Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Sunday Funnies

Wilcy Moore had one big year as a major league pitcher, but it was for one helluva team: The 1927 Yankees. Moore, a 30-year-old rookie, went 19-7 and led the American League in ERA that year. In his other five seasons, Moore was 32-37 with a 4.33 ERA.

Moore was also a dreadful hitter, and before the 1927 season Babe Ruth put up $300 to Moore's $100 that Moore wouldn't get three hits all season. Moore got six hits (batting average of .080), and Ruth paid off.

That winter, Moore sent Ruth a note from his farm: "The $300 came in handy. I used it to buy a fine pair of mules. I named one Babe and the other Ruth."

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Prospect season, Day Two

Byron Buxton: Still on top of at least
one prominent prospects list.
The folks at MLB.com's prospects division (MLBPipeline.com) released their Top 100 Friday night, and Byron Buxton is No. 1

Yoo-hoo! Par-tay!

It doesn't make any real difference if the prospect gurus rank Buxton first or second, of course. If Buxton hadn't gotten hurt last spring, he probably would have gotten a callup when the Twins decided Aaron Hicks wasn't cutting it, which would have been before the All-Star break. He'd have gotten a shot in center before Danny Santana.

So in a very real sense, that Buxton is 1-2 on prospect lists this winter is a disappointment. I wanted and expected him to have graduated from such lists by now.

MLB.com's list includes six Twins prospects, all of them in the top 36, so it's considerably higher on the Twins system (or at least the top six prospects) than ESPN's Keith Law. Besides Buxton at the top. MLB.com has

Miguel Sano at 11
Alex Meyer at 29
J.O. Berrios at 32
Nick Gordon at 33
Kohl Stewart at 36

Every one of the six is ranked higher by MLB.com than by Law.

Meyer, Berrios and Stewart are all right-handed starters, and their ordering figures to be the most interesting aspect of the various lists. Law had Berrios third among the trio and more than 60 slots down the list. As I've noted repeatedly, Law thinks Berrios is too short, with not enough life or plane on his fastball, to rank higher. (Not that the 97th overall prospect is release bait.)

That's his opinion, and he may be right. Or he may be wrong.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Prospect season opens

One sign that spring training is getting closer (besides the fact that the Twins Caravan and Twins Fest are already in the rear-view mirror): Prospect gurus are starting to issue their Top 100 lists.

Keith Law of ESPN published his Top 100 yesterday. It's for "Insiders," ESPN's online subscription service, and I continue for what I'll call political reasons to decline to subscribe, so I don't know a whole lot about his list.

I do know, from others, that:


  • Byron Buxton, last year's No.1, is No. 2 this year. (Kris Bryant of the Cubs system is No. 1)
  • The Twins have six players in Law's Top 100: Buxton; Miguel Sano (No. 15); Alex Meyer (30), Nick Gordon (43); Kohl Stewart (53) and J.O. Berrios (97).

That Buxton and Sano have slipped after injury-wrecked 2014s bothers me not a whit. Nor am I surprised that Law ranks Berrios behind Meyer and Stewart; Law is wary of Berrios' short stature for a right-handed pitcher. I'm a bit surprised he has Berrios in the Top 100 at all, in fact.

My unwillingness to sign up for ESPN's Insider service has nothing to to do with the quality of Law's work. Indeed, access to Law's work is really the only reason I ever consider signing up. And it's not because I philosophically oppose paying for content; I work for a newspaper that wants very much to find a way to monetize content.

No, my issue is that I already pay ESPN a goodly sum through my cable bill, and I don't see a need to further subsidize the Leviathan when there are other places to put my money for prospect information, specifically Baseball America and John Sickels.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Twins by position: Third base

His arm fracture
aside, Trevor Plouffe
has had a good winter:
a $4.8 million
contract for 2015
and a baby on the way.
Trevor Plouffe, theoretically, should have the firmest grip of his career on the third base job. He had a fine 2014. His defense was much improved over previous years, and he had the highest OPS+ of his career.

But ... here comes Miguel Sano.

Sano is not going to come out of spring training with the third base job. Even if some calamity befalls Plouffe, the organization will certainly insist that the Dominican megaprospect get his feet back on the ground in the minors first. Sano had Tommy John surgery before exhibition play began last spring, and the Twins held him out of winter ball.

So the job is Plouffe's at least for now. What happens when Sano is deemed ready for the majors is another matter. Terry Ryan made some waves this winter when he commented that Sano might try the outfield; when that came out, Ryan walked it back.

Plouffe -- or at least the 2014 version -- is a valuable commodity. Third base is an odd position, with a mix of hitting and fielding demands that few are adept at meeting. Many third basemen who can hit have trouble with the defensive demands of the position; many who can play the position well are below-average hitters. Plouffe last year was a bit above average both at the plate and afield, a rare combination.

And yet, I have no qualms about making this assertion: Plouffe is not good enough to block Sano. When Sano is ready, he should push Plouffe aside.

Whether that means a position shift -- remember, in 2012 the Twins expected to make Plouffe an outfielder -- or a trade remains to be seen. A year ago I would have doubted that there would be much of a market for Plouffe. Today there should be teams willing to surrender value for him.

Plouffe himself is coming off injury. He fractured his forearm on a tag play in the last home game of the season and had surgery shortly afterwards. Presumably he'll be good to go from the start of spring training.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Chris Parmelee joins the
battalion of former Twins
in the Baltimore organization,
including Delmon Young,
J.J. Hardy and Steve Pearce.
When Chris Parmelee opted for free agency last month rather than accept relegation to Rochester, I suggested Baltimore was a likely landing place. And indeed, the Orioles this week announced that the 2006 first round draft pick had signed a non-roster deal with them.

The O's have had no small amount of success with Twins discards in recent seasons, and they'll see if they can replicate that with Parmelee. He's had 901 major league plate appearances and hasn't hit well enough to keep a 40-man roster job, but he has hit in the minors and seldom got a steady diet of at-bats with the Twins. There's no guarantee he'll get a steady diet of at-bats with the Orioles either, but Steve Pearce (who the Twins released out of spring training in 2012) broke through for the Birds last year after a very Parmelee-like career.

---

I griped at some length Monday about Rob Manfred's endorsement of the silly notion of banning drastic defensive shifts, so I should at least applaud this comment from the new commissioner: He's not interested in selling ad space on uniforms.

Hear, hear.

---

Hudson Boyd, a supplemental first round pick in 2012 who hasn't risen above Low A ball, will get to sit most of the first two months of the 2015 season after a second positive test for a "drug of abuse."

Wasted pick, apparently in more ways than one.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hall of Fame outfields

Jesse Barfield was part of a stellar outfield in Toronto
before being traded to the New York Yankees in 1989.
My Strat-O-Matic project last week had me playing with the 1987 Toronto Blue Jays, which got me thinking about great outfields.

If you're of a certain age, you remember the George Bell-Lloyd Moseby-Jesse Barfield outfield the Jays had in the mid to late 80s. All three ran well enough to play center field and threw well enough to play right. And hit? In 1987:


  • Left fielder Bell won the MVP. He hit .308 with 47 homers and 134 RBIs.
  • Center fielder Moseby hit .282 with 26 homers and 39 steals.
  • Right fielder Barfield bopped 28 homers (a year after hitting 40) and won a Gold Glove.


They were all just 27 in 1987. They'd been good for several years, and should have been good for several more. Instead, they pretty much dropped off a cliff. All three were gone when the Jays finally broke through to win the World Series in 1992 and '93.

In 1987, I would have been pretty certain that at least one of those three would wind up in the Hall of Fame. None will. And as I played a series with what was the best season of a great outfield, I found myself wondering: Has there ever been a team with a regular outfield of three Hall of Famers?

Three possibilities came immediately to mind: The Pirates during Paul Waner's career, the Tigers during Ty Cobb's, and the Philadelphia Athletics in the mid 1920s.

The Pirates in the mid 1920s were positively swimming in Hall of Fame outfielders. Max Carey was near the end of his career, Kiki Cuyler started his there before moving on, and the brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner spent years together with the Pirates.

Carey and Cuyler were regulars on 1925 team that won the World Series, but the Waners hadn't arrived yet. In 1926 the Pirates had a bizarre in-house controversy that resulted, among other things, with Carey being traded away and manager Bill McKechnie being fired.

Losing Carey at that point probably didn't hurt, but losing McKechnie likely turned a budding dynasty into a perennial disappointment. A case in point came in 1927, when new manager Donnie Bush clashed with Cuyler and benched him. The Waners were joined in the outfield not by a third Hall of Famer, but by Clyde Bigbee, who ... was not a Hall of Famer. Cuyler was traded away, and the Pirates spent years with "just" two Hall of Fame outfielders.

Eventually they got a third HOF outfielder, Fred Lindstrom, who actually spent most of his career as a third baseman. He spent two years in the outfield, 1933 and '34, with the Waner brothers, although he played in less than 100 games the second season.

In truth, Lindstrom and Lloyd Waner were poor Hall selections. (Paul Waner was a no-doubter). But they were selected for the Hall, and the 1933-34 Pirates had an all-Cooperstown outfield.

On to Cobb. It appears Cobb spent his entire career with at least one Hall of Famer in the outfield with him. First Sam Crawford, then Harry Heilmann with the Tigers, and with the Athletics in his final two years with Al Simmons.

The question is: Did he ever matched with a third? Answer: Yes. In 1924 Cobb and Heilmann were joined by Heinie Manush as a regular outfielder. There were other seasons in which Manush was a part-timer with Cobb and Heilmann. Manush is also a marginal HOFer, but he's in.

When the Tigers dumped Cobb as manager after the 1926 season, he moved on to Philadelphia, where he joined the young Simmons. Tris Speaker joined them in 1927, but was only a part timer.

But the next year, Speaker moved on to Washington, where he returned to regular duty between two other Hall-of-Fame bound outfielders, Goose Goslin and Sam Rice.

There are a few other cases in which teams had two Hall of Fame outfielders. For example, the Cardinals for much of the 1940s had both Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. The Cubs in the 1930s had Hack Wilson and Cuyler. The Giants for a time in the 1950s had Willie Mays and Monte Irvin. But none of them had a third.

Monday, January 26, 2015

An unworkable fix to a nonexistent problem

Rob Manfred is now officially commissioner.
Sunday was Rob Manfred's first day as commissioner of baseball, and he opened the day with a notion apparently designed to make me miss Bud Selig: Banning defensive shifts.

Manfred didn't get detailed in his interview with ESPN's Karl Ravech on how this was supposed to work,  but the rationale is that runs scored have dropped the past few years as the shifts have become more commonplace, and he believes the fans want more runs.

Which they might. I don't necessarily need to see more runs, but I'm far from being representative of the masses. I would like to see more action, which is not exactly the same thing. I'd like to see fewer strikeouts and fewer walks, more balls in play and more baserunning. That might not result in more runs; it may well result in fewer runs.

I do believe this: The rise in the shifts that trouble Manfred (or, perhaps, that trouble certain people around Manfred)  and the rise in plate appearances that don't result in balls in play that concerns me, have a common cause: Sabermetrics.

Baseball's strategists know more about their game now than they did 30 or even 15 years ago because they have increasingly become open to the insights of the bookish outsiders. Those who reject analytics put themselves at a competitive disadvantage, and they increasingly fail and will continue to.

If the shifts have indeed disrupted the game's equilibrium -- which, as I'll get into shortly, is doubtful -- that equilibrium will recover. Hitters will either learn to "hit 'em where they ain't" or go the way of Jason Kubel, whose inability/unwillingness to adjust helped force him out of the game. ,







The rise in strikeouts is the more likely cause of a drop in offense. The prevailing belief of sabermetricians for decades was that strikeouts are just outs, that there was no real disadvantage to them. Indeed, because strikeouts rise with home runs and walks, a team actually benefits from having players who do all three things. I put it thusly some 20 years ago when complaining about Tom Kelly's obsession with making contact: Strikeouts are the exhaust of the power engine. You want home runs, you're going to get strikeouts as well.

That was a useful insight as long as nobody was acting on it. But last year the strikeout rate exceeded 20 percent. (It was 12.5 percent in 1980). The researchers told teams that they were too worried about hitter strikeouts; teams stopped considering that when evaluating players; strikeouts rose; and now offense is declining.

I suspect the shifts will, in time, work against the strikeouts. The shifts are employed largely against power hitters, pull hitters. If they are forced to go the other way, they'll have to cut down their swings. They'll make more contact. Hit a few balls into the vacated gaps, the defense will stop shifting,

There's no need to order fielders to stand somewhere that they know the hitter isn't going to hit the ball. The game will solve the problem, if there is a problem, itself.