Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Twins Rule 5 'trade'

Sean Gilmartin was a starter
in college and the minors, but he's
working out of the Mets bullpen this year.
The Twins are apparently committed to carrying Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham on their active roster all season. That intent may be tested if they remain in contention and if Graham can't be relied on in winnable games.

Those are two "ifs," which makes it a highly hypothetical question. For what it's worth, Graham has a 3.63 ERA in 17.1 innings, mostly compiled in mop-up outings. That's the fourth-best ERA in the current eight-man bullpen, but he's not nearly that high in the bullpen totem pole.

The Twins were able to pluck Graham out of the Atlanta system because they chose not to put Sean Gilmartin on their 40-man roster last fall. Gilmartin is a left-handed pitcher the Braves took in the first round in 2011, then traded to the Twins after the 2013 season for Ryan Doumit. He split 2014 between Double A and Triple A in the Twins system, compiling a combined mark of 9-7, 3.71 in 145.2 innings over 26 starts.

Leaving Gilmartin off the 40 gave the Twins an open spot to use in the Rule 5 draft to get Graham. And then the New York Mets took Gilmartin. It wasn't a formal trade, but that's what it amounted to, Graham for Gilmartin. (Or, if you like, Doumit for Gilmartin for Graham for the course of a year.)

J.R. Graham's
presence on the roster
is more about the
future than about
2015.
As Rule 5 picks, Graham and Gilmartin can't be optioned out. They are use or lose. And with both the Twins and Mets both providing at least the illusion of contention through Memorial Day, they'd like to get something useful out of them.

Gilmartin, a starter in the minors for both the Braves and Twins, is the second lefty in the Mets bullpen behind Alex Torres. He's made 17 appearances and worked 14.2 innings (3.07 ERA), which suggests a LOOGY role (Left-handed One Out GuY), but he has appeared just once in a save situation. It's a different usage pattern than for Graham, who has pitched in 13 games and thrown 17.1 innings. Graham leads the Twins in innings per relief appearance. But I don't believe Gilmartin is being given chances to lose games any more than Graham is.

Graham is also second to Glen Perkins on the Twins in "games finished," a stat that serves in bonus clauses as a stand-in for saves and as a rough measure historically of relief ace status. In his case, of course, it serves no such purpose. He's finishing one-sided games, not close ones.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Contemplating Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano fires Sunday against the New York
Mets, He struck out 12 in six innings.
The Monday print column was in large part a review of the new book "Big Data Baseball," and in the process I mentioned in passing that author Travis Sawchik describes what the Pittsburgh Pirates did to repair Francisco Liriano's pitching.

Liriano, of course, spent years with the Twins, alternating between periods of dominance and periods of futility. He was traded to the White Sox in 2012 (in a deal that brought Eduardo Escobar to the Twins) and signed with the Pirates as a free agent during that following offseason. He's still with Pittsburgh, racking up a 16-8, 3.02 mark in 2013 and a 7-10, 3.38 line in 2014. (The Twins shelled him on Wednesday this week, but on Sunday he struck out 12 in six innings against the Mets. He is 2-4, 3.86 so far this year.)

His ERA in seven (full or partial) seasons with the Twins was 4.33; his ERA with Pittsburgh, including Sunday's outing, is 3.29, more than a run lower. So yeah, the Pirates have gotten more from Frankie than the Twins did. What did they do? And could the Twins have done the same things?

Sawchik offers three specific changes. One I think might be irrelevant, a second makes sense to me and the third I find dubious enough that I suspect the Pirates fed him a bill of goods.

The three changes:


  • They had him raise his arm slot under the theory that a more overhand delivery would limit his wildness "east-west," or inside-outside. 
  • They paired him with a superior pitch-framing catcher (Russell Martin), whose adept receiving got him a handful of extra called strikes a game.
  • They had him drop his four-seam fastball and replace it with a two-seam fastball (sinker).


The arm slot thing, maybe; but the fact of the matter is, Liriano still throws fewer pitches in the strike zone than anybody. (And he tops the charts in getting hitters to chase pitches out of the zone.)

The pitch-framer, absolutely. Martin is near the top of the charts in that stat annually, and the Twins have not made that a priority when choosing catchers. If Martin got him, say, one extra called strike an inning, that's huge. The difference between, say, a 2-1 count and a 1-2 count is tremendous.

The specifics of the pitch repertoire, I question.

The Twins of Liriano's time, with Rick Anderson as pitching coach, were big believers in the two-seam fastball. I have to believe they pushed the two-seamer on Liriano. Whether he brought it or not is another matter. (I think he did, at least at times.)

Beyond that, I think the pitch the Pirates encouraged Liriano to throw more often was the changeup. Last year, according to Baseball Info Systems. Liriano threw only 43 percent fastballs. He threw 32 percent sliders and 25 percent changeups. In 2011, BIS says, he threw 52 percent fastballs, 29 percent sliders and 20 percent changes -- and I have a hard time believing he threw 20 percent change ups at any time with the Twins.

New pitching coach Neil Allen is a more vocal proponent of changing speeds than Anderson was. Allen might have been more effective with Liriano than Anderson was. We'll never know.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pic of the Week

New York Mets catcher Kevin Palwecki,
pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) and third baseman
Eric Campbell dogpile Thursday in futile pursuit of
Jason Hayward's second-inning foul popup.

This looks like it could have come out of one of the blooper reels that used to be popular fare in the 1970s and '80s. Maybe they still are popular and I just don't see them.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Contemplating Alex Meyer

Alex Meyer is a
long way from cracking
the Twins rotation.
I noted in Friday's post that the promotion of Tyler Duffey to Rochester meant somebody in the Red Wings rotation had to make way for him. That somebody was Alex Meyer, who has been struggling all year.

Meyer has a 7.09 ERA after eight starts. That ugly ERA isn't merely the highest of his minor league career, it's more than twice his previous worst ERA. His walk rate, always something of an issue, has ballooned to 5.5 walks per nine innings.

The big righty -- he's 6-foot-9, which is probably part of his issues with command and control -- is moving to the bullpen. Assistant general manager Rob Antony, traveling with the team while GM Terry Ryan watches the Fort Myers Miracle, told the writers Friday that this is intended to be a temporary move, but also conceded that it may not be temporary.

At this point, I'm inclined to think the bullpen is Meyer's ultimate destination. He's 25, he's not been able to get past 130 innings without encountering some sort of arm issue. and he's shown little aptitude for a change-up. As a starter, he needs a change to get through the lineup three times. As a bullpen guy, seeing nobody more than once a game, he can be a two-pitch pitcher: fast ball and slider. That's what Glen Perkins is. A simplified arsenal may be what Meyer needs.

The Twins traded Denard Span for Meyer because they were looking for a power starter. It doesn't appear to be happening for him. There's a better chance for a decent return on that investment as a relief pitcher.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The return of Tim Stauffer

Thursday's post hadn't been up long when this news broke:




Ugh.

A few points:


  • Bernier is irrelevant. There really isn't a good argument to be made for having him on a major league roster either. 
  • Also irrelevant is the fact that the Twins used all seven relievers in Wednesday's extra-inning game. Thursday was an off-day, and J.R. Graham was the only reliever who worked more than an inning.
  • Stauffer was awful before going on the disabled list, and he wasn't any better in Rochester on the rehab assignment. His velocity in his most recent outing reportedly topped out at 87 mph, per the Pioneer Press's Mike Berardino.

The Twins are now carrying a 13-man pitching staff, at least two of whom (Stauffer and Graham) Paul Molitor can't be eager to use in a meaningful situation. Maybe three, with Brian Duensing as the third. Maybe four with Ryan Pressly struggling to find the strike zone. A surplus of lousy pitchers is a shortage of usable ones.

Meanwhile: A train of starting pitchers moved up the ladder in the Twins system Thursday, headed by Tyler Duffey going from Double A Chattanooga to Triple A Rochester. That's where the train ended, so somebody from the Red Wing rotation figures to get dislodged one way or another. Speculation has Alex Meyer getting pulled; another possibility is that something is going to give with Tommy Milone, who has yet to allow a run in three starts in the International Leagu and has a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 2 to 33 in 23 innings.

(The caboose in that train is of note: Luke Bard, a supplemental first-round pick from the draft that netted the Twins Byron Buxton and J.O. Berrios, is joining the Cedar Rapids staff; Bard has had a string of injuries and hasn't pitched in two years.)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

J.R. Graham and the immediate future of the bullpen

J.R. Graham threw 33
pitches Wednesday
night, 20 for strikes.
There was no hiding J.R. Graham Wednesday night. The Rule 5 power arm had to pitch in a game situation, and he did very well: three innings, one single, no walks, two strikeouts.

Paul Molitor has avoided Graham in important innings for more than a month. Wednesday was his first outing since April 13 (the home opener) that wasn't mopping up. His previous eight appearances finished games with a margin of five or more runs.

Graham has, probably, the best stuff on the staff. He also is better fit right now for the minors. But as a Rule 5 guy, he's got to stay on the 25-man roster or the Twins will likely lose his rights. I expect him to stick, but if the Twins are indeed going to contend this year, he'll have to contribute some meaningful innings.

Which he did on Wednesday.

It was an interesting win in terms of the bullpen. Aaron Thompson and Blaine Boyer, who have emerged as Molitor's favored set-up options, were something less than stellar (three hits and a run combined for three total outs). Graham and beleaguered veteran Brian Duensing combined for four scoreless frames.

And some roster decisions loom. Tim Stauffer is on a rehab assignment. Casey Fien is about to begin his. My opinion: I'd rather have any of the roster's current seven bullpen guys (Boyer, Duensing, Graham, Glen Perkins, Ryan Pressly, Thompson and Michael Tonkin) than Stauffer, and were it up to me the transaction when Stauffer's rehab time is done will read: Activated from the disabled list and designated for assignment.

Fien is another matter. I don't regard him as an outstanding eighth-inning guy, but he's earned a continued opportunity to perform. The guys on the bubble are probably Pressly and Duensing. But Fien's not ready yet, and that decision doesn't have to be made now.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Kick, Mule! George Suttles'
Hall of Fame plaque.
Each year I sponsor at least one Baseball Reference page. This year I am retaining the Glen Perkins page. I am also picking up the page of Mule Suttles, a Negro League legend and Hall of Famer.

The Negro Leagues are an intriguing chapter of baseball history. Suttles wasn't as renowned as Josh Gibson or Buck Leonard, but he was one heck of a hitter and he deserves to be remembered.

---

Old friend Justin Morneau was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list during the weekend. As I understand it, he dove for a ball and came up with what was initially diagnosed as a sprained neck.  A day or so later, the concussion list.

It is his life, his career, his paycheck. But once again -- because this same thought occurred frequently in his final, injury-plagued seasons in Minnesota -- I can't help but wonder if it would be best for him to call it a career. He's 34 now. That's fairly old for a baseball player, but pretty young for a human being, It would be nice if he had a fully functional brain for the rest of his life.

--

Chih-Wei Hu, the Twins' Taiwanese right-handed pitcher who impressed me last summer when I saw him pitch in Cedar Rapids, got bumped up from High A Fort Myers to Triple A Rochester for a spot start Tuesday. It apparently went pretty well.




I'll pick a nit here and note that four walks in six innings is not a good rate. (He's walked six all season for the Miracle.) But one run in six innings, as Seth Stohs quickly noted, actually raises Hu's overall ERA for the year. He's been dominating the Florida State League.

Hu's not going to stick with the Red Wings; the Twins are not about to have him skip Double A. He'll return to Fort Myers now. But he's not long for the Florida State League, either. At some point relatively soon, the Twins will have to bump J.O. Berrios from Chattanooga to Rochester, and when that happens Hu is likely to follow in his wake. It's a matter of when -- and who gets bumped at the higher levels to make room for them.