Monday, April 30, 2012

A quick look at the defensive metrics

Jamey Carroll has been an iron man
at shortstop so far for the Twins.
My Monday print column repeats an assertion that I've made before: That the Twins defense has declined steadily over the Ron Gardenhire era.

My eyeball sense is that, while Jamey Carroll is an improvement at shortstop over last year's regular-less disaster, there are still plays left unmade; that the corner outfielders don't get to enough balls; that Danny Valencia's range leaves much to be desired.

But that's an eyeball sense. What do the metrics say?

As I did last year, I will periodically check the "plus-minus" and "runs saved" stats (explanation here) compiled by Baseball Info Systems and which I'm gleaning through an iPad app.

A quick disclaimer: It's just 21 games, and considerably less for several individuals. This is a snapshot of what has happened and not to be relied on as talent evaluation.

First base: Chris Parmelee has started 11 of the 21 games, with Joe Mauer starting five, Justin Morneau 4 and the departed Luke Hughes the other. They have combined for -3 in plus-minus (plays made), -1 in runs saved.

Second base: Alexi Casilla has 17 starts, with two each for Trevor Plouffe and Hughes. Casilla is +6 and 3. Hughes, suprisingly, is +2 in plus-minus despite a lousy .923 fielding percentage. The three are a combined 8 and 3 at second; a running total of 5 in plus minus, 2 in runs saved.

Third base: Danny Valencia has 18 starts, Sean Burroughs three. Burroughs has no score; Valencia is -1, -2 (better than I had expected). Running total: 4, 0.

Shortstop: Carroll has played all but one inning so far and is +1, 2. Running total: 5, 2.

Left field: Josh Willingham has 18 starts, Ben Revere two, Parmelee one. Willingham is -1, -2, which is better than I expected; Revere is +2, 1, which is pretty impressive for 18 innnings; Parmelee is -1, 0. Left field totals 0, -1; running total 5, 1.

Denard Span, by the metrics, has been the Twins
best defensive player so far. Ryan Doumit, not so much.
Center field: Denard Span has all 21 starts, with Clete Thomas picking up six innings. Span is +10, 6; Thomas +1, 1 (interesting). Center field totals 11and 7, lifting the running total to 16 and 8.

Right field: A mishmash. Plouffe has seven starts, Thomas and Ryan Doumit five apiece, Revere three and Parmelee one. Plouffe is +1 and 1 (surprise); Thomas 0 and 1; Doumit -2, -1; Revere 1 and 1; and Parmelee -2, -1. Right field totals -2, +1, making the running total 14 and 9.

Catcher: Mauer had 12 starts, Doumit nine. Mauer is 0 and 1; Doumit is 0 and -1, making catcher 0 and 0 and the running total unchanged.

Pitcher: I'll spare the individual breakdowns, but will note that Liam Hendriks isn't doing himself any favors (-1, -2 in 16 innings). As a staff, the Twins are -1, -4, making the running total +13 in plus-minus and 5 runs saved.

Which is better than I had expected to find, and far better, I'm sure, than the Twins were in these metrics at any point in 2011.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pic of the Week

Conrado Marrero is about a year older than Fenway Park.
Conrado "Connie" Marrero turned 101 on Wednesday. The dimunitive Cuban —listed as 5-foot-5 and less than 160 pounds in his playing days — is the oldest living ex-major leaguer.

The Associated Press moved a story on his career and current status; read it here.

He came to the mainland in 1950, at age 39, and pitched for the Washington Senators — the forerunners of the Twins — for five seasons. The Senators were not a good team, and Marrero was almost certainly past his prime, but he still ran off a 39-40 record and was named to an All-Star team.

He was part of the Senators' Cuban connection. The Griffiths had a scout named Joe Cambria, who funneled players from Cuba to Washington in quantity until Fidel Castro put an end to it. Cambria is the reason the team arrived in Minnesota with so many Cubans on the major league roster and in their minors — Camilo Pasqual, Pedro Ramos, Zoilo Versalles, Tony Oliva, Julio Becquer ...

That pipeline is long since shut off, of course. By the end of the 1950s the Cincinnati Reds had established a significant presence on the island also (garnering the likes of Tony Perez, Mike Cuellar and Leo Cardenas in the process), ending the Senators' monopoly, and then Castro closed the island.

Cuba still produces a wealth of talent, but only dribbles of it reach these shores now. And what does arrive doesn't don Twins uniforms.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Notes, quotes and comment

My all-time favorite Brandon Inge photo,
illustrating the virtue of a baggy jersey.
Brandon Inge is 34. The Tigers released him Thursday. His slash line this season (20 AB) is .100/.100/.300. He hit .197 last season. He can't hit any more, possibly because of the big metaphoric fork stuck in him. He's done.

And multiple sources say that the Twins are interested in signing him,apparently with the notion of demoting Danny Valencia and going to a platoon of Inge and Sean Burroughs.

It's a silly idea. If valid, it is also a damning indication how far Valencia has sunk in the esteem of the Twins decision makers.


Delmon Young and the Detroit Tigers arrived in New York on Thursday evening and the former Twins outfielder wasted little time in, well, getting wasted.

And arrested. And charged.

He's not, obviously, the Twins problem anymore. I am, however, curious if the Twins ever saw any indication of a drinking problem during his time with them.


The Washington Nationals announced Friday that Bryce Harper, age 19, will make his major league debut Saturday. Harper hasn't been tearing it up in Triple A, so this is a bit of a surprise. It's been a while since a teenager played in the majors; Harper will be two years younger than any other player in the majors.

I don't expect him to stick all season, because financially it makes more sense for the Nats to hold back his service time. It's cheaper to let him develop in the minors, and as I noted, he hasn't been knocking the door down.


Yankees general manager Brian Cashman on the season-ending surgery for trade acquistion Michael Pineda:

Our fans are right to be upset about this. I'm devastated by it. I just hope everyone understands that every move I make is to improve this club, not hurt it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A gauntlet run

Theoretically, it gets easier now for the Twins. Theoretically.

Thursday's off day was the period that ended a run-on sentence of the (projected) best teams in the league. The Twins just completed series against the Rangers, Angels, Yankees, Rays and Red Sox -- 16 games (about 10 percent of the season) in which Minnesota went just 5-11.

The teams the Twins have played this season, including the opening series at Baltimore, are a combined 63-49 -- and that's with Anaheim going 6-13. 

It is hardly surprising that the Twins were under .500 in that string of games, even if the Angels haven't come close to living up to their off-season hype, but a couple more wins out of that stretch (and a 7-9 mark) would have been encouraging. Nor is it a surprise that those lineups racked up some numbers on the pitching staff, but a starters' ERA of 7.09 is far worse than I anticipated.

Now the sentence is over, and a new paragraph begins. The Twins get a somewhat softer schedule now: Kansas City, Angels, Seattle, Angels (again?), then Toronto before a serious dip into divisional play.

The first 19 games of the 2012 season have doused the embers of belief. They have served to confirm that 2011 was not a mere aberration, that the Twins are truly that flawed a team. Nineteen games is not a lot to base judgment on, but it is almost 12 percent of the schedule, and it follows last season's misery.

Again: The schedule gets easier now, and the results are likely to improve as a result. It's going to take a lot to make up for this brutal beginning.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thoughts on the Parmelee beaning

Home plate umpire Gary Cedarstrom holds
back Ron Gardenhire as a Twins trainer
tends to the fallen Chris Parmelee after
Parmelee was beaned in the sixth inning.
The initial word after Wednesday's game about Chris Parmelee —who took a Justin Thomas pitch off the bill of his batting helmet — was good. No concussion symptoms, and he'll be re-evaluateed today.

Certainly it could have been worse. A few inches over, a few inches down, and we're talking about a pitch in his face. A major league caliber fastball is a deadly weapon; careers have been altered in an instant by a beaning, and one major leaguer — Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians in 1920 — was killed by a pitch.

Even if the early outlook on Parmelee holds true, Wednesday's pitch could have lasting ramifications.

Start with Thomas, whose body language after the pitch was that of a man who knows he just made a ghastly mistake. His grip on a major league job is any thing but secure. He's a LOOGY — his primary role is to get left-handed hitters out. Even if he has the breaking ball for that role, he has to set it up — and that means throwing his fastball inside.

He will have to master the fear of repeating Wednesday's near-tragedy. He will have to convince himself that it's the hitter's responsibility to get out of the way of a pitch that is too far inside — because he cannot afford to miss in the other direction.

Parmelee, too, may well have a fear to overcome. He has struggled in minors against left-handed pitchers, and Ron Gardenhire has limited his exposure against southpaws so far this season — Wednesday was just his 12th plate appearance against a lefty. He's done well in his limited opportunities against them, but now he's going to have to put what happened Wednesday out of his mind.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Little love for Valentine

Bobby Valentine's criticism of Kevin Youkilis did not
go over well in the Red Sox clubhouse.
After the on-field debacle that accompanied the Boston Red Sox' celebration of Fenway's centennial, I figured Bobby Valentine's tenure as manager may be far shorter than imagined.

Then the Sox came to Minnesota, where they found that all-purpose cure that is the Twins' starting rotation.

Still, there are problems with the Crimson Hose, not all of which can be laid fairly at Valentine's feet, but problems nevertheless.

The Sox have a patchwork outfield right now, with both Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list. Their putative closer is injured, and the rest of the bullpen a shambles. Shortstop is being manned by a Kansas City washout (Mike Aviles), and Kevin Youkilis does not appear to have bounced back well from offseason surgery.

That's a lot for any manager to cope with. Valentine's job is complicated by two factors:

  • He wasn't the choice of the general manager;
  • He's expected to simultaneously change the clubhouse culture while relying on the veterans who set that culture.

Remember: He has the job only because the Red Sox had an epic collapse last September. After the Sox missed the playoffs, both general manager Theo Epstein and field manager Terry Francona left. Francona departed amid stories of slipshod discipline, and Epstein left saying he had planned to leave the job soon anyway and didn't think it fair to the organization to hire the new manager and then depart. Epstein assistant Ben Cherington was promoted to general manager, and he conducted a managerial search that appeared to focus on relatively obscure candidates.

And just as it appeared that Cherington had settled on Dale Sveum, ownership stepped in. No, they told Cherington, you need somebody who's managed in the majors before, someone who can handle big-market pressure. Someone like Bobby Valentine.

A Yankees fan trolls the Red Sox faithful
Saturday in Fenway Park.
Which is a legitimate point. Boston is a, shall we say, more intense environment than Minnesota. Playing or managing there is like dressing in a greenhouse. It would have done everybody a favor had ownership set out that requirement early in the process rather than let Charington stake out a direction and then get reined in. It undermined Charington, and it wasted the time of the candidates Charington was considering. (Epstein moved on to the Cubs, and hired Sveum there.)

Meanwhile, Valentine has rubbed his new team the wrong way. Some friction was likely to occur anyway; the new manager was bound to tighten the rules after the reports of beer and fried chicken during games. But  when Valentine told a Boston TV station that Youkilis wasn't "into the game physically or emotionally, for whatever reason," he drew a biteback not only from Youkilis but Dustin Pedroia as well: We don't do things like that here. Maybe in Japan.

That the players aren't used to it was part of the point in replacing Francona, but the lashback still left the always glib Valentine stammering and stumbling for words. He's managed long enough, and in enough places, to know that the absolute requirement for a manager is the respect of his players. He needs clubhouse figures like Pedroia and Youkilis to buy in. Instead, he appears to be alienating them.

Francona helped his players cope with the Boston environment by holding the reins loosely, and by his own account, when players took too much advantage of his light touch he couldn't (or wouldn't) find the way to get their attention. Valentine has, by and large, the same set of players -- and the need to, at least in public perception, not allow the inmates to run the asylum, while still getting them to perform.

It hasn't gone well so far. The Fenway chants last weekend of "We want Tito" are ample testimony to that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

None of the above

Thirteen walks and 12
strikeouts in 16.1
innings over four starts
is not how Francisco
Liriano wanted to
open his walk year.
On Monday I outlined three options for the Twins to take with Francisco Liriano:

  • Leave him in the rotation;
  • use him in relief;
  • ship him to the minors.

And the Twins chose none of the above.

They're going to use the off day this week to skip Liriano's start. They won't, they say, use him in relief; they will, instead, use side sessions to try to straighten him out.

And then, presumably, they'll start him again.

I can't say that I'm particularly optimistic about this approach, but Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson are closer to the situation than I am. As I said Monday, all three of the options I saw had flaws.

Ultimately, it's up to Liriano to save his career.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Choices with Liriano

As bas as it was, Sunday's start was
the best of the season so far for
Francisco Liriano.
Francisco Liriano had another uh-oh start Sunday. He sailed through the first two innings and then got wild in the third, in which he walked two, hit a third and surrendered to sac flies — two earned runs without a hit.

For the game, he threw five innings and gave up five runs, all officially earned (although one was tainted by a roof-rule double). More to the point, command was — again — a problem.

Ron Gardenhire spoke after the game of "taking a step back" with Liriano, implying that some sort of status change is in the offing, and seemed most concerned about getting his confidence back. Let's consider the options:

1) Leave him in the rotation. His next start figures to be Saturday against Kansas City. The Royals lineup is the strongest part of a weak team, but it is slanted to left-handers and not as strong now as it projected to be this spring. If, as Gardenhire implied Sunday, a good outing is the key to getting Liriano back to where he was during exhibition play, the Royals might be the opponent he needs.

Problem: Is he capable right now have having a good outing? 

2) Put him in the bullpen. Nick Blackburn is scheduled to return to the rotation Tuesday, which had been Anthony Swarzak's slot. Swarzak, who had a short start against the Yankees on Thursday, threw two innings of relief Sunday and could easily slide into Liriano's turn.

Liriano would be used in low-leverage situations, at least until it is determined that he's ready for something more.

Problem: The rotation would be all right-handed pitchers of similiar stuff (Carl Pavano, Swarzak, Jason Marquis, Blackburn and Liam Hendriks), and the bullpen would have four lefties (Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Matt Maloney and Liriano). Not the ideal mix.

3) Send him to the minor leagues. Scott Diamond is putting up ridiculous numbers at Rochester (1.07 ERA after Sunday's start) and could easily be flipped into Liriano's rotation slot. That would keep a lefty in the rotation and not overload the bullpen with southpaws.

Problem: While Liriano apparently has an option left, he has sufficient service time that a demotion would require his consent. That may not be forthcoming.

My guess is that Option 2 is what the Twins will try this week.


Luke Hughes was claimed on waivers by Oakland. Good luck to the Aussie.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pics of the Week

Picking just one photo from Friday's centennial celebration of Fenway Park was too difficult, so I enlisted the aid of photographer Pat Christman to set up this photo gallery.

Love the throwback unis.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Perfect Phillip Humber

Philip Humber will never throw a better game than he did
Saturday in Seattle: 27 men up, 27 down on a mere 96 pitches.
Philip Humber, who threw a perfect game Saturday for the Chicago White Sox, may be a familiar name to Twins fans. He pitched briefly — less than 21 innings — and poorly — 6.10 ERA — for the Twins in 2008-09 after being part of the Johan Santana trade.

His has been a star-crossed career, and a warning for those eager to see the Twins take a college pitcher with the second overall pick in June. Humber, who starred at Rice University, was the third man taken in the 2004 draft. But he quickly blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery, and his stuff has never recovered.

The Twins cut him loose after the 2009 season. He got some time in with Kansas City, was released there, signed with Chicago, stepped into the rotation there last season because  of injury, had a big first half (8-5, 3.10) and faded badly in the second half (1-4, 5.01).

His success last season, I figured this winter, was a mirage. Today suggests otherwise. Seattle does not have a strong lineup, but perfection is perfection.

And I still cannot blame the Twins for pulling the plug on Humber.

Grousing after a win

Alexi Casilla has had repeated opportunities to claim a regular middle infield job. He's always handed the job back -- sometimes through injury, more often with slipshod play.

So his mental error on Friday -- failing to cover first base on a sac bunt in the sixth inning -- is worthy of notice.

The inning begin with a play Casilla didn't make that was originally scored an error and later changed to a hit. Hit or error, he should have, but didn't, make the play. The next man bunted, and Casilla didn't get to the bag. Liam Hendriks walked the thrid batter, then induced a double play, which scored the first runner to tie the game at 2. Then Evan Longoria untied with with a two-run homer.

Rerun the inning with Casilla still not making the original play but getting the out on the sac bunt. The walk puts runners on first and second, one out (rather than loading the bases with no outs); the double play ends the inning, and the Twins still lead 2-1.

On the other hand ... the sixth inning damage makes Hendriks' line score a more accurate representation of how he pitched. Coming into the sixth, the rookie from Australia had allowed one run on two hits and a walk, which looks pretty good. But he had barely more strikes than balls, and that isn't good.

He wound up with four earned runs allowed in 5.6 innings, 56 strikes and 45 balls.  He can do better than that, and he will.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Notes on the bullpen

Brian Duensing pitches on Opening Day in Baltimore.

For the second straight season, the Twins have a drastically reworked — and significantly cheaper — bullpen than in the season before.

A few observations:

* The Twins have a lousy record, but that's not really the bullpen's fault. There is one loss that can clearly be pinned to poor relief work, that being last Sunday, when Glen Perkins — the brightest light in the 2011 'pen — got lit up by Texas.

* I was struck Monday evening by the radar-gun readings when Brian Duensing pitched in the bottom of the eighth. The ESPN broadcast showed several readings of 95 mph, which seemed a bit high for Duensing.

So I checked the readings as provided by MLB via its iPad app, and it too gave numbers in the mid 90s. Some were 94, some were 95, but the idea is the same: Duesning was throwing with markedly more velocity than we're accustomed to seeing.

He had a longer stint on Wednesday (one day of rest) and the velocity readings on his fastball topped out at 93— a bit lower than on Monday, but still higher than as a starter.

This is not unusual for starters-turned-relievers; Glen Perkins at times last season, when given multiple days off, came out throwing 97. Duensing, so far as I know, isn't reaching those levels.

* Duensing, of course, lost his spot in the starting rotation in large part because he was so ineffective against right-handed hitters. Through Thursday night he had faced 24 hitters in 2012, 16 right and eight left; that's hardly sufficient evidence to judge if he's fixed that problem. But so far, right-handers are hitting .286/.375/.286 against him, lefties .250/.250/.250.

When he was effective as a starter, it was because he was keeping the ball in the park. That nobody's gotten an extra-base hit off him so far is an encouraging sign.

*Alex Burnett had two shutout innings Thursday and has now worked 8.1 innings without being charged with a run. More striking is that he hasn't walked a hitter yet; control was always an issue for him in 2010-11.

*Jeff Gray and Duensing are the men brought in most often with runners on base. Duensing has stranded four of his five inherited runners; Gray six of his eight. Jared Burton has stranded all three of his inherited runners.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Waiving Luke Hughes

Luke Hughes lost
his roster spot in
part because
Francisco Liriano
can't throw strikes.
The Twins had to make a roster move Wednesday to make room for Jason Marquis, that night's starting pitcher.

That move probably would have involved another pitcher, but ...

  • Francisco Liriano's awful start on Tuesday strained the bullpen;
  • Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn are injured enough to be out of action but not enough, in the eyes of management, to justify putting either on the disabled list.

So the ax fell on a position player, and the selected target was Luke Hughes, who was designated for assignment. The Twins have 10 days in which to dispose of his contract -- trade him to another team, release him, outright him to Rochester.

Hughes is a marginal talent, a tweener -- he hits well enough to play second base, but isn't good enough defensively; he fields well enough for a corner infield spot, but doesn't provide enough offense.

What is most striking about cutting him (to go with 13 pitchers) is that he was the closest thing to a competent middle infielder on the bench. With the current 25-man roster, Trevor Plouffe figures to be the backup at both shortstop and second base, and that simply does not work.

I have to figure that this is temporary. At some point soon the Twins will return to a 12-man pitching staff, and a middle infielder who isn't a defensive embarrassment will join the roster.

Brian Dozier? I'm inclined to doubt that the decision makers will pull the plug on the Jamie Carroll-Alexi Casilla duo before April ends -- the Twins generally let Plan A ride until mid-May before calling it a failure -- and Dozier isn't likely to be called up to sit.

On the other hand, maybe the decision makers are getting tired of double plays not turned.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On Liriano, Pavano and Baker

Francisco Liriano has an ERA above 11
after three starts.
Francisco Liriano was impressive during spring training. But his first three starts of the regular season have been nothing short of disastrous.

On Tuesday night in New York, he threw 76 pitches — 37 strikes, 39 balls —in the process of getting just seven outs.

Aaron Gleeman notes the decline in Liriano's velocity over the years,  but 91 mph is still plenty — if you know what to do with it. Liriano clearly does not.

The contrast between Carl Pavano on Monday and Liriano on Tuesday is rather stark. Pavano gave up two home runs in his first four pitches on Monday, and the Yankees tacked another run on in the first inning. He then found something that worked and shut the Yankees out for six innings before turning things over to the bullpen.

Pavano pitched. He survived rather than dominate. Liriano, if he doesn't dominate, is helpless.

I said in the Monday print column that pitching coach Rick Anderson, in trying to teach Liriano the techniques of pitching (as opposed to throwing) in 2006, was giving the wrong reasons at the wrong time. He was selling the idea on the basis that it would make Liriano even better, and that simply wasn't possible.

Maybe, had Anderson sold it to Liriano (and the public) as survival skills against the inevitable decline in his raw talent, it would have taken root.

Or maybe not. The voice of experience is often ignored by impatient youth.

At any rate, Liriano appears to be at a career crossroads. If he remains a thrower, he won't last much longer. And he's given little reason to believe he can change.

Scott Baker is looking
at at least a year's
rehab before he can
pitch again.

Scott Baker's tendon surgery morphed Tuesday into full-blown ligament transplant surgery, something that was publicly unforeseen but had been anticipated by the surgeon as a possibility.

This is hardly unprecedented — there have been other cases in which a lower-level operation is planned, with the surgeon only discovering after opening the elbow that the ligament is more damaged than could be discerned from the MRIs.

Still, this sequence of events will doubtless bring a fresh wave of skepticism from outside the organization (and maybe even inside it) about the Twins medical staff, which didn't see a need for any surgery. I'm hardly competent to critique the work of orthopedic surgeons, but the Twins' recent history contains a series of undertreatments and apparent failed diagnoses.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Feeling a draft: A midseason ranking

Baseball America does a superb job covering the amateur draft, and its analysis is probably as sound a reflection of the scouting consensus as you're going to find.

The issue that arrived in my mailbox Monday contains the publication's midseason top 60 draft prospects, and it differs markedly (and not surprisingly) from its February take.

Then BA said there were five players ahead of the pack. In this list, one of those five has dropped to No.13 (Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero), and a college right-handed pitcher (Kyle Zimmer of San Francisco) has leapt from No. 28 in February to No. 3.

The Twins, of course, draft second in June. I'll list BA's top seven, going that deep because it specifically mentions the seventh player as "a sleeper to go first overall":

  1. Bryon Buxton, outfielder, Appling County High, Ga.
  2. Mike Zunino, catcher, Florida
  3. Zimmer
  4. Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
  5. Kevin Glausman, RHP, Louisiana State
  6. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake High, Calif.
  7. Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M

Buxton, Zunino, Appel and Giolito were all in the original BA top five. Giolito, as noted in this March post, sprained his elbow and is not pitching, but it doesn't seem to have wrecked his draft status.

Still plenty of time for all this to change, of course.

Monday, April 16, 2012

I am now a twit who tweets

I have finally taken the plunge into Twitter. Or, more accurately, dipped my toes in the water of Twitter.

I've considered this for a while, and have held off in large part because I've never been sure exactly what I'd accomplish by being on Twitter. I still don't know. From what I can see, the baseball Twitterverse is divided into two parts: Breaking news/rumormongering and snark. My blog isn't a newsbreaker, and I prefer to offer context to snark. One hundred-forty characters doesn't lend itself to nuance. So ... I may surprise myself, but as of now I don't anticipate being particularly active.

Now that I have dampened your expectations, I hereby call your attention to the "Twitter update" section in my siderail. Follow me if you wish, don't if you don't.

Scott Baker and the $9.25 million option

Scott Baker has been effective
when available, but he won't
be available at all in 2012.
When the Twins announced that Scott Baker was to have surgery to repair an elbow tendon and would miss the entire 2012 season, I (and others) immediately figured that the Twins would not pick up his 2013 option, worth $9.25 million.

LaVelle Neal offered a different opinion in Sunday's Star Tribune. His take, boiled down, is

  • In a baseball environment in which Edwin Jackson is getting $11 million on a one-year deal, $9 million-plus for Baker isn't an overpay;
  • The surgery should fix Baker's problems;
  • Somebody's gotta pitch for the 2013 Twins.

Neal hasn't completely convinced me. Taking the above points in the order I've listed them (which is different than the order in his piece):

  • The three pitchers he names as comparisons have all been more durable than Baker;
  • Surgery is no guarantee. Baker, as I recall, had elbow surgery after the 2010 season; he still had elbow problems in 2011;
  • Yes, somebody's gotta pitch. 

It does seem likely to me that the Twins will retain at least one of their potential free agent starters (Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Jason Marquis and Baker). It's difficult for me to imagine that Baker at $9.25 million after missing a full season will seem the best buy of that lot, but perhaps absence will make the heart grow fonder.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pic of the Week

Yankees reliever David Robertson's
The ballet of baseball.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Clete Thomas vs. Ben Revere

New Twins outfielder Clete Thomas has hit
.253/.336/.391 in 391 at-bats spread over three seasons
with the Detroit Tigers.

Here's a player move that really illustrates how Ron Gardenhire uses, or doesn't use, his bench.

The Twins claimed Clete Thomas from the Detroit Tigers on waivers Saturday. They made room for him on the 40-man roster by putting Scott Baker on the 60-day disabled list, and made room for him on the 25-man roster by sending Ben Revere to the minors.

Revere does a few things very well — he runs, he fields, he makes contact. He doesn't throw well and he lacks power. Those failings make him a poor choice for regular duty in an outfield corner, but what he does do, he does well enough to justify using him to do those things.

Thomas, on the other hand, is pretty mediocre at everything. He's better than Revere at the things Revere doesn't do well, he's worse than Revere at the things Revere does do well. There is no one thing that you'd want to put him in the game to do.

Ben Revere got 11
at-bats in the first
eight games.
The Twins prefer Thomas on the bench to Revere. Why? Because Gardenhire isn't a manager who loves to make in-game moves. And Revere makes more sense for a manager who wants to use his bench in speciality roles.

Gardenhire has said he doesn't want to sub defensively for Josh Willingham or Ryan Doumit; he doesn't want to lose their bats and he fears not having a reserve catcher available. That makes Revere's glove relatively less useful. It also means that two of the most likely candidates to be pinch-run for are staying in the game.

Gardenhire prefers a bench of guys waiting to be put in the starting lineup. On this year's team, he plans to lock Willingham and Denard Span in left and center; right field will be a hydra-headed position. It's also the outfield spot Revere is least suited for.

Thomas fits the Gardenhire system better than Revere does. It doesn't make him a better player.

Grounds crew games in Chicago

Miguel Cabrera explains the issue
to the home plate umpire,
Adrian Johnson.
The groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox, Roger Bossard, is the third generation of his family in the field, and he is widely regarded as the best in the business.

And the craftiest. His grandfather, Emil, was the man who helped Bill Veeck rig a movable outfield fence in Cleveland — the numbers on the fence stayed the same, but the wall would move in and out depending on the opponent. Yankees in town, move the fence back; the punchless Senators are visiting, bring 'em in tight. Such illicit gamesmanship helped the Indians win the 1948 pennant (and the World Series; Cleveland hasn't won the Series since). Roger Bossard is the heir to that tradition, and by reputation there is nobody better at grooming the field to the advantage of the home team.

Which makes Friday's batter's box incident at the White Sox's home opener curious indeed.

Miguel Cabrera noticed that the box was not properly aligned with home plate, and the umps quickly agreed. The grounds crew was ordered out to rechalk the boxes. The White Sox radio crew (I was listening via my iPad) ridiculed Cabrera for the delay, but described the boxes as "six to eight inches" too far out toward the pitchers' mound.

Now ... anybody who's watched a grounds crew chalk the boxes knows that kind of error is no accident. They use a template that fits the side of home plate. The only way to make the boxes a half foot out of alignment is to place the template a half-foot out of alignment, and that would be obvious.

Bossard does not run a slipshod operation. If the batters' box was six inches out of place, it was done deliberately.

The thing is, I'm not sure how it helps the White Sox in this particular matchup. Max Scherzer, the Detroit starter, probably throws harder than the declining Jake Peavy, the Sox starter Friday. Peavy could probably use the help — make his fast ball six inches quicker — but Scherzer probably stood to benefit more.

Friday, April 13, 2012

After Baker: Hendriks or Swarzak?

Jason Marquis was slated to pitch the third game
of the season. Then Liam Hendriks was. And when
game time arrived, it was Anthony Swarzak who got the ball.
A very minor silver lining to Scott Baker being out for the season: We won't have to listen this year to Bert Blyleven complaining that Baker doesn't pitch "down in the zone."

Would that we could. 

A healthy Baker -- not that he's had a healthy season since 2009 -- figured to be the best starter in the Minnesota rotation. He and Francisco Liriano were the only members of the projected rotation with an established strikeout rate above average, and Liriano is maddeningly inconsistent.

The assumption here in the wake of Baker's loss was that Liam Hendriks is in line for the rotation berth. He was, after all the man designated to fill in for Baker when the Twins thought it would be a relatively short-term opening.

Jason Marquis paid
for a steak and lobster
post-game spread
for his short-term
teammates in
New Britain this week.
But multiple reports Thursday had it as a competition between Hendriks and Anthony Swarzak, who stepped in for Hendriks in Baltimore when the Aussie went down with food poisoning.

Swarzak is to start today against Texas; Hendriks is scheduled to face the Rangers on Sunday. Jason Marquis is expected to return from his minor-league sojourn next week to reclaim one rotation spot, leaving one spot for the other two.

Had the rotation been sound coming out of spring training, Hendriks would certainly have been optioned out to Rochester. It may be that he — and in the long run, the Twins — would benefit if he were still in the minors. Hendriks has a higher ceiling than Swarzak, but I'm not sure that he would be immediately superior.

When Marquis is brought up, somebody has to lose his spot on the 25-man roster. If Swarzak wins the rotation spot, it's a pretty easy call — Hendriks goes down to Triple A, where he was expected to be anyway. If Hendriks is in the rotation, Swarzak goes to the bullpen, and displaces probably either Alex Burnett or Jeff Gray.

Burnett has an option left; Gray does not. That might be all the front office needs to know on this decision.

What will happen when Kyle Waldrop is ready ... well, that's a bridge to cross when they get there.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Contemplating Scott Baker

A glum Scott Baker with Terry Ryan at Wednesday's
All spring, Terry Ryan kept saying of Scott Baker: He's not injured. He just needs to cut it loose.

And on Wednesday the general manager and the pitcher announced that Baker is to have season-ending elbow surgery.

I again fall back on this foundation opinion: The athletes who reach this level didn't get there by looking for reasons not to play. Nobody else is in his body, nobody else knows what pain or discomfort he experiences. When a player says he can't perform, I have to believe him.


Back during training camp I put up a post speculating on the makeup of the 2013 rotation. Some commenters said then that the Twins would pick up Baker's $9.25 million option for that season. I dare say that this injury forecloses that possibility. If Baker returns, it will be for considerably less.


Liam Hendriks was designated to fill Baker's rotation spot when the season opened, although his bout of food poisoning kept him from making his first start. Hendriks now figures to get a clear shot at a full season in the big-league rotation, and Anthony Swarzak becomes the first option if and when a new starter is needed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ozzie Guillen meets Miami politics

Ozzie Guillen's big mouth and quick tongue may this time
have gotten him into more trouble than he can handle.
On Monday, in a quick comment on the Ozzie Guillen "love and respect Fidel Castro" flap, I said: "I'm not sure there are enough fire extinguishers to put out this blaze."

On Tuesday, the Marlins recalled their field manager from a road trip, announced a five-game suspension, and put him in front of the cameras to issue a bilingual apology.

I doubt it will be enough. For one thing, as emotional as Guillen was on Tuesday, his Time comments are quite similar to those he made about four years ago in a Men's Journal piece, so the sincerity of Tuesday's disavowal is open to question.

For another, he's bucking two major tides in the local politics of Miami, which has little in common with what we're familiar with in Minnesota:

  • The Cuban exile community has established a groupthink that makes even a nuanced discussion of Cuba, the Castros and U.S. policy almost impossible, and Ozzie doesn't do nuance;
  • The new Marlins stadium, unlike Target Field, has been a disaster for the local politicians who supported it.

The scene outside the Marlins
Stadium during Guillen's
mea culpa press conference.
This is a baseball blog, not a politics one, but as a (long-ago) poli-sci major I find the multi-decade stranglehold a relatively small but concentrated voting bloc has on a piece of U.S. foreign policy fascinating. For roughly 60 years, our policy on Cuba has been one of regime change — Castro out — and it has failed at every turn. Yet the passion of a few hundred thousand voters in Florida and the details of the Electoral College has hijacked 11 administrations on the subject. I suspect that the diaspora harbors the notion that when the Castros are gone they can return to Havana and remake the island; I doubt that's realistic.

The point is: The exiles are used to getting what they want in U.S. politics on Cuba. Nobody with White House ambitions wants to cross them. Ozzie Guillen's views on Castro, malformed or otherwise, are irrelevant to anything real, but he has crossed the local community, and that's a problem for his employers.

All the more so because that community already had animosity toward Guillen's employers. The new stadium, built in Little Havana despite neighborhood opposition, has already ended the political career of the mayor who championed it and triggered a federal investigation of its financing.

Miami pols reflexively curry the favor of the exile community. They have also learned that bashing the Marlins plays well. This flap is a two-for-one opportunity.

And the great irony in all this is that Guillen lives there in the offseason. Somehow he managed to be oblivious to the political tripwire that surrounded him when he took the Miami job.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Contemplating the 2002 Twins

Michael Cuddyer: Will the Rockies outfielder
be the last man standing from the 2002
Minnesota Twins?
A few members of the 2002 Twins gathered at Monday's home opener for the first-pitch ceremony and general accolades.

It wasn't close to a full turnout, of course; for one thing, there are at least nine players still active from that team, and that's not counting two guys (Cristian Guzman and Casey Blake) released during spring training.

Which raises the question, at least in my mind: Who will be the last of the 2002 Twins to play in the majors?

My guess, in reverse order:

9) Juan Rincon, pitching for the Angels Triple A team, hasn't actually been in the majors since 2010. He has a better chance at pitching in the majors than I do, but he's not likely to last long if he does.

8) LaTroy Hawkins, Anaheim. He's 39 and no longer a late-inning guy. There's still tread on the tires, and he could out last ...

7) J.C. Romero, St. Louis. Left-handed One-Out GuYs (LOOGYs) tend to last forever, and Romero is four years younger than the Hawk, but he's been limited to fractional innings for a couple years now.

6) David Ortiz, Boston. The final six are all lineup fixtures or rotation anchors, and they all could have years left. I put Ortiz here because (a) he's 36; (b) all of his value is in his bat; (c) he's been up-and-down in recent seasons and (d) his days of multi-year contracts are past.

5) Johan Santana, Mets. I put him here because he's recovering from a significant shoulder injury. While he fared well in the opener against the Braves, his velocity is down, and it's clear that he is being monitored closely. As he should; the Mets owe him $50 million over the next two years and would like something for the money. The question once past the current deal may be how difficult it is for him to continue to pitch. 

4) Torii Hunter, Anaheim. Last year of his contract. Last won a Gold Glove in 2009 and no longer a center fielder. Power numbers well down in recent years. Has a bigger reputation as a leader than I suspect he deserves. I wonder how much demand there'll be for his services this winter, and how willing he'll be to take a steep cut. Pride has ended some careers.

3) Kyle Lohse, St. Louis. Started (and well) on Opening Day for the defending champions. Led the Cards in wins and starter ERA last season. Not an ace, but a good mid-rotation guy.

2) A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox. A remarkably durable catcher. Now 35, he is essentially the same hitter he was a decade ago, which is almost unheard of in regular backstops. Doesn't throw well, but even after his bat declines he can still stick around a few years as a backup. If he wants to.

1) Michael Cuddyer, Colorado. A similar player now to Hunter – right-handed hitting right fielders with bigger contracts and reputations than their current production warrant — but younger and with two more years on his contract. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thoughts on opening weekend

The Twins saw far too much of this during their series
in Baltimore.
Item: Twins get swept in Baltimore.

I think: There wasn't much of a silver lining to this series at all.

There are three American League teams with 0-3 records, and the other two are the Yankees and Red Sox. If the Twins have the same record as those two teams all season, I think Twins fans will be pleased with the season. But the Yanks got swept by Tampa Bay and the Bosox by Detroit, and those figure to be significantly better than the O's.

And now the Twins face a really daunting stretch of opponents: Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Rays, Red Sox ... 16 games against five really primed rosters.

It's easy to imagine this season spiraling out of control in April. Again.

Item: Ozzie Guillen tells Time magazine he "loves" Fidel Castro.

I think: Given Guillen's outspoken disdain for Castro-wannabe Hugo Chavez in his native Venezuela, I'm inclined to chalk this up to Guillen's mouth running out of control again.

If he were still managing the White Sox, this would be an exceedingly minor blip on the radar. But he's managing in Miami, where Castro is a hot-botton topic. I'm not sure there are enough fire extinguishers to put out this blaze.

Item: Johan Santana throws five shutout innings against the Braves.

I think: I listened to some of it via my iPad, and Santana was pretty clearly out of gas at the end of his stint. He probably didn't top 90 mph with his best fastball.

But it's good to see him back, and effective. A different kind of effective, to be sure, but effective nonetheless.

Joe Girardi overthought things in
the first inning of the first game
of the Yankees season.
Item: Joe Girardi opens himself to serious second-guessing.

Opening day, CC Sabathia on the hill for the Yankees against the Rays. In the first inning, with two on and two out, Girardi orders Sabathia to walk Sean Rodriguez intentionally to bring up Carlos Pena.

The Rays radio announcers reportedly immediately start trying to decide if Girardi is the biggest over-manager in Yankees history. They're still trying to figure it out when Pena's fly ball clears the right field fence for a grand slam.

I think: The numbers give some justification for Girardi's move. Rodriguez hits lefties well; Pena does not. That's why Rodriguez was hitting in front of Pena.

But just because I might do this in a Strat-O-Matic game doesn't make it the thing to do in real life. Sean Rodriguez ain't Albert Pujols, and CC Sabathia ain't Scott Diamond.

If Girardi doesn't trust Sabathia to get the likes of Rodriguez out in the first inning of the first game of the season, what does that tell his pitcher? What does that tell his team?

Girardi has a squad sufficiently talented that he doesn't need to prove that he's the smartest man in the room. Doing as little as possible would be the wisest route.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pic of the Week

The Detroit Tigers are introduced to their home crowd
before starting their 2012 season on Thursday.
Opening Day: The possibilities, the hope, the pure spring of it all.

Happy baseball season, everyone.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Another Opening Day loss

Camden Yards, reflected in a fan's sunglasses
A rather disappointing opener for the Twins.

Ron Gardenhire credits the Baltimore starter, Jake Arrieta. Arrieta is a talented 26-year-old with a career ERA of 4.88 and almost as many walks as strikeouts in more than 200 major league innings and 40 starts entering this fray. I assume he's not as good as his line Friday suggests, but maybe the 30-start rule I mentioned in my previous post should be taken into account. Maybe he IS that good now, and the league is about to find it out.

Gardenhire is also eager -- too eager, methinks -- to defend Ryan Doumit on the sixth inning ball that went for a triple. Yes, it was sunny, yes, it was hit deep. I expect a major league outfielder to catch that ball. Doumit, of course, is a catcher playing outfield in order to get his bat into the lineup. In this game, that trade off didn't work. Admit it and move on.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Liam Hendriks and the 30-start rule

Scott Baker made just 11 pitches Thursday for the Fort Myers Miracle before abandoning the effort with a still-sore elbow.

Liam Hendriks has
a career strikeout rate
in the minors of
8.2 per nine innings.

Scott Baker last year
had a career-high
strikeout rate.
Baker's problems bode ill for the Twins, as he is one of just two starters they have with an established ability to miss bats (the other being the inconsistent Francisco Liriano). It does offer Liam Hendriks an opportunity to get his career going and establish the Brad Radke comparison as more than a theory.

Hendriks made four starts for the Twins at the end of 2011's death march, and his numbers were not impressive. If he stays in the rotation all season -- hardly a safe bet if the five veterans get and remain healthy (which is hardly a safe bet itself) -- his numbers may still look ugly.

Which won't disturb me. Look at Radke's first year: A 5.32 ERA. Or, on higher career level, Greg Maddux: 5.52 ERA in a five-start cuppa coffee, followed by a 5.61 ERA in 27 starts the next year.

I call it the 30-start rule for young pitchers: It's what they do after they've gotten 30 major league starts that matter, that establish whether they belong in the majors.

Just making 30 starts without breaking down physically is a substantial achievement; just look at Liriano. But for many pitchers, and particularly those who -- like Radke, Maddux and Hendriks -- lack overwhelming velocity -- those 30 starts are a learning experience. They've had sufficient success in the minors to get the chance; now they have to learn how to make their stuff work at the game's highest level.

This is a big reason why contenders are reluctant to trust rookies with starting rotation berths. If you need 95 wins, it's difficult to turn a fifth of your games over to on-the-job-training. At this point, the Twins have little choice. Indeed, I'd rather take my chances on Hendriks than on Nick Blackburn or Marquis.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On the new Miami park

Miami starter Josh Johnson throws the first pitch
in his team's new stadium.
I watched Wednesday's U.S. opener expecting to dislike the new stadium in Miami.

I didn't.

It helped that the Marlins didn't hit any homers, which meant that the gaudy "home run sculpture" sat still all game.

It helped that ESPN didn't focus on the aquarium built into the wall behind home plate. It helped that the Marlins wore what figures to be their most subdued uniform, white with minimum piping. Wait 'til they break out their orange jerseys ...

The Fish did have women in Brazilian dancer outfits accompany the starters during the pregame introductions. For an operation apparently bent on bad taste, that was as bad as it got.

I didn't dislike the new park. But it's early.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Living the minor league life

Jacque Jones, seen with Ron Gardenhire during 2010
spring training, is done as a player but not out of
The issue of Baseball America that showed up in my mailbox Tuesday devoted a page to listing the managers and coaches of the various affiliated minor league teams.

It's interesting reading in a where-are-they-now sense. Some highlights:

Former Cy Young Award winners now coaching in the minors: Doug Drabek (Visalia , Diamondbacks High A); Frank Viola (Savannah, Mets Low A).

Former MVPs now working in the minors: Ryne Sandberg (manager, Phillies Triple A)

Perfect-game pitchers now coaching in the minors: Dennis Martinez (Palm Beach, St. Louis High A); Tom Browning (Reds Low A)

Guys who caught for Tom Kelly/Ron Gardenhire managing in the minors: Matthew LeCroy (Nationals Double A); Mike Redmond (Blue Jays High A); Tom Prince (Pirates Rookie); Marcus Jensen (Athletics Rookie); Tom Nieto (Yankees Rookie); Brian Harper (Cubs High A)

Guys who played for Kelly/Gardenhire working in the Twins system: Tom Brunansky (coach, Triple A); Tommy Watkins (coach, Low A); Jim Dwyer (coach, High A); Jeff Reed (coach, Rookie)

Other guys who played for Kelly/Gardenhire: Doug Mientkiewicz (coach, Dodgers Rookie); Jacque Jones (coach, Padres Low A); Paul Abbott (coach, Red Sox short-season); Denny Hocking (coach, Orioles Double A); Mike Mason (coach, Cubs Triple A); Phil Nevin (manager, Tigers Triple A); Brian Buchanan (manager, Royals Low A); Scott Aldred (coach, Yankees Triple A); Scott Erickson (coach, Indians High A); Greg Colbrunn coach, Yankees Low A); Paul Sorrento (coach, Angels High A); Wally Backman (manager, Mets Triple A)

Ex-Twins who predate the Kelly/Gardenhire era: Butch Wynegar (coach, Yankees Triple A); Rick Sofield (manager, Pirates Low A); Steve Luebber (coach, Royals High A); Gary Ward (coach, White Sox High A)

Former major league managers: Phil Regan (coach, Mets High A); Jim Riggleman (manager, Reds Double A); John Gibbons (manager, Padres Double A); Tom Treblehorn (manager, Giants short-season). I suspect that the Edwin Rodriguez managing the Indians' High A team is the former Marlins manager of the same name.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ex-Twins watch: Johan Santana and Kevin Slowey

Johan Santana did not pitch
in 2011.
Johan Santana is to start the Mets opener, a milestone in his comeback from anterior capsule surgery.

The lefty is now longer the power pitcher who won two Cy Young Awards -- and deserved a third -- while toiling for the Twins last decade. In those days, Santana routinely hit the mid-90s on the radar guns. The word out of Florida this spring had his highest velocities barely reaching 90, and more generally around 87.

Which is sufficient, at least for a pitcher like Santana. He saw, with Minnesota, Brad Radke win with less velo than that.

As long as Santana has fastball command and his devastating change, he can still be successful. It's not about overpowering hitters, it's about wrecking their timing.

Santana is a pitcher of considerable intelligence, and I'm confident that he can transition from the power pitcher he once was to ... well, he's not a Jamie Moyer junkballer yet, but I'm sure he's capable of adjusting his style to fit even that level of velocity if need be.

It will be interesting to see how he fares.


Kevin Slowey entered camp with the Cleveland Indians penciled in for a slot in their rotation, but the Tribe will break camp with Jeanmar Gomez as their fifth starter. Slowey has been optioned to the minors.

His career certainly seems to be careening downhill.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The old records

Portrait of the pitcher as
a young man —
How can I pass up the chance
to use Jamie Moyer's
1987 card?
The Monday print column this week celebrates the return to a major-league rotation of Jamie Moyer, the last of the baby boom generation still playing in the bigs.

Moyer made the Colorado Rockies' rotation as a nonroster invitee this spring; the 49-year-old lefty is to start the second game of the season for the Rox.

When (if) Moyer gets his first win of the year, he will become the oldest winning pitcher ever, beating out Jack Quinn, one of the last legal practitioners of the spitball.

Moyer won’t be the oldest man to start a major league game; that will still be Satchel Paige, who was given a start on Sept. 25, 1965, by the Kansas City Athletics in a move that was part stunt and part humanitarian (it made Paige eligible for a pension).

Ol’ Satch “demeaned the standards of major league baseball” — the term used by The Sporting News in a 1948 editorial blasting the Cleveland Indians for signing the Negro League legend — to the tune of one hit allowed in three innings.

Paige was 58 when he made that final start, give or take a few years. (The mystery of Paige’s age was and remains integral to his legend.)

But if Moyer is effective enough to stick in the Rockies rotation, that will be at least as impressive as a 58-year-old carving up a lineup with Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigilaro on a one-game stand.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pic of the Week

Players from the Mariners and Athletics made a trip to
the tsunami zone last week to do baseball clinics, but
the real hit with the kids was apparently the A's
mascot, Stomper.
It is always a bit discombobulating to have "real" games played on the other side of the world about a week before the rest of U.S. baseball starts its regular season. Call it the irregular regular season. (And then the two teams come back to the States for more spring training.)

The two games played in Japan last week by Seattle and Oakland seemed even more distant because, unlike the previous seasons when major league teams went to Japan to play games that count, they weren't telecast back home on ESPN.

Why? Well, the previous excursions have tended to involve teams like the Red Sox and Yankees. Seattle and Oakland aren't major ratings draws — and let's face it, sending a broadcast team to Japan sin't cheap.

These games weren't about the American market anyway. They were about the Asian market, and particularly Japan.