Saturday, May 31, 2014

Feeling a draft: End of May

Baseball America on Friday issued Mock Draft 4.0. It still has the Twins selecting high school shortstop Nick Gordon with the fifth overall pick.

What's more intriguing to me is the growing sense I'm picking up, from BA and elsewhere, that the Houston Astros — picking first for the third straight year — don't see a $6 million talent in the draft field. If so, that suggests that the Astros may do as they did in 2012 — strike a pre-draft deal with someone projected to go a good bit lower at a price well below slot and aim to spend the surplus on more difficult signs in later rounds.

One of the names bandied about as a potential target for such an approach is ... high school shortstop Nick Gordon.

Baseball America says the Twins are also considering college left-handed pitcher Sean Newcomb of Hartford with the fifth pick. I would have thought Aaron Nola of LSU, a right-handed pitcher, would be more in the Twins wheelhouse.

For what it's worth, Keith Law of ESPN, in his weekly chat, dismissed the notion of the Astros going for Gordon.


This from the esteemed Jim Crikket in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

I've been wondering about Ryan's status. It was reported a couple weeks or so ago that he had finished his radiation treatments for his cancer but had yet to regain his appetite and was not ready to return to full duty as general manager.

And Rob Antony, the assistant general manager, continues to be the front office guy doing the regular press briefings.

That Ryan is in Cedar Rapids this weekend is noteworthy on this point: This is the time when the scouting department gets serious about its draft list. It is my understanding that Ryan makes a point of staying out of the way in this process anyway — as general manager, he might make a trip to see somebody for the first round, but he's not seeing the kids who might go in Round 8 or 18. With the cancer thing going on this spring, he probably is even more out of the loop on the prospects than usual.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Contemplating Eduardo Escobar

Eduardo Escobar has taken over the shortstop job.
By the raw percentages, the Twins' best hitter this year has been Eduardo Escobar, hitting .324 even after taking a 0-fer Thursday afternoon.

It hasn't been all singles, either; he's cracked 15 doubles, which is just shy of making the top 10 in MLB — not bad for a guy whose at-bats for the first month were severely limited.

It could be said that the difference in Thursday's game was that when the Rangers loaded the bases, Shin-Shoo Choo blooped a three-run double; when the Twins loaded them, Escobar hit a line drive at the first baseman for a double play.

He's had just 117 plate appearances, so all the usual caveats about small sample sizes apply. That said, he did hammer International League pitching when he was playing regularly there last season (.308/.380/.500), and he did hit for some respectable batting averages (but without much power) in lower levels of the White Sox chain before getting a big league bench job at age 23.

So far this year, the switch-hitting Escobar has been markedly better as a left-handed hitter (OPS .949 left-handed entering Thursday's play, .709 as a right-handed batter; figures from Baseball Reference). But over his career — which is still less than a full season of plate appearances — he's been better right-handed.

He's an intriguing figure in terms of evaluating his future. The White Sox hurried him into a major league utility infielder job, and he was pigeonholed early into that role. Perhaps he would have been a more highly regarded prospect had the Sox given him time to play in the minors. Instead, he got little playing time in his age 23 and 24 seasons (at least until the Twins sent him to Triple A at the All-Star break last year).

He's getting his chance now, though. And doing something with it. He might not be as good a hitter over a long haul as he's been so far, but he doesn't have to be a .330 hitter to keep the job.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The wasting of Josmil Pinto

Josmil Pinto last DHed
on May 16, almost
two weeks ago.
The Twins lost 1-0 Wednesday night. They played the game, as they have seven of their last eight, with one of their better hitters riding the pine.

Josmil Pinto figures to be in the lineup for today's nooner; he has become Sam Deduno's personal catcher, and that works on a variety of levels. It gives Kurt Suzuki a game off once every five games, and it's good for a catcher to sit that often. It also spares the hard-working Suzuki the physical beating Deduno's wildness figures to produce for the catcher. This battery pairs the rotation's one native Spanish speaker with a native Spanish speaker.

But Pinto should be playing more often than once every trip through the rotation. Maybe not at catcher -- Suzuki is clearly the more polished backstop, and he has, despite signs that his magic is wearing off, been a more productive hitter over the first two months of the season than could have been expected.

But still ... Pinto's got to play. The Twins, who in April had one of the highest runs scored totals in baseball, have sagged to the middle of the pack now, and part of the problem is that Pinto isn't getting the DH time he had been.

He isn't DHing because he's the backup catcher and Ron Gardenhire is loathe to play without a bona fide catcher on his bench.

Gardenhire's thinking on that specific aspect doesn't bother me nearly as much as it does several Twins bloggers on my Twitter feed. Catching is a unique position.

Sitting Pinto because the roster is without a third catcher is good reason to have a third catcher on the roster. Especially when one of the roster spaces is being wasted on Jason Kubel.

The Twins currently have on their roster Oswaldo Arcia, Kubel and Chris Parmelee -- three left-handed hitting corner outfielders of dubious defensive value. To be blunt, if they can't hit, they can't play.

And Kubel hasn't hit. His current OPS+ (On-base Plus Slugging compared to league average) is 84, meaning he's 16 percent below league average. (Pinto's, in contrast, is 125, 25 percent above league average.) An OPS+ of 84 is acceptable from a high-quality defensive shortstop; if Pedro Florimon had an OPS+ of 84, Eduardo Escobar would still be looking for playing time. It doesn't fly for a corner outfielder-designated hitter.

Kubel's slash line in May: .188/..297/.188. That's unusable, all the more so since Arcia and Parmelee make him redundant.

The argument against bringing Chris Herrmann back might be stated thusly: He's only here as an insurance policy. The Twins don't want to actually use him. 

And I agree with that. But they should want to actually use Pinto. And there's little reason for them to want to use Kubel. Herrmann's not a great hitter, but neither is Kubel these days.

Dump Kubel. Bring back a third catcher. And stop letting Pinto rot four games of five.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What is Aaron Hicks' ultimate role?

Aaron Hicks, no longer a switch hitter, went 0-for-2 Tuesday with a strikeout and was pinch-hit for in the eighth inning..

He also played a big role in keeping the Twins in the game, turning a potential three-run homer by Texas' Donnie Murphy into a sac fly. The catch was a useful reminder of the athletic tools Hicks has.

He just needs to turn those tools into skills. That's more difficult than it sounds.

Right now, Hicks is the best (only) center fielder the Twins have. But that won't last long. Byron Buxton, still sidelined by his bum wrist (with no timeline to return to action, it was reported Tuesday) is, without a doubt, the center fielder of the future.

And where does that leave Hicks?

He has not hit well enough to justify being a regular centerfielder, much less a regular corner outfielder. He's been a better hitter from the right side -- hence the decision to quit hitting left-handed -- but even his numbers against lefties are poor.

The Twins would doubtless love to see Hicks find a groove from the right side. If he can hit .260 with 20 homers, 20 steals and 80 walks (plus his center-field caliber range and cannon arm afield), they can justify making him a corner outfield regular.

That's a big IF, though. If the shift to hitting right-handed full time doesn't result in a rapid growth in results, he's a fourth outfielder -- at best.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A switch-hitter's switch

Aaron Hicks makes a diving catch in center field
during Monday afternoon's game.
The latest touch of the bizarre for the Twins outfield came Monday morning when Aaron Hicks announced that he is giving up on hitting left-handed.

It's easier to understand Hicks' surrender than to be optimistic about it, even after he collected two singles off a right-handed pitcher Monday. He is a natural righty, and he has a long-standing pattern, majors and minors, of hitting better from the right side.

The problem: Hicks is 24 and has been a switch-hitter since childhood; he has never before seen a slider break away from him.

To put it bluntly, Hicks is in a career crisis. It is not going to be an easy transition, and I doubt the Twins management encouraged this move -- at least not in midseason in the majors. Giving up switch-hitting may be the right move for Hicks, but doing so at the highest level is not the right place.

And yet there is no real alternative. The Twins, through misfortune and their own mistakes, have no real option for center other than Hicks.

I'm quite certain they figured during the winter that if Hicks repeated his 2013 failure they would have Byron Buxton straining at the leash to come to the show by midseason. But Buxton has spent most of the season on the shelf with a wrist injury. Eddie Rosario would have been a plausible option, but he's wrapping up his 50-game drug suspension and has yet to play outside of extended spring training.

The Twins brought in no minor league free agents who can play center. (That may not have been entirely the Twins' decision; such players and their agents look at the roster depth of teams and try to find the place that gives them the best shot at the majors. Buxton would be a major reason for such players to sign elsewhere last winter.) The Twins also lost two marginal center fielders, Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni, on waivers as a direct result of a misplaced fascination with Jason Bartlett.

The result is that at both Triple A and Double A, the Twins' highest minor league affiliates are playing career infielders in center.

So the Twins are stuck with Hicks and his not-a-switch-hitter experiment for the foreseeable future -- unless they decide to swing a trade. (There are indications, by the way, that the Phillies are getting frustrated with Ben Revere.)

In the abstract, trading for a center field alternative, and giving Hicks a chance to cope with this drastic change in the minors, is the thing to do. But, of course, when you get to specifics, the question is: What are you getting, and what are you giving up?

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Twins outfield mess

Chris Parmelee heads back to the dugout Sunday
after another strikeout, one of four from the Twins
outfielders for the game.
Ron Gardenhire on Sunday deployed an outfield of infielders — two shortstops and a first baseman — all of whom opened the season in the minors. Eduardo Nunez, Danny Santana and Chris Parmelee combined to go 2-for-10 at the plate and make a hash of several catchable flyballs.

It was just another day in the continuing disaster that has been the Minnesota outfield, which has been rangeless and mistake-prone in the field and punchless at the plate.

Today the Twins get back their "regular" corner outfielders, Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia.

Willingham and Arcia aren't a defensive upgrade, but at least they figure to hit. Minnesota's outfielders have been abysmal at bat, a truth that has been largely overlooked amid the well-based complaints about the slipshod fielding.

According to Baseball Reference on Sunday evening, the average American League outfielder has a slash line of .255/.322/.395, an OPS — On-base Plus Slugging — of .717. (This is referring to players who are playing left, right or center; it would include, for example, Chris Colabello's at-bats as a right fielder but not his at-bats as a first baseman.)

The Twins' outfield slash line: .214/.301/.298, OPS .599.

The Twins' left fielders (mostly Jason Kubel) entered Sunday hitting .250/.340/.331 — a solid on-base percentage, but little power. The AL left field average is .262/.327/.416.

The Twins' center fielders (mostly Aaron Hicks) were hitting .190/.306/.225. There's no way to find a positive in that slash line. The AL average: .251/.326/.379.

The Twins' right fielders (Colabello with the most PT in a very divided field) were hitting .202/.260/.303. That's almost as bad as the center fielders. The AL average: .253/.314/.391.

The outfield production has been so bad that all three positions have a lower OPS than shortstop (.678) — and shortstop for much the season was Pedro Florimon making outs.


Colabello and Chris Herrmann were optioned out to make roster space for Arcia and Willingham. The Herrmann demotion led to this tweet from the Pioneer Press's Mike Berardino:

Great. Playing shortstops in center hasn't worked, so let's try a catcher.

It's easy for me to excuse Herrmann's confusion. He's spent most of the season so far on the big league roster but he hasn't had even an inning behind the plate. And now he's going to spend time in center field.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pic of the Week

President Obama contemplates a Jackie Robinson
jersey during the president's visit to the Hall of Fame.

President Obama on Thursday became the first sitting president to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., a visit intended to provide visuals for touting the economic value of tourism.

This photo came from the substantial exhibit at the museum on the Negro Leagues and the breaking of the color barrier, and this jersey is not usually so exposed. (The president was photographed holding a Babe Ruth bat and a Joe DiMaggio glove, relics the normal visitor doesn't get to touch; the Hall obviously set things up specially for the presidential tour.)

The blackball exhibit is one of the focal points of the museum, and the symbolic connection between Robinson and Obama is pretty obvious. No. 42 is one of the many giants on whose shoulders Obama stands.

And this statement seems to me self-evident: Racism didn't disappear from American life when a black man was elected president any more than it disappeared from baseball when a black man played for a major league team.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Late Night: San Francisco 6, Twins 2

A multiple exposure of Tim Lincecum's unique delivery

Box score here

Game story here

Back in April, the Twins were pretty successful in turning a bunch of walks into runs scored. Not so on Friday, when they drew seven walks — six of them off two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum — and added seven hits but managed just two runs.

Two runs won't win many games, and certainly aren't enough when paired with the fielding and pitching problems that afflicted the Twins.

Kyle Gibson had allowed one home run in his previous starts combined; the Twins pitching staff as a group hadn't allowed a homer in seven games. The Giants hit two longballs of him Friday.

Trevor Plouffe and Eduardo Escobar had infield misplays that connected to four runs allowed. Outfielders Jason Kubel and Chris Parmelee left their feet in unsuccessful attempts to catch/cut off balls that got past them for triples.

Just not a well-played game by the Twins.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Notes, quotes and comment

Danny Valencia is hitting over .300
so far for Kansas City, but most of
his playing time has come against
Important if true: Mike Berardino, the Pioneer Press beat writer who is also a Baseball America alumnus, says BA's mock draft 3.0 will project the Twins taking Tyler Kolek with the fifth overall pick June 5.

That would be the first mock draft to diverge from the Nick Gordon-to-the-Twins scenario, and an indication that BA's reporting suggests that scouting directors are truly leery of the health risks posed by truly high-velocity high schoolers. Kolek is regarded as the hardest-throwing prep pitcher of the draft era, which opened in 1965 with a guy named Nolan Ryan in the field.

No prep right-hander has ever gone 1-1, and if Kolek doesn't I don't know what it will take for it to happen.


Former Twins third baseman Danny Valencia, on his third organization since washing out in Minnesota, figures to get regular playing time in Kansas City. The Royals shipped stalled prospect Mike Moustakas back to Triple A Thursday.

Valencia has put up a slash line of .308/.362/.423 with K.C., but that's not only in limited at-bats, it's come mostly against lefties. Right-handers have always turned off his faucet. Valencia would be a more useful player if platooning were common, but it ain't the seventies.

The Royals entered the season with playoff ambitions. Moustakas' failure dampens those ambitions. Valencia as a full-time player will dampen them further.


It took the Dodgers a couple of days, but they released ear-chomping catcher Miguel Olivo on Thursday evening.

Perhaps there were procedural issues behind the delay, but canning Olivo had to happen. I expected it to come much sooner than it did.

I note that the original stories all cited Scott Boras, the high-powered agent whose client list includes the chompee (Alex Guerrero), as the source for the information about the chomping. I wonder if Boras went public quickly because he knew the Dodgers hoped to downplay the incident rather than lose a piece of catching depth.


A big ouch: Prince Fielder figures to have spinal fusion surgery in his neck. If so, he will miss the remainder of the season.

I don't know enough about such things to guess at how much it will affect his play in future years. Fielder has seven years and more than $160 million left on his contract, which Texas inherited from Detroit; the Tigers will pay part of that, but on the whole Dave Drombowski, the Detroit GM, is looking really bright in moving Fielder off his payroll last winter.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Miguel Olivo: Sort of a catcher, sort of a cannibal

Miguel Olivo has hit
145 major league homers
and allowed 100 passed
Miguel Olivo is not having a particularly good year. He's a 35-year-old catcher who has milked more than 10 years of major league service time out of one real tool (he hits a few homers), but this year he got beat out by Drew Butera for the Dodgers backup job.

So he's spent almost two months at Triple A Albuquerque, putting up the kind of inflated numbers Albuquerque is known to produce while waiting for enough catchers to get hurt at the big club for him to get the call. On Tuesday he got into a fight in the dugout with teammate Alex Guerrero, and when the combatants were separated Olivo had a piece of Guerrero's ear in his mouth.

Fights between teammates are hardly unknown, of course, but gnawing off a hunk of flesh in the process is generally frowned upon. Dodgers GM Nick Colletti initially described the event as "not constructive," but by Wednesday evening he had taken it seriously enough to suspend Olivo.

All of which is attention-grabbing, but it's merely the prelude to a less salacious topic: What matters to teams when they evaluate catchers.

Alex Guerrero is a Cuban
infielder in his first year
in American ball.
Olivo's career is illustrative of something. He has a career slash line of .240/.275/.417; he's had eight seasons with double-digit home runs (high of 23); he's played for seven teams, two of them twice; he routinely puts up ugly walk-to-strikeout rates. And he's a terrible receiver. He's had five seasons in which he met Baseball Reference's criteria as a regular catcher, and he has led catchers in passed balls allowed four times.

I've written a few times about passed ball and wild pitch rates in connection with the Twins catchers over the past year. Olivo has allowed exactly 100 passed balls and 394 wild pitches in his big league career; that's about .42 WP per nine innings and about .52 WP+PB per nine innings.

That's bad, but not quite as awful as I expected it to be after crunching the numbers. It's quite possible that Josmil Pinto, given regular playing time, could rack up similar passed ball/wild pitch totals.

Olivo, however, got that playing time despite (a) being an awful catcher and (b) not really being a productive hitter. Yes, he has hit 145 homers; he also puts up walk-to-strikeout rates like 20 BB, 140 Ks (2011). He got 25 at-bats with the Dodgers earlier this year, and fanned in 12 of them.

It's not a skill set that appeals much to me, but Olivo's gotten a full career out of it, even if he never stayed in one place for long. The moral of his story: A catcher with one strong tool can last a long time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Late Night: Twins 5, San Diego 3

Kurt Suzuki (8) slides home after an unnecessary
sprint around the bases in the eighth inning. 
Box score here.

Game story here

OK, Kurt Suzuki's inside-the-park homer in the eighth inning really did clear the left field fence. It's more memorable this way, with the Twins catcher sprinting his way around the bases while Padres outfielder Seth Smith lollygagged. Smith knew what the umpire didn't: That ball was out.

And, of course, there's no sense in reviewing it. Either way, Suzuki has a home run.

Other comments on Tuesday's West Coast game that lasted well past midnight here:

* Kevin Correia was perfect through four innings, then highly imperfect in the fifth, then threw another shutout inning in the sixth. Jared Burton came in with two on and no outs in the seventh to save Brian Duensing's bacon.

The great Joe Posnanski wrote recently about a proposed alternative to the current wins-losses system, and it makes a good bit of sense. I wondered if what Pos calls the "Tango" would give the win to Burton. Answer: No. Correia's six-inning, three-runs outing would still trump Burton, six points to three. Burton gets no extra credit for stranding those two inherited runners.

* Those are some ugly batting averages in the Padres lineup: The cleanup hitter (Chase Headley, who in 2012 led the National League in RBIs) is at .194, and that was followed by averages of .200, .163, .193 and .204. And by and large, those are full-time players, guys who've had some success in the majors. It's like looking at a 1968 lineup. Incredible.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Catching on: Kurt Suzuki and Josmil Pinto

Kurt Suzuki has been a far better hitter this season than anyone could have imagined. The veteran backstop, signed for his defense, is bopping along at a .312/.378/.416 clip. My preseason expectation — that the Twins would need to catch Josmil Pinto for his offense — is looking pretty foolish at the season's quarter pole.

Kurt Suzuki applies the tag to Adam Jones of Baltimore
to complete a strikeout earlier this season.
Not that Pinto has been a slouch at the plate himself. Pinto's OPS+ — On-base Plus Slugging, normalized to league context with 100 being average — has actually been slightly better than Suzuki's: Pinto's is 125, and Suzuki's is 123.

But Pinto is regarded as a raw receiver at best. The Twins broadcasters have raved all season about Suzuki's skills at blocking pitches in the dirt.

Last September I offered this examination of the 2013 Twins catchers and their abilities (or problems) at preventing passed balls and wild pitches. As I said at the time, the two events have the same outcome on the game: base runner(s) advances, or a batter reaches base on a strikeout. Passed balls are blamed on the catcher, wild pitches on the pitcher — but as the praise aimed at Suzuki suggests, a good catcher can prevent wild pitches a lesser one will allow.

Suzuki so far this year has caught 269.1 innings. He has not been charged with a passed ball, but there have been 10 wild pitches with him behind the plate, .33 per nine innings, or about one every three games. That's a better-than-league rate (.35 entering Monday), but not up to Joe Mauer's career standard (.27).

Pinto: 112 innings caught, five wild pitches and three passed balls. That's .40 WP/9, but .64 WP+PB/9.

Pinto is allowing a wild pitch or passed ball about twice as often as Suzuki. That certainly fits the belief that Suzuki is the superior defensive catcher.

There are complications, of course, and one complication that may ultimately make directly comparing their numbers futile is that it appears that Ron Gardenhire is going to make Pinto the personal catcher for Sam Deduno, who is probably the Twins' most difficult pitcher to catch.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Skills for the bench

Chris Herrmann
is hitting .359 in Triple A
but just .128 in the
majors this season.
The Twins have today off (Thursday too) and are about to play five games without the designated hitter.

In preparation for that, they've made a change at the margins of the roster. Gone, for now, is reliever Michael Tonkin; back is catcher-outfielder Chris Herrmann.

There are Twins fans displeased with this, wanting Oswaldo Arcia or Josh Willingham back instead. But Willingham's not far enough into his rehab assignment to be recalled. and Arcia is several days shy of eligibility for recall. Those are practical reasons for bypassing them.

There's a philosophical reason too:  Herrmann and his positional flexibility makes more sense as a bench piece that either Arcia or Willingham.

There is one thing to put Arcia or Willingham in the game to do: Hit. That's important, to be sure, and both are better at hitting than Herrmann is.

But the Twins have, especially with the DH out of the lineup, several other guys who meet that description: Jason Kubel, Chris Colabello, Josmil Pinto, Eduardo Nunez, Chris Parmelee. The Twins generally play two corner outfielders who are better suited to the DH job. Adding another one doesn't do much.

Herrmann gives the Twins a different set of skills on their bench.

Now, Willingham and Arcia should be back soon, and in the lineup when they return. But they should be replacing the likes of Colabello and Kubel (or Parmelee) when that happens.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pic of the Week

San Francisco closer Sergio Romo fires a
pitch on Thursday against the Miami Marlins.

It's relatively easy to find a photo of a pitcher in mid-motion that makes one wince at the notion of contorting one's own arm into that position, and this is one such.

It's been oft-said — and I'm sure I've said it myself — that pitching is an unnatural motion, that the human arm is not designed for the act.

But it occurred to me during a recent dog park visit, watching other dog owners play fetch with their canines (my beagle is deeply uninterested in such activities) that humans are obviously designed to throw objects.

We stand erect. We have hands that can grasp objects, not paws. We have shoulders hinged for a wide range of motion. Other than our fellow primates, we are the creatures who can throw.

And a baseball is perfectly designed to throw. Pick one up, and anybody will immediately devine that purpose to the object. Light enough to throw for distance, hard enough to make a satisfactory impact.

Throwing, I think, is ingrained in us from homo sapien's earliest days as a hunter.

Pitching major league ball tests the limitations of the arm as a hurler of projectiles, without a doubt. But it's not unnatural. It's part of who we are as humans.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Feelin' a draft: Mid May edition

The major league entry draft is coming up -- first round is June 5.

I've seen four mock drafts in the past week or so, all from pretty knowledgeable sources (Keith Law of ESPN, Jonathan Mayo of and two from Baseball America).

All four have the Twins getting high school shortstop Nick Gordon with the fifth pick of the first round. What's interesting -- and indicative, perhaps, of how locked in the Twins appear to be on Gordon -- is that they all get to that point with different routes.

Oh, they all have left-handed pitchers Carlos Rodon (North Carolina State) and Brady Aiken (high schooler from San Diego) going before the Twins pick. Most of the mock drafts also have high school catcher-outfielder Alex Jackson and/or prep right-hander Tyler Kolek -- reputed to have the highest velocity of the draft era, which (barely) includes Nolan Ryan -- in front of the the Twins.

Those are, really, the five names for the first round that matter for the Twins. It's entirely possible that more than one of those five will reach the Twins, maybe probable, because the Cubs (pick No.4) are said to be intent on a collegiate starter as opposed to anybody from a high school. The Cubs have a wave of impressive position players rising through their system and would like a pitcher who'd be ready to help when that wave hits Wrigley in the next two years. But there's only one college pitcher in that list of five, and there's Rodon is likely to go in the first two picks.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The shaming of Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks celebrates his
10th-inning walkoff single Thursday.
Thursday was a pretty good time for the embattled Aaron Hicks to come up with a game-winning base hit. The extra-innings heroics doubtless will make everybody involved feel better, but it doesn't much change the situation

Ron Gardenhire and Rob Antony on Wednesday unleashed a rare public barrage of criticism at Hicks. The gist of it: Hicks doesn't properly prepare mentally for games -- doesn't study video, doesn't even know sometimes who's pitching for the opposition.

I'm in no position to assess the accuracy of the complaint of ill-preparation. I think it likely that different players should prepare differently, and that there are hitters for whom rigorous film study will simply lead to paralysis by analysis. Considering that Hicks' default plate approach might be already overly-selective, I don't know how much a greater emphasis on "homework" is going to help him.

What is inarguable is that what Hicks has been doing isn't working for him. The Twins taking the issue public suggests that they've been unable privately to change the behavior.

In the immediate wake of Thursday's game, my Twitter feed flooded with posts essentially suggesting that Hicks had proven the in-house criticism wrong. Fact: Hicks is hitting .170. It's not like they're trying to fix something that ain't broken.

Underlying the frustration with the inability of the former first-round pick to establish himself: The Twins have no true center field alternatives available.

Fourth outfielder Sam Fuld is on the concussion list and doesn't appear to be nearly ready to return. Even if he were, he's 32 and has a track record of being better afield than at the plate. Usable bench piece, not fit for regular play.

The regular in center field in Triple A Rochester is Eric Farris, a 28-year-old who has spent most of his career at second base. Farris is hitting for a nice average for the Red Wings, but those of us grousing about the chronic use of infielders in the outfield this season would find no relief in Farris.

As for Double A New Britain, the Twins picked up Kenny Wilson from Toronto to get a legit center fielder at that level. Wilson hit .195 in 11 games, and the Twins waived him and Toronto reclaimed him. The guy with the most center field time in New Britain: Corey Wimberley, another career non-prospect infielder.

The Twins got into this jam through a combination of injury, suspension and questionable roster decisions. If things had gone well, Byron Buxton would be in New Britain making everybody eager to jump him to the bigs; instead, he is again nursing his injured wrist. Eddie Rosario, a center fielder before the Twins started trying to convert him to second base two seasons ago, ought to be in New Britain (if not Rochester); instead, he's at extended spring training with about two more weeks of drug suspension to serve.

And, as has been griped about here repeatedly, the Twins jettisoned Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni this spring to make room for the Jason Bartlett Experiment Embarrassment. Neither Presley nor Mastroianni would be a quality regular in center, but they wouldn't be obviously out of place defensively.

And therein is the gist of the Hicks dilemma. All the options available to replace him would be out of place defensively, and this pitching staff has enough trouble with the outfield defense with Hicks in center.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On Oswaldo Arcia and Jason Kubel

The Twins on Wednesday reactivated Oswaldo Arcia from the disabled list and optioned him to Triple A Rochester. (Today marked the end of Arcia's rehab stint, so a move had to be made.)

Arcia is hitting .308/.349/.487 for the Red Wings, but the Twins front office told reporters that's not good enough:

OK, he struck out in about a fourth of his Triple A at-bats entering Wednesday's play. Jason Kubel has struck out in more than a third of his at-bats this season, and the rate is getting worse as time goes on.

Every at-bat Kubel gets in the majors while a healthy Arcia rakes in Triple A is an affront to the future of this team. And to the fans who aren't so enamoured with the nostalgic approach to the roster.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Five thoughts from a three-shortstop win

Chris Parmelee brings his walk-off homer home.
My wife and I went to Target Field to see Tuesday's game in person. A few observations:

* This is said to be Chris Parmelee's eighth time with the Twins, testimony to how the organization has yo-yoed the former first-round pick between the minors and the big club since 2011. Parmelee 8.0 is supposed to be a more aggressive player.

We'll see how well that plays as time passes; 17 plate appearances don't suffice for judgment. But I do take note that two of his three hits Tuesday came off lefty relievers (a single off Craig Breslow and the game-winning home run off Andrew Miller). Parmelee hasn't shown a huge dropoff against lefties in his 648 career plate appearances — he hasn't stuck because he hasn't hit period, not because he hasn't hit southpaws — but considering that his ultimate competition for playing time are fellow lefties Jason Kubel and Oswaldo Arcia, it helps to hit the lefties.

* Three shortstops in the starting lineup: Eduardo Escobar at shortstop, Danny Santana in center field, Eduardo Nunez as the designated hitter. All three did something to help.

Realistically, of course, Nunez should be considered a shortstop in the same vein as Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe came up as a shortstop and demonstrated that he can't hack the position defensively. Nunez did the same with the Yankees.

Still, the use of a purported shortstop as the DH is rather jarring. One is a glove-first position, and defensive skill is completely useless at the other. Almost 30 years ago Bill James ridiculed the Twins for having Roy Smalley split the 1986 season between short and designated hitter: "This is a new role on a major league roster."

Nunez hit a homer off Jake Peavy in the five-run second inning, so it worked. 

* Santana drew two walks — off his minor-league record, it's tough to walk him even once — scored a run and didn't look nearly as lost in center field as fellow shortstop Escobar did a few games ago. Dan Gladden, on the post game radio show, praised Santana for his ability to take his eye off a fly ball, run to the spot and find the ball again.

Santana also got picked off first after one of those walks, and it mattered — he led off the eighth inning with the base on balls and didn't give Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer a chance to make something of the early baserunner.

The Twins can rave about Santana's talent, but he's mistake prone.

* Santana's role is a curious matter right now. The Twins obviously have a hole in center field. Aaron Hicks, for the second straight year, won the job with an impressive spring training and immedately failed to hit once the regular season began. Sam Fuld is 32 and is nobody's answer to center field.

Ron Gardenhire has started Escobar and Santana in center out of desperation. He needs a center fielder now, and the ultimate answer (Byron Buxton) isn't available. But if Santana is the shortstop of the future, playing him in center on a regular basis isn't a good long-term move.

*Escobar's plays were routine. Nothing flashy. But several required long throws after grounders to his backhand side, and he's certainly got sufficient arm for the position. At the plate, Escobar had a hit and a run scored.

I believe that the 2014 Twins are better off with Escobar as the shortstop. But if the Twins believe Santana is the shortstop for the Sano-Buxton era, and if Santana is on the major league roster, Santana should be the shortstop.

On the other hand, maybe they see Santana as a Ben Zobrist-type of multi-position guy in the long run. That's not as crucial as a quality regular shortstop, but Santana may simply be too mistake prone for that.

* It was simply irritating to see Matt Guerrier get the ball with the lead on the line in the seventh inning.

This wasn't the plan. Michael Tonkin started the seventh with two quick outs, then couldn't get the third out. Brian Duensing came in and thought he struck out David Ortiz, but the ump didn't agree, and Ortiz ultimately singled. Then Duensing clearly pitched around Mike Napoli to set up a matchup with Grady Sizemore, only to see Jonny Gomes pinch hit.

At this point, Gardenhire had to bring in a righty. Normally I think it would have been Casey Fien, but I think Gardy wanted to avoid Fien after he got hit in the pitching biceps by a line drive on Sunday. Tonkin had already been used, and I suppose Jared Burton was being saved for the eighth.

So enter Guerrier. It was a telling matchup in this sense: Gomes is a platoon player (.276/.377/.501 vs. lefties in his career, .225/.310/.421 vs. righties). A right-handed short reliever has to be able to put Gomes away. And Guerrier couldn't. Gomes just kept fouling pitches off until he drew the walk to tie the game.

One at-bat, but it serves to confirm my belief that Guerrier at age 35 does not belong in the major leagues.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Does high quality equal damaged goods?

Jose Fernandez in 2013-14: 16-8, 2.25 in 224 innings.
The Miami Marlins put Jose Fernandez, their marvelous 21-year-old pitcher, on the disabled list Monday, and Tommy John surgery is expected.

It's difficult to find fault with how the Marlins handled the phenom. Fernandez made just 28 starts last season as a 20-year-old. Mike Redmond, the former Twins catcher who manages the Fish, never let the kid throw even 110 pitches in a game, and shut him down in mid September.

This year was more of the same. But Fernandez threw a career-high 114 pitches on May 4, then spluttered Friday with a noticeable loss of velocity. And now he is presumably headed for a surgical table and the time-consuming rehab that accompanies ligament replacement.

Earlier this year, noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews granted an interview in which he remarked on the rapid increase in Tommy John surgeries among high school pitchers. He said the basic problem is that teenagers are throwing too hard for too long. An 18-year-old's arm isn't ready to handle the strain of a 95-mph fastball, he said, and also needs lengthy breaks from pitching. But many of the top prep pitchers now play baseball only, and never break out of a routine of regular mound work to, say, spend a winter playing basketball.

On Monday, on the heels of the Fernandez news, Baseball America's J.J. Cooper tweeted:

It's been asserted that every high-drafted prep pitcher has already sustained some arm damage before he signs. That's a daunting concept for a scouting director trying to get the most bang for his buck — that the bigger the arm, the more likely the damage.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Kelly, Gardenhire and 30-start pitchers

Following up on Wednesday's post ... not that I expect to draw any real conclusions from this, but just to get the facts organized.

The Twins have, as we all know, had just two managers and two pitching coaches since 1986, when Tom Kelly inherited the managerial job from Ray Miller. The manager and coach have been a tandem: Kelly had Dick Such, Gardenhire has Rick Anderson.

Let's go year by year through the Twins during this period and chart the full-time starters using Joe Posnanski's 30-starts-a-season standard:

1986 (mostly Miller with Such): Frank Viola 37, Bert Blyleven 36, Mike Smithson 33
1987 (first full year of Kelly/Such): Blyleven 37, Viola 36
1988: Viola 35, Blyleven 33, Allan Anderson 30
1989: Anderson 33
1990: Anderson 31
1991: Jack Morris 35, Kevin Tapani 34, Scott Erickson 32
1992: John Smiley 34, Tapani 34, Erickson 32
1993: Tapani 35, Erickson 34, Willie Banks 30
1994: Nobody. Strike wiped out about a third of games. Jim DeShaies tied for the league lead in starts with 25.
1995: Nobody. Brad Radke led team with 28. Season shortened to 144 games.
1996: Radke 35, Frankie Rodriguez 33, Rich Robertson 31
1997: Radke 35
1998: LaTroy Hawkins 33, Radke 32, Eric Milton 32
1999: Milton 34, Radke 33, Hawkins 33
2000: Radke 34, Milton 33
2001: Joe Mays 34, Milton 34, Radke 33

End of Kelly/Such. They supervised 34 pitcher years of 30-plus starts from 15 different pitchers in 13 full seasons. Had 18 games not been lopped off the '95 schedule, Radke probably gets to 30. Even so, Radke has the most 30-plus start seasons, six; Milton is next with four.

2002: Rick Reed 32, Kyle Lohse 31
2003: Radke 33, Lohse 33, Kenny Rogers 31
2004: Johan Santana 34, Radke 34, Lohse 34, Carlos Silva 33
2005: Santana 33, Radke 31, Lohse 30
2006: Santana 34, Silva 31
2007: Santana 33, Silva 33, Boof Bonser 30
2008: Nick Blackburn 33
2009: Blackburn 33, Scott Baker 33
2010: Carl Pavano 32, Francisco Liriano 31
2011: Pavano 33
2012: Nobody. Scott Diamond led team with 27.
2013: Kevin Correia 31

Through 12 full seasons, Gardenhire and Anderson have supervised 24 30-start seasons from 12 different ptichers, four from Santana and Lohse, three each from Radke (giving him nine in all) and Silva. (I'm a little surprised Lohse and Silva had that many, frankly.)

One thing I note is the decline in peaks. Kelly's pitchers had seven seasons of 35 or more starts; Gardenhire has yet to have one. Kelly was clearly more willing to skip the fifth starter and get an extra start from the top of the rotation, which probably helps account for averaging more 30-start pitchers per year as well.

I also note the failure of the young guns of the post-Santana-Radke era to live up even to the Lohse-Silva standard. Bonser had one 30-start season, Blackburn two, Baker one, Lirano one, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins zip ... these were the guys the Twins turned the rotation over to about eight or seven years ago, and they couldn't stay healthy and/or effective enough.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pic of the Week

Drew Storen of the Washington Nationals follows
though on a pitch in the seventh inning Tuesday.

Ah, the ballet of baseball.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Shuffling the roster, part duh

Chris Parmelee says
he'll be more aggressive
about swinging at strikes
this time around.
It was Aaron Hicks and Chris Parmelee brought up Friday, not Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia, as I predicted. Apparently Arcia's wrist is still troublesome.

DFA'd to make room on the 40 for Parmelee: Kenny Wilson, who was himself scooped up on waivers about two weeks ago. Wilson hit .195 in 11 games with New Britain. Presumably he'll pass through waivers — somebody would have to deem him worthy of a 40-man roster spot to claim him, and I doubt he is — and the Twins can simply outright the former second-round pick to New Britain.

It's a weird sequence of roster moves: At the end of spring training, the Twins waived Parmelee and Alex Presley (losing Presley on waivers); Jason Bartlett, Jason Kubel and Chris Colabello made the team instead. The Twins ultimately claimed Sam Fuld to serve the role that Presley would have; Wilson inherited the 40-man roster spot that Bartlett vacated when he retired.

And now Parmelee inherits Wilson's 40-man spot.

The next question is how much playing time will Parmelee get? My guess is that when Joe Mauer returns to the lineup, Colabello will get most of his time at DH and Parmelee and Kubel will be the primary corner outfielders. The guy who'll get squeezed out of at-bats will be Josmil Pinto.

Then when Arcia is back ... that will open the debate again.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Shaking up the roster

Pedro Florimon learned
Thursday that .108 hitters
don't stay in the majors.
Maybe he learned that.

The Twins followed up Thursday's loss by demoting Pedro Florimon and Chris Herrmann to Rochester.

No call-ups were immediately named. The presumption is that Aaron Hicks, pending a successful concussion evaluation, will be reactivated -- a move that would give the Twins a better centerfielder than Eduardo Escobar. And it also seems likely that Oswaldo Arcia will be brought back from his rehab assignment.

Arcia should cut into the playing time of Jason Kubel, Chris Colabello (at least once Joe Mauer returns from his back issues) and Josmil Pinto, all of whom have slumped of late. That "should" is not only predictive of what Ron Gardenhire will do, it is a value statement. Arcia is a bigger part of the Twins future than any of those three, with the possible exception of Pinto. Arcia ought to play more than the others.

I do expect Pinto's playing time to diminish, not only because of Arcia but because Herrmann, the No. 3 catcher, is gone. Gardenhire's reluctance to use a catcher as designated hitter is frequently deplored but, in my view, understandable. Catcher is not like other positions. It's a specialized position, and it is intimately involved in every pitch.

Then there's Florimon, who was apparently surprised by the idea that the Twins might find a .108-hitting shortstop a detriment. Of his demotion, I can only say: About time.

I don't know what Gardenhire will do at short now. I hope he goes with Escobar, but as long as Danny Santana's on the roster, he'll probably be the regular. If the Twins really view Santana as their long-range shortstop, there's no sense in letting him sit on the major league bench. I don't share the optimism about Santana, and if I'm right, he'll play himself off the roster soon enough.

On Thursday, the Twins had three shortstops on the roster. Today they have three, with the other being Eduardo Nunez. That's still too many.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

These expensive reunions

Brooks Raley, we
hardly knew ye.
To make room for Matt Guerrier on the 40-man roster, the Twins waived left-handed pitcher Brooks Raley, who was claimed by the Angels.

A number of the Twins bloggers I follow on Twitter professed to be unaware the Twins had such a name on their 40-man roster, so how big a loss could he be?

He was easily forgotten. He wasn't around long — the Twins picked him off waivers from the Cubs just before spring training and shipped him to Rochester in an early round of cuts — and his Triple A numbers so far this season haven't wowed anybody (not that anything in 14 innings should wow anybody).

But I will say this: He's 25 and left-handed. Guerrier is 35, right-handed and coming off significant surgery. Left-handed pitchers are more valuable than a right-handed pitcher of equal ability.

Raley may never be a good major league pitcher, but he can't help but have a better chance of being a useful piece two or three years down the road than Guerrier has.

There is a hidden cost to this spring's obsession with reunions with players of playoff seasons past. Effectively trading Raley for Guerrier is a mistake for this team, because it has more future damage than present reward.

Some of the obsession hurts in the here and now, of course. To keep Jason Bartlett — who wound up retiring before April was out — the Twins lost Alex Presley to the Astros. Again, Presley is no great loss in and of himself, but he IS a 28-year-old outfielder who can pass in center.

The Twins have spent the first 20 percent of the season without a legitimate corner outfielder. As of Thursday, with both Aaron Hicks and Sam Fuld on the concussion DL, the Twins had NO legitimare outfielders on the roster, unless you have a wide enough definition of "legitimate outfielder" to include Jason Kubel.

But they did have four shortstops on the 25-man roster, so they put a shortstop in center and watched balls go over his head.

It's a misshapen roster, and the problems begin with an inability to recognize that the past is past.

The return of Matt Guerrier

Matt Guerrier rejoins
the Twins bullpen.
Jason Bartlett washed out. Jason Kubel has been a fixture in the outfield and in the middle of the lineup.

And now a third prodigal son from the Gardenhire glory days is officially back. Matt Guerrier had an out in his contract; if he wasn't on the major league roster by today, he could declare free agency and see who else might want him.

So the Twins are activating him, it being apparently intolerable to risk losing a post-operative 35-year-old reliever with a 4.00 ERA in 11 minor league innings. Logan Darnell has been optioned back to Rochester, but that only opens a place on the 25-man active roster. They also need a spot on the 40-man roster, and that move will apparently be made this morning.

My guess is that Josh Willingham — remember him? — will go on the 60-day disabled list. He's already been out about a month and apparently some time away from being ready, so that seems plausible.

I can think of some more drastic moves — such as designating Mike Pelfrey or Pedro Florimon for assignment — but they're not likely to happen.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

On 30 start pitchers

The great Joe Posnanski this week grappled with this question: Do great managers keep their starting rotations healthy, or do healthy starting rotations make managers great?

It's a chicken or the egg question. There's no question: Teams that can keep their top starters going all season tend to do well, and teams that have to cycle numerous arms through the rotation tend not to do well.

The standard Posnanski sets up -- four pitchers making 30 or more starts in a season -- is debatable as a standard for keeping pitchers healthy. His position: Managers keep their jobs by winning games and, especially, championships. They don't get credit because pitcher Z was a rotation fixture for five years.

There's a lot in this piece for me to chew on. Tony LaRussa, for example, had a heavy number of seasons with four (or more) 30-start guys, more than anybody else since 1960. But there was a lot of turnover in those rotations.

I am relatively certain of this: Were I an up-and-coming starter, a potential star -- Alex Meyer, for example -- I would be wary of LaRussa. LaRussa's long and successful managerial history featured relatively few young pitchers who lasted  On the other hand, LaRussa (and his longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan) was exactly what Kyle Lohse needed. Be it in Chicago, Oakland or St. Louis, LaRussa and Duncan specialized in turning around veterans who washed out elsewhere.

Was LaRussa just lucky that he put together so many rotations that held together for full seasons? I've been inclined to hold it against him that so few rookie pitchers laid the foundation for real careers under LaRussa -- but I also think he deserves credit for being able to identify four pitchers who could get him through a season, and for getting them through the season. And often they would be four guys who hadn't done much at their previous job.

So I incline to the first side of the question. LaRussa had so many durable rotations because he (and, again, Duncan and others in the organization) a knack for picking the right guys, and a willingness to discard them when that time came.


I checked Ron Gardenhire's career by the four starters/30 starts yardstick. He has had one such season, 2004 (Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Lohse and Carlos Silva).

Two things struck me about that season as I looked at the Baseball Reference page:

  • It is probably the only season in which Gardenhire did much skipping of the fifth starter. Santana, Radke and Lohse each made 34 starts, Silva 33; in a straight five-man rotation, nobody would get more than 33 starts, and only two would get that many. 
  • Seth Greisinger got nine starts in the first half of the season before being bounced in favor of Terry Mulholland (15 starts).  

Seth Greisinger? I remember Mulholland. I vaguely remember Greisinger as a spring training invitee or something, but I would have said he didn't make the team. That he got nine starts has been purged from my memory bank.

He was, in a sense, the first of a string of "disposable starters" -- followed in future seasons by the likes of Sidney Ponson, Ramon Ortiz and Livan Hernandez. But the other three all had had some good seasons in the past. Greisinger was a former first-round pick (sixth overall) who'd gotten hurt before establishing himself, and he never did pan out.

A big part of what the Twins sought to do this offseason was bring in some 30-start, 200-inning guys. I'm going to assume that Mike Pelfrey isn't going to make 30 starts. Obviously, it's too soon to say that Ricky Nolasco or Phil Hughes (or Kevin Correia or Kyle Gibson) will. But that's the goal.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Contemplating Eduardo Escobar

Eduardo Escobar (5) is greeted by Chris Colabello
after his game-winning homer Monday in Cleveland.
A bit more than a week ago, I posted this piece suggesting that Eduardo Escobar was about to supplant Pedro Florimon as the Twins shortstop.

And sure enough, Escobar started three games in a row at short, sat for the second game of a doubleheader, started the next day. Escobar went 6-for-17 in the process with three doubles and a couple of walks.

And then, for some reason, Florimon was back at short. He's started the last three games, going 1-for-10 in the process, which is pretty bad but barely lowers his batting average for the season (.109).

Escobar pinch hit for Florimon in the seventh Monday night and grounded out, but he came up again in the 10th and homered for the only run of the game.

I am willing to concede that Florimon is the superior defensive shortstop, although I don't think it's like we're comparing Ozzie Smith to Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Escobar can play shortstop. For what it's worth (not much), the defensive metrics at Baseball Reference actually give Escobar the edge this year.

But Florimon at the plate is hopeless. He entered Monday with 676 major league plate appearances and a slash line of .208/.269/.307, and it got a little worse that night.

I've seen enough of him. Give Escobar the job and let him run with it as far as he can.  No, he's not really going to hit like Derek Jeter used to, but he's not a Florimon-like automatic out either.

And I think that's what's going to happen, sooner or later. Right now the Twins have too many shortstops (Escobar, Florimon, Danny Santana) on the active roster. But I think that by the end of the week, Oswaldo Arcia will be deemed fit to return, and Santana will return to Rochester. And I think somewhere around the same time, Florimon will get shipped out too. (Probably with Eduardo Nunez coming up, although I think James Beresford would be a better choice.)

The Florimon-Escobar situation shouldn't turn into a reprise of Pat Meares-Denny Hocking two decades ago, when Meares got the first crack at the shortstop job and held it for years without doing anything worthwhile with it, while Hocking got pigeonholed as a utility guy.

Escobar, I fear, is getting pigeon holed as a utility guy. Maybe that is his ceiling, but it's painfully obvious by now that Florimon is miscast as a regular.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Evaluating defense in the shift era

My last post of 2013 was about the closing off of new-age evaluative stats to the general public. For much of my adult life, savvy fans had access to statistical insights of which the teams themselves were (for the most part) ignorant.

Today the teams — or at least some of them — are developing new metrics for their own use and keeping them out of the public domain.

Some of that is visible on a daily basis as teams rely ever more heavily on exaggerated defensive positioning. These shifts are based on detailed charts of hit patterns and pitch sequences.

And it occurred to me Sunday that these shifts are going to raise havoc with the best of the public defensive metrics.

The play that crystallized this thought for me wasn't a defensive play at all. It was Brian Dozier stealing third — not off the pitcher, not off the catcher, but off the third baseman, who was playing Jason Kubel essentially at the traditional shortstop position. Manny Machado had no chance of getting to third far enough ahead of Dozier to take a throw.

My favored defensive metric, the Baseball Info Systems plus-minus, is a video-review system that splits the field into zones and measures how often balls hit into a specific slice of the field are turned into outs. But that system makes more sense when infielders are in their traditional spaces, not congregated on the first base side of second base as they are for Kubel.

Aesthetically, I'd prefer to see the shifts backfire enough to discourage such heavy use. I don't see that happening, because such hitters as Kubel can't/won't/don't take advantage of the shifts. (The Orioles kept the shift on even after Dozier took third; they knew Kubel wouldn't push a bunt to third and take the RBI single.)

Teams will keep shifting until the hitter make them stop. It's just incidental that they will, in the process, make it more difficult to get a objective handle on the quality of an individual's defense.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pic of the Week

Joe Mauer brings home the first run of the game Saturday,
scoring from first on a double that didn't reach the warning track.
The #BooMauer crowd has been out in force this season, wailing over Mauer's poor April.

And, yeah, Mauer hasn't been up to his usual high standards. His slash line entering today — .298/.396/.377 — is well below his career .322/.404/.465.

But I'll note here that Mauer's subpar start is still better than that of Miguel Cabrera (.282/.327/.427). Or Prince Fielder (.209/.326/309). Or Chris Davis (.250/.372/.382).

Point being: It's still mighty early. Mauer is still a quality hitter.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A day of 14 pitchers

After Thursday's brutal doubleheader, the Twins called up Logan Darnell to bolster their overworked bullpen and put Aaron Hicks on the concussion disabled list.

This gave the Twins 14 pitchers on the 25-man active roster, which is ... way too many.

As it turned out, they only needed one Friday. Ricky Nolasco threw nine innings of three-run ball, which ought to be good enough but was three runs too many to get a tie. At least the bullpen got a day off.

And the Twins cut back to 13 pitchers after the game. Mike Pelfrey was put on the disabled list (pulled groin) and shortstop Danny Santana is expected in the Twin Cities for this afternoon's game.

I'll forgive anybody skeptical of Pelfrey's conveniently timed injury, but it seems likely that something is wrong with him. His velocity is down several miles per hour, and his command -- which, to be sure, has never been particularly strong -- isn't good either. These things tend to point to an injury, sometimes one the pitcher isn't even aware of (or at least willing to admit to having).

As for Santana ... the idea seems to be that he'll be on the bench waiting for the next player to drop. Eduardo Escobar has the shortstop job until he proves he shouldn't have it, which, as I said a few days ago, makes sense.

It is, once again, a misshapen roster, with three shortstops (Escobar, Santana and Pedro Florimon) and three catchers (Kurt Suzuki, Josmil Pinto and Chris Herrmann). Half the Twins active position players  play the two positions that historically are weakest at the plate.

The Twins are getting use from the catchers: Suzuki the primary catcher, Pinto the regular DH and Herrmann as the fourth outfielder as well as backup receiver. But there doesn't appear to be reason for both Florimon and Santana at this point.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Thoughts on a too-long doubleheader

Kris Johnson walked six and struck out
five in 4.1 shutout innings, an odd
combination of effective inefficency.
Neither Mike Pelfrey nor Kris Johnson did their careers any favors with their performances Thursday.

Johnson wasn't going to stick around after his spot start in the night cap anyway, but six walks in 4.1 innings will not sit well. In and out of trouble; he got 13 outs and allowed 10 baserunners, but somehow no runs.

Pelfrey's issues continue, and the buzz after yet another dismal performance suggested the Twins are about ready to pull the plug on him in the rotation.

If so, the dual questions are: Who replaces him in the rotation, and what do they Twins do with him?

The two are connected. If the Twins decide to move Sam Deduno back into the rotation, they can stick Pelfrey in the long relief role and see if they can't find some value for their $11 million investment. But if they (as I've theorized based on the lack of opportunity given Deduno to make the rotation) prefer to have Deduno in the bullpen -- or if they want to slide Trevor May or Alex Meyer to the big club -- they might wind up releasing Pelfrey and eating the money.

Pelfrey apparently has an option left, but he has enough service time to reject the minor league demotion, and I suspect that would be his choice.

I didn't expect him to be great, or even particularly good, but I didn't expect him to be this bad either. The velocity is down and the command is as spotty as ever. He's a pitch-to-contact guy who pitches as if he's afraid to pitch to contact. That cannot work.


I wasn't a bit surprised, after watching Aaron Hicks run into the centerfield fence in the second game, when he left with "concussion-like symptoms." Frankly, he looked on the TV screen like he was concussed. The surprise was that he remained in the game as long as he did.


Drew Butera, offensive machine: The weak-hitting former Twin, effectively the Dodgers' No. 1 catcher while A.J. Ellis is on the disabled list, had two hits Wednesday in his return to Target Field. On Thursday, he hit a home run and drew two four-pitch walks.

There may be no greater testimony to the struggles of the Minnesota pitching staff than that.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Adventures in Baseball Reference sponsorships

Dedicated readers of this Internet space know that each year I sponsor the Baseball Reference page(s) of one or more Twins or ex-Twins.

The past two years I've sponsored Scott Diamond. With Diamond at this point carrying an ERA above 10 in Triple A, it's not looking good for his return. I haven't decided if I'll abandon him page, but I have picked up Glen Perkins.

Second time, actually, that I've sponsored Perkins' page. I had his page in 2012 and let it lapse after that season.