Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pic of the Week

Seattle center fielder Franklin Gutierrez takes an
extra-base-hit away from Mike Trout of the Angels
Thursday in Anaheim.
Some weeks this is an easy decision, some weeks not so much. This week had a number of strong contenders, including shots from the Homer Bailey no-hitter Friday night. While none of the individual photos from the no-no were unique, I do tend to note the accomplishment in Pic of the Week.

But this one — with the outfielder's shadow and the Angels' logo combining to make an arrow — appealed to me more. I love baseball's autumnal shadows.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A farewell to Nishi

Tsuyoshi Nishioka's dream of playing in the United States
turned into a nightmare, and he surrendered more than
$3 million to end the torment.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka on Friday turned his back on the final $3.25 million the Twins owed him. The Twins granted his release, and he presumably will resume his career in Japan.

I will probably never really understand what went wrong here. Nishioka should never have been expected to be a star, but there was good reason to expect him to be a competent regular. The Japanese majors aren't that much softer than the American majors.

But he was a complete and utter disaster in the states.

The only theory I can offer is that Nishioka somehow, for some reason, never really believed he belonged. I tend to scoff at the players-turned-broadcasters who credit every achievement to confidence -- it's a chicken-or-the-egg proposition -- but still ...

I think of Nishioka's now-infamous self-isolation at Fort Myers in the days before his first spring training with the Twins -- solo workouts on a back field in non-team attire while his future teammates worked out together at the main fields. I think of how quickly he got hurt when the season began, how long he was out, and how each struggle, each failure seemed to lead to the next.

I see in that a player who began with a core of self-doubt, and every day seemed to add to that doubt.

And then his marriage fell apart.

Professionally and personally, it's been a miserable two years for Nishioka. Miserable enough to renounce more than $3 million in order to put an end to it.

I would go through a lot of misery for $3.25 million. Most of us would. Nishioka's agents advised him against  this move, but he decided a third year wasn't worth it. Maybe the decision was easier because he'd already gotten $6 million out of his U.S. venture, but it still can't be easy to turn down that much money.

As a Twins fan, I'm glad he's officially out of the picture. As a fellow human, I feel some pity for him.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Eye on 2013: Sam Deduno

SaM Deduno has stuck out 57 and walked 57 in 79
innings for the Twins this season.
It was pretty obvious Wednesday afternoon that (a) Sam Deduno couldn't see the ball coming when it was thrown back to him and that (b) that meant he had to come out of the game for his own protection.

It's also easy to understand why he was so reluctant to leave the mound. This season has been the chance Deduno's spent years waiting, working and hoping for, and it's ending on a down note. He'd had two poor starts in a row entering Wednesday's game, and he didn't last long enough against the Yankees to make any judgments. While the Twins have six games left, there's no guarantee he'll be allowed to start in the final series against Toronto.

One more start may not matter in terms of evaluating him. Deduno's 29; he's been in the Minnesota rotation since July 7. He is what he is, and is what he's always been: A guy with outstanding stuff and very little command of it. He's had 15 starts for the Twins; eight have been quality starts, and he didn't make it through five innings in five of of the other seven.

What that says to me is "back of the rotation." The Twins have plenty of guys who would be passable as fifth starters. They need some guys who are better than that. Right now, they have Scott Diamond and the Void.

John Sickels posted this piece Wednesday on Deduno's long journey to the majors and his outlook; Sickels' take on him is pretty close to mine. There MIGHT be a usable starter there, but the Twins can't afford to stake their rotation on it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Joe Posnanski on Glen Perkins on closing

This would be worth reading if it weren't about Glen Perkins, but I probably wouldn't link to it in that case.

But it is about Perkins, and so here it is.

It's Perkins through Pos going pitch-by-pitch through the ninth inning of Tuesday's save against the Yankees — how he warms up, how he approached the hitters, how he dealt with the home run he gave up.

Almost a throwaway, but very much worth mentioning, is Perkins talking about the value of the closer role.

Bryon Buxton, top Appy League prospect

Byron Buxton takes batting practice in Target Field after
signing his Twins contract.
On Tuesday, Baseball America named Byron Buxton -- the outfielder the Twins took with the No. 2 overall pick in June's draft -- the top prospect in the Gulf Coast League.

On Wednesday, BA named Buxton the top prospect in the Appalachian League.

This two-fer was no surprise; rookie league stats are secondary to the lifestyle change these young players are experiencing. Buxton's athletic gifts didn't change, and as the consensus best talent in the 2012 draft pool, he was bound to be the best prospect in the Rookie leagues he played in.

Note that Bubba Starling of the Kansas City Royals organization was No. 3 on BA's list. Starling was the sixth overall pick in 2011, a draft class regarded as much deeper than the 2012 one. Starling perhaps went as "low" as sixth overall because he had signed to play quarterback at Nebraska, and he wound up being drafted by, and signing with, his hometown team in Kansas City. (Sounds a bit like Joe Mauer, right?) BA in 2011 regarded Starling as one of six legitimate possibilities for the No. 1 overall choice. 

There were Buxton-Starling comps leading up to the 2012 draft, and this ranking suggests that, while it's close, Buxton rates better. But, again, it's Rookie-level ball.

Unlike the GCL, the Twins had a second player in the Appy League top 20 -- another outfielder, Max Kepler. Kepler was repeating the Appy League, but he was still only 19, and he blossomed, showing signs of turning his athletic talent into skills.

A number of players who started out at the GCL and moved up to the Appy League, such as Twins pitcher J.O. Berrios (first pick in the supplemental round) and Houston shortstop Carlos Correa (first pick overall) didn't make BA's playing time requirements to be listed in the Appy League rankings. I suspect Berrios didn't qualify for either GCL or Appy, having worked a total of 30 innings split almot evenly between the two leagues. I can't see that this diminishes his status at all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ex-Twins watch: Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano gets the hook Tuesday against Cleveland.
Francisco Liriano started Tuesday for the White Sox. He didn't make it out of the fourth inning: 3.2 innings, seven hits, four runs — and the loss.

Losing Tuesday's game dropped the White Sox into a tie with the Tigers for first place. A bit more than a week ago, Chicago had seemingly left the Tigers for dead; now it's all even.

Liriano's ERA for the Sox is 5.39, and he's had just four quality starts in 11 starts -- with two of those good outing coming against the Twins. Liriano's White Sox ERA is now worse than his ERA with the Twins this year.

I don't think this was what the White Sox were looking for when they traded for him in July. I don't think this is what Liriano and his agent were hoping for in his free agent walk year.

And yet, as I looked Monday at this list of pitchers heading into free agency ... well, it's lacking in good bets.

I'm using Scott Diamond as my yardstick here. Who on this list figures to be better than Diamond over the course of the contract? I'm thinking, of course, in terms of the Twins. If they can come up with two starters who are better than Diamond — who has his flaws — they're contenders. If Diamond's their best starter, they aren't.

Free agents, by definition, are veterans with some miles on their treads. Zach Greinke is easily the best of this lot; everybody else comes with issues.

Liriano is comparatively young; he's talented; he doesn't figure to break the bank. He left on good terms. And he's looked very good in his two starts against the Twins, which feeds into their Craig Monroe Syndrome (a tendency to misjudge players who do better against the Twins than against the rest of the league).

When the Twins traded him, I couldn't imagine that they would have any interest in bringing him back this winter. Now I can imagine it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Byron Buxton, top GCL prospect

Byron Buxton in high school.
Baseball America is going through its top-prospects by leagues rundown. Tuesday's league was the Gulf Coast League, a complex-based rookie league in Florida. (Monday was the Arizona complex league; the Twins aren't involved in that one.)

No real surprise that the top prospect in the GCL was the Twins' Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick last June. The No.1 pick, Carlos Correa, was also in the GCL and was the No. 2 prospect. Neither stayed in the GCL long; both moved on to the Appy League. (Correa went ahead of Buxton for financial reasons; Buxton was the consensus top talent.)

Buxton hit just .216 in his stint at Fort Myers; for that matter, Correa hit just .232. Nobody's too wound up about GCL stats, though.

My guess is that both will top the Appy League rankings when they come out.

Eye on 2013: Scott Diamond

Scott Diamond is visited on the mound Sunday by
pitching coach Rick Anderson and catcher Ryan Doumit.
(The Detroit AP identified the coach as Joe Vavra, but we
all know better than that.)
Scott Diamond is the one sure bet to be in the Twins 2013 starting rotation, the leader in the clubhouse for the Opening Day start.

But Sunday's sterling performance against Detroit was his first quality start in more than a month. His recent struggles have given credence to the notion that he's more cubic zirconia than diamond. (Stop groaning.)

Diamond has two very real strengths: He avoid walks (his 1.68 walks per nine innings is the best among American League qualifiers) and he gets ground balls (ninth in the majors in groundball/flyball ratio among 92 qualifiers, according to Baseball Reference; all stats through Sunday's games).

He also has a major red flag: his strikeout rate is 89th among those same 92 qualifiers.

One interesting aspect to Diamond's 2012 season has been his ability to get double plays. He has had, according to Baseball Reference, 108 "opportunities" — a runner on first with less than two outs — and has induced 24 GIDP. That's 22 percent — double the major league average of 11 percent, and easily the highest among the 92 qualifiers.

I don't know that Diamond, or any pitcher, can "turn up" his ground ball rate when he's in a double-play situation. I think it's much like hitting in RBI situations — if you hit for a good average to start with, you'll hit for a good average with runners on second and/or third. Diamond is a ground ball pitcher, and he gets ground balls whether or not there's a man on first. 

One neutral stat on Diamond of note: His BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls In Play, is neither high nor low. It's right around major league average, which suggests that he's been neither lucky nor unlucky.

In other words, what we've seen is a pretty good indication of what we'll get in future seasons.

That's not an ace. but it is a quality starter.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Backing their way to the top

White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham leaves the
field as the Kansas City Royals celebrate a 4-3 win
on Thursday.
A week ago today the Chicago White Sox took a three-game lead on the Detroit Tigers, and I opined in the next day's post that it would be "mighty difficult" for the Tigers to make up that ground in what remained of the season.

Today the Sox have lost five in a row, and the only reason they're still in first place is that the lowly Twins swept Detroit in a doubleheader Sunday.

Matt Carson slides into Detroit catcher Alex Avila during
the fifth inning of Sunday's second game. Avila threw the
ball into right field, allowing the Twins to tie the
game. It was Detroit's second error of the inning.
One of Chicago and Detroit is going to win the American League Central title, and I'm not sure either really deserves to.  There probably weren't a lot of Minnesotans watching the Twins-Tigers game Sunday afternoon instead of the Vikings-49ers, but I was one — and Detroit put on such a ghastly display in the field in the sixth inning that the notion of the Tigers in the playoffs seems laughable.

The Twins plated five runs that inning. All were officially earned, but by my reckoning the Tigers gave the Twins five extra outs and about eight bases. They played one fly ball into a triple, another into a single, failed to turn a double play, turned another grounder into an infield hit, threw two wild pitches, and mistook a tag play for a force out.

Which provided one of my favorite quotes of the 2012 season, Tigers manager Jim Leyland on pitcher Brayan Villarreal thinking he had a force play at the plate on a wild pitch: "He's probably not an expert on the rule book, to be honest with you."

Chicago and Detroit are clearly better this year than Kansas City, Cleveland or the Twins, but whoever emerges from this death grip on mediocrity will be no more than the seventh best team in the league.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pic of the Week

Guy Boucher, the head coach of the Tampa Bay
Lightning, shot his pregame first pitch from the
mound Friday at Tropicana Field.

Most first pitches are thrown. This one was struck. Guy Boucher set the ball on the rubber and flipped a wrist shot — for a strike — to catcher Stephen Vogt, who was also holding a hockey stick. Pretty impressive.

The Rays were honoring the 20th anniversary of the Lightning, but that might be as much NHL hockey as we see this season. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Eye on 2013: Tyler Robertson

Tyler Robertson
has allowed just 20
hits in 24 major league
innings, but four of
them have been
home runs.
From all appearances, the Twins 2013 bullpen will feature Glen Perkins in the closer's role, which means that he won't be called upon to get crucial outs in the seventh or eighth innings.

Of the pitchers on hand, there are two options for that job: Brian Duensing, who may be used instead in the rotation, and Tyler Robertson.

Assume that Duesning is rotation bound. Is Robertson really the lefty one wants to entrust with key at-bats late in games?

Robertson has worked 24 innings for the Twins since his call-up -- 24 innings spread out over 37 games, statistical evidence that he's used as a LOOGY (Left-handed One Out GuY). He has an ERA of 5.63, which is definitely unimpressive, and 25 strikeouts, which is impressive. He's also allowed four homers, which is one every six innings, and that's a high rate.

Twenty-four innings is not much of a sample size, but it's what we have to work with. And it can be argued that the job of a short reliever is to dominate small sample sizes.

Robertson has faced 67 lefties so far and just 38 righties -- again, he's a LOOGY, and Ron Gardenhire has been adept at getting him the matchups he should be effective in. 

Left-handers are hitting .186/.258/.305, which is ... awesome. He's struck out 21 of those 67 left-handed hitters, and that's also very good. He's allowed two homers to lefties, but at least they were allowed to legit power hitters (Prince Fielder and Adam Dunn). 

Right-handers are hitting .300/447/.500. Nine hits, two of them homers, and eight walks (although three of the walks were intentional). 

My take at this point: To be a truly useful late-inning reliever, Robertson needs to be better at keeping the ball in the park, and he needs to be able to do something against right-handed hitters. 

I think he'd be a better fit as the no. 2 non-closing lefty than as the top option.  But doing that means either committing to Duesning in the bullpen, which the Twins seem unwilling to do at this point, or bringing in another lefty arm -- and that might complicate things if Duensing winds up back in the pen in spring training. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Eye on 2013: Brian Duensing

Brian Duensing
wants to be a starter,
but has been more
effective as a reliever.
It would behoove the Twins to decide early this offseason: Is Brian Duensing a starter or a reliever?

The lefty has been markedly better this season working out of the bullpen than in the rotation. His ERA as a reliever (51.2 innings) is 2.61; as a starter (52 innings), 6.92.

Such drastic difference, it would seem, makes this an easy call. But the Twins' shortage of usable starters is so glaring, and Duensing's record as a rotation fill-in in 2009 and 2010 so bright, that Ron Gardenhire and Co. continue to look in his direction.

Part of the fascination with the idea is that Duesning's stuff is certainly no worse than that of Scott Diamond's, and probably superior. If Diamond can be an effective starter, why can't Duensing?

Well ... because at this point, Duensing can't get right-handed hitters out. Righties are hitting .312/.352/.464 this year off Duensing, lefties just .237/.280/.362. It's easier to match him up against left-handed hitters as a relief pitcher.

This is the same issue that ran Duensing aground as a starter in 2011, although the differences were even deeper that year. The problem has not been solved. And I'm skeptical that it can be.

If the Twins keep Duensing in the bullpen, the relief corps becomes considerably deeper immediately. With Glen Perkins as the closer, Duesning gives them a superior lefty set-up man. If Duensing's in the rotation, Tyler Robertson is a step down as a lefty specialist.

But a decent starting pitcher is more valuable than a good relief pitcher. And the Twins projected rotation right now has Diamond -- who, much as I like him, isn't likely to contend for a Cy Young -- and a bunch of vacancies.

I think this: When the Twins hold their organizational meetings after the season, and Gardenhire and ptiching coach Rick Anderson talk up Duensing as a starter, Terry Ryan ought to ask: How is he going to get righties out?

If they don't have a specific, workable answer, Duesning should go in the bullpen plan. And if they do have a specific, workable answer, the next question is: Why didn't you/he do that this year?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Minor league trip followup

As I mentioned in Wednesday's post on the Twins shifting their Midwest League affiliation from Beloit to Cedar Rapids, I made a trip in May to both cities. I put up a series of posts on players I took note of in those games, and looking back at what I said then made me think that it might be worth following up on how the rest of their seasons went.

Starting with Beloit, the team of most interest because it was the Twins affiliate:

Miguel Sano, of course, remains both a prime prospect and a work with a lot of progress to make. When I saw him he was in the early days of what proved to be a fairly lengthy slump, and he never really got his batting average back up. He did hit 28 homers in a tough environment and draw 80 walks, so his OBP and SLG are quite impressive. Biggest issues: 144 strikeouts in 553 plate appearances, and 42 errors at third base.

Eddie Rosario missed considerable time after breaking a facial bone during batting practice. He had a solid season at the plate, but I'm not sure his conversion to second went as smoothly as hoped. Jim Callis of Baseball America said in a chat Wednesday that he thinks Rosario will have to move back to the outfield. I didn't get to see much of Rosario at second.

Jason Wheeler, a big lefty, put up good result numbers (14-6, 3.45) but did so in the "pitch to contact" mode. His strikeout rate was just 6.6 per nine innings, and he'll have to at least maintain that rate if he's going to move up the ladder.

Matthew Summers, righty, was the other starter I saw for Beloit; he was 9-5, 3.55. He and Wheeler were the top two winners for Beloit. Summers moved up to Fort Myers (High-A) later in the season, and didn't fare as well there. Like Wheeler, his strikeout rate (5.9 K/9 in both leagues) is worrisome.

Corey Williams, left-handed reliever, fanned 68 in 61.2 innings, but walked 33.

Matt Koch, a catcher who hit two homers in the games I attended, hit eight for the season. He struck out in almost a third of his plate appearances.

Tyler Grimes, shortstop, hit just .202. That won't get it done. He was a fifth-round pick out of college in 2011 and was repeating the Midwest League; with Niko Goodwin and Jorge Polanco perhaps ready to move up from Elizabethton, Grimes might get squeezed for playing time.

Cedar Rapids: The Kernels, an Angels affiliate, had a lousy year on the field (53-86, worst record in the MWL) despite having three first-round draft picks on the roster. Two of them did not fare well.

Pitcher Cam Bedrosian, coming back quickly from Tommy John surgery, finished 3-11, 6.31 with more walks than strikeouts. Outfielder Chevy Clarke, whose obvious athleticism caught my eye, hit just .190 -- and he didn't walk or hit for power either. He was moved down a level in the second half.

The third 2011 first rounder, third baseman Kaleb Cowart, hit .293 with power in C.R. and was quickly moved up the ladder to High A Inland Empire in the California League. That league appears to have presented more of a challenge for him.

Another Kernel I noticed, catcher Abel Baker, improved his numbers as the season wore on, but didn't get over .250. I liked what I saw from him that day, but he's probably just an organization player.

Kane County (Royals affilate): Edwin Carl (pitcher) moved up a level in the second half and actually improved his strikeout rate against a higher level of competition. He was an undrafted free agent, so he's going to have to earn every promotion he gets.

Daniel Mateo, who was hitting over .300 when I saw him and stung line drives all game, ended the season at .262. He spent a lot of time as the DH, which is not a good sign.

To see what I wrote in May about these guys, click here. (This post will be included in the link)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bye-bye Beloit, hello Cedar Rapids

Miguel Sano takes a rip during a May game before
a typically sparse crowd in Beloit.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels today are to announce that they have signed a four-year working agreement with the Twins, which means Minnesota's eight year attachment to Beloit in the low-A Midwest League is ended.

It was fairly obvious all year that the Twins would look for a new affiliation in the Midwest League. Beloit is said to have the worst facilities in the league, and as I noted during my visit there in May, the Snappers didn't draw. The Twins had three expiring affiliations this year, and they kept the two they wanted to retain (Rochester in Triple A, New Britain in Double A) and found an upgrade in the one they wanted to swap out.

Cedar Rapids is the closest affiliated minor league team to Mankato, so this is a welcome shift for me. I used to have an annual minor league pilgrimage to Iowa, and fell out of that habit some time ago; having a Twins affiliate in C.R. makes it very likely that I'll head that way in future summers.

Taking a quick look at the Elizabethton roster -- because the Cedar Rapids roster next year will have many of those players -- makes it all the more enticing to point the vehicle south to see some baseball next summer. Max Kepler, an outfielder with a fascinating backstory (his parents were world-class ballet artists in Berlin, and he signed with the Twins as a 16-year-old three years ago), had a wonderful season for E-town; he'll certainly move up. Byron Buxton and Jose Barrios, the Twins top two draftees last summer, ended their season with Elizabethton; I wouldn't be surprised if either opened in Cedar Rapids, and certainly expect them to get there at some point.

There will always be intriguing, and certainly unproven, talent there; that's what Low-A ball is about.

I should note here that Jim Crikket of the Knuckleballs blog, who broke the news of the Cedar Rapids affiliation agreement on Monday night, said in a comment on this blog last summer that he expected the Twins affiliation to move there. He's a Twins fan who lives in C.R., and I rather expect he'll be passing on insights to the Kernels players. One of the things I expect to do this winter when I update the siderail to this blog is create a section of blogs on the minor league system. I know Knuckleballs and Twins Fan from Afar (New Britain) will be two of them; feel free to tell me of others worth keeping track of.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The microcosm play

Detroit second baseman Omar Infante tumbles to the ground
after Alex Rios' takeout slide in the fifth inning Monday.
Infante's throw bounced past Prince Fielder at first base,
allowing two runs to score.
A major league team plays 162 games. Those 162 games are built out of thousands of plays (every American League team has had more than 5,450 plate appearances, and there are about two weeks to go in the season).

Every once in a while, one of those plays turns into a microcosm of the season. One such occurred Monday in Chicago, where the White Sox and Tigers were playing for, at least in theory, the last time in 2012.

Bases loaded for Chicago, one out in the fifth inning. Dayan Viciedo hit a two-hopper to shortstop Jhonny Peralta — a routine double play — and the Tigers didn't turn it. See the play here.

Credit Alex Rios for his takeout slide. Blame second baseman Omar Infante for turning his pivot in front of the bag, rather than behind it. Note that rotund Prince Fielder failed utterly in his task of picking the long bounce of Infante's throw.

There were a lot of pieces to the play. But the result was two runs —two runs that would not have scored had the Tigers turned the routine DP, two runs that turned the score from 4-3 Detroit to 5-4 Chicago, a score that held the rest of the way.

The second run, the one officially unearned run, was the 68th unearned run allowed by the Tigers this year. That's the most in the American League, and that's the stat that makes this play a symbol of what went wrong for the heavily favored Tigers this year.

They knew coming in that they would be a weak defensive team. They thought they could outslug their defensive problems. They were wrong.

Chicago now leads the AL Central by three games with 16 games to play. It's not impossible for the Tigers to catch them, but it's going to be mighty difficult.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Francisco Liriano and the Sox

Francisco Liriano delivers Saturday in a
familiar setting but an unfamiliar uniform.
A day or so after the Chicago White Sox traded for Francisco Liriano, Sox general manager Kenny Williams said that the organization, and specifically pitching coach Don Cooper, "(sees) some things from (Liriano) we think immediately will show some better results."

From this distance, it appears that something was: Pitch him against the Twins.

Liriano has had two starts against the Twins since the trade; 1-0, 2.77, with 17 strikeouts and 11 baserunners in 13 innings. On Saturday he made a short-notice start and threw seven one-hit innings against his old mates.

Against everybody else since coming to the South Side, Liriano is 2-1, 5.97. He had pitched his way out of the Chicago rotation, just as he had early in the year with the Twins.

Liriano was only starting Saturday's game because the first-place White Sox got rained out of a Thursday game with the second-place Detroit Tigers and the game is to be made up today. The weather washed out a mano-a-mano matchup between Chris Sale and Justin Verlander; the two aces pitched Friday instead, making each unavailable for today's makeup.

The Sox chose to push rookie Jose Quintana, originally scheduled to start Saturday, back a couple of days to face the Tigers. (He'll be opposed by Doug Fister.)

That backdrop — Liriano losing his rotation spot, the rainout in a crucial series, the reshuffled rotation to have Quintana face the team Chicago has to beat — made ridiculous Dan Gladden's analysis of the White Sox' likely playoff rotation.

Sale and Jake Peavy are the obvious top two guys, but then, proclaimed the Twins radio broadcaster during Saturday's game, it's got to be Liriano. How about Quintana, prodded Cory Provus. "Too young," said Gladden.

Quintana is young (23) and inexperienced, and the White Sox have handled him rather gingerly of late. He's also more reliable than Liriano, which is why he's getting the ball today.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pic of the Week

Baltimore's Nate McLouth is carried by teammate Chris
Davis after McLouth's single drove home the game-winner
in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday.

The Baltimore Orioles aren't supposed to be here, neck and neck with the mighty Yankees at the top of the AL East.

Nate McLouth and Lew Ford aren't supposed to be playing major roles on a pennant contender either, but there they are.

The O's entered Saturday's play having scored 625 runs — and having allowed 646. Being outscored on the season by such a margin means they should be below .500.

But they are outplaying their Pythagorean record by 11 games.

They've done this by somehow winning 13 straight extra-inning games. They've done this by going 27-8 in one run games, while falling short of .500 (22-23) in blowouts. This is exactly the opposite of what truly good teams do. The good teams blow opponents away and take more of their losses in close games —win easy, lose hard. The O's are doing it backwards, and making it work.

Sabermetrically, the Orioles' season is impossible. But there it is.

This is a concept that I intend to someday be organized enough to expound upon: There are two kinds of statistics, "results" stats and "process" stats. Result stats tell us what happened; process stats tell us how it happened.

They both matter, but in different ways. The Orioles have piled up 81 wins, and at this point appear destined for the postseason. Those are real wins, and the Orioles don't, and shouldn't, care how they got those wins.

The sabermetric stuff that says they aren't that good — that matters too, in the context of the future and player evaluation. If Baltimore wins the AL East — and I certainly hope they do, because that means the Yankees won't — management should be savvy enough to recognize that the same formula is not going to work in 2013. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Eye on 2013: Drew Butera vs. Chris Herrmann

Chris Herrmann hit
.276/.350/.392 in
New Britain.
With both Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit sidelined by injuries that may well prove persistent for what remains of the season, the Twins decided to add a fourth catcher.

The arrival Friday of Chris Herrmann is seen in some corners of Twinsdom as the next step in supplanting Drew Butera as the No. 3 catcher. I'm not so sure.

Herrmann is a left-handed hitter who has displayed strong on-base skills but limited power in the minors. He was an outfielder in college, so he's spent a couple of years being converted to catcher, but has gotten considerable playing time in the outfield as well as behind the dish.

This makes Herrmann something of a mirror image of Butera — a bit rough defensively, a left-handed hitter who can reach base. Sort of like Jose Morales, who lost out to Butera for the backup job a few years ago, except with position flexibility. Or like Doumit, only with less power (and a bit more speed).

Which is why I doubt that Herrmann is likely to supplant Butera next season. I think it more likely that Herrmann, who spent this season at Double A, will play in Rochester next year. The Twins demonstrated a couple years ago that they preferred Butera's defensive chops to Morales's batting average; there's not a lot of sense in having two bat-first backup catchers. Doumit and Herrmann are rather redundant; Doumit and Butera are complementary.

Rene Rivera hit
.226/.307.385 in
Meanwhile, Rene Rivera — who spent a good part of 2011 on the active roster and all of 2012 in Triple A Rochester hoping for a call — is apparently steamed at being passed over for Herrmann.  Rivera on Twitter Friday:

I guess I should not expect promises to be kept. Best of luck to everyone #Disappointed #Lies

Well ... Redundancy again. Rivera is the same kind of player as Butera:  Catch-and-throw guy, not a good hitter, right-handed all the way. Were it, say, Mauer and Butera who were hurt, calling up Rivera to back up Doumit would provide a mix of skills. Herrmann gives the Twins a mix.

That kind of logic, obviously, isn't going to salve Rivera's wounded feelings. I would anticipate that he won't be re-signing with the Twins this winter, that he'll find another team to serve as organizational depth.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Eye on 2013: Cole De Vries

Minnesota native Cole De Vries
was signed as an undrafted free
agent out of the University of
Cole De Vries began the 2012 season about as much on the outside as any pitcher in the Twins system. The Twins had 32 pitchers in major league camp; De Vries was not one of them.

De Vries' 2012 season ended Thursday when it was determined that he had a cracked rib from the line drive he caught with his chest Saturday. He exits 2012 as the third-best starter the Twins had this season -- 5-5, 4.11 in  87.2 innings, 16 starts -- essentially half a season. (He also had 70 innings at Triple A Rochester.) He ended strong -- his ERA in his final four starts was 1.54, and that included an outing against Texas.

He can, and should, feel good about his 2012 season.

The question today: Should the Twins feel good about having him in their 2013 rotation?

A 4.11 ERA isn't bad, but it's a bit deceptive in De Vries' case; he also allowed eight unearned runs, one of the higher numbers on the staff (Brian Duensing has allowed nine so far, and Liam Hendriks has also allowed eight.) Add in those unearned runs, and he allowed 4.93 runs per nine innings.

Looking at the key leading indicator stats: He had a very good walk rate (1.8 BB/9) and walk/strikeout ratio (3.22 strikeouts for each walk allowed). The strikeout rate itself (6 K/9) rates pretty highly for the team, but is below average for the league.

Those figures, in total, suggest his effectiveness was genuine.

On the other hand ... De Vries allowed 16 homers, 1.6 per nine innings, which is a high rate. His BABIP -- Batting Average on Balls In Play -- was .262, and that is not sustainable for a non-knuckleballer. Those stats suggest that he was getting results better than he "should" have gotten.

I've seen a comparison of De Vries to Paul Byrd, a late-bloomer who won 109 games in a 14-year career. Byrd, I think, represents De Vries' ceiling -- and the Twins should be delighted if De Vries can match the Byrd of 2002-2008.

But there are a lot of guys who match that kind of profile, and few get as much out of limited stuff as Byrd did. The Twins ought not go into the offseason with De Vries penciled into a rotation spot. He should be in a group competing next spring for the fourth or fifth slots. He has, in my view, been good enough to justify retaining on the 40-man roster this winter.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reconsidering the pitching market

Earlier this month I offered this notion: that a trade of Chris Parmelee for James Shields was a possibility.

Now I have my doubts about that's a realistic exchange.

Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk on Tuesday, in the context of critiquing some ESPN Insiders takes on the pending free agent crop, listed 20 teams he thought would be in the market for a $10-million-a-year starting pitcher. His list does not include the Twins.

Call it a conservative list on his part. I think the Twins payroll could handle such a pitcher -- they're shedding something in the vicinity of $18 million in starting pitcher salary at the end of the season (Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, most of Jason Marquis, a sizable share of Francisco Liriano). They certainly have the need for such a starter.

Even if you include the Twins on the list of teams looking to add a pricey pitcher, Pouliot's point remains: Lots of potential buyers with darn few pitchers to actually spend the money on. The free agent crop has Zach Greinke, with Edwin Jackson as the next best, in Pouliot's estimation.

In my estimation, Shields is a far better, and (at least in terms of salary) cheaper, pitcher than Jackson. Which means Tampa Bay is likely to have a multitude of suitors if Shields is to be auctioned off. And Parmelee may not be sufficient to land him.

It may be a difficult offseason in which to acquire established pitching talent.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fretting about Mauer's back

Joe Mauer has started 66 games at catcher this season,
35 at designated hitter and 27 at first base.
Joe Mauer was to have caught Tuesday night, but he started having back spasms during batting practice and was pulled from the lineup.

The word after the game was that Mauer hoped to be able to play Wednesday, but that wasn't certain. Mauer said he's not encountered this before.

It is to be hoped that this is just a minor glitch. But I wonder, because he is a tall catcher, and that means his back is vulnerable. I have always believed that, for all the issues Mauer has had with his left knee, that if and when he moves out from behind the plate it will be because of his back.

I've dealt with back problems for much of my adult life, and there are certain things I've learned in the process. One is that back problems are connected to muscle issues in the thighs. Quads, hamstrings, back muscles — if one weakens, the others get strained trying to compensate. To fix my back problems, I had to fix the leg issues first.

What does a catcher do? He squats. Repeatedly. If Sam Deduno throws 100 pitches in five innings, whoever's behind the plate is squatting on each pitch.

Mauer and the Twins certainly know the stress this puts on his hamstrings and quads. I've studied his pregame stretching routine over the years from the seats; it's much like the exercises I've used to stave off back surgery since I suffered a herniated disk in the late 1990s, but ramped up. The milder forms I do are rehab; Mauer's been doing "prehab" for years.

Maybe Tuesday's spasms were nothing to be concerned about. Maybe they represent something more ominous.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Scott Boras and the Strasburg shutdown

Stephen Strasburg has thrown his last pitch of the 2012
Last month I took note of this Washington Post column in which agent Scott Boras implied that he was forcing the Nationals to shut down Stephen Strasburg, who is the Nats' ace and a Boras client.

On Monday came this ESPN piece in which Boras disclaims any role whatsoever in the decision.

Yeah, right.

I think the truth is in the middle: That Boras, representing Strasburg, and Mike Rizzo, the Washington general manager, were in agreement all along on how the pitcher's first full year back from Tommy John surgery would be handled.

I think Boras' ego ran away from him in the Post interview. I think Boras wants to be known as a sharp judge of baseball talent as well as a superb negotiator. And he may be that judge of talent, but it's sometimes obscured by the occupational hazard of overselling the talent of his clients; for example, his notorious booklet favorably comparing then-free agent Oliver Perez to Sandy Koufax. To be known as a talent evaluator, you have to build teams, and that, I think, lies behind his August suggestion that he is Rizzo's co-GM.

As for the shutdown itself: I think it's the right thing to do for both Strasburg and the Nationals.

It's best for Strasburg because, in a real sense, this season was a continuation of last year's rehab. He ends the season just shy of 160 innings, which was said in the spring to be his target, and follows the advice of his surgeon. Rehabbing from ligament replacement isn't a precise endeavor, but there's no good reason to disregard the surgeon's protocol.

It's best for the Nats because Strasburg's performance has been slipping in recent weeks, whether because (as manager Davy Johnson suggested) of the mental stress of his impending shutdown or because of fatigue in this rebuilding-the-arm season. His ERA before the All-Star break was 2.82; his ERA since, 3.73. Which isn't bad, but it's going the wrong way, as are his strikeout and walk rates.

The Nats still have four solid power pitchers lined up for the postseason in Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detweiler and Edwin Jackson. Given the trajectory of Strasburg's season, the Nats may not be worse off in October without him.

There are no guarantees in any of this. The Nats might win the World Series without Strasburg; they might be knocked off in the first round. Strasburg may go on to have a full and brilliant career; he could blow out his elbow again in spring training.

The Nationals made the best decision they could with the information they had. And part of that decision-making process is this reality: Scott Boras is Strasburg's agent, and Boras was and is definitely in favor of shutting the pitcher down. He probably didn't force the move, but he was hardly silent about it either.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tony LaRussa and the Boston Red Sox

Is Tony LaRussa eyeing the Red Sox managerial job?
Tom Kelly suggested Saturday that his old buddy and rival
wants to return to the dugout, and Boston might be his
preferred destination.
Bobby Valentine is widely viewed as a dead man walking with the Boston Red Sox; indeed, he might well have been fired already had the now-notorious players-ownership meeting remained secret. Once that cat got out of the bag, it started having kittens all over the Boston media. Canning Bobby V. at that point would have suggested that the inmates were running the asylum.

Still, it's almost impossible to imagine Valentine back at the helm next season, which raises the question: Who should step into this pressure cooker of a job?

It's a bear. The Red Sox manager, whoever he is, must deal with

  • an overbearing media with a penchant for putting everything under a melodramatic microscope;
  • an ownership group with a demonstrated willingness to undermine underlings;
  • a clubhouse of highly paid egos; and
  • a fan base that believes it is entitled to championships.

Keeping all four groups happy is next to impossible, which is why Terry Francona is in the broadcast booth these days. Valentine has worked a clean sweep; all four groups appear to be in agreement about him.

I had figured that the Sox would look for someone along the lines of Francona, and likely one of his former coaches who have gone on to manage other teams. Maybe Brad Mills, fired this summer in Houston; perhaps John Farrell, who is still the manager in Toronto.

Tom Kelly offered another notion Saturday during a visit to the Twins TV booth on his number-retirement day.  Somebody raised the topic of Tony LaRussa, TK's great buddy and long-ago rival — from 1987 through 1992, the Twins and A's never played a series without one of the teams being in first place in the old AL West.

LaRussa, of course, stepped down as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals after winning the World Series last year. But Kelly, implying strongly that he had this from the horse's mouth, said LaRussa is itching to get back into managing. And when Dick Bremer mentioned Boston, Kelly essentially said, yeah, that's the idea.

It's a fascinating proposition, LaRussa in Boston. This is one of the most accomplished managers in the game's history; if there's anybody who can impose his will on the chaos that seems to accompany the Red Sox, LaRussa's probably the man.

On the other hand, LaRussa's constant belligerence is rather antithetical to the approach that worked for Francona. Playing in Boston is tough enough without a manager who's constantly looking to create conflict. Francona's genius was in removing friction; LaRussa seems addicted to it.

So does Valentine, and we've seen this year what that style leads to in Boston. LaRussa's better at that style than Valentine, and maybe he could pull it off in Beantown, but he seems an ill fit for that environment.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pic of the Week

Three-year-old Christian Haupt, who has a small role
in "That's My Boy," throws out the first pitch Tuesday
at Dodger Stadium.

I seldom go to the movies, and am not likely to shell out any coin to see an Adam Sandler flick, so I knew nothing of this young "actor" before seeing this photo.

Turns out the youngster is absolutely obsessed with baseball, and apparently pretty good at it. Last year, when he was two, his parents put a video of him swinging a bat on YouTube; a week later, he'd been cast as a baseball prodigy for "That's My Boy." 

From what I gather, the movie isn't necessarily anything the kid's going to want to be associated with in the future. But it's a good guess he's more interested in baseball than acting anyway.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sixteen starts without a win

Liam Hendriks didn't catch many breaks Friday night,
but he didn't pitch particularly well either.
The Twins on Friday gave starter Liam Hendriks a 4-0 lead after three innings. Two innings later, Hendriks had thrown 108 pitches, had left the game, and the score was tied at four.

Another no-decision for Hendriks. The 23-year-old righty has made 16 appearances in the majors (all starts) with an 0-9, 6.19 record.

Despite his lack of success, I still think there's a legitimate major league starter there; it's just taking some time to find. He's been too good in the minors to fail so utterly in the majors (assuming good health.)

But 16 starts and no wins isn't easy to do. Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune reported this morning that Hendriks is "tied for the fifth-most starts to open a career without a win." He means, as I study the list, a winning start; there are pitchers on his list who won a game in relief before they won a game as a starter.

Christensen listed eight other  pitchers who went at least 15 starts without a win to start their career. While none of them went on to the Hall of Fame, a good share became good pitchers.

Bill Caudill (20 starts) became a successful relief pitcher, racking up 106 saves and an All-Star berth in his nine-year career. He also holds this footnote in baseball history; he was Scott Boras' first client. From a tiny acorn a mighty oak ...

Mike Mohler (20 starts) was mostly a situational lefty reliever in his nine-year career. Very marginal, but nine years is nine years.

Craig Anderson (17 starts) had the misfortune of being one of the better pitchers on the 1962 Mets, which is not quite the same as saying he was a good pitcher (3-17, 5.35 that year). He appears to have gotten hurt; his career was over at age 25.

Jason Hammel (17 starts) is a current pitcher and the first one we've encountered so far to turn into a competent starter. He had his rough career start with Tampa Bay when the then-Devil Rays were spluttering. He found his footing with Colorado, of all places, and is 8-6, 3.46 with Baltimore this season (with time on the disabled list).

Ray Herbert (16 starts) was a good starter on generally bad teams in the 1950s and '60s. He won 20 games in 1962 and made the All-Star team. Of the eight pitchers listed here, he was probably the best starter.

Fred Norman (15 starts) became the prototypical starter for Sparky Anderson's Big Red Machine in the mid 70s. Those starters weren't asked to win the game so much as not to lose it. Norman had seven straight double-digit win seasons with the Reds. Soft-tossing lefty with a screwball.

Paul Abbott (15 starts) also went through this as a Twin, or at least part of it as a Twin (10 starts with Minnesota). He was plagued by arm problems but persevered to go 17-4 with the Seattle Mariners of 2001. He had one other decent season. If I recall correctly, he was credited with teaching Brad Radke the changeup.

John Cummings (15 starts) is probably the least substantial pitcher of the group, he or Anderson.

What most of these pitchers have in common: They debuted with bad teams, they struggled early, and eventually (except Anderson and Cummings) found a niche.

Hendriks' problems do not signify failure so much as transition.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Where they're at

Looking at the standings on an off-day:

The Twins lost Wednesday's game. That's 81 losses on the season, half the scheduled games.

For much of June and July, and at least occasionally since then, the broadcasters have talked about the Twins "getting back to .500" (as if they'd been there since the season started) and then into contention. Well, if they do get "back to .500," the season's over.

The tragic number is eight. Eight Twins losses/White Sox wins, and Minnesota is mathematically eliminated.

The Twins have the worst record in the American League, but it's close. Minnesota is 56-81; Cleveland, which was in first place as late as June 23, is 58-79; Kansas City is 61-76. The Twins' next two series are at home against the Indians and the Royals; they could be as high as third place by this time next week, but that's unlikely.

But that's their ceiling for 2012 -- third place in the weakest division in baseball.

As matters stand, the Twins have the third worst record in baseball. Houston has 95 losses already; the Twins aren't going to beat them to the first pick next June. The Cubs have 86 losses. I may be overly optimistic, but I think the Twins have a better chance of catching the Royals in these final 25 games than of being overtaken by the Cubs.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Holidays, attendance and the change of seasons

A couple of tweets from Tuesday evening, on the same topic but apparently independent of each other:

From Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post (@ThomasBoswellWP):

Bad MLB crowds Mon & Tues everywhere (Atl., Cinn, DC, KC, Oak, CWS, Pitt, Sea, Mia, Tor). And all similar crowds. Don't get it.

From Twins president Dave St. Peter (@TwinsPrez):

Lots of small crowds across MLB tonight. The Tuesday after Labor Day is always most challenging date from ticket sales perspective.

The Twins-White Sox game on Tuesday had an announced attendance of 15,698, which does seem small for a first-place team playing the league rival most despised by the fan base. Wednesday afternoon's gate — 17,336 — wasn't much better. Monday's game drew 21,676, also unimpressive.

That attendance slumps with Labor Day makes sense to me. Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer, and now we all start getting into the rhythms of autumn. Kids are in or getting ready to start school, prime vacation time is past, the daylight is dwindling ... baseball's a part of summer, and most of us are resigned to moving on to the next stage of the year.

Of course, meteorological summer hasn't passed yet. That won't come until Sept. 22. And it occurs to me that we have several holidays that we use to mark the passage of the seasons -- and they all come three to four weeks ahead of the "real" change of season.

Emotional summer begins with Memorial Day; real summer begins in late June..

Emotional autumn beings with Labor Day; real autumn begins later in September.

Emotional winter begins with Thanksgiving; real winter begins a few days before Christmas.

And emotional spring begins ... when? There's no official holiday in late February/early March that truly matches the appeal and acceptance of the other three. It seems to me, in the vagueness of memory, that Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday were bigger deals in my youth than Presidents' Day or MLK Day are now, but I may be wrong about that.

We probably don't have an early start holiday to start spring because it's difficult to get into the idea when it's still cold and snowy.

The closest I can come to identifying the beginning of emotional spring is no official holiday, and certainly an idiosyncratic choice: the start of spring training. But that's just me; if the rest of the country thought so too, it would be a holiday.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The rise and fall of Phillip Humber

There have been 23 official perfect games in major league history.

Few appear to have been as unlikely as the one thrown earlier this season by former Twin Phillip Humber. When he threw his gem, he appeared to have finally emerged as a legitimate major league starter.

Phil Humber after his perfect game
on April 21 in Seattle. At the time,
his ERA was 0.63; today, it's 6.50.
Not so. After his embarrassing outing Tuesday against the Twins -- 10 batters faced, one retired, eight runs allowed, a batting average allowed of 1.000 (the one out was a sacrifice fly and thus not an official at-bat) -- Humber has an ERA of 6.50. Six and a half runs per nine innings -- in a season in which he threw a perfect game.

Which raises the question: Is he the worst pitcher ever to have a perfect game?

Granting that all perfect games are flukes, there is a real connection between them and the quality of the pitcher.

The vast bulk of perfectos come from quality pitchers. Six of the 23 were authored by Hall of Famers (Monte Ward, Cy Young, Addie Joss, Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning, Catfish Hunter), and Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay (and maybe Felix Hernandez) will someday join the list. Then there are such perfect-game pitchers as David Wells, Dennis Martinez and David Cone -- distinguished pitchers but unlikely to be chosen for Cooperstown.

Only a handful of true mediocrities throw perfect games. Lee Richmond, who threw the first perfecto back in 1880, was 75-100, 3.06; he had two 30-plus loss seasons. Charlie Robertson (1922) was 49-80, 4.44 in an eight-year major league career. Dallas Braden has started three games since 2010 because of injuries; he's 26-36, 4.16  for his career. Don Larsen was 81-91, 3.78.

And Humber is 16-15, 4.88.

Humber and Braden are both active (at least theoretically in Braden's case; he had rotator cuff surgery in late August, and his career appears to be in genuine jeopardy), so they could still rise or fall. But right now I'd have to say Humber is the worst perfect game author in history.

And really, there's no shame in that. Somebody has to be the worst of the 23. But an ERA of 6.50 -- yeah, that's embarrassing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The September call-ups

The Twins on Monday completed their call-ups for the final month of the season, and the list is more noteworthy for who wasn't added to the active roster than for those who were.

Brian Dozier won't
be back in the bigs
this month.
They had brought up Esmerling Vasquez and P.J. Walters, starting pitchers, earlier in the weekend. (Vasquez started Sunday; Walters is to start Wednesday.) Monday's additions were infielder Eduardo Escobar (who was acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade) and reliever Luis Perdomo.

The Twins came into the month with three vacancies on their 40-man roster. Two of them were filled by Vasquez and Perdomo. One remains open. And that open slot means that the Twins could have activated one more player not currently on the 40 and chose not to.

It's not surprising, but still noteworthy, that Nick Blackburn and Tsuyoshi Nishioka weren't brought back — noteworthy because they will continue to get paid on their major league contracts without playing this month.

Shortstop Brian Dozier, shipped out a couple of weeks ago, won't be back; the Twins are giving a serious look at Pedro Florimon and Escobar instead.

Also excluded from the call ups: Double A outfielders Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks. Arcia is already on the 40; Hicks is not, but will be added this winter.

It appears the Twins skipped them because, like Dozier, they wouldn't get much playing time if they were called up. We can expect that Josh Willingham (lf), Ben Revere (cf) and Chris Parmelee (rf) will be the regular outfield the rest of the way, with Darin Mastroianni and Matt Carson in reserve (and maybe Denard Span returning from the DL after mid month).

I'm fine with giving Parmelee a month of regular outfield action — not only as an opportunity for him to show what he can do with regular at-bats, but as a chance to see how he fares defensively as an outfielder.

Anthony Slama's
major league career
adds up to seven innings.
More controversial, at least on Twitter, is the bypassing of Anthony Slama, who hand an ERA of 1.26 for Rochester (and had a lengthy stint on the disabled list). Slama struck out 56 batters in 35.2 innings.

Slama's minor league track record is impressive —in more than 324 career innings, his ERA is an even 2.00 — but his stuff is described as mediocre and he does walk people. The Twins don't take his stats seriously; they don't think he can get major league hitters to chase the way minor leaguers have.

Perdomo also has a history of not throwing strikes. But he has better fastball velocity than Slama. The Twins are more interested in Perdomo's velocity than in Slama's sleight of hand.

Slama was exposed to the Rule V draft last winter and went unclaimed, probably because he missed much of the second half of the season with an elbow problem. Assuming that he won't be added to the 40 this winter, it will be interesting to see if anybody else thinks it worth giving a shot to a guy who racks up good minor league ERAs with mediocre stuff.

Monday, September 3, 2012

One idea for a first base trade

Chris Parmelee had a big series this weekend in Kansas City,
with two home runs.
Following up on my Monday print column on the Twins' looming offseason decision about first base ...

Here's the core for a potential trade: Chris Parmelee to Tampa Bay for James Shields.

Allow me to interject here that this is solely me thinking aloud. This is not based on any sort of inside information, or even on a trade rumor. It's not necessarily something either team is thinking about -- but as I see it, it's something both teams ought to be considering.

James Shields is 12-8, 3.91 for
Tampa Bay this season
Shields, 30, is a good starting pitcher -- not the kind of guy who's on the short list for Cy Young Awards, but better than anybody the Twins now have.

Shields has won between 11 and 16 games in each of the past six seasons (including this one) while piling up innings (200-plus each season 2007-2011, with 182 so far this year) and racking up above-average strikeout rates.

But the Rays are so awash in young pitching talent that Shields may be no better than their fourth best starter (certainly behind David Price, maybe behind Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson). Plus they have Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, and rookie Alex Cobb.

Shields is also getting more expensive than Tampa Bay is likely to retain; his contract has club options for 2013 ($9 million with a $1.5 million buyout) and 2014 ($12 million with a $1 million buyout). They're likely to try to move him this winter.

And first base has been a black hole for the Rays this season as they chase the Yankees. Carlos Pena is hitting .188/.318/.338, which wouldn't get the job done for a Gold Glove shortstop.

Parmelee would fit their mode: Young, cheap, with some positional flexibility -- and he sure looks like he can hit.

With Carl Pavano ($8.5 million), Scott Baker ($6.5 million), Jason Marquis ($3 million) and Francisco Liriano ($5.5 million) all coming off the books, the Twins could certainly absorb Shields' option for 2013, probably for 2014. And he would definitely make the Twins rotation better.

To do such a trade, of course, the Twins would probably want to secure Justin Morneau beyond 2013. If they mistrust his ability to remain healthy and productive, they probably won't want to trade Parmelee.

There may be other reasons either team would shy away from such a deal, but I don't know what they would be. Both teams would be trading from a surplus and filling a need.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pic of the Week

Vin Scully, his bobblehead and his rainbow.

In late August Vin Scully, the venerable Dodgers broadcaster, announced that he would continue his limited broadcast schedule.

On Thursday the Dodgers held "Vin Scully Bobblehead Night." Scully threw out the first ball.

And the heavens supplied a rainbow in his honor.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A new wave of pitcher tryouts

Esmerling Vasquez
had a strong season
in Triple A.
It's September now, which means that major league teams can activate anybody on their 40-man roster.

For the Twins, it represents a chance to test still more starting rotation candidates.

One such candidate, Esmerling Vasquez, is apparently to get the start Sunday in place of the suspended Scott Diamond.

Vasquez had a stealth season in Rochester — 100 innings, 2.78 ERA, 93 strikeouts and 38 walks. The Twins picked him up at the tail end of the 2011 season when Arizona waived him, then outrighted him just before spring training to make space on the 40-man roster for Darin Mastroianni.

Vasquez spent much of three seasons working out of the Diamondbacks bullpen without notable success. He hadn't been used as a starter since 2008. But he got drafted into the rotation late in the Red Wings season this year, and thrived.

Also in the plans for the final month: P.J. Walters, who had a few strong early-summer starts with the Twins before his shoulder started barking. He'll get some starts as well.

One pitcher who might lose pitching opportunities for these tryouts is Diamond, who has worked 172 innings (majors and minors) this season. He had 162 innings in 2011; I doubt the Twins will want him going 190 or so. That might be two or three more starts.

The goal, as I've said before, is to identify, develop and protect the pieces of a good future rotation. In Diamond's case, the first two parts have been done this year; holding down his September innings figures to be the third part.

For everybody else in the mix — Vasquez and Walters, Cole DeVries and Liam Hendriks, Sam Deduno and Brian Duensing— it's still identify and develop. The Twins know a healthy Diamond is in their 2013 rotation, but he's the only one of whom that can be said.