Thursday July 16, 2003
On a personal note: This is one of my favorite trades the Twins have made, not because of the players involved, but rather because of the way I found out about it. My wife and I took a second honeymoon to the east coast and I somehow convinced her that it would be great to make some stops at the Hall of Fame and some different ballparks along the way. Among the parks visited on the trip was my first (and still only) trip to Fenway Park. The game was against the Toronto Blue Jays and I made sure that we got to the park early to catch batting practice. Among the Jays I saw a red-headed player who looked familiar. I grabbed my program and found that it was indeed Bobby Kielty. I had to call my mother to find out who the Twins got in exchange.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled post.
Most of us remember the circumstances surrounding the trade. The Twins entered the All Star break with a 44-49 record, trailing the Kansas City Royals (of all teams) by 7.5 games and second-place Chicago by half a game. The major problem, according to most, seemed to be the offense, which had managed just 431 runs scored in 93 games leading up to the break. Here are the important numbers at the break for the Twins offense.
.275/.334/.444/.768 4.6 RPG
4.6 runs per game was not horrible (AL average at the end of the season was 4.86). On the other hand, here are the numbers allowed by the pitching staff and the defense up to the break.
.267/.322/.435/.757 5.0 RPG
Again, not terrible; but on the wrong side of league average both offensively and defensively.
Enter Shannon Stewart. As Twins’ lore goes, the legend of Shannon Stewart in 2003 already seems to be taking on a life of its own. The team results are clear.
Before Stewart: 44-49 .473 winning pct. 4.6 RPG, 5.0 RAPG
Post Trade: 46-23 .667 winning pct. 5.4 RPG, 4.2 RAPG
As the tale goes (told mostly by members of the local media), Stewart came, saved the day, single-handedly won the AL Central for the Twins, was the team MVP, and was robbed of the AL MVP award (as it happened, he finished fourth in MVP voting in 2003, behind Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, and Jorge Posada in that order).
Whether that is true or not is the question of the day. It is obvious that the offense improved in the second half of the season, scoring nearly a full run more per game than it did in the first half. On the other hand, the team’s pitching and defense allowed fewer runs by almost exactly the same margin. So far, it looks as though the improvement involved both the offense and the pitching staff. Here are the numbers for the final 69 games of 2003 compared with the first 93 games:
Offense before Stewart: .275/.334/.444/.768 4.6 RPG
Offense post trade: .280/.350/.429/.779 5.4 RPG
Allowed before Stewart: .267/.322/.435/.757 5.0 RPG
Allowed post trade: .268/.316/.418/.734 4.2 RAPG
The pitching staff allowed just about the same batting average, but the types of hits allowed were different as evidenced by the small drop in slugging percentage allowed. Again, it wasn’t a huge drop, but it was enough to shave off 0.8 runs allowed per game. Here are some before and after stats for some key pitchers:
Radke before 5-9 5.49 ERA .809 OPS allowed
Radke after 9-1 3.24 ERA .724 OPS allowed
Rogers before 7-5 4.89 ERA .798 OPS allowed
Rogers after 6-3 4.17 ERA .787 OPS allowed
Lohse before 6-8 4.78 ERA .763 OPS allowed
Lohse after 8-3 4.38 ERA .711 OPS allowed
Pretty dramatic improvement shown by three of the key pitchers in the rotation. Wins and losses are a bit deceiving when team success was so much greater, but all three showed significant improvement in either ERA, OPS allowed, or both. Still, the most dramatic change in the pitching staff was a trade within the roster.
Mays before 8-6 6.50 ERA .836 OPS allowed (18 GS, 91.1 IP)
Mays after 0-2 5.68 ERA .892 OPS allowed (3 GS, 31.2 IP)
Santana before 4-2 3.00 ERA .624 OPS allowed (4 GS, 72 IP)
Santana after 8-1 3.13 ERA .659 OPS allowed (14 GS, 86.1 IP)
The Twins exchanged Joe Mays and his 6.50 ERA for Johan Santana and his 3.13 ERA about the same time as they traded Kielty to Toronto for Stewart.
On the offensive side, Stewart basically replaced the platoon of Dustan Mohr and Bobby Kielty. Here are the numbers for Mohr and Kielty before the break, and Stewart after the break:
Dustan Mohr: .272/.331/.432/.763 (266 PA)
Bobby Kielty: .252/.370/.420/.790 (284 PA)
Shannon Stewart: .322/.384/.470/.854 (304 PA)
Stewart’s contribution was an improvement, but it is unlikely that is the only reason for the dramatic improvement. Its not as if Mohr and Kielty were replacement-level players in 2003. In fact, the offensive improvement was pretty well spread throughout the regulars in the lineup:
Player OPS before/OPS after
With the exception of the third baseman, who fought injury the bulk of the second half, everyone else either stayed about the same (Hunter, Rivas) or showed significant improvement. Particularly improved were Mientkiewicz (+.052), Pierzynski (+.032), and Guzman (+.127). Is it possible that Stewart’s mere presence in the lead off role helped his teammates? I suppose it is, particularly for Guzman, who had made it clear that he didn’t like batting in the top of the order (he hit mostly in the ninth slot after the deal). Still, it seems like a stretch to put all of the glory on Stewart.
The bottom line: Shannon Stewart was a key part of a team that surged in the second half of 2003, but to call him the most valuable player is an overstatement. In fact, if there was a team MVP for the second half of 2003, it was probably Johan Santana. If the Stewart trade never happened the Twins would still have a pretty good platoon in his place. Without Santana, the Twins would have… well, Mays (or a replacement level pitcher), and would have been unlikely to make the run that they made.
Stewart, of course, leveraged his perceived value into a multi-year, big money contract with the Twins. In retrospect, that deal would be considered a bad contract, with the injury-prone, aging Stewart never again approaching his numbers of the second half of 2003. Terry Ryan would be wise to remember that as he ponders another potential multi-year, big money contract for an aging outfielder.