Friday, May 25, 2018

The return of Miguel Sano

The Twins celebrated their off day Thursday by reinstating Miguel Sano from the disabled list and optioning Jake Cave back to Rochester.

I would expect to see a lot of Sano as the designated hitter, at least initially, and perhaps as long as Joe Mauer is sidelined.  Logan Morrison has first base while Mauer waits for his concussion syndrome to subside, and the Twins would rather play Eduardo Escobar at third base than at shortstop.

Sano had a productive five-game rehab stint at Triple A, and perhaps his return after a 24-game absence will give this lineup a jolt. It needs one.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

RIP, Philip Roth

Oh, to be a center fielder, a center fielder -- and nothing more.
Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint

Philip Roth died this week, and even though I stopped buying his new works years ago and haven't really revisited the older ones in some time, that news hit home. I have the doubtless erroneous notion that he's one of those writers that anybody serious about the craft has some familiarity with, and I certainly read him heavily in my high school/college/post college years.

The Washington Post news service provided an obit on Roth that would fill more than a full page of a newspaper. What struck me is that even such an extensive accounting of his career didn't even mention The Great American Novel, which is the Roth book that comes to my baseball-addled mind most readily.

Trying to sum up TGAN in a sentence or two, particularly without having read it in a couple decades, is a challenge, but here goes: The Ruppert Mundys, once the power of the Patriot League, have surrendered their home stadium to the war effort and are playing the season on the road with a sad sack roster of ne're-do-wells and malcontents. Ultimately their efforts to rise above their lowly status end with the collapse of the league and the flushing of its very existence from the memories of all but the aged sportswriter telling the tale.

All the players bear the names of pantheistic dieties: Ptah, Baal, Agni, Gil Gamesh. Echoes of genuine baseball history figure in the fantastic tale -- for example, the outfielder who grew up without fences and thus crashes repeatedly into walls recalls the career of Pistol Pete Rieser. 

Roth even appears to forecast the rise of sabermetrics by having a young, emphatically nonathletic, Jewish genius take control of the Mundys. 

TGAN clearly isn't Roth's most important or most popular work, but it's a fun one. I took note Wednesday that at least three of the baseball writers I follow on Twitter mentioned it (athough one of them said he has never been able to finish it.) And I intend to revisit the book sometime this summer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Contemplating Chris Carter

The Twins on Tueday filled the open spot on the 25-man roster created by DFAing Phil Hughes with Ryan LaMarre, who figures to wind up with an impressive amount of frequent flier miles bouncing between Rochester and Minneapolis.

They also purchased slugger Chris Carter from the Angels. Meaningful or meaningless? Let's examine:

Who is he? The ultimate one-trick pony. Carter has big-time power -- he led the National League in homers in 2016 -- and does little else. He's 31 now, and to the extent that he plays a position it's first base. He's listed at 245 pounds, but I won't vouch for the accuracy of that weight.

Carter has seen big league time in Oakland, Houston, Milwaukee and the Yankees, hitting 158 homers in his wandering but also hitting just .217 and leading his league twice in strikeouts. Milwaukee nontendered him after he hit 41 homers in 2016 rather than deal with his arbitration eligibility.

Carter has spent this season in Salt Lake City, the Angels' Triple A affiliate, which is a very good hitting environment. He's slugging .600 there. He's also hitting just .255. He remains an all-or-nothing hitter.

Why the Twins? Start with the uncertainty about Joe Mauer's health. If the concussion symptoms that landed him on the disabled list persist -- and given his history, that seems a legitimate possibility -- the Twins may need some help at first base behind Logan Morrison.

Kennys Vargas is still in the organization, but Vargas is really scuffling at Triple A, where his slugging percentage is literally half Carter's (albeit in a much more difficult hitting environment).

And, again, Carter is right-handed. Even with Mauer and Jason Castro sidelined, this remains a very left-handed lineup, which suggests vulnerability to southpaws.

Any drawbacks to adding him? Probably not. I had hoped that Brent Rooker would continue to push his way rapidly up the ladder; he opened the season at Double A Chattanooga. But Rooker is hitting just.236/.273/.379 with the Lookouts, and while I remain optimistic that he's going to be a major league first baseman someday, that day is unlikely to come in 2018. I wouldn't want Carter (or Vargas) blocking Rooker, but Rooker is stalling himself right now.

Bottom line: Carter is very flawed, but a reasonable addition at the price. Given Mauer's cloudy outlook, Miguel Sano's recurring leg issues and Morrison's spotty record against left-handed pitching, Carter might wind up being a useful piece. Or he might be irrelevant. The latter is preferable.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Good bye, Hughes

The Twins designated Phil Hughes for assignment after Monday night's game. No immediate corresponding move was announced.

It's rather startling to realize that this was Hughes' fifth season with the Twins. His first was very good. The then-front office rewarded him with a lengthy contract extension, after which came a series of surgeries and rehab that he never seemed to fully recover from. The Twins still owe him more than $22 million for this year and next.

The track record of pitchers with thoracic outlet syndrome is spotty at best. Hughes is not the first to lose the effectiveness of his fastball with the surgery, and he never at any point in his career seemed to master the art of changing speeds. He always needed to be a power pitcher, and the power just wasn't there anymore. 

Presumably Hughes will clear waivers and be released, after which somebody will pick him up as a low-cost flier. And good luck to him. His 2014 season was one of the best things to happen to the Twins in the late Gardenhire years. For that one year, he was a good as anybody in the game. But pitching is a fragile endeavor, and it is not surprising that his time with the Twins has ended.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Notes from the weekend

I'm not a neurologist who has examined Joe Mauer. Even if I were a neurologist who has examined Joe Mauer, I doubt I would have a definitive opinion on what the return of "concussion-like symptoms" means for his future.

But clearly this is not a positive development for him, or for the team. He left Friday's game early and went on the disabled list Saturday. (Technical note: He went on the 10-day DL, and I wonder if they abolished the seven-day concussion DL when the 10-day DL came into being.) All we know for sure is he won't play for more than a week.


The Twins finally played a clean game Sunday. And they won. What a novelty.


I am amused by the reaction to Tampa Bay's newest pitching innovation: The one-inning starter.

The Ray's rotation had left-hander Ryan Yarbourgh scheduled for Saturday's game at Anaheim, but manager Kevin Cash announced earlier in the week that he would open the game with veteran reliever Sergio Romo, who once closed for a team that won the World Series and had never started a game in his career. The rationale: The Angels don't have a left-handed bat in the top half of their lineup, so the right-handed Romo can deal with the Mike Trouts and Justin Uptons in the first inning and Yarbourgh can have a slightly easier time of it when he came in in the second.

I heard somebody, I'm not sure who, on MLB Radio ranting about this. What sabermetrics, what analytics, tell you that a guy who's never started in his life is a better matchup?

Hey, it's one inning of pitching. One inning at a time is what Romo has done in the majors for 11 years. First inning, sixth inning, ninth inning -- it's all short stints for him.

He struck out the side in the first. Yarbourgh entered to start the second inning and went 6.1 innings, his longest outing of the season. (And got the W.)

And on Sunday, Romo started again. This time Cash stretched him out to 1.1 innings. The Angels won Sunday -- it was Shohei Ohtani's day to pitch, after all -- but Romo gave them another shutout inning at the start of the game.

After which Angels infielder Zach Cozart complained that using Romo this way was "bad for baseball." Seriously.


Cozart's may not have been the single silliest utterance of the weekend, however. I bow in this regard to the Dutch Master of old-school, Bert Blyleven, who complained mightly during Sunday's telecast about the pulling of Jake Odorizzi in the sixth inning. At one point he declared that Odorizzi is like Justin Verlander and capable of going 120 pitches.

What Odorizzi has in common with Verlander is that they're right-handed and have spent their entire major league careers in the American League. Verlander has 10 seasons with more innings than Odorizzi's career high. Odorizzi has thrown 120 pitches (his career high) exactly once, in 2016.

Odorizzi is a good major league starter. He's not Verlander. It insults the listeners' intelligence to pretend they are equivalent pitchers. We were all better off when Blyleven was on his extended break from the booth.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pic of the Week

Jose Inglesias takes a pitch in his back
on Mother's Day.
There are weeks when the photo pickings appear particularly puny, and in those weeks I tend to gravitate to a few standard shots.

One is the "point-of-impact" hit-by-pitch.

This is one such week, and this is one such photo.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A return of "SOG" (one day only, we hope)

Kyle Gibson allowed five earned runs in 5.1 innings on eight hits and four walks Friday night. Last year at this time I referred to such outings from him as "SOG" -- Same Old Gibson. This year, such outings have been rare indeed.

Last season he learned to incorporate a four-seam fastball into his mix of pitches and use it in the upper levels of the strike zone. He pitched quite well down the stretch in 2017 after his second brief demotion to Triple A, and for the most part has done so this season as well, Friday's clunker notwithstanding. His new approach has, among other benefits, sharply boosted his strikeout rate.

Gibson is no longer a "sinker-slider guy." He has a broader range of pitches now -- and they are usable pitches, pitches he can actually get outs with, not just throw out of the strike zone.

The high fastball is emerging in pitching theory as a means to combat the hitters who are focused on "launch angle," or hitting the ball in the air. Jake Odorizzi has deployed that approach for some time, and Gibson has clearly embraced it as well.

With any luck, this trend will prompt Bert Blyleven to stop mindlessly declaring that any hard-hit ball was "up in the zone" regardless of its actual location. Ot maybe that's too much to ask for.