Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Cubs bullpen

Aroldis Chapman may have the fastest pitch in
major league history. 
A big deal went down Monday: The Yankees shipped fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for a rather impressive package of prospects. I don't much care for what we know of Chapman the human being, and this piece from the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh defines the uneasiness that should accompany rooting for Chapman. (He only details one incident, but there have been others.)

But as far as the Cubs are concerned, Chapman really only has to behave himself for three months or so. Then he becomes a free agent. The Cubs are willing to overlook his character flaws in pursuit of their first World Series title since 1908 and their first World Series appearance since 1945.

But then there's this:




The Cubs have fallen off their early-season pace not because of its lack of stars in the bullpen for other reasons. Example: Ace Jake Arrieta allowed four runs in six innings Monday night; it was the fourth time in five starts he's allowed that many runs. His ERA has risen from 1.74 to 2.76 in that span.

Still, it's the bullpen that the Cubs are aiming to beef up. Chapman is the second lefty reliever the Cubs have traded for -- they got Mike Montgomery from the Mariners for a couple of prospects last week.

And Old Friend Joe Nathan, back from another Tommy John surgery, made his first appearance of the year Sunday and struck out the side against Milwaukee. Nothing's certain about Nathan, of course; he's 41 and there's a lot of mileage on his arm. But if he is sound again ... well, he and Chapman and Hector Rondon (1.95 ERA with 18 saves) look like a pretty darn impressive crew for the late innings.

If Nathan is sound. If Chapman behaves himself, If, if, if.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Notes from the weekend

The Twins certainly had an odd series in Boston: One pitchers duel, one blowout, two close high-scoring affairs, and a series split.

Good: Kyle Gibson was stellar Friday night: two hits and a walk in eight innings, with six strikeouts. He also had a pair of wild pitches with Juan Centeno behind the dish. And he knocked almost a half-run off his ERA (5.12 entering the game. 4.67 exiting it).

The PioPress' Mike Bernardino on Gibson's potential trade value:




The analytics issue with Gibson is easily identified: A low strikeout rate. This year he's averaging 6.4 K/9, slightly down from 2015. There are times when he appears to be able to use his changeup as a strikeout pitch; other times, not so.

Bad: Miguel Sano's error rate at third base is ridiculous. He's been charged with 10 errors in 15 games since July 3, and he's had other make-able plays go unmade that were ruled hits. This audition at the hot corner while Trevor Plouffe recovers from his cracked rib is making the right field experiment look less silly by the day.

I didn't expect him to be Brooks Robinson, or even early Corey Koskie, at third base. I find it difficult to believe that he's this awful, but the evidence is mounting.

The ugly: Kurt Suzuki took a foul ball off the mask and wound up with a seven-stitch cut on his chin. Somehow:

  • he passed the concussion protocol test
  • he's expected to be available to catch Tuesday, their next scheduled game.
I'm no physician or trainer, but neither of those make much sense to me.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pic of the Week

David Ortiz embedded this ball into the Pesky Pole
down Fenway Park's right field line during
batting practice Thursday before facing the Twins.


This photo was one of several that crossed my Twitter feed. It's from the Boston Herald's Matt Stone.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Well, it didn't take long to find out who the new long man in the Twins bullpen is. Tyler Duffey didn't get out of the third inning in Fenway (the Red Sox can do that to a pitcher), and Michael Tonkin was the first man out. He got as many outs as Duffey did (seven) and yielded five fewer runs.

Trevor May got two innings in, and didn't fare all that well (three hits, four runs). I keep talking about switching him back to the rotation, but right now I suspect there's still something physically wrong with him.

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I highly recommend this piece from David Ortiz about his early days with the Twins today on the Players Tribune site. I almost hate to link to it because I'm sure I'm going to steal some of these stories for the Sunday Funnies this offseason, and why spoil the jokes now?

Well, because Ortiz has a serious point to make early on about Latin players and the cultural-language gap.

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Advance warning for those of you who visit this site daily expecting to see something new. Not happening Saturday. If the Twins make a trade Friday (or Saturday) I'll comment on it here Monday. I already have the Monday print column written (on the firing of Terry Ryan) and a Pic of the Week lined up to post Sunday morning, but I'm traveling this weekend and have decided to forgo packing the laptop.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Brandon Kintzler, closer -- and other bullpen notes

So ... Wednesday's game was tied after eight innings, and when the Twins were hitting in the top of the ninth, Fernando Abad started warming up. Then Max Kepler homered -- and Abad sat down and Brandon Kintzler started to loosen.

Why? Obviously, because it was now a save situation -- and Brandon Kintzler, with or without a public declaration from manager Paul Molitor, is now the closer. This was, really, a more decisive announcement than saying something to the beat writers. Managers frequently say one thing and do something else. This action spoke loudly.

Abad got a save shortly after Kevin Jepsen, now departed, was removed from the glory job, but the bulk of the save opportunities have gone to Kintzler, and he's done something with it -- six saves in six tries, plus a hold. He hasn't coughed up a lead yet. (He's now one behind Jepsen for the team lead.)

The Twins made a small adjustment to their bullpen after the game, announcing that Neil Ramirez had been outrighted to Rochester -- meaning that he'd cleared waivers -- and Buddy Boshers had been recalled. I registered a mild beef when Boshers was optioned out earlier this month, but I also predicted he's be back before August. And so he is.

Boshers gives the Twins three lefties in their seven-man bullpen: Abad, Taylor Rogers and Boshers. The righties are Kintzler, Trevor May, Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin. I don't know who Molitor considers his long man in that crew, but this formulation is unlikely to survive the month anyway. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Notes,quotes and comment

Tommy Milone took a one-hitter into the ninth inning Tuesday, He didn't get the shutout; he didn't even get through the ninth. But it was still undoubtedly the best start of his Twins tenure.

He's now had three decent starts in a row, although the previous two were six innings and five innings -- not exactly working deep into games. The radio guys were, of course, talking all through the middle innings about Milone's difficulties earlier in the season getting through the fourth and fifth innings. In his first six starts, he got through the fifth exactly once.

But in his most recent three starts he's pitched 19.1 innings with five earned runs -- a 2.32 ERA. His ERA has dropped from 6.23 to 4.71. That's not a good ERA, to be sure. But the Twins have given starts to nine different pitchers, and only Ervin Santana and Milone have ERAs under 5.

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In Minnesota, this was overshadowed by the firing of Terry Ryan, but a federal judge on Monday sentenced Christopher Correa, former scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals, to 46 months in prison for repeatedly hacking into the Houston Astros' player evaluation data base.

Now we'll see how hard Commissioner Rob Manfred hits the Cardinals for this violation. Earlier this year Manfred stripped the Boston Red Sox of five prospects and banned them from signing any international free agents in the current signing period for violating the signing bonus rules. It was a pretty harsh penalty. I think that the Correa case is ethically worse than the Red Sox case, but that's just me.

However ... by hitting the Red Sox, Manfred was punishing an team whose owners were opposed to his elevation to the job. The Cardinals' principal owner was, in contrast, very much in favor of Manfred for commissioner.

It's easy enough to be hard on one's political opponents. Let's see how Manfrec handles his allies.

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Fun with small sample sizes: Cory Provus talked quite a bit during Tuesday's game about the Tigers' problems with outfield defense. Meanwhile, Max Kepler was charged with his third error in right field.

My sense of things is that the current Minnesota collection of outfielders is pretty good defensively, I wouldn't play Danny Santana in center as often as Paul Molitor does, but basically, the five outfielders (Byron Buxton, Robbie Grossman, Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Santana) all have at least marginal center field speed, with Grossman probably the slowest of the five.

Anyway ... I took a look early this morning at Kepler's defensive metrics as listed on Baseball Reference. He rates better in Total Zone than in Runs Saved in right field (366.2 innings), but above average in both.

But I had to smile at his centerfield ratings. He's had one start in center with three other appearances, a total of 21 innings. By Total Zone, he was slightly below average in those innings; by Runs Saved, he was awesome, on pace for 51 runs saved over the course of a season.

Twenty-one innings means nothing in an evaluative sense, of course, but that's a wide range of variation.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Good bye, Terry Ryan

So Terry Ryan is out, fired as the head of the Twins baseball operations. Rob Antony, his assistant, takes over less than two weeks before the trading deadline.

That Ryan is out isn't all that shocking. I thought there was a 50 percent chance that he was going to leave, either of his own volition or because Jim Pohlad meant it in April when he ascribed the major league team's horrific start to a "total system failure." But I thought that departure, if it came, would come in September, or at least after the trading deadline.

Ryan's firing makes sense only if Pohlad and the others atop the organizational pyramid intend to revamp the baseball side. Pohlad and team president Dave St. Peter said Monday that Antony was not ruled out for the permanent position, but really ... the best reason to dump Ryan would be the ingrown nature of the team's front office. Elevating Antony would do little if anything to address that.

Pohlad said the new general manager would have to accept Paul Molitor as his manager in 2017. The wisdom of that edict is debatable, but I doubt that somebody who really wants the job and is a good enough candidate to get a multi-year commitment from the Pohlads would let one year of an incumbent manager get in his way.

It has been said often of managers: They are hired to be fired. That applies, in most organizations, to pretty much everybody. Managers, scouts, coaches, minor league staffers ... and general managers. The new GM comes in and sweeps a big broom and installs his own people -- and in many cases, in four years or so, a fresh GM is installed with an equally big broom. Nobody on the baseball side is safe when there's a new sheriff.

The Twins have avoided that for almost 30 years. 1986 was, really, the only big broom in franchise history, when Andy MacPhail took over baseball ops, cleared out the remnants of Calvin Griffith's "organization" and brought in people from other organizations. One of those was Ryan, who became the scouting director.

MacPhail modernized the Twins front office. Thirty years later, it probably needs modernizing again. Monday was only the beginning.