Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Brian Duensing as a bullpen cornerstone

The Twins have a lot of openings in their starting rotation.

Not so with their bullpen.

Even without Matt Capps (who'll be a free agent with the Twins declining his option), Carlos Gutierrez (claimed on waivers by the Cubs) and Kyle Waldrop and Luis Perdomo (outrighted), the Twins can still fully stock their relief corps effectively with the pitchers on hand.

Brian Duensing had
a good season as a
relief pitcher, a poor
one as a starter.
Assuming, that is, that Brian Duensing is a reliever rather than a starter.

Closeer: Glen Perkins
Setup 1: Jarrod Burton
Setup 2/LOOGY 1: Duensing
MR 1: Casey Fein
LOOGY 2: Tyler Robertson
MR 2: Alex Burnett
Long man: Anthony Swarzak

Nothing wrong at all with the top four, or with the long man. The weak spots are Burnett, whose good 2012 ERA (3.53) is out of whack with his lousy walk and strikeout rates; and Robertson, who hung a few too many sliders to good left-handed power hitters and got burned. As the fifth and sixth men in a bullpen, they're acceptable, but not in more prominent roles.

But Duensing is supposed to be a contender for the starting rotation, and if he's not in the 'pen, the Twins lack a good southpaw specialist. Robertson has the stuff for that job, but not the consistency. I would be reluctant to make him the primary lefty in the bullpen.

The rotation is, correctly, the primary concern. But if the Twins seriously consider Duensing part of the solution -- and I'm not sure he is -- they would do well to have an alternative to him in the bullpen. It's something to keep an eye on this offseason.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Three pieces of pitching news

The Twins on Monday had three pitching related news items. None of them moved the process forward significantly, but in the absence of anything bigger to chew on, we'll chaw on them:

Nick Blackburn in
2012: 4-9, 7.39.

Scott Baker. The Twins formally declined his option Monday, which means he'll be a free agent on Friday. There is open and mutual interest in Baker remaining with the Twins, and I expect it will happen.

Nick Blackburn. The Twins had indicated at season's end that he was having his elbow checked out, and on Monday they announced that he had it scoped. Minor surgery, in the sense that it happened to somebody else and isn't expected to keep him out of spring training.

Nobody's blaming Blackburn's horrid 2012 on his elbow, but it couldn't have helped either. I remain wary of him, and I think that the Twins would be willing to hand him off for either payroll relief or a minor prospect. I also think nobody else will give them either for him.

P.J. Walters, outrighted last week, quickly signed a minor league contract with the Twins with spring training invite.

He rejoins the cast of characters I project to be in the running for the fifth starter spot, with Blackburn, Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, Liam Hendriks and probably Brian Duensing. My guess is that, as was the case last year, he'll open in Rochester and hope for another opportunity.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Detailing last winter's rotation trades

A.J. Burnett went from persona
non grata with the Yankees
to top-of-the-rotation with
Pittsburgh last winter.
In the Monday print column I said, without going into detail, that last offseason 10 pitchers who had made it through a full season in a major league rotation were traded:

... six of them were traded for one of the others. Two of the other four brought back prospects who themselves wound up in major league rotations during the season.

Which means that only two established starters went in trades that didn’t involve either another established starter or a major-league-ready prospect.

This is where I detail this information. The links are for the starting pitchers involved in the trades.

Trade 1: A.J. Burnett goes from the Yankees to Pittsburgh for a pair of minor leaguers. The Yankees pick up more than half Burnett's salary, and he goes 16-10, 3.51 for Pittsburgh.

Comment: The Yankees wanted to dump Burnett after a couple of frustrating seasons in which the righty racked up ERAs of 5.26 and 5.15. The deal worked well for the Pirates.

Trade 2: Trevor Cahill goes from Oakland to Arizona with Craig Breslow for Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook and Colin Cowgill. Cahill goes 13-12, 3.78 for the Diamondbacks; Parker goes 13-8, 3.47 for the A's, and Cook makes the All-Star team as a reliever (6-2, 2.09, 14 saves).

Comment: Cahill (and Breslow) did for the Diamondbacks what they expected. Arizona still loses the trade, because Park and Cook are better, younger and cheaper.

Trade 3: Gio Gonzalez and a minor leaguer goes from Oakland to Washington for Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Brad Peacock and a minor leaguer. Gonzalez makes the All-Star team and goes 21-8, 2.89 for the Nationals; Milone leads the A's in innings, goes 13-10, 3.74, and Norris becomes the starting catcher.

A second trade in which Oakland's Billy Beane traded a young starter about to make big money for younger, cheaper talent. Both sides got what they needed; both teams made the playoffs. 

Trade 4: Colorado trades Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom to Baltimore for Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie goes 3-9, 6.35 for the Rockies and is dumped to Kansas City in an exchange of problems (Jonathan Sanchez, who we'll meet later); for the Royals, Guthrie goes 5-3, 3.16. He's going into free agency. Hammel goes 8-6, 3.43 in 118 innings for Baltimore with some time on the disabled list; he's one of the keys to their surprising season.

Comment: Hammel and Guthrie aren't great, but they are both better pitchers than their career stats indicate. They've generally been on bad teams and often in unfavorable environments. Guthrie has been suggested in some corners as a potential target for the Twins. They could do worse.

Edinson Volquez was once
traded for Josh Hamilton.
Trade 5: San Diego sends Mat Latos to Cincinnati for Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger. Latos goes 14-4, 3.48 for the Reds with a career high in innings pitched and remains under team control for another three seasons. Volquez goes 11-11, 4.14 for the Padres and leads the majors in walks allowed.

Comment: This trade, for San Diego, was about the hitters, Alonso and Grandal. Volquez had had three injury-plagued seasons coming into 2012, and his 180-plus innings was a bonus. Latos was what the Reds sought.

Trade 6: San Francisco trades Jonathan Sanchez to Kansas City for Melky Cabrera. Sanchez was brutal for the Royals — 1-6, 7.76 — and they swapped him in midseason to Colorado for Jeremy Guthrie. Sanchez was even worse in Denver (0-3, 9.53).

Jonathan Sanchez is coming off
two brutal seasons.
Comment: Ugh. Cabrera, of course, was having a huge season for the Giants until he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. But just clearing Sanchez out of their rotation was a plus for the Giants.

Trade 7: Miami sends Chris Volstad to the Cubs for Carlos Zambrano and a lot of cash. Big Z goes 7-10, 4.49 for the Marlins; Volstad goes 3-12, 6.31 with the Cubs.

Comment: It's a safe bet Miami won't pick up Zambrano's option for 2013 ($19 million-plus). The hope there was that Ozzie Guillen would be able to harness his countryman's temper and talent; if there's a market for Zambrano as a free agent, I sure hope it isn't Minnesota. Volstad was waived by the Cubs and picked up by Kansas City last week. They can have him.

So ... Ten established starters plus two "major-league-ready" starters in these trades. I would say that Burnett, Latos, Gonzalez, Cahill and Volquez met or exceeded expectations; that Volstad, Sanchez, Guthrie and Zambrano were disappointments; that Hammel was good but of limited durability; and the rookies, Prker and Milone, met or beat expectations.

Those don't seem to be prime odds for improving your rotation via trades.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pic of the Week

Miguel Cabrera contemplates the plight of his
Detroit Tigers team during the ninth inning of
Game Three — the second straight shutout defeat
for the American League representatives.

Miguel Cabrera had a single Saturday in Game 3 of the World Series. But in what may have been the single most crucial at-bat of the series — bases loaded, two out, Cabrera against Ryan Vogelsong in the  bottom of the fifth inning — Miggy popped up harmlessly.

The Triple Crown winner hasn't done much at the plate. Neither have his teammates. Through three games, the Tigers have yet to take the lead. They've scored three runs, all in the first game, and two of them in a garbage time ninth inning that they entered trailing 8-1.

But Cabrera is the big man, the figure everybody's looking to, and his response Saturday night wasn't good — he fled the stadium after the game and avoided the media.

The Giants are up 3-0 in the series, and they haven't played their ace — Matt Cain — yet. That comes tonight.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mike Redmond and the Miami managerial job

Mike Redmond in 2009, his final
season with the Minnesota Twins.
Mike Redmond, who played 5 years with the Twins as Joe Mauer's backup, is widely assumed to be the front runner for the Marlins' manager's job, which was opened by the dismissal of Ozzie Guillen.

Redmond definitely wants to manage in the majors, and there are only 30 such jobs. Plus he played for the Marlins for seven years — yes, Twins fans, he played more for the Fish than for the Twins — and was part of a World Series winner there (2003, when he backed up Pudge Rodriguez), so there's a genuine attachment between the man and the franchise.

Still, there are not many less attractive managerial jobs than Miami's. It's not that one can't win there — the Marlins have, after all, two World Series titles in the past 15 years. It's that the internal politics of working for Jeffery Loria are essentially impossible.

The Marlins haven't had the same manager for two opening days since 2010, when Fredi Gonzalez opened his fourth and final season. In 2011 it was Edwin Rodriguez, in 2012 Guillen, and in 2013, it will be Redmond or somebody else.

It hasn't exactly been a managerial graveyard; both Gonzalez and Joe Girardi have gone on to some success elsewhere after running afoul of Loria's misguided Steinbrenner impersonation. Still, I would think a good managerial prospect — and Redmond probably is one such — might well decide to hold out for a more stable working environment.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Switching my postseason rooting interest

Prince Fielder, tagged out in the second inning Thursday
by Buster Posey, is a great hitter but considerably less than
that as a baserunner or defensive player.
I intended to root for the Detroit Tigers in this World Series. I really did.

American League as opposed to National League. Big Ten country as opposed to California. The best uniform in baseball. The best pitcher in baseball.

I wore my Tigers cap to work Wednesday evening. And as soon as the first game started, I found myself pulling for the Giants instead.

Part of it, I'm sure, was that my immediate supervisor is a big Detroit fan, so there was an opportunity to needle him. Part of it likely comes from rooting against a Twins division rival so much during the regular season.

And a big part — maybe most of it — is aesthetic.

The kind of baseball represented by the Tigers — a couple of bashers in the middle of the lineup, a rotation of power arms, sloppy defense and poor baserunning — doesn't hold a lot of appeal for me.

The Giants, on the other hand, are the team the Twins aspire to be. The real difference between the Giants and the Twins, obviously, is the starting pitching; San Francisco got 160 starts from its top five starters this year, and even in their best seasons, the Twins haven't gotten that kind of durability and quality. But the lineups — both teams emphasize contact hitting over power (the Giants were dead last in baseball in home runs), both teams value gloves, both teams have a superstar catcher in the middle of the order.

The Twins hitters had the second-fewest strikeouts in the American League; the Giants had the second fewest in the National League.

Rooting for the Giants feels a good bit like rooting for the Twins. It just feels better than rooting for the Tigers. And I'm going with it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

First moves in reshaping the roster

Matt Capps: 1-4,
3.68 in 2012 with
14 saves.
The Twins announced on Wednesday their first roster moves of the offseason:
Capps, Baker and Pavano will be free agents after the World Series, but for now they remain on the Twins 40-man roster. The others aren't, and many of them will also become free agents. For now, the Twins have 35 players on the 40-man roster.

I wouldn't rule out the Twins re-signing some of these guys. Walters and Waldrop might be of interest on minor league deals, and Capps' option was too pricey ($6 milion) for the role he would play if he returned.

But I don't expect any of them to be re-signed. If Capps does return, it will be for less than the $4 million he got in 2012, and without the promise of the closer's role. I think he'll look elsewhere. And for the others, being taken off the 40-man roster implies that they'd be behind the pitchers they did retain.

Walters, for example, would rank behind DeVries and Sam Deduno in the rotation pecking order, and the indications are that those two, and probably some others, will at best be duking it out for the fifth starter spot.

I'm slightly disappointed in the outrighting of Waldrop; I'd rather see him in the 2013 bullpen than Alex Burnett. But both are fringy middle relievers.

Some other notes:

Carlos Gutierrez, a
first-round pick,
never reached the
majors with the Twins.
Baker, who had Tommy John surgery around Opening Day and did not pitch, and the Twins are said to be making progress on a contract. It's uncertain Baker will be ready to pitch in the majors when the 2013 season begins.

Gutierrez was a first-round pick in 2007 who only appeared in 10 games last year for Triple A Rochester because of injury. The Cubs took a flier on him, but I'm not sure why they'd prefer him to Waldrop. They're both sinker-ballers with low strikeout rates, but as far as I can tell, Waldrop is the better of the two.

Vasquez put up some interesting numbers as a starter in Triple A, but given several starts in September in the majors displayed a reluctance to throw a breaking ball. Perdomo throws hard but without any real clue.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Turning over a roster, Part II

Catcher Buster Posey and reliever Sergio Romo are
two holdovers from the 2010 World Series champs.
Last week, I posted this nugget about how few players remain on the Detroit Tigers roster from their 2006 team, the most recent Detroit team to reach the World Series.

The San Francisco Giants, of course, won the Series in 2010. Just two seasons later, the lineup is almost unrecognizable.

The 2010 Giants — that was a weird championship club. The October lineup was a rookie superstar-in-the-making (Buster Posey) surrounded by a hideously out-of-shape Pedro Sandoval (having the worst season of his career, he got just three at-bats in the World Series) and a collection of discarded veterans: Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Edgar Renteria, Aaron Rowand ...

Posey, Sandoval and Huff -- that's all that remains of the 2010 Giants for position players. (Huff's 2010 is so bizarre -- a strong year surrounded by evidence of incompetence.) Most of the rest of the regulars are either out of baseball or, like Huff, relegated to reserve roles and soon to be out of the game.

The pitching staff is another matter. Four of the five starters for the 2010 Giants are still there (only Jonathan Sanchez is gone); the order of priority has changed sharply, but Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito each made at least 32 starts. Much of the bullpen remains, although the 2010 closer, Brian Wilson, is sidelined by Tommy John surgery.

This year's Giants team feels more organic, more capable of long-term success, than the 2010 team did. This year's Giants have just two regular position players age 30 or higher (second baseman Marco Scutaro and center fielder Angel Pagan), and four of the eight are 25 or younger.

General manager Brian Sabean takes a lot of heat for the sabermetric community for his chronic unwillingness to give young players a chance. This team appears to belie that history.

It could be worse, Twins fans

Ozzie Guillen was one-and-done as the manager in
Miami, where he led the Marlins to the division cellar
despite a drastically expanded payroll and sabotaged the
team's marketing strategy by expressing admiration for
Fidel Castro's longevity.
The Twins have been terrible the last two seasons. They had the worst record in the American League both years. They've been bad.

They have, however, kept some semblance of dignity, which cannot be said of at least a couple of teams.

The Miami Marlins on Tuesday, for example, fired Ozzie Guillen in their latest lurch of impulse management.

Last year around this time, the Marlins gave the White Sox two minor leaguers for the right to sign Guillen to a four-year contract. Now they've canned him with three years left on the deal and $7.5 million yet to pay — and they concede that the Fidel Castro flap at the beginning of the season played a major role in this decision.

Of course, had Marlins done their homework, they would have known that Guillen had said similar things about Castro in the past. Even without knowing that specific, they had to have known that Guillen talks. A lot. And sometimes — "sometimes" being definable in his case as about once a week — he says something his bosses really wish he hadn't.

If they couldn't live with that, they shouldn't have hired him.

His successor, whoever the sucker is, will be the Marlins' fifth since early 2010.

In another piece of Marlins news/embarrassment ...  the city of Miami has a contingency plan for the death of Fidel Castro, and city officials have suddenly realized that it's outdated. Part of the plan is to use the Orange Bowl for public rallies/protests.

Only there is no Orange Bowl anymore. It was torn down to make room for Marlins Park.

And, says the mayor, Marlins Park won't work as an alternate location:

I don't think the Marlins would want that. Knowing them, they would charge to protest.

The Marlins aren't alone among major league franchises in finding new levels of stupidity to plumb.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have instituted a bizarre Navy SEALs approach to treating their prospects.

The latest piece of this ongoing saga, detailed by Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Review-Tribune, was "Hell Week" -- and the injury of one of their top prospects.

The piece really must be read to comprehend the extent of the lunacy, but the upshot from Kovacevic is this:

I know about the above because I continue to hear from prospects worried about injury (some among the team’s most expensive draft picks), from parents who wish their sons had never signed with the Pirates, from angry agents, even from men who answer to [assistant general manager Kyle] Stark and GM Neal Huntington.
I’ll repeat: The Pirates’ development system is the laughingstock of baseball.
The Twins have problems. They don't have the compulsive stupidity of the Marlins or Pirates.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The revamped coaching staff

Terry Steinbach (background) has worked with catchers
in spring training for several years, but now will be a
full-time coach.
There will be a native of southern Minnesota on the 2013 Minnesota Twins coaching staff — just not the one generally expected.

Gene Glynn of Waseca will remain the manager at Triple A Rochester. Terry Steinbach of New Ulm will be the bench coach/catching instructor.

The Twins announced the new staff Monday, and the rest of it shaped up more or less as projected once three of the incumbents were cut loose:

  • Rick Anderson remains the pitching coach;
  • Scott Ullger (bench coach), earlier designated the outfield instructor, will be the first base coach during games and presumably remains the manager-designate when Ron Gardenhire is ejected;
  • Joe Vavra (hitting coach), earlier designated the infield instructor, will be the third base coach;
  • Tom Brunansky (Triple A coach) will be the hitting coach; and
  • Bobby Cuellar (Triple A coach) will be the bullpen coach.

When the Twins started this process the day after their season ended, I suggested two specific areas that I thought could use shoring up:  Somebody fluent in Spanish, and an experienced infielder to work on infield defense. Terry Ryan, the Twins general manager, also cited the language aspect, mentioning that two in-house shortstop options (Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar) have relatively little English.

Vavra was a middle infielder in his playing days, and presumably he fits the latter bill.

Cuellar is described as fluent in Spanish. That's a step up from the previous staff, but I think it's fair to question how useful a Spanish-speaking bullpen coach will be in communicating with a couple of middle infielders. Florimon and Escobar aren't in Cuellar's area of responsibility, and Cuellar won't be in the dugout during games.

I also think it's fair to question Ullger as the successor to Jerry White as outfield/baserunning instructor; White was a speed-oriented outfielder in his playing days and Ullger wasn't. Ullger's presence on the staff strikes me as more about giving Gardenhire a No. 2 he's comfortable with than about specifically improving his assigned area.

What the Twins didn't do may be as significant as what they did do: They essentially made their coaching changes from within. Cuellar has been in the Twins organization for years (and has had major-league coaching gigs in Seattle, Texas and Pittsburgh as well); Brunansky has been in the Twins system for three seasons, working his way up the minor league ladder as a coach; and Steinbach has been a spring-training staple in Fort Myers since ending his playing career.

Staying in-house rather than going outside may not please those convinced that the "Twins Way" is outdated, but it fits Ryan's history.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The myth of Game Seven

The National League Championship Series comes down to a Game Seven tonight. St. Louis will start Kyle Lohse, former Twin; San Francisco will start Matt Cain, author this year of a perfect game.

I am probably incapable of accurately assessing this matchup. Both men had fine seasons this year. Lohse is doubtless a better pitcher today than he was six to 10 years ago, but his failure to develop while with Minnesota colors my perception of him. He will, in my estimation, always be the punk who damaged Ron Gardenhire's office.

Lohse: Bad. Cain: Good. Now that I've said that, Lohse will probably throw 20 ground balls tonight and shut the Giants out. He's better than I want to admit.

Meanwhile, I offer this piece of goodness combining two of my favorite things: Baseball and Mythbusters. Cain earlier this summer filmed a segment with the Discovery show that has yet to air (exactly what myths they're exploring/exploding I'm not sure), and this weekend Tory Belleci and Kari Byron each tweeted links to this video.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pic of the Week

Derek Jeter fractures his ankle. Note the position of the
left foot under the right ankle.

It is a given in this particular corner of the Internet: Baseball is better when the Yankees lose.

They haven't lost often over the past decade and a half. Oh, the Yankees don't win the World Series every year, or even most years. But they win. A lot. Too much.

Even this year, when they got swept — and, really, embarrrassed — in the league championship series — they still had the best record in the American League.

But there is a sense out there that last week's humiliation at the hands of the Detroit Tigers marks a turning point — that the Yankees have finally gotten too old, too frail, too expensive to recover. Joe Posnanski gives voice to that idea, with detail, quite well here.

I hope he's right. But for years I've fooled myself into believing that the Yankees dominance of the American League, if not of the majors, is ending, and I'm tired of clinging to that illusion.

I'll believe it when I see it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Turning over a roster

The Detroit Tigers went to the World Series in 2006, which was just six years ago -- six years and almost an entire roster ago.

I got to thinking about this Friday while reading a piece about how the Tigers were going to try to cope with almost a week between games. They had a similar gap in 2006 and then embarrassed themselves against the St. Louis Cardinals, particularly when the pitchers had to throw to the bases. The basic implication of the story was that the players had learned something from that experience.

Problem: There are hardly any players from the 2006 Tigers on the 2012 edition. (The manager is the same, and many of the coaches remain, but the story quoted only players.)

There's ace pitcher Justin Verlander, of course, and second baseman Omar Infante returned in midseason after a couple of years in the National League. Infielder Ramon Santiago had a bit role in 2006 and played in six postseason games that year; he had a more prominent regular season role this year (at least until Infante returned), but I'm not sure Santiago was even on the postseason roster for the first two rounds.

Other than those two or three players, this is a completely different team.

This is not unusual. Roster rules encourage churn. Even good teams don't stay together long.

Teams tend to hang on to young players for the five years when they have little if any leverage; that period is past, and the 2006 Tigers were hardly a young team anyway. The core players of the 2006 team other than the then-rookie Verlander were veteran imports Magglio Ordonez, Kenny Rogers, Carlos Guillen and Ivan Rodriguez, all of whom have been gone for a while now. The only young regular with staying power was Curtis Granderson, who was traded away after 2009. Starter Jeremy Bonderman, who was expected to join Verlander at the top of the rotation, faded away instead.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The uncaged Tigers

Phil Coke — who came to the Tigers
as a side piece in a complex trade that
also involved Curtis Granderson, Austin
Jackson, Max Scherzer and Ian Kennedy—
was an unlikely closer in the ALCS.
The lead to the Chicago Tribune's story on the final game of the American League Championship Series had it right — the Yankees got all the attention, the Tigers got all the wins.

So today, let us focus for once on the team in the Old English Ds.

The Tigers have obvious flaws to match their equally obvious strengths. Those flaws, over the course of the long season, left them with just the seventh best record in the AL — behind New York, Oakland, Texas, Baltimore, Anaheim and Tampa Bay — but they had enough to top the league's weakest division.

The strengths were enough, in a short series, to best Oakland. The Tigers have Justin Verlander, who is today the best pitcher on the planet, and Verlander started twice in the five games and won twice.

And the Tigers matched up very well with the Yankees in the second round. The aging Yankees now struggle to hit good fastballs, and the Tigers have built their pitching staff around velocity.

When Detroit closer Jose Valverde cratered, Jim Leyland made do with left-hander Phil Coke. Coke was mediocre in the regular season and untouchable in the ALCS.  This is not unlike Delmon Young, the former Twin: a low-grade regular season and heroics in the ALCS. Young hit .262/.296/.411 for the year, which is woefully inadequate for a corner outfielder turned DH, but he drove in the go-ahead runs in all four games against the Yankees.

The Tigers entered the 2012 season entertaining World Series dreams. For much of the year, it appeared their defensive shortcomings would undermine those ambitions. And now, in mid-October, they clutch the American League title and stand four wins from the big prize.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Girardi should return to the basics

The media horde surrounds Alex Rodriguez, written
out of the lineup yet again by his manager.
With his Yankees one loss from elimination Wednesday, Joe Girardi designed a lineup that excluded his 43-homer center fielder (Curtis Granderson) and the highest paid player in baseball history (Alex Rodriguez).

That lineup didn't get used, as the game was postponed to this afternoon because of rain in Detroit. I think Girardi would do well, with another night to sleep on it, to tear up that lineup and rethink the panic it reveals.

A 25-man roster simply isn't large enough to bench every slumping hitter Girardi has. And even if it were possible, it would hardly be wise.

Players are constantly urged to "play within yourself." The same is true of managers — it is possible to try too hard, to outsmart yourself, to overmanage.

It's time for Girardi to say: If we're going down, we're going down with our best. This is the lineup that won 95 games; this is the lineup that led the American League in wins. If it doesn't get the job done, so be it.

I say that knowing that it's impossible for Girardi to put his full regular lineup on the field. Derek Jeter isn't playing again in 2012, and somebody else has to play shortstop.

Shuffling the slumpers in and out just smacks of panic. And panic is never useful.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Delmon Young and postseason home runs

Delmon Young brings his Tuesday home run home.
Delmon Young, he of the career .425 slugging percentage, hit a home run Tuesday in Detroit's 2-1 win over the Yankees.

This gives him seven postseason dingers for the Tigers  — pretty impressive for 17 games, especially for a hitter who, in the regular season, has averaged 9.88 games per home run. A true power hitter, he ain't.

The broadcast crews for these games, be they TBS or Fox, love to tell us how Derek Jeter is the all-time leader in postseason hits, or — in Young's case — that Young is now the Tigers' all-time home run leader in postseason play.

This is misleading blather, because there are so many more postseason games now. The Division Series and the Championship Series do not equal the World Series.

Young (so far) hit his seven homers in 64 at-bats over four series in 2011 and '12. He has't played in a World Series yet, although it sure looks likely this year.

Hank Greenberg, the Hall of Fame first baseman who was a key figure in four World Series teams for the Tigers in the 1930s and 40s, hit five homers in 85 at-bats and 23 games. (Three of those World Series went seven games.) Greenberg's lowest slugging percentage in those four series was .571; he slugged .624 in World Series play, .605 for his career.

Young's power surge in the playoffs the last two Octobers has been essentially inexplicable, and good for him. Greenberg's production in his four World Series is essentially what he did in the regular season.

There's no comparison between the two. Young deserves credit for what he's done, but not at Greenberg's expense. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The last of the originals

Jim Rantz, with Tony Oliva by his side, turns in the Twins
first-round draft pick in 2008.
Jim Rantz, who has run the Twins farm system since 1986, announced his retirement Monday as the Twins began their organizational meetings in Fort Myers, Fla.

Rantz has been part of the Twins organization from the moment Calvin Griffith moved the franchise to the Twin Cities from Washington -- minor league pitcher, minor league manager, public relations, scouting, farm system. Fifty-two years in professional baseball, all with one team -- and his hometown team at that (he's from St. Paul).

His biggest claim to fame: He's the guy who found Kirby Puckett while watching his son play college ball in Illinois.

Rantz is 75, so this may very well be purely his choice, and he told the Star Tribune that he had told general manager Terry Ryan a year ago that 2012 would be his last year.

Still, in the wake of the coaching staff shakeup, some may have figured that Ryan wanted to make some changes in that part of the organization as well. That thought certainly crossed my mind. But judging from Ryan's comments, that's not the case. Brad Steil, Rantz's assistant, was named interim farm director Monday, and I've seen immediate speculation that the interim tag will be fairly quickly removed.

Either way, there's an opening, and it will be interesting to see if Ryan promotes from within or looks outside the organization for a farm director. My guess is that he'll stay in-house.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The durable A.J. Pierzynski

A.J Pierzynski turned slugger in 2012, with his first
season with a slugging percentage above .500.
A.J. Pierzynski had one of his best seasons in 2012 with 27 homers, nine more than his previous career high, and a career best OPS+ (on-base plus slugging, adjusted for park effects and compared to league average).

He's also about to enter free agency and will be 36 before next season.

He's been a mainstay for the Chicago White Sox for eight seasons, and I fully expect him to remain on the South Side. But man, there's a lot of mileage on those tires.

Several years ago, as the Twins and Joe Mauer were hammering out his megacontract, I did a series of posts on outstanding offensive catchers and how rapidly they aged. The general rule was: The harder the catcher was worked in his early years, the shorter his career and/or effectiveness.

Pierzynski has had some good seasons as a hitter, but he's not really on the level of the men involved in my study. But it's worth noting that he has caught more than 1,000 innings in 11 straight seasons now, and that's rare. Yogi Berra, for example, had a total of nine such workhorse seasons (not consecutive). Ivan Rodriguez,who holds the career games caught record, has 11 such seasons, again non-consecutive. Carlton Fisk, who caught into his mid-40s, had nine 1,000 inning seasons.

That Pierzynski can not only handle so much work behind the dish and put up career-best numbers as a hitter in his mid-30s is impressive. It probably helped that he didn't become a regular until age 24 — he wasn't asked to take on such a workload at age 20 — but his career pattern is hardly routine.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pic of the Week

Nationals closer Drew Storen sits at his
locker early Saturday morning after
taking the loss in Game 5.
The past week has been a rough one on closers.

Jose Valverde of Detroit pitched twice against Oakland: 16.20 ERA. He closed out one game, blew a two-run lead in another. But his team ultimately won the series. Thus reprieved, Papa Grande proceeded on Friday to choke up a four-run lead in the opener of the ALCS. The Tigers wound up winning the game despite him, and it's difficult to imagine Jim Leyland calling on him again for anything more than mop-up duties.

Jim Johnson of Baltimore — the major league leader in saves with 51 — pitched four times in the five games against the Yankees,  giving up six runs (five earned) in 4.1 innings. He got hammered in a tied Game 1, and gave up the dramatic game-tying pinch-hit homer to Raul Ibanez in Game 3. Rough times indeed.

But it fell to young Drew Storen of Washington — who missed the first half of the season with injury and only reclaimed the closing role in September — to take the worst blown save of the lot.

The worst because it came in Game Five of the NLDS. He had a two-run lead when he took the mound, and his team trailed by two when he left the mound.

And now he has all winter to think about it.

It's the kind of high-stakes failure that can bend a player's career. And he doesn't get to climb back on the horse that threw him for months.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tigers v. Yankees. Yuck.

Justin Verlander's ERAs in six postseason
series: 5.06, 6.75, 5.73, 5.00, 5.56 and 0.56. 
So this is what the American League is down to for its World Series representative:

The New York Yankees, the very symbol of smug entitlement, and the esthetically unappealing Detroit Tigers.

Obviously, I was rooting for the Orioles and Athletics in the division series. The big budget boys won.

Both teams feature power hitters, power pitchers, inferior defense (especially Detroit), offenses that struggle to generate runs without homers and a lot of wasted payroll (especially the Yankees).

After watching the Yankees hitters flail and fail repeatedly against Baltimore this week, I'm inclined to predict that the Tigers' fastballs will be too much for them. True, Justin Verlander won't be available until the middle of the ALCS, but Max Scherzer is a high-velocity arm, and Anibal Sanchez is no slouch.

And sooner or later, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have to start hitting. Don't they?

The surviving National League teams, San Francisco and St. Louis, are likewise less interesting to me than the teams they vanquished, Cincinnati and Washington -- the two teams with the best records in the league.

The four division series all went the maximum five games, and, particularly in the AL series, there was a lot of drama. But only one of the higher seeds -- the Yankees -- advanced. Such is postseason baseball. In a short series -- and even a seven-game series is short -- the better team doesn't always win.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The shell of A-Rod

Swing and a miss: Rodriguez struck out in
this eighth-inning at-bat with two on against
low-angle righty Darren O'Day.
Alex Rodriguez is far from the only Yankee struggling at the plate in this fascinating division series with Baltimore.

Cleanup hitter Robinson Cano is 2 for 18. Curtis Granderson is 1 for 16 with nine strikeouts.

But it's A-Rod who has been pinch-hit for in consecutive games against Orioles closer Jim Johnson. It worked sensationally well in Game 3, when Raul Ibanez created a legend with back-to-back jacks to first tie then win the game. It didn't work in Game 4.

Rodriguez did draw a walk and line a single off Joe Saunders on Thursday, but once the Orioles replaced the lefty and Rodriguez had to face right-handers, he was lost again.

Pinch-hitting for the 647-homer man on Wednesday created quite a stir; when it happened again on Thursday, TBS' Ernie Johnson could barely be bothered to mention who Eric Chavez was hitting for. And the question was less why Joe Girardi was hitting for A-Rod with two outs in the 13th and down a run than why he didn't hit for A-Rod in the eighth with two men on.

This morning, the question is: Will Girardi start Rodriguez in today's Game 5 against the right-handed Jason Hammel, or will he fit another left-handed bat into his lineup at Rodriguez's expense?

And the deeper question is: Is this just a slump, or have age and injury dissolved Rodriguez's talents to the point that he's no longer usable against right-handed pitching? This year, he hit .308/.410/.514 against southpaws, but just .256/.326/.391 against righties.

One season's platoon split is not conclusive evidence, but it's increasingly clear that he has trouble catching up to fastballs.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Around the division: Cleveland Indians

Terry Francona is leaving the ESPN booth for the
dugout in Cleveland.
For a manager with dreams of the Hall of Fame, two World Series wins is borderline, three is a lock.

Terry Francona had one foot in the Hall of Fame — still does, actually — with two World Series titles on his resume. That they came in Boston, where nobody else has won the Series since World War I, is a added selling point.

But he also washed out in Philadelphia, and now he's taken the job in Cleveland, where the Indians barely avoided the worst record in the American League.

It's a family thing, at least in part. Francona's father, Tito, was a standout for the Tribe in the late '50's-early 60s, hitting .363 one season. Terry (also known as Tito) worked briefly in the Cleveland front office between the Philly and Boston jobs and thus has a pre-existing relationship with team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti.

Still, I'm not sure I see the point for Cleveland in hiring Francona, or for Francona to take the job.

Francona's managerial history — not just in Boston and Philly, but in the minor leagues, where he was the skipper of the Birmingham Barons during the Michael Jordan circus — suggests that his strong suit is dealing with voracious media attention. That's not going to matter much in Cleveland.

I'm not sure where Cleveland's front office and ownership think they are in the cycle. It's a weak division, but it's hardly a set-up-to-win-now situation for Francona, and it's also not a total tear-down in progress.

I would have expected Francona to wait for a better shot at immediate success. I don't think this pairing of man and job is going to work out well for either side.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The fourth pick in the draft

Ryan Zimmerman was the fourth
overall pick in 2005.
Tuesday's post on Mark Teixeira mentioned in passing that Gavin Floyd was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 amateur draft. That always surprises me; I forget that Floyd was taken before Teixeira.

I assume that when the Phillies took Floyd, they did so in the hopes that he would mature into a front-of-the-rotation starter. He didn't, but he did become a reliable 30-start, 190-innings, 4.00-ERA guy, and that's valuable. (Didn't help the Phillies much; they traded him and Gio Gonzalez to the White Sox for Freddie Garcia after the 2006 season. Floyd has 63 wins with the Sox; Garcia went 1-5 in his one season with the Phillies.)

So ... question: Is a Gavin Floyd a good return for a No. 4 pick?

This is a relevant question for Twins fans because Minnesota has the No. 4 pick in next June's draft.

Since we already know 2001, we'll start there and move forward, using Baseball Reference's version of WAR as a rough overall measure of career value:

2001: Floyd, Philadelphia, RHP, 13.9 WAR
2002: Adam Lowen, Baltimore, LHP/OF, 0.4 WAR. Washed out as a pitcher, now an outfielder who has reached Triple A but hasn't cracked the show as a hitter.
2003: Tim Stauffer, San Diego, RHP, 2.5 WAR. Made 31 starts in 2011, just one this year.
2004: Jeff Niemann, Tampa Bay, RHP, 3.4 WAR. Cracked the Rays rotation in 2009, record somewhat  similar to Floyd's, but less durable.
2005: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington, 3B, 28.7 WAR. Finally something resembling a star player.
2006: Brad Lincoln, Pittsburgh, RHP, 0.0 WAR. Generic middle reliever.
2007: Daniel Moskos, Pittsburgh, LHP, 0.2 WAR. 31 games and 24.2 innings of relief in 2011.
2008: Brian Matusz, Baltimore, LHP, 0.8 WAR. Pitching in relief in the playoffs, failing so far as a starter. Future may be in the bullpen.
2009: Tony Sanchez, Pittsburgh, C. Hasn't reached the majors. Split 2012 between Double A and Triple A. Hasn't hit since 2010 in High A.
2010: Christian Colon, Kansas City, SS. Hasn't reached the majors. May not stick at shortstop. A handful of Triple A games. Didn't hit particularly well in Double-A.
2011: Dylan Bundy, Baltimore, RHP, 0.1 WAR. Reached majors for a couple of shutout innings this September at age 19. Eye-popping numbers at three minor league levels, being handled very gingerly by the O's. May top the prospect lists this offseason.
2012: Kevin Glausman, Baltimore, RHP: Has barely begun his pro career.

What do we have of out these 12 No. 4 picks? One standout position player in Zimmerman, two middle-rotation starters (Floyd and Niemann), one dazzling prospect (Bundy), and a bunch of question marks or busts.

This may say more about the scouting acumen in Pittsburgh and Baltimore (responsible for seven of the 12 picks) than of the talent available at that slot, but it's not an impressive track record. Floyd does look pretty good in this crowd, which may indicate how difficult it is to find and develop even a mid-rotation arm.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The 2001 draft: Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira let this grounder get through him in
Game 2 of the ALDS on Monday
Mark Teixeira looks ... old. He's 32, but the Yankees first baseman is playing older and stiffer than that.

In 2010, he hit .256/.365/.481; in 2011, he hit .248/.341/.494; this year, .251/.332/.475. Batting average unimpressive, walks dropping, still hitting an occasional bomb ... And the Yankees are committed to him for another four years at $22.5 million a year.

I've little doubt that the calf injury that cost him most of September still bothers him somewhat and helps make him look slow and unathletic in these playoffs, but that's still a three-year trend line that has to be worrisome to the Yankees.

Teixeira was the fifth player taken in the famous 2001 draft, although he was widely regarded as one of the top three talents. He slipped, without a doubt, because he was aligned with Scott Boras, and many a team preferred not to deal with that devil.

Joe Mauer, as we Twins fans know, went first and Mark Prior second. The only quarrels anybody had at the time was which order the two should be in. The Twins clearly made the right choice.

They were followed by  two high school pitchers: Dewon Brazelton (Tampa Bay) and Gavin Floyd (Philadelphia). Brazelton flopped, and the Phillies traded Floyd to the White Sox, where he's been a good-but-not-great starter for six seasons.

Then Texas popped Teixeira. He was the fifth guy taken in the draft, but he'll probably wind up making the most money of anybody in the field.

What intrigues me today, looking at the 2001 draft with more than a decade of hindsight, is how poorly the rest of the first round played out. The best of the rest were Casey Kotchman and Jeremy Bonderman. Noah Lowry and Bobby Crosby had their moments but flamed out early, and Mike Fontenot has hung around as a utilityman/low-grade regular, but you've got to go to the supplemental round and the 38th overall pick (David Wright) to find the next star in that draft.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Two old friends in the playoffs

Pat Neshek pitched Saturday against the Detroit Tigers,
getting a groundout and a strikeout from his two batters.
The patch on his throwing shoulder reads "GJN," the
initials of his son, who was born Tuesday and died Wednesday.
Pat Neshek and Lew Ford aren't stars and aren't regulars. Neither spent the whole season in the majors.

But both ex-Twins are in the playoffs, and considering the trajectories of their careers, that's impressive. And in Neshek's case, maybe a bit more.

I noted on the blog last week that Neshek's wife gave birth Tuesday to their son, Gehrig, and that the baby died less than 24 hours later, with no explanation.

When the A's released their roster Friday for the Divisional Series against Detroit, Neshek was on it. And when the series opened, Neshek pitched — two batters, two outs. Like the rest of his teammates, he was wearing a reminder of his loss. And he wore it well, pitching from his fog of grief.

Neshek had — I'm shifting here strictly to pitching — a good if rather baffling season in 2012, reviving a career that appeared moribund. The Twins, you'll recall, waived him in spring training 2011, even though he had an option left; the move suggested that the team had little expectation that he could return to his form of 2006-07.

The Padres picked him up, and he walked 22 men in 25 major league innings. They released him after the season, and the Orioles signed him. He put up decent numbers in Triple A, but the O's sold him to Oakland in early August rather than use him themselves. And Neshek played a bit role in the bullpen depth of an exceedingly young A's team. A bit role, but an effective one: 24 games, 19.2 innings, 1.37 ERA.
Russell Martin, the Yankees catcher, makes sure
Lew Ford touches the plate as the former Twin scores
a third-inning run  Sunday night.

Neshek's 32; Ford is 36. Neshek had been ineffective since 2007; Ford's been out of the majors since 2007. Last year Ford was reduced to playing in an independent league.

That's stubborn.

Ford was called up in late July. He never got his batting average above .205, but he stuck.

And on Sunday he was in the starting lineup for Baltimore. In Game One of the ALDS, he and his .183/.256/.352 slash line started against CC Sabathia. And he doubled, singled and scored a run. Of course he did.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pic of the Week

Brandon Phillips, second baseman
of the Cincinnati Reds, juggles
a ball during a Friday workout.

I doubt such activities are a formal part of any team's practices, but such displays of manual dexterity aren't uncommon and may even be useful for middle infielders.

Phillips, as a second baseman, is frequently called upon to make rapid-fire catch-and-throws, particularly on the double play pivot. Part of that is "grabbing seams" — gripping the ball with the fingers of the throwing hand crossing the seam of the ball. This is essential to making a true and accurate throw.

Phillips may be just fooling around here. But he may also, intentionally or otherwise, be drilling himself in the muscle memory that can turn a misplay into a good play.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Infield flies, wild cards and coaching changes

Umpire Sam Holbrook embarrassed himself Friday with a
wrong-headed infield fly ruling. Atlanta fans embarrassed
themselves by trashing the field.
My take on the bizarre infield fly ruling in the eighth inning of Friday's National League wild-card game:

I think the St. Louis shortstop, Pete Kozma, was trying to deke the runners into believing he would catch the fly ball. Whether he deceived the runners or not, he got something better: the umpire bit.

Kozma headed out to left field after the ball, stopped facing the infield and waved his arms as if trying to warn off the left fielder. His actions, I believe, led left-field umpire Sam Holbrook to make the call. But Kozma wasn't within five feet of where the ball hit when it landed, and he was already dashing in to the infield.

Holbrook insisted after the game that he got the call right and that his colleagues agreed with him. I'm not buying that. He got fooled.


One of my colleagues suggested to me that the one-game wild card format is unfair to the teams. My response: If they won't want to be in that situation, they should win their division title.

A longer wild card series would be unfair to the division winners, who would have to sit around and wait for the wild card teams to get done. This format rewards teams for finishing first. Bravo for that.


I surmised in Friday's post that the reassigned Twins coaches, Scott Ullger and Joe Vavra, were going to be working in the minor league system. Not so. They remain on the major league coaching staff, but with different duties.

I have several thoughts on what Terry Ryan had to say Friday, not all of them complementary, but I plan to devote the Monday print column to the topic, so I won't delve into the topic here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The coaching chopping block

Joe Vavra, on the job
for seven seasons, was
the newbie on the
coaching staff.
It was quite the purge at Target Field on Thursday, the day after the Twins completed a second-straight season with the worst record in the American League.

By the time Terry Ryan finished meeting one-on-one with the coaching staff, only manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson were left in their accustomed positions — and they on one-year deals.

Bullpen coach and spring-training scheduler Rick Stelmaszek, who joined the coaching staff while the team was still playing at Metropolitan Stadium, was the first to get the ax — and when that word broke, the implications were obvious. If Stelly was getting pushed out, nobody was safe.

Rick Stelmaszek
had been with the
Twins for 32 years.
Also gone: third base coach Steve Liddle, first base coach Jerry White, and trainer Rick McWane. Bench coach Scott Ullger and hitting coach Joe Vavra are being reassigned to outfield instruction and infield instruction respectively; these do not figure to be major league positions, but I suspect we'll get a fuller spelling-out of things today, when Ryan, owner Jim Pohlad and team president Dave St. Peter meet with reporters.

This kind of purge is fairly common with other organizations, but not with the Twins. Even when the managers changed under Pohlad ownership, the coaching staffs remained largely intact.

Scott Ullger, at
various times, has
been the first base
coach, the hitting
coach, the third base
coach and the
bench coach.
From my perspective, the coaching staff the past several years has had two significant omissions: First, there was no native Spanish speaker. I suspect that part of the problem the Twins have had with such players as Francisco Liriano, Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla has been communication.  Second, the only infielders on the staff since Al Newman was fired after the 2005 season were the manager and the hitting coach, neither of whom should be expected to be focused on making sure the shortstop is properly positioned or on refining the second baseman's pivot.

Removing five of the six coaches opens plenty of opportunity for new faces. It is being widely assumed that the Triple A staff — Gene Glynn, Bobby Cuellar and Tom Brunansky — will be brought in, and Paul Molitor has apparently indicated an interest in returning to the coaching staff, which he left when Gardenhire became manager.

Let's see:

Jerry White had the
longest major league
playing career on
the staff: 11 seasons.
Manager: Gardenhire
Pitching coach: Anderson
Bench coach: Molitor (replacing Ullger)
Hitting coach: Brunansky (Vavra)
Third base coach: Glynn (Liddle)
First base coach: ? (White)
Bullpen coach: Cuellar (Stelmaszek)

Glynn and Molitor are former infielders, so that concern of mine is met. I don't know that the Spanish speaker concern is. 

Molitor would likely become the backup manager, a role Ullger has filled under Gardenhire — taking over after ejections or if Gardy is ill. And if the belief that Gardenhire is now on a short leash is correct, Molitor might be the new manager in waiting.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

From triumph to tragedy

I was trying to get my head around the Oakland A's surprise division title last night when the sad word came from.A's (and former Twins) reliever Pat Neshek via Twitter:

Please pray for my family. Tonight my wife & I lost our first & only son 23 hours after he was born with no explanation.

Neshek's wife, Stephanee, had earlier tweeted this photo of Gehrig John Neshek and called the child their "playoff baby."

There is, apparently, no cause of death. What a hellish development.

Buster Posey's batting title

Buster Posey hit .337 this year. It was the second-best
batting average on his team and in the National League,
but he's the official batting champion.
Buster Posey is the odds-on favorite to win the National League MVP award, and deservedly so. The San Francisco Giants catcher had a great season — .337 batting average, 24 homers, 102 RBIs.

He will be officially recognized as the NL batting champ — officially because,  in one of those odd fits of self-righteousness we seem to be prone to, disgraced teammate Melky Cabrera, whose .346 batting average came one plate appearance short of qualifying, is being denied Rule 10.22(a).

Catchers and batting average crowns are an odd combo. This is the seventh time a catcher has led a major league in batting average — and the third time it was disputable. Follow along ...

1926: Bubbles Hargrave, a part-time catcher with Cincinnati, hits .353. The qualifying standard at the time was 100 games played; Hargrave, who split playing time with Val Picinich, appeared in 105 games and had just 366 plate appearances. By today's standards, he would have needed 478.

It's really a weird list of leaders. After Hargrave, it's teammate Cockoo Christensen, an outfielder who also played just part time (385 plate appearances). Third is Earl Smith — another catcher, with even less playing time than Hargrave. Fourth is Cy Williams — and again, he had less than 400 plate appearances. You have to get to rookie Paul Waner, a future Hall of Famer, to find a true regular on the leaders list.

(Perhaps the real problem in 1926 is that it's the one season in a decade-long span in which Rogers Hornsby didn't top .360. He hit a mere .317. But he did manage the Cardinals to the pennant and a World Series title.)

1938: Ernie Lombardi, Cincinnati, hits .342 in 529 plate appearances. By any standard, it's legit. Lombardi also wins the MVP award.

1942: Lombardi, now with Brooklyn, hits .330, but in only 347 plate appearances (105 games).  He is awarded the title over Enos Slaughter of St. Louis, who hit .318.

2006: Joe Mauer, .347 in 608 plate appearances.

2008: Mauer, .328 in 633 appearances.

2009: Mauer, .365 in 606 appearances. (And the MVP.)

2012: Posey.

All this is not to denigrate Posey's season. He had a superb year. He didn't have the best batting average in the league, not by the rules in place.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Eye on 2013: Anthony Swarzak

Anthony Swarzak was a second-round draft pick
|in the same year that the Twins drafted Trevor Plouffe,
Glen Perkins and Kyle Waldrop, all of whom went ahead of him.
The Twins needed somebody to make a fill-in start Tuesday in Sam Deduno's stead. I had expected Brian Duensing to get the ball, but he was used for a fairly extensive relief outing during the weekend, and Anthony Swarzak got the start.

Swarzak went five innings, giving up four runs. Which is pretty much in line with his career splits: 5.74 ERA in 27 career starts entering Tuesday's game, 4.03 ERA in 55 relief appearances.

The Twins still take Duesning seriously as a starting candidate, despite mounting evidence that he's a far more effective reliever. Even with Tuesday's spot start, I don't think they take Swarzak seriously as a starting candidate.

Nor should they. Duensing has two advantages over Swarzak. First, Duensing's left-handed. Second, he had some success in the rotation in 2009 and 2010.

I have often over the past few years invoked the memory of Matt Guerrier when discussing a certain type of bullpen candidate -- men with a starter's repertoire whose talent level was just a tad short of being a major league starter. Guerrier spent two seasons, 2005 and 2006, filling the long-man role in a well-stacked Minnesota bullpen, and stepped into higher leverage roles in 2007 as Jesse Crain got hurt and Juan Rincon lost his effectiveness.

One difference between Guerrier and Swarzak is that Swarzak has been used much more as a swingman -- 11 starts last season, five this year. My sense of it is that Swarzak would be well served if he were locked into the long relief job for a year or so. But that might well require a more stable starting rotation.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

More league prospects lists

Eddie Rosario: Can he stick at second?
Last week, as Baseball America began to roll out online its league-by-league top prospects lists, I posted about the Twins minor leaguers on two of those lists.

Today BA's website features its Top 20 for the Midwest League. Miguel Sano is No. 2, and Eddie Rosario is No. 12. Those two are the only Twins on the list.

Jim Callis wrote the MWL reports, and he's the same BA staffer who suggested in a recent online chat that Rosario did not take well enough to second base to stick there. So it should be no surprise that that evaluation is aired in the (subscriber-only) scouting report on Rosario:

While he worked diligently on his defense, scouts don't think his hands, range or throwing are good enough for second base. His average speed may not bode well for a long-term fit in center field either.

We'll learn soon enough, I suppose, if the Twins organization agrees with that assessment.

BA/Callis also suggest that Sano may become an outfielder.

Meanwhile ... the print edition arrived today, and it includes the Top 20 for all the minor leagues, and the scouting reports for the Top 10s.

Other Twins who make lists:

  • 1B/OF Chris Parmelee is No. 5 in the International League (Triple A)
  • OF Oswaldo Arcia is No. 6 in the Eastern League (Double A) and No. 7 in the Florida State League (High A)
  • OF Aaron Hicks is No. 8 in the Eastern League

And, as noted in the previous posts, OF Byron Buxton was No.1 in both the Appy League and the Gulf Coast League, and OF Max Kepler was No. 7 in the Appy League.

Seven unique players, two of them (Buxton and Arcia) on two lists. No pitchers, and its possible (but I think unlikely) that all seven will wind up as outfielders. The lack of sure-thing infielders is discouraging.

One note on the Parmelee ranking: The IL is described as unusually weak in true prospects:

The talent craters quickly after the trio of Matt Harvey, Sterling Marte and Chris Archer at the top. For a Triple-A league, there's a glaring lack of future starting major league position players. ... Most of the hitters on this list profile as complementary players or even reserves.

The actual report on Parmelee is quite positive, however.

Eye on 2013: Trevor Plouffe

Chris Parmelee greets Trevor Plouffe (24) at home plate
after Plouffe's home run Monday.
Trevor Plouffe hit his 24th home run of the season Monday night in Toronto. He also doubled in a run and drew a walk, giving him three straight games with two hits.

He also had his adventures defensively at third base. In the sixth inning, with the bases loaded and one out, he threw home on a ground ball and got one out. The next batter then doubled between Plouffe and the line — Plouffe's range to his right has been an issue — for two runs.

Ron Gardenhire's take on the inning, via Rhett Bollinger of

I think a failed double play hurt us. We went home with it, but in my opinion we had to turn two there, and it ended up costing us to let them get in striking range.

Highs and lows. That's been Plouffe's season, and it's not certain that 26-year-old former first-round draft pick is going to be a regular for the Twins next year.

He had a monster run at the plate in mid-season. From May 13 (Mother's Day) through July 20 — 54 games, one third of the season — he hit .293/.345/.610 with 18 homers and 11 doubles.

Then he hurt his thumb, a "day-to-day" injury that ultimately kept him out of the lineup for three weeks and perhaps should have kept him out longer. Once he returned Aug. 13, he didn't hit: .188/.241/.312 through Sunday. As unimpressive as that slash line is, it's better than the .130/.277/.204 he compiled leading up to Mother's Day.

That roller coaster makes him a prime candidate for the misevaluation I call "Dick Bremer Disease," the tendency we tend to have of judging a player's talents by what he does at his best. Plouffe's not a .610 slugger. For the season, he has an on-base percentage under .300 and a slugging percentage under .450, and I think that's closer to his reality.

Defensively, Plouffe has not been good at third base. Baseball Info Solutions' plus-minus and runs saved metrics — explained here — put him near the bottom of defensive third basemen. Of the 20 men with at least 700 innings at the hot corner, Plouffe is tied with Miguel Cabrera for 17th in plus-minus and is 18th in runs saved.

Combine the lousy defense with the underwhelming offensive totals for the season, and Plouffe appears ripe for replacement. With whom is another matter; the Twins lack an obvious in-house alternative.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Eye on 2013: Matt Capps

Matt Capps' 2012:
30 games, 14 saves
and about half a
season on the
disabled list.

Matt Capps, semi-official whipping boy of the Twins Internet, opened the season as closer and was OK in that role — not great, but acceptable — into June.

He picked up saves on June 2, 3, 4 and 6 and a win on June 8— five games in seven days, throwing a total of just eight pitches in two of those outings — and at that point things appear to have started to splutter physically. He was given a week between appearances between June 15 and 23, then went on the disabled list for almost three weeks. He came back, made two appearances in three days, went back on the DL, and didn't return until last week.

It's the second year in a row that Capps has experienced arm issues that emerged soon after a period of daily work. That doesn't work well with modern bullpen usage, which tends to lean heavily on the idea that relievers can be used often in short bursts.

Glen Perkins is now in command of the ninth inning job, and nobody seriously believes that the Twins will pick up Capps' $6 million option for 2013. Capps is back, in reality, to audition for  the other 29 teams. He wants to show that his arm is sound going into the offseason and his expected free agency.

But he hasn't gotten much showing in. When he was reactivated, Ron Gardenhire made it known that

  • Capps wouldn't be used on consecutive days and
  • Capps had been told that he wasn't coming back to make one appearance and go home.

Capps returned for two series against teams in the playoff hunt — the Yankees and Tigers — and while the Twins didn't win either series, they were generally playing close games. He has made one appearance, mopping up a loss to the Yankees on Sept. 26, and as far as I know hasn't even warmed up since.

The Twins have a 10-man bullpen right now — well, call it nine, because one of them (probably Brian Duensing) will be called upon to start Tuesday in Sam Deduno's stead — and everybody else is a possible contributor to the 2013 Twins. Gardenhire took the games against the Yankees and Tigers seriously, not as a time to experiment, and right now Perkins, Jared Burton and Casey Fein are the top dogs in the bullpen.

So Capps' idleness last week is explicable. There are three games left, on the road against the non-contending Toronto Blue Jays, and if Capps goes unused in those games, I will be curious about why he was reactivated last week. One isolated appearance wouldn't seem to be much assurance to potential employers.