Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Squirrelly


The "Rally Squirrel" goes five-hole on Max Kepler.
(Image from @Twins Photography twitter and Brace
Hemmelgarn.)


The squirrel that has darted around the Twins' home grounds the last two nights captured most of the attention that didn't go to Nelson Cruz's slugging Tuesday night, but let us also note the pitching prowess of Michael Pineda.

Four runs in seven innings isn't all that impressive, but six hits and zero walks are.

Both Pineda and Kyle Gibson on Monday night had crooked-number inning that involved a homer with men on base. Pineda got more run support than Gibson did, so Pineda gets a W and Gibson an L.

Gibson's ERA for the season is significantly higher than Pineda's, but the underlying numbers aren't nearly as different.

I think a lot of Twins fans are currently more comfortable going into a Pineda start than a Gibson one. I know I intuitively am. But intuition isn't necessarily accurate. I don't know who the Twins would rather start in a playoff game, Gibson or Pineda. But they have more than 30 games to go before that decision gets made.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Contemplating Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey has been credited with the win in each of his last three appearances, including Friday and Saturday. (The Friday one was initially awarded to Sam Dyson and changed the next morning.)

"The Doof" -- that's what will be on the back of his Player's Weekend jersey -- is the rare Twins reliever who hasn't gotten a save. But he's 4-1 with seven holds, he's only blown one lead this year, he hasn't been charged with a run in almost a month, and he seems to currently be the preferred get-out-of-a-jam option in the middle innings.

Duffey has ridden a roller-coaster for his career. The Twins drafted him out of Rice University -- where he was a closer -- and made him a starter. He had 10 down-the-stretch starts in 2015 in which he was one of Paul Molitor's more reliable rotation arms.

And then it fell apart for him. In 2016 he got 26 starts and pitched to an ERA of 6.43. That did for him as a major-league starter.

In 2017 Molitor used him successfully for about two months as a multi-inning reliever with rest between outings. Then Molitor, dealing as he generally had to with a thin bullpen, tried to cut back on the rest. Duffey's ERA was 2.10 after his appearance on May 28; he finished the season at 4.94.

In 2018 he rode the Rochester shuttle and made just 19 major league appearances with an ERA of 7.20. Ugly.

He started this season that same shuttle, but once he came up a second time in May he's stuck. And his role has increased.

He has for years tried to pitch with two fastballs -- a two-seamer and a four-seamer -- but there wasn't much separation in velocity and he didn't get reliable movement with the  two-seamer. It appears that he's largely junked that sinker this year. And his strikeout rate has spiked to more than 11 K/9 -- a statistical trait that makes him valuable with men on base.

Duffey is not closing games, but he's closing innings.



Friday, August 16, 2019

Pineda, Smeltzer, Polanco

Michael Pineda came off the injured list and threw five innings Thursday. His first four innings were really good. His fifth was better than it looked. He was charged with three earned runs, but that's because the scoring rules say you can't assume the double play.

Jorge Polanco's throwing error, on that basis, cost the Twins bases but not an out. The reality is, if he makes an on-target throw, Pineda gets out of the fifth allowing just the lead off homer. Maybe he would have gotten the ball to at least start the sixth in that case, maybe not. He struggled to get his fourth out of the fifth and there wasn't any question that he was done after five.

That makes four errors in three games for Polanco -- two muffed catches, two errant throws. At least three of them have come on potential double plays. He really needs to clean it up.

Devin Smeltzer mopped up -- four innings, three earned runs and a save in a game in which he never had less than a six or seven run lead. The scoring rules say a pitcher who finishes a win with three or more innings holding a lead of any size gets a save. That sounds goofy, but Smeltzer at least saved the rest of the bullpen.

He becomes, incidentally, the eighth Twin credited with a save this season. I tried off the top of my head to list the eight during my midnight walk home after work and missed one. The eight: Taylor Rogers (18), Blake Parker (10), Sergio Romo (2), Ryne Harper (1), Mike Morin (1), Trevor May (1), Trevor Hildenberger (1), and Smeltzer (1).

Parker and Morin are both with the Phillies now, and Hildenberger and Smeltzer, with his immediate demotion after throwing 68 pitches, are in the minors.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

One that got away

The Twins had an opportunity to extend their lead, but didn't take advantage of it. Putting the eighth-inning problems concisely:

  • Sergio Romo is probably not the best right-hander in the pen to face a lefty with power and
  • Jorge Polanco is in a fielding slump at shortstop.
Winnable games get away sometimes. They always hurt. They particularly hurt in a pennant race.

Two interesting developments regarding minor league bullpen possibilities on Wednesday.

First, the Twins lost Ryan Eades to the Baltimore Orioles on waivers. Eades had a brief callup earlier in the season, pitching in two games. He had 3.2 scoreless innings but had six baserunners.

This is a good development for the right-hander; he's got a lot more opportunity with the Birds, who have a team ERA of 5.91 and have gone through 36 pitchers this year. (Some of them are position players, but still ...)

Selling off Eades opens a spot on the Twins 40-man roster, which would allow them to add somebody on waivers or to bring up somebody who isn't on the 40 already.

The odds are against a useful piece hitting outright waivers. The odds are even more against a useful actually reaching the Twins, who do have the fourth-best record in baseball despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth. So the more likely benefit from the Eades move is to create a route for a not-on-the-40 player to come to the Twins.

Which brings us to the other development: Brusdar Graterol, generally considered the Twins' top pitching prospect, made his first relief appearance since 2017 (his first season in the states), picking up the save for Double-A Pensacola and reportedly hitting 102 on the radar gun.

I'm personally skeptical of the notion that the 20-year-old will get a September role. That he pitched in relief isn't surprising despite his lack of such use. He's missed much of the season with injury, and they weren't going to have him trying to goe five innings (or more) fresh off the injured list.

But I get why outside observers might anticipate such a move. The Twins bullpen lacks power arms, and Graterol is certainly a power arm. Since he has just 12 games pitched on his 2019 stat line, the Twins don't need to shut him down to avoid overuse.



Wednesday, August 14, 2019

First place

Twins win. Indians lose. And the half-game margin reverses in Minnesota's favor.

The biggest thing -- other than the W -- about Tuesday's game for the Twins might have been Sam Dyson, who came off the injured list (with Cody Stashak optioned out) and threw a scoreless eighth inning.

Dyson was, at least in theory, the single biggest bullpen get of the trading deadline, but he hadn't done anything useful for the Twins before they IL'd him. If he's sound and effective, that's a big piece for the bullpen.

Or maybe the biggest thing was Martin Perez. The southpaw celebrated "International Left-handers Day" with his best start since early May -- six innings, one unearned run. It was his first quality start in almost a month.

I won't proclaim him back in form, however. He walked four with just three strikeouts and allowed six hits. He was in and out of trouble throughout his start. Of course, Ryne Harper, the first reliever of the seventh, never got out of trouble, so Perez got a non-decision.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Second place

The Twins didn't play Monday. Cleveland did. And for the second day in a row, Indians closer Brad Hand blew the lead in the ninth inning -- and for the second day in a row, Indians first baseman Carlos Santana homered to win the game anyway.

Sigh.

The Twins are now a half-game out of the lead in the AL Central. I still expect them to win the divisional title.

So, for what it's worth, did the guys on the ESPN broadcast, and for much the same reason: The Twins have much the easier schedule the rest of the way.

Cleveland has gone 43-19 since June 1. That's mighty good. It's worth knowing, however, that they went 20-3 in that span against Detroit and Kansas City. That makes them 23-16 against everybody else, which ain't bad either, but is a bit less daunting to contemplate. And they're running low on games against the Tigers and Royals -- six with the Tigers, three with the Royals.

The Twins, in contrast, have 10 games left against Ron Gardenhire's Tigers team and seven with K.C.

Give the Indians credit: They made the most of their games against the weakest teams in the AL Central. If the Twins can do the same, they'll be in good shape.




Monday, August 12, 2019

Ehire Adrianza, pinch runner

The Twins could have won Sunday's game in the ninth, but Ehire Adrianza isn't Byron Buxton afoot, and Cleveland executed its relay well, and Adrianza -- who was pinch-running for C.J. Cron -- was out by about 10 feet at the plate.

Even after Adrianza was nailed, the Twins still had the tying run at second with two outs. But Jonathan Schoop has had a terrible season in close games -- almost all his production has come in blowouts -- and he once again didn't come through.

But I want to discuss the Adrianza play. A few points:

1. Adrianza was pinch-running for Cron specifically to try to score from first on an extra-base hit. There was a runner (Luis Arraez) on second, so a stolen base wasn't in order, and Cleveland wouldn't be holding the runner on first, so the man on first could get a longer lead.

So it wasn't surprising that Tony Diaz sent Adrianza. This was exactly what Adrianza was in the game for. If the Twins were willing to settle for a double scoring Arraez and having the other runner stop at third, they didn't have to run for Cron.

2. Adrianza isn't truly fast. He is a middle infielder, and middle infielders are frequently fast, but Adrianza is an exception. He has nimble feet -- he's good at fielding a ball and being in position to make a throw, but that's not the same as running 270 feet in three directions.

3. I thought at the time that Adrianza took a poor route between third and home, but on the replay I saw that he indeed cut third base well and took a more direct route home. We've seen players run a wide loop around the bases, sometimes running closer to the third-base dugout than to the chalk line. That wasn't the case with Adrianza.

4. Was there a better pinch-running option than Adrianza? Rule out Jason Castro. Maybe Jake Cave is faster than Adrianza. And Cave could have played right in the 10th inning with Marwin Gonzalez shifting to first in Cron's place. But I assume the Twins know who's faster between Adrianza and Cave, and it's quite possible that even if there is a difference that it wasn't enough to make the difference betweens safe and out on that play.

Friday, August 9, 2019

A cheery post

The Free Press this morning carries an obituary containing a sentence that sounds way too much like me:

John was happiest playing Strat-O-Matic baseball while listening to his extensive music collection.

That's enough for today. I don't want to think deeply about the Twins this morning.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

Jose Berrios didn't fare well Tuesday night. His first pitch was hit about as well as the last pitch on Monday night was -- both blasts hit the limestone above the batter's eye -- and things deteriorated from there.

I shall avoid dwelling on that unpleasantness and find some other things to comment on ...

* I said in Tuesday morning's post that Trevor May hit 98 at times on Monday night. He actually peaked at 100, on the pitch that got the double-play grounder that got him out of the eighth inning. I don't know that I've seen any Twins pitcher hit triple-digits.

It was rather optimal conditions for May. He had thrown exactly one pitch in game conditions in a week, so his arm was about as fresh as it could be in August. It was a warm, humid night, so no chill to contract the muscles. And it was a close game in a pennant race, so the adrenaline was flowing.

If he was going to throw 100, that was a prime opportunity for it.

* Jonathan Schoop has started once in the past six games. I'm starting to suspect that he might be a candidate to be DFA'd if the Twins need a roster spot.

He has been better this year than in 2018, but that's not saying much. And much of his production has come in blowouts. He is, I believe, a better defensive second baseman than Luis Arraez, but not enough to make up for the difference between the two at the plate.

I certainly prefer to see Arraez at the plate in the ninth inning of a tied game than Schoop.

* I've commented before on how much Rocco Baldelli shuffles players around various positions. Marwin Gonzalez, Arraez, Ehrie Adrianza and the injured Willians Astudillo have all started games at at least four different positions.

Deciding where to put them is frequently an interesting puzzle. On Monday Gonzalez, Arraez and Adrianza were all in the infield (with Jorge Polanco at shortstop). Baldelli's alignment had Adrianza at first, Arraez at second and Gonzalez at third. My inclination would have been to flip Adrianza and Gonzalez.

I do sometimes wonder how much of a connection there is between the position shuffling and the misplays and errors we've seen over the past couple of months. The Twins were changed with 77 errors in their first 112 games; the average team had 69.

Of course, there's a lot more to defense than avoiding errors, and the Twins, at least by the defensive metrics available on baseball reference, are solidly above average.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Contemplating Trevor May

The Twins won Monday night. Cleveland lost. So the lead is four games.

(Let me note here that I apparently can't read a schedule. I thought Cleveland was playing Cincinnati. It's actually Texas.)

The win was important for the Twins. Perhaps even more important was the performance of Trevor May, who hit 98 at times in blowing away Atlanta batters in his two innings of relief.

May has been a bit of a disappointment this season. I expected him to emerge as a key late-inning guy, the most likely candidate in this bullpen for the role of closer. Rocco Baldelli, as you know, hasn't gone with the contemporary closer, but May hasn't really pitched well enough to seize the glory job anyway.

Monday was actually May's second straight outing in which he was credited with the win; he got one on Friday in a one-pitch appearance. Prior to that, he had allowed at least one run in five straight appearances, blowing two leads and taking two losses. It was not a good month of July.

It's not hard, looking at his stat line for the season, to see the issue. May walked five hitters in his 25.1 major league innings last year (he spent much of 2018 rehabbing his elbow after ligament replacement surgery); that works out to 1.8 walks per nine innings. Monday's outing gives him 21 walks in 40.2 innings, 4.6 per nine innings. That's too high.

Trevor Rogers and Sergio Romo had each pitched in three of the previous four days, and Sam Dyson is on the injured list, so the Twins needed somebody to take care of the final innings. May came through. It would be a bit help to the Twins if he continues.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The good and the bad

The Twins swept the Kansas City Royals over the weekend, which is good. A team on a 100-win pace, as the Twins are, should beat a team on a 100-loss pace, as the Royals are.

But Cleveland swept the Angels as well, so the Twins didn't widen their margin over the weekend. And the Twins have the tougher matchup next with the Atlanta Braves; Cleveland plays Cincinnati.

The bad news is that since my last post the Twins have put three players on the injured list.

Byron Buxton is the most troublesome of the injuries; he's likely to miss most if not all of August. In a very real way, Buxton is the most important player on this team, and he's simply got to stop running into walls. Nothing good comes of it.

I'm less concerned about the two pitchers, Michael Pineda and Sam Dyson. Pineda had a brief stint on the IL earlier in the season. Reading between the lines, the first stint was essentially precautionary, and it sounds like this one is also. "Big Mike" is on his first full season back after Tommy John surgery, and even though he's a free agent after the season the Twins are handling him with some care.

He's been pitching well, too, with an ERA of 2.23 over his last six starts.

Dyson ... well, the eyebrows rise when a player comes in a midseason trade, has two poor outings and goes on the IL. The Twins appear to believe that the IL stint will be essentially the mimimal 10-days. Dyson is said to believe he's able to pitch, but the Twins want to give him a break and get the soreness out of his arm.

So Dyson and Pineda miss these next two series on the homestand, Atlanta and Cleveland. It's early August, but this could be a critical week.

Friday, August 2, 2019

A bad first impression

Sam Dyson arrived in Miami in the middle of Thursday's game. Rocco Baldelli decided to ask him to pitch the ninth with a three-run lead. He got nobody out, and by the time Taylor Rogers got the Twins out of the inning, the Marlins had tied it.

It's an easy second-guess, and have at it. I won't join in the piling on. I knew Dyson was getting the ball in a save situation all along. He'll be OK.

What I also know is that there's no way Rogers should pitch today; he pitched in every game of the Miami series. Fortunately, the Twins are playing Kansas City. It would be a good day to get a lot of runs and a long start.

As if there's a bad day to get those things, right?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Most of what they needed

My wish list for the Twins in the midseason trade period was a couple of bullpen arms to help Taylor Rogers in the late innings.

They got that in Sergio Romo (on July 27) and Sam Dyson (on Wednesday).

Neither is left-handed, so that box went unchecked. And the Twins were apparently fishing in starting-pitcher waters as well but came up empty there.

I'm fine with that. The 2019 Twins aren't in need of a back-of-the-rotation starter, and at most three starters good enough to push Kyle Gibson down in the playoff rotation moved -- Zack Greinke, Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman. Greinke had the Twins on his no-trade clause, and I can't imagine Cleveland trading Bauer to the team they're chasing. That leaves Stroman, and I'm not convinced he's better than Gibson.

A deal for a controllable starter would have given the front office a head start on rebuilding the 2020 rotation, but they'll have to deal with that problem in the off season.

For here and now, the Twins have a stiffer bullpen than they had coming out of the All-Star break.



This Fangraphs piece calls Dyson the best reliever moved at the deadline this year.  He's not a big name (like Craig Kimbrel), but he's also not a ego trip who wants to be used only in one-inning save situations (like Kimbrel). He and Romo are an upgrade over the departed Blake Parker as right-handed complements to Rogers.

I view the Twins bullpen as three groups:


  • The late-inning guys: Dyson, Rogers, Romo
  • The middle men: Tyler Duffey, Ryne Harper, Trevor May
  • The kids: Lewis Thorpe and Cody Stashak (I'm assuming Sean Poppen will be demoted today to make room for Dyson).
I'm good with that bullpen. I'll be even more satisfied if Thorpe emerges as a second lefty weapon.