Monday, July 6, 2015

Conntemplating the catcher situation

Kurt Suzuki's hitting
has fallen off sharply
from 2014, when
he was named to
the All-Star team.
The Twins played the first half of the season with just two catchers, regular Kurt Suzuki and backup Chris Herrmann. They haven't hit at all -- Suzuki's OPS+ is 65, which means he's 35 percent below league average, and Herrmann's OPS+ is 43, or 57 percent below average.

Still, there seems little indication that anything is going to change in this arrangement. Josmil Pinto, the only other catcher currently on the 40 man roster, was sidelined weeks ago by a concussion and is just starting to resume baseball activities, specifically catching in the bullpen.

And Eric Fryer, who had callups in both 2013 and 2014, is going to play for Team USA in the Pan Am Games, which begin next weekend in Canada and runs through July 19. Presumably the organization would not have given Fryer permission to leave the Rochester club for that purpose if they were thinking about bringing him back to replace Herrmann on the roster.

My guess is that if something were to happen during Fryer's absence that required a catcher callup and Pinto isn't ready that they'd turn to Stuart Turner, the No. 1 catcher for the Double A Chattanooga Lookouts. He can't hit either (.189 in Double A), but he wouldn't be an embarrassment behind the dish.

Ron Gardenhire
was more apt to
play Chris Herrmann
in the outfield than
at catcher, but
Paul Molitor has
used Herrmann
strictly behind the plate.
Suzuki, obviously, gets the bulk of the playing time. He's fourth in the American League in innings caught. less than two innings behind Russell Martin of Toronto but trailing Salvador Perez of Kansas City and Mike Zunino of Seattle by wider margins.

Herrmann plays only when Suzuki gets a day off. Herrmann caught the Saturday night game against a right-handed starter and Suzuki caught the Sunday day game against a lefty. That took advantage of one of Herrmann's defining traits: He hits left handed. Given his decent minor league numbers, I think he could be a reasonably productive hitter if he got more frequent playing time against right-handers, but about a third of his plate appearances have come against lefties. Such is the lot of the backup catcher.

Herrman has had more success throwing out basestealers than Suzuki has. Herrmann's caught stealing rate, 33 percent, is pretty much a match for the league average, while Suzuki's is just 21 percent.

There have been 21 wild pitches with Suzuki behind the plate and two passed balls charged to him. Herrmann has not been charged with a passed ball and been unable to block nine wild pitches. Suzuki has 0.36 WP+BP per nine innings, Herrmann 0.49. That's a wider difference than I would have guessed.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Pic of the Week

A flamingo attempts to evade its keeper during
a Dallas Zoo presentation before a game
in Arlington, Texas.
This photo was actually made a week ago, and its only baseball connection is the setting, but I couldn't resist it. You'd almost think the woman is trying to mimic the bird's movements.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Here comes E. Santana, 80 games late

Alex Meyer had
two major league
outings and didn't
fare well (ERA
16.88).
Friday's loss, so illustrative of the flaws in the 2015 Twins, dropped their record to 42-38. That adds up to 80, so Ervin Santana's steroid suspension is now fully served.

The Twins shipped Alex Meyer back to Triple A to make room for Santana on the 25-man roster. They outrighted minor league veteran Doug Bernier to make room for Santana on the 40-man roster. (Bernier could have refused the designation and become a free agent, but probably figured that the demand for 35-year-old utility infielders with 83 major league at-bats would be light.)

How the Twins will make room for Santana in the rotation remains unknown. The demotion of Meyer suggests that the Twins will not demote one of the current starters (in order of rotation, Phil Hughes, Trevor May, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone and Mike Pelfrey). Which would make the options:


  • Six-man rotation
  • A trade
  • Shifting one of the five to the bullpen

There appears little appetite among the decision makers for the six-man rotation, and I agree, in large part because at least two of the five rely on their two-seam fastballs (aka sinker) and, theoretically at least, such pitchers tend to do poorly on long rest.

A trade may well be the ultimate answer, especially if Ricky Nolasco's ankle ever shows sign of improvement, but I'll be surprised if that happens promptly.

Which would leave the bullpen shift option, Regular readers can probably guess that I regard Pelfrey as the logical choice to move. It's not going to be Hughes or Gibson; Milone, as a soft-tossing lefty, is a poor fit for a relief role; May, despite the worst actual ERA of the five, has the best FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of the group.

Pelfrey had been slated for the bullpen at the end of spring training (despite his objections), until the Santana suspension was announced. His ERA in June was 5.35. with peripheral numbers that were just as ugly. And there remain observers, such as the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino, who believe Pelfrey's stuff will play better in the bullpen. (Berardino has repeatedly compared Pelfrey to Wade Davis, the Royal's wipe-out eighth-inning arm.)

Pelfrey starts today. We'll see if there are more starts in his future. I hope not, at least with the Twins.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

By coincidence, Sano Day -- the debut of Miguel Sano -- happened to be the opening of this year's international free-agent signings. The Twins, as was widely expected, announced an agreement with 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Wander Javier.




Four million dollars breaks Sano's team record for an international signing. It also exceeds the Twins international bonus pool allotment, and I would expect the club to trade for some pool money from an organization less involved in the chase for Dominican talent.

As for Javier: He's 16 years old, and nobody really knows what he's going to grow into. The Twins hope and expect he'll stick at shortstop and develop into a threat at the plate as well. But it's a long road for him and all the Dominican hopefuls.

It was six years ago that the Twins signed Sano and Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler as well. It was quite an international haul, and Bill Smith, whose reign as general manager has drawn no shortage of criticism, deserves credit for pushing into the Dominican morass. But as well as those three have performed in the minors, none have yet established themselves on the major league level. That's coming, to be sure, but it illustrates the necessary timeline.

---

The St. Louis Cardinals confirmed Thursday that they have fired their scouting director, Chris Correa, apparently because he was involved in the hacking of the Houston Astros database.

Scouting director is, emphatically, not a low-level position. If Correa gained insights from his intrusion into the database about Houston's evaluation of specific players and-or their method of combining traditional scouting with statistical information, it has to be assumed that those insights were part of the conversation with other ranking St. Louis front office types, regardless of whether they knew of the hacking.

That the hack reached that level in the hierarchy makes it impossible for commissioner Rob Manfred to go lightly on the organization when it comes time to impose penalties.

---

A more traditional form of front-office shakeup happened this week in Anaheim, where general manager Jerry DiPoto concluded that there wasn't room for him and manager Mike Scoscia. Owner Arte Moreno backed Scoscia, and DiPoto left.

There will be more defections from the Angels organization. That one of the reputed flashpoints between DiPoto and Scoscia was the use of analytics probably isn't going to help Moreno attract a new GM strong in the new wave of thinking.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sano in July

Miguel Sano takes a throw at third
during a spring training infield drill.
The Twins after Thursday's no-offense loss shipped Kennys Vargas all the way back to Double A. And the recall was of Miguel Sano, power prospect extraordinaire.

Byron Buxton is generally rated a better prospect than Sano because his tool set is more varied. Sano, listed as 6-4, 260 pounds, isn't a burner, his ultimate defensive position is uncertain and it's possible he won't hit for average (but he might). But he has power like nobody the Twins have had since Harmon Killebrew, and that's a very valuable piece.

As with the now-sidelined Buxton, this was supposed to have happened last year. But Sano injured his elbow late in the 2013 season. The decision was made, in consultation with medical experts, to try rest-and-rehab during the offseason, And very early in spring training, Sano made an offbalance throw, the ligament gave out, and he had Tommy John surgery and missed the entire season.

The rusty Sano hit .159/.303/.381 in 18 April games for Double-A Chattanooga, striking out 22 times in 63 at-bats. The day Terry Ryan went to Chattanooga, Sano got three hits. His slash line for May: .303/.374/.556, with 26 strikeouts in 93 at-bats. In June: .329/.432/.658. Yeah, I think he can move up.

Sano is 22, and his purported position is third base. But very few 260-pounders survive long there, and Sano's defense is still said to be uneven. Plus Trevor Plouffe has become a good glove man at the hot corner -- something I didn't foresee as recently as early last season -- and is one of the few fixtures in the lineup.

So Sano figures to be the designated hitter. This is uncharacteristic of the Twins, who more than a decade ago kept David Ortiz in the minors to work on his first base defense rather than let him DH in the bigs. My joke at the time, repeated frequently, was that Ortiz didn't field well enough to DH.

This move brings to mind the arrival in Baltimore of Eddie Murray, who had reached Triple A Rochester at age 20 (1976) and slugged .530 with 11 homers in 53 games there. That spring, Earl Weaver wanted Murray on his roster. The front office wanted to send him back to the minors to work on his defense. Weaver said: We'll work on his defense here. He can hit in the meantime. 

Murray played 160 games for Baltimore in 1977, mostly as the designated hitter. Veteran Lee May was the primary first baseman that year. The next season, the two sluggers changed roles. Murray wound up with 504 home runs, 3,255 hits, three Gold Gloves, the major league record for games played at first base and a Hall of Fame plaque. The DH season certainly didn't hurt Murray's development.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Santana and Berrios

The Ervin Santana
era is about to begin.
Ervin Santana wrapped up his prep work Tuesday with his third and final start for Triple A Rochester -- eight shutout innings. In 20.2 Triple A innings on this "rehab" assignment, the suspended steroidian compiled a 1.74 ERA. Santana is to start Sunday at Kansas City.

We don't yet know how the Twins will make room for him in their rotation. The choices, broadly speaking:


  • Option out Trevor May or Tommy Milone (they are the only members of the current rotation who can be sent to the minors without waivers);
  • Trade away somebody;
  • Shift somebody, most likely Mike Pelfrey, to the bullpen; or
  • Go to a six-man rotation.

The latter two would require a different roster move, presumably involving one of the current relief pitchers.

The Twins aren't tipping their hand on which way they're going. Paul Molitor is clearly cool to the six-man rotation idea, but he hasn't ruled it out either.

Between 2014 and
2015, Jose Berrios
has made 23 starts
in Double A, going
11-7, 3.22 in
131.1 innings.
We do know what the Twins are doing to fill the rotation hole Santana leaves at Triple A Rochester: They're promoting Jose Berrios from Double A Chattanooga.

Berrios entered the season essentially neck-and-neck with Alex Meyer and Kohl Stewart in the organizational prospect rankings. His strong half season in the Southern League (3.08 ERA, 92 strikeouts in 90.2 innings) has established him as the top pitching prospect in the system.

Berrios is to pitch, for the second year in a row, for the World team in the Futures Game. There was an item about him in the current issue of Baseball America, in which Doug Mientkiewicz -- who managed Berrios in the first half last year at High A Fort Myers and again this summer in Chattanooga -- said that last year Berrios was tipping his changeup. The Florida State League hitters couldn't do much with it anyway, but the tell had its effect on Berrios' numbers in the second half, when he moved up to New Britain and even, for one start, Rochester.

This year, the tipoff is gone, according to Mientkiewicz via Baseball America. And Berrios' Double A strikeout rate has risen from 6.2 per nine innings last year to 9.1 this year.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Setting the table for trade speculation

Mike Pelfrey's ERA
went from 3.06 to 3.81
Monday night.
A Boston Globe piece Sunday casually listed the Twins among teams looking at potential trade candidates Jeff Samardzija (White Sox) and Clay Buchholz (Red Sox). The paragraph listed nine teams -- that's almost a third of MLB -- and didn't put any particular emphasis on any of them.

And I don't see any real reason to buy into that kind of talk. The fact is, the Twins ought not be in the market for another right-handed starter. They have too many of them as it is, This weekend Ervin Santana comes off his suspension, and then what?

So as June turns into July and the trade deadline edges ever closer, let us not be gullible -- not even after a game such as Monday's, in which the starter was bad and the lineup put up seven runs.

The Twins may well seek to add pieces in the next few weeks -- but those pieces will be position players and relievers, not starters. Indeed, it's plausible -- perhaps even wise -- that the Twins will trade away a starter in July.

Paul Molitor has started four different men at shortstop this season (Danny Santana, Eduardo Escobar, Jorge Polanco, Eduardo Nunez). He has started five different center fielders (Jordan Schafer, Shane Robinson, Aaron Hicks, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario). He has started five different left fielders (Oswaldo Arcia, Robinson, E
scobar, Rosario, Nunez). He's split up the DH role six ways (Kennys Vargas, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer, Nunez, Escobar, even one start for Santana).

While I believe the lineup juggling has benefited the team, the Twins entered Monday's game just 10th in the American League in runs scored. There's only so much lemonade to squeeze out of this fruit.

To trade for a starter would be fixing a problem that doesn't exist. And I have to believe that Terry Ryan, Molitor and the rest of the decision makers know that.