Thursday, April 26, 2018

The end of the Tyler Kinley Experiment

Tyler Kinley's ERA
is 24.38. That decimal
point is not misplaced.
The Twins announced after Wednesday's loss to the Yankees (six losses in a row now) that they would designate Tyler Kinley for assignment. So the Rule 5 guy is coming off the 40-man roster, either by trading his Rule 5 rights to somebody willing to carry him on the 25 man roster all year or by returning him to the Miami Marlins, whence he came.

I've noted often enough that the Twins exposed Nick Burdi and Luke Bard to the Rule 5 draft in order to open a roster spot for Kinley. Bard was DFA'd a few days ago by the Angels; his status is unknown. Burdi will spend most if not all of the season on the disabled list as he rehabs his surgically reconstructed elbow; his Rule 5 clock won;t start ticking until 2019.

My sense of this is that I wouldn't trade either Bard or Burdi for Kinley, but one aspect that I haven't dwelt on much is that Kinley has been healthier than either of the others. Both Bard and Burdi have missed a lot of time to injuries in the minors. (They've also been, generally, more effective when they've been able to pitch than Kinley.)

This is a common thread among the young arms the Twins discarded during the off-season to clear space on the 40-man roster. Not just Bard and Burdi, but J.T. Chagrois and Randy Rosario -- hard throwers with injury histories. If half of life is just showing up, half of pitching is just taking the mound.

Kinley could take the mound. He just wasn't good enough on the mound to get more innings for this team, and even with this losing streak, this team has sufficient ambitions that it can't afford to sacrifice a roster spot to somebody it can't use.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Weather or not, a losing streak

The less said about the Twins play of late, the better.

Nevertheless, I shall expend a few, perhas trite, words on the subject.


  • A team is never as good as it looks when it's winning and never as bad as it looks when it's losing.
  • The Twins' five-game losing streak is now longer than any losing streak they had in 2017.
  • I have no idea how much their sporadic schedule affects their inconsistent performance, but Jose Berrios' outing Tuesday shouldn't have been affected.
That last point probably merits some discussion. Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn had long layoffs between starts. There was the lost weekend against Chicago during the blizzard, and the trip to Puerto Rico in which neither pitched, and the result was that each went more than a week between starts.

Berrios, however, has worked on pretty close to normal rest -- five days off in Puerto Rico, four days in New York. He was very good against Cleveland on his native island, not very effective against the Yankees. 

The ESPN crew doing Monday's game talked quite a bit about the shortage of games for the Twins, and I will accept the notion that they have yet to get into the rhythm of the season. I haven't yet myself. Too many off days, too many rain/snow outs. 

If that's a problem, it's a self-curing one. They're going to play 162, just not as many of them in April as everybody else.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Busenitz down, Duffey up

As the Twins discover that, yep, they do too need a long reliever. ...

LaVelle Neal assured somebody on Twitter that this year's bullpen is better than last year's. "Going through a rough patch," the Strib reporter said. Perhaps, but that's assuming that the expiration dates haven't been hit on Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke, ages 41 and 35 respectively.

I was a bit surprised two weekends back when the Twins added a relief arm. They were, at the time, in the middle of a series of snowouts and looking at four days in a row without games. The bullpen was, if anything, overly rested at that point.

And then they had a 16-inning game in San Juan. And then they transformed one of those relief arms into the fifth starter (demoting Gabriel Moya to activate Phil Hughes). And the bullpen is pretty beat up.

Bad games and bad series happen, even to the best teams, and one ought not overreact to them. But the Twins really feel like a different team without Byron Buxton in the lineup.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Notes from the weekend

Ugly series all told against Tampa Bay for the Twins. They couldn't deal with the former Twins in the Rays outfield (Denard Span and Carlos Gomez) and the bullpen stuck so bad one assumes the trainer had to check the old guys for signs of decomposion.

Sapn went 5-for-14 with three runs and six RBIs. Gomez scored the winning run on Friday and hit a monster walk-off homer off the previously impregnable Addison Reed on Sunday.

Go-Go, by the way, is hitting third for Tampa Bay despite a .160 batting average. It's still early.

---

Gabriel Moya, lefty reliever I really like even through his major league numbers to date aren't good, was optioned out Sunday to make room for Phil Hughes. Dick Bremer was claiming that Hughes showed improved velocity on his rehab assignment, but we certainly didn't see that in Sunday's start.

For the first time, I now consider it a genuine possibility that the Twins will give up on Hughes relatively soon. They're on the hook for not only this season but next on his contract, so that's a genuine consideration. But when Ervin Santana returns -- and my guess is end of May at the earliest for that -- there's no room for him in the rotation. And there may not be room for him in the bullpen either.

Gotta get outs. And Hughes needs to start getting them soon.

---

Luke Bard, a hard-throwing relief prospect the Twins lost to the Angels in the Rule 5 draft, has now been designated for assignment. If he slips through waivers, I would assume the Twins will happily reclaim him.

Bard is said to have the highest spin rate on his four-seam fastball in the majors this year. That's nice. It obviously wasn't enough to keep him on the Angels roster.

If the Twins get him back, it may make it a bit easier for Minnesota to abandon the Tyler Kinley experiment. Kinley has pitched just three innings so far, and those innings haven't made Paul Molitor eager to increase his role. It's difficult for a contender to carry a Rule 5 guy.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pic of the Week

Broken bat, home run. Seriously.

I have posted broken bat photos before. I've not posted a broken bat photo in which the batted ball went 400-plus feet for a home run.

It's not the first time somebody's broken his bat hitting a homer. I remember Jack Howell doing it with the Angels on a Game of the Week in the 1980s, but that was a cheapie down the foul line. Barry Bonds did it in Miami at least a decade a ago, and that was no short shot.

This one went to right-center. Bryce Harper, man. Some kind of strong.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Fernando Rodney Experience

Fernando Rodney has appeared in seven regular season games now for the Twins. He has two saves, two blown saves (one a vultured win), and a loss in a game he entered tied.

What he doesn't have yet is a clean, 1-2-3 inning. He had a chance at that Friday night, but after striking out the first two men he faced with a one-run lead he put a pitch in Carlos Gomez's ribs. Then came a steal and a grounder that bounced over the shortstop, and the lead was gone.

And the next inning Zach Duke, who is about as veteran as Rodney, messed up a PFP play at first base as the winning run scored from second.

I don't want to hear about the bad luck on the bounce, and I don't want to hear about the ump missing the call at first on Duke. The problem starts with hitting Go-Go. Rodney has spent his entire career flirting with disaster, and disaster took him up on the offer Friday.

It comes with the territory.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Should they have played in San Juan?

As it became evident last September how badly Hurricane Maria had damaged Puerto Rico,  I expected MLB to cancel the planned Indians-Twins series in San Juan. They didn't.

Those games were played Tuesday and Wednesday -- the second one in the midst of an island-wide blackout, with literally millions of Puerto Ricans in the dark and backup generators powering Hiram Bithorn Stadium. The stadium itself needed extensive repairs after the storm to be ready for these two games.

And I ask myself: Was it worth it? Should the needs of MLB have been a priority in the reconstruction of Puerto Rico? Is it right that the ballpark is fixed when blue tarps remain on rooftops all over the island? Or did the games provide a useful dose of escapism, pride and hope for the island's beleaguered residents?

The image of the ballpark as a brightly-lit oasis in the blackout darkness of San Juan is both repugnant and attractive. My instinct, despite my obvious fandom, is to declare that the trivialities of  sports must be far down the list of priorities in a disaster such as Maria. But it's also true that people need some relief from constantly facing grim reality; a joyous diversion is helpful in stressful times.

As a practical matter, diverting the stadium generators to a different use would not have solved the blackout. The rickety, outdated and undercapitalized power grid is one of Puerto Rico's major drawbacks; no amount of backup generators can resolve that problem.

Michael Lananna of Baseball America this winter wrote of the determination on the island to play its winter league. It was a shortened season, and there were no night games, but there was a winter league, and Puerto Rico went on to win the Caribbean Series. There is reason for pride in that accomplishment.

Baseball is part of the pattern of life in Puerto Rico (and here). How much a part depends on one's personal tastes. Playing two major league games in San Juan doesn't mean the island is back; it certainly doesn't fix the problems. But it probably represents a small step forward, and if nothing else for a few days reminded the rest of the country that a portion of our fellow citizens are still hurting.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ryan LaMarre, starring in small sample size theater

Ryan LaMarre's
second major league
RBI was a gane-winner/
Ryan LaMarre, who had the game-winning hit in the 16th inning in the midnight hour in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is now 7-for-12 with five strikeouts. All seven hits are singles.

The man's BABIP -- batting average, balls in play -- is 1.000. His batting average is .583.

Obviously, he's not THAT good. If he was, he wouldn't be coming off the bench, much less be on the option yo-yo with Rochester. (LaMarre was optioned to Rochester during the snowed out weekend, restored to the active roster as the 26th man for the Puerto Rico series, and restored to the 25-man roster to take the place of Byron Buxton when Buxton went on the disabled list.)

Nothing in LaMarre's minor league track record says he's a quality hitter. He is said to have reworked his swing over the winter. and he hit .500 during spring training to find a spot on the opening day roster.

Still, a manager who believes in "the hot hand" would start increasing LaMarre's playing time. And with Buxton sidelined and Max Kepler apparently feeling something in his knee, there may be more at-bats in LaMarre's immediate future.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A game! A game! (A loss)

The Twins finally played a game Tuesday night. And they got beat.

News flash: Corey Kluber is pretty good. So is the Cleveland lineup.

Both the Twins and Cleveland had been a long time between games; four days without playing for Minnesota, three for the Tribe. Another news flash: It's been a miserable spring all over.

Facing Cleveland is tough enough; facing Cleveland with a well-rested bullpen and Kluber to start is even tougher. Take the L and move on. At least they got to play, got back into it, and did so in actual baseball weather.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Small sample size theater

"Small sample size theater." That's a phrase I heard Monday afternoon on MLB Network in discussing Shohei Ohtani. I like it, amd I'm stealing it.

Scene I


A regular reader of these posts dislikes the Twins decision to play Eduardo Escobar at shortstop during the suspension of Jorge Polanco. Shortstop, he opines, should prioritze defense, and Escobar is not as good with the the glove as Ehire Adrianza.

I agree with the second point, but think the first is something of a sliding scale. You can sacrifice some defense at any position to get more offense. (See the second half career of Jeter, Derek.)

And then there's this:




Small sample size theater, yes. But so far, Escobar isn't killing the Twins infield defense.

Scene II


I watched Justin Verlander and Bartolo Colon duel on "Sunday Night Baseball" the other night. Wow. Verlander allowed one hit -- a homer -- in seven innings, and Colon threw seven PERFECT innings before cracking in the eighth. 

The game went 10 innings, and the Texas Rangers eventually won, 3-1 in 10, so neither starter got a decision. (I thought this during the recent Astros-Twins series and tweeted it Sunday night: If the Astros have a weakness, it's their bullpen.)

Colon, who finished 2017 filling out the Twins rotation, has started twice and relieved twice for the Rangers this year. He has a 1.45 ERA in 18.2 innings. Still throwing almost nothing but fastballs, still surviving on location.

Scene III


The Twins have played 11 games so far this season, the fewest in the majors, and will have another off day Thursday after the Puerto Rico series. They're going to pay, eventually, for such sporadic play.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins promoted relief pitcher Alan Busenitz during the weekend snowouts to take the roster spot vacated with Ryan LaMarre's demotion.

This would make more sense to me if the Twins bullpen was overworked and weary. But they haven't played for three days now and won't play today either.

Two possible rationales to going to 13 pitchers:


  • Addison Reed's illness (reported earlier last week as strep throat) is persisting;
  • The lack of consistent games to play is setting back the starters' ability to go deep into games.


 ----

Jay Jaffe, whose work analysizing Hall of Fame credentials has become quite influential among the voters, wrote this Fangraphs piece on the implications of 2,000 hits for Joe Mauer.

---

Speaking of Mauer and 2,000 hits:




Sunday, April 15, 2018

Pic of the Week

Fernando Rodney strikes a pose during Saturday's blizzard.

This photo comes via the @LosTwins twitter account, the Twins' official Spanish language feed.

He may be from the Domincan, but, as with the image from the previous week of him catching snowflakes in his mouth while pitching, he seems to get some enjoyment from the snow.

I also suspect that he'll be happy to get to Puerto Rico this week.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Demoting Ryan LaMarre

Ryan LaMarre, optioned to Triple A Rochester soon after Friday's game was postponed, has had an odd eight at-bats this season.

He has four singles, and he has four strikeouts. His BABIP -- Batting Average on Balls In Play -- is 1.000. File that under "samll sample size oddities" and forget it as insignificant.

The demotion itself may not be highly significant either. Nobody expects the Twins to play today, and Sunday may not be very hospitable for baseball either. They're off Monday, and on Tuesday and Wednesday they play Cleveland in Puerto Rico, and apparently both teams get to have 26-man rosters for that tw-game series. So it's quite likely that LaMarre will be reinstated for the Puerto Rico games, and won't actually miss any games for this demotion.

The Twins didn't make a corresponding move Friday with the outfielder's demotion. So why do it at all? One thought is that Addison Reed, who was said to have strep throat earlier in the week, was ailing again Friday, and LaMarre's roster spot is likely to go to a healthy reliever should Sunday's game be played.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Mauer 2K

Joe Mauer is hitting .412 so far.
Joe Mauer got career hit number 2,000 Thursday night, a ground ball through the box against a drawn-in infield that drove in a pair of runs and doubled Minnesota's lead.

Regular readers of this blog know that I see Mauer as having done the heavy lifting for the Hall of Fame. His decade of excellence as a catcher stands with anybody in the game's history, and he will this year, barring a recurrance of the injuries that have occasionally limited his output, steadily climb up career lists.

Hit number 2,000, for example, put Mauer past Jimmy Collins for No. 287 on the all-time hits list. Collins, a third baseman whose career straddled the 19th and 20th centuries, is enshrined in Cooperstown.

Another 100 hits, which (again assuming good health) figures to come no later than August, would take him to a tie for 228 on the list (with Clyde Milan, who spent his career with the Twins' Washington predecssor) and past Hall of Famers Gary Carter, Johnny Bench, Deacon White, Chuck Klein, Dave Bancroft, George Kell, Bobby Doerr, Earl Averill, Bill Mazeroski, Johnny Mize and some guy named Harmon Killebrew.

Two thousand hits ain't 3,000; it's not an automatic entry to Cooperstown. But it is a milestone that is typical of Hall of Famers. A couple of years ago it was widely assumed, including in this corner of cyberspace, that 2018 would probably be the end of Mauer's career. His bounceback season of 2017, and his hot start this year, make a return much more likely. And the longer Mauer can go, the more impressive his career totals will become.



Thursday, April 12, 2018

Contemplating Max Kepler

Max Kepler's big day Wednesday -- two homers, including the walk-off in the ninth inning -- gave him a slash line on the young season of .281/.395/.625.

Even before Wednesday's long ball exploits, when his slash numbers looked more like 2017's, Kepler simply looked like a better, more advanced hitter this spring than in seasons past. This is certainly plausible; he turned 25 just before spring training opened, and he didn't face advanced competition before turning pro and coming to the States at age 16.

But it's worth noting that two weeks into the season Paul Molitor has allowed him to step to the plate just five times against left-handed pitching. When the Twins face a southpaw -- as, for example, Dallas Keuchel of Houston on Tuesday -- Molitor just happens to decide to get Robbie Grossman and Ryan LeMarre some playing time.

I can't argue with that. The Twins set up their bench to give them platoon options for the array of left-handed bats among their regulars, and Kepler in 2017 was emphatically troubled by left-handed pitching.

I'm sure Molitor would insist if asked that he's not platooning Kepler. And to the extent that Molitor is managing not only for 2018 but beyond, Kepler shouldn't be platooned. There is star potential in him, and he needs at-bats against lefties to develop that potential.

Therein lies the conundrum for the manager, balancing the urgency of winning every possible game with the postseason as the goal with the need to develop the talent. Right now, it appears Molitor is giving the win-now more weight on that scale.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Contemplating Ryan Pressly

Ryan Pressly's
strikeout rate soared
last season, but so did
his homers allowed.
I have been at times -- most of last season, this year's spring training -- eager to see Ryan Pressly's roster spot go to somebody else. What I've seen is velocity with sometimes shaky command that proves all too hittable.

The Twins have been more patient. And so far this young season, that patience is being rewarded.

On Tuesday, Pressly, now 29 and a veteran, made his fifth appearance. He has now worked 5.1 innings, allowing just six baserunners and striking out six, with no runs allowed.

I've said repeatedly that even after this offseason makeover the Minnesota bullpen was shy a reliable power arm. Pressly has been that for the first couple of weeks.

Pressly's strikeout rate has risen rather steadily from his 2013 rookie season, when he was a Rule 5 pick -- 4.4 K/9 in 2014, 7.2 in 2015, 8.0 in 2016, 9.0 last year. He's at 10.1 so far in 2018, and that will certainly play.

What wrecked 2017 for him was allowing 10 homers in 61.1 innings. He's kept the ball in the park so far in 2018. He got to pitch with a narrow lead for the first time Tuesday; it probably won't be the last.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Logan Morrison and the four-man outfield

The Houston Astros have deployed a four-man outfield on occasion this young season. The first to get the treatment was Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers. Logan Morrison on Monday night was the most recent.

Both are left-handed power hitters of, let us say, limited batting averages. Gallo is about as close to a "three true outcomes" (strikeout, walk, home run) hitter as we may ever see. Last year he had 532 plate appearances; 312 of them resulted in one of those three outcomes.

Morrison isn't nearly as extreme (601 PA in 2017, with 268 walks, strikeouts and homers), but the idea is the same. 

In Morrison's case, the four-man outfield was trotted out when he got to two strikes (and no runner on second). The Astros had third baseman Alex Bregman playing back by the warning track in left field, and absolutely nobody on the left side of the infield. The three "real" outfielders were in center to right, and the remaining infielders were all on the first base side of second.

The "obvious" response is the bunt to the left side, but that's unlikely to be attempted with two strikes, especially by somebody as unaccustomed to the bunt as Morrison. 

The flip side of this aggressive defensive positioning is that it may be unnecessary. Morrison went to two strikes in 314 plate appearances; he slashed .148/.258/.311 in those trips. Get to two strikes on him -- the fewer balls the better -- and the real work of the at-bat is pretty much over. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Watching an #OldFriend

Brandon Kintzler is something of a "the one that got away" for me, and it's a bit strange because I am fully aware of his limitations as a pitcher.

I don't know that the Twins front office prefers Fernando Rodney to him, but I believe they do. Rodney has the better strikeout rate, and that, sabermetrically, is more important in 2010s baseball than Kintzler's lower walk rate. I still prefer Kintzler to Rodney, myself.

Anyway, the Twins signed Rodney and the Nationals signed Kintzler, and Rodney has the ninth inning in Minnesota and Kintzler is a setup guy in Washington, and presumably everybody's happy except the blogger in Mankato.

Late Sunday night I was watching the Mets and Nats go extra innings on a cold night in D.C., and in comes Kintzler for the top of the 11th.  The ESPN crew said that Washington had hoped not to use Kintzler Sunday; he had pitched the day before and twice in three days and been roughed up both times.

And he took the loss Sunday. A bloop hit, a sac bunt, an intentional walk and a broken bat single plated the go-head run for New York. Then he got the ground ball and the double play, but the Nats couldn't tie it in the bottom of the inning.

What I saw, in short, was the Brandon Kintzler we saw with the Twins. Everybody made contact, nobody hit the ball hard, and the breaks went against him. It happens.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Pic of the Week

Josh Reddick of the Houston Astros is showered with
sunflower seeds in the dugout after hitting a grand slam.
Honestly, this week gave us two indelible images involving the Twins -- Fernando Rodney catching snowflakes in his mouth during the ninth inning in Pittsburgh, and Challenger the eagle trying to perch on the shoulder of James Paxson before the Target Field home opener. I've already used the photo of Rodney and the video of Challenger.

This one isn't as good as the others, but that's a mighty high standard.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Rule 5 update

Tyler Kinley has yet to appear in a game for the Twins; Paul Molitor is, presumably, looking for a really low-leverage situation for his debut, and the Twins haven't had that yet except in the Jose Berrios complete game.

Meanwhile, Luke Bard, one of two pitchers claimed off the Twins in Rule 5, has gotten into three games for the Angels. He's pitched four innings and allowed one run on two hits and five strikeouts, all of which is good; he's also walked four, which is bad.




The other Rule 5 loss, Nick Burdi, is on the 60-day DL with the Pirates. His Rule 5 clock really doesn't become a factor until 2019; he had Tommy John surgery last season and isn't likely to pitch this year.

Bard versus Kinley is an intriguing comp. The Twins COULD have put Bard on the 40 last winter; they wouldn't have gotten Kinley in that case, but Bard would have options and could be sent to the minors. Kinley, as a Rule 5 guy, can't. There would be roster flexibility.

And the Twins will need a fifth starter next week, which will require a roster move. It's more likely that Gabriel Moya will be the demotee than that Kinley will be offered back to the Miami Marlins, but ... the reality of Rule 5 for contending teams is that it's really hard to devote a roster spot to that kind of player for the full season. Even if the Twins think Kinley is better than Bard, the flexibility matters. I'd rather have Bard.

And the payoff for keeping a Rule 5 guy is often slim. The Cincinnati Reds -- not a contender, of course -- two winters ago took catcher Stuart Turner out of the Twins system and kept him. He hit .134 in 82 at-bats. Last week,  his Rule 5 requirements satisified, the Reds waived him. He cleared and was outrighted to Triple A. So the Reds no longer think he's worth a 40-man roster spot, one year after carrying him on the active roster all season.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Fly like an eagle




Nice job, Challenger. But next time, go for the pitching shoulder, not the glove side.

Seriously, I'm impressed with how cooly Seattle starter James Paxton handled this "attack" from a big raptor. Fortunately, he was not hurt, and if he was rattled, it's didn't show in his pitching.

And I would hope the Twins rethink this bit of the Opening Day ritual. Even if Challenger is not capable of surviving on his own in the wild, he's not domesticated.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Fernando Rodney, playing in the snow

Fernando Rodney catches snowflakes in his mouth
during the ninth inning Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

I wasn't a big fan of the signing of Fernando Rodney to anchor the Twins bullpen, and I continue to have my doubts about the wisdom of that move.

But I can like this. The Dominican seems to revel in the snow. That attitude will probably come in handy for the upcoming homestand.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Thursday is supposed to be the Twins home opener. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a months-long hunch (accurate, as it turns out) that the weather today would be inhospitable to baseball, I won't be there; I believe this will be the second home opener I've missed since 1987.

So I'll shovel the driveway and sidewalk this morning and report to work in the afternoon.

The Twins, as I understand it, really want to get Thursday's game in. Friday's backup offday promises to be even colder. It's gonna be a rough homestand, at least in terms of weather.

---

The gold medal men's curling team is to throw out the first ball Thursday. My hope is that skip John Shulster rolls the ball toward home plate and the other three sweep it though.

---

Sports Info Solutions -- formerly Baseball Info Solutions, so apparently they're branching out into other sports -- listed Jake Odorizzi as one of last year's more overachieving pitchers in the American League. This suggests that the Twins' Opening Day starter is due for a rougher season.

Pitching is notoriously difficult to project, and one factor not included in SIS' statistical analysis is health. Odorizzi had back and foot issues last year. Good health, while hardly a given, might turn that "downward arrow" around for him.

---

I'm putting this at the end because I don't want to beat the Chase Sisco brohaha to death (assuming it hasn't been), but I wanted to note that Brian Dozier's comment immediately after the game implied that he expected the Baltimore veterans to come down on the Twins.

Uh, no. Orioles first baseman Chris Davis:

"There are certain things I don't agree with, when you talk about the unwritten rules, but I definitely think that what Chance did was warranted," Davis said prior to Monday's game against the Astros. "He was trying to help us win the ballgame. In fact, I told him, if you had made that first out that inning, I was going to lay a bunt down."
Well, there was already an out when Sisco bunted, but ... yeah.

Davis, incidentally, is said to be the most shifted player in the majors. He hit .215 last year and isn't doing that well in the first week this season. He probably should try a few bunts.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

On bunts and shifts

Brian Dozier's complaint about Chance Sisco's bunt on Sunday drew enough blowback Monday that he tried to defend it by noting that the Orioles had not held Ryan LeMarre on first in the top of the ninth:

“When they didn’t hold our runner on, they conceded to the fact they didn’t want us to steal, so we didn’t steal.”

I'm not going to try to sort out that sentence or hunt for the logic in it. I'm more interested in posing and exploring this question: Why are bunts against the shift so rare that a veteran such as Dozier can believe that doing so violates the game's ethics?

Let's begin by making and testing these assertions:


  • Teams shift to get more outs than they would get playing in a conventional alignment.
  • Teams shift in the belief that the specific hitter either will not or cannot adjust to take advantage of the open spaces OR
  • if he does, that the result is an acceptable tradeoff for keeping the hitter from pulling the ball.

The first seems rather self-evident, although Joe Posnanski also sees a mind-games element to the strategy. Which ties into the second point. Hitting is difficult, and the shift arguably plays with the hitter's mind.

The third might be the most interesting one. Posnanski writes that researchers believe Ted Williams, the most famous inspiration for overshifts, went 13-for-16 bunting against those shifts, "a sweet little .813 average."

OK, let's knock that down a little. Let's say that your typical left-handed hitter facing a shift -- someone like Sisco -- can bunt .600 against the shift. Let's further concede that that will all be singles, with no walks or HBPs, so that .600 batting average on bunts translates to a .600 on-base percentage and a .600 slugging percentage.

I differentiate here between righties and lefties because there is a significant difference in the shifts. The shifts Dozier faces leave the first baseman still relatively close to the bag, because somebody has to take the throw. The shift Sisco bunted against had nobody near third and thus all he had to do was get the bunt past Berrios. It's a little more difficult to bunt against the right-handed shift, but hardly impossible.

Anyway, back to our bunter with the theoretical slash line of .600/.600/.600. How many hitters can reasonably expect an OPS of 1.200 swinging away? Barry Bonds at his steroidal peak. Williams had a few years in that vicinity. The likes of Chance Sisco or Max Kepler can only dream of such heights.

And.600 seems fairly conservative, especially for someone like Kepler or Eddie Rosario, who can actually run. It might be something closer to .800, and even Bonds and Williams didn't put up 1.600 OPSes.

If hitters bunted aggressively against overshifts, the shifts would quickly disappear. If Kepler bunted everytime he came up against a shift that left third base open, teams would quickly stop shifting against him. Why make him a .600 or .750 hitter? It might take only one game for the shifts to stop.

Nobody's tried that yet, however. Maybe it's because hitters doubt their ability to bunt even when there is no defense offered. Maybe they believe it's a surrender to the opposition or an admission of weakness. I have a colleague who derides bunting as "skirt ball."

Just because Williams responded to the shift with defiance doesn't make that the right approach for everybody.



Monday, April 2, 2018

On bunts and no-hitters

Jose Berrios was spectacular on Sunday, and the Twins won 7-0. Then they turned the spotlight away from their young hurler to a ninth-inning bunt single by Baltimore's Chance Sisco, which they termed "bush league" and "not good baseball."

Nonsense. Berrios to that point had pitched out of the stretch to exactly one batter. The O's needed baserunners -- and, crucially, the Twins were in an overshift, with three infielders on the right side against the left-handed Sisco.

If' it's not good form to bunt for a hit when down seven, why is it good form to be in an overshift when up seven? The illogic in the position espoused by Brian Dozier, Eddie Rosario and Berrios himself is glaring.

Sisco reached base and triggered the closest thing Baltimore had to a rally all day. His bunt wasn't "bad baseball." It was good baseball, and the Twins shouldn't be complaining.

You don't want him to bunt? Don't overshift him. He's a slow catcher. It's that easy.

I suspect that part of the Twins angst over the Sisco bunt was the very real possibility that the one hit allowed by Berrios to that point could be changed to an error. It was a fly ball hit by Sisco with two out in the third Eddie Rosario got a glove on at the warning track but couldn't hang on. The scorer ruled it a double.

In the Twins TV booth, Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer agreed. Me, I thought it was a ball that should have been caught.

Those are subjective opinions. For a more objective call:




Ball's caught 90 percent of the time? Yeah, there's grounds to appeal that call.

Cisco's bunt single made that point moot in terms of getting a no-hitter, and later in the inning, Berrios gave up a clean single. So he got a three-hit shutout. I'll take that.

Now, let's play a what-if. Say the official scorer had ruled that third-inning fly an error. Would the Twins still have conceded the bunt to Sisco in the ninth? My guess is they would, and I still wouldn't be irritated if Sisco bunted with a no-hitter on the line. I don't know when that "unwritten rule" of not bunting late to break up a no-hitter came into being, but the literature of no-hitters is riddled with attempted ninth-inning bunts.

Sisco was competing, not surrendering. Good for him.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Pic of the Week

Eduardo Nunez of the Boston Red Sox celebrates
his inside-the-park homer Thursday.

Not a bad way to open the season at all.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Gardy's Detroit opener

Ron Gardenhire's regular season debut as Detroit's manager went extra innings, but he wasn't around to see the end. He got ejected in the 10th inning, or maybe the 11th, after the replay umps in New York overturned what sure looked to me like a run for the Tigers and ruled it an inning-ending out.
Ron Gardenhire kicks dirt; umpire Tony Randazzo
kicks him out.

Gardy's reaction was familiar to Twins fans, even if the warmup jacket wasn't.




Dingell, for those unaware, is a retired congressman from Detroit who spend 60 years in the U.S. House.

The Tigers lost 13-10 in 13 innings, which is probably indicative of how this season is going to go for Gardenhire. Dingell may get to see a lot of "mad Gardenhire."

I was following the game on MLB Network, which was carrying the Tigers broadcast. The announcers were praising the slide of Nick Castellanos, which was just silly. Had he gone to the inside of the plate, there's no way catcher Francisco Cervelli could have reached him. (I'm not sure Cervelli did as it was, but the replay crew thought so.) Instead, he slid slightly toward foul territory. It was not an ideal slide, and the announcers were silly to claim otherwise.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Random thoughts on the Twins opener

I understand and even agreed with Paul Molitor's decision to pinch-hit for Byron Buxton in the ninth inning, and the move obviously worked. But if the Twins are to get where they want to go, Buxton has to be the kind of hitter you don't even consider pinch-hitting for with the game on the line.

---

Welcome to the Fernando Rodney Experience. The veteran did a nice job getting out of an inherited jam in the 10th, only to serve up a first-pitch gopher ball to open the next inning.

The rebuilt back of the bullpen was a mixed bag. Addison Reed dominated in two innings of work; Zach Duke struck out four men in his one inning but also allowed two runs; and Trevor Hildenberger had trouble throwing strikes.

Duke, a lefty specialist throughout his bullpen career, faced a string of right-handed hitters, culminating with the two-run triple by the light-hitting Caleb Joseph. I suspect that by the time the season is over, Molitor will be more wary of that kind of useage of Duke.

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The Baltimore Orioles had Chris Davis leading off. This is a far cry from tradition; Davis is a slow slugger. The closest thing in Buck Showalter's starting nine to an old-school flyboy, Craig Gentry, hit eighth. Which is pretty much where Gentry should hit.

The Birds just stack one power hitter after another. The Twins kept them in the park for 10 innings. They just didn't score enough themselves in that time frame.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A bench of role guys

There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of bench players. There are players -- typically veterans -- who have specific in-game roles.  And there are players -- typically younger -- who are waiting for a regular to get hurt or slump his way to the bench.

Leo Durocher, Hall of Fame manager, was notorious for dividing his teams into the guys who play and the guys who sit. Casey Stengel and Earl Weaver, also Hall of Fame managers, platooned everybody but their superstars; it was hard to tell who was their bench guys some years.

Rosters are shaped differently these days; benches are thinner when about half the roster is pitching. But the Twins bench under Ron Gardenhire tended strongly toward the Durocher model. Gardy didn't platoon much, and he liked a set lineup.

Paul Molitor has edged away from that, and it really shows in the bench the Twins expect to open with today. There are four players, and it's not difficult to identify their in-game roles:

  • Mitch Garver is the backup catcher. He's a right handed hitter, which gives Molitor a platoon option with starter Jason Castro. 
  • Ehire Adrianza, utility infielder, is a superior gloveman who started games last season at five different positions. He's a switch hitter.
  • Robbie Grossman, switch-hitter, is an on-base percentage specialist. The more he plays in the outfield, the less his bat helps. 
  • Ryan LaMarre, right handed hitter, is something of a mirror image to Grossman. Despite his gaudy spring training numbers, he's never been much of a hitter, but he's fast and a good defensive outfielder.
The Twins' nine regulars tend heavily to the left side. The bench is all right-handed or switch hitters. Molitor has some bat-first options and some glove-first options. There is nobody on this roster like Luis Rodriguez a few years ago, where one wondered what function he had. There is an obvious purpose to each of these four, and I applaud that.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ryan LaMarre and the opening roster

The Twins played their final exhibition of 2018 on Tuesday, beating the Washington Nationals in D.C. Of more importance, they set -- presumably -- their roster for opening day on Thursday.

Phil Hughes went on the disabled list with his strained oblique. This allowed both Gabriel Moya and Rule 5 pick Tyler Kinley to make the roster. There seems to be some skepticism on Twins twitter about the validity of Hughes' injury, in no small part because he's sidelined for a period in which the Twins don't need a fifth starter. I'll deploy my skepticism for people who assume that an athlete is faking an injury.

Anyway, that was one of the final decisions. Another, as noted here Monday, wasn't much of a decision. Kennys Vargas was indeed put back of waivers as soon as the Twins reclaimed him. This time he cleared, and the Twins outrighted him to Triple A. This isn't good for Vargas, who would probably benefit from a new organization, but there are 30 big-league teams and none of them want to use a 25-man roster spot on him.

The final decision may not be fully decided. The Twins optioned out Zack Granite, which presumably means Ryan LaMarre will be on the 25-man roster as a reserve outfielder.

"Presumably" because

  • the Twins haven't officially put him on the 40-man and 25-man rosters and
  • they are presumably aware that the Los Angeles Dodgers designated Trayce Thompson for assignment on Tuesday, and there may well be other right-handed hitting outfielders available this week.
LaMarre, 29, had a great spring training; he hit .475/.500/.775 and looked good at all three outfield positions. There is nothing more he could have done in Florida to win a roster spot.

The problem for LaMarre is his track record. Not so much his .054 career major league batting average; that's only 40 plate appearances and is meaningless. Nobody's as good as his spring training stats, and nobody's as bad as his major league numbers.

It's what he's shown in the upper minors in a variety of organizations. LaMarre has more than 950 PA in Triple A and has compiled an OPS at that level of .723, which isn't that impressive.

LaMarre hits right-handed, and as I've been noting all spring, that fits the Twins' specific roster needs better than the lefty bat of Granite. But Granite is the better player; if the Twins should need somebody to play everyday for a couple weeks or more, Granite is a better choice. LaMarre makes the team for a specific role -- if he indeed makes the team. That has yet to fully play out.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Chasing saves with Fernando Rodney

Fernando Rodney's Grapefruit League stats were unimpressive. His two-homer outing Sunday left him with six runs allowed in seven innings in Florida, and left Dick Bremer on the telecast expounding on how Rodney still has his fastball velocity and his changeup.

Yes, and Rodney still has the command issues that have plagued him throughout his long career.

It's spring training. Soon that line on Rodney's Baseball Reference page will go away. Nail down a couple saves in Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the coming week, and few will remember his spring training stats.

Still, he's 41 and his contract is relatively disposable (one year, $4.5 million guaranteed with a team option for 2019). The Twins have Addison Reed, who has closed in the past (125 career saves) if they decide to replace Rodney with a veteran; they also have a selection of young relief prospects if they chose to go that route.

Going young at the end of games doesn't appear to be the decision makers' preference, however. Paul Molitor inherited Glen Perkins as his closer, and when Perkins' shoulder gave out has consistently chosen an established but low-ceiling arm for the ninth inning (Kevin Jepsen, Brandon Kintzler, Matt Belisle).

You can't get much more veteran than Rodney, and with a career ERA of 3.73 over 15 seasons, the ceiling is already constucted. Expectations for the team are high; I don't think they should be as high for Rodney. Which suggests to me that his leash may be rather short. The season starts in ernest on Thursday, and it's time for him to get some outs.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Kennys Vargas and real decisions

The Twins waived Kennys Vargas when they picked up outfield Jake Cave and needed a spot on the 40-man roster. The Cincinnati Reds claimed Vargas and promptly waived him themselves in hopes that he would clear and they could outright him to Triple A as first-base insurance.

But in the middle of all that Jorge Polanco was suspended and went on the restricted list, which opened another spot on the Twins 40-man roster. So the Twins claimed Vargas. Who is almost certainly on waivers again, because the Twins aren't going to carry three first basemen on the active roster.

This defines, for better or worse, Vargas as a player: A Four-A guy, not quite good enough to secure a place in the majors but good enough to want him hanging around. The Twins arent't eager to put him in the lineup, but if something happens to take Joe Mauer or Logan Morrison out of action, Vargas can be useful.

He's not really a 35-man decision. The Twins do have a couple of them: Zack Granite or Ryan LaMarre for a bench spot, Phil Hughes, Gabriel Moya or Tyler Kinley for two pitching berths.

My guesses: Hughes, who reported an oblique issue after his most recent spring training outing, goes on the DL until the Twins need a fifth starter.  And Granite stays. He's the better player, even if LaMarre is probably a better fit for the roster role.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Pic of the week

Kaz Makita of the Padres throws a pitch in Saturday's
exhibition against the Reds in Arizona.

Kaz Makita is 33 and has pitched for seven years in Japan's Pacific League. He's been strictly a reliever the past two years there, and he's had a pretty strong Cactus League with San Diego.

All that aside, I love me some submarine pitchers.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

No suspension for Sano

MLB issued its rulings in a pair of off-field behavior investigations Friday. Steven Wright, Boston pitcher, got a 15-game suspension. Miguel Sano, Twins third baseman/slugger, gets nothing.

I wouldn't say that MLB cleared Sano. The accusation by a freelance photographer was made years after the fact, there was no police report, and, says the MLB statement, witness accounts were "inconsistent and conflicting."

Not that my opinion matters much on this, but I believe the woman, in part because the reaction to her going public from some of Sano's current and former teammates suggested that they weren't surprised and in part because of other things I've heard and read of his behavior. I expected a suspension for him, and while I understand the rationale for doing nothing, I'm a bit disappointed that there isn't.

But Sano would do well to watch his step from now on. He's not likely to get the benefit of the doubt in the future.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The opening roster takes shape

Hardly had I gotten Thursday's post published than the Twins did other than predicted. Tyler Duffey was optioned out (as was Alan Busenitz), leaving the Twins with 13 pitchers for 12 spots. The final spot figures to go to either Gabriel Moya or Tyler Kinley, with Kinley favored.

This suggests that the decison makers are confident that the starters are prepared to give them some length when the season opens next week. That hasn't been the outlook in recent years. Keeping Duffey and Phil Hughes would have given the Twins a fifth starter and a long reliever (or two spot starters/long men). Instead, it's just the post-operative Hughes.

Duffey will be used in relief in Rochester but in a stretched-out way, akin to how he was used last season. And he'll be in Minnesota sooner than later. There will be a need for innings out of the bullpen.

More surprising to me, in truth, was the lopping of veteran non-roster infielder Erick Aybar. I had been resigned to the notion that the suspension of Jorge Polanco and the uncertainty over Miguel Sano meant that Aybar, who hit well early in camp and then faded, was going to be on the opening roster.

Instead, it appears that the Twins intend to have five outfielders open the season in the majors. This may be related to Eddie Rosario's multi-week issues with his throwing elbow.

The conventional wisdom has Robbie Grossman and Zack Granite as the extra outfielders. I wouldn't rule out Ryan LaMarre, but he does have the significant disadvantage of being a non-roster guy.

And Mitch Garver will be the backup catcher. Bobby Wilson and Willians Astudillo were both told they won't be on the opening roster.

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Kennys Vargas was claimed on waivers by the Cincinnati Reds, which is a bit puzzling. The Reds, as a National League team, have little need for a designated hitter, and Vargas should not be taking at-bats away from the great Joey Votto.

Best guess is that the Reds will quickly waive Vargas in hopes of stashing him at Triple A, which I think is what the Twins were hoping to do.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tyler Kinley and the roster

A recent rash of stories out of Fort Myers have focused on Tyler Kinley, a big-armed Rule 5 pick who has opened eyes in training camp.

Rule 5 means "use him or lose him." The Twins have to either find a way to fit him on the 25-man active roster all season or return him to the Miami Marlins. (A trade for his rights is theoretically possible, but the Marlins would probably set a high price for him at this point.)

The rule of thumb is that teams with playoff ambitions -- and the Twins are definitely that -- have difficulty fitting a a Rule 5 guy on their roster. Kinley, remember, was only available because the Marlins -- a sub-.500 team getting weaker -- didn't think he was worth putting on their 40-man roster in November.

Kinley isn't the only bullpen candidate who will be an uncomfortable cut; Gabriel Moya, a lefty with outlandish numbers last season in Double A (0.77 ERA), has been outstanding as well. But the Twins can option Moya out. They can't option Kinley.

I've gone though this exercise a time or two already, but ...project the bullpen:

Closer: Fernando Rodney
RH Setup 1: Addison Reed
LH Setup 1: Zach Duke
RH Setup 2: Trevor Hildenberger
LH Setup 2: Taylor Rogers
Middle relief (power arm): Ryan Pressly
Long/spot starter: Phil Hughes
Long/spot starter: Tyler Duffey

That's an eight-man bullpen, and it assumes that the early chatter of a four-man rotation for April holds. If Paul Molitor switches back to five, either Hughes or Duffey moves from the pen to that fifth spot, at least until Ervin Santana returns, and it's the same 12-man staff.

Hildenberger and Rogers, key cogs last season, have had rough springs, but I doubt that either is in serious risk yet. (If they keep getting hammered in April, that's another thing.) I'm less enthused about Pressly than some, but he's been pretty good this spring, and I suspect he's out of options.

Upshot: For Kinley to make the team, I think it's in Pressly's stead. And I think this front office, and this field staff, is too risk-adverse to discard Pressly for an unproven Rule 5 flier. Personally, I wouldn't mind going with Kinley (especially if they can trade Pressly for somebody who doesn't have to go on the 40), but I'm overly fascinated by the guys who haven't failed yet.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Nick Gordon, shortstop or second baseman

Infielder Nick Gordon was one of a half-dozen non-roster invitees sent to the minor league camp during the weekend. I doubt that he would have stayed long if Jorge Polanco had accepted his steroid suspension earlier. Gordon hasn't played Triple A ball yet, and the Twins have other options to fill the shortstop vacancy.

Plus, Gordon played little shortstop this spring. Paul Molitor used him much more at second base, especially in the early games as he eased Brian Dozier (kidney stone) into action. Yet Derek Falvey said this week that the Twins still view Gordon as a shortstop.

It's probably pointless for me to continue to look for friction points between Molitor and the Falvine front office; Molitor got a three-year extension this winter along with fulsome praise from his bosses. And it's understandable that Molitor, who didn't know of the looming suspension, was more interested in getting Polanco ready for the season than looking at Gordon at shortstop.

But I look at Gordon and see a skinny guy who hit nine homers in Double A and faded badly in the second half. Molitor sees a hitter with pop in his bat. Molitor looks at Polanco and sees a shortstop; I see a second baseman struggling with a position he's not really suited for.

What do Falvine see in these two? My guess, reading between the lines, is that they're closer to my opinion than to Molitor's, but I don't KNOW that.  And if the Twins really do let Brian Dozier go as a free agent after this season and go with a Gordon-Polanco middle infield in 2019, I wonder who's the shortstop and who's the second baseman.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

All these switch-hitting shortstops

I had a vivid dream last night that the Twins had a new shortstop to fill in for Jorge Polanco named Ivan Embree, a switch-hitter who was built like Nick Gordon (which is to say, slight) and swung the bat like Vladimir Guerrero (which is to say, at anything white and moving).

There is, and has been, nobody named Ivan Embree in pro baseball, at least according to Baseball Reference. But switch-hitting shortstops are pretty common. Indeed, the suspended Polanco is a switch-hitter, and so are the three infielders in camp who really do figure to play short in his absence (Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza and Erick Aybar).

Back in my formative days as a fan, teams would frequently take a light-hitting, speedy shortstop prospect and force him to switch hit. The idea (illusion) was to duplicate Maury Wills. If Wills' example ignited the notion of trying to make an adult learn to switch hit as a pro, it pretty much died with Mariano Duncan, who switch hit poorly for the first three years of his career and then gave up hitting left-handed. (Ending this farce may have been the first time that Bill James' research and writing affected the game.) It is now widely accepted that one learns to switch hit early in life or not at all.

Only about 1 percent of the population is truly ambideterious, meaning they have no dominant hand at all; a lot more than 1 percent of major league hitters are switch hitters. And while there are switch-htting outfielders and first basemen (hello, Robbie Grossman), I daresay the switch hitters are overrepresented at shortstop.

Why? A quick theory: there are probably degrees of ambidexterity, and I would think that a right-handed thrower with an almost equivalent left hand would be a better fielder than one with an awkward glove hand. Meaning that youngsters who are quickly adept fielders might be better candidates to switch hit. A fairly high percentage of major league shortstops come from Latin America (as is the case with Polanco, Escobar, Adrianza and Aybar), and the buscones are probably doing with 10-year-olds what the Dodgers used to do with 18-year-olds. You can field, you can run, you're going to switch-hit.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Polanco's suspension

You probably heard by now: Jorge Polanco, the Twins shortstop, got hit Sunday with an 80-game steroid suspension. Not only will he miss the first half of the season, he's ineligible for the playoffs should the Twins get that far.

It's the second time in four years that Twins are coming out of spring training with a significant player suspended for testing positive for the steroid Stanozolol. In 2015, it was Ervin Santana.

There's nothing good in this suspension for the Twins. Polanco may not be the best defensive shortstop in camp, but he finished his roller-coaster 2017 as the Twins' No. 3 hitter.

But if there is a position at which the Twins have the depth to absorb losing their starter for half the season, it's shortstop. Presumably they can divvy up the job among Eduardo Escobar, who hit 21 homers lsst season; Ehire Adrianza, a superior gloveman; and veteran Erick Aybar, a former All-Star and Gold Glove winner whose career is on the wane.

But the possible (likely?) suspension of Miguel Sano in a #MeToo investigation complicates that. That trio may have to cover for two infield regulars, not just one.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pic of the Week

Marcus Semien of Oakland slides into the tag of the Angels'
Ian Kinzler in a stolen base attempt.
I particularly like how sharply defined the flying sand is.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Goodbye, Vargas

The Twins on Friday traded a rookie-league level pitcher named Luis Gil  to the Yankees for outfielder Jake Cave, who goes on the 40-man roster. To make room for Cave, they designated Kennys Vargas for assignment.

Cave theoretically could be another contender for the fourth outfielder job. He hit well in 2017, splitting the season between Double A and Triple A, has played center field and clearly has more power than Zack Granite. But he's another left-handed hitter, so he too is an imperfect fit on the Twins roster.

As for Vargas, who knows? The Twins will try to find a trade partner, but there's not a lot of demand for first base/DH types these days. He may well wind up clearing waivers and remaining in the organization. For his sake, I hope somebody decides they have a major-league job for him. His best chances at one with the Twins are in the past.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Low-key competitions: Outfield

When the Twins signed Logan Morrison to be their primary designated hitter, Paul Molitor made a point of telling reporters that he had warned Robbie Grossman -- 2017's primary DH  --  that Grossman would have to make the roster as an outfielder.

The issue wth that is that Grossman is a terrible defensive outfielder.

There is a prototype for fourth outfielders:


  • fast enough to play center field
  • too weak at the plate to be a regular (but still good enough to get some at-bats), 
  • left handed or a switch hitter for platoon purposes, since most pitchers are right-handed. 
In the Twins specific case, however, the third point is off kilter. Because two of the three regular outfielders, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, are left-handed hitters with problems against lefties, the Twins would prefer their fourth outfielder be right-handed. And Rosario or Kepler are capable of sliding over to play center when Byron Buxton sits.

Grossman misses on the first point. Zack Granite fits the usual form perfectly but hits left-handed, so he's not much of a platoon partner to Rosario or Kepler.

There are a couple of right-handed hitting non-roster outfielders in camp.

Chris Heisey, 33, has compiled more than 1,750 major league plate appearances over the past eight seasons with three clubs (Reds, Dodgers, Nationals). He has not, however, been notably useful as a platoon player (his OPS, On-base Plus Slugging, is notably better against righties for his career), and he's probably not capable of playing center field well at this stage in his career. He hasn't hit much the past three years in limited playing time, and he hasn't hit much this spring.

Ryan LaMarre, 29, has -- his spring training batting average is above .500, which is obviously ridiculous and not to be maintained. He lacks Heisey's track record (just 40 major league at-bats) but is obviously fast enough to play center. Despite the gaudy Grapefruit League numbers, his minor league record isn't that impressive.

Grossman should still be reckoned the most likely fourth outfielder. But even if he opens the season on the roster, his position is not secure. His fielding issues are deep enough that he's got to hit to get in the lineup, and he didn't mash lefties as well in 2017 as he did in 2016. 

LaMarre has had an impressive camp so far. And it's also possible that the fourth outfielder is in somebody else's camp waiting to be waived or traded.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Low-key competitions: Catcher

The conventional wisdom has it that the Twins bench is pretty much set: infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza; catcher Mitch Garver; outfielder Robbie Grossman. That was the presumption when camp opened, and it's the presumption today.

Garver had a big 2017 at Triple A, slashing .291/.387/.541 for Rochester. With Chris Gimenez gone to the Cubs, the job of backing up Jason Castro should fall to Garver, who is now 27.

But Garver has has a rough spring at the plate, with just one hit in his first 21 plate appearances (a home run), and while the Twins say every year that his receiving skills have improved, that they keep saying suggests that he's not a particularly good defensive catcher. So there might be an opening.

The Twins have a pair of nonroster catchers in camp worth noting as potential alternatives to Garver. Bobby Wilson, 34, has in the majors for all or part of eight seasons with five different clubs. always as a back-up. He spent last season at the Dodgers' Triple A affiliate. He won't hit, but is presumably a superior defensive catcher to Garver.

A more interesting option is Willians Astudillo, who captivated the internet with this no-look pickoff throw during the one weekend Twins exhibition I didn't attend:




Astudillo, 26, is a better hitter than Wilson (probably), and not as good as Garver. He's definitely an odd hitter; he seldom takes pitches and has excellent bat-to-ball skills. I saw him get at least three at-bats during my Ft. Myers jaunt, and none went longer than two pitches. Call him Mr. Pace-of-Play.

I expect Garver to be the back up; 21 plate appearances in spring training mean nothing. He's hit at every level. If he isn't, I would rather have Astudillo, if only for entertainment value.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spring training trip: Final day

Lance Lynn had his introductory press conference in the morning. In the afternoon, he threw three hitless innings inhis first exhibition start. He was clearly laboring in that third and final inning.

As advertised, Lynn threw mostly fast balls, and the stadium gun had him at 93 and 94 mph repeatedly.

That was the good news on the pitching front in the exhibition The bad news: Fernando Rodney, Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers -- three key relievers -- all gave up runs, with Hildenberger and Rogers each surrendering homers.

For what it's worth:




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Miguel Sano played third and made two plays that required him to move with no problem. I'm inclined to regard the concern about his mobility following his stress reaction surgery as overblown.

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We're headed home this morning. The locals grumbled the entire time we were here about how cold it was. It was still pretty warn for March to a Minnesotan.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Spring training trip: A day off

The wife and I take one day of our biannual spring training trip to go to Sanibel, and Monday was the day for that.

Really, the Twins highlight for the day for me came in the evening, when my wife was checking out at the Publix on Six Mile Cypress and Tony Oliva strolled by.

While I was off on my island jaunt, the Twins were making the Lance Lynn signing official. On Sunday, with the deal not yet official, the Twins released Anibal Sanchez, which created room on the 40-man roster for Lynn.

Lynn will start today as the Twins try to ramp him up for the opening rotation.

Paul Molitor hasn't named his opening day starter, much less the rotation, but he has said that it's more important to have Jose Berrios lined up to pitch in the Puerto Rico series than in the opener. My guess, therefore, is that the rotation will go Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Berrios and Lynn. As I understand it, Berrios in game three sets him up not only to pitch in Puerto Rico but in the home opener. And pushing Lynn back to the fourth game will give him the opportunity to work in one more tune-up start in Florida.

Meanwhile, Phil Hughes had a pretty solid outing Monday night. He's probably Plan B for the rotation if -- let's make that when -- somebody gets hurt; in the meantime, he will be in the bullpen. Sanchez is already released.  The third member of what I called the Tier One candidates for the rotation, Aldaberto Mejia, will likely be sent to Triple A.

And that will probably have a domino effect on the prospect crew that made up Tiers Two and Three (Aaron Slegers, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Felix Jorge, Zack Littell, Dietrich Enns). At least one of those six was going to be in Double A; now it's likely two of them will.

One point Derek Falvey made about the Lynn signing is that adding him doesn't really block the prospects. Both Lynn and Ervin Santana will be free agents after 2018; Odorizzi, Gibson and Hughes after 2019. The Twins will be quite happy if the prospects get to spend this season marinating in Triple A, and wait to step into the rotation plans in 2019.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Spring training trip: Day Two

After Saturday's rain out, my wife surprised me by suggesting that we go to Port Charlotte on Sunday to see the Twins play the Rays there. Which we did.

Miguel Sano played third base, drove in a pair of runs with a hard-hit single in a five-run inning, and had little opportunity to field his position. I thought he might have reacted a tad slowly on one base hit to his left, but I doubt the ball was playable from where he was stationed.

Much has been made this spring of Sano's weight and conditioning. Looking at him in his uniform, he doesn't look rotund. He is just a big man. I haven't had an opportunity to gauge his mobility, but in an earlier game he made one of his specialty charge-a-slow-roller plays with no issue.

He has yet to play two days in a row, but that's probably not unique at this stage of training camp. I'm not sure Brian Dozier has either, and no middle-aged (or older) paunchy columnist is yelling about him.

I do expect MLB to suspend Sano over the sexual assault allegation that emerged this winter. I won't hazard a guess as to how long that suspension might be. I see no reason to believe that he'll be on the disabled list when opening day arrives later this month.

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One notable difference between the Twins camp and the Rays camp: Fans are free to wander over to the minor league fields at the Twins Fort Myers complex. The back fields at the Rays camp were closed off Sunday.

Charlotte Sports Park itself is a nice facility. In my (probably biased) opinion it's not quite as good as Hammond Stadium, but it's rather comperable. Both stadiums are home to teams in the High-A Florida State League; in Port Charlotte it's the Charlotte Stone Crabs, affilate of the Rays.

One advantage to the Charlotte park is the team store, which has caps and shirts for the minor league tenant during spring training. Hammond Stadium's store is, at least during spring training, devoted to Twins items, nothing of the Miracle.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Spring training trip: Day One

Officially, Saturday's exhibition game didn't happen. The Twins scored nine runs in the first inning, and they all went away when the game was called in the third inning. Which happened a few minutes after I decided we'd been rained on long enough and we left the park. The game was probably called as I was trying to turn left out of the parking area onto Three Cypress Road  Six Mile Cypress.

The big news broke sometime after the game: The Twins have a one-year deal with free-agent pitcher Lance Lynn, pending a physical.

A low-priced, short-term contract (one-year, $12 million) was certainly not what Lynn was expecting out of his free agency, but as with Logan Morrison, the Twins got themselves a bargain with a spring training signing.

The addition of Lynn almost certainly ends the rotation battle. There's Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson to start the season, with Ervin Santana added around the end of April. There's not a Cy Young favorite in that bunch, but if Kyle Gibson is your No. 5 starter, your rotation is pretty darn solid. Phil Hughes, Anibal Sanchez and Aldaberto Mejia are destined for the bullpen or off the roster.

A few other random observations from Saturday:

* Mitch Garver, the frontrunner for the backup catcher job, played left field.

He played it ... cautiously. Which makes sense; he's out of position, and the field was wet and the ball undoubtably slippery. There was a liner hit his direction that I thought was catchable, but Garver made no real effort to come in on it and conceded the single. Again, it was sensible; the Twins had a nine-run lead, and let's just not screw things up.

The fourth outfielder slot is not guaranteed to Robbie Grossman, who has his own defensive shortcomings. Paul Molitor may be looking for a right-handed hitter he can feel comfortable with in the outfield. I don't think Garver fits that bill.

* I watched Miguel Sano, Kennys Vargas and a few others who weren't slated to play take batting practice on a side field. Everybody opened BP with the traditional two bunts, including the two big men. Vargas actually appeared to take his second bunt seriously, laying it down toward third and taking off for first base out of the left-handed batters box. The way teams shift him, it makes sense for him to work on that bunt.

* Kyle Gibson allowed a lot of baserunners but also got two double plays, one of which he started himself. I no longer have high expectations for Gibson, but I do think he's one of the better fielding pitchers the Twins have had in the past decade or so.

* I was favorably impressed with the new barbeque stand at Hammond Stadium.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Nuttin' to say today

I spent Friday traveling to Fort Myers, and I am basically skipping today's post.

In further blog programming, Sunday's post will not be the usual Pic of the Week but commentary on today exhibition game, may it not rain. (Rain is in the forecast for the afternoon.)


Friday, March 9, 2018

Rotations, multi-inning relief and spot starters

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash plans to use what we might call a 'four man-plus" rotation: Four traditional starters, with a "bullpen game" when a fifth starter is needed.

It's something of a throwback to decades ago. The long-gone age of the four-man rotation did not involve teams using only four starters. There was always the need for spot starts, and teams generally had "swing men" who would start on occasion and relieve in between. The difference is that, unlike the Twins with Jim Perry in the swing man role in 1965-68, Tampa Bay isn't expecting their spot starters to get them seven innings.

Tampa Bay's approach may be more practical this season than in the past, because the schedule has been lengthened with an eye to increasing the offdays and easing travel. More off-days scattered through the season figures to limit the need for, and thus usefulness of, a fifth starter. (It's part of why the Twins think they can avoid using a fifth starter while Ervin Santana is out.)

The Rays are, as far as I know, the only team planning on regularly scheduling bullpen games. But middle relievers were the only free agents who did well this offseason. The trend -- analytics-driven, as most strategic trends these days are -- is for shorter starts, which in turn makes bullpen guys who can go two or three innings twice a week more valuable than they were a few years ago.

The past postseason was something of a template. Houston and Los Angeles, the two World Series contestants, kept their starters on pretty short leashes. If it wasn't Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw -- Cooperstown-bound veterans -- starting, two times through the batting order was pretty much it for their starters. But that was generally about four innings, which leaves the majority of outs for the bullpen. If that's the regular season approach, you almost need a second rotation of bullpenners who can get through the order once and then get a few days off. And shorter starts might mean the starting rotation can be worked more often.

Tampa Bay figures that the bullpen games will be a way to ensure that their multi-inning relievers get the long outings they need to remain stretched out. I'm sure Cash and the front office have mapped out how often they expect to need a bullpen game and what their options are if they get a series of bad starts or extra-inning games that tax their relief corps leading up to a scheduled bullpen game. Of course, the military dictum is that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

The Rays thinned out their traditional starters by trading Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, then saw two starting prospects they were counting on to some degree this year, Blake Honeywell and Jose De Leon, succumb to Tommy John surgery. But Cash implies that the bullpen game strategy would be their direction without the injuries.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

First cuts are the deepest tiers

Almost as soon as I posted Wednesday's thoughts about Zack Littell and the other "Tier 3" pitchers, the Twins sent a bunch of them to minor league camp:




Minor league camp officially opened this week, and the four optioned pitchers -- all, by definition, on the 40-man roster -- figure to be in the starting rotations at either Triple A Rochester or Double A Chattanooga and need to start ramping up their innings.

And this is an example of why teams don't really have five or six pitchers competing for one rotation slot. That's too many. Paul Molitor has to get his set starters -- Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson -- their innings to prep for the season as well. It would be a tighter squeeze if Ervin Santana were's sidelined. 

As it is, no matter how much Littell impressed, there was no way he was going to get an opportunity to compete for the open slot. It just isn't practical.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Deeper tiers

None of the most likely candidates for the fourth starter spot -- or fifth starter when Ervin Santana returns -- seem to have helped themselves the past turn through the spring rotation.

Oh, Fernando Romero has opened eyes with his impressive stuff. But he only threw 125 innings last season in Double A  -- a career high -- and staggered to get that many in. I can't imagine the carnage necessary for him to open the season in the majors.

Aldaberto Mejia, who I rated earlier as a Tier One candidate -- had a lackluster three innings in Tuesday's start -- four hits, three earned runs. He also threw a pickoff throw away, adding to my belief that he is the worst fielding pitcher the Twins have had in decades. There are things to like about Mejia, but he's establishing himself as a very frustrating pitcher.

I earlier listed as Tier One candidates Phil Hughes, Mejia and Anibal Sanchez -- Hughes and Sanchez because they have had outstanding seasons in the past, Mejia because he spent most of 2017 in the Twins rotation.

Tier Two was made up of Tyler Duffey, Aaron Slegers and Stephen Gonsalves. I put the latter two in this group because they were actually starting games at the beginning of the exhibition season. But their most recent appearances have come in relief, as have all of Duffey's appearances.

There are other starting pitchers in camp, specifically prospects Felix Jorge, Dietrich Enns and Zack Littell. Along with Romero, they are probably Tier 3 -- less developed, or at least less experienced, than the Tier 1 and 2 guys.

Littell -- who came to the Twins with Enns in last July's selloff of Jaime Garcia -- particularly intrigues me. He lacks the firepower of Romero, but he's got a track record of effectiveness so far in his minor league career -- 19-1, 2.12 for three teams last season, split between High A and Double A. He's continued that effectiveness this spring, but he's only pitched late in games, so he's not facing major league hitters.

None of the Tier 3 guys are serious candidates for the opening rotation unless or until Paul Molitor uses them earlier in games. And I don't think any of the Tier 1 guys are going to take the job and hold it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Contemplating Tyler Kinley

Tyler Kinley's outing Monday elicted these competing viewpoints from the Star Tribune's LaVelle E. Neal III and Baseball America's J.J. Cooper:





Tyler Kinley is 27 with an ERA
in two Double-A seasons of 4.97,
but he has great stuff.
Presumably Neal meant "how the Twins leave Fort Myers without him," not "who," but there is a "who" factor in keeping Kinley, as I'll expound later in this post.

The Twins took Kinley in the Rule 5 draft out of the Miami organization, where last year he had imposing numbers in High A ball and poor results in Double A, then followed that up with a dominating 14 games in the Dominican Winter League. Rule 5 means the Twins have to keep him on the active roster or return him to the Marlins.

There has already been a opportunity cost to Kinley: The Twins lost, among others, Randy Rosario on waivers to create openings on the 40-man roster before the draft, and lost Nick Burdi and Luke Bard in the Rule 5 draft themselves. They couldn't keep all three by passing on Kinley, but they could have kept one by foregoing the draft.

I suggested in a Monday print column a couple weeks ago that the Twins bullpen lacks a reliable power arm. I didn't list Kinley as a possibility for that role, but perhaps he's worth considering. Let's imagine a possible bullpen, eight men as Paul Molitor is apparently leaning to open the season (with four starters, so a 12-man staff).

We have, in my estimation, five givens: closer Fernando Rodney, right-handed setup men Addison Reed and Tyler Hildenberger, and left-handed setup men Zach Duke and Taylor Rogers.

Most observers appear to consider Ryan Pressly a sure thing as well. I don't believe Pressly has earned the benefit of the doubt, but let's pencil him in as No. 6. (He's the closest thing to an established power arm in this bullpen,)

We don't know who the fourth starter is yet, but let's say it's Aldaberto Mejia (the only lefty in what I've dubbed Tier One in the competition.) If so, Phil Hughes goes to the bullpen, since he has some $26 million left on his contract and the Twins are unlikely to pull the plug on him with that much on the table. (And if Mejia is out of options, he might wind up in the 'pen if Hughes wins the rotation spot.)  That's seven.

My presumed eighth is Tyler Duffey, who was a pretty reliable multi-inning reliever in the early going until Molitor started overusing him.

Upshot: I agree with Cooper. It's difficult to see how Kinley sticks. The Twins could trade for his Rule 5 rights, which would allow them to option Kinley out and would also increase the opportunity cost.

Or they could decide they like Kinley's power stuff more than they like Pressly's. I don't have a problem with that, but I've learned over time to be suspicious of my inclination to favor bright shiny objects. The Twins spent this offseason trying to minimize their bullpen risks; dropping Pressly for Kinley would be increasing them, and I doubt that's going to happen.