Saturday, December 31, 2016

My mythical Hall of Fame ballot

You know this already, but I'll repeat it anyway: I don't have a vote for the Hall of Fame. Vin Scully and Bill James don't either, so I'm in pretty good company.

But that doesn't preclude me from looking at the writers ballot and asking myself: Who would I vote for? And it certainly doesn't preclude me from telling you who I would vote for.

The writers are limited to voting for a maximum of 10, and there are a lot more than 10 deserving names on the ballot. My 10 would be, in alphabetical order:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens
  • Vladimir Guerrero
  • Jeff Kent
  • Mike Mussina
  • Jorge Posada
  • Tim Raines
  • Ivan Rodriguez
  • Larry Walker

Four candidates I  supported last year aren't on the ballot this time -- two who were elected (Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza), one who ran out of time (Alan Trammell) and a fourth who didn't get enough support to stick (Jim Edmonds). And I created a fifth slot by dropping Curt Schilling in a futile protest of his "joking" support of lynchings.

I've added newcomers Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Vladimir Guerrero, plus holdovers Larry Walker and Jeff Kent.

Walker and Kent are the marginal guys on this ballot; they get my nod over Edgar Martinez, but not by a lot, and I could if I tried (and I might try if it mattered) talk myself back into Schilling over any of the three.

I can't talk myself into supporting Trevor Hoffman, even though he appears to have an excellent chance of getting in this year. Hoffman's candidacy -- like that of Lee Smith -- is based largely on his imposing pile of saves, a stat of dubious value. It's difficult to rationalize voting for one of those two and not the other -- and even more difficult to support either over Billy Wagner, yet another one-inning closer. I say leave 'em all out.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Hall of Fame thoughts: Catchers (Jason Varitek)

Two posts on catchers on the Hall of Fame ballot; one on former Twins on the ballot. And now, one on a third catcher on the ballot who could -- should -- have been a Twin: Jason Varitek.

The Twins had back-to-back picks in the first round of the 1993 draft, picks number 20 and 21. With the first of the two picks -- which came from Cincinnati, which had signed free agent John Smiley -- the Twins selected Torii Hunter. We know how well that turned out.

With the second pick, the Twins chose Varitek, then a junior at Georgia Tech. Varitek was "advised" by Scott Boras, and he wound up returning to school for his senior year. The next year, Varitek was drafted by Seattle, which traded him to Boston three years later in one of those "what-were-they-thinking" trades that echo down the years: Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb. Either Varitek or Lowe for Slocumb would have been a steal; both was simply ridiculous.

Varitek made his major league debut later in 1997 (one at-bat); he shared the catching chores in 1998 with Scott Hatteberg and became Boston's No. 1 catcher the following season. He never played a major league game for any team other than the Red Sox, and it's not easy today to imagine him in any other uniform. But it could have been otherwise.

Another catcher broke in in 1998: A.J. Pierzynski. He didn't really emerge as the Twins No. 1 catcher until 2001, however. Imagine an alternative universe in which Varitek/Boras and the Twins agreed to a deal back in 1993 and that Varitek's timeline to the majors was unaltered. What, then, happens to Pierzynski's career? There's a story that at the end of the 2001 season Tom Kelly told Pierzynski that he had never believed that Pierzynski would be a major league catcher but that A.J. had proven him wrong. It's possible that, had Varitek signed with the Twins, Pierzynski would have been blocked from the career he wound up having.

And if that happens, the Twins and Giants never get to make their "what-were-they-thinking" trade of Pierzynski for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser. (Or maybe it gets made with Varitek instead of Pierzynski. The Twins were bound to make room for Joe Mauer at that point.)

Baseball Reference credits Pierzynski and Varitek with pretty close to the same career WAR: 23.3 for Pierzynski, 24.3 for Varitek, with Pierzynski's totals being dragged down in recent season. Neither is to be found in the other's similiarity score list, however, and Pierzynski's comps are in fact more impressive than Varitek's, with two Hall of Fame catchers prominent (Ernie Lombardi and Gabby Hartnett). It's an interesting question in retrospect: Which catcher would you rather have, Varitek or Pierzynski?

Failing to sign a first-round pick is not a recommended strategy for team building. But failing to sign Varitek worked out OK for the Twins -- and, obviously, for Varitek. Varitek will be one-and-done on this ballot. But he had a fine career.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hall of Fame thoughts: Ex-Twins on the ballot

There are two names on the writers ballot this year who played briefly for the Twins, and both will assuredly be one-and-done.

There's no shame in that; just getting onto the Hall of Fame ballot signals an impressive career. It requires a minimum of 10 seasons in the majors, for one thing, and even that longevity is not enough by itself.

The former Twins on the ballot this year:

Casey Blake. It 's easy to forget (or to have never noticed) that Blake played for the Twins. Indeed, he had two separate tenures with Minnesota.

He debuted with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1999, then the Twins picked him up on waivers. He got 21 plate appearances with the Twins in 2000 and another 25 in 2001 before the Twins waived him in September. The Baltimore Orioles claimed him and played him in six games, then waived him themselves after the season -- and the Twins claimed him back. He got another 22 PAs with the Twins in 2002.

The Twins then released him. He was 29 and had gotten exactly 125 major league plate appearances. He was blocked in Minnesota by Corey Koskie, but two other organizations had found him wanting. This is the description of a Quadruple A player, a guy who probably needs to find something else to do with his life.

Blake signed with Cleveland, and his career turned around. Over the next eight seasons he averaged more than 20 homers a year, splitting time between third base, right field and first base, playing in three postseasons. He never led the league in anything, never made an All-Star team, but he was a solid regular for both the Indians and the Dodgers. (The Indians traded him for Carlos Santana, so he still has an impact on the Tribe.)

Orlando Cabrera. His career is essentially in two segments: The Montreal years, eight seasons with the Expos, and the nomadic years, in which he wandered from playoff team to playoff team, a short-term shortstop.

He was the shortstop for Boston when the Red Sox broke the curse. He stepped in for the 2009 Twins, hitting over .280 down the stretch and bopping a key homer in the famous Game 163. He never made the postseason with the Expos, but he was in the playoffs six of seven years after leaving Canada. I wouldn't say those teams won because of O-Cab; I would say that he didn't keep them from winning.

Like Blake, he never made an All-Star team, but he did win a pair of Gold Gloves. He was never the best shortstop in the league, but he was a good one and stuck at the position well into his 30s.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hall of Fame thoughts: Catchers (Ivan Rodriguez)

Jorge Posada, subject of Tuesday's post, isn't the only catcher debuting on the writers ballot this year. He isn't even the best catcher debuting on the writers ballot.

That distinction belongs to Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez, a genuine challenger to Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra as the greatest backstop in major league history.

By the numbers, by his career accomplishments, Rodriguez deserves first-ballot entry, even by the reluctant-to-honor-catchers standards of the BBWAA. He has a rare set of credentials for a catcher: a brilliant peak and longevity, both an outstanding hitter and a gifted defensive catcher.

But ... steroids.

Rodriguez never tested positive, never was suspended. He was named by Jose Canseco as a fellow 'roider, and he did drop a lot of weight when testing began, the kind of circumstantial evidence that delayed Mike Piazza's election and has held back Jeff Bagwell.

My basic stance on this: I draw a line at the beginning of testing. Before that, performance-enhancing drugs were officially illegal, but nobody bothered trying to enforce that ban. If anything, the culture of the sport -- nurtured, no matter what they say now, by the likes of Bud Selig and Tony LaRussa --  encouraged players to do whatever they could to improve.

If Pudge was using in, say, 2003 and quit when the game got serious about changing the culture, that's fine by me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hall of Fame thoughts: catchers (Jorge Posada)

The great Joe Posnanski recently pointed out, in writing about the presence of Jorge Posada for the first time on the writers' ballot, something I was vaguely aware of but had not really put together in my brain:

Six catchers -- only six -- whose careers began after World War II have been elected to the Hall of Fame by the writers. They are, more or less chronologically, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter and Mike Piazza. Only one of those six (Bench) went in on the first ballot.

The writers have been stricter on catchers, Pos postulates, than on other players of other positions. I think he's right. I think the writers have, for generations, applied the offensive standards they use for outfielders in weighing the candidacies of catchers, while still demanding the higher level of defense from catchers that they do for middle infielders.

Heck, Ted Simmons was a better hitter in his prime years than Jim Rice or Tony Perez. But Simba caught, while Rice pretended to be a left fielder and Perez butchered third base before moving to first, and the position beat the brilliance out of Simmons. He was essentially done -- as is the case with almost all outstanding hitting catchers -- by age 30.

Catchers don't rack up the numbers that outfielders and first basemen do. They can't. It's not physically possible.

Posada played 17 years with the Yankees, but two of them at the start were cuppa coffee and another seven were two-thirds time at best. That cuts him down to nine seasons as the clear primary catcher. He was the best hitting catcher in the league for a few years, until Joe Mauer arrived, and then he was the second best hitting catcher in the league for a few years. He was never a stellar defensive backstop, but his teams sure as hell won a lot anyway. His highest finish in the MVP voting was 2003 (third behind Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado); I remember thinking at the time that I would have voted for Posada. 

Had I a Hall of Fame vote, Posada would get one. Simmons would have too, easily, and Bill Freehan. Posnanski says Posada falls outside the established parameters for Cooperstown catchers, that he's closer to Simmons than to Piazza, and I agree on that. If Simmons doesn't belong, Posada doesn't either. But I think those standards are overly strict.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A thought on pitch framing

Jeff Sullivan, Hardball Times, on pitch framing:

Every team now wants good-receiving catchers. Every team, additionally, wants to develop more good-receiving catchers. The market is going to end up flooded with good-receiving catchers. By then we’ll no longer recognize them as good-receiving catchers. Pitch-framing is sufficiently important that baseball teams will prioritize it right into insignificance.

Sullivan's essential point: Now that it is possible to quantify pitch framing -- now that we can measure it -- and now that every front office takes analytics seriously, there will be less of a gap between the best and the worst.

The Twins are late to this party, but they are trying to make up for lost time. Sullivan's piece uses Ryan Doumit as its example of a terrible pitch-framer; the Twins embraced Doumit as a catcher for 2-plus seasons. Sullivan also includes a chart of the ten best and ten worst pitch framers of 2016. Jason Castro, the Twins new No. 1 catcher, is on the nice list, and Juan Centero, departed backup, is on the naughty list.

This conversion is part of what Sullivan is talking about. The Twins organization wasn't necessarily opposed to good-receiving catchers, but it wasn't a priority. Now they have prioritized that skill, and one more of the 30 organizations has jumped on the bandwagon.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Merry Christmas ... and Happy Birthday to the great Rickey Henderson, a staple figure in these stories.

In the last week of his lone season with the Red Sox, Chairman Tom Werner asked Henderson what he would like for his ‘going-away’ gift. Henderson said he wasn’t going anywhere, but he would like owner John Henry’s Mercedes. Werner said it would be tough to get the same make and model in less than a week and Henderson said, “No, I want his car.”

The Sox got Henderson a Red Thunderbird and when he saw it on the field before the last game of the season, Rickey said, “Whose ugly car is on the field?”

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The "Holiday League"

In recent years my Christmas post has linked to Baseball Reference's ficitional pages about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Shortstop and his buddies in the fantasy Holiday League.

This year's offering from Hartwell Studio Works: The logos of the seven teams in the Holiday League and a bit of news about each. Just click on the logo.

Seven is an awkward number for a league, but once you've brought into a 5-foot-3, 375 pound shortstop with a bright red nose, anything is believeable.

The actual Christmas post, of course, will be The Sunday Funnies. So let me wish you a happy holidays on this Christmas Eve.

Friday, December 23, 2016

"Cheap" sluggers

The big news Thursday night was Edwin Encarnacion agreeing to a deal with the Cleveland Indans, reportedly three years, $60 million plus a club option.

That sounds like pretty good coin for a guy of limited defensive value who's about to turn 34, but it's probably not close to what he was anticipating. The baseball marketplace this year appears glutted with right-handed sluggers. Chris Carter tied for the NL lead in homers; he got cut loose and remains a free agent. Mark Trumbo led all of baseball in homers (47); he's still unsigned. And remember, the Orioles only had to give up a backup catcher to get him last winter. Encarnacion essentially replaces Mike Napoli (34 homers) with Cleveland; Napoli is a free agent.

Encarnacion is better (but older) than Carter or Trumbo; he's better (and slightly younger) than Napoli too. But they are all the same kind of player, and that has served to depress the market for any one of them.

Meanwhile, the Twins appear to be stockpiling first base/DH types of a less-established level:

I would expect one of those first two to be in Minnesota sharing the first base/DH roles with Joe Mauer, but even so, that's more 1B/DHs than a Triple A team really needs. And it's not like there's going to be any sort of trade value to the surplus. If guys like Napoli and Trumbo are jobless at Christmas time, there isn't going to be a line of teams looking to surrender something for someone like Vargas.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The coaching overflow

The Twins on Wednesday filled their coaching staff to overflowing. They named not only Jeff Pickler, whose selection had been leaked Tuesday, but Jeff Smith, who has been managing in the Twins farm system for a dozen years, most recently at High A Fort Myers.

There being a maximum of seven uniformed coaches -- a designation rooted, as I observed in the Wednesday post, in the fact that coaches and managers get credited with time in the player pension fund -- assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez becomes a non-uniformed coach.

I had commented a while back about Smith in the context of his reported candidacy for the head coaching job at his alma mater, Stetson. Steve Trimper, who had been the head coach at Maine, got the job Saturday; Smith, according to a Mike Berardino tweet a day or two earlier, had taken himself out of consideration for the position. At the time I figured that meant Smith knew he wasn't getting the Stetson job; now I figure that he had been assured that he was going to be on the major league staff.

Smith will be the first base coach during games. He will also supplant bench coach Joe Vavra as the catching instructor and the departed Butch Davis as baserunning instructor, Smith, unlike Vavra, is a former catcher, so at least theoretically he's a better fit for that role. Pickler's portfolio will include outfield instruction -- another Davis assignment  -- as well as the "analytics liaison" role that had been reported.

Berardino's story on the hires implies, by the way, that Pickler is eager to downplay the analytics stuff, at least for public consumption. Again, I may be reading too much into that, but I think that's connected to the jock-vs-egghead dynamic. Pickler has an extensive playing resume, all in the minors, which gives him more cred inside the clubhouse than would someone like me.

I'm old enough, as mentioned previously, to remember the days when Calvin Griffith pinched his pennies by having a slender three-man coaching staff. I think it was Derek Falvey who spoke earlier this offseason about adding resources; having, in effect, a eight-man coaching staff is a fairly visible example of that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

On coaching roles

Tuesday's news involving the Minnesota Twins:

The Twins have not announced his hire, and I assume that's in part because they want to iron out their reshuffle of responsibilities before they do so. The remaining vacancy on the coaching staff is/was Butch Davis' job as outfield instructor/first base coach, but the intent appears to be for Pickler to be focused on putting the analytic advice from the front office into use on the field.

Somebody (my guess is Joe Vavra) will be "first base coach," but that in-game chore -- which often appears to be limited to yelling "back back back" on pickoff throws and gathering paraphernalia from hitters-turned-baserunners -- will be a slender portion of his duties.

Major league coaching jobs appear much more structured than in my early days of fandom. One of the running themes of "Ball Four," Jim Bouton's diary of the 1969 season, is the basic uselessness of coaches, who he depicts as protectors of baseball and enforcers (or inventors) of petty rules, hired as favors.

Jim Brosnan's earlier books, set about a decade earlier, is less explicit on the theme, but in "The Long Season" he implies that at least two of the Cardinals coaches have as their top priority jockeying to become the next manager and hints at the same for one of the Reds coaches, and "Pennant Chase" echoes an explicit Bouton critique a decade later of longtime pitching coach Jim Turner -- he was good at attaching himself to a pitcher who is succeeding and ignored those were struggling.

There is no "bullpen coach" in the Brosnan books. In the first, the pitching coaches (he had three on two teams) spend the games in the bullpen. In the second, Turner is in the dugout and Brosnan, as "captain of the bullpen," is basically responsible for making sure the phone gets answered. There is in Ball Four, at least on the Pilots, and it's pretty obvious that Bouton wished there wasn't.

The 1974 Twins had three coaches (Vern Morgan, Buck Rodgers and Ralph Rowe). Current major league teams are allowed seven in uniform during games, a designation I suspect exists largely becaused uniformed personnell acquire time in the players pension plan. The increase in coaches is partly financial (teams can afford more) and partly because the game has evolved to actually put them to work. It's not enough now to be the manager's drinking buddy, although I doubt that aspect has gone away completely,

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Castro vs. Centeno

Here's a curiosity:

The Twins, of course, signed Jason Castro, who had been Houston's No. 1 catcher, in large part because of his defensive skills -- pitch framing in particular. And now Centeno, whose pitch framing is suspect at best, has landed with the Astros.

It's not an even exchange, of course. Castro isn't replacing Centeno on the Twins roster so much as he's replacing Kurt Suzuki (who, by the way, remains a free agent). Centeno isn't replacing Castro in the Astro's plans, either; he may be more likely to be what he was when the Twins signed him last winter -- a catcher for the high minors who would be available if something goes wrong with the big club.

Still, it's at least slightly ironic, this "exchange" of left-hand-hitting catchers with different strengths.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Oh, Shuck

The Twins have signed outfielder J.B. Shuck, veteran of four major league teams over five seasons, to a minor league deal.

The left-handed batter is not much of a hitter, and is regarded as stretched defensively in center field. He's certainly not threat to become a regular, and he's flawed even as a fourth outfielder.

I think he's most likely to fill the roster role of Logan Schafer, who got 74 plate appearances with the Twins in August-September after injuries hit the outfield and has since signed a minor-league deal with Baltimore: stashed in Triple A and available if the major league roster deteriorates, Not much to see there.

There is another possibility, of course. As matters stand, the Twins outfield projects to be Eddie Rosario in left, Byron Buxton in center and Max Kepler in right, with Robbie Grossman as a reserve and Rosario and/or Kepler shifting around when Grossman is in the lineup.

Grossman had a fine season at the plate -- his .828 OPS was second on the team among players with more than 330 plate appearances and led all American League left fielders -- but he was awful defensively. It's possible that the new regime will opt to sacrifice some offense to have a fourth outfielder who can help the pitchers get outs.

In that connection, it's worth noting that Derek Falvey and Grossman crossed paths last year in Cleveland, where the Indians declined to bring Grossman up and instead let him go to Minnesota in May. Presumably Grossman's fielding failings had something to do with that.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

The Brooklyn Dodgers return to Flatbush by train from spring training in the late 1940s, and they are greeted by a mob of fans -- and a live radio announcer who grabs player after player for quick "interviews."

Each is asked how the team will fare in the coming season, and each answers with the expected optimism. This is our year. Going to win the pennant.

"And here's Pistol Pete Reiser," exclaims the radio host as the oft-injured star centerfielder gets off the train. "Pete, where do you think you'll finish the season?"

Reiser replies: "Peck Memorial Hospital."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Perfect timing

Less than a hour after the snow started on Friday, the annual giant spring training schedule postcard arrived from the Twins.

Given what is forecast in these parts this weekend, nothing could sound nicer.

The exhibition games start sooner than usual (Feb. 24), I assume because of the World Baseball Classic, which returns this year. The Twins have two games on their exhibition schedule against WBC teams -- March 8 against Team USA and March 9 against Team Colombia, both in Fort Myers. Team USA should look like an all-star squad; Colombia, not so much, although they have a couple pretty solid pitchers.

Three years ago, during the last WBC, Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios were reserves on the Puerto Rican squad. This time around, Berrios is expected to be one of Puerto Rico's starters, and I'd expect Rosario to be an outfield fixture. Indeed, with Hector Santiago and Kennys Vargas, the Twins might provide a sizable portion of the island's roster.


Let the record of this blog show that Rod Carew's actual transplant surgeries began shortly after midnight Friday -- Thursday was the prep work. The surgeries took some 13 hours and were deemed successful. May it be so.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Best wishes to Rod Carew, who on Thursday was to receive a double transplant -- heart and kidney.

Visit the Minnesota Twins/Washington Senators "franchise encyclopedia" page  and you'll find that Sir Rodney is second in franchise history (to Walter Johnson) in Wins Above Replacement. This, frankly, surprised me when I first saw it; I would have guessed Harmon Killebrew as the runner up to the Big Train.

(Incidentally, Joe Mauer is likely in 2017 to pass Kirby Puckett for fifth on that list; everybody ahead of Mauer -- Johnson, Carew, Killebrew, Sam Rice and Puckett -- is in the Hall of Fame.)

I assume that Carew's WAR score is enhanced by the fact that he spent the first nine years of his illustrious career playing second base, a premium defensive position. He wasn't a great gloveman, but most managers not named Gene Mauch will overlook a few missed double plays for a .350 hitter.


The Twins on Thursday announced a bunch of minor league free-agent signings:

The only two that ring any bells with me are Tommy Field, an infielder, and Dan Rohlfing, a catcher I commented on the other day. Minor league depth is what these signings are about.


Torii Hunter Jr. announced Thursday that he is giving up football (he's a wide receiver at Notre Dame with a year of eligibility remaining) to pursue baseball full-time with the Angels. He hasn't played a lot of baseball in college, but the Angels drafted him last June in the 23rd round and he signed.

Good luck to him.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The rotation candidates

The news Wednesday that Tommy Milone signed with the Milwaukee Brewers led me to think about the Twins rotation at this point. (It's mid December. Do you know who your starting pitchers are?)

Let's think of it this way: there are pitchers who will be in the rotation if healthy, pitchers who can pitch their way out of rotation jobs in the spring, and pitchers who will need a break or two (injuries or ineffectiveness of others) to open the season in the rotation.

In the rotation if healthy: Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes. I'll put Hector Santiago in this category as well.

Santana is pretty obvious. Hughes is coming off surgery but has three more years to go on his contract. Santiago was weirdly inconsistent in his 11 starts with the Twins; in his first four starts, marked by an absence of walks, he posted a 10.89 ERA. After that his walks went back up to his usual levels and the ERA went down to 3.19 over his last seven starts. He's not a thrilling rotation candidate, but he did work more than 180 major-league innings last year between two teams and is the one veteran lefty in the rotation mix.

Can pitch their way out of the rotation: Kyle Gibson, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May.

Gibson and Duffey were two major reasons for the Twins 2016 decline from the competence of 2015, and I wouldn't be surprised if Gibson in particular got moved yet this offseason. There's little reason to believe the new "evidence-based" regime will be as optimistic about him as the Terry Ryan-led organization. May's physical issues as a reliever suggest that he'd be better off as a starter, and I hope he gets that opportunity.

Will need a break or two: Jose Berrios, Fernando Mejia, Justin Haley and other invitees.

La Maquina (Berrios) racked up an ERA of 8.02 in 58.1 major league innings last year; he may be the most talented of the nine arms named in this post, but he's got to command the fastball better than he did in 2016. I think he opens in Triple A. Mejia, acquired from the Giants in the Eduardo Nunez trade, probably has a better shot at the opening rotation than Berrios. Haley is the Rule 5 draftee added last week; he's use-or-lose, but he's more likely to stick as a long man/mopup reliever than at the back end of the rotation.

That's nine candidates for five jobs, but I expect it will change between today and spring training.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

To my knowledge, the Twins have not announced any changes with their minor league managers. But there may be a defection.

Baseball America reported this week that Pete Dunn, veteran coach of Stetson University in Deland, Florida, was retiring a year earlier than planned, citing a troublesome recovery from knee surgery. One of the five finalists for the position is Jeff Smith, a Stetson alum who has managed teams on three different levels of the Twins farm system since 2006. His most recent assignment has been the Fort Myers Miracle of the Florida State League.

Of the current managers of the Twins four-full season minor league clubs -- Mike Quade of Triple A Rochester, Doug Mientkiewicz of Double-A Chattanooga, Smith and Jake Mauer of low-A Cedar Rapids -- Smith strikes me as the least impressive, although my opinion on such things is not worth a whole lot. His won-loss record is actually pretty solid, especially if you toss out what must have been a miserable first year at Double A New Britain (2010), when the RockCats went 44-98.

Whether Smith gets the job at his alma mater or not, it has to be said that Stetson has a great, if obvious, nickname: the Hatters. Of course.


Dan Rohlfing, a catcher-utility man who was for a few years annually one of the last players sent out of spring training for the Twins, is back:

That the Twins needed to add a catcher to the upper levels of their farm system was pretty obvious after Stuart Turner was taken in the Rule 5 draft. I think Juan Centeno is still in the organization after being outrighted earlier in the off season, but I'm pretty sure Carlos Paulino, who bounced between Double-A and Triple A in 2016, is gone.

And that's Rohlfing's role: catching depth in the organization.


Finally, a link to recommend: A Fangraphs group interview with Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. My biggest takeaway: their favorable assessment of the Twins analytics department they inherited. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Hazing the rookies

It had been reported in passing, without detail, that the new collective bargaining agreement bars the now-common practice of "rookie dress up day," when the veterans require the rookies to don some sort of embarassing garb for a flight.

On Monday night the AP reported the particulars of that provision:

The policy, obtained by The Associated Press, prohibits "requiring, coercing or encouraging" players from "dressing up as women or wearing costumes that may be offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identify or other characteristic."

The story notes that it's unclear when this practice began. I know it wasn't mentioned in Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" or in either of Jim Brosnan's superb season diary books, "The Long Season" (about the 1959 season) or "Pennant Race" (1961). Bill Freehan's diary book about 1969, "Behind the Mask," tells of a prank pulled on the Tigers' rookies of enticing them to go to a marina for a team boatride that didn't exist, but nothing like today's dress-up.

But the story tells of Jeff Kent's rebellion in 1992, arguing that he had put up with it the year before and wasn't going to accept it again. So it was happening by the 1990s.

Personally, I find hazing a profoundly silly ritual at best and often damaging. This is true whether it's involving a marching band, a fraternity or a professional sports team. It tends to escalate, and what seems like harmless fun turns over time into something uglier.

I'm sure there are players disappointed that their bullying ritual has been prohibited. I'm also sure there are players relieved by the ban, which is, as the story details, only partial. There are some costumes still permitted.

Monday, December 12, 2016

RIP, Yorman Landa

Yorman Landa,
Yorman Landa was the subject of a few posts here this offseason because he was the subject of some roster manipulation. This is one I'd rather not write.

The Twins nontendered him a bit more than a week ago to make room on the 40-man roster for the Rule 5 draft. Then they re-signed him to a minor league deal.

And then he died. The 22-year-old perished in a car crash in his native Venezuela.

One of my co-workers asked me if Landa would have reached the majors. I don't know. He certainly had the talent -- he was reportedly clocked at 102 mph during the Florida State League all-star game last summer -- but he had had one shoulder surgery and his command/control wasn't as good as it needed to be. The Twins had put him on the 40 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft in 2015, then exposed him to the 2016 draft, and nobody put in a claim.

Still, he was just 22. He had time. Or so we tend to think.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Red Faber was one of the 17 grandfathered spitball pitchers whose career survived the banning of doctored pitches; he's one of three of that group to be inducted into the Hall of Fame (along with Stan Covaleski and Burleigh Grimes)

This tale comes from the 1917 World Series. Faber started Game Two for the White Sox, and in the fifth inning found himself at second base with teammate Buck Weaver on third and two out. For no apparent reason, Faber then broke for third. After he slid into the base, Weaver sourly looked down and inquired: "Where the hell do you think you're going?"

"Back to pitch," Faber replied.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

John Glenn and Teddy Ballgame

Two Marine aviators in Korea: John Glenn and Ted Williams.
Consider for a moment how baseball history might have changed without John Glenn, the astronaut, U.S. senator and Marine fighter ace who died Thursday at age 95.

Glenn and Ted Williams were pilots in the same Marine squadron during the Korean War. According to Glenn in this piece on Williams' military service, about half of Williams' missions were flown as Glenn's wingman.

On Feb. 16, 1953, Williams' F-9 Panther jet was heavily hit and on fire. Glenn flew next to Williams and pointed up. They flew high into thinner air, where the lack of oxygen put the fire out. Willaims limped back to base, refused to bail out, skid-landed the jet and dashed away as it caught fire again.

Glenn and Williams remained close.

Williams on Glenn: “John Glenn? Oh … could he fly an airplane. Absolutely fearless. The best I ever saw. It was an honor to fly with him.”

Glenn on Williams:  "We flew together quite a lot and got to know each other very well. Ted was an excellent pilot, and not shy about getting in there and mixing it up. Ted may have batted .400 for the Red Sox, but he hit a thousand as a U.S. Marine."

Friday, December 9, 2016

Winter Meetings: Rule 5

The first trade of the new Twins regime may well prove to be a minor one, but it was, if nothing else, creative almost to the point of bewildering.

And it came with a justification that underlined the difference between Terry Ryan (the former general manager) and "Falvine" (Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the duo that replaced him at the top of the food chain).

The Twins were involved in a three-way trade of Rule 5 picks in which they emerged with Justin Haley, a right-handed starter who compiled a 13-10, 3.01 mark for the Red Sox Double A and Triple A teams this year.

What was striking in how Levine explained what the Twins like about Haley. He cited spin rates and swing-and-miss percentages, concepts and figures that I doubt were ever uttered by Ryan. Some of what he talked about, such as Haley's ability to induce awkward swings, echoed old-school scouting, but they came with an idea of why he gets those swings.

Haley will get a real opportunity to make the roster this spring; as a Rule 5 pick, he's use-or-lose. He will be, at least in theory, a candidate for the back of the rotation, but there's no shortage of starting candidates who probably rank ahead of him right now. More likely is a long relief role, and the opportunity to pitch his way into something better.


While the Twins gained a pitcher in Rule 5, at least for a while, they lost a catcher, at least for a while. Stuart Turner, their third-round draft pick in 2013, was taken by the Cincinnati Reds.

He's got a genuine chance to stick there. One of the Reds veteran catchers, Devin Mesoraco, has had a string of injuries the past two years, and as the Cincinnati Enquirer reports, the organization sees Turner as a usable alternative.

Turner won't hit, but he, much like former Twins backup Drew Butera, probably has the defensive chops to be a backup catcher. The Twins obviously decided this fall that Mitch Garver was ahead of Turner; they put Garver on the 40-man roster and left Turner off.

Of course, it's possible Turner will be returned to the Twins. But in the meantime, they probably will be looking for a catcher or two for Triple A or Double A.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Winter meetings, Day 3

Another yawner Wednesday for the Twins in terms of player moves. The Rule 5 draft is today -- that pretty much concludes the winter meetings -- so there will be some roster action today, however minor it turns out to be.

 J.J. "#Rule5Fever" Cooper of Baseball America offers this quick look at the top possibilities (the Twins, of course, go first). (Addendum: The Twins are believed to have a trade in place with the Padres, who pick third; they'll exchange Rule 5 picks with some cash.)

Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox continue to be aggressive about accumulating prospects. The Adam Eaton deal with the Nationals was just as impressive, really, as the Chris Sale trade the day before, because Eaton is not the name player that Sale is.

WAR really likes Eaton -- but WAR really likes Eaton as a right fielder, and presumably the Nationals plan to play Eaton in center, where his defense is a bit stretched. (Boswell appears to be citing the Baseball Reference version of WAR.)

The obvious plus to Eaton: He's a solid leadoff man with very consistent on-base percentages. If he's capable of handling center field, he gives the Nats a pretty solid lineup 1-8. The less obvious plus: He's controlled for five years. But that was a lot of young pitching talent to surrender for somebody who might not be a defensive fit.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Winter Meetings, Day 2

The Twins had another quiet day Tuesday at National Harbor, Maryland.

One thing they did do: Re-sign Yorman Landa, the relief prospect they non-tendered last week to open a spot on the 40-man roster. So the machination to set themselves up for the Rule 5 draft didn't cost them the player -- at least not yet. Landa was added to the 40 last year to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and now he's eligible to be taken. Had the Twins waited until, let us say, Friday to sign him, he wouldn't be. (And, perhaps, somebody else would have.)

Probably immaterial anyway. Landa has a big arm, yes, but he also missed the last two months of the season to injury and hasn't pitched above High-A ball. Still, I remember the winter in which the Twins signed R.A. Dickey to a minor league deal early in the offseason and saw him snatched away in Rule 5 by Seattle.

Meanwhile, one division rival -- the Chicago White Sox -- launched a belated rebuild by dealing ace lefty Chris Sale to Boston for a packet of prime prospects, and another -- Kansas City -- is apparently about to trade away bullpen ace Wade Davis. You can find more in-depth commentary on those moves elsewhere; I'll just make these general statements:

  • I can see the Sale trade backfiring for either side. 
  • There are more such veterans-for-prospects trades coming from the White Sox, who are finally done trying to go for it every year with a declining talent base.
  • Dave Dombrowski inherited a rich farm system when he took over in Boston. He has now traded four of his top five prospects. This is what he does. 
  • (David) Price and (Chris) Sale are a pair of aces made for punning headline writers.
  • The new labor deal and its limitations on draft-pick compensation for teams losing free agents may have hurt the Royals more than any other specific franchise. K.C. has a lot of key players with contracts and control expiring in the next two years, and the only way for them to restock the talent base is by trading at least some of them now.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Winter Meetings, Day 1

The only news of substance involving the Twins Monday was a reshuffling of titles and responsibilities in the scouting department.

Deron Johnson, who had been scouting director, has been named "senior advisor of the scouting department." As expounded here by the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino, he's to be more heavily involved in international and pro scouting than he has been. Sean Johnson (no relation) will be the scouting director, which puts him in charge of the June draft and the No.1 overall pick.

To my knowledge, neither Derek Falvey nor Thad Levine, the two newcomers at the top of the baseball ops hierarchy, have been an amateur scout, much less a scouting director. But the Twins have no shortage of experienced -- and well-regarded -- amateur scouts. Mike Radcliff, the scouting director when the Twins took Joe Mauer 1-1, is still around (vice president, player personnel). So is Larry Corrigan, the scouting director before Radcliff; he ran the draft that brought in Torii Hunter. So the new scouting director has his predecessors going back more than two decades to advise him.

At least, they are around now. While Falvey and Levine said at their introductory press conference that current baseball ops people who want to buy into their vision are welcome to stay, we know that Terry Ryan chose to leave and Bill Smith has been told he's not returning.Two area scouts were let go even before Falvey and Levine arrived, a decision made by assistant general manager Rob Antony. The new cadre of special assistants (Michael Cuddyer, LaTroy Hawkins and Hunter) are apparently expected to play a role in the draft. There are going to be changes -- not necessary dramatic or in a tidal wave, but changes nevertheless.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Winter Meetings: Hall of Fame vote

The annual baseball swap meet, jobs fair and self-promotion festival known as the winter meetings opened Sunday with the usual ceremonial throwing in of the Hall of Fame inductees.

There are two ways to be chosen for induction: the writers vote, which is on players and is pretty stable, and the "veterans committee," no longer called such, which is constantly tweeked by the powers that be in an unceasing and doomed effort to finally get it right. It's the latter that occurs at the start of the meetings.

At this point that process is a lot better at choosing non-players to get plaques than players, and that was the case again Sunday, when retired commissioner Bud Selig and not-fully-retired executive John Schuerholz were chosen for the honor.

I too regard Bud Selig as more worthy of derision than honor, but ...  Bowie Kuhn's in the Hall of Fame. The standard for commissioners isn't imposing. Major League Baseball does not run the Hall of Fame, but, as Bill James wrote decades ago about the relationship, the people who do run the Hall of Fame want very much to have the people who run MLB like their institution. So Kuhn -- and Selig -- are in, and Marvin Miller is not.

As for Schuerholz -- yeah, outstanding general manager who built a great organization in Atlanta, and the precedent for inducting the quasi-active executive was set already (Pat Gillick). I guess it's better than waiting until the guy is dead or at death's door for induction, as with Branch Rickey decades ago.

If there's a surprise in the results, it's that George Steinbrenner wasn't even remotely close in the balloting. Good.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Alex Johnson was an outstanding hitter for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was also an indifferent outfielder at best, and generally regarded as a pain in the rear to have around, which is why he bounced from team to team.

A reporter once approached the dour Johnson. "Last year you hit two homers. You have seven already this season. What's the difference?

Johnson glared at his inquistor. "Five, you dumb bleep."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Tender is the night

Eduardo Escobar,
Yorman Landa, gone.
A plethora of news items concerning the Twins to sort through as we reach the weekend before the winter meetings being:

Tendering deadline

Friday was the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Twins had five such: infielder Eduardo Escobar, left-handed starter Hector Santiago, right-handed starter Kyle Gibson and relievers Brandon Kinzler and Ryan Pressly. The Twins reached an agreement with Escobar ($2.6 million) and tendered contracts to the other four, so they let none of them go.

No surprises there. I saw some speculation about non-tendering Escobar, but that really didn't seem likely. He is almost certainly not the Twins idea of a long-term shortstop, but he's more likely in my mind to hold the position on opening day than anybody else on the 40-man roster.

Opening a roster slot

The Twins were expected to vacate at least one spot on the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft next week, and they did so Friday by dumping Yorman Landa, a relief prospect

Landa was added to the 40 last winter despite not having pitched above low-A ball. He spent a good chuck of 2016 on the disabled list at High A Fort Myers with shoulder woes, and the Twins didn't merely outright him off the 40-man roster, they non-tendered him. So he's a free agent.

Which, presumably, tells us what the Twins think of his chances of  recovering fully.

New hitting coach hired

James Rowson was named Friday to follow Tom Brunansky as the major league hitting coach. He held the job with the Chicago Cubs in 2012-13 and more recently was working in the Yankees organization.

Mike Bernardino of the Pioneer Press has this on Rowson. I said when Bruno (and Butch Davis) got the ax that the key factors were Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Sano regressed in 2016 from 2015, and Buxton struggled much of the season. They are Jobs 1 and 1A for Rowson.

Davis's job -- first base coach, base running instruction, outfield instruction -- remains open.

Bill Smith leaving

Terry Ryan, it was announced earlier in the week, has joined the Phillies as a special assignment scout. On Thursday came word that the Twins are not renewing the contract of Bill Smith, who was the general manager for a few years between Ryan's two terms in the job and more recently has been heavily involved in the multi-year upgrade of the spring training complex in Fort Myers.

Smith was atop the food chain when the Twins imploded on the field, so he got the blame for the collapse, probably more of it than he really deserved. It comes with the territory. He's also the GM who OK'd the signings of Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, and the Hammond Stadium upgrades are impressive.

Smith told the Fort Myers newspaper that his departure wasn't his choice. I suppose that the new baseball ops guys decided that with the complex project done, they had no need for that skill set in the organization, and with the additions of a flock of ex-players as special assistants, somebody had to go.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The power of 10 (days)

There is an obvious appeal to changing the minimum stay on the disabled list from 15 to 10 days.

Twins fans have long beefed about an organizational tendency to refrain from putting a mildly injured player on the DL. A regular infielder tweaks something, and it's obvious that he's going to miss some time. But how much? It's seldom certain. So the team waits two, three, four days .. and maybe the guy is back in the lineup at this point, but frequently he's not, and now he goes on the shelf, but in the meantime a roster with few reserves to begin with has been even more shorthanded.

This is not unique to the Twins. It's a problem for every organization. The 10-day DL, it would seem, will make it easier to move that player off the active roster, because now you're not committed to doing without him for two weeks plus.

But there's a drawback to that ease. I suspect teams -- particularly those with one or two rotation anchors piling up the innings (at least by today's standards) and a number of roughly comparable candidates for the back end of the rotation -- will use the 10 day standard to shuffle three or four weaker starters in and out of the rotation, and use that roster spot on yet another reliever.

As a practical matter, it's not that difficult to turn 10 days into one missed start. And as a practical matter, almost any starting pitcher has something going on in his arm. James is placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder, and John comes off the DL and makes a couple of starts, while Mike goes on the DL when James is eligible to pitch again and comes off so John can go back on the DL ... and meanwhile George remains on the roster as an extra bullpen arm.

And of course James, John and Mike (and George) all really do have inflammation in their shoulders, because they're pitching in the major leagues. It's part of the job. The question is always, what amount of pain can they put up with, and how severe is the damage being done? Now another factor enters: the willingness of the organization to game the system.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

The signing of Jason Castro became official Wednesday. The Twins now have a full 40-man roster and have the first pick in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, so we should expect a deletion shortly.


The Rule 5 draft is held at the end of the winter meetings, and there had been rumblings that the meetings would be called off if there was no labor agreement; Wednesday was the last day of the expiring pact. But the deal was announced late Wednesday.

Details were still trickling out during the night, but some notable tweaks to the major leagues as we know them:

  • The season will open five days earlier than "usual," giving the players a handful of extra days off during the season. This is not necessarily good news for fans in northern climes (like me), but the bizarre travel patterns created in part by an ever-increasing number of teams (expansion and interleague play) to fit into a 162-game schedule were a quality and health issue.
  • Smokeless tobacco is banned, with current users grandfathered in. So the chaws and snuff may be gone from the game in my lifetime, depending on how long I live.
  • The All-Star Game will no longer determine home field in the World Series. Proof that Bud Selig really is retired and not running things from behind the curtain.
  • There will be no international draft. This is the first instance I can think of in which the players union didn't sell out the amateurs who will someday be union members but are now merely future threats to their individual jobs. Good job. union.
  • The roster rules remain as they were: 25 March through August, 40 in September. Good; I don't care to see 14-man pitching staffs.
  • The free agent compensation rules got still more complex. They already made my head hurt.
  • The 15-day disabled list becomes a 10-day disabled list. My brain still occasionally latches onto the old 21-day DL, so I may have a long time fully adjusting to 10. 


Terry Ryan is moving on. He joined the Phillies as a special assignment scout, so he's reunited with Andy MacPhail, the man who brought him to Minnesota about 30 years ago.

I wouldn't have minded seeing Ryan remain with the Twins in such a capacity, but I also understand the rationale behind going elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

All or nothing, and it's nothing

Chris Carter -- not to be mistaken for the retired football player; this guy knows how to spell Chris -- hit 41 home runs for Milwaukee this year. This tied for the National League lead in home runs, which is generally considered something worth having on the roster.

The Brewers cut him loose Tuesday. Non-tendered him. Go play for somebody else, fella. They signed Eric Thames, who washed out of American ball three years ago and has been starring in the Korean league, to fill the roster spot.

Carter is pretty much the epitome of the all-or-nothing hitter. He struck out 206 times in 2016; nobody in the NL whiffed more often. And 206 isn't even his career high; he piled up 212 K's in 2013, when he was with Houston. His 2016 batting average was .222, which is (a) low and (b) higher than his career batting average, .218.

And on top of that, he's not a particularly adept defensive player either.

Add it all up, and you have a player that both Houston last year and now Milwaukee find eminently replaceable. (Houston non-tendered him last winter.)

WAR, or at least the Baseball Reference version, agrees; last year Carter scored at -0.1, this year at 0.9. Milwaukee invested 644 plate appearances in him and got little return, even with the 41 long balls.

Letting a 41-homer guy walk is something that probably wouldn't have happened even 10 years ago, Teams would have perceived value in that many homers, even with all the outs that accompanied them. But in the age of analytics, the counting stats -- the narrative stats, as I described them recently -- matter less than they once did.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hunter, Cuddyer, Hawkins in the the front office

The Twins announced on Monday the hirings of Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins as special assistants.

The trio will be in uniform at spring training and be involved in minor league instruction and scouting. Cherry-picking some intriguing tweets from Mike Berandino of Pioneer Press about their intended roles:

Falvey, of course, is Derek Falvey, the new head of baseball operations and in a sense an example of the lack of diversity, racial and otherwise, on major league front offices. Increasingly, the men at the top -- and they are and have been all men -- have similar backgrounds, rooted in academics. The selection of Falvey to run the Twins operation may have been the last straw for consultant/headhunting firm Korn Ferry, which was bounced by the commissioners office shortly afterwards.

Hawkins, Hunter and Cuddyer are not of the Falvey-Thad Levine mold. They played 55 years in the majors, and any college they've had came in the offseasons. Hunter in particular has spoken of wanting to become a general manager; that kind of ambition is hardly out of place, but unlikely to be met without some form of apprenticeship even if the pendulum swings back toward the ex-jock at the head of the organization.

From all appearances, Falvey and Levine intend to give these three real jobs with real responsibilities, not just ceremonial appearances. And we'll see what they do with those chores.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Narrative stats versus evaluative stats

A few things crossed my path during my wanderings on the interwebs last week, and this tweet by Patrick Reusse on the yet-to-be-finalized Jason Castro contract is as good as any to get rolling:

Not to be snippy but .. yeah, it's been pretty obvious for a few years that Reusse, who was a darn good Twins beat reporter some 40 years ago, is out of touch with the advances in the game. He basically rejects any concept or stat that would have been unfamiliar to Gene Mauch and Earl Weaver.

In any other field, that would be silly. You'd be a terrible doctor if you knew nothing more than was known in the mid 70s, for example. In sports, cutting off your knowledge decades ago makes you "old school."

Joe Posnanski doesn't share Reusse's aversion to modernity. He had a series of blog posts this week examining the statistical differences between Rick Porcello (winner of the Cy Young Award) and Justin Verlander (who finshed second despite having more first place votes). The first post is here; the second, written after a response from Baseball Reference's Sean Forman, is here.

And in between came this piece by ESPN's Sam Miller on the same general topic: the ins-and-outs of Wins Above Replacement. Miller's piece, rather than being in the context of the Cy Young contest, is about Robbie Ray, who is either awesome or replaceable depending on which form of WAR one uses.

Read these pieces, and you might sympathize with Reusse. But we shouldn't.

The key question is: Why are we using the statistics?

You want to use stats to help tell the story of a game or the season? You want the traditional stats, what I think of as "narrative stats": wins and losses, RBIs, saves, etc, They get to the heart of what happened.

You want to use stats to help evaluate the talent and skills of a given player? You want the new age analytical stats, stuff you can't glean from the tables of the box score. They are designed for a different purpose, and they are necessarily less precise. And in some cases, such as Ray, they may not provide a clear answer.

The traditional stats are acts of accounting; the analytical stats are acts of interpretation.

If you are, as the Twins front office effectively did the past couple of weeks, deciding whether to invest $8 million in 2017 in Trevor Plouffe or Jason Castro, you're going to be more successful if you use the analytical stats (including pitch framing).

If you are, as the Cy Young voters were, trying to decide who had the better season between Porcello or Verlander, you're better off with the narrative stats. I have no problem with saying both that

  • Porcello had the better 2016 season and
  • Verlander is the more talented pitcher.

The analytical stats point you to Verlander. The narrative stats point you to Porcello, Different stats, different purposes. Nothing wrong with that.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

1934. Moe Berg is a seldom-used backup catcher on the Washington Senators team, and he is not in prime condition when he is suddenly inserted into the lineup to catch on a hot, humid day in Philadelphia.

In the seventh inning, Earl Whitehill, the Washington pitcher, and Doc Cramer, outfielder for the Athletics, start doing that always-irritating cat-and-mouse game. Cramer gets in the box, then backs out; Whitehill takes the rubber, then steps off.

And behind the plate, Berg is bobbing up and down, getting in his crouch when it looks like the game will resume, standing up when the pitcher or hitter stalls again. And he's getting progressively angrier with both.

Suddenly he calls time. Umpire Bill McGowan asks why. Berg's response: He takes off his mask, his chest protector, his shin guards, piles them all on home plate and tells McGowan: "Ill be back when these two guys decide to play baseball. Right now, I'm going to go take a shower."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

From the Handbook: Joe Mauer's baserunning

Back, one more time (at least) to the Bill James Handbook series.

It used to be a given: Joe Mauer was never particularly fast, but he was a good baserunner.

He's older now, older and slower. And his baserunning is no longer a positive.

In 2013 -- Mauer's last season as a catcher, and his last as the Hall-of-Fame caliber hitter he had always been to that point -- Mauer was, by Baseball Info Systems' reckoning, a +15 as a baserunner. He was on first base for 31 singles and went to third on 12 of those. He went second to home on 10 of 18 opportunities. He scored from first three times on 11 doubles. And, most tellingly, he was never thrown out taking an extra base and never doubled off a base.

Mauer in 2016  was considerably less adept. He went first to third only five times in 23 opportunities. He was thrown out twice and doubled off once. All told. BIS has him at -2.

There are, to be sure, worse baserunners on the Twins than Mauer -- Trevor Plouffe, for example, was -14 last season, and Miguel Sano -4. And there's more involved than just speed: While Byron Buxton was a +28, Danny Santana was merely +1.

For his career, Mauer is still an impressive +93 -- astoundingly good for a catcher/first baseman. But it's slipping. Which should be no surprise. He'll turn 34 early next season, and the much-touted water system at Target Field does not include a fountain of youth.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The meaning of Jason Castro

The decision to commit $24 million and three years to Jason Castro, in a very specific way, illustrates a change in direction for the Minnesota Twins in this way:

In what I've identified as the MacPhail-Ryan era (1986-2015), the Twins have consistently emphasized offense from their catchers.

That is not to claim that they've had poor defensive catchers throughout that period. Joe Mauer, for 10 years, was not only one of the the game's most productive hitters, he was a superb defensive catcher as well. But the Mauers of the world are rare birds; most teams in most years have to decide which set of skills to emphasize at catcher and which set of weaknesses to live with.

Tim Laudner and Brian Harper, the regular backstops on the two World Series champs overseen by Andy MacPhail, were not particularly well-regarded catchers. But Laudner had power, and Harper was as good a contact hitter as could be found, regardless of position. A.J. Pierzynski, who preceded Mauer as the No. 1 catcher, was a better hitter than receiver. Ryan Doumit was a bat who caught. Mike Redmond's appeal was more in his bat than in his defense. The Twins spent a couple of years trying to convince themselves that they could live with Josmil Pinto behind the plate and only gave up on him after a concussion-riddled 2015.

They did have some glove-first catchers during that era -- Drew Butera, Henry Blanco, Tom Prince -- but they were intended to be backups to catchers who were good hitters.

Castro is not Butera-weak as a hitter. He has some power, with double-digit homers in each of the past four years. But how well that power will play in Target Field as opposed to the cozier Houston yard is a question; he's hit almost twice as many homers in his career in Houston as on the road in almost equal playing time.

The switch-hitter left-handed hitter is also markedly weaker from the left side of the plate, against left-handed pitchers, which can be covered up with a platoon (the other catchers on the 40-man roster, John Ryan Murphy and Mitch Garver, are right-handed hitters).

But that's about hitting. The new regime is putting a new emphasis on catching defense. As one who has preached for a long while that the easiest way to improve the pitching is to improve the defense, I certainly can't argue against that philosophic change. And as one who wanted to see the Twins increase their use of analytics, I certainly can't argue against the process that led them to pursue Castro.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

Once again, I give you the bird on Thanksgiving.
The Twins certainly had a turkey of a season, but I remain grateful for the escape from reality baseball provides.

Have a good holiday, dear readers. I'm taking the day off.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A defense first signing

The Twins haven't announced it, and doubtless won't until after he's passed a physical, but a variety of reporters metro and national say the Twins and catcher Jason Castro have agreed on a three-year contract.

Castro made the All-Star team in 2013, when he was pretty much the best player on a horrible Houston Astros squad, but other than an occasional long ball he hasn't hit worth a darn since. But he is a better receiver -- specifically in terms of pitch framing -- than Kurt Suzuki, and in theory that will improve the pitching staff.

Well ... the idea is that they will say, "Man, the Twins pitching has sure gotten better."

I've no doubt that many/most Twins fans don't know that much about pitch framing numbers and other new-age evaluative stats. For that, I think, we can thank/blame a collection of broadcasters and columnists who either parrot an analytic-avoiding organization's company line or "know" nothing about catching other than that Joe Mauer's soft. Criticizing a move on the basis that fans are too ignorant to understand fails the logic test. Who's been teaching them?

Shipley's Pioneer Press colleague Mike Berardino provides some context here on the signing, Castro's pitch-framing metrics, and why that was of particular appeal to the new brain trust.

And on Twitter, he adds this disclaimer: 

Of course, I have gone into detail on the wild pitch/passed ball problems of the Twins 2015 catchers, Suzuki and Juan Centeno. They weren't adept at framing or blocking.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

From the Handbook: Tyler Duffey's pitches

Tyler Duffey went
9-12, 6.43 in 2016.
Back to mining the Bill James Handbook, this time from the section on pitchers and their offerings:

One of the many things that went wrong with the 2016 Twins was the marked decline in effectiveness of starting pitcher Tyler Duffey. He was one of their better starters down the stretch in 2015; he was not good in 2016.

I had two theories, not mutually exclusive, about what was wrong with Duffey:

  • The sharp increase in his 2015 workload caught up to him in 2016
  • The insistance of pitching coach Neil Allen that everybody on the staff throw a changeup had Duffey using a mediocre pitch too often

A variation of that latter: Trying to master a change detracted from his fastball command.

These numbers don't confirm any of those theories. But Duffey's pitch selection changed a bit this year from 2015;

2015: 58 percent fastballs, 40 percent curves, 2 percent changeups
2016: 54 percent fastballs, 39 percent curves, 7 percent changeups.

Assuming 100 pitches per start, that's just one less curveball per game. But he certainly essayed more changeups, throwing five more per game. His average fastball velocity was essentially the same (actually increased by 0.2 mph).

Seven changeups per game doesn't seem excessive, and anecdotally, I don't seem to recall him getting burned on the pitch. I'm more inclined to blame a deterioration of his fastball command. Whether that came from his workload increase or experimenting with a new pitch -- or both -- I don't know.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Turnover among the catchers

Mitch Garver caught
in the Arizona Fall
League for the second
straight season.
The Twins spent most of 2016 with Kurt Suzuki and Juan Centeno as their catchers.

Neither remains on the 40-man roster. Suzuki is a free agent after the expiration of his contract, and Centeno was outrighted Friday. Each was a better hitter than receiver last year, and the new regime appears to have defense as a priority behind the plate.

The Twins have two catchers on their 40 now: John Ryan Murphy and Mitch Garver. I wouldn't care to wager that either will be the main receiver in 2017, but it's possible.

I saw Garver in 2014 with Cedar Rapids. He was in his first full season of professional ball, hitting well and reportedly rather rough behind the plate. He's still got some bat, even though his raw numbers the past two years aren't quite as impressive as in the Midwest League, and the reports on his catching are improving. (Mike Berandino of the Pioneer Press had this piece recently about Garver's work on his defensive skills.)

Garver was the Twins ninth-round pick in 2013, a draft in which the Twins took catchers in the third (Stuart Turner), sixth (Brian Navaretto) and ninth rounds. Neither Turner nor Navaretto have hit, and neither was added to the 40, so Garver has clearly passed them on the depth chart.

But it seems pretty clear, both from what the new regime has said and from what their organizations have done in the past (particularly in Cleveland) that the priority behind the plate is going to be defense. Murphy had a miserable season hitting last year, both at the majors and at Triple A, but his defensive metrics score well. Garver may well be a better hitter, but that probably doesn't give him an advantage over JRM.

And it would hardly be a surprise if a veteran backstop were added this winter.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Before the 1952 World Series, angry Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen cornered pitcher Billy Loes.

"I see in the paper that you picked the Yankees to beat us in seven games," the ornery skipper barked. "What's wrong with you?"

"I was misquoted," protested Loes. "I picked them in six games."

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Plouffe, there he goes

Trevor Plouffe had
a series of injuries
that limited him to
less than 350 plate
appearances in 2016.
Friday was the deadline for teams to add Rule 5-eligible prospects to the 40 man roster.

In a related development, it was also the day the Twins released veteran third baseman Trevor Plouffe.

They also outrighted catcher Juan Centeno and lost slugging prospect Adam Brett Walker on waivers to the Milwaukee Brewers.

These moves opened three more slots on the 40-man roster, The Twins filled six of the seven vacancies with prospects: catcher Mitch Garver; outfielders Daniel Palka and Zack Granite; shortstop Engelb Vielma; and right-handed starters Fernando Romero and Felix Jorge.

Plouffe's departure is the biggest news, if only because manager Paul Molitor -- and Ron Gardenhire before him -- made the one-time first round draft pick a fixture in the middle of the lineup. He was always an ill fit in a key lineup role, with low on-base percentages and mediocre slugging percentages. He had made himself into a above-average defensive third baseman, but his varied injuries last year slowed his reaction to batted balls.

Presumably the new brain trust found little interest in Plouffe as trade bait, and the roster spot was deemed more valuable than the veteran. Certainly, with Miguel Sano's outfield venture deemed a failure last season, there wasn't an obvious role for Plouffe on the 2017 Twins. Sano's going to be the third baseman in Minnesota now.

Plouffe, who turned 30 in June, will land somewhere. I certainly don't wish him ill, but it was clearly time for him to move on.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Gonna interrupt the stream of "Handbook" posts for a few days and catch up on the news.

Awards season

Nothing on the National League side to comment on: Everything is as it should be. Kris Bryant won the MVP as expected; Max Scherzer was certainly deserving of the Cy Young;  Corey Seager merited designation as the Rookie of the Year; and Dave Roberts works as Manager of the Year.

On the AL side, the voters acknowledged the obvious in ROY (Michael Fulmer) and Manager (Terry Francona). But the other two awards deserve some comment, in one case because of old-school voting and in the other for new-school voting.

Mike Trout -- clearly the best player in baseball the past five years --  won his second MVP. I expected it to go to Mookie Betts, who obviously had a superb season and played on a team that won. The writers, this time, gave it to the best player even though it wasn't anything resembling a career year for him and even though his team was far from contention. And even though a wide range of September game broadcasts, when discussing the MVP possibilities, excluded Trout from the possibilities.

Trout in the past five seasons has finished second, second, first, second and first in MVP voting. He could easily have won all five seasons; the competing metrics that attempt to merge fielding and hitting into one figure often disagree, but they all agree each year that Trout is the best player in the American League.

The Cy Young voting was interesting, not least because of the Tweet storm it provoked from model Kate Upton, who is romantically involved with runner-up Justin Verlander. Rick Porcello won, even though Verlander had more first-place votes (14 to 8).

Had I a vote, I probably would have put Verlander at the top, but I also would have researched the question more thoroughly. A quick glance at Porcello's numbers suggest a stronger statistical case than I realized when the award was announced Wednesday. He's not an embarrassment as the winner.

But the biggest piece for Porcello was probably the gaudy won-lost record (22-4). Verlander was "only" 16-9. Perhaps most telling were the voters who ranked J.A. Happ (20-4) ahead of Verlander -- or, in the case of the two Tampa Bay-chapter voters who provoked Upton's ire, left Verlander off their ballots completely but found room for Happ. The only thing Happ had going for him was the won-lost record.

Old-school voting prevailed in the Cy Young contest, new age in the MVP.

Gardy in a dugout

Arizona hired Ron Gardenhire, not as manager but as bench coach. So he will presumably be advising new skipper Torey Lovello -- supposedly the runner-up to Paul Molitor when the Twins were replacing Gardy -- on when to bunt or change pitchers.

I've been skeptical that Gardenhire would get another managerial post. Taking a bench job at least puts him back in the game.

Korn Ferry fired

The search firm the Twins used to find Derek Falvey as director of baseball ops got axed by MLB this week because it was basically going to the same well (the Cleveland organization) over and over again to find candidates.

There does seem to have been a lack of diversity, not only racially but in background, of the people Korn Ferry promoted to teams for important front office positions. But I also suspect that owners wanted the kind of people Korn Ferry provided -- young, analytic, educated. That's certainly what I expected the Twins to demand, because it's what was lacking in the previous leadership model.

The search that produced Falvey was one of the last Korn Ferry did, and it may be that it was the last straw. But Falvey seems to be what the Twins bosses wanted.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

From the Handbook: Oswaldo Arcia, pinch non-hitter

Who was the worst pinch-hitter in the majors in 2016? The former Twin, Oswaldo Arcia.

Arcia got 13 pinch at-bats in 2016, scattered among four different clubs (Twins, Rays, Marlins and Padres.) He went 0-for-13 with five strikeouts.  Batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, all .000. Alexi Amarista and Brian McCann (each 0-for-14) at least drew a walk, and Amarista had a pair of RBIs.

Pinch-hitters are notoriously inconsistent from season to season, even the ones with successful track records. But 0-for-13 is pretty futile.

The thing is, Arcia fits a historic profile for a successful pinch hitter: Left-handed, free swinger, genuine power and genuine defensive liabilities (the latter being the reason good pinch-hitters aren't in the lineup).

A time-honored approach to pinch-hitting is: Swing at the first fastball strike you see. But Arcia's career is floundering in large part because he struggles to identify fastball strikes. Whether in the lineup or pinch-hitting, getting a good pitch to hit is an essential part of the formula, and Arcia simply fails at that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

From the Handbook: Team defense

Only two player on the  2016 Minnesota Twins started as many as 100 games at a given position: Brian Dozier, 151 at second base, and Max Kepler, an even 100 in right field. One hundred is less than two-thirds of the games, so it's stretching things to assert that Kepler was the everyday right fielder. He had a majority of the playing time, certainly, but hardly an everyday guy.

So in evaluating and measuring the defensive skills (or lack of same) on this team, individual metrics are a bit lacking. There's hardly enough playing time for Eduardo Nunez, Eduardo Escobar and Jorge Polanco to be accurately assessed as shortstops.

But the Bill James Handbook does contain an intriguing table -- new to the book -- that assesses the defensive runs saved by each position for each team. And that is rather illuminating with the Twins.

The Twins had some ugly positions. No team's catchers cost more runs than the Twins (-18), No team's left fielders cost more runs than the Twins (-22). Shortstop cost the Twins 16 runs, third worst in the majors. Right field was -9, third base -8; oh, hello there, Miguel Sano.

Only three positions were in the positive zone for the Twins. First base was +8, the pitchers were +6 and centerfield was barely positive at +1. Second base was -1.

All told, BIS estimates that the Twins defense gave away 50 runs compared to the league average. That's not the worst in baseball -- Oakland was -71, and the Detroit Tigers were also -50 -- but it is certainly a problem.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

From the Handbook: Molitor's managing

The Bill James Handbook 2017 arrived at my residence this weekend, and I could probably mine the numbers for posts all winter.

Today, let's examine what it shows about Paul Molitor's tactics in the season past.

Molitor in 2015, his rookie season as skipper, did not lead the league in anything. This year, he

  • used more lineups than anybody else in the AL
  • made more pitching changes than anybody else in the AL
  • and, of course, lost more games than anybody else.

Compared to 2015, he

  • pinch-hit slightly less often
  • called for more bunts, steals and runners-in-motion
  • issued fewer intentional walks and was less successful with the strategy

That last segment is ... a bit odd. Team generally pinch-hit more often when behind, and lordie, the 2016 Twins were behind a lot. Teams generally break out the one-run strategies when ahead or at least tied late; again, that was not the rule for the 2016 Twins. Even the IBB -- the intentional walks is a tactic best used by the trailing team.

All this suggests that Molitor spent the season trying to "make something happen." He didn't pinch-hit as often because he wasn't starting defensive specialists; he was starting weaker fielders in an effort to push the offense. Eduard Nunez and Jorge Polanco at short. Juan Centeno at catcher. Miguel Sano as a right fielder. Even Danny Santana -- he hasn't hit for Molitor, but Molitor plays him as if he will.

Juggle the lineup. Change the pitcher. Put on the hit-and-run. Molitor was the managerial equivalent of the famous cartoon of two buzzards, one saying to the other: "Patience, my ass. I say let's go kill something." Molitor may have been losing, but he wasn't passive tactically. Indeed, he may have been trying too hard.

Monday, November 14, 2016

On keeping Neil Allen

To the extent that the dismissals of coaches Tom Brunansky and Butch Davis has drawn fan reaction, it appears to be: How did Neil Allen keep his job?

Allen, of course, is the Twins pitching coach, and the Twins pitching numbers in 2016 were ... really bad. The team ERA was more than a half-run worse than the next worst team in the American League (Oakland). They allowed more hits, homers, earned runs and unearned runs than anybody in the league.

So it's a fair question: If you're shaking up the coaching staff, how does Allen get a pass?

I think there are two reasons, which intertwine:

* Manager Paul Molitor has one year left on his contract. Even as front offices take a ever-increasing role in decisions that were once left solely to the field manager, they seldom force a manager to have a pitching coach not of his choosing -- and particularly so when the manager is working to keep his job. If Molitor wanted Allen, he was going to get Allen.

* Allen has a plan. As explained in this piece, published a month ago by the Pioneer Press' Mike Bernardino, the new focus at all levels of the system will be on fastball command.

I can see this detailed, specific approach appealing to chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, whose reputation is based in large part on his work on pitching in the Cleveland organization. Allen has identified and quantified a specific, organization-wide problem and devised a specific, organization-wide plan to attack it.

Falvey said a week ago that he wanted to see who in the organization wanted to "get on the bus" of "evidence-based solutions". Allen already had a ticket.

But here's a curious thing. A decade ago, fastball command was the hallmark of the Twins system. It's why the Detroit Tigers hired Rick Knapp, then Minnesota's minor-league pitching coordinator, to be their pitching coach. As I recall, Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager at the time, said that the Twins keep calling up rookie pitchers who threw strikes, and he wanted some of that.

Since Knapp left, the Twins haven't fared so well at developing fastball command.

Which may mean that Eric Rasmussen, who has been the pitching coordinator since Knapp's departure, may be more in jeopardy than Allen was.