Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mauer and a Gold Glove

For some reason the subject of Joe Mauer and a possible Gold Glove award for him at first base kept popping up on my Twitter timeline Monday.

One ignornamus insisted that Craig Biggio won one of the big ugly trophies during his catching days and might have won one in the outfield. Not true. All four of Biggio's came at second base.

Reality: Only two players have won Gold Gloves at two different positions. Darrin Erstad at first base and outfield (for most of the award's history, the voters made no differentation between left, right and center. This is no longer the case.) and Placido Polanco, who won twice at second base with Detroit and once at third for the Phillies.

Biggio did begin his career as a catcher. He was the Astros regular behind the plate for three seasons and made an All-Star team. Then he shifted to second -- precisely BECAUSE he wasn't a Gold Glove-caliber catcher, and he was an All-Star caliber hitter.

The Astros wanted to keep his bat in the lineup and figured they could improve on Biggio's defense behind the dish. Had he been a high-quality defensive catcher, he probably would have remained a catcher.

Mauer was a legitmate Gold Glove catcher, and those types seldom change positions. Mauer moved because more is known about concussions than in decades past. Move his career forward a decade, and he probably doesn't move to first base -- and he might well have had more brain damage and had his career curtailed, as was the case with Mickey Cochrane, Mauer's closest historical comp.

Should Mauer win the Gold Glove? That is the conventional wisdom in Twins Territory, in large part because Dick Bremer and Co. started beating that drum by midseason. For what it's worth, John Dewan of Baseball Info Systems says Mitch Moreland of the Boston Red Sox had the most runs saved among American League first basemen.

I'd like to see Mauer win it, not because the award changes anything about him but because it would be a little bit more on his side when his Hall of Fame credentials are up for debate. I've said this before, repeatedly: He's done the heavy lifting for Cooperstown.

Monday, October 16, 2017

On Duensing and the Cubs bullpen

Joe Maddon, the manager of the defending champs, is taking some criticism in the wake of Sunday's game, which was decided without the participation of Wade Davis, the Cubs' best reliever and closer (the two concepts are not identical). #OldFriend Brian Duensing opened the bottom of the ninth for the Cubbies, and John Lackey ended it with a gopher ball. Duensing took the loss.

Maddon, postgame, on Davis:

“He had limited pitches. It was one inning only, and in these circumstances you don’t get him up and then don’t get him in. So if we had caught the lead, he would have pitched. That’s it.”

I buy that. Davis threw 45 pitches in that bizarre Game 5 to beat the Nationals. He hasn't worked that deep in years, probably since the Royals gave up trying to make him a starter. I'm sure Maddon's preference was not to use him at all.

Maddon appears to be managing the Cubs as if they don't have a lockdown bullpen right now, even though a number of relievers had strong seasons.

Duensing was one of those. Not just a 2.74 ERA. but 61 strikeouts in 62.1 innings. He coughed up only one lead for the Cubs. He didn't have a big platoon split; in fact, he held righties to a lower slugging percentage. A nice season for the former Twin.

The Cubs pitching staff is based on its solid rotation (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Kendricks, Jose Quintana). But Maddon, by choice or circumstances, is getting just five innings or so a game out of these guys. Which means the bullpen has to pick up the rest, and he rode Davis really hard against the Nationals. He went through three of his middle bullpen guys Sunday (Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop and Duensing) before turning to fifth-starter Lackey.

The decisions Maddon made in previous games led to the decsions he made Sunday. He couldn't go deep with Lester because he was on short rest after pitching 3.2 innings in relief Thursday. Davis's availability was limited. He hasn't gotten a quality start since Game Two against the Nationals, and the bullpen coughed that one away.

Maybe today's offday will straighten things out. Seven or eight innings from Tuesday's starter would help more.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pic of the Week

Cody Bellinger takes a tumble into the Dodgers dugout
in pursuit of a pop foul Monday.
Given Bellinger's importance to the Dodgers, I'm surprised there's nobody there to catch him. It's not like he's going into the opponent's dugout.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Brandon Kintzler, free agent

Brandon Kinzler
pitched in three
games in the NLDS
with an ERA of
I suggested Thursday in my final KMSU segment of the season that the Twins might focus more on building their bullpen depth this winter than on the starting rotation.

That thought might have been overly influenced by the bullpen-crazy postseason so far, but there is, or should be, little doubt that a lot of the teams playing in October were capable of smothering the opposition with waves of quality relievers -- Indians, Yankees, post-deadline Nats, Rockies.

The Twins were never in that position. Paul Molitor spent pretty much the entire season with three relievers he trusted and four he didn't -- and the identity of the ones he trusted shifted frequently.

Molitor trusted Brandon Kintzler right up to when Kintzler was traded at the deadline. And with the Washington Nationals eliminated, Kintzler becomes a free agent.

Dusty Baker handled Kintzler more roughly than Molitor did. Kintzler made 45 appearances for the Twins in four months, mostly to protect leads at the end of games. Kintzler made 27 appearances for the Nationals in two months, mostly in the seventh and eighth innings. He had 10 holds and one save -- and two blown saves -- for Baker.

The ERA was more than a half-run higher in Washington, but the underlying stats weren't a lot different. He was essentially the same pitcher, just used differently. Low strikeout rate, lower walk rate, challenge the hitters to do something with well-located pitches with movement.

Kintzler turned 33 on Aug. 1, so he's no youngster. The analytics don't like his strikeout rate. Bur I will wager Molitor would like him back, and the price is unlikely to be a deterrent. There may not be another organization that would seriously view Kintzler as a closer candidate.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine would be justified in wondering: If we sign Kintzler, will his presence discourage Molitor from using a higher-ceiling pitcher? Probably, if we're only concerned about the closer role. But the 2017 Twins were short all season on reliable relief arms. Kintzler may be low ceiling, but he's also high floor. Ninth inning or seventh inning, he can help.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A great and terrible game

I was really. really hoping by the end of Thursday night's Game Five of the Nationals-Cubs NLDS that both teams would run out of pitchers.

The Cubbies survived, unfortunately. I had hoped that this year, the year of the superteams, the fival four would be the three 100-game winners and a 97-win ensemble. Instead the Yankees and Cubs, neither of which had a regular season nearly as successful as the teams they edged out, advanced.

So it goes. This playoff system devalues the regular season. That's no secret, and it's been my major complaint about the wild card for more than two decades. But this system what we have, and it produces some baseball that is both compelling and unwatchable.

Thursday was both. At one point in the fifth-inning rally in which the Cubs took the lead they had the four-batter sequence of intentional walk, strikeout-passed ball, catcher interference and hit-by-pitch. (The second play of that sequence, in my estimation, was a blown call by the umpires, who misinterpreted Rule 6.03. That says an unintentional backswing that hits the catcher is a dead call and a strike. Jerry Layne and company allowed play to continue and stand.) From Baseball Reference:

The bizarrity -- if that's a word, and it should be -- goes on. Jayson Werth lost a ball in the lights; that cost the Nats a run. Willson Contreras, the Cubs catcher, twice whiffed completely on pitches that nailed Layne, which is a hell of a thank-you for the biffed call. Then he picked off Washington's Jose Lobaton on one of those confounded sliders-foot-off-the-bag-for-a-millisecond replay reversals that should be a firing offense for whoever's in New York.

And four hours and 37 minutes of pitching changes and committee meetings. That is October baseball in the era of Girardi and Maddon, and I hate it. I know this one was in Washington, but leave the filibusters to the Senate and play some ball. I expect there will be limits placed on catchers visiting the mound next year, and hooray for that. It has become abusive.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ron Gardenhire and the Red Sox job

The Boston Red Sox announced early Wednesday morning that John Farrell was out as manager. Within hours, Ron Gardenhire was linked to the opening.

Unlike the Detroit job, Boston appears a good fit for Gardenhire. 

Gardenhire prefers established players and set lineups. In my estimation, his weakest point as a manager is his (in)ability to accurately judge the current skill set of a player. The Red Sox currently boasts eight regulars and a catching platoon. Gardy is not adept at lineup juggling; this team doesn't need that. They don't figure to have spring training position battles to judge. 

The Saux have several big-name starters in their rotation and a stellar closer, but have had some issues of late in the middle of their bullpen. In my estimation, Gardenhire's greatest strength as a manager is handling the pen. The list of relievers who pitched better for Gardenhire than for anybody else is long, starting with Eddie Guardado, J.C. Romero and (to a lesser extent) LaTroy Hawkins through Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon and Dennys Reyes to Glen Perkins and Jared Burton.

I don't know that he's going to get the job. But it would make sense.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bringing Molitor back, the conclusion

Paul Molitor and Derek Falvey dismissed on Tuesday the theory that the delay between the invitation for Molitor to continue as manager and his acceptance signaled some sort of rift or friction betweem the manager and the front office.

Even dismissing Neil Allen as pitching coach was not close to a deal breaker, as Molitor described it.

Speculation and interpretation aside, the result is obvious: Molitor has a three-year extension and the rest of the coaching staff is expected back, although some roles may shift.

I wish Allen well, not only in terms of landing a new job somewhere but in terms of maintaining his sobriety. I suspect there are organizations that would have dumped Allen after his drunk-driving arrest in May 2016, and I further suspect Allen knows it:

“I had a wonderful conversation with Mollie,” Allen said in a phone interview. “I pointed out I can never thank (former GM) Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor enough for what they did for me. Mollie and I talked every day. We had a routine. We got to know each other very well. I absolutely loved the man. I made a great friend.”
That from Mike Berardino's story in the Pioneer Press.

Meanwhile, the reshaping of the organization continued, with the Twins hiring a new farm director. Jeremy Zoll comes out of the Dodger organization. He's 27 and succeeds Brad Steil, who becomes the pro scouting director.