Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

The game time temperature for the 1966 All Star Game in St. Louis was 105. Spectators were passing out from the heat, and players were using smelling salts in the dugouts.

After the game, somebody asked Casey Stengel what he thought of the new stadium in downtown St. Louis. Replied The Old Perfessor, "Well, I'll tell ya, young fella, it sure seems to hold the heat real good."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Condition not the real issue with Arcia

Pat Reusse's column this morning out of TwinsFest is a month-early version of the spring training chestnut: So-and-so has spent the winter working out and is in marvelous condition.

The so-and-so in this case is Oswaldo Arcia. Pardon me while I don't care about Arcia's new workout regimen.

Oh, it may well be that a routine that increases flexibility will help him avoid the repeated injuries that have helped stall his career. But the slugger's career has stalled as least as much on his stubborn, all-or-nothing approach at the plate and his ineptitude afield.

This except from Reusse's column made me shake my head:

Asked if he felt his brother would be in the big leagues this season, Oswaldo nodded his head. As for his chance with the Twins, Oswaldo responded in Spanish and Andy the Barber relayed the answer: 
“He knows what he can do with the glove. He knows what he can do with the bat. He has worked hard every day to be in the big leagues.’’

"He knows what he can do with the glove." I know what I've seen him do with the glove, and it's not good.  This is still the guy who got skulled by a foul fly a couple years back.

Arcia's 25. He's out of options. He has the single biggest tool an outfielder can have, which is power. All this points to him making the roster. And yet, I'd rather see Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler playing. That's four guys for three outfield spots.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Quantity, if not quality

The Twins announced Thursday that Logan Darnell, left-handed pitcher, had cleared waivers and been outrighted to Rochester. He'll still be in major league camp, but now as a non-roster invitee rather than as a member of the 40-man roster.

A few days ago I listed 10 lefties (other than Glen Perkins and Tommy Milone) who would be in camp. Now it's 11. And as I've said, out of that kind of bulk numbers I would think at least one would be able to handle a lefty relief role. Branch Rickey used to talk about finding quality out of quantity. This looks like an opportunity to do just that.

Darnell had a pretty solid season for Rochester in 2015, working mostly out of the bullpen before shifting back to the rotation in August. He got a September call-up and promptly fell ill without making a major league appearance.

That was a missed opportunity. Now Darnell is off the 40 and presumably ranks below those who are on the 40 -- Taylor Rogers, Michael Strong, Ryan O'Rourke -- in pursuit of a major league job, and probably below some other non-roster invitees with major league experience (Fernando Abad, maybe Buddy Boshers and Dan Runzler). But the door is still there for him.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The loss of a great nickname

Back in 1969, when I discovered baseball, the Chicago White Sox had an outfielder named Walt Williams. He hit .304 that year, albeit with almost no power or walks -- a good contact hitter who carved out a 10-year career largely as a pinch-hitter. 1969 was the closest he came to being a regular.

But that isn't really what he's remembered for. Williams had an odd physique, which included the impression that his head was connected directly to his shoulders, and he was universally known as "No-Neck." Walt No-Neck Williams.

Interviewer: "Why do they call you No-Neck?"
Williams: "Cuz I got no neck."

Williams died Saturday in Texas at age 72. His death was reported Wednesday. His nickname will live forever.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When a mid-market payroll is too much

One of my pet theories about the Twins' nice run of division titles in their final decade or so in the Metrodome is that the payroll restrictions laid on Terry Ryan and the front office forced them to skew young and discard players as they got expensive -- and before they went into their decline phase.

This came to mind yesterday during one of the periodic Twitter wars about the "cheap" Twins.

As best I can tell -- baseball team financials being rather obscured -- the Twins rank 22nd in the majors in revenue and 18th in payroll. They spend about 48 percent of their revenue (as estimated by Forbes) on players, which is basically in line with the union's expectations. They may not be spending it particularly effectively or wisely, but they are spending what ought to be expected.

But consider the Trevor Plouffe saga. Were the Twins still hewing to their Metrodome budget -- and essentially trying to be bottom-five in payroll on a regular basis rather than in the middle -- I don't believe they would be retaining Plouffe and converting Miguel Sano to the outfield. 

The small budget would have encouraged, if not forced, the front office to move Plouffe out and go with Sano at third -- which would have the domino effect of creating an outfield slot for a Max Kepler or Oswaldo Arcia, neither of whom has a real opening available at this point.

And it's possible that a 2016 alignment with Sano at third and an outfield of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and either Kepler or Arcia would be a more productive lineup than one with Plouffe, Rosario, Buxton and Sano. I'm quite certain that it would be in a year or so. 

But the Twins can afford the known commodity that Plouffe represents, and so they are sticking with him.

The Metrodome era Twins would have made rotation spots for Jose Berrios and Trevor May, not blocked them with veterans. 

The problem with their Target Field payroll isn't that it's too low. It's that the front office hasn't developed the self-discipline to make by choice the moves the Metrodome limitations forced on them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Plouffe and the future

The Twins wrapped up their arbitration cases Monday without going to any hearings when they and Trevor Plouffe agreed on a one-year. $7.25 million deal.

As I said about Casey Fien's settlement, the money interests me less that the organizational decision to stick with Plouffe at third base.

As the off season continues, I've become increasingly resigned to the notion that Miguel Sano is going to be in the outfield in 2016. I'm not convinced that's the right place for him, but I also know there is skepticism about Sano as a third baseman as well.

The concerns about Sano in the outfield and at third are similar, Sano is simply much bigger than normal for those positions. Players of his weight class are first basemen or designated hitters. I think it was Aaron Gleeman who researched it when the Sano-to-the-outfield talk started and determined that the last regular outfielder with a listed weight above 250 pounds was Frank Howard, and that was more than 40 years ago.

So ... Plouffe remains the Twins third baseman. He's not eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season, at which point he'll be 31.

Let's say that Plouffe stays at third for the Twins through 2017, then signs elsewhere as a free agent. It's a safe bet that his successor at the hot corner won't be Sano. By then he'll have either established himself as an outfielder or played his way to first base or DH.

If the Twins are indeed serious about playing him in the outfield this year, he's not going to be working on his infield technique. He'll have enough on his plate learning the nuances of outfield play.

The Twins did spend a couple of high draft picks on high school third basemen last June, Travis Blankenhorn (third round) and Trey Cabbage (fourth round). I wouldn't expect either to be ready by 2018 to inherit the job, but I wouldn't rule it out either.

That's down the road, obviously, but the fact remains that if Sano was going to become the Minnesota third baseman, this was the year for it to happen. The Twins have decided not to take that route.

Monday, January 25, 2016

What's left in the bullpen

The Mets last week signed free agent Antonio Bastardo to a two-year, $12 million contract.

This development disappointed a segment of Twins Twitterdom, which contains a number of voices that hoped the Twins would sign the Dominican lefty specialist. I am not among the disappointed. I consider multi-year contracts for relief pitchers  unwise. While there are exceptions, 30-year-olds with career ERAs of 3.58, compiled entirely in the DH-less league, are not among them.

Still, the role of left-handed-reliever-other-than-Glen Perkins has yet to be cast. There are veteran southpaws still searching for their 2016 contract (including Brian Duensing and Neil Cotts, who were among the 2015 LHROTGP), but let's quickly count up the candidates already on hand.

Left-handers on the 40-man roster who are not Perkins or starter Tommy Milone:

  • Pat Dean
  • Mason Melotakis
  • Ryan O'Rourke
  • Taylor Rogers
  • Randy Rosario
  • Mike Strong

Left-handed non-roster invitees:

  • Fernando Abad
  • Buddy Boshers
  • Dan Runzler
  • Aaron Thompson

This may be a burst of optimism large enough to be seen from the space station, but I have to believe that out of 10 pitchers deemed to have shown enough to get a spot on the 40-man roster or an invite to major league camp, at least one is capable of getting a couple of outs every other day.

Of course, that raises the question: Can the Twins identify that pitcher at spring training? Some managers have an absolute gift for this, and some do not. Paul Molitor got a lot more mileage out of Blaine Boyer and Aaron Thompson last year than I could have imagined, and Thompson's name is among the 10.

The realistic list of in-house candidates is closer to a half dozen than to 10. Melotakis is coming off Tommy John surgery; he's not coming north in April. Rosario spent 2015 in low A ball, where he was coming off the same ligament replacement surgery, and anyway the Twins want him to be a starter until he establishes that he needs to go to the bullpen. Runzler and Boshers pitched in independent leagues in 2015 (Renzler also for the Arizona Triple A team), and they figure to be fodder for the Rochester roster.

The three most likely guys are Abad, Rogers and Strong, probably in that order. Rogers -- and Pat Dean, for that matter -- has been a starter in the farm system but ranks pretty far down the list of presumptive starters. Both fit something Terry Ryan has said he's looking for in a lefty reliever -- somebody who isn't limited to a LOOGY specialty role, as O'Rourke is.

Then there's Logan Darnell, currently in DFA limbo after the acquistion of Strong. If nobody claims Darnell on waivers, the Twins are free to outright him to the Triple A roster, and he would presumably have a major league invite, and he would be a realistic possibility for the roster too.

And really, that's the route I'd prefer the Twins take: give the opportunity to a Darnell, Rogers, Strong or Dean. (I might actually prefer seeing Rosario, who probably has the best stuff of the 11, get a shot, but I know that's not happening.) Recycling a vet such as Abad is, as I said of Casey Fien, an attempt at minimizing the risk. I'd rather they take a shot at a higher ceiling.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

The late Yogi Berra on the difficulties of playing third base:

"Third ain't so bad if nothing is hit to you."

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Another bullpen lefty option

The Twins on Friday picked up Mike Strong on waivers from Miami. He's a 27-year-old lefty born and raised in Minnesota who has spent five seasons in the Milwaukee organization without a major league appearance. Miami landed him on a waiver claim last month, and now the Twins have done the same.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Twins designated Logan Darnell for assignment. He too will turn 27 before spring training begins. Unlike Strong, Darnell has been called up twice, once in 2014 when he fared ill, and again last September, when he fell ill and was shut down without ever pitching. Both men have options remaining.

Just going off their minor league numbers, Darnell doesn't appear to be a worse bullpen prospect than Strong, But Strong, it appears, has better raw stuff. Baseball America last spring rated Strong as the Brewers' 29th best prospect (albeit in a rather poorly regarded farm system); Darnell was not among the Twins 30 best in BA's rankings.

From the Baseball America Prospect Handbook 2015's entry on Strong:

His fastball command was much improved, helping set up his curveball and changeup while holding his walks down considerably (2.7 per nine innings) from previous seasons. Strong throws his fastball with confidence in the 88-92 mph range with good movement. His curveball is especially tough on lefthanders and his changeup is average and sometimes a tick above.

That 2014 command apparently faded last year, and really deteriorated when he moved up to Triple A Colorado Springs. My take: If Strong comes into camp throwing strikes, he's got a legitimate chance to win a bullpen job; if not, somebody else will be the primary setup lefty.


My mild apologies for skipping the past two days here while I dealt with an illness. It's been a long time since I failed to make my daily post, much less two, but there was nothing obvious I wanted to comment on and I didn't feel like wracking my brains to come up with something.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Buxton walks on (frozen) water

Sending Byron Buxton, child of rural Georgia, into the frozen landscape of northern Minnesota in mid January seems a bit like a rookie hazing ritual.

Let us hope the prodigy survives the Twins Caravan without frostbite -- or a deep-seated urge to get as far away from Minnesota as possible as soon as possible.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Banging the drum slowly

"Probably everybody be nice to you if they knew you were dying," he said. 
"Everybody knows everybody is dying," I said. "That is why people are nice. You all die soon enough, so why not be nice to each other?" 
From Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
Bang the Drum Slowly is the second of Mark Harris' four Henry Wiggins baseball novels and widely considered the best (although I personally favor The Southpaw.) Wiggins is the ace pitcher of the New York Mammoths; Pearson is the third-string catcher. Wiggins' roommate, a dumb but gentle jock from the deep South who is the butt of ridicule in the Mammoths clubhouse. When Pearson comes down with terminal cancer, Wiggins tries (and fails) to keep it secret and tries (and succeeds) to protect Pearson from his own naivety.

And the above quote pretty much sums up the overriding theme. We're all dying all the time, and we ought to behave that way.

This winter has seen a couple of notable baseball reporters, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) die of cancer. And yesterday one of my Free Press colleagues, Dan Nienaber, who covered cops and courts for us, died of cancer too.

I didn't know Strauss or Rodriguez, and I didn't read their stuff all that often. But Dan -- well, I read his stuff pretty much every day for 15 years. That's part of my job. We weren't pals, but we were colleagues for a significant portion of our working lives, and that counts for something too,

Monday, January 18, 2016

Scouting in odd places

I came across this article from the Toronto Sun: The Twins have hired the main Canadian scout away from the Scouting Bureau, a centralized service run by the commissioner's office for all 30 clubs..

I haven't followed this particular development all that closely, but the Bureau is under new management, and the new chief, former big-league general manager Bill Bavasi, is refocusing the Bureau from scouting for the next draft to medical reports, early identification of prospects and what one might call new markets -- Asia, Europe, Australia. It's a good guess that Walt Burrows decided he didn't want to be part of that transition.

A dozen or so clubs don't have a full-time scout assigned to Canada; the Twins were, according to the article, using a Minnesota-based scout to cover the Dominion. Presumably Burrows will take that burden off Mark Wilson. 

Looking for talent under rocks other teams ignore has long been a trademark of the Twins. They've probably signed more Australians than anybody. Grant Balfour was probably the biggest success, but most of what he accomplished in the majors came years after his Twins tenure. Max Kepler, a good prospect out of Germany, has a real chance to be an impact player in the next few years. And the most issue of Baseball America has a blurb about a pitcher named Vladim Balan who the Twins signed for a pittance out of Moldova, an Eastern European country of less than 3 million population who has shown a 96-mph fastball. He's 22 and very raw, so the odds are very much against him. 

Most teams focus their scouting efforts in the places that generate the most talent -- California, Florida, the Dominican, Texas. The Twins can't afford to ignore those places, obviously. But they seem to be more determined than most to find talent in places the others barely glance at, and the hiring of Burrows is something of an example. Canada isn't exactly ignored by other organizations, but it's not all that heavily scouted either.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Leo Durocher describes in Nice Guys Finish Last a bizarre, and once infamous, game in Cincinnati between the Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals in the days of the Gas House Gang, for which Durocher was the shortstop.

It was one of the first night games in major league history -- the Reds, under Larry MacPhail, had gotten permission to play one night game against each team in the National League -- and the Cardinals were a big draw. Tiny Crosley Field was packed, literally, to over flowing; fans were standing in foul territory.

Leo, via his talented ghostwriter, Ed Linn:

"The field was completely encircled by fans. They were lined up three or four deep all the way down the foul lines, around the catcher and in massed ranks behind the outfielders. ... You couldn't swing without coming within a couple of feet of somebody's head. ...

"As one inning was about to start, I looked around and saw (left fielder Joe) Medwick standing on the line a few feet behind third base arguing with a gorgeous blonde. Paul Dean was already in his motion, and since you coulnd't hear anythign from here to there I had to go running in and scale my glove past his ear.

"The best was yet to come. In the last of the eighth we were leading 2-1. The first man went out the next man walked, and up to the plate strode Babe Herman, Before he got there, the blonde -- who had moved to within a few feet of the plate by this time --stepped out of the crowd and plucked the bat from his hand. She took her stance in the batter;s box, high heels and all, and motioned for Paul to pitch to her. You can look it up, this is true. Best-looking strike zone I ever saw. She had been telling Medwick all night that she could hit better than he could, and now she was going to prove it.

"... Poor Paul didn't know what to do. Two times in a row he went into a big exaggerated windup and then stepped back and looked in toward the homeplate umpire, Bill Stewart. What could Stewart do? Judge Landis was there in his box, and even he had been afraid to do anything. We were playing this game only because:

"(1) MacPhail wasn't going to give all that money back.

"(2) If we didn't play it they'd have torn the park down.

"With nobody making a move, Paul Dean bent forward as if he were throwing the ball to a little kid and flipped it up to the plate underhanded.

"And she hit it. She hit a little twisting ground ball down between first base and the pitcher's mound and set out -- lickety-split, clickety-click -- for first base. Paul Dean, game to the end, fielded the ball and threw her out.

"Turned out she was a nightclub singer. Got herself a lot of publicity and was promptly hired by a Cincinnati nightclub, who billed her as the only woman ever to come to bat in a big-league ball game."

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Casey Fien and the Twins bullpen

Casey Fien's K/9
rate fell to 5.8 last
Friday was the deadline for teams and players to exchange their arbitration numbers. It's a process day, and as is the case with deadlines, it often serves to force a deal to conclusion.

The Twins reached contract agreements Thursday with Tommy Milone and on Friday with Eduardo Nunez, Eduardo Escobar and Casey Fien. They exchanged figures with Trevor Plouffe and Kevin Jepsen, and talks with them can (and will) continue right up to the actual arbitration hearing. (The Twins almost always settle before the confrontation.)

From my viewpoint, and probably from yours too, the amounts matter little. I'm less interested in the fact that Fien will be paid $2.25 million in 2016 as (presumably) the No. 4 man in the bullpen than in the fact that he's still part of the bullpen plan.

I view Fien as a high-floor, low-ceiling piece. He's been with the Twins for 3.5 seasons now with an ERA of 3.54 -- not awful, but not imposing either. He's also had a declining strikeout rate over his three full seasons.

The Twins have a number of low-floor, high-ceiling options (speaking of their current statuses) -- minor leaguers with big arms and limited track records, who might be better than Fien if they were given a major league job and might well be worse.

Keeping Fien around is risk avoidance. I'd rather the Twins go into camp telling the young studs: We have an opening, and we believe that at least one of you can do this job right now.

They don't have that obvious opening now. They have Glen Perkins, Jepsen, Trevor May, Fien, and two slots that are most likely ticketed for displaced starter Ricky Nolasco and veteran non-roster invitee Fernando Abad. To have a really good bullpen, the Twins need at least one more guy better than Fien.

Friday, January 15, 2016

My caveat on Tyler Duffey

Earlier in the week I voiced optimism about Tyler Duffey, with a caveat I promised to explain "tomorrow." Then Monte Irvin died, and I got sidetracked for a couple of days.

Back, now, to Duffey.

He made 10 starts, 58 innings, for the Twins with an ERA of 3.10. Add up his innings in Double A, Triple A and the majors, and he threw 196 innings for the season, a significant increase in his workload from 2014.

What's more he relied heavily on his curve ball, at least in the majors. According to Baseball Info Systems, as recorded in the Bill James Handbook, Duffey threw 58 percent fastballs, 40 percent curves and 2 percent change-ups in the majors.

That's a high percentage of curves. Of the qualified starters (minimum 162 innings) in the majors, the highest percentage of curves was Jose Quintana of the White Sox, and he threw 30.9 percent curves. Only a couple of relievers matched Duffey in percentage of curves thrown.

Anecdotally, heavy use of the curve is linked to arm issues. Steve Stone, longtime broadcaster, has said many times that he knew during his 25-win season in 1980 (for which he won the Cy Young Award) that he was throwing his curve so often that it was going to shorten his career.

Bert Blyleven, whose curve was legendary, might dispute that notion, but Blyleven frequently talks as if pitching injuries are purely random. And it's always important to remember that Blyleven himself was unique in baseball history -- reached the majors as a teen, threw 278 innings at age 20, had no significant arm issues until his 30s and remained a a fastball-curve pitcher into his 40s. There is literally nobody else like that in baseball history.

Duffey's average fastball, according to the Handbook, was a bit above 90 mph, which is hardly prime velocity these days. He obviously doesn't have a lot of faith in his straight change, a trait common to pitchers with standout curves; it's more common to see a pitcher with a high-quality change use a slider for his breaking ball than a curve. Blyleven, for example, never really had a good change; he could change speeds on the bender, and that was enough.

There have been plenty of successful fastball-curve pitchers over the generations, but I don't know that many of them threw 40 percent curves. (I'd love to know what percentage of Blyleven's pitches were curve balls.) And there's my caveat on Duffey: He exhibited in 2015 a mix of pitches unique in today's game, and I'm not sure it's sustainable.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dissecting a photo of a steal of home

Monte Irvin steals home in the first inning of the first
game of the 1951 World Series.

The above photo was moved Tuesday by The Associated Press as part of its coverage of the death of Hall of Famer Monte Irvin. I can't help but be intrigued by it.

Note, for example, the catcher's box. It's not the rectangle we're used to seeing now; it's a trapezoid. When, I wonder, did that change? Did catchers ever actually set up in the far reaches of that box?

Note, too, where catcher Yogi Berra is. He's taken a giant stride forward -- and he's still a couple of feet behind home plate. I infer from this that Berra (and his catching colleagues of the era) set up further from the plate than do today's backstops.

Then there's the sheer audacity of the play shown. Irvin was the Giants' cleanup hitter. It's the first inning of the first game of the World Series. The batter, Bobby Thomson, is just off one of the most famous home runs in baseball history ("The Giants win the pennant!"). I doubt there is a cleanup hitter today who would consider stealing home in such a situation -- or, for that matter, a manager who would allow it.

And why, you might ask, is Thomson on the ground? Let me set the stage, courtesy of the play-by-play to be found on Baseball Reference. Facing Yankee starter Allie Reynolds, leadoff hitter Eddie Stanky grounded out, and Al Dark flew to right. Hank Thompson walked, and Irvin singled. Whitey Lockman then hit a ground-rule double, scoring Thompson, which brought Thomson to the plate. Reynolds was a right-handed pitcher, and he was presumably using the windup. When he saw Irvin break for the plate, he fired the pitch up and in, forcing Thomson out of Berra's way (and if he hit Thomson, the play is dead and Irvin has to return to third). But as you can see here, Irvin is into his slide as Berra is catching the pitch, and Berra has a long way to go to get the tag on Irvin.

The steal gave the Giants a 2-0 lead, and they won 5-1. But the Yankees won the series in six games.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Monte Irvin, 1919-2016

Monte Irvin poses in spring training, 1952, the year
after he led the National League in RBIs.

It could have been Monte Irvin.

The overwhelming consensus among the people involved in the Negro Leagues in the 1940s was that Monte Irvin was the best candidate to break baseball's color barrier.

Effa Manley, the owner of the Newark Eagles, the team Irvin played for in segregated ball:

“Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team. We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character, ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences and physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s.
“Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”

The choice of Jackie Robinson over Irvin remains intriguing. Both were college men; both served in the military during World War II; neither was a particularly young man when they got the call to white ball, although Robinson was a couple years younger. And Irvin did not, by all accounts, have Robinson's temper, which had to be a risk Rickey weighed carefully. Perhaps Rickey gauged Robinson's rage as a motivating force to keep persevering through the inevitable abuse.

This all comes up, of course, because Irvin died Monday night. He was 96. His death leaves Willie Mays and Hank Aaron as the sole surviving Hall of Famers who played in the Negro Leagues.

Look at Irvin's major league record, and you see a good but not necessarily great player. He had only three seasons in which he had 500 or more plate appearances. He also didn't get to play in the white majors until he was 30, so the statistical record is flawed. As Bill James wrote in explaining why he was unable to rank Irvin with any confidence among left fielders in baseball history, Irvin had one foot in one world and the other in another.

Irvin, I'm confident, was a helluva player in his day, but there wasn't much left to his prime when he joined the New York Giants. He had enough to carve out eight seasons and leave a legacy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

All those college relievers

Seeing Tyler Jay in the No. 5 slot in Baseball America's Twins Top 10 prospect list reminds me, again, of the organization's recent tendency to draft college relief pitchers.

Jay, a left-handed pitcher, was the closer for Illinois last year before the Twins took him with the sixth overall pick in June. There was some speculation (including here) that he might be fast-tracked to the major for a September relief role, but he spluttered early in high A ball and that notion was pretty quickly abandoned.

The Twins expect to have him start this year, and that was the likely plan even if the fast-track notion had come to fruition.

I hesitate to list all the college relief pitchers the Twins have taken in the first 10 rounds the last few years, because there are so many of them I'm bound to forget some. Two of them are in the BA list, Jay and Nick Burdi. But there are also ... Mason Melotakis, J.T. Chargois, Luke Bard, Jake Reed, Michael Cederroth, Sam Clay, John Curtiss -- and Tyler Duffey.

Duffey, of course, popped into the Twins rotation in August and was their best starter down the stretch, but in college he shared closing duties with Chargois at Rice. When the Twins began their big splash into collegiate relievers with the intent to trying some of them as starters, I was a bit skeptical but noted that if they try five as starters and one makes it, the project was a success.

Five weeks does not a success make. But I'm optimistic about Duffey, with a caveat I'll expound upon tomorrow.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A serious test for the commissioner

Rob Manfred has an interesting political dilemma ahead of him.

Late last week, Chris Correa, former scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals, pleaded guilty in federal court to repeatedly hacking into the Houston Astros' central data base. Among the information he downloaded: scouting reports and priority lists of potential draftees during the 2013 draft and data on trade possibilities as the midseason trade deadline approached.

Correa has been fired by the Cardinals, but the computer break-ins were estimated by prosecutors to have cost the Astros about $1.7 million and gave the Cardinals a competitive advantage during the draft.

And now Manfred has to decide how to punish the Cardinals. Even if Correa's supervisors didn't know what he was doing, the team still benefited.

Manfred is doubtless fine the Cardinals the maximum $2 million, but while that's a lot of money to me or you it's an amount teams frequently write off when they discard a player. To send a serious message to everybody else about such an serious breach of ethics, he's got to strip the Cardinals of serious draft picks.

And what makes this an intriguing political dilemma is that Bill DeWitt, the lead owner of the Cardinals, was one of Manfred's biggest champions in his selection as Bud Selig's successor. Historically, commissioners who are attentive to the owners who backed them last in the office; commissioners who make a point of demonstrating their independence lose their jobs fairly rapidly.

Manfred can't afford to alienate DeWitt. He also can't afford to let DeWitt's team off lightly.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Pete Browning was the original Louisville Slugger -- a hard-hitting outfielder for the Louisville Colonels of the long-defunct American Association of the 1800s, he is credited with seeking out a local woodworker named John Hillerich to make his bats, leading to the creation of the famous bat company.

Browning was also notoriously illiterate and stupid, although the real issue was likely his deafness.

One day he was told that President Garfield had been assassinated. Replied Browning: "What league was he in?"

Saturday, January 9, 2016

BA's Top 10 Twins prospects

The dead tree edition of Baseball America arrived in my mailbox Friday with Byron Buxton on the cover and the Top 10 prospects writeups for the AL Central teams inside. No link here because BA will roll the Twins stuff out online sometime next week.

The list:

  1. Buxton (CF)
  2. Jose Berrios (RHP)
  3. Max Kepler (OF-1B)
  4. Nick Gordon (SS)
  5. Tyler Jay (LHP)
  6. Jorge Polanco (SS-2B)
  7. Byung Ho Park (1B)
  8. Kohl Stewart (RHP)
  9. Stephen Gonsalves (LHP)
  10. Nick Burdi (RHP)

Buxton, who retained his rookie status for 2016 by two at-bats, was the obvious top choice; he's very likely to be BA's No. 1 overall prospect for the third straight winter when that list comes out in a few weeks. Nor are No. 2 or 3 -- Jose Berrios and Max Kepler -- startling selections. There are plenty of organizations for which either would be the headliner.

The list was compiled for BA by the Pioneer Press beat writer, Mike Berardino, A few comments on his rankings:

Gordon, who spent last year in low A, is above Polanco, who split 2015 between Double A and Triple A, this on the basis that Gordon is expected to stick at shortstop. I like both players, and I agree that Polanco is stretched as a shortstop. His problem right now, as for Berrios and Kepler, is the lack of obvious opportunity on the major league club.

Stewart, the No. 4 overall pick in 2013, the year the Cubs took Kris Bryant with the No. 3 pick, "slid" to No. 7 after seeing his strikeout rate decline in the Florida State League. Key sentence: "The Twins hope he'll start to miss more bats as he learns more about pitch sequencing."

Gonsalves, the Twins fourth-round pick in that draft, has essentially caught Stewart in the rankings. But Berardino figures Stewart will open 2016 in Double A while Gonsalves, who finished 2015 in high A Fort Myers, remains there for a few months.

Jay, college reliever, is likely to start in 2016, probably at Fort Myers. The Miracle figure to have some really interesting left-handed arms in the rotation this spring, with Gonsalves, Jay and Randy Rosario, who was added to the 40-man roster after a strong TJ-recovery season in Cedar Rapids. Of that trio, I assume Jay is both closest to the majors and has the highest ceiling but that Gonsalves is the most likely to be a major league starter.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza joke about wearing their
caps backward during their Hall of Fame presser Thursday.

No surprise here: Ken Griffey Jr. said his Hall of Fame plaque will have a Mariners cap. Also not really a surprise: He says the cap will be worn in the traditional manner, brim forward. Junior, of course, was known for wearing his cap backwards during batting practice, and there was some chatter about having it backwards on his plaque.

Mike Piazza will have a Mets cap. There's a pretty good argument that it should be a Dodgers cap, but neither would be a mistake.


The three naysayers on Griffey have yet to fess up, so the current assumption is that they weren't skipping him to game the ballot. Whatever their reason, I'm not particularly wound up by the mystery; they didn't keep Griffey from going in.


A Ken Griffey factoid I love: Both he and his father, Ken Griffey -- the right fielder on the Big Red Machine of the 1970s and a darn good player himself -- were born in Donora, Pennsylvania. Which makes the elder Griffey the third best left-handed hitting outfielder born in Donora.

Who else hailed from there? Stan Musial. That's a pretty good outfield for a town best known for a killer smog.


Former Twins outfielder Denard Span signed with the Giants: three years, $31 million. There were some Twins fans dreaming of him as the fourth outfielder, but he was looking for a starting job, and $10 million a year is not reserve outfielder money.


Former Twins catcher Josmil Pinto got designated for assignment this week, this time by the Brewers. The Twins waived him early in the offseason, and the Padres claimed him, only to waive him themselves and see the Brewers claim him.

My guess is that his merry-go-round will end without a 40-man roster spot, but there are apparently a number of teams hoping to be the one that gets him through waivers and onto their Triple A roster. For his sake, I hope it's an American League team, because most of his value, if he has any, figures to be as a designated hitter.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Hall of Fame results

Ken Griffey Jr and Mike Piazza (finally) are in. Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, next time (probably). Alan Trammell, better luck with the Veterans Committee.

The writers put Griffey and Piazza in the Hall of Fame. Junior got the highest percentage of the vote in history, 99.3 -- only three voters didn't vote for him.

And how did three decide to pass on him? Well, none of the naysayers have outed him or herself as of this writing, but there are three possibilities, one of which I think is acceptable:

  • The old "if Babe Ruth wasn't unanimous, nobody's gonna be unanimous" trope.
  • A protest vote against everybody who played in the Steroid Era.
  • A game theory vote that reasoned that Griffey was a shoo-in and I'll use that slot on my ballot for someone who needs the vote.

That last I'll accept. The ballot, even after seven players were elected in the previous two years, is still stuffed with legitimate candidates, and the voters are limited to a maximum of 10 names. One can easily skip Griffey and still have more than 10 candidates who would be better choices than many already inducted.

There will doubtless be many voices in the electorate congratulating themselves on electing two players and now nine in three years. But really, it's been the lowest of hanging fruit. Of the nine, seven were on their first time on the ballot; the other two were a 3,000-hit second baseman (Craig Biggio) and the best hitting catcher ever (Piazza). This isn't as difficult as the electorate made it.

Meanwhile, Alan Trammell ran out of time. He drops off the ballot. Raines has just one more year on the writers ballot; there's now an expectation that he'll go in next year. Ditto Bagwell, who fell 15 votes shy this time around.

Next year's first timers figure to include Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada and Manny Ramirez. It will be another loaded ballot. The writers continue to run to stand still, unable to clear their backlog of overqualified candidates.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Notes,quotes and comment

It's a fairly quiet time around MLB -- almost like everybody is holding their collective breath waiting for today's Hall of Fame announcement before continuing with their offseason chores -- but there are a few little items lying around ....

* Ryan Howard of the Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals on Tuesday sued Al-Jazeera America for libel over its report linking them (and the NFL's Peyton Manning and others) to performance enhancing drugs. Meanwhile, the New York Times had this piece connecting the Al-Jazeera source (Charles Sly) to a fitness trainer (Jason Riley) who has worked with several athlete Sly claimed in the report to have gotten PEDs. Sly and Riley are business partners. There may well be some fire to this smoke,

* The Twins last winter dropped their longtime Double A affiliation with what was then the New Britain (Conn,) Rock Cats and linked up with the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Lookouts. The RockCats are now officially the Hartford Yard Goats, and they are apparently homeless for the start of the 2016 season, with the promised new stadium bearing some $10 million in overruns and the developer and city at loggerheads. The Twins may have seen this mess coming and gotten out of the way.

* Paul DePosesta, who was briefly general manager of the Dodgers (at probably the worst time to be the general manager of the Dodgers in the last 50 years or more) and pioneered the influx of Ivy Leaguers into MLB, left the New York Mets to work for the Cleveland Browns, where he will have the title of "chief strategy officer." That title apparently means something, but I'm not sure exactly what.

DePosesta played football for Harvard and, apparently, only got into baseball because he couldn't land a job with an NFL team. In baseball, he was something of a pioneer in the use of analytics, starting with the Cleveland Indians and then moving on to Oakland (where he was a significant character in Michael Lewis' celebrated Moneyball book; he was the basis for the Jonah Hill character in the movie and the one character who the moviemakers gave a different name), the Dodgers, the Padres and the Mets.

He was seen as a possible successor to Sandy Alderson with the Mets, and Alderson is dealing with cancer right now, so his departure might be a bit of a headache for the defending NL champs.

The Browns, as I understand it, are considered a laughingstock around the NFL. So were the Mets when DePosesta got there; #LOLMets used to be a frequent Twitter hashtag. Nobody's laughing at the Mets now.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Second-tier Hall of Famers

My current Strat-O-Matic project is based heavily on what I consider "second-tier" -- or worse -- Hall of Famers. These are guys few modern fans know much about, guys like Elmer Flick, Ross Youngs and Billy Herman. Good players all, maybe even great, but their legends are a bit obscure.

At the root of most, if not all, Hall of Fame debates is an issue few actually grapple with: Big Hall or small Hall? There seem to be a significant number of HoF voters, and an even higher percentage of fans, who sincerely believe that a plaque in Cooperstown should be reserved for the very elite. If you're not Willie Mays or Christy Mathewson, you're out.

That has never really been the standard. If one draws the line under, let us say, Bill Dickey and Whitey Ford, then how to account for the plaques for Ernie Lombardi and Herb Pennock, much less Rick Farrell or Eppa Rixey?

There are, today. 310 plaques displayed in the gallery, 215 for former major league players. (The others were chosen as executives/pioneers, umpires, managers and/or Negro Leaguers.) They were all good players at the very least. But they sure weren't all Frank Robinson.

Here's a lineup of HoF players that I think might be the worst Cooperstown has to offer (leaving out the Negro Leaguers and the 19th century guys):

C: Ray Schalk
1B: George Kelly
2B: Bill Mazeroski
3B: Freddie Lindstrom
SS: Rabbit Maranville
LF: Jim Rice
CF: Lloyd Waner
RF: Ross Youngs
SP: Rube Marquard

Now: There's no shame in being the worst shortstop in the Hall of Fame. This is not an insult to any of them.

But compare that squad to this group of left-outs:

C: Mike Piazza
1B: Jeff Bagwell
2B: Lou Whitaker
3B: Graig Nettles
SS: Alan Trammell
LF: Tim Raines
CF: Jim Edmonds
RF: Larry Walker
SP: Mike Mussina

I guarantee you, that second squad would kick the first team's behind, with a markedly superior player at each position, The gap between those lineups is the root of my displeasure with the current selection system and the continuing backlog of worthy candidates. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Anticipating the Hall of Fame announcment

The ballots have been cast, and the announcement is due on Wednesday.

Predicting the outcome of the Hall of Fame vote is a bit more difficult this year because of the culling of the BBWAA electorate. About 145 90 of last year's voters were stripped of their ballots by the Hall of Fame; they got the ax on the basis of no longer covering baseball. Many, if not most, of them are believed to have been casting "short" ballots, voting for one or two candidates at the most.

Dropping them effectively boosts the percentages going to the also-run candidates, and off the publicly announced ballots that appears to be a significant boost for Tim Raines in particular. Raines is nearing the end of his BBWAA eligibility (one year to go after this). My guess is that he won't make it this year but will come close enough that next year he can go over the top.

I hope he does. Raines should have been in long ago. This piece by Peter Keating of ESPN describes Raines' exclusion as a "perfect storm" of biases, from playing his glory years in Montreal to his cocaine use to the shadow of contemporary Rickey Henderson to a long time preference by Hall voters for sluggers over leadoff men. All are probably factors. I'm perfectly confident in declaring Raines to be a better player than, for example, Jim Rice, another left fielder who is in.

Raines isn't the only candidate on the ballot who has been unwisely excluded. Alan Trammell exhausts his BBWAA eligibility this year, and he has more ground to cover to get to 75 percent than Raines.

My prediction: Ken Griffey, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell get in this time, with Raines just missing. Piazza might have gotten anyway without the revamped electorate; if Bagwell and or Raines do too, it will be because dozens of previous naysayers were silenced this time.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

This one is told about Walter Johnson, and about Nolan Ryan, and probably about other notable fireballers.

Johnson (or Ryan) fires a fastball, and the batter swings and misses. He hurls another, and the batter takes another futile hack, then carts his bat back toward the dugout.

"Hey," the umpire calls. "You still have a strike left."

"I know," replies the defeated batsman. "You can have it. It won't do me any good."

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Sluggers for hire

It's 2016, and a number of of high-profile free agents -- mostly sluggers -- remain without a team.

Old friend Justin Morneau is one of them. So are Justin Upton, Chris Davis, Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes. Five guys who play first base and/or corner outfield (Davis does both), and their market has not been what they expected.

They each have their own story, their own reason(s) for still being on the market. Morneau has the concussion shadow over him; Cespedes is apparently trying to get paid on the basis of his hot month with the Mets, and nobody seriously thinks he's that good. Davis and Upton have draft-pick compensation attached.

At this point it seems unlikely that any of them are going to get what they {presumably) expected, be it years, money or both. There are a few signs that teams are starting to sniff around for potential bargains.

But I don't see the Twins being among them. They are basically set at those positions, with Joe Mauer and a raft of young talent they intend to play.

For example: Imagine that they did sign, let us say, Alex Gordon. Gordon is a marvelous player, in my estimation the best all-round player in the Kansas City lineup. He also turns 32 next month, and is believed to be seeking a five-year contract. My guess is he'll get paid, but more like three years, Anyway, imagine dropping him into the Twins lineup.

Gordon would displace Eddie Rosario in left field. Rosario could move to center, but then there's no place to put Byron Buxton. He could move to right, but that's ticketed for Miguel Sano, who's in right because the Twins are unwilling to dislodge Trevor Plouffe. Mauer, at first base, is not going anywhere, and the Twins just invested $25 million in Byung Ho Park.

I can't see it.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year

So it's 2016. The Twins, as I noted yesterday, have been quiet for a while now on the personnel front, and I expect that to continue. I'll have a quiet day too.

May 2016 be a season of contention for the Twins.