Monday, December 18, 2017

From the Handbook: Long outs and home runs

It's been long enough since I delved into the Bill James Handbook for a topic that you might have hoped that I've given up trying to mine that vein. No such luck.

This section deals with long fly balls -- those that went out of the yard and those that were outs. Brian Dozier, for example, hit 10 fair balls at least 400 feet (according to this accounting); all 10 were homers. Obvious, you say? Well, no: Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers also hit 10 400-footers, and four of them were outs. (The Detroit park has some space to its centerfield.)

Most 400 foot (or more) flies do leave the yard. Joe Mauer was 3-for-3, Jorge Polanco 5-for-5, Byron Buxton 5-for-5, Eddie Rosario 8-for-8, Miguel Sano 14-for-14, Max Kepler and Eduardo Escobar 9-for-9.

Things start getting dicier just a little shorter, however. Dozier hit 20 balls between 390 and 400 feet; 12 were homers, eight were outs.  Rosario hit 17 balls that distance; nine were homers.  Kepler hit seven; four homers, three outs. Mauer's four were evenly split. Just eyeballing it, that seems the "usual" percentage; a bit over 50 percent of balls hit 390 to 400 feet are homers.

And then there's Sano. Sano hit nine balls that distance; eight were homers. I'll assume it's a fluke until I see it repeated.

(There's an obvious flaw in all this -- it doesn't account for balls neither caught or a homer, say a double off the wall.)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

You may have seen the videos the Twins made this spring titled The Escobar Name Game, in which Eduardo Escobar struggles to come up with the names of his teammates.

(If you haven't, visit here and here. It's worth the time.)

Escobar is far from being unique in his inability to remember names. Babe Ruth was notorious for that as well.

When longtime teammate (and ultimately fellow Hall of Fame inductee) Waite Hoyt was traded away from the Yankees, Ruth felt he had to say something in farewell. What he came up with:

"I'm going to miss you, Walter."

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

It's official: ByungHo Park was given his release Friday. He's going back to Korea and the Nexen Heroes.

I still think it could have worked here, but he got one chance, and whether it was because of injury or his skill set, didn't take advantage of it. And he never got another.

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Former Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia is taking his power bat and stubborn approach to Japan. So he's gonna get paid: $1.7 million guaranteed from the Nippon Ham Fighters. He'll be teammates with Michael Tonkin again.

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The Twins have hired Joel Skinner to manage their Triple A team. Fans of a certain age might remember him as a light-hitting catcher in the 1980s with three AL clubs (White Sox, Yankees, Indians). Fans of even older vintage might remember his dad, Bob Skinner, who was the left fielder for the 1960 World Series champion Pirates and later a major league manager.

Joel Skinner had a very brief stint as Cleveland manager himself (2002; he was 35-41) and has managed in the minors 13 seasons. He's been in the White Sox system for the past five seasons.

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Ramsey appears to be the most interesting name of the bunch. The Twins drafted him out of high school in 2011 but didn't sign him; he went to Florida State instead and was a first round pick of the Cardinals. He really hasn't hit enough at any level to justify that draft pick, and he hits left-handed, which doesn't really fit with the Twins outfield. A right-handed hitter would be more useful.

I would expect to see Sawyer in training camp, because he's a catcher and they need guys to catch all those bullpen sessions, but he's probably Double A fodder. Featherston has somehow gotten more than 200 plate appearances over the past three years with three different major league teams. Utility infielder on a team that doesn't have an opening for such on the major league roster. 



Friday, December 15, 2017

Rodney and Rule Five

The Twins had a busy Thursday with bullpen moves:


  • They lost a pair of power arms from their Double A bullpen in the Rule 5 draft;
  • They picked up a power arm from a Double A bullpen in the Rule 5 draft and
  • They reached a reported contract agreement with veteran closer Fernando Rodney.


Let's start with the latter, since that is certain to have an effect on the 2018 team.

Most of us know Rodney to some degree. He spent seven years with Detroit to open his career; he was the losing pitcher in the famous Game 163 of 2009. He'll turn 41 during spring training, he's third in career saves among active pitchers (behind Francisco Rodriguez and Huston Street), he's made three All-Star teams and the Twins will be his ninth major league team.

This well-crafted opinion was issued early Thursday, after news that Brandon Kintzler had reached a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals:




They are quite different in pitching styles and repertiores. Rodney throws 60 percent fastballs and alomost 40 percent changeups; Kintzler throws more than 80 percent fastballs. Kintzler's strikeout rate and walk rates are both near the bottom of the league; Rodney's strikeout and walk rates are both about twice Kintzler's. Rodney threw strikes on 61 percent of his pitches (21 percent swinging strikes); Kintzler, 64 percent and 9 percent. (Stats from the Bill James Handbook.)

I'd rather have Kintzler pounding the strike zone than Rodney fighting his command. And since Paul Molitor's stated rationale for going with Kintzler and then Matt Belisle as his closers was that he could rely on them throwing strikes, I suspect Molitor might agree.

Kintzler got two years, $10 million from the Nats; Rodney one year at $4.5 to $6 million depending on incentives. (Both deals are pending physicals; both reportedly include an option year.)

It's possible the Twins preferred Kintzler too, but that Kintzler preferred the Nats. Or that the Twins truly see the addition of a veteran closer as a placeholder and want/expect to transition to a younger pitcher in that role as the season progresses and thus didn't want to do multiple guaranteed years. 

A lot of Twins fans will be irritated by his habit of wearing his cap cocked to the left and his post-save celebration of pantomining firing an arrow into the sky. I will be more irritated by the 2-0 counts and walks.

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Lost in Rule 5: Nick Burdi and Luke Bard. Gained in Rule 5: Tyler Kinley. Three hard-throwing right handed relievers who spent much of 2017 in Double A.

Burdi and Bard were high draft picks during the second Terry Ryan era; both have missed more time than they've spent on the mound in the minors. The Twins reportedly tried to trade Burdi to the Braves last summer in the Jaime Garcia trade only to have him rejected on medical grounds. My guess is that the new regime does not believe either can remain sound enough to help the major league bullpen. And Burdi in particular is unlikely to fill the 90-day active roster requirement to retain Rule 5 picks in 2018. 

Kinley has been in the Marlins organization. His numbers in Double A and Triple A are not impressive, but he has apparently been dominating in winter ball so far, and the Twins opted to take a flier on him.

I will be surprised if Kinley sticks. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Adding Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda's season ended in July.

The Twins on Wednesday signed free agent pitcher Michael Pineda to a two-year deal. They realistically expect something out of that contract in the second year.

Pineda had Tommy John surgery last summer. Most of 2018 will be spent rehabbing the rebuilt elbow. He'll spend the winter on the 40-man roster, open the season on the disabled list and will certainly be moved to the 60-day DL (and off the 40-man roster) as soon as the Twins need a 40-man spot next season.

As matters stand, the Twins have Jose Berrios set for the 2019 rotation. Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson will be eligible for free agency after 2018; Trevor May and Phil Hughes, like Pineda, are rehab projects; and prospects Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Felix Jose and Aaron Slegers have not established themselves in the majors.

The Twins obviously want to add a big-name starter this winter; the openness with which Thad Levine in particular talks about Yu Darvish is certainly a change from the close-to-the-vest approach of Terry Ryan. Pineda, even without the surgery, is not a big-name starter, although he has some impressive secondary numbers and (when sound) the tools to become a big-name starter.

What he is right now is inventory for 2019.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Trade barriers

My Tuesday long-distance monitoring of the winter meetings opened with Twitter chatter of a supposedly specific trade offer involving the Twins, and ended with general manager Thad Levine downplaying the notion of a trade because of the rise of analyics.

The latter idea is that more formulas and fewer old-style scouts means a narrowing of opinions on what specific players are worth. And at its heart, trading is about different opinions of player value. If everybody pretty much agrees that Player X is worth 10 and Player Y is worth 13, the team with Player Y isn't going to make the deal.

That said, there will be trades made. Some, probably most, will be at least partially financally driven -- salary dumps a la Giancarlo Stanton. A variation of the salary dump is moving a player a team knows it won't re-sign -- the Brian Dozier trade the Twins didn't make last winter. Such trades are often discounted, which is why the Twins didn't pull the trigger.

Anyway: Tuesday morning's rumor involved a package of prospects -- Nick Gordon, Tyler Jay and Zack Granite -- supposedly going to Pittsburgh for Garrit Cole, who has two years left before free agency.

Assuming the accuracy of that package, I might do that were I running the Twins. As I see it:


  • Gordon lacks the power to be a quality regular shortstop, and the Twins have plenty of shortstops above and behind him
  • Granite might become a Denard Span-type leadoff hitter/centerfielder, but it won't be with the Twins for lack of opportunity, and as a left-handed hitter he's not even a particularly good fit on this roster as a fourth outfielder
  • Jay has had trouble staying on the mound.


The obvious drawback to swapping those three for a front-of-the-rotation starter is organizational depth. There isn't opportunity now for Granite, but what if an outfielder takes a significant injury?

I can also see the Twins shying away from including Jay in a trade. Subsitute a lower-ceiling pitcher and it becomes more palatable. (Make it Kyle Gibson and throw in the money for his contract and it becomes a lot easier for me to pull the trigger -- but Pittsburgh might not go for that.)



Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In search of closer No.5

Paul Molitor, in his three seasons managing the Twins, has never had a stable back-of-the-bullpen plan.

He inherited Glen Perkins, an All-Star, as his closer. Perkins was better than ever for the first half of 2015, then got hurt and kept pitching. His season deteriorated, and by season's end Kevin Jepsen had supplanted him in the ninth inning.

Perkins tried again the next year, but one regular season outing was enough to convince everyone that the offseason's rest hadn't solved things. Jepsen, who had been reliable in 2015, wasn't in 2016, and by midseason Brandon Kintzler had taken over the ninth.

Kintzler held the job for more than a calendar year. He proved effective in the role -- effective enough to get a replacement appointment to the All-Star team in 2017 -- until the Twins traded him to Washington for a prospect and international spending space.

At which point Matt Belisle emerged as the quasi closer. Molitor didn't go "full Eckersley" with Belisle -- there were a few long saves by people like Tyler Duffey and Dillon Gee and Gabriel Moya -- but for three outs, Belisle was Molitor's preferred choice in August and September.

What all four have in common: They were veterans. They'd been around a while. There's not much else they have in common.

Jepsen threw hard, with uncertain command; Kinztler has a mediocre strikeout rate but good command and movement; Belisle's 2017 K rate was stronger than Kintzler's, but his ability to work consecutive days was, and remains, questionable.

What I take from this: Molitor prefers a known quantity for the end of games. Not necessarily a "proven closer" -- indeed, none of the successors to Perkins had ever held the glory job even as a fill-in before the Twins --  but somebody who's been through plenty of ups and downs, failures and successes.

And now, while Belisle (and Kintzler) free agents, the job is vacant once again.

The Twins during the second term of Terry Ryan spent a number of high draft picks on relief prospects. As a result they have a number of young, high-upside relief arms in their system. I've been listing them and waiting on them for years. And it's time for some of them to break through.

Indeed, the exposure of Jake Reed and Nick Burdi to the Rule 5 draft this week, the waiving of Randy Rosario (lost to the Cubs) and the sale of Michael Tonkin to a Japanese team all suggest the new front office is at a "prove it" point with a number of them.

Even without those four, the Twins still have Tyler Jay, J.T Chargois and Luke Bard (among others) in their minors, while Trevor Hildenberger, Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss and Moya all finished 2017 with the big club with varying levels of success.

From the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino at the winter meetings:

“I think somebody on our current roster will garner a save (in 2018),” Twins general manager Thad Levine said jokingly on Monday at the winter meetings. “I think we’re open-minded we may have our closer of the future on our current roster. Do we want to thrust that person into that role come Opening Day? Ideally not.”
Which suggests that the Twins are looking for a veteran to fill the job to open the season -- with an eye to moving him out of the role as Molitor grows more comfortable with using one of the kids.

Such a high-floor, low ceiling approach generally irritates me, but I understand it. The 2018 Twins should view themselves as a playoff contender, and as such don't want to give away games because an inexperienced pitcher panicked late. And as a team entering a window of contention, they don't want to shipwreck a promising relief prospect emotionally. Let them grow into the job.

At the same time, they have enough young arms who could be the next star reliever that there's no good reason to overspend on the likes of free agents Wade Davis or Greg Holland.