Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dodgers trade for a second baseman, and it's not Brian Dozier

The Los Angeles Dodgers traded prospect pitcher Jose DeLeon to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday for infielder Logan Forsythe.

This puts complete fini to the speculation that the Dodgers would deal for the Twins' Brian Dozier. Not only do the Dodgers now have Forsythe to plug into second base, but DeLeon -- who was supposedly to be the key (or, perhaps, only) return for the Twins -- is gone.

Nobody on the outside can be completely sure what the asks in the Dodgers-Twins talks were, but supposedly the Dodgers were insistent that it be one-for-one. That's what they wound up with for Forsythe. And Forsythe, while a decent infielder with some pop in his bat, isn't nearly the player Dozier is.

The Twins correctly wanted more than DeLeon, who has never thrown as many as 115 innings in a season, for Dozier. If that's all the Dodgers would offer, the Twins were right to walk away. The Dodgers wound up with a lesser player, but gave up less than they would have to get the better one. They may have been right to stand their ground too.

Bottom line: Unless something is going on below the surface, Dozier is going to be a Twin in 2017. That is not, repeat not, a disaster.

Monday, January 23, 2017

RIP, Ventura and Marte

Yordano Ventura before pitching Game 3 of the
2015 World Series.
Two ballplayers from the Dominican died this weekend in separate crashes in their homeland. According to the Associated Press, the Dominican Republic has the second-highest traffic death rate in the world.

There are a lot of major leaguers (and minor leaguers) from the Dominican, and the deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte are just the most recent evidence that ballplayers are not immune to this Dominican carnage.

Andy Marte was a failed prospect but still playing, still hoping to hit it big. He spent 2016 in the Korean League, where he hit 22 homers but batted just .265. Ten years ago, he was a coming attraction; Baseball America rated him as the No. 14 prospect after the 2005 season, No. 9 the year before that, No. 11 the winter before that. But sometimes even the most highly touted prospects fail.

Yordano Ventura had a magic arm -- the Kansas City Royals starter averaged better than 96 mph on his fastball last season, according to the Bill James Handbook, the highest velocity among American League starters. He also had a scary temper, with multiple suspensions for throwing at hitters.

He was a decent starter in his four major league seasons, but not a great one. He might have become great, with luck and maturity -- he needed both to stay healthy and learn to control his emotions -- but he wasn't there yet, and now he never will be.

As with the Miami Marlins and the late-season death of Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, Ventura's death leaves the Royals reeling, both emotionally and strategically.

Viewed from a distance, the team was nearing a crossroads, with key pieces of the lineup approaching free agency and a farm system essentially depleated by the win-now trades that helped bring the 2015 World Series title. Ventura was supposed to be a key piece of their puzzle for a few more years. Now, less than a month before training camps open, they not only have a hole at the top of their rotation for the coming season, but one for years to come.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

This supposedly happened sometime in the late 1980s in San Diego. The Montreal Expos had lumbering catcher Nelson Santovenia on third base and pitcher Pasqual Perez at the plate.

For reasons unknown, manager Buck Rogers called for the suicide squeeze. For reasons unknown, the always unpredicatable Perez took a full hack -- and fouled it off with Santovenia fearing for his life.

Rogers called for the squeeze again. And again Perez takes a full swing in the face of a panicked Santovenia.

As told by reporter Michael Farber:

"I asked Santovenia about it afterward. 'I'm screaming at him, in Spanish, SQUEEZE!' So I asked him, what's the Spanish word for squeeze?"

"He looked at me and shook his head. 'Squeeze.'"

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Contemplating Ryan Pressly

Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was known for his verbal tics -- stock phrases that he used so frequently that they essentially became meaningless, at least to a lot of fans. "Get after it." "Hustle their tails off." "The ball comes out of his hand real good."

One of the underrated ones was "spin it." As in, "He can spin it," meaning throw a quality breaking ball. I remember a Gardenhire monologue after a lefty specialist named Randy Flores was brought in and threw fast balls to a left-handed hitter, who got a crucial hit. Gardenhire's rant was to the effect that if he wanted fast balls thrown to that guy, he'd have left the righty in, and Flores needed to "spin it." (As I recall, Flores never got the ball again in a game situtation.)

Well ... with the advent of Statcast, we now have objective data on pitch spin. As a general rule, the higher the spin rate, the better -- spin creates friction with the air and thus makes the pitch move, and more friction means more movement.

And Ryan Pressly has impressive spin rates. Rhett Bollinger of MLB,com posted this piece earlier this week noting that Pressly's average spin rate ranks eighth among MLB pitchers (he didn't say what the minimum innings or pitches for that ranking would be).
That suggests that Pressly has the talent to be a successful reliever. So far, he hasn't really had the results -- a 3.70 ERA isn't what you expect from a short man with dominating stuff. 

Bollinger says Pressly expects to increase the use of his slider this year, probably by decreasing his curve. It may make sense for him to pick one breaking ball and stick with it; few pitchers throw both the curve and the slider with proficency. Pressly himself cites command glitches as a problem, and I suspect Neil Allen, the pitching coach, would agree. 

Basic point: Pressly isn't an outstanding reliever now. But he has the stuff to be one. And this is a bullpen that certainly has room for somebody to emerge.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Jorge Posada and the 10-player limit

Jorge Posada didn't draw the magical 5 percent of the vote from the writers, so he's off the Hall of Fame ballot for future elections.

This is unfortunate. Posada is, in truth, a highly qualified candidate. But he's hardly the only such to be one-and-done with the writers. So too were Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds; Bernie Williams got only two turns on the writer's ballot. And that's just three center fielders.

There are a couple of issues involved here:

  • The oversupply of highly qualified candidates on the ballot and
  • The 10-player limit for the writers.

Not every voter fills out the 10 slots, but far more do now than were even five years ago, in part because five years ago the writers weren't electing anybody, and there was beginning to be a sense that some other means of selecting inductees would be needed. More writers voting for 10, or even eight, candidates instead of two or three means more opportunity for players to get elected -- or even to stay on the ballot.

Ten slots for a ballot with 34 names (as was the case this year) sounds ample, but a goodly number of writers said they saw 17, or 18, players worthy of strong consideration for those slots. Posada may have been No. 15 on somebody's list, and thus left off, but that doesn't mean they thought him unworthy of a vote -- just less worthy than 10 others.

Abolishing, or at least raising, the limit has been proposed repeatedly and gone nowhere. I suppose the downside to easing the restriction is encouraging frivolous votes, like the one vote Tim Wakefield got this year. But I would be willing to bet the frivolous votes (and there are a handful every year) come from voters who (a) don't fill all 10 slots anyway and (b) will stop casting them when the votes are made public, as will be the case beginning next year.

And the benefit of making it easier for the likes of Posada and Edmonds to stick on the ballot a few more years seems to outweigh the drawback.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Three for Cooperstown


The writers made a small dent in the growing backlog of obviously qualified Hall of Fame candidates, electing Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez.

It was quickly noted that the writers have now chosen 12 players in four years, matching the Hall's first four years for the most selections. But it's also the first time in those four years that the majority of selectees were not first-time ballotteers.

Still, one probably should not be churlish about this year's outcome. Bagwell and Raines are in, as they should be, and the plaques will not note the delays.

And Rodriguez becomes only the second catcher ever elected on the first ballot. His election was closer than it should have been, but (again) the plaque won't mention that.

There is another wave of qualfied -- even over-qualified -- candidates slated to hit the ballot next winter, with Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones and -- his continuing comeback ambitions not withstanding -- Johan Santana, among others. Even with Raines and Bagwell off the backlist, it's still going to be a crowded ballot.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A bullpen overview

The Twins caravan swung through Mankato on Monday night. Theoretically I could have gone -- Monday is one of my nights off -- but it wasn't really on my radar screen to begin with, and when I tried to walk the dog around 5 p.m. and found the driveway and sidewalk ice-coated from the drizzle, all notion of leaving the house was abandoned.

But about 300 people did show up, including the Free Press' free-lancer Denny Weller, who produced this report.

The players on this leg of the annual promotional journey were relievers Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Pressly, who emerged during the sorry 2016 season as the bullpen arms Paul Molitor most trusted -- which is not to say that they were truly good. Each was, as it turned out, arbitration eligible this year, and each got a nice raise for their veteranness.

We don't know when or to what level Glen Perkins will return from his shoulder surgery. I'm a Perkins fan. as evidenced by my repeated sponsorship of his Baseball Reference page, but I'm not optimistic about his future. Shoulder surgeries are inherently career-threatening, and on the range of outcomes, a return as the 97-mph flamethrower he once was is probably the least likely.

If Perkins is back, that's great and wonderful. But the Twins should wait to see it before they count on him.

And what does a non-Perkins bullpen look like? Presuming Trevor May is in the rotation, this would be a likely outline of six pitchers and roles, at least to open:

Closer: Kintzler
Setup 1: Pressly
Setup 2/LOOGY 1: Taylor Rogers
MR 1: J.T. Chargois
LOOGY 2: Ryan O'Rourke
Long man: Michael Tonkin

I'm not impressed, and you shouldn't be either.

To be sure, there are plenty of contenders for the last four roles, and I doubt that these precise six will all go north for the opener. I hope there will be a genuine long man, not Tonkin's masquarade. But Kintzler and Pressly, with their squatter's rights, will go to Fort Myers penciled into the top two slots. (It's also quite possible tha the Twins will open with a 12-man staff, not the 11 this implies, but they aren't winning or losing games on their 12th pitcher, or shouldn't be.)