Friday, April 29, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

John Ryan Murphy hasn't played since his disastrous game Sunday, but I thought I'd throw this statistical tidbit into the mix:

Murphy's catcher ERA -- the team ERA when he's behind the plate -- is 2.71. Kurt Suzuki's catcher ERA is 4.67.

There's a lot of noise in that stat, and not a lot of innings. But if that persists over time, it will suggest that he's doing something right behind the plate -- something that isn't real obvious.

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So I looked at the Doc Hamann page on Baseball Reference. Turns out he was from New Ulm. Another NUN -- New Ulm Native, as we used to call Terry Steinbach back in the day in the Free Press newsroom, because it was our practice to slip the local identifier into game stories in front of his name. ("New Ulm native Terry Steinbach doubled in two runs in the seventh inning ...)

And as Buster Olney suggests, Hamann wasn't very good: one game with the Cleveland Indians in 1922, in which he got no outs, walked three men, allowed three hits, hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and allowed six runs for an ERA of infinity. Which still makes him a better pitcher than me.

The BR page contains a link to a short bio of Hamann.

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Former Twin Chris Colabello tested positive for a steroid and has been suspended 80 games. Colabello says he didn't knowingly take a banned substance, and I'd like to believe him on that, but it ultimately doesn't matter.

Colabello was an easy guy to root for even when I doubted that the Twins had a use for him, and I'm sorry to see him get derailed like this.

Meanwile, Reynoldo Rodriguez, a Triple A player for the Twins -- I saw him play in a spring training game in Fort Myers in early March -- got nailed as well. Eight games for him too. Last year he was the MVP for the Rochester Red Wings. This year, it's safe to say, not so much.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Selling shares of a pitcher

Take a guess on what
Tyler Duffey's career
earnings will be.
The Twins' Tyler Duffey is one of five pre-arbitration MLB players who has sold a percentage of his future earnings to a company called Fantex, which in turn intends to sell securities to investors.

In Duffey's case, he's to get $2.23 million now in exchange for 10 percent of his "future on- and off-field cash flows." Of the six baseball players named in the linked Associated Press story, Duffey is getting the smallest amount. Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore second baseman, is the highest; he will get $4.91 million for 10 percent of his future earnings.

Fantex also announced deals with one NFL player and four golfers and is still devising the securities it intends to market to investors. I am probably not their target market, and I'm not particularly eager to buy player futures with my retirement savings.

I am, however, intrigued by the decision of these athletes to sell a substantial portion of their future for cash upfront. My reading of the story is that these deals have yet to kick in, so presumably Duffey has neither received his payment nor started to give up 10 percent of his salary. But essentially Fantex and Duffey are wagering on whether he tops $22.3 million in career earnings. If Duffey turns into Boof Bonser, he gets $2.23 million and Fantex gets, presumably, less than $200,000; if Duffey matches Ricky Nolasco's career earnings (counting what Nolasco is to get during his current contract), Fantex gets 10 percent of some $85 million, which is a pretty nice profit.

Duffey is hedging against a possible career-altering injury, which is a reasonable choice. That is why some players will sign multi-year deals that buy out their arbitration years and/or a year or more of free agency; these deals are often seen as team-friendly because they limit the player's upside, but they also guarantee life-altering money. (At $40,000 a year, it would take 55 years to earn $2.23 million.)

Duffey now, presumably, has the freedom to turn down such an offer from the Twins, should the Twins be inclined to make such an offer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Shuffling the rotation

Jose Berrios was
the Twins' second
draft pick  in the draft
that landed Byron
Buxton.
The Twins put not one but two starting pitchers -- Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson, the men who held the No. 1 and No. 2 rotation slots to open the season -- on the disabled list Tuesday.

And so it is that today Jose Barrios is to make his much-awaited major league debut, weather permitting.

This is a good time to remember why the Twins are loathe to discard veteran starters. Pitchers get hurt. Jeff Passan, in "The Arm" -- a book I discussed in the Monday print column -- says half of major league pitchers go on the disabled list each year. It's still April, and the Twins now have three key members of their staff on the DL (the third being Glen Perkins).

So Tyler Duffey and Berrios, left off the rotation at the start of April, will be in the rotation when May begins. And had the Twins discarded Ricky Nolasco -- an unlikely move, but one that would have satisfied many fans -- at the end of spring training, they would today be reaching deeper into their farm system for an arm.

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Berrios ... I have seen him pitch three times in person. The most extensive outing was in 2013, late in the season for Cedar Rapids in the low A Midwest League. That was Berrios's least-impressive stat line in the minors, and he was so-so in that outing.

The second time was his one-inning start in the 2014 Futures Game in Target Field (so at least he's been on this mound before). Impressive, but just three batters. And the third was his spring training debut this spring in Fort Myers, when he was reportedly nervous and obviously wild.

I have no real idea of what to expect from him in his debut. He's a better pitcher today than when I saw in Iowa three summers ago, certainly. The talent is there. How much the excitement of making his major league debut will affect his work is probably the single biggest variable.

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Also called up Tuesday was infielder Jorge Polanco, who gives the Twins a third position player on the bench. He probably won't play much, but his presence provides a bit more balance to the roster.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The roster shuffle

As expected, the Twins made several moves Monday, but not all the moves they intended.

Pitcher Alex Meyer was recalled to add some depth to the bullpen, which was hard-used in Sunday's 16-inning affair. (And on Monday night, even though Tommy Milone didn't get through the fifth inning, Paul Molitor was unwilling to use Meyer. He instead ran through Trevor May, Fernando Abad, Ryan Pressly and Kevin Jepsen.)

Utility man Danny Santana was brought off the disabled list; he started in center field, hit ninth, went 1-for-3 and had no misadventures in the field.

Demoted were the two best center fielders on the roster, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler. The outfielding chores will presumably be split up among Miguel Sano, Santana, Oswaldo Arcia and Eddie Rosario, with Santana and Rosario being the center field options.

This is probably the best offensive group of four outfielders the Twins can concoct out of their 40-man roster, and pretty close to the weakest defensively (Adam Brett Walker is on the 40). Any outfield with Sano and Arcia in the corners does the pitching staff no favors. Buxton has been overmatched in a majority of his at-bats, and Kepler has barely played since spring training, so there is a good argument for their demotions; I still prefer having one of them in center on a regular basis.

But at least David Murphy partially spared the Twins from themselves. The day after the Twins lost catcher John Hicks on waivers -- a move Terry Ryan said Monday was made to clear a roster spot for Murphy -- the veteran decided he would rather go home to his family, and the Twins released him Monday.

I wouldn't trade a 26-year-old optionable catcher for Murphy, but the Twins handed Hicks over to the Tigers in order to activate him. Now they have neither Hicks nor Murphy.

At least the roster isn't cluttered with a 34-year-old fading corner outfielder. If the Twins aren't going to give at-bats to Buxton and Kepler, they should at least give them to Arcia and Rosario; they might amount to something.

More moves should be expected soon. The Twins have 14 pitchers active and just 11 position players. Monday's bench was Rosario and John Ryan Murphy. That's not a sustainable situation.

But ... they can't send down Tyler Duffey (bruised right shoulder) until he's cleared to pitch, and they don't want to put him on the DL. They don't want to put Ervin Santana on the DL either. And apparently they don't want to waive Michael Tonkin (out of options), even though he has a much better chance to clear waivers than Hicks did, and they are loathe to punish Ryan O'Rourke for his impressive outing Sunday by kicking him to Rochester. They have individual reasons not to make a move with any of those four, and an overall reason why they must with at least one of them.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The catching mess

John Ryan Murphy had another disaster of a game Sunday. The Twins' No. 2 catcher was 1-for-6 at the plate, was unable to stop a bounced curve in a key situation (Trevor May's eighth-inning wild pitch) and, of course, committed the two-out throwing error in the bottom of the 15th that allowed Washington to extend the game to the 16th, when they won.

I predicted at the start of the season that Murphy would eventually supplant Kurt Suzuki as the regular catcher. Off what we've seen so far, it's incredible that he made it through the entire 2015 season with the Yankees. He's got to be a better player than this, but we aren't seeing it.

Murphy's hitting .094 with a .246 OPS -- that's on-base plus slugging, not his on-base percentage. In 79.2 innings caught, he has been victimized for seven wild pitches and one passed ball. Suzuki has 90.2 innings with no passed balls and four wild pitches.

Suzuki hasn't hit much either, but he's in no danger of losing his job to Murphy. 

Assuming that Murphy has an option left, it might seem logical to move him to Rochester, but earlier in the weekend the Twins inexplicably waived John Hicks, the third catcher on the 40-man roster. He was snatched up by Detroit.

The Twins presumably wanted the 40-man spot for a non-roster guy they want to call up, but they didn't make an immediate move. I find it difficult to believe they thought they could slip a decent defensive catcher with options through waivers.  I also doubt that they'll try to create another 40-man opening so they can add Juan Centeno or some other catcher. Murphy is staying.

But there certainly will be roster moves today after that disaster of a weekend in Washington.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pic of the Week

Jake Arrieta and catcher David Ross embrace Thursday
after Arrieta threw his second no-hitter in as many
seasons.

In his last 24 starts, dating back to last season, Jake Arrieta has thrown 178 innings (7.4 per start), allowing 91 hits and 33 walks with 173 strikeouts. His ERA in that span: 0.84.

Frightening stuff.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Contemplating Miguel Sano

Miguel Sano gestures after his eighth-inning
home run Friday in Washington.
Miguel Sano had two hits, including a home run, on Friday.

In his last nine games he has lifted his batting average from .125 to .263 and his home run total from 0 to 3.

This is hardly a novel concept: It's a lot easier to live with Sano's shoddy fielding in right when he's being a force at the plate than when he isn't. For eight games he gave the Twins almost nothing at the plate. That has changed.

Sano's re-emergence as a hitter is particularly important right now because the Twins are in their longest no-DH stretch of the season, five games. No DH effectively means either Joe Mauer or Byung Ho Park has to be out of the lineup. And with the usual cleanup hitter, Trevor Plouffe, sidelined, the lineup is further thinned.

Paul Molitor is reluctant to move Sano back to third while Plouffe is out, and I agree. Sano was regarded as a weak third baseman as a minor leaguer, and he hadn't worked at the position since leaving winter ball until Plouffe went down and the Twins were temporarily without a reserve infielder. Yes, Sano has more experience at the hot corner than in the outfield, but the evidence that he's got a true defensive position is more slender than Byron Buxton.

It is reasonable for the Twins to believe that Sano has to regard himself as an outfielder for his current position to take hold. Shuffling him back and forth isn't going to hasten the process.