Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pic of the Week

Matt Holiday gets plunked.

This is actually from May 23, more than a week ago, but it's too good a moment to turn down.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Tim Stauffer has
a job but not a role
in an eight-man bullpen.
Good: Casey Fien was activated from the disabled list Friday. A healthy Fien is an asset to the Twins relief corps.

Bad: Michael Tonkin, dubbed "the Strand Man" by the Pioneer Press's Mike Berardino, was sent back to Rochester. Tonkin has a rather odd set of stats: just seven innings in 11 appearances, and a 5.14 ERA while stranding 10 of 13 runners. Basically, Paul Molitor was using Tonkin for one or two outs with men on base. Tonkin entered five games in save situations and departed having held the lead all five times. In short, he had a useful role.

Worse: Tim Stauffer remains on the roster, to what purpose none can tell. He came off the disabled list a week ago after several ineffective rehab appearances and went unused until getting a one-out mopup appearance Friday. Which is understandable, since the Twins were winning games, and Stauffer has done nothing -- in spring training, in the regular season, on rehab -- to make anybody believe that he can help.

Keeping Stauffer over Tonkin suggests Terry Ryan and Co. are more concerned with getting something for the $2.2 million the veteran will be paid this year than with giving Molitor a useful relief pitcher. It's a regrettable decision.


Baseball America issued Mock Draft 4.0 on Friday. Unlike the previous three attempts, this one does not project the Twins taking Dez Cameron with the No. 6 overall pick. That's because they now project the Houston Astros to take the son of former Gold Glove center fielder Mike Cameron with the fifth overall pick.

The current projection is another prep outfielder, Kyle Tucker of Tampa.

There have been reports elsewhere that Cameron's asking price has discouraged the Twins, but BA says Cameron remains the team's "chosen target."


I am an unabashed admirer of Mark Buehrle, pitcher of baseballs. Friday he gave up four runs in the first inning and the Twins hit everything hard. Then he faced the minimum in the next eight innings.

Kenny Rogers, another lefty who won far more games than one would imagine possible with so little velocity, pitched one year for the Twins, 2003, going 13-8 in 195 innings. Time and again I heard him say in postgame interviews: I'm not afraid to go out there with nothing. Buehrle could say the same thing.

Buehrle got career win 205 Friday. (Rogers retired with 219.) They didn't all come against the Twins, but it sure feels like it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Contemplating Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks makes one of his diving catches in center
field. This one came May 23 on a drive by Chicago's
Adam Eaton.
In Wednesday's post, I referred to Aaron Hicks' "balsa-wood bat," a metaphor for his light hitting. That afternoon, Hicks hit a home run.

Which still leaves the 25-year-old center fielder with a lowly slash line on the season of .240/.269/.320. His OPS+ at this point is 63 percent of league average -- and while those figures come for just 52 plate appearances, they are in line with his career figures to date. Nothing appears to have changed for him as a hitter.

I can, and will, concede that he's flashing some serious leather in center field. But even a Gold Glove centerfielder has to hit better than Hicks has.

And, of course, Hicks isn't going to be the long term center fielder for this team. Byron Buxton will be, and I hope sooner rather than later. 

A couple of years ago, I could envision Hicks as a 20-plus home-run guy with 80 or so walks and 20 to 30 steals. Even with a low batting average, those numbers and strong defense would certainly play in center fielder and possibly in an outfield corner. But he has yet to show genuine power, and the walks have disappeared.

Buxton has hit nine triples in May for Double A Chattanooga; the entire major league roster has nine triples for the season. He's had his ups and downs for the Lookouts, but the talent is inescapable. My expectation is that Hicks will continue to play center in June. And in July, Buxton will get the call. Whether there will be a role for Hicks depends in large part on whether he shows something more at the plate.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The imminent return of Casey Fien

Tim Stauffer hasn't
appeared in a
major league game
since April 29.
The Twins go into today's off-day with an eight-man bullpen, one more than optimal. On Wednesday, the rehabbing Casey Fien worked the second day of back-to-back outings; if he reports no issues with the shoulder that had sidelined him, he's ready to come off the disabled list.

So change is coming. Maybe changes, but certainly at least one of the relief pitchers has to go to make room for Fien. Who?

Cross off Glen Perkins, Blaine Boyer and Aaron Thompson, the closer and the current top two setup guys. (Thompson may be spluttering a bit now after a sensational start to his season -- he hasn't gotten through a full inning since May 9 -- but he's still left-handed.) Cross off J.R. Graham as well; he's not a key member of the bullpen, but this is not a time to break the Rule 5 commitment.

That's four of the eight, leaving, alphabetically, Brian Duensing, Ryan Pressly, Tim Stauffer and Michael Tonkin.

Duensing is likely to stay, with the left-handed thing working in his favor. But he hasn't been particularly effective -- 21 baserunners allowed in 10 innings -- and the one out he got Wednesday pinned Eddie Rosario to the outfield wall.

Pressly and Tonkin were part of the late-innings parade between starter Phil Hughes and Perkins Wednesday, Paul Molitor hasn't come to really trust either. although Tonkin in particular has come though in very brief outings with men on base. (Wednesday he entered in the eighth after Thompson gave up a hit to walk Hanley Ramirez and get David Ortiz on a weak grounder.)

Stauffer, whose return from the DL last week gave the Twins this eight-man pen, hasn't entered a game since his return. The starters haven't needed a long man for a while, and Molitor doesn't (and shouldn't) want to use him in a winnable game.

But he does carry a guaranteed major-league contract, and the Twins are unlikely to find any takers for it. So if he's the one to go, the Twins would have to eat the contract.

Which is what I expect them to do: Designate Stauffer for assignment (and eventually release him, since nobody's going to pick up that contract), reactivate Fien, and move on. Stauffer's signing was a mistake, but a minor one. The Twins shouldn't compound the error by keeping him around any longer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The front office and the pitching surplus

I am increasingly being asked as I go around town: Are the Twins for real? The pessimist in me says no. I do not trust Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson's low strikeout rates. I am skeptical of Danny Santana's erratic defense. I am wary of Aaron Hicks' balsa-wood bat. I can go on with things to be concerned about: Torii Hunter's age, Joe Mauer's decline, a bullpen stuffed with mediocre track records.

And behind all that, I have come on some level to mistrust the front office. At the core of my pessimism is my sense that Terry Ryan and Co. will misread these first two months success.

Here's the thing: There are solutions available to almost all the pitfalls I see (Mauer's decline being the exception). I'm just not sure the organization is willing to take advantage of those solutions.

For example: The Twins at the moment have a surplus of starting pitchers. Tommy Milone has allowed one stinking earned run in four starts in Triple A, and there's no room for him in the rotation. Plus Ervin Santana is starting his second spring training in preparation for a return from his PED suspension. Plus it's hard to see from here what more J.O. Berrios has to do to move up the ladder.

This is a good problem to have, but it's still a problem; Milone cannot be happy about his current status, and at some point frustrating him will become counterproductive. It's also an opportunity. There are, or will be, deals to be made in the coming weeks. Starting pitchers are valuable commodities.

My fear is that Ryan will seek to extend Pelfrey rather than move him this summer. (On the other hand, Pelfrey is represented by Scott Boras, and Boras's clients seldom do midseason deals.)

Now, it's be clear about what I'm NOT saying. I'm not saying the Twins should be frantically trading Pelfrey (or Milone, or Ricky Nolasco) for the first offer they get. They can be, should be, patient. This pitching surplus is almost certainly temporary. Pitchers get hurt; that's almost a third certainty in life (behind death and taxes). Move one guy now, see another go down next week, and suddenly this excess has evaporated.

But they have to be willing to seize the opportunity when it's there. Ryan's often-laudable sense of loyalty (or determination to see his previous moves succeed) may need to be set aside to do that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Twins Rule 5 'trade'

Sean Gilmartin was a starter
in college and the minors, but he's
working out of the Mets bullpen this year.
The Twins are apparently committed to carrying Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham on their active roster all season. That intent may be tested if they remain in contention and if Graham can't be relied on in winnable games.

Those are two "ifs," which makes it a highly hypothetical question. For what it's worth, Graham has a 3.63 ERA in 17.1 innings, mostly compiled in mop-up outings. That's the fourth-best ERA in the current eight-man bullpen, but he's not nearly that high in the bullpen totem pole.

The Twins were able to pluck Graham out of the Atlanta system because they chose not to put Sean Gilmartin on their 40-man roster last fall. Gilmartin is a left-handed pitcher the Braves took in the first round in 2011, then traded to the Twins after the 2013 season for Ryan Doumit. He split 2014 between Double A and Triple A in the Twins system, compiling a combined mark of 9-7, 3.71 in 145.2 innings over 26 starts.

Leaving Gilmartin off the 40 gave the Twins an open spot to use in the Rule 5 draft to get Graham. And then the New York Mets took Gilmartin. It wasn't a formal trade, but that's what it amounted to, Graham for Gilmartin. (Or, if you like, Doumit for Gilmartin for Graham for the course of a year.)

J.R. Graham's
presence on the roster
is more about the
future than about
As Rule 5 picks, Graham and Gilmartin can't be optioned out. They are use or lose. And with both the Twins and Mets both providing at least the illusion of contention through Memorial Day, they'd like to get something useful out of them.

Gilmartin, a starter in the minors for both the Braves and Twins, is the second lefty in the Mets bullpen behind Alex Torres. He's made 17 appearances and worked 14.2 innings (3.07 ERA), which suggests a LOOGY role (Left-handed One Out GuY), but he has appeared just once in a save situation. It's a different usage pattern than for Graham, who has pitched in 13 games and thrown 17.1 innings. Graham leads the Twins in innings per relief appearance. But I don't believe Gilmartin is being given chances to lose games any more than Graham is.

Graham is also second to Glen Perkins on the Twins in "games finished," a stat that serves in bonus clauses as a stand-in for saves and as a rough measure historically of relief ace status. In his case, of course, it serves no such purpose. He's finishing one-sided games, not close ones.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Contemplating Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano fires Sunday against the New York
Mets, He struck out 12 in six innings.
The Monday print column was in large part a review of the new book "Big Data Baseball," and in the process I mentioned in passing that author Travis Sawchik describes what the Pittsburgh Pirates did to repair Francisco Liriano's pitching.

Liriano, of course, spent years with the Twins, alternating between periods of dominance and periods of futility. He was traded to the White Sox in 2012 (in a deal that brought Eduardo Escobar to the Twins) and signed with the Pirates as a free agent during that following offseason. He's still with Pittsburgh, racking up a 16-8, 3.02 mark in 2013 and a 7-10, 3.38 line in 2014. (The Twins shelled him on Wednesday this week, but on Sunday he struck out 12 in six innings against the Mets. He is 2-4, 3.86 so far this year.)

His ERA in seven (full or partial) seasons with the Twins was 4.33; his ERA with Pittsburgh, including Sunday's outing, is 3.29, more than a run lower. So yeah, the Pirates have gotten more from Frankie than the Twins did. What did they do? And could the Twins have done the same things?

Sawchik offers three specific changes. One I think might be irrelevant, a second makes sense to me and the third I find dubious enough that I suspect the Pirates fed him a bill of goods.

The three changes:

  • They had him raise his arm slot under the theory that a more overhand delivery would limit his wildness "east-west," or inside-outside. 
  • They paired him with a superior pitch-framing catcher (Russell Martin), whose adept receiving got him a handful of extra called strikes a game.
  • They had him drop his four-seam fastball and replace it with a two-seam fastball (sinker).

The arm slot thing, maybe; but the fact of the matter is, Liriano still throws fewer pitches in the strike zone than anybody. (And he tops the charts in getting hitters to chase pitches out of the zone.)

The pitch-framer, absolutely. Martin is near the top of the charts in that stat annually, and the Twins have not made that a priority when choosing catchers. If Martin got him, say, one extra called strike an inning, that's huge. The difference between, say, a 2-1 count and a 1-2 count is tremendous.

The specifics of the pitch repertoire, I question.

The Twins of Liriano's time, with Rick Anderson as pitching coach, were big believers in the two-seam fastball. I have to believe they pushed the two-seamer on Liriano. Whether he brought it or not is another matter. (I think he did, at least at times.)

Beyond that, I think the pitch the Pirates encouraged Liriano to throw more often was the changeup. Last year, according to Baseball Info Systems. Liriano threw only 43 percent fastballs. He threw 32 percent sliders and 25 percent changeups. In 2011, BIS says, he threw 52 percent fastballs, 29 percent sliders and 20 percent changes -- and I have a hard time believing he threw 20 percent change ups at any time with the Twins.

New pitching coach Neil Allen is a more vocal proponent of changing speeds than Anderson was. Allen might have been more effective with Liriano than Anderson was. We'll never know.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pic of the Week

New York Mets catcher Kevin Palwecki,
pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) and third baseman
Eric Campbell dogpile Thursday in futile pursuit of
Jason Hayward's second-inning foul popup.

This looks like it could have come out of one of the blooper reels that used to be popular fare in the 1970s and '80s. Maybe they still are popular and I just don't see them.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Contemplating Alex Meyer

Alex Meyer is a
long way from cracking
the Twins rotation.
I noted in Friday's post that the promotion of Tyler Duffey to Rochester meant somebody in the Red Wings rotation had to make way for him. That somebody was Alex Meyer, who has been struggling all year.

Meyer has a 7.09 ERA after eight starts. That ugly ERA isn't merely the highest of his minor league career, it's more than twice his previous worst ERA. His walk rate, always something of an issue, has ballooned to 5.5 walks per nine innings.

The big righty -- he's 6-foot-9, which is probably part of his issues with command and control -- is moving to the bullpen. Assistant general manager Rob Antony, traveling with the team while GM Terry Ryan watches the Fort Myers Miracle, told the writers Friday that this is intended to be a temporary move, but also conceded that it may not be temporary.

At this point, I'm inclined to think the bullpen is Meyer's ultimate destination. He's 25, he's not been able to get past 130 innings without encountering some sort of arm issue. and he's shown little aptitude for a change-up. As a starter, he needs a change to get through the lineup three times. As a bullpen guy, seeing nobody more than once a game, he can be a two-pitch pitcher: fast ball and slider. That's what Glen Perkins is. A simplified arsenal may be what Meyer needs.

The Twins traded Denard Span for Meyer because they were looking for a power starter. It doesn't appear to be happening for him. There's a better chance for a decent return on that investment as a relief pitcher.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The return of Tim Stauffer

Thursday's post hadn't been up long when this news broke:


A few points:

  • Bernier is irrelevant. There really isn't a good argument to be made for having him on a major league roster either. 
  • Also irrelevant is the fact that the Twins used all seven relievers in Wednesday's extra-inning game. Thursday was an off-day, and J.R. Graham was the only reliever who worked more than an inning.
  • Stauffer was awful before going on the disabled list, and he wasn't any better in Rochester on the rehab assignment. His velocity in his most recent outing reportedly topped out at 87 mph, per the Pioneer Press's Mike Berardino.

The Twins are now carrying a 13-man pitching staff, at least two of whom (Stauffer and Graham) Paul Molitor can't be eager to use in a meaningful situation. Maybe three, with Brian Duensing as the third. Maybe four with Ryan Pressly struggling to find the strike zone. A surplus of lousy pitchers is a shortage of usable ones.

Meanwhile: A train of starting pitchers moved up the ladder in the Twins system Thursday, headed by Tyler Duffey going from Double A Chattanooga to Triple A Rochester. That's where the train ended, so somebody from the Red Wing rotation figures to get dislodged one way or another. Speculation has Alex Meyer getting pulled; another possibility is that something is going to give with Tommy Milone, who has yet to allow a run in three starts in the International Leagu and has a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 2 to 33 in 23 innings.

(The caboose in that train is of note: Luke Bard, a supplemental first-round pick from the draft that netted the Twins Byron Buxton and J.O. Berrios, is joining the Cedar Rapids staff; Bard has had a string of injuries and hasn't pitched in two years.)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

J.R. Graham and the immediate future of the bullpen

J.R. Graham threw 33
pitches Wednesday
night, 20 for strikes.
There was no hiding J.R. Graham Wednesday night. The Rule 5 power arm had to pitch in a game situation, and he did very well: three innings, one single, no walks, two strikeouts.

Paul Molitor has avoided Graham in important innings for more than a month. Wednesday was his first outing since April 13 (the home opener) that wasn't mopping up. His previous eight appearances finished games with a margin of five or more runs.

Graham has, probably, the best stuff on the staff. He also is better fit right now for the minors. But as a Rule 5 guy, he's got to stay on the 25-man roster or the Twins will likely lose his rights. I expect him to stick, but if the Twins are indeed going to contend this year, he'll have to contribute some meaningful innings.

Which he did on Wednesday.

It was an interesting win in terms of the bullpen. Aaron Thompson and Blaine Boyer, who have emerged as Molitor's favored set-up options, were something less than stellar (three hits and a run combined for three total outs). Graham and beleaguered veteran Brian Duensing combined for four scoreless frames.

And some roster decisions loom. Tim Stauffer is on a rehab assignment. Casey Fien is about to begin his. My opinion: I'd rather have any of the roster's current seven bullpen guys (Boyer, Duensing, Graham, Glen Perkins, Ryan Pressly, Thompson and Michael Tonkin) than Stauffer, and were it up to me the transaction when Stauffer's rehab time is done will read: Activated from the disabled list and designated for assignment.

Fien is another matter. I don't regard him as an outstanding eighth-inning guy, but he's earned a continued opportunity to perform. The guys on the bubble are probably Pressly and Duensing. But Fien's not ready yet, and that decision doesn't have to be made now.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Kick, Mule! George Suttles'
Hall of Fame plaque.
Each year I sponsor at least one Baseball Reference page. This year I am retaining the Glen Perkins page. I am also picking up the page of Mule Suttles, a Negro League legend and Hall of Famer.

The Negro Leagues are an intriguing chapter of baseball history. Suttles wasn't as renowned as Josh Gibson or Buck Leonard, but he was one heck of a hitter and he deserves to be remembered.


Old friend Justin Morneau was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list during the weekend. As I understand it, he dove for a ball and came up with what was initially diagnosed as a sprained neck.  A day or so later, the concussion list.

It is his life, his career, his paycheck. But once again -- because this same thought occurred frequently in his final, injury-plagued seasons in Minnesota -- I can't help but wonder if it would be best for him to call it a career. He's 34 now. That's fairly old for a baseball player, but pretty young for a human being, It would be nice if he had a fully functional brain for the rest of his life.


Chih-Wei Hu, the Twins' Taiwanese right-handed pitcher who impressed me last summer when I saw him pitch in Cedar Rapids, got bumped up from High A Fort Myers to Triple A Rochester for a spot start Tuesday. It apparently went pretty well.

I'll pick a nit here and note that four walks in six innings is not a good rate. (He's walked six all season for the Miracle.) But one run in six innings, as Seth Stohs quickly noted, actually raises Hu's overall ERA for the year. He's been dominating the Florida State League.

Hu's not going to stick with the Red Wings; the Twins are not about to have him skip Double A. He'll return to Fort Myers now. But he's not long for the Florida State League, either. At some point relatively soon, the Twins will have to bump J.O. Berrios from Chattanooga to Rochester, and when that happens Hu is likely to follow in his wake. It's a matter of when -- and who gets bumped at the higher levels to make room for them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

New horizons in managerial inexperience

Dan Jennings was the manager Monday night in the first
professional game he was ever in uniform for.

The Miami Marlins fired former Twin Mike Redmond as manager Sunday. On Monday they announced that general manager Dan Jennings would take the job.

Jennings has a good reputation around baseball -- as a front office executive and scout. He never played pro ball, never managed in the minors, never donned a uniform for any purpose until now.

Teams are increasingly hiring skippers without managerial experience (including Paul Molitor with the Twins), but this is a step further. There have been general managers who moved into the dugout, but they had managerial experience at some level of pro ball and/or played in the majors.

That this hire has met with near-universal scorn is hardly surprising, For one thing, Marlins owner Jeff Loria lacks the benefit of any doubt. Loria is reminiscent of Milo Bloom's description of Senator Bedfellow in the old Bloom County comic strip: "Leaving a trail of slime where ever he goes ..."

The protestations from Loria's lackeys not withstanding, the assumption is that Jennings was chosen because he's already on the payroll. Loria's now paying both Ozzie Guillen (for this season) and Redmond (through 2017) not to manage; Loria now essentially gets to avoid paying a third to actually show up.

I said near-universal scorn, This piece from MLB TV's Brian Kenny is the rare exception.

The key, of course, is what the players think. Jennings may be a good judge of talent; he may be adept at handling a spreadsheet; but he probably hasn't put the thought into the nuances of game strategy that an experienced manager has. I have no doubt that Buck Showalter or Ron Gardenhire could lay quite a filibuster on you about the best counts to put the runner in motion. Jennings has experienced hands around him to advise him (some of whom would have been well-received by the voices attacking the Jennings hire), but now the tactical moves are ultimately his call, and if the players doubt his acumen, he'll have problems regardless of what he does.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Demoting Kennys Vargas

Kennys Vargas smacks an RBI single in Cleveland on
May 9 against Bruce Chen.
Eduardo Nunez is to come off the disabled list Tuesday when the Twins open their two-game series in Pittsburgh. The spot on the 25-man roster is coming at the expense of Kennys Vargas, who was optioned out after Sunday's loss..

Not sure I understand the rationale for that. True, the Twins will be going four days without a DH -- offday today, two days in a National League Park, offday Thursday -- but they will probably need some pinch hitters in Pittsburgh, and Vargas fits that bill more than, let us say, Doug Bernier, And, barring another DL trip for somebody, Vargas will be gone for at least six DH games after the interleague matchup.

So it's not as if Vargas isn't hitting.

Runs and RBIs result from getting on base and hitting for power. He's been doing that this month.

I would think there's a fine line between confused and unpredictable. I'll have to defer to Molitor on this, because he's infinitely closer to the situation, but this has to make it more difficult for pitchers to decide how to attack him. Is it patient Vargas or hack-away Vargas?

But here's something to consider: Torii Hunter has been the DH six times this month, more than a third of the time -- this after not appearing as the designated hitter at all in April. The less he plays in right field, the better for the pitching staff (per Baseball Reference, the Runs Saved defensive metric estimates that Hunter has cost the Twins six runs in the field compared to an average right fielder). Vargas, meanwhile, has had just 10 starts this month. He's hitting better than in April but playing less.

I don't know how close Oswaldo Arcia is to coming off the DL, but it's certainly plausible that Molitor and Terry Ryan are thinking that rotating two poor defensive outfielders through the DH slot is preferable to a full-time DH with Hunter and Arcia giving away runs in the corners. Of course, Arcia isn't back yet.

Anyway: Assuming that the outfielders in Pittsburgh will be Eduardo Escobar in left, Aaron Hicks in center and Hunter in right, the Twins bench figures to be Chris Herrmann, Nunez, Bernier, Shane Robinson and Eddie Rosario. Not much pop there.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pic of the Week

Josh Hamilton signs the back of Drew Hooker, 6 months,
before a minor league game in Nashville, Tennessee.
Hamilton is on a rehab assignment with the Round Rock
Express, the Rangers' Triple A affiliate.

What makes this photo for me is the bemused expression on the kid's face.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Baseball America on Friday released its second try at a mock draft. It had considerable movement at the top, but stuck to the same pick for the Twins at No. 6, high school outfielder Dez Cameron.

BA's comment:

If (Dillon) Tate keeps falling, he’ll stop here. Minnesota remains linked to Cameron, but if the Twins want a college pitcher, they’re said to be intrigued by (Walker) Buehler, who throws harder than UCLA’s James Karpielian and Missouri State’s Jon Harris. The Twins also will scrutinize (Tyler) Jay here.

Dillon Tate is a right-handed pitcher from UC Santa Barbara who's been in the running for the top overall pick. Right now BA has him going fourth (to the Rangers. Buehler is a right-handed pitcher from Vanderbilt; BA currently has him going 10th. And Jay is a lefty from Illinois who is said by BA to be rising; this mock draft has him going eighth, but warns that he might be destined for the bullpen.


This tweet Friday afternoon from AP's Dave Campbell:

And now you can make the numbers in the last sentence 18-9 and 139-106, but ... to call it the "rest of the AL" is misleading. The Twins have played almost all their games against the AL Central. One series versus Seattle, one with Oakland, and now one game against Tampa Bay.


Miguel Sano homered twice Friday for Double A Chattanooga. The slugger is hitting a mere .231, but he has eight homers and seven doubles plus 18 walks, so his OPS is .831. That's not a player being overwhelmed by the competition.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pondering the use of backup catchers

Torii Hunter got Thursday off, which made sense; day game after a night game, and he's not a young guy. Kurt Suzuki started at catcher, and that surprised me. I figured it a good chance to get Chris Herrmann a start. Day game after night game, right-handed pitcher for Detroit, and Herrmann last started on May 6.

That start came against a lefty (Scott Kazmir). Herrmann's previous start was on May 3; it too came against a lefty (John Danks). Thirteen of Herrmann's first 30 plate appearances came against left-handed pitchers. That's probably suboptimal for Herrmann, and I infer that Paul Molitor isn't as interested in matchups with his catchers as I expected him to be/

Suzuki has started 28 of 35 games behind the plate, which pales in comparison to Salvador Perez of Kansas City. Perez sat Thursday; it was only the third game he didn't start behind the plate this season.

Perez's current backup is Drew Butera, who came to the Royals a week ago from the Angels in a trade that involved a minor-league infielder. He's already made two starts fo K.C., which suggests that either

  • manager Ned Yost knows he's got to pull back on Perez or
  • Yost trusts Butera a lot more than he trusted Eric Kratz, who opened the season as the No. 2 catcher.

Or maybe both. Kratz is on the disabled list, but he barely played when active. A lot of fans look at Butera's anemic hitting stats and wonder why he keeps finding jobs, but managers really do like his defensive chops. Yost has been reluctant to rest Perez for years because Perez is so good defensively; Butera's no Perez, especially throwing, but he's good enough defensively that the dropoff is manageable.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A theory of first-round busts

Nobody uses a first-round draft pick on a prospect projected to be a back-of-the-rotation starter or a fourth outfielder. Very few guys expected to be relief pitchers go in the first round, even late in the first round, and those who do are expected to be dominant closers.

First rounders, especially early first-rounders, are supposed to be potential stars, or at least solid regulars. Players with "upside." Joe Mauer, first overall in 2001. Torii Hunter, 20th in 1993. Trevor Plouffe, 20th in 2004. Those three, right now, are the Twins 2-3-4 hitters.

But not every first-rounder reaches their expectations. Some never make it at all; others wind up as bit players. They help, but they don't star. And it's my theory that those guys seldom find that level with their drafting team, because their drafting team is too invested in the idea that he's supposed to be more than he is.

That's what I think is happening now with Aaron Hicks. The Twins took him with the 14th pick in 2008. They expected him to be the successor in the center field chain -- Kirby Puckett to Hunter to Denard Span to Hicks. It's pretty clear now that the successor is Byron Buxton. If Hicks is going to be an outfield regular, it will be in an outfield corner, and I doubt he'll hit enough for that.

His destination may well be as a fourth outfielder. And if so, he'll probably achieve that elsewhere, for a team that never invested money and hopes in a different outcome for him.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A mixed bag of Aaron Hicks

This awkward moment: Aaron Hicks is tagged out on
his 10th-inning steal attempt Tuesday night.
Aaron Hicks started in center field Tuesday. He had a very nice catch in right-center at the wall, a play I'm willing to assume the other center fielders the Twins have deployed this year wouldn't have made; he made; he beat out an infield hit in four plate appearances; he twice made outs with men in scoring position (hardly unique); and he was thrown out on a "steal attempt" that was actually a failed hit-and-run with Brian Dozier.

Hicks is filling the roster spot created when Shane Robinson went on family emergency leave, which lasts three to seven days, That's a short-term situation, but Hicks's status might not be short term. The Twins have a lot of outfielders on or just off the major league roster right now plus Eduardo Escobar playing a lot of left field.

I can't presume to know how this is going to shake out over the next few days, but I would think that the guys on the shakiest ground are Eddie Rosario and Jordan Schafer, two left-handed hitters who sat against a right-handed starter on Tuesday while Escobar and Hicks started.

One other observation: Tuesday's game was a lot of regression going on. The Twins -- who had been hitting .310 with runners in scoring position -- went hitless in RISP situations. And Kyle Gibson, who had just 11 strikeouts on the season entering the game, fanned six men in seven innings. He had, and used, a good change-up to get those whiffs; he either doesn't have that change-up most starts or doesn't trust it enough. But that's the pitch that can solve his strikeout problem.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The apparent return of Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks gets
one more (final?)
The word out of Rochester Monday night was that Aaron Hicks had been called up. There was no official announcement by the Twins, and no report on what the corresponding move would be.

Hicks is sporting impressive numbers in Triple A with a slash line of .330/.412/.553. Those numbers don't tell us how much of that is coming from the left side of the plate, long a problem for the switch-hitter. Nor do they tell us whether he's gotten better about such details as remembering how many outs there are or which base to throw to.

Presumably this is his last chance with the Twins, and the leash is likely to be, and should be, short. He's out of options after this season, and no matter what he does in this go-around, he's not the Twins center fielder of the future. That's Bryon Buxton's role, and Buxton's time might come around the All-Star break. In the long run, Hicks is competing with Oswaldo Arcia and Eddie Rosario. In my mind, he's already lost that competition.

My opinion (which is not infallible): Hicks won't hit enough to be a regular center fielder in the majors -- and certainly not enough to be a regular corner outfielder. If he pulls the kind of rocks he did in spring training, he won't even stick as a fourth outfielder.

As for the corresponding move, there are plenty of possiblities. Jordan Schafer's been playing on a bad leg since the season started, and maybe he's going on the DL. I can imagine the Twins shipping Eddie Rosario back to Rochester after his fielding woes on Sunday, Dropping Shane Robinson is a possibility, since he and Hicks are somewhat redundant, but the fact is Hicks has never looked as good in the majors as Robinson has in the first five weeks. What Hicks does well, Robinson does just as well, and more consistently.

My predictions: Schafer's going on the shelf. Rosario will stay until Arcia is ready to return. Hicks will play himself completely out of the Twins plans in the next month. And Buxton will arrive in July.

Monday, May 11, 2015

More on the strikeout rate

Trevor May walked
three and struck out
four in four innings
The Monday print column grappled in large degree with the conflicting indicators for Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson, who each have very good ERAs with very poor strikeout rates and strikeout/walk ratios.

I have for years referred to strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and strikeout-walk ratio (K/BB) as the leading indicator stats for pitchers. Given a choice of pitchers, I'd rather have the guy strong in those ratios than in ERA, because they are better predictors of future ERA than ERA itself.

The Twins so far -- roughly one-fifth of the way through the season -- have used six starters. Gibson and Pelfrey have been in the rotation throughout, as has Phil Hughes. Trevor May joined the rotation in the second go-around, Ricky Nolasco spent some time on the disabled list and Tommy Milone, who opened the year in the rotation, is now at Triple A.

Of those six, only May and Hughes have good strikeout rates and strikeouts per walk. Culled from Baseball Reference in the early morning today and ranked by K/BB:

Hughes: 6.5 K/9. 8.00 K/BB
May: 6.9 K/9, 4.00 K/BB
Pelfrey: 4.2 K/9. 1.23 K/BB
Milone: 5.2 K/9, 1.18 K/BB
Nolasco: 4.8 K/9. 1.17 K/BB
Gibson: 2.7 K/9. 0,73 K/BB

The American League averages, for comparison: 7.4 K/9, 2.43 K/BB. So even May and Hughes, with easily the best strikeout rates in the rotation, are below league average in striking hitters out. (The league average includes relief pitchers, and their strikeout rates are higher, so May and Hughes aren't truly subpar in that category.)

I for years regarded the K/BB ratio as the more important of the leading indicator stats. I've become largely convinced, as strikeouts have mushroomed, that K/9 is now a bit more important. But either way, the bulk of the Twins rotation lags in these important predictors of future results.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pic of the Week

Alex Rodriguez takes a curtain call Thursday after
hitting his 661st career home run, passing Willie Mays
on the all-time list.

Alex Rodriguez played in 28 of the New York Yankees' first 30 games this year, and while his batting average (.248) isn't impressive, his on-base percentage is a very usable .348 and his slugging percentage is a strong .546.

Not bad for a guy who the tabloids were describing all winter as a veritable cripple who would likely be unable to take the field.

And, of course, on Thursday he passed Willie Mays on the all-time home run list. You may discount that as you wish; you are free to regard A-Rod's steroid use as worse than Mays' amphetamine assistance. (Rodriguez probably used those too.) Rodriguez has hit 661 regular season homers, and every one of them resulted in real runs in real games. They all counted.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Feelin' a draft: May edition

We are roughly one month away from the June draft, in which the Twins will pick sixth. (It would have been fifth had the Astros not alienated Brady Aiken last summer, but they did, and their reward for failing to sign 2014's top overall pick is 2015's second overall pick, which nudges everybody else down one spot.)

I haven't posted much, if anything, about the 2015 draft class, partly because nothing's been very clear to me about it. The spring has been marked by a string of severe injuries to consensus top players (including Aiken, who had Tommy John surgery in March), and Arizona, which has the top pick, appears confounded by the task of winnowing the field. (Dave Stewart, the D-backs' general manager, has reportedly seen 30 prospects himself this spring, a ridiculously high figure for a GM.)

But on Friday Baseball America posted its first mock draft of the year, which it describes as "futile" but "fun." Mock Draft 1.0 projects Daz Cameron, high school outfielder and son of 17-season outfielder Mike Cameron, going to the Twins.

BA's editor in chief, John Manuel, had this paragraph in his column in the most recent print edition (talking about the lack of consensus among teams in this year's draft):

Other teams will prefer Daz Cameron out of Georgia, the son of ex-big leaguer Mike Cameron, who seems to suffer in comparison to his tooled-up father. Cameron is more of a well-rounded prospect with good but not great tools, somewhat resembling 2014 first-rounder Nick Gordon, in that his savvy can be underrated and his tools overrated at times.
Nick Gordon, of course, was the Twins' top pick last summer.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Ron Gardenhire, Craig Counsell and the Brewers job

Craig Counsell (right), in his first week as Milwaukee
manager, chats with outfielder Ryan Braun during batting
practice after taking the job.
Ron Gardenhire made it known last month that he wants to get back into a managerial job somewhere, and when the Milwaukee Brewers reacted to their poor April by firing Ron Roenicke on Sunday night Gardy was quickly linked to the new vacancy.

And then the Brewers filled the vacancy with internal candidate Craig Counsell.

I wasn't buying the notion that Gardenhire "fit Milwaukee like bratwurst in a bun," the phrase Scott Miller of Bleacher Report/TBS Sports used in a tweet. Three names: Carlos Gomez, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza. Those are three key players on the Milwaukee roster who played for Gardenhire in Minnesota and clashed with him in one way or another. In each case, somebody had to leave town, and at the time it wasn't Gardenhire.

I'm not saying it's impossible for Gardy and those players to co-exist. I would think it better not to conduct that chemistry experiment a month into a season that has already gone sour.

As for Counsell: The former major league infielder is the latest in the wave of no-experience-required managerial hires. A substantial proportion of today's skippers never managed on any level before landing their current jobs. In the Al Central alone, there's Brad Ausmus (Detroit), Paul Molitor (Minnesota) and Robin Ventura (White Sox). This trend intrigues me, and I continue to regard it as a manifestation of the increased control front offices are exerting over managers.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Looking for the grey clouds in a sunny sky

Eddie Rosario. One pitch, one home run.
No further questions, your honor.
Carping about anything in the 13-0 win crammed with highlights -- Eddie Rosario, anyone? -- may be bad form, but it at least demonstrates that I'm serious in finding this a concern.

Kyle Gibson walked two and struck out just one in his six innings of work Wednesday night against Oakland.

Gibson in six starts is 3-2 with a 2.97 ERA, Nothing to complain about in the results so far.

But he also has walked 15 men in 36.1 innings and stuck out just 11. Those are some ugly ratios. The results and the process are out of whack, Gibson's "predictive" stats -- BB/K, K/9. FIP -- all portend disaster.

The fact is: Nobody is successful for long walking more than they strike out, and nobody is successful for long with a strikeout rate half the league average. It just doesn't happen. Gibson will be no exception.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Doug Bernier and the lingering effects of spring training

Doug Bernier is 34 and
has played in 42
major league games.
Eduardo Nunez hit the disabled list after Tuesday's game, a move that apparently followed a few days of hoping that his left oblique strain would quickly subside. It didn't, and so minor league vet Doug Bernier gets the call to sit on the major league bench.

(This appears to be the first time this year that the Twins did not respond immediately to an injury by making a move. Nunez's DL stint is retroactive to Thursday, six days ago. They certainly didn't wait to sideline Oswaldo Arcia, or pitchers Casey Fien or Brian Duensing before him.)

Bernier isn't likely to see much playing time, but then neither was Nunez. They're both right-handed hitting infielders who rank behind Eduardo Escobar in the utilityman hierarchy, and it's a reasonable surmise that the purpose of having either on the roster is to allow Escobar to play in the outfield and still have an infielder on the bench.

Bernier takes the 40-man roster spot opened by Ervin Santana's suspension, which means somebody's gotta go by early July. But that's two months off, and plenty can happen between then and now -- not the least of which is that Nunez figures to return first, removing the reason for having Bernier on the 25-man roster -- and Bernier would have to be outrighted to be returned to Rochester.

Bernier, like Eddie Rosario, hasn't put up numbers at Rochester . Both were picked, it appears, partly on the basis of being the last man out among infielders and outfielders respectively during spring training and partly on the basis of being a something of a match for the role of the injured player they're replacing on the roster.

But they're only something of a match. Arcia and Rosario are left-handed hitting outfielders, but Rosario is a line-drive hitter and a good defensive outfielder; Arcia is a strikeout-prone slugger who is abysmal in the field. Bernier and Nunez are are right-handed hitting infielders who play multiple positions, but Nunez is a bat-first guy and Bernier a glove-first guy.

The bigger factor is this: Had the Arcia and Nunez injuries occured in late March rather than early May, Rosario and Bernier would have opened the season in the majors. Last ones out, first ones up.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Rosario vs. Hicks

Eddie Rosario got the
call Monday and
arrived at Target Field
during the game.
The Twins put Oswaldo Arcia on the disabled list Monday and called up Eddie Rosario. The choice of Rosario over Aaron Hicks was loudly questioned in the Twins blogosphere/social media, with the critics noting that Hicks' slash line at Triple A Rochester is .289/.375/.495 to Rosario's ,242/.280/.379.

But there's good reason for going with Rosario.

As I see it:

  • Arcia hits left-handed; so does Rosario. Hicks is a switch hitter, but he's much better hitting right-handed than left. If you want an outfielder to play against righties, Hicks is a poor fit.
  • One month's numbers aside, I don't believe anybody in the organization believes Hicks is a better hitter than Rosario. Nor should they.
  • Hicks, I suspect, made a bad impression in spring training with repeated lapses in concentration. In this piece on the reasons for going with Rosario, Terry Ryan offers a set of generic questions about call-ups, including these: "How's he going about his business? Is he listening?" He doesn't specifically rap Hicks on any of these points, but one can safely assume Ryan and Paul Molitor haven't forgotten March.
  • This figures to be a short-term stint. There's a line of thought that the Twins want Hicks' next return to the majors to be lasting, not a yo-yo.
That last really doesn't matter to me. I don't envision Hicks ever hitting well enough to be a regular center fielder, much less a regular left or right fielder. I think his ceiling is reserve outfielder, as is the case with Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson. That's not the role Rosario is being called up to fill.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Contemplating Mike Pelfrey

Mike Pelfrey threw
61 pitches on Sunday,
35 for strikes.
Mike Pelfrey made four starts in April. He was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in those four starts, and I was starting to reconcile myself to the idea that he is going to stick in the rotation.

I was even starting to consider seriously the notion that Pelfrey might attract trade interest from other teams -- and to fret that the front office might respond to such interest by looking to extend his contract, and to take solace in the reality that Pelfrey's agent is Scott Boras, who tends to avoid such things.

And then Pelfrey started Sunday and pitched like he was allergic to the strike zone. There's a longstanding mantra among pitching coaches -- work fast, throw strikes, change speeds. Pelfrey is habitually adverse to any of those principles. He certainly was on Sunday.

As I observed in the Monday print column, the Twins have six pitchers for five rotation spots right now, and a seventh (Ervin Santana) coming online in two months. Tommy Milone is the guy without a chair at the moment. I have believed all along that Milone is a better bet than Pelfrey. Their roster statuses make it easier for the Twins to go with Pelfrey. Games like Sunday will make it more difficult.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pic of the Week

Wednesday's game in Baltimore. The three figures seated
behind home plate are scouts

So they played a game without the fans Wednesday in Baltimore. That was hardly ideal, but there were clearly greater concerns in that city last week than baseball.

One of my colleagues questioned why they played the game at all. My response: For the same reason they'll wait three hours for an April storm to pass and then play a sloppy, soggy contest in front of 3,000 shivering fans. It's on the schedule, and most if not all inter-division opponents only come to town the once. That was the case this week in Baltimore with the Chicago White Sox. They found a day when the Sox can return to "Charm City" for a doubleheader to make up the games lost on Monday and Tuesday, but nobody wants to make a second one-day trip to play one game if it can be avoided.

So they played a day game Wednesday to beat the curfew, played it in front of TV cameras, assembled media, three scouts and a revolving cast of Baltimoreans trying to get a glimpse through the locked entrance gates.

This hasn't happened before. There have been games postponed for riots, certainly -- 1967 in Detroit for example -- but not a contest in which the fans were barred for safety reasons. Let us hope it doesn't happen again,

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Reshuffling the pitching staff

One move before Friday's game, two moves after. Going though the revamping of the Twins pitching staff:

Taking them one at a time:

I was never a fan of the Stauffer signing, and I would rather see Pressly on the staff even if Stauffer weren't hurting. I had figured Stauffer was about two weeks from being released. This disabled-list stint will probably restart the clock on that.

Thielbar for Duensing was pretty obvious. With Casey Fien sidelined, it's likely Duensing is going to be called on heavily to set up Glen Perkins. His track record against right-handed hitters over time suggests that's not a good fit.

The surprise was Milone going down. The Twins had indicated that the lefty would go to the bullpen; instead, he's going to Rochester. I'm torn on this one. On one hand, Milone has not exhibited good command in the past three starts (nine walks and six strikeouts in 14.1 innings). On the other hand, Milone has a better major league record in many respects than does Nolasco, and even more so than Mike Pelfrey. Milone loses out not because they're better pitchers, but because he's easy to set aside.

I hope and expect that this will be temporary. Aside from the possibility/probability that somebody in the rotation will get hurt, it's possible that the Twins will at some point trade one of their starters.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The day-to-day roster

The Twins dealt with the Wednesday injuries in typical minimalist fashion Thursday. Casey Fien did go on the disabled list with Michael Tonkin added to the active roster, but the Phil Hughes is expected to make his next start, and Jordan Schafer is said to be good to go.

Which doesn't mean there won't moves ahead. It's a day-to-day roster right now. Ricky Nolasco and Brian Duensing are to come off the disabled list as early as Saturday, which means two pitchers have to come off the active roster. The return of Caleb Thielbar to Rochester (for Duensing) seems fairly obvious.

So did the demotion of Trevor May, and on that count I was pleased to hear that May is staying. Nolasco's return, at least for now, means moving Tommy Milone to the bullpen, and while Milone's track record as a starter is superior to those of Nolasco or Mike Pelfrey, I'm not terribly upset about it. This is a temporary measure, I'm sure. There will be an injury or trade before long.

For immediate purposes, another relief pitcher has to go. One obvious possibility, at least to some of us, is the designation of Tim Stauffer for assignment. I believe Stauffer's days are numbered, but also that those numbers are still in double digits -- the Twins seldom undo offseason decisions like that one until mid-May at earliest.

One aspect of this is the vacant role of right-handed setup relief. Imagine that the Twins DIDN'T have to cut down the roster. The bullpen, with Milone added and Thielbar subtracted: would be eight deep:

Lefties: Glen Perkins, Aaron Thompson, Duensing, Milone
Righties: Blaine Boyer, J.R. Graham, Tonkin, Stauffer

Look at those righties and tell me who's getting the ball in the eighth, where Fien has been. Everything we've seen so far says it will be Boyer. I'd prefer Tonkin, but Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan (and probably others in the organization) clearly like Boyer more.

I think (hope?) that the Twins are committed to keeping Graham in a low-leverage role. If Stauffer is sticking for a couple more weeks, that leaves Tonkin for a boomerang return to Rochester. It really would be better to dump Stauffer now, but I don't expect that.