Saturday, September 30, 2017

Miguel Sano, Eduardo Escobar, Robbie Grossman and the postseason roster

One thing we learned from Torii Hunter's occasional forays into the broadcast booth is that he calls Eduardo Escobar "Mighty Mouse."

Escobar helped save the day Friday night with a home run. He helped save the season with 21 homers, which is power output nobody expected when the Twins got him from the White Sox in exchange for Francisco Liriano in 2012.

Fifteen of those 21 homers have come while playing third base, which is supposed to be the property of Miguel Sano. (Three have come when at short, and three as the designated hitter.) Sano has had two lengthy stints on the disabled list, and Escobar has gotten the heavy majority of his playing time at third as a result.

Sano has hit 28 homers, 23 of them at third. So the Twins have gotten 38 homers from their third basemen, which basically sounds like Sano got a full season in there.

But only in terms of the power. Sano draws walks and Escobar does not. While their batting averages are similar, the Dominican has a far superior OBP to the Venezulean. Give credit to Escobar for producing in Sano's absence, but know that Sano is the more productive hitter.

Sano returned to the active roster Friday and got an at-bat late in the game, grounding out meekly to the pitcher. He's expected to get at least one start as the designated hitter in these final two games as he tries to wrangle his way onto the playoff roster.

If he does, he's not going to step back in at third base; there's no indication that his leg is ready to play the field. If Sano is in the lineup, it will be as the designated hitter.

So Escobar's status as the third baseman seems secure as the wild card game approaches. The guy who might lose out is Robbie Grossman, who has himself been strictly a DH since returning from his thumb injury.

Grossman has nine homers on the season with a slash line of .248/.364/.383. He's sort of the reverse image of Escobar -- big on walks, light on the power. (His September slugging percentage, .484, has been sharply higher.) Fourteen Twin have more than 100 plate appearances; only Joe Mauer has a better on-base percentage than Grossman.

Don't underestimate the importance of the ability to reach base. Escobar's big flies are valuable and startling. Grossman's walks are mundane -- but just as valuable.

But the choice really isn't between Grossman and Escobar. It's between Grossman and Sano, and the real question is, is Sano ready to hit against playoff caliber pitching?

A secondary question might be: Is Grossman able to play outfield? He hasn't in weeks. And if he can't, is there room on the playoff roster for two bat-only "position players"?

The Twins have a few days to draw their conclusions and make their decisions. At thp point, I'm skeptical of Sano's return.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Three reasons the Angels lost out on the playoffs

The geography-challenged "Los Angeles" Angels (they apparently dropped the "of Anaheim" from their official name this season) missed out on the playoffs this year. Again. A decade ago, much like the Twins of the same period, they were pretty much an annual fixture, but they've reached the tournament once in the previous seven seasons, and this makes it eight.

Three specific reasons the Angels failed to surpass the Twins:

* Mike Trout, aka the Best Player in Baseball, missed more than six weeks with an injury. His absence included both series against the Twins.

Trout played 159 games each of the previous two seasons, and he's at 111 entering the final weekend. Let's say the injury cost him 45 games, which probably isn't precicely accurate but serves our purposes.

Baseball Reference credits Trout with 6.2 WAR: roughly 0.056 Wins Above Replacment per game. Multiply the missing 45 games by that rate, and we get about 2.5 WAR lost to the injury.

We'll be conservative and round it down: The Angels lost, by this estimate, two wins because of Trout's absence.

* Ricky Nolasco.

The starting rotation had a high attrition rate. Three men who combined for 31 starts (J.C. Ramirez, Matt Shoemaker and former Twins prospect Alex Meyer) are currently on the 60-day disabled list, and Garrett Richards -- expected to be their top starter -- was limited to six starts.

Few rotations make it through the season unscathed, of course. But the one member of the rotation who made it through the entire season was another former Twin, Ricky Nolasco. And he was terrible.

BR has Nolasco's WAR at 0.7, which means he's still marginally better than the "free" talent available at Triple A. So we won't go overboard in this What-If experiment in which Nolasco doesn't pitch for the Angels.

Imagine that they went 12-20 in those starts, just two games improvement. Coupled with a healthy Trout, they've gained four games on the Twins

* Albert Pujols.

Pujols is, as mentioned a few times this season, an flash point in the still-festering split between old-school and new-school stats.

Old school: Pujols has 100 RBIs! He's a run producer!

New school: Pujols's WAR is -1.7. He's limited to DH, his OPS+ is 18 percent below league average, he leads the majors in grounding into double plays. He is the worst regular in baseball.

No surprise: I side with the new school thinkers on this. Once a week or so Phat Albert will run into a pitch (23 homers). And he did hit better with men in scoring position than without.

But the gaudy RBI count is largely a product of spending the entire season hitting third or fourth and behind Trout when Trout was in the lineup. He gets that prime lineup real estate because he's ALBERT PUJOLS, arguably the greatest first baseman in major league history, and he's getting paid $24 million a year.

And the contract has four more seasons to run.

Anyway: Let's be conservative again and say that Pujols only cost the Angels one win. This brings my total to five games. Remember: We've rounded down on Trout and Pujols and didn't get aggressive in dumping Nolasco.

That is exactly the margin by which the Twins lead the Angels this morning.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Magic number: Zero

Party time in Cleveland, where the Twins celebrated early
Thursday morning after the Angels were eliminated.
The 2017 Minnesota Twins are the first team to go from 100 losses to the postseason in one year.

That's less impressive than it sounds, because it took expanding the playoff field to one-third of MLB teams -- 10 of the 30. The Twins will almost certainly have the worst record of the 10.

Still, the improvement is genuinely worthy of celebration. Most of the roster is the same as the 103-loss squad of 2016. It's a long season, the front office went into sell mode at the trading deadline in July, and they got into the playoffs anyway.

The day may come when this core can shrug aboiut a wild card berth. I hope so. This is not that day.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Contemplating Bartolo Colon

Whether because Bartolo Colon was ill (the official explanation) or ineffective (mine), "Big Sexy" got just three outs Tuesday.

Colon has now made 14 starts for the Twins. He has worked 73.2 innings and allowed 45 earned runs, a 5.50 ERA. More alarmingly, he has allowed 18 runs in his last 12 innings, spread over four starts.

Maybe he will start the season finale; with the magic number to clinch the second wildcard spot now at 1, that game doesn't figure to matter. But I can't imagine that anybody has much confidence in Colon right now.

At the start of the month, Colon figured to be the Twins third starter should they get that deep into the playoffs, and it was entirely plausible that the Twins would bring him back for 2018. Today it seems more likely that he just made his final appearance on a major league mound.

If so, it was one impressive career.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Passed balls, wild pitches and pitch framing

If you don't have a catcher, you have a lot of passed balls.
Casey Stengel

The one position at which the 2017 Twins are truly different than in 2016 is catcher. The new front office got rid of all three of 2016's backstops. And with the Twins on the verge of becoming the first team to go from 100-plus losses to the playoffs, I thought it worth looking at the difference.

Last year's backstops were Kurt SuzukiJuan Centeno and John Ryan Murphy. They caught every inning in 2016.

Jason Castro and Chris Gimenez have done the bulk of the 2017 catching, with Mitch Garver getting a handful of starts behind the plate so far and Eduardo Escobar picking up one inning.

The new front office was explict about seeking to improve "pitch framing" in particular and, presumably, defense in general and was willing to sacrifice some hitting to accomplish that.

Last year I commented, either here or in the Monday print column, with some frequency on the number of passed balls and wild pitches the Twins were giving up. The 2016 Twins allowed 83 wild pitches and nine passed balls: 92 in 1,443 innings, or 0.57 per nine innings. In essence, the Twins last year gave up one (or more) bases every other game.

This year, Gimenez alone has been charged with 10 passed balls. But the wild pitchers have dropped from 83 to 51. and the total (WP plus PB) is down to 66, a rate of 0.42 per nine innings.

What to make of this?

The difference between a passed ball and a wild pitch is artificial, a binary parsing of blame between pitcher and catcher. A pitch is uncaught, a runner (or runners) advance(s), and one individual is blamed by the official scorer for the event. Some wild pitches are truly the pitcher's fault; some come because the catcher failed to block a pitch that was exactly what the pitcher intended to throw (a slider in the dirt with two strikes, for example). Meanwhile, the catcher who leads the league in passed balls is almost always the guy who catches the most knuckleballs. (That's not the case this year.)

This is why I tend to combine WP and BP. I'm interested in the result less than the blame.

That said, the artifical difference in this case may be illuminating. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press noted when the Twins signed Castro that, while his pitch framing stats were very impressive, his passed balls were relatively high.

What may be going on, particularly for Gimenez: The perfect can become the enemy of the good. In attempting to perfectly receive a marginal pitch -- that is, catching it with a still glove at the edge of the strike zone -- the catcher miscalcuates and misses the pitch entirely. It's a trade off, and presumably the Twins are willing to accept a few more passed balls for more called strikes.

Castro and Gimenez have hit about as well (or poorly) as we should have expected. They have also been what was expected behind the plate as well -- a defensive upgrade from Suzuki and Centero.

Suzuki, who was the Twins' regular catcher for three seasons, re-signed with the Atlanta Braves for 2018 last week. He's had a rather impressive season as a half-time catcher in Atlanta, popping 18 homers in less than 300 plate appearances (he tallied 16 total with the Twins).

And good for him. I doubt the Twins regret the change on their end.

Monday, September 25, 2017

After the hurricanes

A little "real news" with our baseball:

* Neither the Twins nor Red Sox, both of whom have their spring training/minor league facilities just outside Fort Myers, will hold formal instructional league this year. Both facilities are still being used as staging areas for storm relief after Hurricane Irma.

As of Sunday, there were still more than 1,000 customers in Lee County without electrical power some two weeks after the storm.

* The Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino talked with Kennys Vargas, one of four Twins who played on the Puerto Rican team in this spring's WBC (and doesn't that feel like a long time ago?), about Hurricane Maria. Vargas doesn't believe the Twins' scheduled games with the Cleveland Indians for San Juan next April will be played there:

“It will be canceled, I think,” Vargas said. “I would say there won’t be baseball in Puerto Rico for one or two years. Not even winter ball. The stadium got destroyed. The community can’t worry about baseball now. It has to take care of everybody. They have to fix people’s lives first.”


The Twins magic number for wild card No. 2 is three. But their next three games are against Cleveland, which doesn't lose very often any more, while the Angels play the lowly White Sox. There may not be a lot of trimming of the magic number before the weekend.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Pic of the Week

Andrelton Simmons makes a barehanded catch of
a popup after bobbling it Wednesday.

There are few, if any, shortstops who can match Andrelton Simmons in the field. And that's saying something.

Simmons figures to draw some MVP support this year. He is, as Baseball Reference figures WAR, the fourth best player in the American League. A lot of that value is in his glove, of course, but he's also having his best season at the plate.

But this is truly a golden age of shortstops. Twenty years ago we had Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra all breaking in more or less simultaneously. Today we have an even bigger wave of young star shortstops: Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Xander Bograrts, Trea Turner, Addison Russell -- all 24 or younger. More than a third of teams (including the Twins with Jorge Polanco) have a regular at the position younger than 25.

Simmons is 28 now. That makes him something of an old man in this crowd.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Contemplating Miguel Cabrera

Dan Gladden, it was obvious Friday, has not yet recognized the new reality with Miguel Cabrera: "Miggy" is no longer the overwhelming hitter he once was.

Cabrera's slash line after 0 for 4 Friday was an underwhelming .248/.328/.397. Coupled with his subpar defense at first base, and you have a player who is barely better than replacement, at least by Baseball Reference' version of WAR.

Gladden seems to think that the 34-year-old Cabrera is still MIGUEL CABRERA. He's not. Same person, with sharply diminished skills.

The "fun" part for the rebuilding Tigers is that this was the first year of an eight-year contract extension. Unless the big guy finds a way to reverse the ravages of age -- I wouldn't count on it -- the Tigers have seven more years of this ahead of them.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Adalberto Mejia vs. Bartolo Colon

"Great start"? When did 4.2 innings become a great start?

Mejia's line score is pretty good other than just getting 14 outs. But he committed a balk and got the hook after -- yet again -- not getting to first base in time on a ground ball.

I have never seen a major league pitcher have as much difficulty covering first base as Mejia, and I don't think it's simply a chronic brain cramp. He's big and slow, and he falls off the mound toward third base after delivering a pitch, and he just doesn't get to first base. That might seem like a minor detail, but it comes up start after start -- and if it means one extra hit a game, that matters.

Let's assume that the Twins not only land the second wild card game but advance to the ALDS. Who do you want as the fourth starter in the playoff rotation? We can expect Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson are 1-2-3. But I don't see the Twins trying to go with just three starters, if only to protect Berrios, who has already hit a career high in innings pitched.

Do you go with Bartolo Colon? He's had his moments since joining the Twins, but he has a 5.33 ERA in 13 starts with Minnesota, and 16 homers in 72.2 innings is a really bad ratio.

Or Mejia? The hefty lefty (you knew that was coming, didn't you) a markedly better ERA than Colon but has a walk rate twice as high -- and his fielding should be a concern. A playoff team that doesn't make him get off the mound and make some plays isn't really trying.

Some questions don't have a wrong answer. This one doesn't have a right answer.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The big story out of the Twins-Yankees game Friday afternoon wasn't the outcome but the little girl who got hit by a line-drive foul.

The Yankees have not -- yet -- extended screens down the foul lines. I suspect this incident will change that.

The Twins took some grief when they put up screens the length of the dugouts. I'm glad they did that; the dugout seats in Target Field are very close to the playing field, and that increases the risk.

The ball Todd Frazier hit was timed at 106 mph. No kid, and darn few adults, could react fast enough to that.


Lost in translation:

Among the responses:


This tweet references the San Juan stadium where the Montreal Expos played some "home" games years ago and, I believe, where the Twins and Indians are supposed to play a pair of regular season games next April:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Max Kepler and CC Sabathia

The Twins lost again to the Yankees Tuesday night. Didn't hurt them any in the "race" for the wild card slot, though, because the Angels lost also (to Cleveland).

Paul Molitor gave Max Kepler the start in right field against CC Satathia, who at 36 remains a useful starter. He's not the front-of-the-rotation workhorse he used to be -- he's still 25 innings shy of enough innings to qualify for the ERA title -- but there aren't a lot of teams who couldn't slot him into their rotation.

Sabathia hadn't allowed a homer all season to a left-handed hitter, even though this version of Yankee Stadium is just as short to right field as previous versions. Part of that is that he doesn't see many left-handed hitters -- just 103 have come to the plate all season against Sabathia. He's had four starts in which he never saw a lefty hitter. Sabathia may be older and diminished, but left-handed hitters still seem to come down with a fever when he's scheduled to start.

Kepler's struggles against southpaws this year have become rather notorious. Ehire Adrianza, of all people, has essentially taken a platoon outfield job because of Robbie Grossman's thumb injury and Kepler's ineffectiveness against same-side pitching.

But Molitor started Kepler anyway. And Kepler took Sabathia deep. It was not only Sabathia's first homer allowed to a lefty hitter, it was Kepler's first off a lefty pitcher.

Obviously it wasn't enough; the Twins didn't score another run off Sabathia or the Yankee bullpen. But it was just another sample of how you can't predict baseball.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The wild card years fly by

I may have mentioned here before one of my pet observations about how age affects how we perceive time. For a five-year old, a year is one-fifth of her existence; indeed, it feels like more, since she doesn't actively remember the first three or so. For a 60-year-old, a year is a much smaller piece of the pie.

This has a specific baseball-related (and Twins related) point. I became a baseball fan in 1969, which coincidentally was the first year of divisional play. The Twins were put in the American League West, and there they remained until baseball went to three divisions and added wild cards to the playoff mix.

The Twins in that alignment were placed in the AL Central, and there they have remained. That happened in 1994.

So the Twins were in the AL West for 25 years. They have now been in the AL Central 24 years. Next year they will have been in the Central for as long as they were in the West. And baseball will have been using wild cards in the postseason as long as it had just four teams in October. It doesn't seem possible.

This came to mind in large part because I was mulling over my continued disdain for the wild card. The idea that a team can be second (or now even third) best in its division and still win the championship does not sit well with me. It didn't 25 years ago, it doesn't today, it won't if I've still capable of contemplating such things 25 years from now.

Much as I would like the Twins to get into the tournament, I cannot make a case for them as a deserving champion.

I have, to be sure, the same problem with the 1987 team, and I have certainly had no problem living with that cognitive dissonance. I am always careful to identify the 1987 Twins as "World Series champions." They were that, but they were not the best team in the league, much less in both leagues, that year. 1991, that's a different story.

It occurred to me that the 2017 Twins, flawed as they are, still have the best record of the old West division teams. The Angels, the Athletics, the Mariners, the Rangers, the Royals, the White Sox -- they all have lesser records this year than the Twins. That doesn't mean much, really, with all the changes since 1993 -- interleague play, unbalanced schedules, an additional team in the AL, the Brewers and Astros trading places -- but it makes me feel a little better, a little more rooted.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

During my truncated biweekly appearance on KMSU Thursday, I volunteered the notion that Kyle Gibson was the key figure in the Twins push for the wild card.

He gave us reason to beleive that Sunday, both pro and con.

His first two innings were SOG -- Same Old Gibson. Four walks and four runs in the first inning, five runs -- including two homers -- in the first two innings. And then, four innings practically without blemish, the good Gibson of his previous five starts.

Gibson has had remarkable run support all year, and particularly of late. Five runs allowed in six innings is not a great start, but with 13 runs of support, it was good enough.


Last week the Twins designated Engelb Vielma for assignment. The San Francisco Giants claimed him on waivers.

Last winter, the Giants waived Ehire Adrianza, who was initially claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers, to tried to get him through waivers themselves only to see the Twins claim him. Adrianza has stuck all year, starting games at five different positions. He's been the gloveman I expected (easily the best defensive shortstop on the roster) and a more productive hitter than anticipated.

In a very real sense, the Twins traded Vielma for Adrianza, just about seven months apart. They;re rather similar players -- switch-hitters, shortstops, some speed, glove-first. Vielma has options left, and Adrianza does not, and Adrianza has more pop in his bat, but in the main, they're the same guy.


Adrianza has picked up a good bit of playing time in left field since Robbie Grossman's thumb injury in a platoon with Max Kepler, who has struggled at the plate against lefties. (Eddie Rosario shifts to right when Adrianza is in left.)

It's only 53 plate appearances, but Adrianza has slashed .298/.340/447 against southpaws. And he hasn't embarrassed himself in the outfield despite little previous experience out there. (There have been too few innings for the metrics to be definitive, but they show him as a very good defensive outfielder.)

Grossman, whose splits last year showed more power right handed, has been the opposite this year. He's slugging just .355 as a right-handed hitter, .412 from the left side -- but his on-base percentage as a right handed hitter is a stellar .406, markedly better than his still-useful .355 as a lefty.

I know there are those who want to see more Kennys Vargas as DH and less Grossman, but one long ball a week really doesn't make up for the all the extra outs Vargas would make.

Paul Molitor has this month largely limited his lineup juggling to the outfield corners and DH. I certainly didn't expect Adrianza to emerge as a viable outfielder, and I do believe that platooning Kepler now is detrimental to his future, but Molitor has gotten immediate benefits from this approach.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pic of the Week

Curtis Granderson cooperates Saturday with a pair of
selfie-seeking fans in Washington.

Curtis Granderson is fondly remembered in Mankato. He was a Mankato Masher in this city's first season with a team in the Northwoods League, and he's had a fine major league career with the Tigers, Yankees, Mets and now Dodgers.

And he is even more highly regarded for his off-the-field activities and persona. He isn't a Hall of Fame caliber player, but by all accounts he's a Hall of Fame caliber human being.

That said ... he's 36 and the numbers are trending down. Granderson came into Saturday with 90 plate appearances with the Dodgers; he's hitting .107 in that time.


He has hit for some power; he has 23 homers on the season to flavor his .206 batting average. But time is undefeated, and the Grandy Man's career may well be nearing its end.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Good bye, Mientkiewicz

Doug Mientkiewicz's
teams in Fort Myers and
Chattanooga finished
first four times in five
Doug Mientkiewicz, who has managed in the Twins system for five years at two different levels, was fired Friday. His was the most prominent firing of three in the farm system (the others being pitching coordinator Eric Rasmussen and Larry Bennese, the trainer at Triple A Rochester).

Mientkiewicz, in an echo of his bitter comments in 2004 when the Twins moved him aside and then traded him to make way for Justin Morneau, reacted acidly to his dismissal. From a Star Tribune story:

“I’m out here working my rear end off, dealing with the remnants of the hurricane, and they call to tell me I’m fired. You think they will ever do something professional as an organization?”
OK, Mientkiewicz is in a stressful situation. He lives in the Florida Keys, and Irma did a number on pretty much everything there. And he has a rather impressive record as a minor league manager. And -- I can speak from experience here -- it's never fun being fired. But it happens to managers, at every level, a lot. And it's not going to do him any good to rip the guys who let him go.

Mientkiewicz interviewed for the big-league job when Ron Gardenhire was fired. He was my personal favorite for the position, but then-general manager Terry Ryan, perhaps with a push from above, picked Paul Molitor instead. Mientkiewicz reportedly was not even the runner-up. It may be worth noting that Mientkiewicz' name has not been connected with any managerial openings around baseball since.

Off what is visible from here, Mientkiewicz's firing makes little sense. He's developed players, and he's won. But much of the job of minor league manager -- major league manager too, for that matter -- is, like an iceberg, submerged and out of view. And Thad Levine, the Twins general manager, is correct in saying that the earlier in the offseason the firing, the better in terms of finding a new job.

I expect media criticism of Mientkiewicz' firing. It will come from the contingent of writers and talkers who can't or won't understand analytics. Mientkiewicz was a pretty reliable "good quote" 15 years ago as a player, and there are several guys with prominent platforms who harbor fond memories of those days yet. They've been itching for something to rip the new regime for. Mientkiewicz gives them an opportunity.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Contemplating Byron Buxton

Bryon Buxton brings his home run
home through a shower of bubble gum
Thursday night.
Another blown lead, another extra-inning game, another walk-off homer by a blossoming Twins outfielder.

Eddie Rosario on Wednesday, Byron Buxton on Thursday.

(We should, therefore, expect big things from Max Kepler tonight.)

Jeff Passan of Yahoo posted this piece on Buxton's emergence earlier on Thursday. Two noteworthy items in it, one trivial and one substantial. The trivial: Buxton can't beat his 30-year-old brother in a footrace. The substantial: how hitting coach James Rowson worked with Buxton to overcome his hitting difficulties.

I said here when Tom Brunansky (and Butch Davis) were fired from the coaching staff last November that Buxton and Miguel Sano's difficult 2016 season did in Bruno as hitting coach.

There were players Brunansky helped, with Brian Dozier being a prime example. But as I said 10 months ago, the Twins have to have Buxton as a cornerstone. And now he appears to be just that.

Buxton's greatest contribution, of course, is his defense. And this week the geniuses (no sarcasm intended) at Statcast rolled out a new defensive metric: Outs Above Average. Buxton tops that standard, with Kepler 13th in the majors and Rosario well down the list, behind even Robbie Grossman.

OAA is a metric I intend to keep an eye on.

So .. Twins win, Angels lose. Twins have a three-game lead for the final wild card spot with 16 games to go.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The big swing of Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario connects for his game-winning homer in
the 10th inning Wednesday night.

We've seen plenty of hitters swing, miss and lose their balance. I don't think I've ever before seen a player hit a ball 415 feet and stagger backwards after impact as Eddie Rosario did Wednesday night.

It was Rosario's 23rd homer of the season. He doesn't lead the Twins in homers -- Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano have more -- but it's amusing to remember that as he made his way through the system there was legitimate concern that he didn't have the power demanded of a regular corner outfielder.

Not an issue.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

That was quite the power display the Twins put on Tuesday night. Seven homers, one apiece in each of the first seven innings -- the first time, we are told, that's happened in a major league game.

Two of the homers came from Jason Castro. I had been looking at his numbers earlier in the day and thinking that he was a little light on the homers. I expected him to get into double digits this year. Now he's at nine with more than two weeks to go, so he's not far off the 11 he hit each of the last two years -- and he's got his best batting average and on-base percentage since his All-Star year, 2013.


A few weeks ago I posted about Amaurys Minier's floundering career. Cedar Rapids' season ended Monday night when Quad Cities eliminated the Kernels in the Midwest League playoffs.

On Tuesday morning, from a Baseball America scribe:

Message: Don't let the door hit you on the way out.


The Twins did indeed add Gabriel Moya to the 40-man roster and the bullpen Tuesday. To make room they designated shortstop Engelb Vielma for release or assignment.

The Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino called that a surprise on Twitter. I'm not sure why. There's always been a question about Vielma's bat, and he hit .206/.233/.260 in more than 300 plate appearances at Triple A.

He had Jorge Polanco, Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza ahead of him and Nick Gordon on his heels -- plus some interesting shortstop prospects in at the A and Rookie levels.

Moya threw a scoreless ninth inning under essentially no pressure, so he got his feet wet.

Whether he'll see any leverage situtations is uncertain, My guess is not; Paul Molitor needed a month or so to start trusting Trevor Hildenberger, and we'll run out of time before Moya gets there. Even if he does earn a prominent role in the bullpen by season's end, Moya's ineligible for the postseason as he wasn't on the 40 before September.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins have four left-handed relievers on their active roster right now -- Taylor Rogers, Buddy Boshers, Nik Turley and Glen Perkins -- but Rogers is probably the only one who can reliably get outs.

Enter, if a tweet from one of his former pitching coaches is accurate, Gabriel Moya:

Moya is a 22-year-old Venezuelan the Twins got from the Arizona Diamondbacks for John Ryan Murphy back in July. His numbers in Double A (split between two teams) are astoundingly good: 0.77 ERA, 87 strikeouts in 58.1 innings.

The Twins have not announced his callup, much less the corresponding move to open a roster spot for him (the 40-man is full). But there is, or should be, an opportunity here for a second lefty, and Chattanooga's season is over (the Southern League being one of three minor leagues to cancel their championship series because of Hurricane Irma).


The Twins had a pretty good day Monday in their "pillow fight" (Aaron Gleeman's term) for a wild card berth, as the Royals, Mariners, Orioles and Rays all lost.

But the Twins have basically treaded water the past three weeks in a period in which they played nobody above .500. They really had an opportunity to seize control of this wild card race and didn't.


Cleveland's winning streak is now 19 games. The great Joe Posnanski supplied this breakdown of the Tribe's streak before Monday's 11-0 thrashing of the Detroit Tigers; the numbers now have to be even more astounding.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The matter of bullpen depth

The Cleveland Indians won their 18th in a row Sunday night. Only the 2002 Oakland Athletics have had a longer win streak in my lifetime, so this is pretty darn impressive.

The Indians now have the best record in the American League. And if anything, they've been unlucky this season; by the Pythagorean Theorum, they should have six more wins and six fewer losses.

One aspect that stood out to me as I watched them beat Baltimore Sunday night is their bullpen depth. Bullpen depth has been a chronic issue all season for the Twins; Paul Molitor seldom has more than three arms he trusts in key situations, and those identities have changed repeatedly.

Terry Francona has six relievers with at least 50 innings. The worst ERA of the group belongs to workhorse Bryan Shaw: 3.19. (This includes Andrew Miller, currently sidelined with a balky knee.)

The Twins have four relievers with at least 50 innings. The best of those ERAs is Taylor Rogers, and his 3.29 is worse than Shaw's.

On Saturday, Molitor tried to get through the eighth inning of a tied game without dipping into the Rogers-Trevor Hildenberger-Matt Belisle combo. Hildenberger and Belisle had pitched three straight days, and Rogers in two of the three. But Ryan Pressly, Buddy Boshers and Tyler Duffey didn't get any outs, and Rogers wound up making a brief appearance anyway -- and the Twins lost by three.

On Sunday, Francona protected a one-run lead in the late innings without using his three preferred setup men (Miller, Shaw and Dan Otero). The combo of Joe Smith, Tyler Olson and Nick Goody got five outs without allowing a baserunner.

Winning 18 in a row is never easy. But it's far more doable when the bullpen is stacked with guys who can get outs consistently than when half the pen is of mopup quality.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pic of the Week

Alex Gordon reaches for the ball on Jason Castro's
ninth-inning single Thursday. The play not made proved
critical in the Twins' three-run rally to win the game.

One percent.

That, according to Statcast, is how often Jason Castro's blooper to short left field on Thursday turns into a hit.

You have here two players -- left fielder Alex Gordon and shortstop Alcides Escobar -- who have won Gold Gloves at their respective positions. You have a blooper that is caught, literally, 99 percent of the time in the major leagues.

And the Royals couldn't get the out. And that failure allowed the Twins to win the game.

Kansas City will always have the 2016 World Series trophy to embrace, plus the memory of how close the 2015 team was to making it two in a row. The core of that team is almost certainly going to split apart this offseason.

This was one play in one game. But that core, as beloved and accomplished as it is, is in decline.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

This American League wild card scrum is starting to sort itself out a bit in the Twins favor. The Twins this morning are closer to the first wild card berth than the second (1.5 games behind the Yankees, 2 games ahead of the Angels).

I'd rather see the Twins in the first slot for three reasons:

  • the wild card game would be at Target Field;
  • they'd have more room for error;
  • it would be more likely that the Twins would make it and the Yankees miss. (Baseball is always better when the Yankees lose.)

Not that I would throw away the second slot. The wild card remains a reward for mediocrity, but it's embedded in the system.


Two weeks ago the Dodgers had a chance at a truly historic season. Their chance at the single-season wins record is now mathematically gone. They still have a 10-game lead on the division, they still have the best record in baseball, but the 1906 Cubs and 2001 Mariners (116 wins) are safe.

Of course, the Cubs lost the World Series (to the White Sox, no less) and the Mariners didn't even get to the Series.


As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, my personal thoughts are on Fort Myers and the Twins complex there. That area is what I have experienced of Florida.

My wife and I have established a pattern of going to the Fort for a few days of spring training every other year. That would be next year.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Contempating Kyle Gibson

Do I believe in Kyle Gibson?

Not in his existence, but that he truly belongs in the starting rotation of a postseason team.

On Thursday Gibson made his seventh start since returning to the rotation after the trade of Jaime Garcia. He allowed two runs in seven innings; while he didn't get the decision, it was a quality start. His stat line for those seven starts is pretty good: 3.10 ERA in 40.2 innings.

A month ago I figured Gibson was slated to be nontendered this offseason (he has one more year of arbitration eligibility). Now I'm not so sure he should be discarded.

His numbers for the year are still ugly., even with his Augst-September improvement. His ERA is still well above 5 (5.19); his walk and strikeout rates remain subpar. But even with two demotions to Triple A Rochester, he's second on the team in starts and innings; unlike fellow members of the season-opening rotation Phil Hughes, Hector Santiago and Adalberto Mejia, Gibson's been able to take the ball.

He has long been a frustrating pitcher to watch. He has a quality two-seamer, and he chronically appears unwilling or unable to trust it for strikes. That has changed since the end of July. On Thursday he threw 95 pitches, 58 of them strikes. That is certainly a workable ratio.

One is tempted to speculate that watching Bartolo Colon, possessor of a much less imposing two-seamer, thrive by pounding the edges of the zone with that pitch has rubbed off on Gibson. Whatever the reason, he's surged. And the Twins certainly needed that, and certainly need it to continue.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Contemplating Eduardo Escobar

I haven't noticed Dick Bremer yakking about "superutility" players nearly as often since the Twins cut Danny Santana loose earlier this year. It was a reflexive reaction from the TV play-by-play guy whenever Santana got on the field, which was way too often.

Bremer doesn't have the same reaction to Eduardo Escobar, which is

  • a blessing, because as far as I'm concerned, Bremer uses the term far too loosely; and
  • too bad, because Escobar is a better fit for the term than Santana ever was.

What is the difference between a utility player and a superutility player? Well, what is the difference between Ehire Adrianza and Ben Zobrist? Playing time. Zobrist can hit (or at least he has a well-established track record of hitting; he's not been nearly as productive this season); his managers -- largely Joe Maddon -- make a point of getting him in the lineup on a regular basis even if not at the same position every day.

Zobrist this year has started at three different positions (second base, left field, right field) nd picked up a few innings at two others (first base and shortstop). Adrianaza has started games at five different positions (short, third, second, left and first). But Zobrist has more than 400 plate appearances, Adrianza just cracked 150 on Wednesday.

Utility players are versatile. Superutility guys are regulars without a set position. Superutility guys hit well enough to get lots of at-bats in the top half of the lineup, and they field well enough to get some of their playing time at an up-the-middle position. But they don't field so well that the manager is going to just make him the every day centerfielder or shortstop.

Which brings us to Escobar. "Eddie the Stick," as the Star Tribune's LaVelle Neal often calls him on Twitter, hit cleanup Wednesday (and drove in three runs). He has compiled 400-plus plate appearances so far, getting starts at third base, shortstop, second base and even designated hitter, has set career high for homers and RBIs and is nearing a career high in runs scored.

Escobar is playing third a lot right now because Miguel Sano is sidelined, but Paul Molitor was finding ways to get him into the lineup frequently before that, often against lefties (the switch-hitter is hitting much better from the right side.) The only lineup slot he hasn't started in at least once is leadoff.

This is Escobar's third season of 400-plus plate appearances for the Twins; he has another with 377. That's not really superutility usage. But it's close.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

On stealing signs

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Red Sox have admitted using the replay system and an Apple Watch to steal the catcher's signals.

Sign stealing has been around about as long as there have been signs to steal, of course, and skill at decoding the opposition's semiphores is highly valued. But the use of high tech is verboten and, at least nominally, novel. It's all supposed to be done with the naked eye and the purloiner's own signal.

I do not take seriously the Red Sox assertion that nobody in management knew of the scheme, in which the team employee monitoring the game to help decide whether to challenge a umpire's call would pick up the catcher's signals and message a team trainer via the Apple Watch. That trainer would relay the information to players in the dugout, who would then signal to their teammates. It all sounds too complex for a competent manager to be unaware of it.

The Yankees picked up on it, of course, because they monitor the opposition dugout themselves looking for signals.

The traditional way of handling such things, of course, is to false flag the sign stealers. Entice them into certainty that the next pitch will be a breaking ball low and away and buzz the hitter with a fastball. (Legend has it that Joe DiMaggio once threatened the health of a Yankee coach who got thus crossed up.) The Yanks instead submitted their evidence to the commissioner's office.

We'll see how heavily Rob Manfred comes down on the Bosox. As with the hacking case involving the St. Louis Cardinals raiding the Houston Astros' scouting data base, MLB's internal politics are involved here. In this case, the Red Sox ownership was prominently opposed to elevating Manfred to the commissionership. (In the hacking case, the Cardinals ownership was a prominent Manfred ally.)

Joe Girardi, Yankee manager and control freak, thinks this incident is a great reason to install radio headsets for pitch selection. I would rather see the end of waiting for the video room to report to the manager up or down on a challenge. Make the manager decide based on what he saw.

As for a punishment for the Red Sox, since this involved misusing the replay system, I suggest taking it away from them for the postseason. That would be a rather effective deterrent.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Contemplating Glen Perkins

Perhaps the only thing keeping Chris Gimenez from his seventh pitching appearance of the season Monday was the calendar. It's September, which means expanded rosters, which means there is an excess of professional pitchers in the bullpen.

One of whom is Glen Perkins, who faced three batters Monday. Fifteen pitches, five strikes. Two walks and a groundout, and the groundout came on a fast ball that, had it been hammered as it probably should have been, would have been described by the broadcasters as "center cut." Two runs were charged to Perkins in one-third of an inning, elevating his ERA to 16.20.

This was Perkins' fifth appearance since his return from the disabled list. It is almost impossible now to imagine that he will get another, even in a "Gimenez game." (None of his appearances have come with a margin of less than four runs.)

Perkins labored mightily to get back to the majors after last year's extensive shoulder surgery. I applaud him for that, and I applaud his track record. I don't blame him for taking the ball when called upon. I question the usefulness of giving him the ball.

Don't expect Perkins to pull the plug on his season and, presumably, his career. That responsibility lies elsewhere.

Monday, September 4, 2017

DIssecting the use of Niko Goodrum

A curious bit of usage of Niko Goodrum on Sunday. He got his first start with the Twins -- as a DH against a right-handed starter.

This is curious on a variety of levels, but let's start with the platoon splits the switch-hitter racked up in Rochester this year. Goodrum, as reported by Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, had a .265 on-base percentage against righties, .386 against lefties. One would think that Paul Molitor would be looking for an opportunity to start Goodrum against southpaws, not against the likes of Ian Kennedy. What gives?

I wouldn't assume that Molitor is giving the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It's quite possible that Molitor does indeed believe that Goodrum looks better hitting left handed. It's possible that Goodrum has hit better lefty in the past (I don't know). But the objective evidence on hand doesn't support using Goodrum against a righty.

Molitor may well have had other, unstated reasons for putting Goodrum in the lineup. But if he wanted to get the rookie a start quickly, he had an opportunity on Saturday to play him in left field against a lefty. Molitor went with Ehrie Adrianaza instead.

Goodrum went 0-for-3 Sunday with a pair of strikeouts. I would have found the decision curious had he gone 2-for-3.

Point of curiosity No. 2: On the face of it, a major point of having Niko Goodrum on your roster is in the number of positions he can play competently. DH negates his biggest strength.

I've long liked Bill James' description of how Earl Weaver built his "deep depth" rosters. Weaver, said James. looked for players who did something well enough for Weaver to want to get him in the game to do it. He had teams of specialists. Some were brilliant fielders who couldn't hit (Mark Belanger); some were platoon bats with defensive liabilities (Terry Crowley).

Rosters are markedly different now -- Weaver would never had imagined carrying 13 pitchers -- but the basic idea remains. What value does Player X have for you? Know the answer, and use him accordingly. DHing Goodrum does not meet that criteria.

Point of curiosity No. 3: Ian Kennedy is notably home run prone. The last three years -- pitching with cavernous home parks in San Diego and Kansas City -- he has surrendered 31, 33 and 28 homers. Goodrum hit 13 homers for Rochester (his first time in double digits); the long ball is not his forte.

This looks like a matchup made for Kennys Vargas, not Goodrum. But Vargas was locked onto the bench; when Molitor hit for Goodrum in the ninth, it was with Adrianaza.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Pic of the Week

The Tigers' Mikie Mahtook takes a pitch in the shoulder
Friday against Cleveland Indians.
One of those moment of impact photos that captivate me.

But this also gives me a chance to make a quick comment on the roster-deadline revamping the Detroit Tigers pulled off Thursday.

First they unloaded Justin Upton and four years of his $22 million a year contract onto the Angels. Upton is having a fine season, but he's already 30 (time flies); the Angels keep investing in the wrong years of big name players. (Mike Trout the obvious exception.) I suppose the Angels justify getting Upton on the basis of needing a bat in their pursuit of a wild-card berth, since Albert Pujols, despite his RBIs, isn't getting the job done. And Josh Hamilton finally comes off their books after next month. But they're stuck on a treadmill.

Then, just before the deadline, Justin Verlander agreed to waive his no-trade clause. He'll pitch now for the Houston Astros.

The Tigers did rather well in that deal, getting three outstanding to decent prospects for the aging ace.

So the Tigers, who were on the same treadmill as the Angels, are suddenly well on their way to a cheaper, younger roster. They still have Miguel Cabrera, who still has six years at $30 million left on his deal and is, by Baseball Reference's version of WAR, a replacement level player, and Jordan Zimmermann and his 6.08 ERA, but they have pared payroll considerably with their in-season moves.

Mahtook himself would a more interesting piece if he were younger. He's 27 and just getting his first sustained opportunity to play in the majors. He's hitting fairly well, but this may prove to be his peak season.

Which brings us to the underlying issue of the Tigers rebuild. They will be younger and cheaper next year. That's not necessarily the same as high-ceiling.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Joe Mauer and the clutch

One of the frequent criticisms of Joe Mauer is that he "doesn't hit in the clutch."

That this is statistical hooey doesn't matter to the carpers. They "know" that he's soft, and they "know" that he chokes. KFAN and Jim Souhan tell them so.

I thought of this during Friday night's ninth inning, when Mauer came up with two outs, the bases loaded and the Twins down three. He singled home two runs. That put the Twins within a run, but they couldn't get the tying run home.

Blame Mauer because he didn't get the extra-base hit?  Or blame the guys who made the outs that inning (Mitch Garver, Kennys Vargas and Eddie Rosario)?

Baseball Reference offers a stat split based on "leverage" -- how key a given plate appearance is in the context of the game. Mauer's slash line this year by leverage:

  • High Leverage: .367/.500/.500 (76 plate appearances)
  • Medium Leverage: .308/.417/.466 (175 plate appearances)
  • Low Leverage: .269/.312/.343 (231 plate appearances)

Those are not the numbers of a hitter who wilts when the pressure is high.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Niko Goodrum, right-handed bat

There were a few hours of fret Thursday when word came out of the Twins clubhouse that Byron Buxton had injured his left hand and the early indications were that it was the hamate bone.

The hamate is a small, nonessential bone in the wrist that is slow to heal. The typical treatment is surgery -- which would have ended Buxton's season. Since Buxton is (at least by Baseball Reference's version of WAR) the Twins' best player, this would be a severe blow.

By 1 p.m., the news was considerably better:

Buxton didn't play Thursday. Zack Granite patrolled center between Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler -- three left-handed hitters.

Even with the favorable diagnosis for Buxton, it's not certain when he will again be hitting without pain in the left hand/wrist. The Twins struggle as it is against lefties, and a Rosario-Granite-Kepler outfield is obviously at a platoon disadvantage against southpaws. And Robbie Grossman, a switch-hitter with a track record of being better from the right side, remains sidelined with a broken thumb.

Enter, come Saturday, Niko Goodrum. The Twins will bring up three players Saturday from Triple A Rochester -- left-handed pitchers Buddy Boshers and Nik Turley to bolster the bullpen, and Goodrum, a 2010 second-round draft pick who I saw  with Cedar Rapids back in 2013. He was mostly a shortstop that year, with Jorge Polanco at second, but the next year Polanco was playing short and Goodrum started moving around the field.

With Rochester this year, Goodrum started

  • 35 games at second base
  • 19 games at third base
  • 41 games in right field
  • 14 games in center field
  • 9 games at shortstop
  • 1 game at first base
  • 1 game in left field

Somehow he missed catching.

The real reason he's getting called up: He mashed lefties.

The Twins can use some of that, for certain.

Goodrum is not on the 40-man roster, and I believe the Twins will have to drop somebody to get him on. The move apparently won't come until Saturday.