Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The annual Anthony Swarzak nonsense

Anthony Swarzak would rather be a starter,
but the numbers are against him.
It has become a late-September tradition:


  • The Twins rotation is a mess;
  • Anthony Swarzak talks himself up as a rotation option;
  • Terry Ryan says Swarzak should prepare himself over the winter to start and will be considered for the rotation in the spring.


And a following tradition in March is that Swarzak doesn't really get a shot at starting.

We're going though this pattern again, kinda-sorta. The Twins rotation has been awful beyond Phil Hughes, so that part is in place.

Swarzak has, apparently, never been shy about wanting to start, and who can blame him? Ricky Nolasco is getting about $11 million a year more than Swarzak, and they have, at the moment, identical career ERAs (4.47). Starting is a lot more lucrative than long relief.

Swarzak has gotten a couple of September starts this year (thanks in large part to Tommy Milone's neck and the decision to shut down Alex Meyer rather than give him as September call up). Neither went all that well. He went 4.1 innings in both starts and gave up a total of nine earned runs.

Even with a successful emergency start in July, Swarzak's starter-reliever splits this year resemble his career splits. His ERA in his three 2014 starts is 6.59; his ERA in relief, 4.10. For his career (31 starts), Swarzak's starter ERA is 5.86, bullpen ERA 3.66.

I heard Ryan talk on the radio before Sunday's game about that day being a potentially big start for Swarzak and his hopes of emerging as a rotation option. So that implies that Ryan's still open to the possibility.

I just can't see it. Not only is Swarzak's track record evidence that he ought not be a starter, the roster numbers at the moment are against him.

We've been over this before, but it bears repeating:The Twins head into the offseason with Hughes, Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone and Mike Pelfrey as presumptive starters. Hughes, Nolasco and Pelfrey will be paid a combined $25 million-plus, Milone (despite his lousy record since coming to the Twins) has a solid track record and the Twins still have hopes for Gibson. Plus there's Meyer and Trevor May knocking at the door and Jose Berrios trotting up the sidewalk to join them.

That's eight guys, at least, who are going to get priority over Swarzak as starters. Ryan is likely to try to clear some of the incumbents this winter, but that won't be easy. Even if he moves one or two of the veterans, Meyer and May should be at the head of the line.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The "indispensible" Tommy Milone

Tommy Milone had
a cortisone shot in his
neck last week.
Tommy Milone last started for the Twins 20 days ago -- Sept. 2, when he yielded three runs in 3.2 innings in a 6-3 loss to the White Sox -- and there's no guarantee that he's going to pitch in this final week of the season.

Out of sight, out of mind: Milone is oft overlooked in chatter about the 2015 Twins, the forgotten veteran pitcher. Which is a bit of a mistake; Milone, despite his poor work since coming to Minnesota in exchange for Sam Fuld, still boasts a 32-23, 3.99 career mark at age 27, and that ought to get more respect than, let us say, 14-15, 5.08 (Kyle Gibson's career) or even 94-86, 4.47 (Ricky Nolasco).

Plus Milone is left-handed, and there aren't a lot of southpaws in the Twins' rotation mix.

Milone, it appears, is not forgotten in Oakland. A piece this weekend in the San Jose Mercury News trades the Athletics' second half collapse to the removal of Milone from the Oakland rotation:

In truth, it started to change the day Oakland sent Tommy Milone to the minor leagues July 5. Milone wasn't so much a casualty of the (Jeff) Samardzija acquisition but the accompanying Jason Hammel move that left no place for him. ...
The end result was that a strong clubhouse spirit was shattered. An integral part of the A's success from the point (Bob) Melvin took over as manager, Milone was on a 6-0, 2.62 ERA roll over 11 starts when he was tossed aside. Talking to a number of players that day about the logic of the left-hander being shipped out, there was a unanimous sentiment of disgust. The words "stinks" and "unfair" were uttered more than once.
I'm a bit dubious about that theory. Oh, I don't doubt that there was displeasure in the clubhouse about Milone's demotion. I just doubt that his absence caused All Stars Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss to slump, caused Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie to get hurt, caused what had been the most productive hitting attack in the league to fall into a massive slump.

I believe Milone can be a rotation asset for the Twins. I don't believe his loss caused the A's collapse.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pic of the Week

Be careful what you wish for:
A Yankee Stadium fan gets a faceful of foul ball.

This wasn't from the past week, but it's too amusing to pass up. This image came from a Rays at New York game on Tuesday, Sept. 9.

As Kevin Harlan used to exclaim on Timberwolves broadcasts: Right between the eyes!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Contemplating Trevor Plouffe (with a Danny Santana tangent)

Trevor Plouffe and Oswaldo Arcia
enjoy the moment after Plouffe's
game-winning single Friday night.
Trevor Plouffe's extra-inning walkoff single Friday night underscores the fine season he's had.

Plouffe has career highs in almost every stat: Games, at-bats, runs, RBIs, doubles, triples, walks, on-base percentage, total bases. He's not close to matching the home run total from his 2012 power surge, but the slugging percentage is pretty much a match anyway, Plus he's gone from being a brutal third baseman afield to being average or slightly above,

This figured to be an important year for him. Miguel Sano, superstar slugger in waiting, is still waiting. Plouffe, as I've said before, isn't good enough to keep Sano out of the lineup once the big Dominican is ready for the majors. But Plouffe has established now that he's good enough to play third base for somebody. That wasn't necessarily the case entering the season.

Plouffe was a Super Two arbitration eligible player this year, so he has two more years to go before he's eligible for free agency. He might be of interest on the trade market this winter -- if the Twins are confident enough that Sano will be ready for the big club by midseason.

---

Plouffe, of course, came to the majors in 2010 having played almost nothing by shortstop in the minors. He played himself out of the position in the majors in 2011, then had a brief detour to the outfield before settling in at the hot corner in 2012.

Danny Santana came to the majors this year having played strictly shortstop for the past couple of years and was pressed into service as a centerfielder. The continued reluctance to deploy the rookie sensation at his accustomed position is irritating some fans. (He did get the start at short Friday.)

For me, that reluctance signals that the Twins already know that Santana is not a good defensive shortstop. A recent post on that thought elicited this response:

Trevor Plouffe played minor league SS for about 7 years, and the people in the Twins system still did not realize he couldn't handle the job in the majors (and that he could barely stick at third). Is their evaluation of Santana any better?

The first sentence is accurate, which makes the second sentence a valid question.

One aspect of this is that it's a different set of evaluators.

The minor league managers who had Plouffe in 2009-11, his final two-and-a-fraction seasons in the minors, were Tom Nieto and Stan Cliburn. The minor league managers who had Santana in 2012-14, his (presumably) final two-and-a-fraction seasons in the minors, were Gene Glynn, Jeff Smith and Jake Mauer.

If there was a stack of reports attesting that Plouffe was a valid shortstop option for the major league team in 2011, those reports came from managers who aren't working for the Twins anymore. I suspect that may not be a coincidence.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Goodbye, Florimon

Pedro Florimon
was the shortstop
on Opening Day
and out of the majors
before July.
It was a bit of a shock Thursday when the Twins announced that Pedro Florimon had been claimed on waivers by the Washington Nationals.

Two reasons I was surprised: First, because I had forgotten that Florimon was still on the 40-man roster; second, because it's hard to see what use the Nats have for him. (The Washington Post suggests he'll be minor-league depth; that isn't very useful in September when the minor league season is done.)

Certainly Florimon didn't fit in the Twins plans, near-term or long haul. That was made obvious when he was bypassed for a September callup.

Even with Eduardo Escobar sidelined by his strained shoulder (no structural damage, the Twins said on Wednesday), the Twins still have three "shortstops" on the active roster in Danny Santana, Eduardo Nunez and Doug Bernier. And Jorge Polanco, while not on the active roster, probably ranked ahead of Florimon on the depth chart as well.

I put the word shortstop in quotation marks because all five, including Escobar, see consider time at other positions, which suggests that their glovework leaves something to be desired. True shortstops don't bounce around the infield. Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio didn't shuffle to second or third so that somebody else could slide in to play short.

Florimon is a true shortstop. He hasn't played a major league game in the field at any other position. But his glove isn't good enough to carry his anemic bat. The Twins have rightly moved on.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Chattanooga choo-choo

Ever have the feeling you were
being watched?
The Twins went back to their distant past Wednesday when they and the Chattanooga Lookouts announced a four-year affiliation deal.

No more New Britain RockCats for the Double A franchise. The Twins will have their second-highest minor league team in the Southern League again -- and in Chattanooga for the first time in more than half a century.

Back in the day -- when the Twins were still the Washington Senators, back before Calvin Griffith inherited the club from his adopted father, Clark "The Old Fox" Griffith -- the Lookouts were not only the Senators' top farm club but owned by Griffith. Indeed, for much of three decades, the Lookouts may have been the complete extent of the Senators' farm "system."

The story of Chattanooga baseball really can't be separated from that of Joe Engle, a truly fascinating obscurity in baseball history.

Engle was a Washington native who grew up a playmate of Teddy Roosevelt's kids and was batboy for the Senators, Engle pitched for the Senators for a few years in his teens and early 20s with marginal success (rooming with Walter Johnson in the process), Then he drifted into scouting for Griffith, Engle is credited with finding three Hall-of-Famers for Griffith (Goose Goslin, Joe Cronin and Bucky Harris) and landing the core of the only three pennant winning teams Washington ever boasted.

Supposedly, when Engle brought Cronin to Washington, he introduced the young shortstop to Calvin Griffith's niece by announcing:  Look, Millie, I brought you a husband, embarrassing each of the pair. But indeed, the two did marry. (Clark Griffith then traded Cronin to Boston, where the salaries were higher.)

In 1929 Griffith sent Engle to Chattanooga to run the Lookouts, There Engle remained, pretty much, for the rest of his life, essentially being a early Bill Veeck.

One of his more legendary stunts came with an 1931 exhibition game in Chattanooga with the New York Yankees, in which he had a 17-year-old lefty from Chattanooga named Jackie Mitchell pitch to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The stunt was that Mitchell was female. She struck out both the Bambino and the Iron Horse, and nobody will ever know for sure if the whiffs were on merit or because the two all-time greats were being chivalrous and/or playing along with the gag.

Eventually Calvin Griffith succeeded Engle at the helm of the Lookouts, prepping to inherit the Washington club by running the minor league team. Chattanooga was also where a young Harmon Killebrew played his minor league ball (after stewing on the Senators bench for two years under the bonus baby rules of the time), as did Jim Kaat.

All that is part of the distant past. Now the Lookouts are part of the Twins future. Presumably the Twins cut ties to New Britain because of the messy stadium situation in central Connecticut; the team's ownership appears to have burned their bridges with New Britain. but the stadium deal with Hartford hasn't been finalized.

Jim Crikket had an interesting observation on Twitter. As part of a reshuffling of Triple A affiliations, the Oakland Athletics were displaced in Sacramento and wound up in Nashville, which is not a particularly attractive geographic fit for a California franchise. That affiliation (like the Twins renewal in Rochester) expires in two years. Crikket suggests that Nashville might be an attractive destination for the Twins' Triple A affilation after 2016; having the Triple A and Double A teams in the same state (Tennessee) could be quite handy. (UPDATE: The affiliation agreement announced Thursday between the A's and Nashville runs through 2018, so a Tennessee nexus ain't happening in two years.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Perkins and Escobar

A dismayed Glen Perkins reacts after yielding a
three-run homer in the ninth inning Tuesday.
I doubt anybody believes Glen Perkins is sound right now.

He's certainly not effective.

The Twins closer sat out seven games earlier this month with a sore neck. He hasn't had a scoreless outing since: 3.1 innings, seven runs allowed. On Tuesday, protecting a two-run lead, he gave up two singles (not particularly well struck, but definitely well-paced), followed by a home run.

That the Twins rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win doesn't obscure the reality: Perkins isn't getting it done, and doesn't seem capable of getting it done.

---

Eduardo Escobar left Tuesday's game after a diving stop and throw. He's got something wrong with his shoulder, and he figures to have it examined today.

Whatever they find, this injury gives the Twins every reason to do what they arguably should have been doing this month anyway: Play Danny Santana at shortstop, work Aaron Hicks and Jordan Schafer in center, and look to 2015.

Personally, I believe the 2015 plan should have Santana in the outfield and Escobar as the shortstop, but the Twins will lose nothing from giving Santana these last 12 games or so at short. It certainly makes more sense than giving those innings to Eduardo Nunez.