Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gotta be the shoes

Danny Valencia and Billy Butler in
presumably friendlier times.
You may have heard about this already: Danny Valencia, former Twin, and Oakland teammate Billy Butler got into a fight in the clubhouse last week. Butler got the worst of it; he missed two games over the weekend and now has gone on the concussion disabled list.

As reported by Susan Slusser in the San Francisco Chronicle, the altercation originated when a representative of an equipment maker asked Valencia about a pair of off-brand spikes in his locker. Valencia assured the rep that he doesn't wear those in games, whereupon Butler interjected himself into the conversation to say that Valencia was lying and Company X should drop his endorsement deal.

There are three things here, at least one of which is probably no surprise:


  • Danny Valencia is willing to lie to get or keep an endorsement deal worth several thousand dollars.
  • Billy Butler is willing to go out of his way to get in the way of that deal.
  • Somebody thinks Danny Valencia's choice of game spikes is worth several thousand dollars to the maker of those spikes.


.The third is the one that puzzles me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Catching up on the roster shuffle

Adalberto Mejia made his major league
debut Saturday, allowing two runs in
2.1 innings against the Royals.
With all the short starts in the series at Kansas City, the Twins were juggling their pitching staff on a daily basis again during the weekend. New arms, new faces -- the pitchers acquired in a pair of July trades.

Kennys Vargas lost his roster spot through no fault of his own so that the Twins could add a 13th pitcher. On Saturday that was Adalberto Mejia, the lefty who came from San Francisco in the Eduardo Nunez deal.

Mejia worked 2.1 innings of relief on Saturday -- his first game in the bigs -- and was immediately returned to Triple A Rochester with Pat Light coming up. Light didn't have to work Sunday and thus has yet to make his Twins debut.

Rob Antony, the interim general manager, said Sunday that Mejia is not going to be a September call up. The organization does not want to push him past about 135 innings this year, and he's at 125 now (combining his workload at all levels.) Anthony said during a radio appearance that Mejia is "about out of bullets," noting that the lefty's velocity has declined sharply of late. He'll make probably one more start for the Red Wings, then finish the season in their bullpen.

Light, acquired in exchange for Fernando Abad, is another matter. Mejia is seen as a rotation candidate; Light is strictly a relief arm. He made his major league debut already this year with Boston and fared ill -- seven earned runs in 2.2 innings. I think it's quite likely that Light's here for the duration of 2016.

One interesting thing about Light: His preferred secondary pitch is a splitter. As I've noted before, the Twins have a history of discouraging that pitch, particularly from their minor leaguers. But it is an established part of Light's repertoire, and presumably they won't take it away from him.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The hidden problem

Jorge Polanco fails to handle a "base hit"
off the bat of Lorenzo Cain with two outs
in the sixth inning Sunday. The next batter
doubled Cain home for what proved to be
the winning run.
I voiced optimism here about the Twins direction last week. Then they went to Kansas City and got swept. Two blowouts, one extra-inning rain-interrupted marathon, one pitchers duel -- all with the same "L" for the standings.

One of my pet theories about "intelligent fandom" is that the broadcasters reflect the thinking of the organization. Dick Bremer, Bert Blyleven, Cory Provus, Dan Gladden -- these guys are not only around the team (as are the beat writers), they hold their jobs at the mercy of the team (unlike the beat writers). When Billy Beane was in the process of imposing the use of advanced stats on the Oakland A's almost 20 years ago, their TV broadcasts rather quickly ditched the traditional "triple crown stats" on their graphics to show on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

So when Bremer spends much of his airtime bewailing the Twins starting pitching while barely acknowledging the flawed fielding, the presumption here is that he's reflecting the thinking of the manager and coaches.

There's really not much good to say about the Twins starting pitching in three of those four games in Kansas City. Tyler Duffey, Jose Berrios and Hector Santiago all had short starts, and that strains the already strained bullpen.

But defense is the hidden problem. The Kansas City Star on Friday described a pair of plays by Minnesota outfielders Eddie Rosario and Robbie Grossman on Thursday as "two of the worst defensive plays of the year." The video-laden breakdown linked to above concluded:

According to FanGraphs, the Twins’ defense has a negative-25.3 runs saved, the second-worst in the American League.
Yeah.

Sunday's final, and decisive, run was handed to Kansas City by the Twins fielding, specifically the shortstop play of Jorge Polanco. As has been noted here, the heavy use of Polanco at short in recent weeks directly contradicts the obvious conclusion drawn by the farm system, which devoted more than two seasons to playing him at shortstop and decided he's not a shortstop.

Polanco, as depicted above, failed to come up with a grounder in the sixth inning. Blyleven and Bremer were still questioning the scoring call when Eric Hosmer doubled over Rosario's head (might Byron Buxton have reached that ball?) to score Cain from first base -- and suddenly the TV talk went from a missed out to a pair of two-out hits.

I say this a lot: The easiest way to improve the pitching staff is to improve the defense. That we don't hear that from the broadcasters suggests that they aren't hearing that from the organization.
R

eIad more here: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/for-petes-sake/article96623782.html#storylink=cpy

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pic of the Week

Brian Dozier catches a pop fly Tuesday night in Atlanta.

So ... how good a defensive second baseman is Brian Dozier?

My sense of things is that the Twins believe he's very good. The metrics are less certain.

Baseball Reference lists two primary metrics, Total Zone and Runs Saved. Runs Saved is kinder to Dozier; in 2013-16 -- his four seasons as the Twins regular second baseman -- he's slightly above average in that measure. Total Zone has consistently had him below average. The defensive component of BR's version of Wins Above Replacement generally credits him with a positive contribution.

If the metrics agreed, that would be a step toward certainty. They don't.

What we do know is that Dozier is an uncommonly productive power hitter for the position. This is his third year with 20-plus homers. He's slugging well above .500. Even if we assume that he's a bit less than average with the glove, he's still helping.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ex-Twin watch: Oswaldo Arcia

Oswaldo Arcia has
a .229 batting average
on the season with
two teams.
When the Twins gave up on Oswaldo Arcia in June, they traded him to Tampa Bay for a player to be named or cash.

The Rays designated Arcia for assignment Friday, which cleared him off their 40-man roster. So presumably the return for him won't be much, if anything.

Arcia's numbers with Tampa Bay -- at least before spending the past three weeks or son on the disabled list -- weren't bad. His OPS+ with the Rays, according to Baseball Reference, was 111, meaning he was 11 percent above league average.

Almost all that production, however, came in four games early in his Rays tenure. His July slash stats -- .147/.256/.265 -- were atrocious. And, of course, he's still a defensive liability. When he was ready to come off the disabled list, the Rays decided they had better things to do with the roster space.

Tampa Bay is near the bottom of the league in runs scored. Their designated hitters haven't done much to aid the cause. I'm a little surprised the Rays didn't give Arcia more time in that role, but presumably they saw enough of his flail-and-fail approach to hitting to decide to try something else.

And that's not a good sign for Arcia's fading status.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Tyler Duffey pretty much summed up his season in Thursday's game. He was very good (retired the first 10 men he faced) and was very bad (got just one more out.) He threw 28 balls and 35 strikes, a poor ratio. The command just vanished in the fourth inning, and he couldn't get it back

I said a few days ago that Duffey's pitching this year mystifies me. It still does.

---

Supposedly Kurt Suzuki cleared waivers, so theoretically there is a window here in which he can be traded to any team. But ...

  • any team could have claimed him and nobody did;
  • his throwing problems are probably cooling interest in him;
  • somebody's got to catch for the Twins the next six weeks or so.

I doubt he's going anywhere.

---

I heard Paul Molitor on the radio praising backup catcher Juan Centeno. The manager says Centeno calls a good game, does some things at the plate and "is getting better at blocking balls."

Centeno has caught 302.2 innings. There have been 23 wild pitches and two passed balls with him back there, 0.75 per nine innings. Suzuki's comparable numbers: 671.2 innings, 27 wild pitches, no passed balls: 0.36, about half Centeno's rate.

Wild pitches are officially the pitcher's fault, but just as there are "base hits" that obviously could/should have been outs, there are wild pitches that a better receiver handles.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Looking up

The Twins won Wednesday night. That lifted their record to 49-71, which is the worst in the American League and second worst in the majors -- behind Atlanta, the team they beat (44-76).

So right now, the Twins are in line for the second pick in next June's draft. However:

  • Three teams -- Anaheim, Arizona and San Diego -- are 50-70, just one game better than the Twins.
  • Two teams -- Cincinnati and Tampa Bay -- are 50-69, 1.5 games better than the Twins.
  • Oakland is 52-69, three games ahead of the Twins.
  • Milwaukee is 52-67, four games ahead of the Twins.

It wouldn't take much, in other words, for the Twins to fall as far as ninth in the draft. They had a winning July; they have a winning record so far in August, with more wins this month than in either April or May.

We can't eradicate the first three months. The Twins were awful in April and May, and not a lot better in June; they're last in the league on merit. But they have 42 games to play, and I expect they will finish with a record that -- well, it won't be good, but  they can avoid 90 losses. That would be pretty impressive considering that at one point they were rivaling the infamous 1962 Mets for ineptitude.