Friday, July 19, 2019

Bomba. bomba, bomba

Thursday night was a rather stereotypical 2019 Twins win: Three homers, a sneaky good start, and two innings from Taylor Rogers.

Kyle Gibson went seven innings against Oakland -- six hits, no walks, seven strikeouts and 73 strikes out of 106 pitches. The three runs allowed were the least impressive part of his stat line. Sneaky good.

I made this point. or tried to, earlier this week during a segment on KMSU radio: The Twins interest in a trade for a starting pitcher should be limited to a starter capable of moving Gibson down a rung in the playoff rotation. I'm not sure that starter is going to be on the market, and if he is, at a price the Twins will be willing to pay.

The Twins don't need the kind of starter who has moved so far (Andrew Cashner and Homer Bailey). Those are back-of-the-rotation guys, and the Twins have Martin Perez and Michael Pineda. And Gibson is now 9-4, 4.02 with more strikeouts than innings pitched. That ain't shabby.

Another point I made Monday that probably bears repeating: I said the Twins were likely to see their lead, then 6.5 games, shrink a bit in July. The Twins have a rougher schedule than Cleveland the rest of this month. But that reverses in August.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Three losses in a row

The Twins now have their first three-game losing streak of 2019. It was bound to happen.

It's especially bound to happen when a team becomes as addicted to giving up unearned runs as this one has since the All-Star break.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Implications of a roster shuffle.

Eddie Rosario and C.J. Cron came off the injured list on Tuesday, which is good. Byron Buxton went on the seven-day concussion list, which is neither surprising nor good. And. in a bit of a surprise, veteran reliever Mike Morin was designated for assignment.
Morin is the least significant player of those four. But his deletion -- not only from the 25-man roster but the 40-man roster -- carries some implications, should it stand.

  • It drops Minnesota's 40-man roster down to 37, giving the Twins room to add as many as three major leaguers in deadline deals over the next two weeks.
  • It drops, if only temporarily, the Twins bullpen to seven relievers.
  • It signals a roster commitment of sorts to Zach Littell.

Compare Morin and Littell's ERAs, and this decision is baffling. Morin leaves with an ERA with the Twins of 3.18; Littell's scoreless inning Tuesday night lowered his ERA for the season to 4.41.

But it's a bit more complicated than that. Morin's FIP -- fielding independent pitching, a metric that attempts to remove the effects of ballparks and fielding from a pitcher's results -- is 4.49, a pretty good match for Littell's actual ERA. Littell's FIP, 3.67 entering Tuesday, is closer to Morin's actual ERA.

Morin had 11 strikeouts and just two walks allowed in 22 innings with Minnesota; Littell now has 13 strikeouts and six walks in 16.1 innings.

And Littell had moved ahead of Morin in the bullpen pecking order. Morin had pitched just twice this month, last working on July 4 at Oakland. The A's dinged him for four runs, inflating his ERA from 1.66 to 3.18 in the process. Tuesday was Littell's sixth appearance of July, and he hasn't allowed a run since May 30.

Littell to this point has been part of the Rochester shuttle. Unlike Morin, he was optionable. Indeed, both Littell and Tyler Duffey opened the season at Triple A, got called up, got sent back, got called up again -- and now appear to have risen to a more permanent bullpen status ("permanent" being a tricky concept for relievers).

If -- when -- the Twins decide they need a fresh reliever, it's more likely that they'll get the roster spot out of the position player.

Which leads to the "should it stand" caveat of the second paragraph of this post. Jonathan Schoop left Tuesday's game in the ninth inning with an apparent injury. He was downplaying it after the game, but as I understand the DFA rules, the Twins still have the opportunity to restore Morin to the roster if Schoop (or somebody else) goes on the IL before Morin's contract is disposed of.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Ballplayers as roster fluid

One aspect of Rocco Baldelli's managerial style that intrigues me has been his eagerness to move players all over the field.

Four Twins -- Ehire Adrianza, Luiz Arraez, Willians Astudillo and Marwin Gonzalez -- have started games at at least four different positions, excluding designated hitter.

Gonzalez has started 32 games at third base, 11 in left field, 11 in right field, nine at first base, two at second base and one at shortstop.

Astudillo (currently on the injured list) has 13 starts at catcher, eight at third base, four at first base, three in right field, one in left field and one at second base.

Adrianza has 11 starts at shortstop, 11 at third base, seven at second base, three at first base and two in right field.

Arraez has eight at second base, seven at third base, five in left field and two at shortstop.

The surprise here is Arraez. Adrianza, Astudillo and Gonzalez came to Minnesota from other organizations with versatility as a key component of their value. Arraez, the one home-grown player of the group, was primarily a second baseman in the minors, with little exposure to the left side of the infield and even less time in the outfield.

There are certain players Baldelli doesn't shuffle around. If Jorge Polanco's in the lineup, he's at short. If Byron Buxton is in the lineup, he's playing center. C.J. Cron, first base. Jonathan Schoop, second base. Jason Castro, catcher.

Of note: Baldelli has yet to start Mitch Garver, who has in the past played some at first base and corner outfield, other than at catcher or designated hitter.

But Baldelli treats much of the rest of the roster as fluids, flowing them around those foundation rocks. Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Jake Cave have all started games in center field. With Cron on the injured list, Baldelli started three different first basemen in the three games in Cleveland after the break -- Adrianza, Gonzalez and Miguel Sano.

When the Twins signed Gonzalez, people asked me: What position is he going to play? My response was: All of them. The same applies to the three A's -- Adrianza, Arraez and Astudillo. They all have more than 100 plate appearances despite stints on the injured list and time in the minors.

They've hit. They've fielded. And Baldelli finds them playing time.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Back at it

Time to end the blog vacation. Some comments about the past week:

* The Twins, needing a spot on the 25-man roster to restore Jake Odorizzi from the injured list, designated Adalberto Mejia for assignment.

This not only took Mejia off the active roster but off the 40-man roster as well. The Twins are down to 38, so they now have room for two newcomers in (a) prospect(s)-for-veteran(s) trade(s).

Before I took my break, I suggested that Mejia was on thin ice. That wasn't any great insight. Mejia has, in the three years since the Twins got him from the Giants in a July trade, pitched his way out of the rotation plans and now out of the bullpen, with 12 walks in 15.1 innings this year.

It's certainly possible that he'll clear waivers and remain in the Minnesota organization. I don't hold out much hope that the Twins will get anything out of him or for him.

* The Twins got what they needed, if not what they wanted, out of the Cleveland series coming out of the break, taking two of three from the Tribe and adding a game to their divisional lead.

A sweep would have been nice, and I suspect Trevor May has been kicking himself for the lousy curve he threw Carlos Santana for the go-ahead homer Sunday, but two-of-three in a series of close contests is acecptable -- and a dent in Cleveland's lingering divisional aspirations.

* Of note in that series: The Minnesota bullpen, widely considered weaker than the rotation, pitched better. The Twins deployed their top three starters in Cleveland (Kyle Gibson, Odorizzi and Jose Berrios), and none of them got into the sixth inning. The Twins bullpen combined for two runs allowed in more than 12 innings over the three games.

* To that end, manager Rocco Baldelli continued his aggressive use of Taylor Rogers. The lefty bullpen ace threw two innings on Friday for the save, then worked another inning Saturday to protect a four-run lead (no save there).

I doubt Rogers was available Sunday. He certainly did his part earlier in the weekend. Friday's two-inning save was his seventh outing of six or more outs this season. Joe Nathan had 14 such outings in his entire Twins career.

Baldelli, in this limited regard, reminds me a bit of Leo Durocher, Hall of Fame manager, who said something like: "Don't save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it might rain." When Baldelli sees a chance to win today's game, he'll go for it, and deal with any bullpen shortages the next day.




Thursday, July 11, 2019

RIP, Jim Bouton

I return to the blog ahead of schedule to acknowledge the profound debt my baseball fandom owes to Jim Bouton and Ball Four.

Bouton died Wednesday, age 80. Ball Four, his diary book of the 1969 season, lives on.

Bouton was a significant pitcher at the end of the 1950-60s Yankee dynasty, a max-effort power pitcher who won 18 games in in 1963 and 21 in 1964. The Yankees lost both World Series; Bouton himself lost his only Series start in '63 but won twice in '64 against the Cardinals.

But in 1965 his fortunes, and those of the Yankees, collapsed. He sustained an arm injury that essentially robbed him of his fastball. By 1969 he was hanging on a knuckleballer -- and was part of the collection of has-beens and never-weres assembled to be the expansion Seattle Pilots.

"Ball Four" was published the next year. Crafted by New York newspaper man Leonard Shecter out of Bouton's notes and tape-recorded musings, the book was a sensation -- a then-unheard of glimpse of ballplayers as flawed men crawling around on hotel roofs trying to peek into windows. Bouton's commentary on former teammate Mickey Mantle outraged almost everybody in baseball at the time, but it holds up pretty well a half-century after Mantle's 1969 retirement.

Indeed, the book itself holds up well. When I first read it in 1970, almost every name in the book was relevant to a fan. Forty-nine years later, many of the names and issues are obscure -- but many are not. Bouton and Shecter wrote in a time of turmoil in and out of the game, and Ball Four is an outstanding foundation for understanding where the game was then.

Bouton includes a great deal of commentary on the rise of the players union and its then-relatively new executive director, Marvin Miller -- this virtually on the eve of the Curt Flood case and five years before the arbitration ruling that created free agency. The use of amphetamines  -- "greenies" -- is described as routine.

And all this is in the context of a fallen star trying to regain his stature with a new pitch, an athlete with concerns outside the arena, a teammate at once uncomfortable with and participating in the unruly behavior, a parent and husband gone too much from his family. Bowie Kuhn, then the commissioner of baseball, thought this depiction of reality damaged the sport by disillusioning its fans.

For this bookish boy, it did the opposite. I can't imagine my baseball fandom without Ball Four as a foundation piece. It came at the right time for me.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

I considered late Sunday afternoon revising the Monday print column to put more emphasis on strengthening the bullpen, and to excoriate Adalberto Mejia in particular. I decided to keep the focus on the rotation in general and the notion of a Madison Bumgarner trade in particular.

But Mejia's outing, while certainly not the only reason the Twins lost Sunday, was damaging to his own future. He made the team out of spring training largely because he's out of options. But he has pitched, when not on the injured list, horribly. Sunday gave him 12 walks allowed in 15.1 innings, and that's not tolerable.

The Twins have largely been without a second left-hander in the bullpen. That's supposed to be Mejia's role. They have already dropped Gabriel Moya and Andrew Vasquez from the 40-man roster. The only other left-handed pitchers on the 40 are bullpen ace Taylor Rogers and starters Martin Perez, Lewis Thorpe, Delvin Smeltzer and Stephen Gonsalves. So if there's going to be a second lefty in the bullpen, it will be via trade.

Vasquez was outrighted during the weekend without a corresponding addition to the 40, presumably to open space for a trade for a veteran. If they need two spaces, Mejia is in jeopardy. He may be regardless.

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Sunday's game turned, in a very real sense, on a play in which Byron Buxton was thrown out trying for third base on a fly to center. His out came before Jonathan Schoop reached the plate and ended the inning.

I was listening to the radio broadcast at that point, Tim Laudner being unlistenable as the TV analyst, and Dan Gladden declined to criticize Buxton's try for third.

I'm not so hesitant. Yes, Joey Gallo had to make a Grade A throw to get him, and yes, Joey Gallo had not played a good center field in the series. But even if there's only a 15 percent chance that Gallo makes a good-enough throw, the gain from advancing Buxton to third with two outs wasn't worth the risk.

If Buxton sticks to second, Schoop's run gives the Twins the lead. Theoretically, that would have been enough to win.

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The Futures Game on Sunday evening featured two Twins prospects. Royce Lewis went 1-for-2 (and committed an error in the field as a substitute (Wander Franco of the Rays system was, deservedly, the starter at short for the American League team), and Jordan Balazovic threw a hitless inning.

I love the Futures Game, even shortened as it was to seven innings (eight with extras; it ended in a tie). It's a niche product, I know, but I rather prefer it to the All-Star Game itself.

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Unless the Twins make a trade during the break, I'll probably go silent here until the season resumes.