Monday, October 15, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

I've been quiet here for few days, which is unusual. But I haven't felt that I have anything useful to say here. and as long as that persists, I expect to post less frequently than has been my norm.

---

One of my colleagues asked me about the report that the Twins had interviewed Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens for the managerial job. My response: "I don't really understand what the Twins are looking for, so I don't know if he's got what they're looking for."

Besides a great nickname, Meulens' resume includes being the hitting and bench coach for the San Francisco Giants, including during their three World Series titles earlier in the decade. He wasn't a particularly successful player, not that that's a managerial imperative.

He's about a decade younger than the departed Paul Molitor, but not really young as managerial candidates go. And the Giants might be the least-analytically inclined organization in the majors right now, so he's not bringing a background steeped in sabermetrics to the table.

Conclusion: I don't think he's particularly likely to land the Minnesota job.

---

The current issue of Baseball America features the Top 10 prospects in the short-season leagues. For the Twins, that means the Fort Myers team in the Gulf Coast League -- the lowest in-the-states rung on the ladder -- and Elizabethton in the Appalachian League.

Nobody was listed from the Twins in the GCL piece. Trevor Larnach, the Twins' first-round pick in the June draft, came in at No. 5 in the Appy League; he didn't spend much time in E-Town before moving up to Cedar Rapids. Two other Twins showed up in the second 10 listing: Luis Rijo, a right-handed pitcher they got from the Yankees for Lance Lynn, and Ryan Jeffers, their second-round pick in June who also was rapidly promoted to CR.

But the Twins also have the No. 1 player in the New York-Penn League, without having an affilate in that circuit. Gilberto Celestino was that league's top prospect while playing for the Astros' affiliate, and then he was traded to the Twins for Ryan Pressly.

The NY Penn league is probably a half-step  above the Appy League and a half-step below the Midwest League, and the Twins had Celestino finish the year at E-Town. They had enough outfielders to find playing time for at Cedar Rapids, and he's only 19.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A quality field

Baseball in the 21st Century is not set up for the best team to win the World Series. October has evolved from a pairing of two teams that survived the summer marathon -- combined, one-eighth or one-tenth of the franchises -- to a mob of 10 teams -- one third of the franchises.

On Tuesday the 2018 field was whittled down to four. And in a rarity, the four are almost certainly the two best squads in their respective leagues: Boston and Houston in the American League, Milwaukee and Los Angeles in the National.

It doesn't take a lot of analysis to recognize that the AL teams, each of which won more than 100 games during the season, are both superior to either of the NL teams. That doesn't mean the AL survivor is certain to triumph at months' end.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Miguel Sano is apparently in the clear legally in his native Dominican.

The broader point remains. Nothing good happens outside nightclubs at 3 a.m. in any country.

---

Angel Hernandez set some sort of umpiring record by having three calls overturned by replay in the first four innings Monday night in the Yankees-Red Sox series.

The consensus worst umpire in MLB is to call balls and strikes tonight. Lord knows why he's still umping in the majors much less involved in any postseason series.

---

I am far from the first to note that both the (Cleveland) Indians and (Atlanta) Braves were eliminated on Columbus Day -- or, as it's now officially recognized by the city in which I reside, Indigenous Peoples Day.

When I decided by process of elimination, to root for Cleveland in the AL after Oakland was ousted, I did not realize that the Tribe was going to once again exclusively wear Chief Wahoo caps in the postseason.

They didn't lose this series because of their logo, of course. They lost this series because Houston is a better team, and because Cleveland's bullpen is no longer the deep and effective unit that pulled it to the brink of winning the 2016 World Series.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Oh no, Sano

Miguel Sano was apparently detained and released by police in the his native Dominican Republic after a hit-and-run early Sunday morning in which a policeman's leg was broken.

The Twins issued a statement saying they are "aware" of the situation and trying to learn more about it.

There's a lot of unknowns about this incident. But I'm probably not getting too far over my skis to say the Twins expect better from the troubled slugger. His midsummer exile to the minors was supposed to be as much, or more, about revamping his lifestyle and improving his professionalism as getting his swing back.

Friday, October 5, 2018

RIP Dave Anderson

Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer sits at the intersection of my adult occupation (newspapering) and preoccupation (baseball). While it has been years since I last re-read it, it literally took me less than a minute to find this story about Dave Anderson, the great sportwriter whose death was announced Thursday. This is from 1953, long before Anderson acceived fame as a New York Times columnist:

***

Through the hot months, the Dodgers played phenomonal .800 baseball. They clinched the pennant in Milwaukee on Saturday, September 13, when (Carl) Erskine defeated the Braves 8 to 3, in a game punctuated by three Milwaukee errors. Dave Anderson, a young reporter who had succeeded Harold Burr on the Brooklyn Eagle, wrote the best lead. "The Milwaukee Braves," he began, "died with their boots."

"Two-to-one they change it on you," (Dick) Young said.

"If not the deskman, then the printer," I said. "I've tried to get 'cerebration' into the Tribune four times this season and it's always come up 'celebration.'"

Anderson grinned, but turned less cheerful when he saw a copy of the Eagle. Someone had indeed murdered his pleasant pun. His published story read, "The Milwaukee Braves died with their boots on." On. Not even Dante conceived an inferno for sodden copyreaders.

***

I am, and have been for more than three decades, the modern equivalent of what Kahn calls here a "deskman" or a "copyreader," although the adjective "sodden" probably doesn't fit. That ancedote has been a cautionary tale down the years, but making that kind of mindless editing blunder would first require a writer with Anderson's skill and inventiveness. It's not an insult to my Free Press colleague to say few of them qualify.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The wild card games

One game and done, thanks for playing, Cubs and Athletics.

One of the games (National League) went the way of my rooting interest, the other (American League) did not. One of the games (National League) was tight and compelling, the other (American League) was not.

In terms of who I want to see win, which is different than who I expect to win, we're running out on AL teams. I am habitually unwilling to root for the Yankees, and the Red Sox fan base has become almost as insufferably entitiled. The Astros damaged themselves in my eyes by trading for Roberto Osuna while continuing to declare themselves to have "zero tolerance" for abusers. That leaves Cleveland, to whom I have no real objection other than that they play the Twins 18 times a season.

That's why I really wanted to see the A's knock off the Yankees Wednesday. Didn't happen, of course, and I saw the jeering on social media over the failure of opener Liam Hendriks (former Twin). Yep, the tactic didn't work that night for Oakland. I guess they should have started their Cy Young candidate.

That last was, to be clear, sarcastic. The A's pitching staff is emphatically bullpen-heavy. Hendriks and, later, fellow former Twin Fernando Rodney, didn't get it done.

So now its Yankees-Red Sox -- 100 regular season wins vs. 107 in one ALDS -- and Astros-Indians in the other. It should be good baseball; the only problem is, I want everybody to lose.

I also want both teams to lose in the Dodgers-Braves NLDS, the Dodgers on basic rooting principles and the Braves because their ownership, with the connivance of the government of Cobb County (sururban Atlanta), essentially defrauded the taxpayers of that county to get their new stadium. On the other hand, at least somebody will emerge from the Rockies-Brewers series I can root for.

But know this: Every team in the AL field (including Oakland) is probably better than any team in the NL field (including Chicago).

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Goodbye, Molitor

It's easier to fire the manager than to fire 25 players. The Twins might spend a lot of this offseason doing both.

Starting with Paul Molitor, relieved of his managerial duties Tuesday.

Not everything that went wrong for the 2018 Twins can be fairly blamed on the manager.

It's not on Molitor that Ervin Santana's finger didn't heal with an offseason of rest or recover from surgery. Nor is it his fault that Jorge Polanco got busted for steroids or that Jason Castro's knee gave way.

But ... this was a team with the highest payroll in club history, it was expected to contend, and it didn't. The fielding was poor and the baserunning worse. And, perhaps most crucially, the young core at the heart of the roster did not develop. Even Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios only duplicated their 2017 performances. The Twins enter this offseason far less certain of what they have than they were a year ago.

Dumping Molitor was always a possibility once Terry Ryan was ousted as the head of the Twins baseball operations. Molitor was forced on the front office duo of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine two offseasons ago; now they get to hire a manager of their own choosing.

Still, I was a bit surprised at the news Tuesday. Not only did Molitor still have two years left to run on his contract, he seemed -- with the possible exception of whether Polanco is a bona fide shortstop -- to mesh well with their new front office's analytic bent.

The Twins on Tuesday also dismissed their longtime major league strength and conditioning coordinator and a number of minor league coaches. It seems likely that there will be further changes on the major league staff. Slowly but surely, the Ryan-era figures -- players, managers, coaches -- are giving way to the new regime. In some cases, it seems, they are being ousted simply because they were there when the new guys showed up.

That may not be fair, but that's pretty routine around baseball. We're just not used to that in Minnesota.






Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Minor matters

The Twins have in recent years maintained rather stable minor league affiilations, but Double-A has been the exception.

That, they presumably hope, is about to change.

On Monday it was announced that Minnesota would affilate with the Pensacola (Fla.) Blue Wahoos of the Southern League. They had been paired with the Chattanooga Lookouts in the same league, but that connection ran out at season's end and the Lookouts reunited with Cincinnati.

I'm not sure if Cincy or Atlanta is the dominant major league team in that part of Tennessee, but my guess is that there are considerably more Reds fans around "Nooga" than Twins fans. So this probably makes some economic sense to the Lookouts ownership.

Pensacola, which had been affiliated with the Reds, provides the Twins with


  • better facilities than Chattanooga and
  • a location theoretically more convenient to their high A farm team and spring training complex in Fort Myers. Well, it's in the same state, but it's at the west end of the Florida panhandle. It might be easier to sail to Pensacola from Fort Myers than drive.

This will be the Twins third affilation in Double A in six years. Minnesota has a reputation for really good relationships with its affiliates, but that rep was earned during the Terry Ryan years, and the people responsible for building those relationships are pretty much gone now. Still, I would expect the Twins would want to have a long connection with Pensacola because of Point No. 1 above.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A season's, and maybe a career's, end

An emotional Joe Mauer caught one, presumably final,
 major-league pitch in the ninth inning Sunday, five years
after a concussions forced him to abandon the position.
The final day of the regular season is always one of the saddest of the year for me. Some years I'm eager for the postseason, but even in those years I know I'll miss the rhythm of the schedule -- and winter is coming.

On Sunday we got a glimpse of how much Joe Mauer misses being a catcher. His postgame description of having put the gear in a bag five years ago and never opening it until Saturday night, when he put it on over his clothes -- that helped explain the tears as he stood on the field one more time in the "tools of ignorance" to receive one more pitch.

I was unenthused about the stunt while it was happening, just as I frowned at the one-pitch return to third base by Jim Thome in 2011.  But it clearly meant a lot to Mauer, and apparently to Mauer's family.

It occurred to me in these past few days of trying to ferret out of Mauer's deeds and words what his intentions are that much may hinge on how he defines "Joe Mauer" to himself. If his first thought is "baseball player," it's a lot less likely that he'll retire than if it's "husband and father," and vice versa.

Sunday made me wonder if "catcher" isn't still top shelf in his self-image, more than five years after he last caught a competitive pitch.

And I wonder, too, if the theatrics the Twins worked into Sunday's game -- his daughters visiting first base for the usual Sunday kids starting lineup (which he didn't know about before hand), the one-pitch return to catching (which he had know about), the old promo commercials on the scoreboard -- if all that was intended to nudge Mauer in the direction of retirement.

Mauer will decide what he deems best for himself. It's not for me to substitute my judgment for his. I expect him to walk away, but it's certainly plausible that he'll decide he wants to live baseball's rhythms at least one more season.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Pic of the Week

The Fenway Park scoreboard pretty much tells the
story, in one game, of the 2018 season for both the
Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles.

The Baltimore Orioles have lost more games this season (115) than the Boston Red Sox have won (107). I would like to say that they're not really that bad, but ... they kinda are.





Friday, September 28, 2018

Imagining the 2019 bullpen

The Twins used six pitchers Thursday night, with Stephen Gonsalves the "primary" pitcher but only recording 10 outs. He and "opener" Gabriel Moya were the two most ineffective pitchers the Twins used, but Gonsalves got credited with the win, for whatever that's worth.

Anyway: None of the six spent the entire 2018 season with the big league club, and their ERAs suggest why: 4.84, 6.57, 3.88, 7.82, 6.61, 5.68. (The 3.88 is Matt Magill.)

The Twins last offseason brought in three veteran relievers as free agents -- Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed and Zach Duke. They traded two of them away, and Reed, who has another year on his contract, has been an afterthought since returning from his first career stint on the disabled list.

Not counting position players or starters under another name, I count 19 relievers used by Paul Molitor this season. Six of the 19 are no longer in the organization. Only two, Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers, have been on the active roster throughout.

Hildenberger was given an opportunity these last two months of the season to claim the closers role. He hasn't, and nothing he does in the final weekend will change that. The Twins will go into the offseason with a vacancy in the glory job, and that means the rest of the roles are undecided.

If the 2019 closer is on the roster now, it's probably Trevor May. But Molitor has used May with some caution in this post-op season, and I can see him being aimed at the starting rotation next year.

I suspect the Twins will delve again into the free-agent market in search of another stopgap closer for 2019. They'd like to have a set guy for the ninth to build the rest of the bullpen around, and I don't think they are comfortable with the notion of starting next season with May, Hildenberger or Reed in the role.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

A generous gesture from the manager of the Chicago White Sox:




It's been a trying season for Renteria. The White Sox weren't expected to be good, and they haven't. They were expected to start seeing some progress from a collection of prospects from whom much is expected -- the Sox made a bunch of trades last year, dealing off quality players such as Chris Sale, David Robertson and Adam Eaton -- and those guys have largely spun their wheels.

With the pitchers -- guys like Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito. Carlos Rodon and Dylan Covey -- that's more or less expected. I note with frequency that many star pitchers struggle in their first 30 big league starts. And Kopech, of course, blew out his elbow in his fourth start.

More concerning, I think, is  Yoan Moncada's struggles. He's hitting in the .230s and leads baseball in strikeouts. They had to expect more from him, and maybe better is coming. He is just 23.

---

I somehow missed entirely the Juan Graterol addition to the Twins, not that he's a big deal.

The Twins signed the journeyman as catching insurance in June after the Angels released him, and he spent much of the season in Triple A sharing time behind the dish with Willians Astudillo and a collection of who-dats. He got a belated September callup last week, with Ervin Santana going on the 60-day DL to make roster space, when it became obvious that Mitch Garver (concussion) wasn't going to catch again this year.

So the Twins have three catchers on their roster. Astudillo is by far the most interesting.

---

The Twins' win Wednesday was greatly aided by an odd umpiring ruling. Runners on first and second, no outs, and Paul Molitor put on the hit-and-run with Astudillo, who figures to be really good at this. But he lined out to the second baseman for what should have been a triple play.

Except that the shortstop was nowhere near the bag at second for the throw, and Niko Goodrum muffed the throw at first. The second base ump called Robbie Grossman out at second, and Grossman, who never tried to return, went to the dugout. But the Twins appealed the call, and it was overturned. The umps put Grossman back at second, and the Twins wound up scoring five runs.

As I see it, Grossman conceded the out when he left the field. I think the umps -- in Minneapolis and New York -- messed up.

---

Trevor May has an idea:




May apparently is quite taken by the atmosphere at Oakland and Cleveland. I'm not sure how well the notion will play in staid Minnesota.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Primary colors: Coincidence or evidence?

Kohl Stewart on Tuesday made his eighth appearance with the Twins. The first four were straight-up starts; the most recent four were as a "primary" pitcher, still charged with getting through the lineup at least twice but not pitching the first inning.

He allowed exactly three earned runs in each of the four starts but never finished the fifth inning: a total of 16.1 innings with an ERA of 6.61 and a dismal nine walks (with 11 strikeouts).

In the second four outings, including Tuesday, he worked 20.1 innings, allowing four runs, three earned. ERA: 1.33. The walk-strikeout ratio is better, but not good (nine walks, 13 strikeouts).

Coincidence, or evidence that the "opener" tactic works? Thirty-six innings and change doesn't really settle anything, and there are signs that a lot of luck is involved, but Stewart has been better while avoiding the top of the order while getting settled in. That's part of the theory behind the opener.

Paul Molitor pulled Stewart after six innings, 75 pitches and 21 batters Tuesday, and the bullpen -- specifically Trevor Hildenberger, who is suddenly struggling again -- promptly surrendered four runs. The decision to yank Stewart was second-guessed on social media, with the commentary focused on the 75 pitches.

More important in that decision, I think, is the 21 batters. That's twice through the batting order, plus three hitters. Opener Gabriel Moya faced the first five men, then Stewart began with the Tigers No. 6 hitter (James McCann). Molitor wanted to prevent Stewart from facing the top of the order a third time, and also wanted to give Hildenberger a clean start to the inning.

The pitch count was a secondary consideration. It clearly didn't work, but that's on Hildenberger.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Losing a writer

A Casey Stengel story: It's 1954. The Yankees are in Cleveland late in September, and the Indians are having a historically great season. The Yankees have won five straight World Series, but they won't win a sixth straight pennant, and the writers aren't going back to New York. They're picking up the Tribe and covering them the rest of the way,

Stengel, who has insisted all along that his squad will catch Cleveland,  is dismayed: "We're losing our writers."

Well, we're loing a writer. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press is jumping ship this week to join the Indianapolis Star. He'll be based in South Bend and cover Notre Dame sports.

I have linked to Berardino's stuff quite a bit over the years, partly because it's accessible and partly because he's good. I assume the Pioneer Press will have somebody covering the Twins going forward, but the PP newsroom is a shell of former glories -- the descrecration of that newspaper in the name of hedge fund profits is appalling -- and I don't expect that his ultimate replacement will be of the same caliber.

Berardino's had jobs vanish from under him before -- that's how he wound up in St. Paul to begin with -- and I certainly can't blame anybody for getting out of the Pioneer Press' continuing contractions when a promising opportunity arises. But as a reader, I will miss him. And I wish him well in his new post.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Gopher the bullpen

The Twins outscored the Oakland Athletics in their weekend series, but the A's won two of three.

In the process they underlined the biggest failing of the Minnesota bullpen -- its vulnerablity to home runs.

Trevor Hildenberger has given up 12 homers in his first 71.2 innings, far too many for a closer but still a lower rate than many of his colleagues.

Addison Reed and Matt Magill have each given up 11 long balls in 55 and 54 innings respectively. Alan Busenitz has given up eight in less than 25 innings. Gabriel Moya and Tyler Duffey, like Busenitz yo-yo'd up and down this season, six apiece in 33-plus and 22-plus.

There's some things to like about the arms in the Twins bullpen. But giving up homers every four or five innings is a road map to failure.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Searching for catchers

The Twins announced their instructional league invites on Thursday, and eagle-eyed Steve Buhr noted on Twitter that Michael Davis, who took over at shortstop for Cedar Rapids after Royce Lewis was promoted, was listed as a catcher.

Davis was taken in the 24th round as a senior out of Texas Tech, and he apparently played third base as a senior in college, second base as a junior. When I saw him at the end of the Midwest League season, he sure looked like an experienced shortstop.

But even if he is a shortstop, he's sandwiched between Royce Lewis and Wander Javier in the Twins organization, and that doesn't equate to a lot of opportunity moving forward. The Twins, it's safe to say, have a lot more invested in Lewis and Javier than in Davis.

So this experiment -- assuming that the listing as a catcher wasn't some sort of clerical error -- might be a blessing for Davis. Or it might be another logjam; the Twins have in the past few years, both under Terry Ryan and the Falvine regime, seemed to be gathering as many catchers as possible. Their second-round pick in the same draft in which they took Davis is a catcher.

But it's a tough position to fill because it's a difficult position to play. No-hit receivers like Chris Gimenez, Drew Butera and Bobby Wilson seem to hang around forever -- not necessarily with one team, but but into their mid 30s despite their lack of offense. Davis looks like he can hit, he's got a strong arm, and if he can take to the position with alacrity, there will be an opportunity for him.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Mitch Garver's future

The Twins sent two injured players, Eddie Rosario and Mitch Garver, back to the Twin Cities on Wednesday rather than have them make the long haul out to Oakland. Not only was it obvious that neither would play in Oakland, it's quite possible that both are done for what remains of the season.

This is not the first notable concussion Garver's sustained; he had one a few years ago when he was in Cedar Rapids. And he's a catcher, the position most vulnerable to head injuries because of the foul tips and occasional bat backlashes.

Two tweets:





I get what Steve's saying, but: Where else other than catcher is he going to play?

Garver is 27, so he's already in the peak phase of his career. His hitting is -- good for a catcher, but his OPS+ is a tick under league average, which means it's not really good enough to play a corner position such as first base or left field. 

The "offensive potential" Berardino cites is based almost entirely on being a league-average hitter at catcher. The Twins have better hitting options at any other postions Garver might reasonably play.

Not that Garver is a stellar defensive catcher either. Another tweet:


Yeah. A poor pitch framer who has been behind the plate for nine wild pitches and 33 passed balls in just under 670 innings and has thrown out just 18 percent of the base stealers. He'd better hit.

All of which leads me to suspect that those of us trying to project Willians Astudillo as a utility man for the 2019 Twins might be missing a more significant point: He may be a better choice as the No. 2 catcher (behind Jason Castro) than Garver.




Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Earl Weaver and the opener

The Twins are to deploy Gabriel Moya as the opener again today -- he had that duty on Monday as well -- with Stephen Gonsalves apparently slated for the primary pitcher role.

This new-school tactic clearly does not sit well with at least two prominent Twin Cities media voices, Bert Blyleven and Patrick Reusse. Their disdain for the opener strikes me as a feature, not a bug.

And it also seems to me misplaced, given that their stated concern is for the future of what we know as starting pitching. I think this approach fits well with the development of true starters.

Gonsalves has put up ugly numbers in his first five major league appearances -- 9.39 ERA in four starts and one "primary" outing with 17 walks in 15.1 innings.

His big league struggles come after a stellar season in Triple A, where he made Baseball America's Triple A full-season all-star team. The lefty has the ability to get major league hitters out; he just hasn't done it yet.

Using Gonsalves -- and, for that matter, Kohl Stewart -- as primaries rather than as true starters calls to mind one of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver's principles: The place for a rookie pitcher is long relief.

Weaver seldom -- if ever -- put a call-up straight into the Baltimore rotation. They had to earn their chance to start with some success in longer relief outings. But true long relief outings are passe today; two innings of work out of the bullpen is generally seen as a long stint. That's not what Weaver was doing with Mike Flanagan in 1976 or Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor in 1977.

The opener, in a sense, formalizes Weaver's approach. Stewart and Gonsalves are getting their innings and their opportunity to learn how their stuff plays at this higher level. They're just not facing the first batter of the game.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Catching on (and off)

I grumped a while back that I was uninterested in seeing Chris Gimenez behind the plate the rest of the way. I now must swallow my objections, because I now doubt that we'll see Mitch Garver at all these final two weeks.

Garver left Wednesday's game after getting hit in the head by a foul tip. Apparently trying to watch Friday's game from the bench set off concussion symptoms. I'm quite sure that if this weren't the month of expanded roster that Garver would be on one disabled list or another. The practical result is the same: He's not going to catch.

Which creates more opportunity for Willians Astudillo, certainly. but I don't think Paul Molitor is eager to have anybody catch every game for two weeks. Speaking of Astudillo -- he went hitless Monday night but drove in a run with a hit-and-run ground out. One of the plusses of a catcher who is an extreme contact hitter is the ability to avoid double plays by sending runners one knows can't steal.

And then there's this comment on Astudillo behind the plate:




Molitor didn't have Astudillo catch his first time up, which might suggest that the skipper doesn't think much of Astudillo's receiving skills. But he looks pretty good behind the dish to me, and he certainly hasn't been as prone to passed balls/wild pitches as Garver.

Meanwhile, Bobby Wilson -- remember him? -- has yet to appear in a game for the Cubs.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Ex-Twins watch: Brian Dozier

Brian Dozier started his tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers with a bang, but he fell into a deep slump and has apparently fallen into a platoon role.

Chase Utley was L.A.'s second baseman for their Sunday Night game with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Dodgers got shut out, and Dozier never got off the bench.

Apparently he's been dealing with a sore knee all season, and he told the Orange County Register this weekend that he's developed "bad habits in (my) swing" trying to compensate for the injury.

He wasn't having a good season with Minnesota before the trade, and his averages have deteriorated since the trade.

Dozier, as we all know, is headed to free agency after the season. He's in his 30s, he's having by far his worst season since the shift to second base, and the marketplace last winter was rather cruel to 30-something sluggers.

But at least he has a structural reason for his decline. His argument might be: Once we get the knee fixed, I can snap back into my accustomed production.

How willing today's analytically inclined front offices will be to buy into that is questionable.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Pic of the Week

Willians Astudillo scores from first base on a double
Wednesday against the Yankees.
 (Screencap from Fox Sports North)
El Tortugo -- The Turtle -- is deservedly becoming a cult hero among not only Twins fans but baseball fans, much for the same reasons that Bartolo Colon is. He doesn't look like an athlete.

But there Willians Astudillo was Wednesday night, scoring from first base on a Max Kepler double, head-tossing his helmet off as he rounded second and rumbling home, hair flying in his wake. 

Astudillo via a translator after the game: "I just wanted to show that chubby people also run."

Friday, September 14, 2018

A pinball bumper at shortstop

Jorge Polanco pulled off a rarity Thursday night -- a three-base error at shortstop. Yet another groundball that richocheted off him. Later in the game he mishandled a throw from catcher Chris Gimenez; that error was wrongly charged to Gimenez.

Earlier in the day, on my every-other-week radio spot on KMSU, I pulled out my pinball bumper metaphor to describe Polanco's shortstop play and got some laughs from the other two. But it can't be a laughing matter to the Twins decision makers. Polanco has been charged with 12 errors in 62 games at shortstop -- his season, of course, halved by his steroid suspension -- and deserves at least one more.

It was common in the 1960s for even good shortstops to commit 30 errors in a season, but no more. That's an atrocious rate for a shortstop in 2018.

The Twins right now have Logan Forsythe as their regular second baseman. He's to become a free agent after the season. The Twins could plug that hole by moving Polanco to second base, the position the minor league staff thought a better fit for him. But moving Polanco to second opens up shortstop, and that's a more difficult position to fill.

Nick Gordon, theoretically the shortstop in waiting after being the fifth overall draft pick in 2014, didn't get a callup this month after hitting .212/.262/.283 in Triple A. I've been skeptical for some time of Gordon's ability to be a major league regular; 2018 did nothing to change that opinion.

Paul Molitor appeared a few years ago to be the organization's biggest advocate for playing Polanco at shortstop, and as the manager he has the final call. But even Molitor must realize that Polanco needs to be better at picking up groundballs than he has been.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Contemplating Jake Odorizzi

Jake Odorizzi came five outs shy of a no-hitter Wednesday night, and we can expect Dick Bremer to make a big deal in coming days about the fact that this performance came against the Yankees.

Setting aside the mystery of why the Yankees have so dominated the Twins for so long, let's get this straight: The Yankees hit a lot of home runs (they lead the American League in that department), they draw a lot of walks (they lead in that department) and they score a lot of runs (they're second in that department, to the Red Sox). They aren't a great team at hitting for average, and that makes them somewhat vulnerable to being no-hit.

They didn't get no-hit, of course. They got one hit, a double that not only broke up the no-hitter but plated a run and drove Odorizzi from the game with a season-high (and career-high matching) 120 pitches.

Bert Blyleven wasn't doing this game, but I'm sure his reaction to Odorizzi throwing 120 pitches is a sarcastic: And his arm didn't fall off. But the last time (only) time Odorizzi threw 120 pitches -- June 3, 2016 for Tampa Bay against the Twins -- he followed that performance with a month in which his ERA rose by a run. I expect he will have rough outings the rest of the way.

Odorizzi made it clear after the game that, had his no-hitter remained intact, he expected to be allowed to pursue it. And given that the Twins aren't going to be in the playoffs and have plenty of starting options for what remains of the season, I'm fine with giving him the chance to make a little history.

2018 has been the worst, at least at a quick reading of his stat lines, of Odorizzi's five seasons in a major league rotation -- highest ERA, worst winning percentage, second-worst walk rate, second worst walk/strikeout ratio. He started on Opening Day, but that was a fluky miscast born of Ervin Santana's injury and the desire to set up Jose Berrios to pitch in the Puerto Rico series. Odorizzi has, in truth, been basically what we should have expected: A middle-to-back-of-the-rotation arm who has made 30 starts. Those don't grow on trees.

Odorizzi has another year left on his contract. A month ago I figured that the Twins might do well to clear him out to make room in the rotation for a younger arm with more upside. After watching Kohl Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves splutter, I'm less inclined to argue for pushing him aside.

The Twins figure to go into the offseason with a rotation foundation of Berrios, Kyle Gibson (also with one more year of control) and Odorizzi. That leaves two slots to fill, either internally or from the outside. They might improve the team by trading Odorizzi, but that would be because of what they get in return, not through the process of addition by subtraction.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Celebrating Mauer

The Twins wrap up this homestand tonight against the Yankees, then trundle off to Kansas City, Detroit and Oakland before returning home for their final six games of the season.

Which will be the final six games of Joe Mauer's contract, and perhaps the final six games of his illustrious career.

Mauer on Tuesday hit the fifth grand slam of his career. His career batting average with the bases loaded is .378. That is a fact. Also a fact is that Minnesota has a vocal set of Mauer haters, fueled by a popular but cynical set of media voices (radio and print) that are adverse to facts. They are, at least for the moment, drowned out by the public embrace of the hometown hero who may be on his way out.

Nobody knows, perhaps not even Mauer, what his future holds. He could retire, he could return. He could even sign elsewhere, although nobody appears to think that likely.

We've toted up before reasons for him to keep going and reasons for him to hang it up, and all of them still hold. Neither decision should surprise anybody.

Meanwhile, there is this: seven more games in Minnesota for Joe Mauer. There may be more, but there may not. Cherish them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Done in the minors

A little before the Twins bullpen imploded in Target Field against the Yankees on Monday, the Fort Myers Miracle won the Florida State League playoffs.

That concluded the season for the Twins' minor league affiliates. Fort Myers and Elizabethton won their league titles, Cedar Rapids got bounced in the second round of the Midwest League playoffs by Peoria, and neither Chattanooga nor Rochester made the post season.

This essentially matches my perception of the Twins system: Strong at the lower levels, lacking in bona fide prospects at the upper levels. The Twins did not draft effectively the last few years of the Terry Ryan administration. There was a particular emphasis on power-armed collegiate relievers; few of them remain in the organization and even fewer have contributed to the big league club.

Next up: The Arizona Fall League and instructionals.

For the AFL, the Twins this year are contributing talent to the Salt River Rafters: Four pitchers (Adam Bray, Griffin Jax, Hector Lujan and Devin Smeltzer); one infielder (Travis Blankenhorn) and three outfielders (Jaylin Davis, Luke Raley and Brent Rooker).

I won't dismiss anybody sent to the AFL as a prospect, but Rooker and Jax strike me as the most significant of the Twins contingent.

Rooker is listed on the roster as an outfielder, but I expect his future to be at first base, and I expect him to get to Target Field sometime next season. Jax is also a significant prospect, although his military committment -- he's an Air Force Academy graduate -- has been a hurdle for his professional baseball career. (Apparently the restoration of baseball as an Olympic sport cleared the way for him to go on reserve status and focus on his athletic endeavor.)

Also worth noting is that Tommy Watkins will be managing the Rafters. Watkins' Chattanooga club did not fare well -- they finished last in their division overall -- but that doesn't appear to have damaged his status.

The Twins didn't hold instructionals last year; in the wake of Hurricane Irma, their complex was used as a staging area for relief efforts.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Astunding Astudillo

I don't know if Willians Astudillo is a major league catcher. I do know he's fun to watch, and a one-man solution to pace of play issues.

His homer on Sunday afternoon gives him three in his limited MLB at-bats. He also has two walks and zero strikeouts. Yes, it's just 38 plate appearances. Those are still astunding ratios (see what I did there?) and, at least in the walk and strikeout categories, of a piece with his minor league record.

Twins fans of a certain age remember another catcher of dubious defensive skills who seldom walked or struck out. Brian Harper was a pretty valuable backstop for a few years and helped win a World Series.

The mold may be the same for Harper and Astudillo, but the applicable skills may be pitched differently. Harper didn't throw well and was not a great receiver, but I believe Tom Kelly trusted him as a pitch caller.

I know this: I'd rather see Paul Molitor divvy up the catching chores this month between Mitch Garver and Astudillo than see Chris Gimenez prominent in the mix.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Contemplating Trevor May

Trevor May was credited with the win Friday night. This gives the big righty a 4-1 record in 15 appearances for the Twins.

Plus he has four holds -- save-situation leads turned over to the next reliever. Nine quasi-decisions in 15 games suggests that Paul Molitor has not shied away from giving May game-crucial innings.

May has allowed seven earned runs since his call-up during the sell-off in late July, four of them in an ill-fated "opening" assignment in Houston. He also -- impressive ratios alert -- has walked three and struck out 24 in 17.1 innings.

May is, from all appearances, recovering well from his 2017 Tommy John surgery. What he hasn't done -- and this is unusual in Molitor's bullpens -- is work back-to-back games. This makes sense: He was out all of 2017, and 2018 is a season that combines actual game work with rehab. Molitor is protecting him with usage limitations.

Which means his future is wide open once again. Come 2019, May could return to a starting role. He might get a more prominent slot in late-inning relief. Or he could remain essentially where he is, working in the middle of games but more frequently.

I'd like to see him get another opportunity as a starting pitcher. But that's based on the assumption that he can be more than a five-and-fly guy, and he wasn't in his half-season as a starter in 2015.

There is a substantial difference between 30 starts, 150 innings -- five innings a start -- and 30 starts, 200 innings -- a bit less than seven innings a start. If May can do the latter, he should be in the rotation. If it's the former, he may have more value in the bullpen.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Contemplating Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani, the two-way sensation for the Los Angeles Angels, made his return to the mound on ESPN's Sunday night game. He showed his customary velocity in the first inning. He did not have that same velocity in the second and was pulled.

The Angels initially downplayed the loss of velocity, but on Wednesday afternoon the club announced that the Japanese right-hander had further damaged his right elbow. Tommy John surgery is recommended.

On Wednesday night, after the diagnosis, Ohtani was the designated hitter for the Angels -- and hit a pair of home runs.

This is a remarkable athlete, and a complex situation. A few facts and assertions:


  • Ohtani wants to both hit and pitch, and would not have signed with the Angels without a pledge that he would be allowed to do both.
  • He is probably more valuable to the Angels as a pitcher; they, like most teams, lack a true ace starter, and they have a lot of money invested in Albert Pujols as the designated hitter.
  • The split role dampens Ohtani's value to the team. Even when healthy, he made no more than one start a week, and he didn't hit on the days before and after his starts. He's a part-time hitter and a spot starter.
  • The Angels handled him carefully, and he still got hurt.
Presumably he will have the ligament replacement, and presumably sooner rather than later. Given what we've seen from other position players who've had the surgery, he can return to hitting for the Angels sooner than he can return as a pitcher.

But again, dividing his time, his attention and his rehab between the dual roles is a complicating factor. He is a unique case.




Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Sano's ugly slide

"When you start to slide, slide. He who changes his mind may have to change a good leg for a bad one."

That is the fifth of Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy's "10 commandments," and it came to mind Tuesday night when Miguel Sano slid late and hard into second base and wound up riding a cart off the field.

The inelegant slide also involved bumping bodies, head and elbow with Houston shortstop Carlos Correa, who isn't as bulky as Sano but is considerably larger than the stereotypical middle infielder. 

Yet the report later in the game was largely positive. A bruised left shin, no fracture, status day-to-day. Considering that the bruised shin is the one that had a rod implanted last offseason because of a slow-healing stress reaction, I suspect the Twins will be cautious about playing Sano for a day or so.

He got away with one.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The error-prone Jorge Polanco

This tweet grated on me more than it should have:




What grated was the "two crummy pitches" line. Yeah, Kyle Gibson served up a pair of gopher balls. That accounted for two of the four runs he allowed. The other two came in large part because Jorge Polanco booted a (judging from the radio play-by-play as I did some yardwork before the rain hit) likely double-play ball. Gibby paid the price not only for the homers but for having a subpar shortstop.

There's a long-standing adage, which I think is credited to Paul Richards but may well predate him: More baseball games are lost than won. Meaning that the team that makes the fewest mistakes -- physical errors, mental errors, tactical errors -- comes up on top. 

This, I think, accounts for the remarkable second half of the season for Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League, which as a low-A circuit is more prone to what-are-they-doing moments than the majors. The Kernels lost a lot of top-shelf talent after the first half as Royce Lewis, Alex Kiriloff and Brustar Gaterol were promoted, and have compiled a better record after they left.

They aren't bereft of talent now -- the Twins' top two draft picks from June's draft are on their roster -- but they really benefit from their new middle infield, a pair of June draftees who played for major programs. Shortstop Michael Davis and second baseman Michael Helman aren't as highly regarded as predecessors Lewis and Jose Miranda, but they are older, more mature and more reliable. In the two games I watched last week in Cedar Rapids, Davis and Helman turned four double plays and didn't miss a makable play. The same could not be said of the infielders for the opponents.

This year's Twins team has been given to baserunning gaffes, unmade plays and general sloppiness. Polanco has been charged with 10 errors already, and remember, he lost half the season to suspension. Errors are an exceedingly blunt tool for evaluating defense, of course, but 10 errors in 52 games -- that's a lot for a major league shortstop in 2018. 

I like Polanco -- as a second baseman. Paul Molitor has been determined to find a shortstop in him. Last year it appeared that Molitor might be right about Polanco. This year, not so much.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Opening the opener

Well, that didn't go well.

Opening pitcher Gabriel Moya gave up a two-run homer in the first. I like Moya, and I expect him to be a quality relief pitcher, but he has now surrendered five homers in a bit more than 25 major league innings this year, and that's too high a rate. (He's not alone in this in the Minnesota bullpen.)

Primary pitcher Zack Littell didn't fare much better at the end of his stint. The key theory behind the "opener" tactic is that the nominal starter will begin his third trip through the batting order somewhere in the second, weaker, half of the lineup. On Sunday he entered to begin the second inning against the No. 6 hitter, and in four innings allowed one unearned run. His fifth inning began with that feared third trip through the order, and he gave up a double and a homer. And that was all for him.

And then Tyler Duffey was completely ineffective, and Matt Belisle got ejected, and the whole contest got out of hand.

The opener isn't a cure for bad pitching, and the Twins had too much of that on Sunday. The tactic is -- as is true of baseball tactics -- an attempt to achieve a marginal advantage. One game, one example, doesn't truly determine anything.

One thing I heard Dick Bremer say during the telecast that I wish to dispute: He said that Tampa Bay has used slider specialist Sergio Romo a lot as the opener. The Rays did use Romo five times in that role at the beginning of the experiment, but he hasn't opened since May 27.

What happened? Two things:


  • The Rays traded then-closer Alex Colome to Seattle and shifted Romo back to the late innings;
  • The Rays used Romo to open against two specific clubs (Angels and Orioles) that had no left-handed hitters at the top of their lineups.
The most-often used opener for Tampa Bay has been Ryne Stanek, with 22 "starts" in 46 appearances.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Pic of the Week

Yankees manager Aaron Boone gets into a catchers
crouch during an argument with umpire Nic Lentz Friday.
The argument resulted in Boone's ejection.

The arrival of replay review largely ended the era of demonstrative arguments between managers and umpires.

On Friday, Aaron Boone did his part to bring them back.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Wilson for Gimenez

I interrupt this blog's series of deep thoughts about the Cedar Rapids Kernels to offer my deep thoughts on the Twins trade Friday of Bobby Wilson for Chris Gimenez.

Here they are: ????

What we have here are a pair of essentially interchangable backup catchers -- both 35, both with reputations as excellent clubhouse presences and receivers, both possessors of medicore batting records.

Wilson, I think, is a slightly better defensive catcher; Gimenez balances the scales by being more versatile and a usable hitter against lefties, although that latter attribute may have deteriorated with the years. He certainly has not hit much this year, either in his brief midsummer sorjorn with the Cubs or at Triple A Iowa.

So why trade them?

My guess: The Cubs prefer Wilson to Gimenez as catching depth for September and the postseason. Not, mind you, that they will necessarily have him active for October -- but as insurance should something happen to starter Wilson Contreras or backup Victor Caritini.

The Twins give Wilson a change at a piece of postseason coin and get a backup catcher available immediately (Wilson is on the disabled list with a sprained ankle and is eligible to return Sept. 4). The trade also involves a player to be named or cash coming to the Twins. Neither figures to amount to much.

This will, of course, be Gimenez' second tenure with the Twins. He's been on the Indians roster three times and Texas twice. It's not often that a player returns to a previous organization, but Gimenez does it repeatedly.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Trip to Cedar Rapids: The catchers

The Twins have twice in recent years, once under each front office regime, made concerted efforts to bolster the catching depth in the organization.

Mitch Garver, who is as close as the 2018 Twins have to a primary catcher, is the product of the Terry Ryan regime's effort. Five years ago the Twins used three picks in the first nine rounds on catchers. Stuart Turner (3rd round) is out of the organization, and Brian Navaretto (6th round) is at Double A Chattanooga, where he is having his best offensive season to date, which isn't saying much.

The Falvine regime made another push on backstops starting during last offseason and continuing though the draft. Two of those additions are on the Cedar Rapids roster right now, and I saw each behind the dish.

Ryan Jeffers was the Twins' second-round selection in June. Like Garver and Turner, he's a college draftee (North Carolina -Wilmington); like Garver, he is viewed as a bat-first backstop. 

When Garver came through Cedar Rapids, he hit third for the Kernels. Jeffers hit third in both games I saw, first as a catcher and then as the designated hitter.

His hitting lines in his two months or so as a pro are impressive, and he went 4-for-9 in the two games. The receiving skills are presumably a work in progress. 

Jeffers is big, and he doesn't appear to be as able as Joe Mauer was in his catching days to fold that big body into a low target. With no runners on, Jeffers frequently set up with one leg extended out to the side, a techinque I first saw used by Tony Pena some 30 years ago.

I saw one pitch elude him on Monday, a delivery low and to the glove side that may have been a cross-up and definitely wasn't located where Jeffers was set up. I don't know how to apportion the blame for that one.

David Banuelos had no such issues when he caught on Wednesday. But he also got no hits. Both fit the scouting report on him when the Twins got him from Seattle last November for international pool cap space during the Shohei Ohtani derby. He's been at Cedar Rapids all season, where both his on-base percentage and his slugging percentage are below .300. 

Others of some note in the Twins' catching-acquistion spree:

Chris Williams (8th round out of Clemson) has played strictly first base at Elizabethton, a level below Cedar Rapids, where he has hit 15 homers. That he hasn't caught yet as a pro may be significant.

Trevor Casanova (13th round out of El Camino College in California) is also at E-Town and putting up pretty solid numbers at the plate.

Jangison Villalobos, who was essentially a throw-in in the Phil Hughes salary dump during the season, is playing for the Twins complex team in the Gulf Coast League. He's old for that level, and I don't expect he'll ever get to Cedar Rapids.




Thursday, August 30, 2018

Trip to Cedar Rapids: Kernels 6, Burlington Bees 2

The Kernels program lists five outfielders, at least four of whom would logically be players the organization wants to see get substancial playing time.

All five started at least once in the two games I saw on this trip, with probably the top two -- Trevor Larnach and Akil Baddoo -- starting both games, in right field and centerfield respectively. Trey Cabbage and Gabriel Maciel each started a game in left, and Jacob Pearson was the DH in one game.

A few observations:

Larnach, the Twins' first-round draft pick (20th overall) this year, has split this initial pro season almost evenly between Cedar Rapids and Elizabethton. Neither level should be a great challenge for a college star from a big-time program. Larnach went 0-for-8 in the two games with a walk and a stolen base. He did have three hard-hit outs over the two games to left field. At 21, he is the oldest of the group of five, and the one with the least professional experience.

Baddoo's stat line is intriguing. He's hitting about .240, which isn't impressive, but his on-base percentage is around .350 and his slugging percentage is over .400. He hit leadoff in both games, and like Larnach went hitless (0-for-8 with a walk and two steals). He's quite fast and made a nice catch at the wall Wednesday night. He's also just 19, quite young for the league.

Pearson came to the Twins from the Angels last offseason when Anaheim was scraping up all the international pool money it could for the Shohei Ohtani derby. His skill set appears to be akin to Baddoo, but my sense -- and the stat line supports this -- is that the tools are pitched at a lower level than Baddoo's. He went 1-for-2 in his one start with a walk, an RBI and a run scored.

Cabbage was taken in the fourth round of the 2015 draft as a third baseman. He's now splitting time between left field, right field and first base. He's gotten more playing time this season than in the previous three, and he's hit a little better, but probably not enough to merit being taken serious as a prospect. This is also the first season in which he hasn't been notably young for the level of competition. He went 1-for-4 in the game I saw him play with a double and a run scored.

Maciel was part of the return from Arizona for Eduardo Escobar last month. He really impressed me Wednesday night. He went 3-for-4, which is nice, but what struck me was how he went 3-for-4. First at-bat, hitting left-handed, he pulled a solid single. Second at-bat, still hitting left-handed, he laid down a perfect bunt. Third trip, hitting right-handed against a lefty reliever and facing a sharp shift with a man on second, he was clearly trying to go to right and, after fouling several pitches off to the first base side, grounded one through the vacancy. It was a key piece of a four-run inning that put the Kernels ahead to stay. (He struck out in his final trip.)

Like Baddoo, he's 19. Unlike the other four, who all hit left handed, he's a switch hitter. He made a nice running catch in left, and appears to be fast enough to play center. He hasn't hit for much power in the Midwest League (he played for Kane County before the trade), but that can come. 

This is, of course, low-A ball. None of them are on the cusp of the majors, although Larnach may be on a fast track. They have genuine tools. The challenge is learning to use them.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Trip to Cedar Rapids: Off day

The Twins had expected to have Michael Pineda ready to step into the starting rotation next month. They wanted to spend the rest of the season looking at Adalberto Mejia.

Neither will happen.

Pineda, as you may remember, was signed to a two-year deal with an eye to 2019; he was to (and did) spend the season rehabbing his right elbow after Tommy John surgery. That went well enough that for the past month or so it was assumed that he would pitch in September. Instead, he has a meniscus tear. He might pitch winter ball. 

This, really, changes nothing about Pineda and 2019. He was expected to fill one of the rotation slots next year, and he's still expected to fill a rotation slot.

The same cannot be said of Mejia's injury, described as nerve irritation. The lefty is out of options after this season, so he's either on the active roster in 2019 or waived.

He's had a good season: 3.27 ERA in Triple A, 2.01 in five appearances in the majors. Hidden by the sparkling major league ERA: he's had just one appearance of more than 15 outs, his walk-to-strikeout ratio isn't good, and his strikeout rate is low.

But that's just 22.1 innings. The walk and strikeout rates in Triple A were strong. The innings per outing, not so much.

So Mejia really needed this opportunity. The Twins called him up in mid July to give him a chance to show, if not the Twins then somebody else, that he's capable of being a useful rotation piece. Instead, he's going to hit the offseason not only without that opportunity, but with a possibly significant health question.

Trip to Cedar Rapids: Kernels 5, Cougars 1

The Cedar Rapids Kernels -- the Twins affilate in the Midwest League and the organization's entry point to full-season professional ball -- are wrapping up the 2018 regular season. But they'll have at least a few more games after their schedule ends this weekend; on Monday night the Kernels clinched the second half divisional title, so they'll be in the playoffs again.

The striking part about this to me is that they put up a better record after their top-shelf prospects -- Royce Lewis, Alex Kiriloff and Brusdar Graterol are all easily among the top five talents in the organization -- were moved up to Fort Myers and the Florida State League.

That kind of player movement is pretty standard in low A. But that they got better after having to replace so many top talents speaks to the developing depth of the organization.

Four of Monday's starters were 2018 draftees: second baseman Michael Helman (11th round, Texas A&M); catcher Ryan Jeffers (2nd round, North Carolina-Wilmington); right fielder Trevor Larnach (1st round, Oregon State); and shortstop Michael Davis (24th round, Texas Tech). The first three listed hit 2-3-4; Davis was the No. 8 hitter, but he homered and singled for three RBIs. His one out was also well hit.

But the star for the Kernels was starting pitcher Randy Dobnak, who allowed one run on three hits in seven innings. Dobnak was signed as an undrafted free agent last summer after pitching college ball for a D-II school in West Virginia, and he leads the Kernels in wins and innings.

The rest of his stat line isn't that impressive. He's allowed more hits than innings pitched, and his strikeout rate is the worst of the 22 pitchers who've taken the mound for the Kernels at least three times. He's old for the league as well.

What Dobnak does do well is pound the strike zone. And that has worked well for him at this level. The odds are against him -- he's not going to get as many chances as Kohl Stewart has, because the organization hasn't much invested in him -- but he's nowhere near as excruiating to watch work as, say, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Pelfrey.

And on Monday night, when the game ended, he got to spray some sparkling beverage on his teammates outside the dugout.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Even a 'Caveman' can do it

Jake Cave, who wore "Caveman" as his uniform nickname during Players' Weekend. did something unusual Sunday: He walked three times. This increased his walk total by 33 percent on the no-longer-young season and gave him 12 on the year.

Cave has gotten fairly consistent playing time against right-handed pitching for about two and a half months while Byron Buxton languishes on the disabled list/minor league rehab. Cave has shown genuine power at the plate -- slugging percentage .452 (all nunbers entering Sunday's play) -- and some significant flaws.

The relative lack of walks is a signficant one. Cave's batting average (around .265) is acceptable; his on-base percentage (.303) is not. He has had a few TOOTBLANs -- Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop -- which is hardly unique on this club. And his defense in centerfield was poor enough that in recent weeks he's played right field, with Max Kepler getting center field chores.

One positive in the field: Cave picked up a pair of outfield assists Saturday and another on Sunday, giving him five on the season, four in his limited time playing right field.

The flaws make him a reserve outfielder who is currently getting too much playing time. Other than being a left-handed hitter, it's not the typical profile for a fourth outfielder, who are generally expected to be better in center than Cave has been. But the Twins have regulars in the corners capable of playing center (Kepler and Eddie Rosario).

Buxton on Sunday played in his third straight day for the Twins Triple-A affiliate, which suggests he's about ready to return. It's possible that they'll wait until the rosters expand to bring him back. When he does, Cave's playing time will probably pretty much vanish. He's not a better hitter than Rosario and Kepler, and this team really needs Buxton's defense and basrunning prowess.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Pic of the Week

Hunter Dozier of Kansas City gets doused after his
walk-off homer Friday night against Cleveland.
Occasionally I hear people grumble about bad teams celebrating after a win. I'm not one of those.

Yeah, Kansas City is having a rough season. It's not September yet and the Royals have lost 90 games. Baltimore's record is worse, but K.C.'s run differential suggests that it's the Royals, not the Orioles, who have the worst team in baseball.

Hunter Dozier is hitting .217 with a .275 on-base percentage and .328 slugging percentage. This is ... bad.

On Friday night, he and his teammates had a good game and they beat a quality team. They deserve to celebrate.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Mauer's milestone

Joe Mauer passed Rod Carew on the Twins' career hit list Friday. That's hardly an insignificant accomplishment, but it's also not something likely to make it onto a Cooperstown plaque.

Still, Mauer is surrounded on that list by Hall of Famers: Kirby Puckett above him, Carew below. (Mauer does have more than 500 more at-bats as a Twin than Carew.)

If we take the longer view and add in the Washington years of the franchise, No 1. becomes Sam Rice, a Hall of Fame outfielder who spent almost all of his 20-year career with the Senators, 1915-1934. Rice, who hit .322 for his career in the highest era for batting average, had 2,889 hits for Washington; he is, I believe, the player who came closest to the 3,000 hit club without reaching that round number.

Rice, Puckett, and then two other old-time Senators, Joe Judge and Clyde Milan, neither of whom is in Cooperstown. Mauer is likely to catch Milan this year. Judge, he's going to need a couple more seasons -- and the same for Puckett, who is ahead of Judge by just 13 hits.

Nobody other than Mauer, and maybe not even him, knows if Mauer's going to try to play next year. No matter how one slices and dices his stats, 2018 is shaping up as the worst of his distinguished career. He's 35 now, he has another child on the way, he missed about a month with concussion symptoms earlier in the season -- he has reason to hang 'em up if he so chooses.

And he has reason to want to keep going. Even in his worst season, Mauer still has the team's highest on-base percentage (unless you count the likes of trade acquistions Logan Forsythe and Tyler Austin).

I'll accept either decision.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Trevor Hildenberger, committee chairman

Trevor Hildenberger pitched Thursday night. It wasn't a brilliant outing -- he served up another homer -- but he got the final three outs. It was an "easy" save, in the parlance of Baseball Info Systems, which tracks the difficulty of save opportunties.

Sine the Fernando Rodney trade as announced Aug. 9, Hildenberger has appeared in five games.  He has four saves and a win and was the final pitcher each time. The only save opportunity granted to anybody else came immediately after people started to suggest that Hildenberger was the new closer, as if to prove that no he isn't.

Paul Molitor says it's a committee to close. He may even believe that. But if it's a committee, Hildenberger is clearly the chairman. Molitor handled his bullpen, which had to get 13 of the 27 outs, as he would have to get to his closer -- four outs from one guy, three from the next, divvy up the eighth between a lefty and a righty, and now it's the ninth and time for the star to enter.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

An inefficient defense

Defensive efficency is one of my favorite team-level stats: How often does this team turn batted balls in play into outs?

The Twins -- no real surprise -- are not faring particularly well at that this season. Baseball Reference has the Twins DE at .678. They rank 26th among the 30 major league teams.

Last season the Twins were 10th in the majors at .692. Flip them around, so to speak, and we find that their opponents (leaving out the homers and strikeouts) hit .308 last year, .322 this season.

There are a lot of differences between the 2017 and 2018 models of this team, of course, and one of the most significant is Byron Buxton. Defensive efficiency seems to coorelate significantly to outfield defense, and the absence of Buxton shows in that regard.

The "nothing falls but raindrops" motto of 2017 has not applied to 2018.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Yu don't say

The Twins traded this year for veteran starter Jack Odorizzi ($6.3 million this year, arbitation eligible next year, free agent after that) and signed, during spring training, veteran starter Lance Lynn ($12 million, traded last month the the Yankees).

These moves didn't work as well as the Twins expected and hoped. It could have been worse.

The Twins wanted to spend that money on Yu Darvish. He signed instead with the Chicago Cubs -- six years, $126 million.

In year one of that contract, Darvish went 1-3, 4.95 in eight starts, and those numbers won't change. The Cubs announced Tuesday that he has a stress reaction in his elbow and is done for the season.

Odorizzi and Lynn at least were able to take the ball and make their starts.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The status of the rotation

Safe to say Stephen Gonsalves' debut didn't go so well. He got just six outs and had difficulty with his location.

I hadn't seen him pitch before and was struck by the conclusion of his delivery, which seems almost nonchalant. He certainly doesn't look like a max-effort pitcher, which is a positive.

Anyway. one poor start does not define him as a pitcher. I expect to see him again and again. His track record in the minors is good, certainly better than that of Kohl Stewart.

So .. Ervin Santana and Aldaberto Mejia are on the DL, and I'm no longer expecting either to return this season. Aaron Slegers is also on the DL, and he apparently expects to return, although I'm not sure what his timeline might be. He's been out a while, and  he's unikely to be ready to throw 100 pitches when he returns.

Right now, the rotation has Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi plus the rookie callups, Stewart and Gonsalves. Behind them, presumably, are Fernando Romero and Zack Littell, currently at Triple A Rochester. And a pair of stealth candidates to be called up are Lewis Thorpe and Chase De Jong, who are already on the 40-man roster but have spent most of 2018 at Double A (De Jong in the Seattle organization; he came as part of the Zach Duke trade.)

Romero has already pitched more innings this season than in 2017, and I suspect the Twins would prefer to limit his total workload to 150-160 innings. Indeed, innings limitations might be the common thread as the Twins contemplate their September rotation.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Given the finger ...

The Twins returned Ervin Santana to the disabled list during the weekend. The post-surgical middle finger clearly wasn't up to the demands of major league pitching.

Presumably this is it for Santana as a Twin. He gave the Twins two solid seasons, one useless one, and one solid half-season marred by a steroid suspension.

I'm not down on him for this useless one. He did what he could with the injury last year and did what he could with the digit in rehab this year. He said something a couple of starts ago about giving the team 100 percent of what he had, and I accept that.

No, it's 2015 that still sticks in my craw. Who knows what that team would have accomplished had he not missed half the season with a self-inflicted banishment? The Twins were in the wild-card hunt right up to the end.

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Two pitching moves over the weekend: Stephen Gonsalves comes up to replace Santana in the rotation -- he starts tonight against the White Sox -- and the Twins sub in Alan Busenitz for Tyler Duffey.

Gonsalves is an intriguing prospect. The fastball velocity is not overwhelming, the breaking ball is apparently mediocre, and the control record is not good. But he is absurdly difficult to hit. He has a good changeup, and the fastball is said to have a high spin rate, which apparently is an objective measurement that aligns with the old-school description of "sneaky fast."

He was taken in the same draft as Kohl Stewart but three rounds later and was generally moved up the ladder more slowly. But he was better than Stewart on every level.

I'm glad to see him up here now. I'm considerably more optimistic about Gonsalves's chances to be a useful major league starter than I am about Stewart.

As for the bullpen move: The Monday print column examines the current state of experimentation in the Twins bullpen. The trades of Fernando Rodney, Ryan Pressly and Zach Duke opened three significant roles in the relief corps, and with the exception of lefty specialist -- Taylor Rogers assumes that role and Gabriel Moya slides into Rogers' old slot -- Paul Molitor is holding open auditions.

It's a rather long column as these things go, and I didn't bother mentioning either Busenitz or Duffey. Thye're both clearly behind Trevor May, Trevor Hildenberger and Matt Magill, and probably, absurd as it sounds, behind Oliver Drake as well.

Which doesn't mean either can't pitch their way into the Twins plans. It just means they're behind in the competition.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Pic of the Week

Houston pitcher Carter Pitts listens to manager Dave Rook
after after committing a fielding error that allowed a run to score
in the first inning a Little League World Series game Thursday.

I wonder if I'm the only one dubious of the wisdom of putting 12- and 13-year-olds' games on national television.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Paul Molitor finally walked his talk about a bullpen committee Friday night.

After giving the first three save opportunites since the trade of Fernando Rodney to Trevor Hildenberger, he turned a two-run lead over to Matt Magill. Thirty-some pitches later, Molitor turned a one-run lead over to Taylor Rogers, who got the final out and his first major league save.

We'll see where Molitor goes from here.

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Tyler Austin's mammoth homer Friday night prompted a collegue to ask me about him, and I gave him the "Sano light" comp: Right-handed, big power, strikes out a lot, not as athletic as Miguel Sano.

Nobody would play Austin at third base. And Molitor seems reluctant to try him at first base. Having decided to sit Joe Mauer, Molitor played Ehrie Adrianza at first base on Friday (with Sano at third).

Austin, in his limited playing time this year, has an OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) more than 200 points higher against lefties than righties. That sounds like a platoon player, and it's really tough to carry a platoon DH on a 13-pitcher roster.

A better comp for Austin than Sano might be Byung Ho Park, who showed prodigious power in his brief Twins tenure but failed to hit consistently. Part of Park's problem, however, was that he couldn't stay healthy enough to stay in the lineup.

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Joe Mauer didn't start Friday night, but he certainly played, pulling a three-run homer while pinch-hitting for Adrianaza. And then he flashed about as much emotion as we've seen from the even-keeled Mauer.

When he stepped out for a curtain call, the thought flashed through my mind: He's going to retire.

As with the stucture of the bullpen, we'll see.




Friday, August 17, 2018

Contemplating Ervin Santana

The expectation was that Ervin Santana would be moved this month in a waiver deal to a contender.

Five starts into his belated 2018 season, that seems highly unlikely. Santana didn't get an out in the fifth inning Thursday. He is averaging a bit less than five innings a start with an ERA of 8.03. His velocity is down and his home runs are up.

Clearly the surgery on his right middle finger has proven more serious than anyone involved expected -- or at least admitted -- back in February.

The Twins hold a $14 million option on him for 2019. I expect them to pay the buyout instead and let Santana, 35. go.

They may not even wait until the offseason. The time is coming when the roster spot, or at least the rotation berth, is more valuable than what remains to be paid of his 2018 salary.

We're not there yet, if only because Aldaberto Mejia is still on the disabled list. The Twins can be patient and hope that Santana shows something useful in his next start. But if and when his presence gets in the way of evaluating Mejia and/or Kohl Stewart for 2019, Santana may well be release bait.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Trevor Hildenberger, closer

It is a staple of managerial caution: The closer's job becomes vacant (trade, injury, ineffectiveness) and the skipper says he'll use a "committee" for the ninth inning -- and almost immediately slides one reliever into the ninth inning role.

That's what Paul Molitor did last year when Brandon Kintzler was traded: proclaim a committee and slide Matt Belisle into the role. He did get some long saves from Tyler Duffey and Dillon Gee, but it was Belisle for three outs.

The Twins have had three save opportunities since Fernando Rodney was traded. Trevor Hildenberger got each of them, including Tuesday and Wednesday.

Molitor may not want to proclaim Hildenberger as closer, but what he does is more important than what he says. Hildenberger hasn't pitched in anything other than a ninth-inning save situation since the Rodney trade, and nobody else has pitched in a ninth-inning save situation.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Ex-Twins watch: Bullpen guys

When the Nationals decided that Brandon Kintzler was a snitch and had to be eradicated from their "dysfunctional" clubhouse (see my overly-long Tuesday post) , they traded the right-hander to a better situation. He's now with the Chicago Cubs.

Where, in his first six games, he has pitched four innings and walked five hitters.  OK, one was intentional and four innings is a small sample size, but still ... that's not good. It's also not the Brandon Kintzler we saw with the Twins. I think he's going to be fine.

The Cubs made room for Kintzler on their roster by demoting another former Twin, Randy Rosario. The young lefty has an ERA of 3.00, but he too has had trouble with the free pass, with 19 walks in 33 innings. One might want to rap the Cubs for demoting that ERA, but all those walks are a problem. He's also allowed five homes in those 33 innings, so the ERA is pretty much a mirage.

The Cubs picked up Rosario on a waiver claim during the winter, the Twins having decided that they didn't have room on their 40-man roster for him. Similarly, the Twins lost J.T. Chagrois on waivers to the Dodgers early in spring training.

Chagrois was been up and down with the Dodgers -- 37 K's in 30.1 innings and an ERA of 3.56. The Dodgers bullpen is a mess right now; closer Kenley Jansen is out after another bout of irregular heartbeat (this seems to come when he pitches in Colorado), and nothing is working out there for Dave Roberts.

The Dodgers lost Tuesday's game on a ninth-inning homer. It was their fourth straight game in which the bullpen gave up the winning run in the final inning, fifth straight game in which the bullpen took the loss. Chagrois has been part of that problem.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The demise of the Nats, or why managers matter

The assertion has persisted for generations: Managers don't greatly matter.

The Washington Nationals right now are an intriguing case study for that assertion.

The Nats have had a chronic revolving door for the dugout boss, apparently at the instigation of ownership, which has been willing to spend heavily on playing talent but not on managers. They have had newbie managers (including the current occupant of the job, Davey Martinez) and really old managers (including his immediate predecessor, Dusty Baker), but their one common denominator has been a lack of bargaining power.

Matt Williams was their manager in 2014-15, his first and probably only stint as a major league manager. He won the divisional title in 2014, finished second in '15, and the defining moment of his tenure came when Jonathan Papelbon tried to choke Bryce Harper in the dugout and Williams had no clue about it.

Out went Williams, in ccame Baker. The change wasn't as smooth as that; there was a tentative agreement with Bud Black that fell apart because Black had higher salary expecations than the Nats were willing to pay. Baker had been out of the game for three years and was willing to take the job at a bargain price.

Baker now has 22 seasons on his managerial resume with a record well above .500 but only one pennant and no World Series titles. His in-game moves are often puzzling and his grasp of the metrics popular with today's front offices is not publicly apparent, but he has no peer at the delicate task of handling superstar egos. The Papelbon-Harper incident suggested that was a skill the new manager needed in Washington, and whether by intent or fortuity, the Nats got that skill.

The Nats won a pair of division titles under Baker but didn't win a postseason series.  Mike Rizzo, who heads the Nats' baseball operations, wanted to extend Baker after last season; ownership said no.

Martinez, long an understudy to Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay and Chicago and almost as long a prominent candidate for managerial jobs, got the Nats post. There was every reason to expect him to be a good selection. But it has not gone well.

The Nationals have, still, as much talent as any team. Harper, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner, Gio Gonzalez ... Juan Soto, age 19, started the season in A ball and now has 14 homers in the majors.

And they're running third in their division, barely above .500, and looking worse than that.

What went wrong for the Nats this year? I suspect this is a case where "clubhouse chemistry" became a real thing.

Just before the trading deadline, Jeff Passan of Yahoo tackled that question, and in the process of describing the Nats quoted an unnamed veteran as calling the clubhouse "dysfunctional." It was almost a throwaway line in the piece, but it got Rizzo's attention.

Rizzo decided -- apparently incorrectly -- that the unnamed player was former Twins reliever Brandon Kintzler and promptly traded him away. A couple days after the deadline, another leading bullpen arm, Shawn Kelley, threw his glove on the ground after giving up a homer; Rizzo designated Kelley for assignment.

With Kintzler and Kelley subtracted, and with Shawn Doolittle and Ryan Madson hurting, the bullpen has become a mess. And Kintzler and Kelley were subtracted in an attempt by the front office to support a beleaguered manager.

One of the voices on MLB Radio, talking about the "dysfunctional clubhouse" description, saying that he'd been in the Nats clubhouse and had never seen a major league clubhouse so devoid of interaction. Whether it's "dysfunctional" or not, he said, it was unique.

And I suspect Harper is at the center of it. Consider this: He is the star on a team of stars, a former MVP, a Sports Illustrated cover boy at 16 -- and yet you pick the stat, somebody in that clubhouse has had a higher number.

Homers? Harper hit 42 his MVP season. Matt Reynolds hit 44 one year in Arizona.

Batting average? Harper's high is .330. Murphy hit .347 the next year.

RBIs? Harper's never had 100 ribbies. Murphy, Zimmerman and Rendon have all topped the century mark.

But it's Harper at the top of the food chain, Harper whose future is the source of constant comment and speculation. You can't watch a game on TV without seeing Harper in an ad. Think that can cause some grumbling?

Baker is, if nothing else, experienced at handling superstar egos -- and the interaction of the other egos.

Baker had Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent in San Francisco, a pair of MVPs who apparently detested each other, They won.

Baker had Sammy Sosa in Chicago. They won, although that situation got away from Baker.

In Cincinnati, Brandon Phillips, while not on the level of Bonds, Sosa or Kent, was one of the Reds' better players and a high-maintenance guy. Baker kept him focused and on track, something other skippers struggled to accomplish,

And with the Nats, there was scarcely a kerfuffle with Baker around. Before and after, drama aplenty.

Yeah, the Nats miss Johnnie B. Baker. Not for pitching changes and when to hit-and-run, but for all the other stuff that comes with a major league season.

Monday, August 13, 2018

No Mo Lo Mo and other notes from the weekend

Logan Morrison is now on the disabled list and done for the season, with hip surgery pending.

The Twins could pick up his $8 million option for 2019. My instinct is that they will pay the $1 million buyout and let him hit free agency again.

I will go so far as to say that there's no way both Morrison and Joe Mauer are back in 2019. They are both left-handed hitters, both over 30 and both limited to first base in the field.

My current reading of the Mauer situation is:

  • He wants to play in 2019
  • He doesn't want to go elsewhere to do so

If both those assumptions are accurate, Mauer will be back for his age 36 season. And I think the roster makes more sense if there is a right-handed hitter complementing him for the 1B/DH roles.

The Morrison signing made sense. It didn't work. I don't know how much the hip issue had to do with his struggles this year, but I think the Twins will move on.

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Baseball Reference's team pages display mug shots of that team's top 12 players by WAR. For the Twins at this typing, the top 12 includes two guys no longer with with the team (Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier), a DL-list pitcher with four starts (Adalberto Mejia), a shortstop still shy of 150 plate appearances (Jorge Polanco) and an outfielder likewise shy of 150 plate appearances (Jake Cave).

Mauer is not among the top 12, even though he leads the team in the most important hitting stat, on-base percentage (150 PA minimum).

It has been a disappointing season for the Minnesota icon, especially after such a solid 2017. He had the lengthy DL stint with concussion symptoms as well, so his return is far from a foregone conclusion. Both parties, the Twins and Mauer, could logically say no. I just think they're both inclined to yes.

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Kohl Stewart's debut Sunday matched  the Keith Law scouting report referenced here last week. He throws strikes and lacks an out pitch. That might work if the defense is of genuine high quality, but that's not the 2018 Twins. In his fatal fifth inning, the balls in play turned into hits.

His plus is a lot of ground balls. His minus is that the Twins aren't particularly adept at turning ground balls into outs. Paul Molitor gave him a shortstop at third base to try to help with that, but ... ultimately, it's real tough to be a starting pitcher in the second decade of the 21st century with a below-average strikeout rate.

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I see I forgot to do a Pic of the Week. Probably a sign that I should retire that Sunday feature of the blog.