Friday, September 30, 2016

The fading of the 200-inning pitcher

Ervin Santana's 2016 season is done. He put up a 3.38 ERA, tied for second lowest of his 12-year career, in 181.1 innings and 30 starts. He was on the disabled list for two weeks early in the year, and if I remember correctly had a couple of starts truncated or even washed out by rain, But all told, he averaged just over six innings per start, and started less than one-fifth of the team's games.

One-hundred eighty-one innings leads this team by a pretty substantial margin. It doesn't rank all that highly among American League starters -- Santana entered Thursday 20th in the league in innings, and I expect he'll be passed by some in the final days of the season.

I am, yet again, struck by the way the game has changed over my decades as a fan. As of Thursday, just seven American League starters had worked 200 innings -- seven pitchers on 15 clubs. Again, that number is likely to rise a bit in the final days of the campaign, but still ... My current Strat-O-Matic project involves the eight worst teams of 1969, and there are 11 200-plus inning pitchers on those teams. Pitchers in that era frequently started more often in a season, and they emphatically expected to average more than six innings a start.

The Twins have had just three 200-inning seasons since they moved to Target Field: Carl Pavano in 2010 and 2011 and Phil Hughes in 2013.

We sometimes scoff at the "innings-eater" label attached to less-than-stellar hurlers, but the ability to last a full season in a major league rotation and get consistently into the seventh inning is valuable. Santana has had a pretty good season, and he couldn't do either.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

102 losses

The 2016 Twins reached a negative milestone Wednesday night. It was their 102nd loss of the season, tying the 1982 Twins for the most losses in Minnesota history.

I have a bunch of co-workers who hadn't been born yet, so I probably have a lot of readers who didn't see that season. I'm old, though. I remember it well.

The '82 Twins are remembered today as laying the foundation for the World Series titles that came in 1987 and 1991. Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, Tim Laudner, Randy Bush -- they were all products of the farm system, all rookies in 1982. Then-owner Calvin Griffith traded whatever veterans of value he had (Roy Smalley, Butch Wynegar, Rob Wilfong and Doug Corbett) in three different April and May trades to acquire, among others, Tom Brunansky (who was also a rookie) and Greg Gagne (who was some time away from solving the shortstop problem.)

It's tempting to try to wedge this season into that template. But the Terry Ryan-Rob Antony front office expected better of this team and did a lot more roster shuffling than old Calvin did. The 1982 Twins used 39 players; this year's model has gone through 49 with four games to go (and is unlikely to add to that total) and shuffled those 49 far more aggressively. The '82 Twins traded their veterans early; the '16 Twins waited until July to trade Ricky Nolasco, Fernando Abad and Eduardo Nunez.

When Viola came up after eight Triple A starts in 1982, he put up a 5.21 ERA -- and didn't come out of the rotation, much less return to the minors. None of the core rookies got shipped back to the minors. They played. When Griffith decided rookie DH Randy Johnson wasn't going to get it done, he got demoted, Randy Bush was called up, and Johnson was never heard from again. (For what it's worth, the two had basically equivalent production in 1982, but Bush got the job and didn't relinquish it for a decade.)  This year, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Tyler Duffey, Jose Berrios, Jorge Polanco -- they were all up and down.

Old Calvin embraced the suck. But he could do that; he wasn't going to fire himself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The oft-injured Wilson Ramos

Bad timing: Wilson Ramos will not only miss the playoffs,
he'll enter free agency in need of knee reconstruction.
Wilson Ramos only looks like he was carved out of a really big piece of rock. The former Twins catching prospect, whose 2010 trade still sticks in the craw of many Twins fans who ought to know better, is all too human.

Ramos sustained a torn knee ligament Monday. He's out for the playoffs, another blow to the Washington Nationals' postseason ambitions. It's also really bad timing for Ramos personally; he's going into free agency not as, finally, the All-Star catcher he had been projected to become but with a knee in need of reconstruction.

Ramos has played six full seasons with the Nationals. This was only his second season with more than 400 at-bats, his third with more than 100 games. He has averaged 94 games a year since 2011. Durability has not been among his attributes, and that tendency showed during his minor league development as well.

The Twins traded him during the 2010 season for Matt Capps. The deal was widely criticized; Ramos was clearly the organization's top minor league prospect, and Capps, while a solid reliever at the time, was not touched with greatness.

But the trade was understandable. Bill Smith, then the Twins general manager, made the deal to win now, and Capps deepened the Minnesota bullpen and helped win the division title. It's not his fault that his teammates never got the bullpen a lead in the 2010 playoffs,

Capps got hurt the next year (almost everybody on the 2011 Twins did) and was never an effective major leaguer again. Joe Mauer, who in 2010 appeared to be years away for having to abandon catching, only had two more seasons behind the plate. And catcher has been a frequent problem, offense and defense, since concussion issues forced Mauer to first base.

All that is inarguably true. Also true: For most of the past six years, Ramos wouldn't have fixed the catcher problem.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Puffs of white smoke

Word on the interwebs Monday was that the Twins had settled on Derek Falvey, 32-year-old assistant general manager of the Cleveland Indians, as their new president of baseball operations.

The Twins haven't announced such a hire; they haven't even scheduled an announcement. One genuine possibility for delay is that Falvey's current team was in a pennant race. (The Tribe clinched the AL Central title last night.) Another may be that the Twins intend to announce other changes -- such as the new general manager -- at the same time.

Here's, the online arm of the Plain Dealer, on Falvey's many-faceted role with the Indians. The importance of connecting the work of the analytics people with that of the manager, coaches and players was a major theme of "Big Data Baseball," the 2015 book on the Pittsburgh Pirates, and seems to be a major part of Falvey's duties with the Tribe.


Well, there's an interesting thing about the rise of the Cleveland Indians. In 2014, by the defensive metrics to be found on Baseball Reference, they were an awful defensive team. In 2015 they moved more or less to the middle of the pack, and this year they are at or near the top.

There are a lot of factors involved in that; the arrival of Francisco Lindor at shortstop certainly didn't hurt. But one of them was moving a third baseman, Lonnie Chisenhall, to right field. Another was undoing their own version of the Sano fiasco. in which they attempted to install Carlos Santana at third base. That 2014 experiment lasted about as long as Sano lasted in right field this year.

I won't pretend to know what Falvey's role was in any of those decisions. He probably wasn't an innocent bystander. But the notion that a front office exec coming out of the Cleveland Indians culture is going to be fervently anti-experimentation is simply silly. There may be no operation in the game more willing to try something different than Cleveland.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Three losses

Sunday was a rough day for baseball, with three distinct losses felt in this corner of fandom.

The biggest loss, and the most surprising, was the death of Jose Fernandez, the brilliant young pitcher of the Miami Marlins, in a boating accident off Miami Beach.

I keep in my head a list of the great pitchers I've seen work in person. I'll never get to add Fernandez to that list. Obviously that's among the lesser aspects of this tragedy. He leaves behind, among other survivors, an as-yet-unborn daughter (he apparently announced his girlfriend's pregnancy just last week on social media),

Another loss was completely expected: Vin Scully called his final home game for the Los Angeles Dodgers. My experience with Scully's work is largely limited to his years of national work on baseball and football games, mostly in the 1970s and '80s. But I have long admired the transcription of his call of the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax's perfect game. Scully broadcast in complete sentences and paragraphs, and that ninth inning, obviously done without a script, reads like it had been crafted with multiple drafts.

The third loss matters mainly to Twins fans. Sunday marked the 100th loss of this far-below-expectations season for the Minnesota crew. The home portion of the Twins schedule is mercifully over, and the odds are quite strong that when the week and the season ends the record will be a new low for the Minnesota portion of the franchise's long if bedraggled history. (The Washington Senators twice lost at least 110 games in the early years of the American League.)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pic of the Week

A member of the Target Field grounds crew wrestles with
the tarp during the storm that washed out Wednesday's game.

Among the many sour aspects of the 2016 season for the Twins -- and one that no general manager can have any control of -- was the weather.

Wednesday's was the 13th rain delay (or postponement) at Target Field this year. They had another Friday night. I'm not going to try to prove or disprove this assertion, but I doubt there were three homestands without at least one weather delay.

That's part of baseball. The weather matters, and it can (and does) disrupt a team's pitching plans. The Twins lost some good starts to the weather, and overall did not cope well with the disruptions.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

This is a lousy fielding team

The phrase "E-Twins" generally refers to the Twins' Appy League affiliate in Elizabethton, Tenn. This year, it more accurately refers to the fielding "prowess" of the big league team.

Robbie Grossman's double error in left field Friday night inspires me to update this repeated complaint.

Grossman has now been charged with eight errors in left field. According to Baseball Reference, he had, entering the game, cost the Twins 19 runs compared to an average left fielder -- and this as essentially a half-time player (71 games).

Which is how a guy with an on base percentage of .384 and a slugging percentage of .454 is almost a wash in WAR (wins above replacement) as calculated by BR. Grossman has been an absolute liability in the field.

The Twins entered Friday's game with 118 errors. This was the most in the American League, second in the majors to Milwaukee (125). The Twins lead the majors in outfield errors by a wide margin. Nobody's committed more errors in left field than Grossman, Nobody's committed more errors in right field than Max Kepler (who at least has some range.)

Errors are far from a perfect measurement of fielding. But the figure is hardly meaningless, especially at the extremes -- and the 2016 Twins are definitely an extremely sloppy fielding crew.

Meanwhile, they find new ways to embarrass themselves.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Wild pitching an intentional walk

A team that loses 100 games is bound to embarrass itself with some frequency. Heck, a team that wins 100 games loses 62 games. Baseball is a humbling game.

But it's difficult to look worse than Pat Light did in bungling an intentional walk in the first game of Thursday's double header.

It's not the first time it's happened this year -- a quick Google search uncovered one less than a month ago by Washington's A.J. Cole -- but it was particularly embarrassing because Light had uncorked a wild pitch with his previous offering. That put runners on second and third and was the third ball, so Paul Molitor elected to put the batter on.

And Light lobbed it so high it left the view of the FSN center field camera. Juan Centeno is notably short, but Manute Bol wouldn't have reached that throw.

Molitor then removed Light, and Michael Tonkin entered and promptly served up a three-run homer.

I have some thoughts on Tonkin, but I'll save them for later. I'll just say of Pat Light, who has pitched now 12.1 innings for the Twins with 15 walks and five wild pitches: There is no way in Hades he's going to be back in 2017.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Contemplating Trevor May

Trevor May's '"pars
defect" was missed
repeatedly over the
past 13 months.
Trevor May, it turns out, has been trying to pitch for more than a year with a stress fracture in his back.

That had to hurt. It certainly didn't work. He had a 5.27 ERA in 42.2 innings. He gave up seven homers. He was charged with 10 wild pitches. His walk rate rose sharply.

As did his strikeout rate. The Twins had counted on May during the offseason to be significant part of their 2016 bullpen, and when he was relatively pain-free (which wasn't often) he was effective.

I wrote recently of Kyle Gibson that his regression this year was one of the biggest reasons for the failure of the 2016 Twins. So was the bullpen collapse. The late innings foursome of Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen, May and Casey Fien was expected to be a strength. It was exactly the opposite.

The plan now is for May to return to being a starting pitcher. Whether that plan survives the arrival of the new regime is, obviously, unknown.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Contemplating Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario cracked his left thumb on this
play in the 10th inning Saturday.
Eddie Rosario is deemed to have fractured his thumb on a dive into first base Saturday and is out for the remainder of the season.

It wasn't a good year for the outfielder. The slash line was pretty stable compared to last year, but the defense was noticably worse (albeit still superior to Robbie Grossman in left field).

The biggest problem: Rosario's walk to strikeout rate is still abysmal. He walked 12 times (and two of those intentional) and struck out 91 times in 354 plate appearances. This is why his on-base percentage is below .300.

You have to really hunt for reasons for optimism in his 2016. Yes, he hit over .300 after spending June in Triple A; but his BB/K ratio after his recall was still 9/60. "Minnesota high school math" here: he had three walks and 31 strikeouts before his demotion, basically one walk for every 10 strikeouts; after the demotion, 1.5 walks for every 10 strikeouts. For all the blather from Dick Bremer about Rosario's improved strike zone judgment, it doesn't show in the stats.

Rosario turns 25 in a week. He's had two partial seasons as more or less the regular left fielder, and it's still not clear that he deserves to be a regular major league outfielder. The Twins have been patient with his talent, but a more sabermetrically inclined operation might not be willing to give him more time to figure out what he's doing at the plate.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Talking prospects

The Twins top three prospects as listed by Baseball America  -- Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios and Max Kepler -- all graduated this year. So did Nos. 6 and 7 (Jorge Polanco and Byung Ho Park). So the prospect lists this offseason will look drastically different.

The dead-tree edition of BA that arrived in my mailbox over the weekend gives us a few hints of who might be pushing their way to the top of the Twins list.

Stephen Gonsalves, a left-handed pitcher who was No. 9 on the preseason list, was one of five starting pitchers named to BA's minor league all star team. Gonsalves split 2016 between High A Fort Myers and Double A Chattanooga and combined went 13-5, 2.06 with 155 strikeouts in 140 innings.

Some words of caution on the 6-foot-5 lefty from BA's writeup:

While scouts are unconvinced that Gonsalves possesses the current fastball command to dominate big league hitters, the 22-year-old lefthander does throw a changeup that improves each season. ... (He) must reduce his walk rate of 3.7 batters per nine innings, but he's clearly doing something right.

Gonsalves is scheduled to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, and it will be interesting to see how he fares there. My current guess is that he'll open 2017 in Chattanooga again, and if he continues to be too much for Southern League hitters to handle, he'll move up to Triple A by June.

Gonsalves was also named to BA's Double-A all-star team (as was Chih-Wei Hu, the Tawianese righty the Twins traded in 2015 for Kevin Jepsen).

Felix Jorge was named to the High-A team; he went 9-3, 1.55 in Fort Myers, then moved up to Chattanooga and struggled a bit (3-5, 4.12). I saw Jorge last year at Cedar Rapids and wrote about what I saw here. He was No. 24 on BA's preseason Twins list, and I wouldn't expect to see a big jump.

Nobody from the Cedar Rapids club was named to BA's Low-A all-stars. For the Rookie leagues honors, BA tabbed outfielder Alex Kirilloff, last June's first-rounder, who slashed .304/.341/.454 at Elizabethton. He will be in the Twins Top 10, maybe top 5, this winter, and a reason to make a relatively early trip to Iowa next year.

I was mildly disappointed to see that Nick Gordon, who slashed .291/.335/.386 at Fort Myers, didn't get the shortstop nod for High A. BA selected Gleyber Torres, who the Cubs traded to the Yankees in the Alrodis Chapman trade. But Gordon, No. 4 on the Twins preseason list, is likely to top the list this winter. Gordon's slugging percentage doesn't look like much, but the Florida State League depresses power; the league slugging percentage was only .356. Double A for Gordon next year.

Another name to take note of is Fernando Romero, who appears to have had a very good comeback from Tommy John surgery. He racked up 90 innings combined at Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers, with 90 strikeouts and ERAs below 2 at both levels. He's described as having three strikeout pitches. He's at least a level behind Gonsalves, but he might be a better starting prospect. Building his innings is the next project for him.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

While pretty much everybody else in Minnesota was watching some football game Sunday night, I was watching the Yankees-Red Sox game on ESPN.

Mookie Betts made two sensational catches in right field. This is nothing unique for Betts; ESPN said he leads the majors, all positions, in runs saved.

We Twins fans have a chronic bellyache about all the infielders the Twins have tried to play in the outfield the past several seasons. Danny Santana. Miguel Sano. The Eduardos, Nunez and Escobar. Jason Bartlett. None of them have been good outfielders, and other than Sano, none of them figured to hit the way you want an outfielder, particularly a corner outfielder, to hit.

Betts is a converted infielder; his "real" position is second base, but that is kinda occupied in Boston by Dustin Pedroia. The conversion certainly worked for Betts. Of course, he is faster than any of the infielders the Twins tried this with except maybe Santana, and that might have something to do with the difference.


As the Twins continue their search for new front office leadership, the San Diego Padres offer an example of what to avoid. A.J. Preller got a one-month suspension last week for misleading the Red Sox on the medical history of pitcher Drew Pomeranz. It's actually the second time Preller's been suspended by the commissioner's office for rule violations; he got nailed while with Texas for illegalities in negotiations in the Dominican.

As I suggested a couple weeks ago in a Monday print column, September is about as slow as it gets for a baseball front office, so Preller's suspension may not be much of a setback for the organization. But the man is getting a bit of a reputation as untrustworthy, and that matters.


Last week I wrote about Davey Johnson's 43-homer season and noted in passing that another future manager of note, Dusty Baker, hit 21 homers for that same Atlanta Braves team.

Going further down that rabbit hole: The primary catcher for that team was Johnny Oates, who managed for 11 years and won three divisional titles with the Texas Rangers. (Oates was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly after resigning as Rangers manager and died a few years later).

Oates' managerial record was 797-746. Johnson's was 1,372-1,071. Baker is still active, of course; he's at 1,750-1,565 after Sunday's loss. That's not the most impressive collection of future managers on a team in baseball history, but it's not bad. (The 1918 Pirates had three future Hall of Fame managers on their roster in Casey Stengel, Bill McKechnie and Billy Southworth.)

The 1973 Braves were managed by Eddie Mathews, Hall of Fame third baseman who is better remembered for his power exploits than for his dugout wizardry. I daresay none of those managers would cite Mathews as an influence. But they did have an interesting confluence of Hall of Fame managers. Johnson spent much of his career playing for Earl Weaver; Oates came up with the Orioles under Weaver and later played for Tommy Lasorda with the the Dodgers; and Baker had some of his best seasons under Lasorda.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pic of the Week

St. Louis centerfielder Randall Grichuk dives for a ball
hit by Chicago's Kris Bryant that went for a triple.
There are always photos of diving outfielders. Not many are framed as this one is.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

RIP, W.P. Kinsella

W.P. Kinsella on the Skydome turf before a World Series
game in 1992. The novelist was born and lived in Canada,
although at least two of his works were set in Iowa.
News broke late Friday that novelist W.P. Kinsella -- the author of the novel that became the movie "Field of Dreams" -- had died after exercising Canada's doctor-assisted suicide law. He was 81.

"Shoeless Joe," published in 1982, is generally regarded as his masterpiece, and the 1989 movie certainly emphasized its popularity. Such lines as "If you build it, he will come" (or they will come) and "Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa" resonate still.

But I, personally, prefer his "Iowa Baseball Confederacy," a novel (also set in Iowa) that imagines an unending exhibition game involving a timetraveling amateur player, the 1908 Chicago Cubs and an mysteriously omnipotent Indian.

Kinsella was involved in an auto accident in 1997 that essentially ended his creative period. The ailment that led him to pull the plug on his life was not disclosed.

There have been other good baseball novels, and arguably some better. But few touched readers as profoundly as "Shoeless Joe," and that is no small legacy.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Back to Sano (and Mauer)

Miguel Sano was sent back to the Twin Cities on Thursday to have his ailing back checked.

He missed all of June with a hamstring problem. I know from my personal experience that back issues are linked to hamstring problems. The rehab program I was put on for my back was in large part designed to strengthen and stretch the hamstrings. I also know that when I am lax in following that regimen, back soreness isn't far behind.

I started noticing this as a fan soon after my encounter with a herniated disc: Athletes who miss time with a hamstring or back issue tend to soon miss time with the other. So it's no real surprise to me that Sano now has a troublesome lower back.

A third connected element are the quads. My exercises include a set for working the quads, because making the hamstrings too strong in relation to the quads leads to problems also.

Joe Mauer used to go through a series of back and leg exercises on the field before warmups on days that he caught that I watched carefully when I had the opportunity. It was very much like my prescribed routine, only ramped up and more rigorous. I haven't seen him doing them since his move to first base, which doesn't mean something like them isn't part of his routine elsewhere, just that he's not doing them on the field before games. But he's having issues with his quads now, which can lead to further problems with the back or hamstrings.

Please note: I am not accusing Sano or Mauer of inadequate conditioning or physical prep work. I am not privy to their workouts or exercises. I am merely noting that one particular problem in the physical core frequently leads to others. Missing time to get a problem solved is far better than letting the chain continue to unfold.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to do my back exercises.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The story of Davey Johnson, home run hitting second baseman

There is a generation or more of baseball fans who know Davey Johnson as a manager of accomplishment. He managed the '86 Mets to a World Series title, guided four other teams to the postseason, was named manager of the year twice and racked up a .562 winning percentage in 17 seasons.

But if you're old like me, you remember him also as Dave Johnson, player of accomplishment. Four times an All-Star, three times a Gold Glove winner, the everyday second baseman on two World Series champs and on two more pennant winners -- and one of the few keystoners to hit 40 home runs in a season.

It's that last accomplishment that spurs this post, because there are certain parallels to Johnson's one season as a serious slugger and Brian Dozier's remarkable 2016.

Johnson spent most of his career with the Baltimore Orioles. In 1971, he hit 18 homers as the Birds won their third straight American League pennant. He hit .282, he won the Gold Glove, he was 28 years old. He was really good.

And Bobby Grich was ready to play. In 1972, Johnson fell off to .221 with five homers. Grich, splitting time between second base and shortstop, was the second best hitter on a squad that suddenly was having a difficult time scoring runs. The O's had been winning 100-plus games every year; now they were barely above .500. During the offseason Johnson was traded with three teammates to Atlanta.

Where he suddenly morphed into a serious slugger. Two homers in March/April. five in May, nine each in June and July, 12 in August, six more in September/October -- 43 in all. It is one of the great fluke seasons in baseball history. It takes Johnson's three best non-1973 seasons combined just to match his 1973 homer total.

The 1973 Braves had three 40 home-run guys -- Johnson with 43, Darrell Evans with 41 and the aging Hank Aaron with 40 (in just 392 official at-bats). Despite all these sluggers (another future manager of note, Dusty Baker, hit another 21 bombs), the Braves had a sub-.500 season.

It was Johnson's age 30 season, and he had slowed up significantly in the field. The next year he split time between first and second. He hit 15 homers in 1974, his third highest career mark. And that was his last season as a regular. The Braves released him, he went to play in Japan, he came back to bounce around the majors as a reserve, and he played his last game in 1978.

What happened in 1973 to make Johnson a big-time homer guy? One factor was Atlanta's home park, the Launching Pad. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was a notorious home-run generator, and 26 of Johnson's homers that year came in home games. That's only part of his surge, of course; he had 17 homers on the road, which almost matches his next-best full season.

Johnson himself years later offered another explanation: He had, he said. learned that he was a "zone hitter." Instead of looking for a specific pitch (fastball), he was better off looking for an offering in a specific portion of the strike zone, regardless of whether it was a fastball or a breaking ball. That knowledge came just as the rest of his game was deteriorating, however, so he got only one big season out of it.

There appears to be a good bit of that in Dozier's approach. He gets an inside pitch, he whacks it.

So what does Johnson's story imply about Brian Dozier's future? Possibly nothing. Everybody's different, and the parallels, while certainly present, aren't precise.

Dozier is in his age 29 season, one year younger than Johnson was in his big year. Presumably he's in better condition than Johnson was 43 years ago, in an era when players worked offseason jobs rather than workout constantly, but athletes still frequently fall off sharply once they hit 30. Unlike Johnson, Dozier has had significant home run seasons in the past. I don't expect Dozier's career to crumble as rapidly as Johnson's did.

But the odds are that Dozier's not going to be a 40-homer guy next year, or the year after. That's not to take away from what he's doing. That's simply reality.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Contemplating Kyle Gibson

Kyle Gibson sits between Jorge Polanco and Brian Dozier
between innings Tuesday in Detroit. He allowed one
run in eight innings Tuesday, one of his best outings of 2016.
When a team is apparently headed to 100 losses, there is generally no shortage of reasons for the failure. For the 2016 Minnesota Twins, one of the biggest reasons is Kyle Gibson.

Gibson in 2015 led the team in starts, innings pitched, quality starts and strikeouts. He tied for the team lead in both wins and losses. And, notably, the big right-hander led the entire team, pitchers and position players, in WAR (wins above replacement) as calculated by Baseball Reference. He was the one constant in a constantly shuffled rotation.

This year he has regressed. Tuesday's strong start was only his second quality start since July and his eighth of the season (he had 17 last year). His strikeout rate, which had improved rather sharply in 2015 as he made better use of a changeup, has receded.

Gibson has always impressed the old-school scouts more than he has the sabermetricians, and there is a very good chance that the incoming management will be more inclined to rely on his track record than on his potential. Since he turns 29 next month, that would be sensible. When we hear talk of a pending pitching staff shakeup, Gibson is probably prominent among those to be shaken.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Brian Dozier, 40 home-run man

Brian Dozier in the dugout Monday after No. 40.
Brian Dozier hit homer No. 40 Monday night. Numbers are odd (and even) things; I have no doubt that if humans had six fingers on each hand we would think in multiples of 12  -- and we would have invented a system of numerals that end with a zero for 12, as 10 does in this reality. The zero is one of humanity's great conceptual breakthroughs.

Anyway: 40 homers is one more than 39 and one less than 41, but that zero give it a lot more resonance with us. Forty is a milestone. The Twins moved to Minnesota in 1961 from Washington; in that time, only Harmon Killebrew had reached that milestone, and he did it seven times -- plus one in Washington before the move, One other Washington Senator hit 40 (Roy Sievers). So in the 116 seasons that the franchise has existed, 40 homers has been reached 10 times -- Killebrew eight times, Sievers once, and now Dozier.

Dozier is an unlikely candidate to reach that level of power production. Consider that Kent Hrbek never came particularly close to 40 homers. Nor did Justin Morneau, or Gary Gaetti, or Dozier's hitting coach, Tom Brunansky, power hitters all. Until this year, the non-Killebrew home run champ for Minnesota was Josh Willingham and his 35 in 2012.

Dozier was not a power guy in the minors. His season high before reaching Minnesota was nine in a season split between High A and Double A. As a minor leaguer, he hit like a stereotypical middle infielder, with a focus on hitting for average and getting on base.

He has been anything but that stereotype in the majors. In the same season he shifted from shortstop and became the regular second baseman, he started turning himself into a pull-happy power threat with an ever-increasing home run mark. Eighteen, 23, 28, and now 40 and counting.

But the stereotype persists. I have even this year heard Dan Gladden babbling about Dozier's hitting style and wondered who he's talking about; the Dozier he described is not the Dozier of reality. Gladden was imposing the typical second baseman on Dozier -- the contact hitter, the guy you put on the hit-and-run with, the guy sets the table so the big boppers can eat.

Dozier IS one of those big boppers. Forty homers is plenty of evidence for that. But it's not just broadcasters stuck on the second base mold. After all, Dozier spends a lot more time hitting leadoff than cleanup. Which is part of why 28 of his 40 homers have been solo shots.

Monday, September 12, 2016

It could be worse (and it is)

Zack Greinke hasn't matched his career marks with Arizona,
but he's been a lot better than the rest of the staff.
OK, Twins fans: What team has the worst ERA in the majors this year?

Nope, it's not Minnesota. The Twins have an ugly ERA, to be sure: 5.19 entering Sunday's games. But the Arizona Diamondbacks entered Sunday with a 5.24 ERA, which is as unsightly as their charcoal road unis.

That's astounding, considering that:

  • Arizona plays most of its games without a designated hitter and
  • the Diamondbacks made two really expensive moves last winter to import quality starting pitchers, signing Zach Greinke and trading for Shelby Miller.

Greinke, long one of my favorites, has a 4.54 ERA (and a 12-5 record), but he's only made 23 starts, having missed more than a month with an oblique injury. Miller has been a disaster (2-11, 6.89 ERA).

It's a cautionary tale for whoever lands the top baseball job with the Twins. Greinke was the top free agent pitcher on the market last winter, and Miller is a highly regarded young pitcher who made the All-Star team in 2015. These were the kind of moves that I suspect a lot of Twins fans want the new boss to make, and they absolutely blew up in the faces of Tony LaRussa and Dave Stewart.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pic of the Week

Shadow batting: Kansas City's Alcides Escobar misses a pitch
during a game in Detroit.

A shortstop swinging in silhouette.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A patch of honor

Tyler Duffey warms up Friday while
the right scoreboard displays a logo
honoring the late Jacob Wetterling.
The Twins and Cleveland Indians on Friday each wore No. 11 patches in honor of Jacob Wetterling, whose remains were identified a week ago.

The Twins are auctioning 11 of the jerseys, with the proceeds going to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

The Wetterling story is truly tragic and heart-rending, and the impulse to acknowledge it is understandable. The jersey auction even makes that acknowledgement valuable in a tangible way.

The Gophers, Vikings and St. Paul Saints also have Wetterling tributes scheduled. Whether the fundraising aspect is connected to any of them, I don't know.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Catching up on a few items I ignored while writing about the Cedar Rapids Kernels this week:

* The pitcher to be determined from the Twins for the Arizona Fall League turned out to be Stephen Gonsalves, a left-handed pitcher who has been burning up the system.

I'm a little surprised he's getting the nod, as he's already racked up 140 innings on the season.

Gonsalves turned 22 in July and was the Twins fourth round pick in the 2013 draft. They handled him rather gingerly the first two years in the system, possibly because he didn't pitch his senior year in high school because of a suspension for not reporting a teammate's drug use. He didn't pitch 100 innings in 2013-14 combined.

He also hasn't spent a full season at any level; he's been too good for that. He finished 2016 at Double A Chattanooga, going 8-1, 1.81 and striking out more than one per inning. He walked a few guys too (4.5 per nine), and there's a good case to be made for giving him at least a half season at Triple A next year.

* With Rochester's season over, the Twins recalled Kennys Vargas and Tyler Duffey. They also moved Danny Santana to the 60-day disabled list, which takes him off the 40-man roster, and added infielder James Beresford.

This was a popular move among followers of the minor league system. Beresford is an Australian who has spent a decade toiling in the farm system. Once seen as a skinny shortstop prospect, he's gotten stronger and moved off short. 2016 was actually the worst of his four full seasons at Rochester.

He's never had a slugging percentage that even approaches .400 in the States, and he's no basestealer. He is what is known as an "org guy" -- org for organizational, a reliable piece to fill out the roster of a minor league club making it possible to develop the real prospects. The Twins in recent years kept calling up Doug Bernier; Beresford is basically a younger version of Bernier.

* I mentioned in Thursday's post the brief Sunday start of Cedar Rapids pitcher Eduardo Del Rosario. The reason he was pulled after two innings became clear later that day when he started, and won, the second playoff game for the Kernels.  The Kernels swept the best-of-three series.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Pitchers

Tom Hackimer comes from down under.
 (Photo by Linda Vanderwerf)
As with the hitters, the Cedar Rapids roster I saw over the weekend was light on high draft picks and ranked prospects.

Indeed, the most impressive arm I saw in the two-plus games I attended was Luiz Gohara, a Brazilian lefty who started Saturday for Clinton, a Seattle farm club. He was clocked on the (suspect) stadium gun in the upper 90s regularly. He also had difficulty with the strike zone -- five walks and seven strikeouts in six innings.

Gohara is a prospect -- a guy you can watch and imagine becoming Fransciso Liriano, a power starter. The guys the Kernels started Saturday and Sunday, not so much. Brady Anderson and Sam Gibbons seldom if ever broke 90 on the stadium gun.

I had a comment last year about Gibbons having too much "pitchability" for the Midwest League, and I was a bit surprised that he didn't move up the ladder this spring to the Florida State League. His numbers last year suggested he should move up; his numbers this year suggest that the Twins were correct in leaving him in low A. His numbers deteroriated across the board.

Anderson was signed this summer after going undrafted as a fifth-year senior, and Saturday was almost certainly his worst start as a pro. But his ERA (1.89 for the Appy and Midwest Leagues combined) doesn't mean much to me; he's 23 and has an idea of what he's doing with an offspeed pitch, so he ought to be dominating those levels.

Eduardo Del Rosario started Monday; I saw him throw one inning and liked what I saw. He was in the mid 90s with his velocity, and his delivery appeared smooth and efficient. But he only pitched two innings, and I don't know why it was such a brief outing.

An interesting arm I saw in relief Saturday was Tom Hackimer, who the Twins took in the fourth round out of college. He throws low-sidearm/high submarine. He faced four hitters, got them all out, stuck out two. The Twins haven't had many unconventional deliveries on their staffs over the years.

I didn't see probably the two best pitching prospects on the roster, Michael Cedaroth (who I mentioned in the Tuesday post) and Lachlan Wells, a lefty who was to start the playoff opener last night. Wells, 19, is an Australian (like Gibbons) who put up a 1.77 ERA in 12 starts.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Hitters

The Cedar Rapids Kernels -- the low A affiliate of the Twins -- will be in the the Midwest League playoffs this week as the second half champions of the West Division. It's the fourth straight year the manager Jake Mauer has piloted the Kernels into the league playoffs, and it's all the more impressive because there really isn't much on the roster in terms of high picks and name prospects.

The only player on the roster last weekend who Baseball America listed on its preseason top 31 prospects for the Twins is infielder Travis Blankenhorn, who was their third-round pick in 2015. He's a left-handed hitter who was drafted as a third baseman but has played mostly second base when in the field this year and DH'd more than anything. BA listed him as the Twins 26th prospect in the spring.

He played second base and hit fourth Saturday against a lefty, third base and hit fifth on Sunday against a righty and wasn't in the lineup at all on Monday (another lefty). He did nothing in either game that particularly caught my eye, but Friday was probably a really bad day for everybody on the team -- they'd played (and won) a 16-inning game Thursday night and then had a 5.5 hour bus ride back to Cedar Rapids, so it was probably a really tired squad.

Scouting the stat line

Three other infielders have had interesting seasons.

Luis Arraez, a smallish left-handed hitting second baseman from Venezuela, hit .347 with 31 doubles in a full season with Cedar Rapids, leading the Midwest League in batting average. He's only 19. Baseball Reference lists him as 155 pounds, but the Kernels roster lists him at 175, and I'd say the latter is more likely accurate right now. He started just the one game against a righty (Saturday) and had one hit but stung the ball two other times. He also got hit in the upper chest/neck by a ground ball.

.347 is .347, even in low A, and I would expect Arreaz to show up on prospect lists this winter. He's definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Nelson Molina is a skinny guy -- 6-foot-3, 165 pounds according to the roster and looks it -- but he hit .304, albeit without the doubles power Arraez displayed. The Puerto Rican played third base on Friday and shortstop on Sunday. He's 21, and if he is going to have a future he needs to get stronger.

Zander Wiel is plenty big (6-3, 220) and led the Kernels in home runs and RBIs; in fact, he led the Midwest League in RBIs and was second in homers. We saw him homer on Saturday, his 17th of the season; we left Monday's game early and missed two more homers from him. He hit 15 of his 19 homers in the second half of the season, doubtless a big reason why the Kernels had such a strong second half. But .. he's 23, a bit old for the league, and he's a right-handed hitting first baseman who hit under .260. Right-handed hitters limited to first base have to really mash to get to the majors, and I doubt Wiel qualifies.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Back home with the loot

The jersey was worn on home game Tuesdays
by pitcher Michael Cedarroth. I won it in a
silent auction Friday. The lunch box was the
giveaway for Sunday's regular season finale;
It appears that while I was taking a last-chance view of the Cedar Rapids Kernels this weekend that

  • Brian Dozier continued to do his Harmon Killebrew impersonation and
  • Bryon Buxton had the best five-game stretch of his major league career.

I'm sure I'll have things to say about both in the future ... I've said plenty in the past, after all. But for the next few days I'll post about who and what I saw in the Midwest League games I attended.

What we have here for art is the baseball loot my wife and I brought home Monday.

The Kernels wore these jerseys, based on the Twins jerseys of 1991 (note the World Series patch on the right shoulder), for Tuesday home games. They held a silent auction during Saturday's game. I bid on the Michael Cedaroth jersey and won.

And who, you may ask, is Michael Cedaroth? He's one of the many college relief pitchers the Twins have selected with high draft picks in recent years (specifically, their third-round pick in 2014). He's had some injury issues -- only appeared in 11 games last year, 30 games this year. He struck out 61 men this year for the Kernels in 47.2 innings -- and walked 33. He had a nice ERA (2.45), but that's too many walks.

The other goodie is a lunchbox. We hadn't intended to go to Monday's game, but my wife wanted one of the giveaway lunchboxes, and it was a noon start, so we delayed our departure from Cedar Rapids a couple hours, collected a box, and took off after the first inning, with fans still filing into the park. So we missed the Kernels' one win of the weekend, and Cedaroth's only appearance of the three games we went to.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pic of the Week

 Junho Jeong delivers a pitch in the first inning of the
Little League World Series championship game last

I've remarked before that still photos of pitchers frrequently show the arm in a position that cannot be held. I'm not even sure how in motion an arm can be bent like this.

Programming note: I am out of town this weekend and in the interest of the spirit of vacation left the laptop at home. (This post, and Saturday's, were composed in advance, as was the Monday print column.) If there is a post here Monday, it will come in the afternoon or even the evening.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The AFL selections

Catching up on "old" news: The initial rosters for the Arizona Fall League were issued Wednesday.

This year the Twins prospects will play for the Surprise Saguaros, Five of the six were identified Wednesday: catcher Mitch Garver, outfielder Tanner English, left-handed pitchers Mason Melotakis and Randy Rosario, and right-handed pitcher John Curtiss.

The Twins are to supply one more pitcher to the Saguaros, and presumably they are hoping Nick Burdi, who has missed almost the entire season with a bruised humerus bone, will be ready to get some innings. 

The most interesting of these guys for immediate purposes is Garver. He's a bat-first catcher who has reached Triple A and might possibly get a September call-up, although the Twins would have to open a spot on the 40 for him. Supposedly he has improved his defensive skills since I saw him play in Cedar Rapids a couple years ago, and he might figure in the Twins catching plans for 2017. 

Even without Burdi, the pitchers assigned to the AFL are a collection of rehab projects. Melotakis and Rosario are on the 40-man roster, but each is in their first full season after Tommy John surgery. Melotakis will end the Double A season with less than 40 innings worked, all out of the bullpen; Rosario is approaching 100 innings combined between High A Fort Myers and Double A Chattanooga. Curtiss split the season between Low A Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers and has 50-some innings, all out of the bullpen, after a 2015 marred by repeated injury issues.

I had had some hope during the offseason and spring training that Melotakis might be a factor in the major league bullpen this year. The Twins obviously took a more cautious approach, made easier by the fact that they weren't in contention. Rosario was a couple levels behind Melotakis and was never really a consideration.

English I don't take particularly seriously as a prospect. He had limited playing time this year, presumably because of injury. (The Twins moved him up to Triple A Rochester from High A Fort Myers last week, presumably to meet AFL requirements minimizing the assignment of A-ball players.)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

The losing streak is over! Or, in homage to the opposing team's signature broadcaster (Hawk Harrelson), it's OVAH!


A point I should have made explict in the Thursday post comparing Byron Buxton to Jackie Bradley Jr,: The Red Sox handled Bradley in the past much as the Twins have handled Buxton the last two years, with repeated demotions and callups. It finally clicked for Bradley this year, and if it doesn't click for Buxton this month, that neither means that it never will nor that the Twins have mishandled him.


Eddie Rosario hasn't started in center field since the game in Toronto in which Max Kepler made an ill-advised dive for a looper that turned into a Little League home run.

The next day Danny Santana started in center; he gave way to Rosario after his injury. The next day Logan Schafer was up and in the lineup, and he played center all three games in Cleveland.

In one of those games, Kepler repeated the ill-advised dive, with the same result -- the ball bounced over him and rolled deep into right field. But this time Schafer was there and held the Cleveland batter to a double. Which prompted this Mike Berardino tweet:

It's quite possible that when Paul Molitor reviewed the Kepler play in Toronto, what stuck with him was that Kepler got to the ball at about the same time as Rosario did -- which suggests that Rosario was standing around admiring Kepler's effort and not anticipating that the ball might get past him.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Buxton and Bradley

Buxton's back. The Twins recalled Byron Buxton from Triple A Rochester late Wednesday. Since today is Sept. 1, they don't have to open a spot on the 25-man roster for him.

On Wednesday afternoon I watched (on MLB Network) the Red Sox beat the Rays. Jackie Bradley Jr. homered and doubled for Boston, and it occurred to me that JBJ had similar growing pains to Buxton.

To be specific:

2013: Bradley (age 23 season) appears in 37 major league games for the Red Sox, hits .189.
2014: The Sox hand Bradley the center field job. He slashes a dismal .198/.265/.266.
2015: Bradley splits the season between Triple A and the majors. He produces in Triple A (.305/.382/.472) but struggles in the American League again, although with power (.249/.335/.498).
2016: Bradley emerges, making the All-Star team. (He had a poor August, however, hitting under .200 for the month).

The comp isn't perfect. Bradley's a left-handed hitter, Buxton right. Buxton's struggles have come in his age 21 and 22 seasons -- ages at which Bradley was not getting big league time. And Bradley plays his home games in Fenway Park, a very favorable environment for a left-handed hitter.

Still, I presume you can see my point. Buxton has struggled to hit major league pitching so far. So did Bradley, for three years. But the Sox stuck with Bradley, and now they have a very good center fielder. Patience may be a difficult virtue, but it's a vital one.