Thursday, April 30, 2015

Many losses in one

James McCann, Detroit's backup catcher, launches his
slide to conclude his inside-the-park homer Wednesday.
The Twins lost one game Wednesday. Also as many as three players to injury and their dignity.

Really, an inside-the-park home run to a catcher?

Michael Tonkin was reported on Twitter last night to be en route to the Twin Cities from Triple A Rochester. Who the right-hander will be replacing is unknown. I would expect it to be Casey Fien, the Twins second-best reliever, who departed Wednesday's game with shoulder issues. Another possibility is that the Twins will pull the plug on Tim Stauffer, who gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning Wednesday.

But it's still (barely) April, and the Twins seldom admit a roster mistake until mid-May. Stauffer always looked like a dubious signing from here, and there's reason to suspect he's hiding an injury. I don't believe he's going to last long, but I also don't believe he'll get the ax for another couple of weeks.

We'll see what the medical reports on Fien, Phil Hughes and Jordan Schafter look like later today. I expect that the Twins will opt against letting Hughes pitch with a hip flexor strain; putting him on the DL would, for a time, resolve the how-do-we-get-Ricky-Nolasco-back-into-the-rotation issue.  

Schafer, who fell after beating out a bunt hit and left with some sort of knee issue, was reportedly moving around well in the clubhouse after the game. My guess is that nothing will happen there.

So that's my prediction: Hughes and Fien to the DL, Schafer and Stauffer remain.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Staking his claim to a rotation berth

Mike Pelfrey allowed just one earned run in seven
innings Tuesday night. More striking: He struck out seven.

I've not been inclined to say nice things about the pitching of Mike Pelfrey. He has a long track record of, let us say, less than stellar results as a major league pitcher.

But I have to concede that he's been effective since getting a fresh shot in the rotation. Not merely better than I expected, but good. A 2.25 ERA is not to be sneered at.

Pelfrey's track record tells us that he's not that good. Few pitchers are. But even if his ERA rises a full run, it's a really strong figure. Which means he's not going anywhere.

His effectiveness creates a dilemma of sorts for Paul Molitor. When Ricky Nolasco comes off the disabled list, who comes out of the rotation?

I would like to see Trevor May remain in the rotation, but I expect he's going to lose out to the veterans, just as he did in spring training.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Josh Hamilton on Angels owner Arte Moreno:
 "He knew what the deal was when he signed me, hands down.
He knew what he was getting. He knew what the risks were.
 He knew all those things."
It's official: The Angels shipped Josh Hamilton to Texas for a player to be named or cash considerations. My assumption is that there will be no player, and the cash consideration is the Rangers' willingness to absorb a fraction of Hamilton's contract.

I've sounded off on the subject here and here, and see no need to repeat myself. But I will add this: Even through commissioner Rob Manfred has shown no interest in investigating the leak about Hamilton's relapse -- a leak that appears to have originated with the Angels -- the Angels are getting punished for it.

All they accomplished with the leak (and again, I assume it came from them, but that is not established) and their subsequent on-the-record statements denouncing Hamilton was destroy his potential trade value.

In the end, the Rangers get whatever Hamilton has left for a mere $6 million, and the Angels will have paid Hamilton $110 million for two seasons in Anaheim. Signing Hamilton wasn't bright; being surprised that he hasn't fully shaken his addictions is even less so. But saying good-bye to him didn't have to be that expensive.


Two winters ago the Twins were linked to free agent catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They signed with Boston and Miami respectively, and the Twins settled for Kurt Suzuki.

The Red Sox released Pierzynski last summer. The Marlins on Monday designated Saltalamacchia for assignment; he hit .209 in one season plus a month.  The Fish have 10 days to trade or release him, and there probably won't be anybody eager to absorb almost two years of his contract.

Sometimes -- I dare say most of the time -- you're better off not signing the free agents you covet.


The Baltimore Orioles game (against the White Sox) Monday night was postponed because of the civic unrest over the death of a black man in police custody. There are many more significant ramifications than a baseball game or two from this crisis, but it does create an intersection between politics and sports.

In that light, this quasi-statement from John Angelos, the son of the Orioles owner and the team chief operating officer, is fascinating reading. It was assembled by USA Today Monday from a series of tweets Angelos issued in response to a tweet from a local radio host after fans were kept from leaving the stadium because of the unrest Sunday.

Brett, speaking only for myself, I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy, investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible. 
That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state. 
The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importances of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

That is a manifesto one would not expect from somebody in Angelos' position.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Twins and stolen base attempts

Robinson Cano applies the tag as Eduardo Nunez is
caught trying to steal second base Sunday.
Paul Molitor, as a player, was an efficient and prolific base stealer -- 504 career steals, 131 caught stealings, a success rate of 79.3 percent.

Eighteen games into his managerial career, Molitor hasn't translated his expertise in that aspect to his team. When Eduardo Nunez was gunned down in the third inning Sunday, it was the sixth caught stealing of the season for the Twins with only five successful steals. Since the sabermetric consensus is that you need a success rate above 66 percent to get any gain from basestealing, the Twins would theoretically be better off if they didn't steal at all.

I shy from such tactical absolutes, but it should be obvious that the steal has not been an effective weapon for the Twins. Eleven attempts is rather low -- Ron Gardenhire's teams had a season low of 85 in 13 years, and the 2015 Twins at their April pace won't come close to that many -- and the success rate is abysmal.

So what's wrong? Well, the scarcity of attempts starts with the lack of opportunities. All managers recognize that they have players who should try to steal and players who shouldn't, and the question that divides them is which goes in which group. I think it safe to say on the 2015 Twins that Danny Santana, Jordan Schafer and Brian Dozier are in the "send-em" group and Kennys Vargas, Kurt Suzuki and Trevor Plouffe are in the "hold 'em" group. Even if the latter were reaching base, they wouldn't be stealing anyway.

Well, Santana has an on-base percentage of .222, Schafer .154, Dozier .300. They simply aren't on base enough to do much running

Those three as also a combined 3-for-6 on steals, so even when they have reached, they haven't done well.

It should be mentioned that a third of the games have come against Kansas City and Salvador Perez, and Perez is viewed as the best throwing catcher in the American League. That's probably depressed the attempts too.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pic of the week

Picked off without a throw: Bartolo Colon tags out
A/J. Pierzynski.
This play came in the top of the sixth inning Thursday. A.J. Pierzynski singled with one out for Atlanta. He was still on first base one out later when Bartolo Colon executed a spin move and caught him too far off the base. Colon ran at him and tagged him out without a throw.

The play was scored as a caught stealing, pitcher unassisted. Now, I've watched a lot of baseball over the past 45 or so years, and I've never seen a pitcher actually chase down a baserunner from the mound. I do remember Pasqual Perez used to bluff such a pick-off several times a game, but he seldom got completely onto the infield grass.

That it would be a pudgy, 41-year-old Colon who pulled it off is amazing. And even though Pierzynski is himself a 38-year-old catcher and thus almost by definition immobile, getting chased down by Colon (listed as 5-11, 285 pounds) adds to the embarrassment. But Pierzynski doesn't embarrass easy.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Resolving the Josh Hamilton dispute

Reports Friday had it that the Texas Rangers are about to welcome back former MVP Josh Hamilton, resolving one of the uglier team-player disputes since George Steinbrenner roamed the earth.

While the pending trade won't resolve the larger issue of guaranteed contracts and the owners' desire to break them (which I went into in the Monday print column), it will resolve this specific one.

The Angels will apparently pay Hamilton some $68 million not to play for them the next three years. Texas will pick up just $5 million a year on the outfielder, which is less than the Twins are paying Mike Pelfrey. That's a high price to pay to appease the owner's snit. I guess Arte Moreno can afford it.

Hamilton is probably not the player he was in his first go-around with the Rangers, and it would be foolish to expect that. (It was foolish for the Angels to expect that when they signed him after the 2012 season.) He put up a .255 batting average in his two seasons with the Halos and set, in separate years, career lows in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Even so, he was, by OPS+, a better-than-average hitter in both seasons. This is a useful gamble by the Rangers. I hope Hamilton embarrasses the Angels when the division rivals meet. More than that, I hope the return to an environment where he has had success helps him in his struggle for sobriety.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Figures from bullpens past

The sour news Thursday morning for former Twins closer Joe Nathan -- a second round of Tommy John surgery -- made me realize that as difficult as this year has been for the current Twins bullpen, it's been rougher for a lot of former Twins relievers.

A quick accounting:

Nathan has faced one batter, Torii Hunter in the season opener. He struck Hunter out on a disputed call, then went on the disabled. list. On Wednesday Nathan was to throw 30 pitches on a rehab assignment. He got through 10 and walked off the mound holding his elbow. The diagnosis the next day: tears of his ulnar collateral ligament and flexor pronator. He vows to return, but ... this will be his second ligament replacement, and the track record on repeat TJ surgeries is not good. Plus, face it, he's 40.
LaTroy Hawkins is even older (42), and had said this would be his final season. He opened as the closer for Colorado, but was stripped of the job last week. On Thursday he went on the disabled list.

Jose Mijares was released in spring training by Cincinnati. He was released the previous spring by Boston and hasn't pitched in the majors since 2013. And after he was cut by the Reds, he got hit with a 50-game suspension for a "drug of abuse." Mijares is only 30, he's left-handed, and he has a career ERA of 3.23 and a lifetime BA allowed to left-handers of .223, but he's wearing out his welcome very quickly.

Jesse Crain left the Twins after 2010, signed with the White Sox, had a big year by throwing his slider far more often, made the All-Star team in 2013 -- and got hurt before the game was played. He's since bounced from the White Sox to Tampa Bay to Houston and back to the White Sox, where he's in extended spring training.

Matt Capps was in spring training with the Braves, was released, then re-signed by the Braves. If he's still in their organization, he isn't pitching. He has just 12 professional innings in the past  two years. He's only 31, but it's not looking good.

Jared Burton, let go by the Twins, signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees, who released him during spring training, then re-signed him to another minor-league deal. This avoided paying him a retention bonus (which may have been part of the Braves' maneuvering with Capps as well). Still, we're several weeks into the season and Burton hasn't appeared in a game, majors or minors.

That's a full bullpen of former Twins mainstays who are now injured or just hanging on.

It's not all bleak for the ex-Twins. Anthony Swarzak landed with Cleveland; signed to a minor-legue contract after the Twins cut him loose, he made the major league team without benefit of an opt-out clause. But he's been the exception.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

I have a long-standing theory that the steal of home is too infrequently attempted, and therefore I will not be critical of Torii Hunter for going for it Wednesday night. It was a good opportunity, and I have little doubt that even the 35-year-old Hunter would have made it safely. The 39-year-old Hunter is a bit slower, and did not.

Good idea, inadequate execution.


Dan Rohlfing hasn't
appeared in a game yet
for Rochester because
of a sprained ankle.
The Twins sold minor-league utility catcher Dan Rohlfing to the Mets. Rohlfing has been in the Twins organization since 2007, when he was drafted in the 14th round, and it seems that every spring he's one of the last players sent out from major league camp.

He catches, he plays some outfield, he holds down first base on occasion, and he probably carries the ball bag when asked. What he hasn't done on any level is hit well enough to be considered a bona fide prospect, much less force his way onto the 40-man roster.

The Mets have had some catching injuries this year, and the Twins had three backstops in Triple A before sending Rohlfing on his way (the others being Josmil Pinto and Eric Fryer). I don't know if Rohlfing is going to be any closer to reaching the majors with New York, but it seemed unlikely to happen for him with the Twins.

Rohlfing -- and to a lesser extent Chris Herrmann, who is on the major league roster -- illustrate the flaw in the utility catcher. If a player who can catch competently hits well enough to play a corner position, he's going to be a regular catcher. If a player who can catch competently merely hits well enough to be a backup catcher, he's not worth playing at a corner. Versatility is nice; hitting is better.


I am not at all surprised by the reversal Wednesday of the Barry Bonds conviction for obstruction of justice. Which leaves the federal government with a big O-fer in their prosecutions of Bonds and Roger Clemens.

I will merely link to this 2012 post featuring my Free Press edit on the Clemens trial. One thing I should perhaps update on that post: I am now, as I was not then, a member of the edit board. (If I recall correctly, the edit ran as written.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bullpen issues, broken record

Paul Molitor did something Tuesday night we know Ron Gardenhire wouldn't have done: He brought in his closer in the eighth inning of a tied game.

It didn't work. Mike Moustakas singled home the winning run.

Really, the issue wasn't bringing in Perkins for (Molitor hoped) four outs. The real issue was the inability of the bullpen in front of Perkins to keep things under control.

First came Blaine Boyer, who entered in the sixth with a man on first and two outs. He immediately gave up a double that plated the runner. For the second day in a row, Boyer has a linescore that says he gave up no runs but ignores his role in the runs charged to the previous pitcher. But those inherited runners count, and that one made it a one-run game.

Aaron Thompson followed, but he couldn't get through the seventh without being relieved by Casey Fien. Fien in turn couldn't get though the eighth.

Boyer, Thompson, Fien and Perkins -- they are the bullpen core, the guys Molitor relies on. They combined for 2.1 innings, two runs allowed and an inherited run allowed.

For all the chatter about how Molitor and new pitching coach Neil Allen want to get multi-inning outings from their relief pitchers, the fact remains: They aren't good enough to get that many outs.

One other item of note, and this isn't completely on the bullpen: The Twins pitchers racked up one strikeout Tuesday. One. That came from starter Tommy Milone. You won't win many games in the 21st Century with one strikeout.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The outfield defense and a dead cat bounce

Oswaldo Arcia and his fly ball drop.
I encountered a co-worker -- actually my boss -- around noon Monday, and he said something about the Twins playing better now, and I replied: It might be what is known on Wall Street as a "dead cat bounce."

Saying things like that just before fiascoes like Monday night's game is part of how I got a reputation around the office for knowing something about baseball.

For a variety of reasons it was basically a radio-and-Twitter night for following the game for me. Dan Gladden really went off on Oswaldo Arcia for his dropped fly ball to open the three-run sixth inning; Gladden accused Arcia of "hot-dogging." The radio boys also surmised that the pop-up that fell in front of Jordan Schafer did so because Schafer called off Brian Dozier. Corey Provus recalled Terry Ryan saying this spring that the outfield defense wasn't that bad, and then said it has to be a concern. (Provus also mentioned the infield defense.)

There are a lot of things that ought to be a concern.

Kyle Gibson had a "Nick Blackburn start" -- no strikeouts in five-plus innings. This gives him a total of three strikeouts in three starts this year. His strikeout rate had been going up near the end of last season, and there was hope this spring that the change-up he was working on would garner some swings-and-misses. Not happening so far.

Blaine Boyer had a deceptively good line score with two hitless innings, But his wild pitch ultimately allowed two inherited runners to score. And Caleb Thielbar and Tim Stauffer combined for a crooked number in the eighth to put the game out of reach. The bullpen behind Glen Perkins and Casey Fien is simply not reliable.

And while batting average is hardly the be-all measure of offense it was reckoned to be 40 years ago, Monday's lineup featured five starters who ended the game under the Mendoza line. That's not going to work.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Not-so-random thoughts from the weekend

Two starts for Trevor May in this homestand, and just one walk. And even that was intentional.

The Twins passed up May twice this spring for a rotation role, first in selecting Tommy Milone for the fifth starter spot and then going with Mike Pelfrey to fill in for the suspended Ervin Santana. May is only here because Ricky Nolasco is sidelined. But I really don't see any advantage, when Nolasco returns, in sticking with Pelfrey over May when Nolasco returns from his DL stint. Certainly long-term the Twins are better off giving May a clean shot at establishing himself as a starter, and even short-term, if he's throwing strikes he's better than Pelfrey.

That's a decision the Twins don't have to make yet. The word is that Nolasco will be sent on a rehab assignment when he's eligible to come off the disabled list this week. So May figures to get at least one more start.


I was listening to the radio broadcast while walking the beagle Sunday afternoon and the radio boys mentioned the "shutdown inning" concept after the Twins had a three-run inning. (That's when Cleveland plated the one run they got off May.) The idea is that it's especially important to keep the other team from scoring in the inning after your team has scored.

I will take that theory seriously when somebody explains when it's good to allow the other team to score. Would it have been OK for May to give up that run if the game was still scoreless?


A better question, frankly, is how can they hide Tim Stauffer, Blaine Boyer AND Graham. On a 12-man staff, there's room for one scut reliever. And it's better to make that somebody with a serious chance to be good eventually. That's Graham. It isn't Stauffer or Boyer.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pic of the Week

Craig Kimbrel, formerly of the Braves and
now a Padre, shows off his max-effort
I'm pretty sure I used a similar photo of Dave Robertson a few years ago, but really, I can't get enough of photos of pitchers in body positions they can't possibly hold for more than a fraction of a second.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

An early view of Santana at shortstop

Danny Santana has struggled in the field in the early going.
I'll start with the caveat: It's early. The Twins have played all of 10 games. But Danny Santana is not impressing me in his first sustained time at shortstop in the majors.

He made another poor throw Friday night on an attempted 3-6-1 double play, His return throw was a least a yard behind pitcher Mike Pelfrey. (Bert Blyleven tried to blame the missed connection on Pelfrey, a bit of commentary sufficiently inane that I suspect he's been ordered not to be critical of Santana defensively.) There was no error charged --  the batter-runner didn't advance, and the scoring rules say you can't presume the double play -- but it was a poor throw.

As it is, Santana has already been charged with more errors (3) this season than he was in his 34 sporadic major league games at short last season (2). Errors are, of course, a very blunt statistical tool with which to try to dissect defense, but such a high error rate indicates a problem, especially since official scorers tend to be sparing with the "E"s. There have been other misplays that have gone as fielder's choices or hits.

Again: It's early, far too early to start citing the metrics on Santana's defense. Perhaps he'll settle in and start playing more consistently, Or perhaps his attention will fade and the mistakes will increase. I don't know where this is going. I do believe he's living down to his reputation as a sloppy defensive shortstop in the minors.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Three series into the season

The Twins have now played nine games, which is 5.5 percent of the season. That's not a lot.

Still, we've seen already some of the problems foreseen with this roster. The glovework has been weak -- the outfield is short on range and the middle infield has problems turning double plays. The bullpen is thin -- any team needs more than one reliable right-handed arm in its relief corps, and Casey Fien is the only one who approximates that description.

These things are true and significant, and yet the Twins just took two of three from a Kansas City team whose strongest points are exactly those weaknesses -- outstanding defense and a a deep bullpen, especially from the right side.

A 3-6 record is certainly nothing to celebrate, but the Twins aren't as bad as they looked in the 1-6 stretch that opened the season, Nobody's that bad. But they're also not as good as management appears to think they are, My guess is that the roster shakeup -- and there will be one -- will come in about a month.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Roger Kahn, Leo Durocher and "Rickey & Robinson"

A fan in Pittsburgh holds a sign Wednesday honoring
Jackie Robinson.
Wednesday was Jackie Robinson Day, baseball's annual display of self-satisfaction over the
integration of the major leagues in 1947.

During the offseason Roger Kahn, who covered the Dodgers for the now-defunct Herald Tribune for a couple of years in the Robinson era and who became famous as the author of "The Boys of Summer," a marvelous book celebrating that team, hit the bestseller lists again with "Rickey & Robinson,"

I can't claim to have read all of Kahn's books, but I've read enough of them to expect him to write in the first person. I can't claim to have read all the books about Jackie Robinson, but I've read enough of them to believe I have a handle on the story of breaking the color barrier.

"Rickey & Robinson" is indeed in the first person, which grated on me somewhat because, at least regarding 1947, Kahn wasn't there. By the time he was handed the Dodgers beat, Rickey was in Pittsburgh and Robinson an established star. Still, the book relies so heavily on what Kahn says he was told over the years -- by Robinson, by Rickey, by others -- that I never figured out how it would work in a more distant third person.

There are details and claims that I haven't seen before (again, there are many recountings of this theme that I'm not familar with), and several of them are minor, But one notion that I haven't seen in print before seems rather significant, and I really wonder if it's true -- that the suspension of Dodger manager Leo Durocher for the 1947 season was based not so much on his sexual-marital scandal with actress Laraine Day as for throwing the 1946 pennant race for the profit of his mobster-gambling buddies.

Kahn is in his mid 80s, and everybody else he mentions in connection with this story is long dead. Durocher. "Shondor" Birns, the Cleveland racketeer who supposedly cleaned up wagering against the Dodgers in their best-of-three tiebreaker series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Ford Frick, then the National League president, who Kahn describes as deflecting his decades-later questions about Durocher in 1946 by talking about curling. Bill Veeck, who is Kahn's chief source on the story.

The notion of Durocher fixing a pennant race is so out-of-sorts with his win-at-any-price persona that I was immediately skeptical of Kahn's story. Yet upon examination, it is uncomfortably plausible.

Durocher was hanging out with a bad news crowd. He was habitually short of money. He did live by a moral code, it it can be called such, that was amazingly short-sighted and self-centered. I can't rule out the possibility that he shed some uncomfortable debt by mishandling his pitching staff at the end of the season.

And his selection of Ralph Branca to start the first game of that playoff series was, at the least, odd. Of the nine men who did the bulk of the pitching for the Dodgers that year, Branca (in his age 20 season) worked the fewest innings and had by far the worst ERA. Durocher frequently did the unexpected -- playing a hunch, he called it -- but off the stats, Branca was the worst possible selection.

The Durocher suspension was, at the time, as big a story as Robinson himself was, and losing Durocher was a blow to Rickey's plan, Today it's almost forgotten. Kahn's story, as far as I can tell, has drawn little attention. Durocher is in the Hall of Fame, a selection that suggests that if a dalliance with game-fixing was rumored at the time it didn't have legs. But if he did indeed fix, or semi-fix, the 1946 pennant, he doesn't belong in the Hall. I suspect I'll never really know.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

In the glare of the sun field

Part of the company line about moving Oswaldo Arcia to left field was the notion that the overhang in right field was preying on Arcia's mind. Getting Arcia away from the overhang, Terry Ryan predicted this spring, will make him a better outfielder.

There's an underappreciated aspect to left field at Target Field, however. It's the sunfield in that park, and while that may be less crucial than it was in an era when night games were rare, it is still a factor at times.

I was in the lower left field seats for the home opener, a bright sunny day with a 3 p.m. start, which meant that the sun was getting progressively lower. Alex Gordon, the Kansas City left fielder who is by consensus the best at the position in the game, dealt with the sun in large part by taking flyballs side saddle -- he would, in effect, turn his back on the sun and catch the ball to the side, rather than straight on. By game's end, Gordon's center field partner, Lorenzo Cain, was shielding his eyes with his glove on each pitch.

Arcia made a nice catch in left-center Monday, a play that had his back to the sun. He clanked a ball near the left-field line, a play that had him running toward the sun.

The sun was an issue Monday. But major league outfielders should be able to cope with the sun. It's part of the job. Gordon and Cain found a way to do so. Arcia was less adept at it. That had nothing to do with the overhang, and everything to do with his outfielding skills, or lack of them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Trevor May and a sloppy opener

That was one ugh-ly game, folks.

The Twins lost 12-3 and really didn't play even that well. And still I rise to the defense on starter Trevor May. The linescore says he gave up eight hits and five earned runs in 5.1 innings. Fact: he pitched a lot better than that.

Yes, he gave up a monster homer to Kendrys Morales, and yes, in the sixth inning the Royals started hitting balls hard.

But the second run scored because Brian Dozier and Danny Santana, trying to turn a spectacular double play in the third, neglected to get even one out. Just one out there would have allowed May to escape the inning with the fly ball that followed; instead it went as a sacrifice fly, and Kansas City took the lead.

Dozier and Santana failed again to convert a DP in the fourth inning, a failure that didn't lead to any runs. And in the sixth, the inning that drove May from the game, we saw a throwing error by Torii Hunter and a "double" that clanked off Oswaldo Arcia's glove.

It got worse from there, but frankly, once May was pulled and the bullpen called upon to squirt lighter fluid on the fire, I lost interest in keeping track of the miscues. There were plenty.

The friend in the next seat asked whether a right fielder should be expected to reach the sixth inning double that led to Hunter's throwing error. I suspect there are right fielders who would have caught that ball, but I don't know that for a fact. I know Hunter did not come close.

With better defense, maybe May gets through the sixth with, I don't know, two or three runs allowed. Which is a lot better than five runs in 5.1.

What I particularly liked about May's performance: he threw strikes: 78 pitchers, 54 strikes. He walked one man, and that was intentional. (One thing we can definitely say about Paul Molitor as a manager: He is far more willing to issue an IBB than Ron Gardenhire and Tom Kelly were. I don't regard this as a good thing, but that's a topic for another day.)

Monday, April 13, 2015

A bullpen based on March

The last seven men
to face Blaine Boyer
all got hits.
The Blaine Boyer Experience this weekend wasn't pretty.

On Saturday he entered the ninth inning of a tied game with one out and nobody on. He got his first batter out, then: single (misplayed by shortstop Santana), double, single, one run in and the third out at the plate.

On Sunday he faced four batters in the eighth inning of a one-run game: single, stolen base, single, home run, single. Added to Sunday's misery: It was all against right-handed hitters, and if Boyer offers a bullpen anything of value, it's facing right-handed hitters.

That's a fairly substantial if. Boyer is 33, has a lengthy track record -- Sunday was his 269th major league appearance over nine full or partial seasons -- and is what he has always been: A fringe reliever, the 12th or 13th pitcher on a 12-man staff.

So why is he suddenly getting key innings for the Twins? Three reasons:

  • Casey Fien has a balky shoulder;
  • Boyer had a strong spring training;
  • Tim Stauffer was awful in spring training

I see two groups of relievers on this roster. The first are the secure veterans: Glen Perkins, Fien, Brian Duensing, Stauffer. They entered camp knowing they would be on the roster; the first three knew what their specific roles would be.

The second group got roster spots on the strength of what they did in Florida last month: Boyer, J.R. Graham, Aaron Thompson. Graham is in a unique position as a Rule 5 draftee; he either sticks on the roster or goes back to the Atlanta Braves, and there's too much there to consider giving him up.

One week into the season, and the bullpen is a mess. I have no basis to judge if Fien should be on the disabled list or not, but if he can't take the mound and Stauffer and Boyer can't get outs, the right-handed portion of the relief corps is down to Graham, and there isn't enough of him for that.

Something must be did, and the likeliest candidate to do it to is Boyer. Stauffer's contract may be digestable, but December's decision to give him a major-league contract suggests the front office will wait until at least mid-May before admitting the mistake.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pic of the Week

Kurt Suzuki tags out Adam Eaton for the final out
of the Twins' first victory of 2015.

Two things about this photo:

  • Suzuki is in a very awkward position.
  • What is Eaton doing, getting thrown out at home plate down six runs?
Not a smart play by Eaton.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

May he stick

Trevor May will
start the home opener.
Well, it took a suspension and an injury, but Trevor May winds up with a berth in the April starting rotation,

How long it lasts probably doesn't depend on him as much as it does on other people, specifically Mike Pelfrey.

The diagnosis on Ricky Nolasco's elbow is a mild inflammation that will presumably clear in the 15 days he'll spend on the disabled list, which is already down to 13. May figures to get two starts in that period. So will Pelfrey, who gets the ball today against the White Sox.

My preference should be obvious. May might have a future. Pelfrey doesn't. I'd much rather see May get a third start, and a fourth, and a fifth, and so on,

But management has twice made its preference known. Pelfrey ranks ahead of May. It seems likely that Pelfrey will have to fall on his face for May to remain once Nolasco is pronounced sound once more. Pelfrey is fully capable of that.


Nolasco had been slated to start the home opener. May will slide into his slot and pitch Monday before the full house at Target Field.

I find that noteworthy. Ron Gardenhire and Tom Kelly, I'm quite sure, would have shuffled the rotation to get a veteran into the opener. Their stated philosophy was that an inexperienced pitcher would be more susceptible to nerves.

It wouldn't have been that difficult for Paul Molitor to start May today or (more likely) Sunday and push Phil Hughes back to Monday. He chose instead to keep Hughes (and Pelfrey) on schedule.

Friday, April 10, 2015

From bad to worse

Ricky Nolasco throws a first-inning pitch Wednesday.
Photos like this remind me that the mystery isn't that
pitchers get hurt, it's that they don't get hurt more often.
I recently ran across this proposed addition to the Beatitudes: Blessed are they with low expectations, for they shall not be disappointed.

This has been a week to test the expectations of Twins fans (and players, and decision makers). The basis for the Twins' expectations this year -- and they seemed to have expectations, even if they were exclusive to the organization -- started this way:

  • Ervin Santana deepens the starting rotation;
  • Ricky Nolasco, Tommy Milone and Mike Pelfrey all had injury issues last season and should be better this year.

Well. A week ago today news broke that Santana had flunked a steroids test, and he's serving an 80-day suspension. Nolasco opened Wednesday's game throwing 14 straight fastballs and ended his all-too brief outing throwing almost nothing but junk. By Thursday he was on his way to Minneapolis to have his elbow examined.

Also on Thursday, Alex Meyer pitched the opener for the Twins Triple A affiliate, the Rochester (NY) Red Wings. He walked six in five innings, a pretty good indication that he still hasn't worked out his mechanics.

Keep your expectations low, fellow Twins fans.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Twins clown show performance

The ball, the wall, the center fielder and a triple. This
is from Monday's game, but it summarizes the outfield play
in the Twins first two games of the season.
Had the Twins tried to embarrass themselves Wednesday, they could hardly have done a better job.

Ricky Nolasco, fresh off an encouraging spring training, was awful. The outfield repeatedly turned base hits into extra bases. And the hitters have not only been shut out for the season to date, they have yet to get a man to third base.

David Price and Anibel Sanchez have had something to do with that latter problem, certainly. They had nothing to do with the outfield misplays.

Wednesday illustrated the ever-increasing lack of credibility by the FSN broadcasters. Torii Hunter made a nice catch on the warning track, and Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven couldn't stop raving about the play. An inning or so later, Hunter turned a base hit to right center into a triple, and it was just crickets from the voices in the booth.

Hunter is the focus of a ticket-selling campaign -- a "Torii Territory" promo airs with regularity on FSN these days -- and as such never is heard a discouraging word. We viewers and listeners will do well to remember: Dick-n-Bert are selected and paid by the Twins. They are the organization's house organ. When Blyleven ripped Kevin Slowey a few years ago, it was a sure sign Slowey was in the team's doghouse.

Not that Hunter was the only culprit Wednesday. For the second game -- and Twins have only played two -- Jordan Schafer misplayed a ball into three bases. On Monday it was ruled a triple; on Wednesday Schafer was charged with an error. And that wasn't his only misplay Wednesday.

Things will get better. The Twins will eventually score a run; they'll even win some games. But man, they do not look anywhere near as good as they seem to think they are.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

My list of top Twins prospects

The past two springs I've compiled my own list of the top 15 Twins prospects. Such things usually come before the season, but I just didn't get around to it in March.

  1. Byron Buxton, outfielder
  2. Miguel Sano, third base
  3. J.O. Berrios, right-handed pitcher
  4. Kohl Stewart, right-handed pitcher
  5. Jorge Polanco, shortstop
  6. Nick Gordon, shortstop
  7. Eddie Rosario, outfielder
  8. Alex Meyer, right-handed pitcher
  9. Trevor May, right-handed pitcher
  10. Nick Burdi, right-handed pitcher
  11. Stephen Gonsalves, left-handed pitcher
  12. Max Kepler, outfielder-first baseman
  13. Lewis Thorpe, left-handed pitcher
  14. Jake Reed, right-handed pitcher
  15. Chih-Wei Hu, right-handed pitcher

Most everybody ranking the Twins prospects lumps Berrios, Meyer and Stewart together 3-4-5 or so. (Some lists break up the trio with Gordon). I'm downgrading Meyer because he's 25 and spent last year at Triple A and is still there.

I also differ from the pack in putting Polanco above Gordon. This is not a knock on Gordon, who was the fifth overall pick last summer and will open 2015 with Cedar Rapids, It is an acknowledgement of Polanco, who is two levels ahead of Gordon and appears to be convincing the organization that he can indeed play shortstop.

Thorpe is lower than on most lists because this list is later and I know what the earlier listers didn't: That the Aussie needed Tommy John surgery, I was tempted to knock him off the top 15 as a result. Hu is an idiosyncratic selection; I saw him last summer in Cedar Rapids and was impressed.

Guys I left off because I ran out of spaces: J.R. Graham, J.T. Chargois, Zach Jones (because I already had two high-end relief arms listed); Stuart Turner (he'll catch in the majors, but he won't hit enough to be a star and may not hit enough to be a regular); Adam Brett Walker (big-time power, but lacks command of the strike zone).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The check swing

There were various howls of outrage Monday afternoon when veteran umpire Joe West called veteran hitter Torii Hunter out on a check swing against veteran closer Joe Nathan.

My thoughts:

  • Hunter probably should have gotten another pitch;
  • Nathan would have thrown another slider out of the zone;
  • Hunter would have been starting his swing early again;
  • Sooner or later, we would have gotten to the same result, strike three on a check swing.

If you're familiar with this corner of the Interwebs, you know that I'm not invested, as much of the metro sports opinion makers are, in the notion that Hunter is still an outstanding player. My investment is to the contrary, that Hunter should not have been signed. So take this as coming from one who may be seeing what he wants to see.

If Torii Hunter has to, in baseball parlance, "cheat" against the 2015 version of Joe Nathan -- by which I mean start his swing prematurely -- we're going to see a lot of check swing strikeouts from him. Nathan doesn't have the velocity he had in his glory days with the Twins, but all those check swings from Hunter suggest that Hunter has to cheat to get to the fastball.

Or they might suggest that he's seeing slider and starting the swing in hopes it's a hanger. But I never had the notion that Hunter was in command of that at-bat, just as I never had the notion that the Twins were going to get to David Price.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Jordan Schafer and the Opening Day lineup

Jordan Schafer hit
.143 against left-handers
last season.
The day after I dissected the difference between platooning and playing matchups, Paul Molitor revealed his planned lineup for today's season opener against David Price, one of the best lefties in the game. That lineup included three players with a history of struggling against lefties: Oswaldo Arcia, Jordan Schafer and Kennys Vargas. And Schafer, of course, is supposed to be in a center field platoon.

Arcia and Vargas, I get. They're young guys, they're supposed to be regulars, and the first game of the season isn't a time for a manager to say: This guy needs a day off anyway, let's get so-and-so in the lineup.

Schafer is another matter. His career OPS against southpaws is almost 200 points lower than against right-handers. (Which is not to say that he's been all that good against righties either over the years.) So why is he in the lineup against Price while purported platoon mate Shane Robinson sits?

Molitor suggests that Opening Day is a day to play your regulars. Which I would accept -- see the second paragraph -- but for the fact that Molitor has avoided anointing Schafer as the regular center fielder.

So what other, unstated, rationale might the manager have for playing Schafer against Price?

The change-up

Price is one of the many pitchers who came up through the Tampa Bay system, which (as we've learned since Neil Allen became Minnesota's pitching coach) emphasizes the change -p. Last year, according to Baseball Info Systems, Price threw his change on 20 percent of his pitches.

While I don't know how his change-up use breaks down by platoons, it's a good bet that Price uses the change more against right-handed hitters than against lefties. This is something of a pitching staple: fastball-breaking ball against same side hitters, fastball-change against opposite side hitters. You're looking for a pitch that moves away from the hitter.

So the idea might be to take the change away from Price.

Is Price backwards?

Not really. For his career, Price enters 2015 with a career OPS allowed against righties of .676, against lefties of .561.

However, last year lefties were slightly better than righties against Price: .644 OPS for right handers, .657 for lefties. That's obviously in a smaller sample than the career figures, but it's more recent.


Schafer is presumably perceived as a better defensive player than Robinson, who mostly played right field in the exhibitions. Molitor may figure that neither is all that likely to hit Price, so go with the better glove.

Schafer really is the regular, for now

It's usually best to follow the John Mitchell Rule with managers. (Mitchell was Richard Nixon's first attorney general who famously told opponents of school integration "Watch what we do, not what we say.")

Molitor says he's platooning Robinson and Schafer. We'll see. He may wind up playing Schafer more than that for a time, until Schafer convinces him that the team would do better with someone else.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Pic of the Week

A fan at Friday's Reds-Blue Jays exhibition makes
her real rooting interest clear.

For the second year in a row, the Toronto Blue Jays played some end-of-spring-training exhibition games in Montreal. For the second year in a row, those games drew big numbers.

It's tempting to look at those crowds (more than 90,000 for the Friday-Saturday games with Cincinnati) and compare them to what we'll likely see in, say, St. Petersburg, Florida, for the Rays, and think that moving a team to Montreal is a no-brainer.

The reality is that the forces -- economic and political -- that prompted the Expos to flee Montreal are still in place.

Montreal is still a city whose corporate base sharply dwindled during various pushes for the province of Quebec to separate from Canada. It's still burdened -- almost 40 years later -- by the cost of "The Big Owe," the Olympic Stadium built for the 1976 Olympic games and for years the home of the Expos but today hideously outdated. And the chronic issue of currency fluctuation, and the reality that a Canadian team inevitably takes in Canadian dollars and pays out American dollars to the players, remains.

Maybe major-league baseball will someday return to Montreal. But I'm not counting on ever seeing it myself.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

"Playing matchups" versus platooning

The demotion earlier this week of Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario signaled that the Twins will open 2015 with a center field platoon of two mediocre veterans, Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson. Schafer hits left, Robinson right. It's an obvious platoon.

But we are being constantly "assured" by the broadcasters that it won't be a hard platoon. They're going to play matchups.

Well, that's what platooning IS: Matchups on a rudimentary level. Earl Weaver at his mad-dougout-scientist peak in the late '70s and early '80s ran very complex platoons, all of them starting with lefty-righty and then branching out into breaking ball-fast ball and other variables, but he had as many as nine outfielders. Paul Molitor has four true outfielders, two of whom aren't going to play center field unless Moli wishes to embarrass a pitcher. He hasn't a roster built to accommodate complex lineup shuffling.

The broadcasters are saying this because that's what they're being told, and I presume they're being told that because players generally hate being platooned and so why rub it in? Of course, at this point in their careers, Schafer and Robinson ought to embrace the role. It's better to platoon in the majors than play every day in the minors -- or to find a job in the real world.

On the Ervin Santana suspension

A sight we won't see for a while:
Ervin Santana throwing a pitch.
The loss of Ervin Santana to what is essentially a half-year's suspension -- 80 days of a 162-game season, plus the postseason should God drop everything else and the Twins reach the playoffs -- hurts the Twins.

What hurts worse is how management is filling the gap.

Santana said in a statement Friday that he doesn't know how the substance for which he tested positive -- specifically Stanozolol -- got into his system. You can regard me as overly gullible, but I think that's believable. He spent the offseason in his native Dominican Republic, and let's just say government regulations are laxer there than in the U.S. -- and we don't regulate supplements well at all. (Regulating supplements interfered with campaign donations.)

Accident or intentional, it doesn't matter. Santana is responsible, under the collective bargaining agreement, for what he puts in his body. 

Anyway, I'm just going to regard this as a three-month injury that will flare up again in October. He's a pitcher, and injuries happen to pitchers. He can't pitch.

What irks me is that the Twins have chosen to fill the rotation vacancy with Mike Pelfrey. Not Trevor May, not Alex Meyer, not Jose Berrios or somebody with actual talent. Mike Pelfrey, who is 12 percent under league average in ERA+ for his career and has been injured, awful or both for four straight years.

Ridiculous. Farcical. I would say this indicates that organization remains committed to veteran mediocrity, except that Pelfrey hasn't attained mediocrity in years. 

To fill the bullpen role that Pelfrey was supposed to occupy, the Twins called back Aaron Thompson, a LOOGY candidate who got sent out before fellow LOOGY candidate Caleb Thielbar was. Thompson doesn't really interest me much either -- I would much rather see Michael Tonkin or Ryan Pressly, and to heck with the left-handed specialists -- but the sixth or seventh arm in the bullpen isn't a high-leverage role. At least it shouldn't be. The way this organization is making decisions, who knows?

Friday, April 3, 2015

The opening roster

Josmil Pinto lost out
on the backup catcher
job to Chris Herrmann,
at least for now.
The Twins effectively settled their Opening Day roster Thursday:

  • Outfielder Shane Robinson was offically added to the 40-man roster;
  • Catcher Josmil Pinto was optioned to Triple-A;
  • Catcher Eric Fryer was reassigned to Triple A, and fellow non-roster invitee infielder Doug Bernier was told he will be after the exhibition schedule is over.

In theory, I would have preferred to see Pinto on the roster than Eduardo Nunez, but there are variables that I don't have a handle on: the effects of Pinto's concussion, how comfortable Paul Molitor is with the idea of using Eduardo Escobar as a part-time outfielder, how competent Pinto currently is behind the plate.

Here's how Escobar figures into this: The Twins default starting outfield figures to be Oswaldo Arcia in left. the Jordan Schafer-Robinson platoon in center and Torii Hunter in right. (Those four names are also the four "true" outfielders on the roster.) The Twins figure to face Chris Sale, very good lefty, a week from Saturday. Hunter and Robinson are right-handed; Arcia and Schafer are left-handed. If Molitor wants to get both the lefties out of the lineup against Sale, a non-outfielder has to play left. That won't be backup catcher Chris Herrmann, who is a decent enough outfielder, because he's left-handed too. Escobar is a switch-hitter, Nunez hits right, so either fits that part of the bill. But which, if either, do you really want in the outfield?

The presence of Kennys Vargas also works against Pinto, because Vargas ties up the DH spot. I don't know that Vargas is really a better hitter than Pinto, but the Twins are operating on that basis.To get at-bats in the majors, Pinto has to catch, and while he is said to have improved behind the plate, he's probably still not good.

The current issue of Baseball America, in that light, has a interesting piece about the new era of catcher instruction, with the use of advanced stats to measure pitch framing and high-end pitching machines to provide receiving reps on major-league quality pitches. (I'd link to the piece, but it's subscriber-only.) The story is in the context of the Cubs' efforts to rebuild Kyle Schwarber, an outstanding hitting prospect whose catching skills (or lack of same) may eventually force him to a different position. I don't know if the Twins are doing the same things with Pinto. I hope they are.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The roster moves to come

The Twins optioned out left-handed reliever Caleb Thielbar on Wednesday, which appears to settle the 12-man pitching staff.

Today we can expect the official addition of outfielder Shane Robinson to the 40-man roster. This has been an apparent move for a few days, and I assume the Twins have put it off to his opt-out date for two reasons:

  • to cover themselves in case of injury (an injured Robinson not on the 40 wouldn't go on the major league disabled list);
  • just in case some other team making roster cuts exposes a right-handed hitting outfielder the Twins like more than "Sugar Shane."

Beyond that, what? Two other non-roster invitees remain in camp, catcher Eric Fryer and infielder Doug Bernier; I don't see either making the Opening Day roster. Two of the trio of (alphabetically) Chris Herrmann, Eduardo Nunez and Josmil Pinto figure to be on the active roster. Pinto's health status after his concussion plays a role in that decision, as does the comfort level Paul Molitor has in Eduardo Escobar as an outfield reserve.

I see more possibilities for the future with Herrmann and Pinto than with Nunez, but given the Twins' habitual preference for mediocre veterans, I suspect Nunez will stick.

One other very slight possibility to mention. USA Today this week ran their version of the "David Ortiz sees himself in Kennys Vargas" story, and in the process mentioned something I hadn't seen from the beat writers. (Maybe I missed it.) Supposedly Vargas reported at 290 pounds, and the Twins want him at 275 max. He was, according to the story, told he had to get down to 275 or be sent out.

That would be a "tough love" move, but one I wouldn't criticize. It would actually put the long run first, which has been a rarity of late. Vargas needs to develop the self-discipline to stay in shape if he's to have a career, even if it's simply as a DH type. (There was an odd-sounding quote from Molitor recently about Vargas not being in sufficient condition to play nine innings of first base, which is, frankly, an appalling concept for a 24-year-old professional athlete.)

But I expect Vargas to be on the roster and in the lineup. A regular DH and a 12-man pitching staff leaves a four-man bench that would presumably begin with Escobar and include whichever center fielder isn't in the lineup (Robinson or Schafer) and two of the Herrmann-Nunez-Pinto trio. If Vargas gets optioned out, all three make the roster, and presumably Pinto would get the bulk of the DH time, although Molitor might use the DH slot to manufacture playing time for Escobar.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The same OLD story on the roster

Michael Tonkin
was pretty quickly
eliminated from the
bullpen discussion.
I commented the other day, in connection with the removal of Lester Oliveros and Stephen Pryor from the Twins 40-man roster, that the clock is ticking for them.

It is, as well, for Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin, two other relievers who didn't make the 25-man roster while the 30-something likes of Tim Stauffer and Blaine Boyer did.

One of my core thoughts about this season is that the Twins need to stop looking for reasons not to use the kids and start looking for reasons to use them.

Tonkin is 25, his major league ERA (admittedly in just 30-plus innings) is 3.26 with a walk/strikeout ratio of 9/26, and his Triple A numbers last year were strong. Pressly is 26, with a major league ERA of 3.60 in 105 innings, and he too had a good year in Triple A.

But it's back to the bushes for them while the old guys with no upside have jobs. I don't get it. I really don't.

Aaron Gleeman has pointed out that there are only four players on the likely 25-man roster age 25 or younger: Kennys Vargas, Danny Santana, J.R. Graham and Oswaldo Arcia. Keep this in mind as you hear Bert Blyleven tell you what a young team this is: It isn't young. It certainly isn't as young as it ought to be, considering the miserable record of the past four seasons and the highly touted state of the farm system.

It's quite possible that neither Pressly nor Tonkin is destined to be a standout reliever. I'm not as high on either of them as I am on the Nick Burdi-J.T. Chargois-Jake Reed-Zach Jones quartet of fireballers. None of those four got major league camp invites; none has cracked Double A yet, two are coming off injuries, two only turned pro last June. They're not high enough on the Twins totem pole.

In my more cynical moments, I assume that Pressly and Tonkin are being kept around to be a reason not to try one of the younger guys, just as Stauffer and Boyer are reasons not to use Pressly and Tonkin.

Any totem pole that puts Tim Stauffer above Michael Tonkin, much less Nick Burdi, needs to be torn down.