Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Managerial search news and a World Series prediction

Word Monday was that the field of candidates for the Twins managerial job was narrowing.

If so, the known candidates are down to the three insiders (Gene Glynn, Doug Mientkiewicz and Paul Molitor) and one outsider (Torey Lovullo of the Boston Red Sox).

Other Twitter reports of note:

I'm still rooting for Mientkiewicz to get the job, but these reports hint that Molitor's going to get the job.


It's been easy to forget over the course of the long layoff, but the World Series starts tonight.

I expect this series to ultimately boil down to the power arms of the Kansas City bullpen versus the fastball-hitting middle of the San Francisco lineup. How good are the Giants against high velocity?

Yeah, they're that good.

I frequently see a series like this as turning on a strength vs. a weakness. In this case, I see a strength versus a strength. That's harder to call. I'll take the Royals in this  matchup, but I'm not particularly comfortable with that call.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Competing inferences from a prolonged managerial search

Ron Gardenhire was ousted as Twins manager on Sept. 29. Three weeks and at least eight candidates later, Terry Ryan is apparently still not ready to make a hire. With the World Series starting Tuesday and the usual pressure from the commissioner's office to avoid significant moves during the series, it seems likely there will be no hire before November. 

This is, presumably, not a good sign for the internal candidates, who were the first to be interviewed. Ryan pledged a wide-ranging and diverse search, but we might reasonably infer that, at this point, Ryan still hasn't found what he's looking for.

Or there's this possibility: Ryan is using the opportunity to grill prospective managers from outside the system to gain new ideas and insights more than to actually select the next skipper. The Twins have been criticized in some quarters as too ingrown and rooted in its own culture. 

All the known outside candidates -- Sandy Alomar Jr., Chip Hale (out of the running), Demarlo Hale, Torey Lovullo and Joe McEwing -- come from American League teams. They may be telling Ryan things about the Twins that he hasn't heard from within, giving him an outside perspective on his operation -- knowledge that may be useful even if he hires one of the insiders. 

Even if Ryan waits until November to make his selection, it will still be faster than the process that resulted in Ron Gardenhire getting the job. That hire didn't come until January 2002.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pic of the Week

According to the Associated Press caption, this
photo from Monday's rainout in Kansas City shows the
Kaufmann Stadium scoreboard through the water drops.

Every once in a while The AP moves a photo -- and labels its an "APTOPIX," indicating that it's among the best work of the day -- that leaves me puzzled.

What newspaper ran this photo, I wonder. And why?

Arty, OK. I'll buy arty, As photojournalism, it lacks something.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dear Lord, not another reunion tour

Torii Hunter is 39 years old. He played like it this year. 
I've been seeing in recent days tweets and blog posts from people who really ought to know better suggesting that the Twins bring back Torii Hunter (to play left field). Or Jesse Crain (to pitch middle relief).

Dear Lord, no. This year's Reunion Tour (Jason Bartlett, Jason Kubel, Matt Guerrier) was bad enough. Let's not do Reunion Tour II.

There is nothing in the business of signing 30-something free agents in decline that helps the Twins at this stage. This is not a contending team; Hunter and Crain aren't going to help the Twins win a divisional crown. They will get in the way of playing the guys who might someday help the Twins win a divisional crown.

They won't plug holes so much as block roads.

Leadership? I am increasingly convinced that "leadership" as defined by big-city columnists means "accessible, gives good quotes." Hunter is that. As a player, he is emphatically in decline. (A decline, I will concede, that came about five years after I expected.) Baseball Reference's version of WAR puts him at 0.4 in the season just completed; Jordan Schafer, in a fraction of the playing time, was at 0.3 with the Twins. Again: on a per-out basis in the American League, Jordan Schafer was better.

Crain? He hasn't pitched since midseason 2013, and what's more, he hasn't come close to being ready to pitch. He's 33 now, he blew his arm out throwing slider after slider with the White Sox, and the only purpose for a team in the Twins' position to sign him is on the chance that they can flip him for someone useful at the trade deadline. I say that potential benefit is outweighed by the obstacle he'd pose for younger arms.

I do think the Twins need to reconstruct their bullpen. An injury guy in his mid 30s is not the way to do that.

Friday, October 17, 2014

DeMarlo Hale's managerial influences

DeMarlo Hale, currently the Toronto Blue Jays bench coach, apparently got a under-the-radar interview a few days ago with the Twins for the managerial vacancy.

Hale, 53 and black, gives the Twins a second minority candidate for the job.

Hale was a minor league infielder in his playing days who never rose above Double A in five seasons in the Boston and Oakland organizations in the 1980s. Most of that time was spent in the Red Sox chain; only in 1988 was he with the A's. I don't know how much contact if any he would have had with Tony LaRussa, who was the A's manager at the time. None of his minor league managers skippered in the majors.

He had a nine-year run as a minor league manager (1993-2001), mostly with the Red Sox but also with Texas, and had had a series of of major league coaching jobs since then.

Among the managers he's worked for as a coach: Buck Showalter in both Texas and Baltimore; Terry Francona in Boston; and John Gibbons in Toronto.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Royal October

Kelvin Herrera is part of a powerful Kansas City bullpen
that arguably makes the Royals a better postseason team
than regular season team.
Eight games in the postseason for the Kansas City Royals. Eight wins, no losses and a trip to the World Series.

Not bad at all for an 89-win wild card team.

Nobody who enjoyed the Twins World Series title in 1987 as much as I did has any right to sneer at a sub 90-win team going to the Series. But I knew then that the Twins weren't really the best team in baseball, much less in the American League. They happened to get into the postseason and get the wins they needed to get.

Similarly, these Royals are not the best team in the Central Division, much less the best team in the American League, Their record says so. But they are unbeaten in the three rounds -- wild card game, divisional series, league championship series -- they've played.

This run is likely to be overthought and overanalyzed in coming days, and in truth this post might be a good example of that. But in my view, this Royals rampage emphasizes the difference between regular season baseball and post season baseball.

The regular season is, broadly speaking, a game a day. Six or seven games a week, more or less, for six months. This ain't football. We do this every day, Earl Weaver said years ago, and it remains true -- during the regular season.

The postseason is another case altogether. October baseball is not an everyday affair. The Royals have yet to play on three consecutive days this month. The regulars don't need, or get, the days off they do in August, so a pinch-running specialist can be carried. The pitching depth -- the fourth and fifth starters -- is less important. A six-man staff can carry you through October, but that approach won't work in the regular season.

The Royals have an eight-game winning streak going -- and they have done that without getting six innings from any starting pitcher.It been five innings or so, and here come the relief pitchers.

Here, the Royals are without peer. They have Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland -- three robust right-handed power arms with ERAs this year of 1.41, 1.00 and 1.41 respectively, with a combined 258 strikeouts in 204.1 innings.

If you're not ahead of this team after six innings with this bullpen rested, you're sunk -- and with all the days off built into the October schedule, this bullpen is always rested.

There's more to this surge than just the bullpen, of course. They are the best defensive team in the league, if not the game. And they are finding ways to score enough runs to get to the bullpen, including the long ball, something that eluded them most of the season.

Gardenhire's Twins had two seasons with similarly deep and powerful bullpens -- 2004, with Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, the briefly healthy Grant Balfour and the rookie Jesse Crain; and 2006, with Nathan, Rincon, Crain, Pat Neshek and Dennys Reyes.

But in 2004 Gardenhire didn't trust Crain enough to use him in game situations in the playoffs, and Rincon gave up a crucial homer to Ruben Sierra. And in 2006 the starters and lineup never got the lead to the bullpen.

That hasn't been an issue for the Royals.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Starting the roster trimming

Yohan Pino made
11 major league starts
for the Twins, fifth
most on the team.
Terry Ryan and the rest of the Twins brain trust are in Fort Myers this week holding the organizational meetings.

Even without a manager, even without a coaching staff, some decisions have to be made.

The first made public was the removal of infielder Doug Bernier and pitcher Yohan Pino from the 40-man roster.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Twins re-signed either or both to minor league deals. Nor would I be surprised if the 34-year-old Bernier wound up with a minor league managing or coaching gig.

The Twins now have 37 players on the 40. Mike Pelfrey is still on the 60-day disabled list, which means he's off the 40; at some point he'll be reinstated to the 40, so it's effectively at 38. 

The Twins will need to clear more space to protect the likes of Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Alex Meyer. Those three are obvious must-protects, and there are other Rule-5 eligible players they probably will want to protect as well, such as Sean Gilmartin, a left-handed starter and former first-round pick. So there are more cuts to come.