can hit as the level he's at?" In general, when you're promoting guys, you're not promoting guys who need to be taught how to hit (if they weren't already hitting, they generally aren't getting promoted); just guys who need to get familiar with the pitching they'll face at the next level.

So criticizing Ullger because the Twins haven't developed any young hitters lately seems to me to be somewhat unfair. After all, the young hitters should already know how to hit when they reach the big club, and neither Gardenhire nor Ryan seems to act as though 'teaching young hitters' is part of Ullger's job description.

At least you didn't make the cringeworthy error some others have and advocate for Paul Molitor to replace Ullger as hitting coach. Doesn't anyone but me remember that Molitor's singular piece of national press as a hitting coach came when he was credited for messing up Ichiro's batting style at the start of 2004, and when Ichiro finally started ignoring Molitor's advice, he went out and ended up setting a major league singles record?

So go ahead and scapegoat Ullger if you want to - I don't see how it does much good, or that an alternative would necessarily have a shot at doing any better.


At 7/22/2005 6:50 PM, Blogger frightwig said...


The Twins in the last few years have promoted a number of young hitters who did have some measure of success shortly after arriving. So why have so many of those players stagnated or regressed after spending time working with Ullger?

If it is not Ullger's job to work with young hitters, helping them settle into the majors and show steady progress as they mature, what do the Twins employ him to do?

At 7/23/2005 8:55 AM, Blogger Moss said...

[Moss might deserve some credit for SBG's point that no hitter has improved in the bigs under Ullger, right SBG??]

Now, how about Joe Mauer's dad as hitting coach?? Any takers?

One thing Moss is certain of is that there has been a steady dropoff in the number of XBH, particularly doubles, for the Twins over the past few years.


2002 348
2003 318
2004 310
2005 285 (projected)

Basically this is influencing the run totals, and it's not like the doubles are being traded for homers or anything. In essence, the Twins have become a singles-hitting team under Ullger.

Moss also thinks that the runs are going down because the baserunners are not getting extra bases when the hitter singles. Often, Newman holds a runner at third when he should be trying to score. This has led to an increased number of ABs with the bases juiced for the Twins. And of course they have been poor in that situation. Moss has long thought that Newman is terrible as 3B coach, but that is a whole another topic.

Moss is getting the impression that Gardentool (and the rest of th coaching staff) likes to manage along the lines of Earl Weaver, even though he doesn't have a stacked lineup. He keeps waiting for someone to start hitting homers, in complete disregard of the realities.

At 7/23/2005 10:51 AM, Anonymous Aaron (Spew) said...

I agree with everything negative on Ullger. He may be a great guy, and a great clubhouse figure, but the bats have stagnated with him as the batting coach.

If you look into Scotties history, you'd see he was an EXCELLENT minor league manager, and it seems like a majority of the games he's had to manage in Gardy's absense have been winners. Personally I think he either belongs as a 1st/3rd base coach, or as a minor/major league manager, not as a hitting instructor.

And I would agree with anonymous. I don't think Molitor is the answer. Many people make the mistake that Great hitter = great teacher. Look what Ron Jackson has done in Boston, and he was a sub .260 hitter, with a 94 OPS+... Yes, a below average hitter helped transform Ortiz....


At 7/23/2005 11:03 AM, Blogger Batgirl said...

Dear Mr. Wig,

Did Reusse respond?


At 7/23/2005 11:06 AM, Blogger Moss said...

aaron, Moss likes your thinking. Ullger might be a good manager. Let's kill two birds with one stone and make him the manager.

At 7/23/2005 12:03 PM, Anonymous Neil said...

Or maybe we can give him a steel plate in the head and make him "bench coach"?

At 7/23/2005 6:47 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

Nope, Reusse hasn't responded, yet. Perhaps he needs the weekend to put together a defense! ;)

At 7/24/2005 9:21 PM, Blogger SBG said...

Yeah, Moss, you were on the Ullger issue a loooong time ago.

At 7/26/2005 10:29 AM, Anonymous Rupper said...

Nice response to the article. I am amazed at the lack of improvement the young players have shown under Ullcer. A teacher can know his craft well but if he can't get his pupils to understand the instructions it's time to either change your approach or move on. I can't believe that with all of the fine prospects that we have had come through the system that we have not had one hitter rise to the top as a All Star caliber offensive weapon. Also any Ullcer apologist that uses Mauer as an exmaple needs a lashing. Mauer could get hitting instructions from Stevie Wonder and still rake. He is just that good.

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