Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Off day Twins news

LaVelle Neal reported Monday that Joe Vavra is leaving the Twins to join Ron Gardenhire's coaching staff in Detroit.

Vavra has held a variety of coaching positions over the years with the Twins. He started as the hitting coach, then in various years was the third base coach, the first base coach and most recently bench coach.

Neal also reports that Rick Anderson will be on Gardy's staff as well -- as bullpen coach. Chris Bosio, who had been the Cubs pitching coach, will be the Tigers' PC. That figures to be an interesting dynamic.

So that's two of Gardy's gang rejoining him in Detroit. Will Scott Ullger be next?

The Twins now have a coaching post to fill.


The Fielding Bible Awards are a relatively recent alternative to the Gold Glove Awards. While lacking the tradition and reputation of the Gold Gloves, the Fielding Bible has some significant advantages -- a transparent voting system, one award per position for all of MLB, and a built-in role for defensive metrics.

This year's award winners were announced Monday by Baseball Info Systems, which runs the voting process.  Byron Buxton was a near unanimous winner in centerfield (he drew one second place vote). He is the first Twin to win a FB award.

The announcement is here. Details of the voting will be published in the annual Bill James Handbook, due out later this week

Monday, October 30, 2017

Grinding the bullpens to dust

What a bizarre game the Dodgers and Astros gave us Sunday night/Monday morning. Too much bizarre. Hours later, I'm still processing the idea that a matchup of Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Kuechel could require a calculator rather than a scorecard.

Neither manager came into Game Five intending to bullpen. These were -- are -- two of the top left-handed starters in baseball today. Kershaw, with the 10-season minimum served, is now a lock for Cooperstown; some (who should know better) even claim him to be the greatest pitcher ever.

But neither could get out of the fifth inning, and a month of almost frantic bullpen moves has caught up to both teams.

During the regular season, teams could -- and did -- make roster moves with impunity. Twins fans saw this a lot; Paul Molitor would be waving in five relievers on Monday, and by Tuesday's game somebody new would be in the clubhouse to freshen the 'pen.

That's not the case in October. I noted the other day that nobody worked 162 innings (the minimum to qualify for the ERA title) for the Astros this season. Well, only Kershaw did for the Dodgers, and he was well short of 200 innings.

Dave Roberts and A.J. Hinch are running the games as they did during the season. Five innings from the starter and get them out of there. But a month of this, culminated with a series pitting a pair of powerful lineups, has ground the bullpens to dust. Brandon Morrow had pitched four times in five days; Sunday made it five in six. It was too much.

I surmised a couple days ago that Brad Peacock would be unavailable until at least Game Six. But he pitched Sunday, with the Houston announcers commenting on his lower-than-usual arm slot. This is not a good sign.

But the 'Stros won anyway. They beat Kenley Jansen again -- both times in the star reliever's second inning of work -- and now have the advantage in the series, three games to two.

 And they have Justin Verlander, one of the few starters who has avoided the five-and-fly mantra, set to go on full rest in Game Six. The Dodgers have Rich Hill, talented, fragile and chronically early to leave.

This World Series has always felt destined for seven games, but that destiny relied in part on the notion that neither Kershaw nor Verlander would lose. Kershaw cracked Sunday. My guess is Verlander won't. But I've certainly been wrong on this before.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Pic of the Week

Marwin Gonzalez (9) is greeted by Carlos Correa after
Gonzalez tied Game 2 with a homer in the top of the ninth
off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.
One of my chronic rants is about the definition of "super utility player."

Dick Bremer, and a lot of others, use it to describe just about any bench player. Danny Santana was a super utility player to Bremer. He plays short! He plays center! He sits on the bench a lot!

That last rules him out in my opinion. I use the term to describe somebody who

  • is in the lineup on a regular basis
  • but not at the same position.

Marwin Gonzalez, who hit the game-tying homer Wednesday night in the ninth inning for Houston, fits that definition perfectly.

Gonzalez led the Astros in RBIs, hit .303, slugged .530. He played 134 games and started at least a dozen games at each of five different positions -- shortstop (26 times, mostly during a Carlos Correa injury that sent the star to the disabled list), left field (23), first base (17), third base (12) and second base (12).

He can handle up-the-middle positions, but not so well that you'd be better off keeping him there. He hits well enough to fill a key lineup slot.

That's a super utility guy.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment (Game Three edition)

Brad Peacock had a quietly impressive season this year: 13-2, 3.00 in 132 innings, with 161 strikeouts.

And no saves, until Friday night. A.J. Hinch used him to get the final 11 outs, 53 pitches. It;s the second time in this postseason that Hinch has detoured around the back end of his bullpen with a lengthy save from a nominal part of the starting rotation.

The first, of course, was with Lance McCullers Jr. in relief of Charlie Morton in Game Seven of the ALCS. McCullers started Friday, threw 87 pitches and will presumably get the ball to start Game Seven should this series go that far. Morton starts tonight.

Peacock's outing was what I think of as "the moral equivalent of a start." Hinch can't, or at least shouldn't, use him tonight or probably even Game Five on Sunday. Tuesday, behind Justin Verlander, maybe. But even better is the possibility of a McCullers-Peacock tag team again in Game Seven.


Houston has an unusual set of pitching stats for a team that won 101 games in the regular season. Nobody threw more than 153 innings for Houston, and that pitcher, Mike Fiers, hasn't pitched since Sept. 13, when he was lit up for eight runs in 3.2 innings, which pushed his ERA well above 5.

The only guy on the team who qualified for the ERA title is Verlander, and he was only with the Astros in September. Nobody made 30 starts for the Astros (Fiers had the most starts, 28).

It wasn't an ineffective pitching staff, but the work was certainly spread around more than is usual on a quality team. Part of that was injuries, to be sure -- Dallas Kuechel was limited to 23 starts, and McCullers missed all of August. And part of it was the steady reduction of pitcher workloads, particularly starting pitcher workloads, in the analytic era.


I mentioned in the Friday post that there were a lot of "name" pitching coaches available this month. The Twins' hire, Gavin Alston, isn't a name. But a lot of the names have landed elsewhere.

Carl Willis, the "Big Train" of the 1991 Twins bullpen, went from the Red Sox back to the Cleveland Indians, where he was pitching coach more than a decade ago. That job opened because Mickey Callaway was hired by the Mets to be their manager, and Willis was available because the Red Sox told its coaches they were free to look after John Farrell was fired as manager.

As surmised here (and elsewhere), Jim Hickey, long the pitching coach in Tampa Bay for Joe Maddon, rejoined Maddon with the Cubs. As was NOT surmised here (and elsewhere), the Cubs' former PC, Chris Bosio -- who was presumably dismissed to make room for Hickey -- landed with Detroit. I daresay most of us expected Rick Anderson to return as Ron Gardenhire's PC.

And Mike Maddux, older brother of Greg, has joined the St. Louis Cardinals. He was most recently with Washington, and was on the loose after the odd decision to fire Dusty Baker.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment (Twins edition)

A little Twins news on the World Series off day:

There were a number of name brand pitching coaches on the market, and the Twins hired one whose name I'm unfamiliar with. Which isn't necessarily a bad move.

Alston has bounced around some -- he worked for two different organizations last year alone -- and has filled a variety of roles, including at least two major league stints as bullpen coach. 

Most pitching coaches come in preaching some version of the Rabbit Miller Mantra: "Work fast, change speeds, throw strikes." Neil Allen, the pitching coach the past three seasons, put an emphasis on the second part. Judging from this quote contained in this John Shipley piece on Garvin, he may put a bit of emphasis on a version of part three:

“First,” he said, “one of the biggest things I teach is commanding the zone with the fastball.”

And I'm absolutely certain that I just oversimplified Alston as a coach.

That said: Among the things the Twins need to do to move up the heirarchy of the American League is come up with at least one and preferably two starters who can slot above Ervin Santana. If Santana is your third-best starter, you can talk World Series; if he's your best, it's not very realistic. The best in-house candidate to do that, because he has the raw stuff, is Jose Berrios. Berrios needs better fastball command.

If, as I surmised last winter, Jame Rowson's mission as hitting coach was to get Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano going, Alston's Job One may be polishing Berrios.


Two Twins were named Gold Glove finalists at their respective positions, which was kinda expected. The identity of one was a surprise.

Byron Buxton in center, absolutely. Brian Dozier at second, a bit less so. And the absence of Joe Mauer at first base got some immediate blow back on Twins twitter.

I wrote a bit about the subject of Mauer and a Gold Glove earlier this month. Giving the big ugly trophy to Mitch Moreland or even Carlos Santana would not be a travesty.

Meanwhile, there's even better evidence than bypassing Mauer that despite a variety of changes the Gold Glove selection process is flawed. The three finalists for the NL award at second base include superutility man Ben Zobrist of the Cubs but not that team's regular second baseman, Javy Baez.

If Zobrist were the better second baseman, he'd be the Cubbies' full-time second baseman. He's not better than Baez, so he plays a lot of outfield.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment (Game Two edition)

A taut pitchers duel Wednesday turned into home run derby late, and the winning team may well feel a bit worse about itself afterwards than it did before the game.

The bullpen was certainly not a weakness for the Houston Astros during their 101-win regular season, but A.J. Hinch certainly cannot feel confident in his relief staff right now. Closer Ken Giles and All-Star setup man Chris Devenski had difficulty closing out the Dodgers in Game Two, and those struggles have precedent. Devenski has pitched so far this postseason to a 8.44 ERA, Giles to an 8.22 ERA.

Hinch found a way around those struggles at the end of the ALCS -- using Lance McCullers, starter, for four innings of relief work in Game 7. It's likely that the rotation shift the Astros announced before Game Two -- McCullers will start Game Three on Friday, with Charlie Morton pushed back to Saturday -- was designed to make it possible to bring McCullers back in a Game Seven or even Game Six in relief.

But for that to matter the Astros need to get that far. And Hinch has only one Justin Verlander in his rotation. He needs his bullpen to do a better job.


Each team has a starting pitcher who will presumably spend his 50s and 60s (and probably part of his 40s) going to Cooperstown one weekend each summer to sit on the veranda of the Otesaga Hotel swapping stories with other legends of the game.

It's a plauable assertion that the starts of Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers and Justin Verlander for the Astros are must-win games for their respective teams. Lose one of their starts, and the series gets much more difficult.

In that sense, each team got the minimum they needed out of the first two games.


The Astros have two former Twins on their active roster for the Series: Francisco Liriano, the sole lefty in their bullpen, and catcher Juan Centeno.

Liriano came in a deadline deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was a struggling starter with Toronto (6-5, 5.88 in 18 starts) and he's been a struggling reliever for the Astros (4.40 in 14.1 innings spread over 20 appearances). Most striking to me in his stat line with the Astros: 10 walks to 11 strikeouts.

Centeno got just 57 major league plate appearances this season (and more than 250 in Triple A). His primary purpose, presumably, is as a security blanket that will allow Hinch to deploy Evan Gattis as the designated hitter in the three Houston games.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Notes quotes and comment (Game One edition)

Stop me if you've heard this: Clayton Kershaw is a really good pitcher.

OK, you've stopped me.


When I'm working during World Series games, I have the TV on around the corner but the sound off and my iPad with the MLB At Bat app up with one of the team's radio feeds playing. It's a bit behind the TV, but that's OK.

Last night I went with the LA radio broadcast, Charley Steiner and Rick Monday. I frequently see complaints about Steiner, which I think boil down to He's not Vin Scully. Well, who is? But Vin is retired now, and we really should let the man enjoy his retirement. Steiner is more than competent. I may try the Houston feed tonight.

I did mutter about one thing Steiner said, in wrapping up the game. He called Kershaw's performance "flawless." Well no. He did give up a homer, after all. That's a flaw. It was very good: three hits, no walks, 11 strikeouts in seven innings. Pitchers don't lose often with that line. But sometimes they do.


As a Mankatoan, I feel compelled to note that Curtis Granderson, the greatest of the Mankato Mashers, was left off the World Series roster by the Dodgers. The Grandy Man hit .161 for the Dodgers after his midseason trade from the Mets. Even with the occasional long ball tossed in, that's not good enough.

The Dodgers instead went with Brandon McCarthy, an oft-injured pticher who only figures to draw mop up duties if anything in the series. Ideally, the Dodgers will never even have him warm up.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

First base with and without Mauer

A year ago I figured that Joe Mauer would retire at the expiration of his contract after the 2018 season. His 2017 resurgence may change that equation, but he'll be 35, his daughters will be about ready to start school, he'll have collected more than $200 million in salary over the course of his career -- yeah, he might well decide to hang 'em up.

Then what for the Twins at first base? For that matter, who's behind Mauer for 2018?

Mauer played more than 72 percent of the team's innings at first base. Kennys Vargas picked the majority of the rest. But Vargas

Byungho Park might be seriously contemplating a return to his native Korea. He slugged a mere .415 in Triple A, and if Park ain't hitting for power, he ain't doing much. His walk to strikeout ratio with Rochester (28 bases on balls, 130 strikeouts) was ugly. He has one more year on his Twins contract, he's not on the 40-man roster and this front office has no investment in him.

In my opinion, it's likely that neither Vargas nor Park is with the Twins next year.

Many assume that Miguel Sano is destined for first base once that position is vacated (he played 65 inning there this year). My guess is that if he's too big to stay healthy at third base, he's not real likely to stay healthy at first either. The Twins have long ought to avoid a full-time DH, but that is, in my view, his more likely destination if third base doesn't work for him.

Sano is right-right -- bats right, throws right. John Manuel, for this week still the editor of Baseball America and after that a member of the Twins pro scouting department, had a recent piece about the scouting bias against right-right first basemen. (Byungho Park certainly isn't a data point to discredit the bias.)

The hitter in the system who most interests me as a post-Mauer first base candidate is also right-right: Brent Rooker, who raked at two levels in the farm system after the Twins plucked him with a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds.

He's right-right, he's probably not athletic enough for the outfield and as a college senior draft he was older than his competition at both Rookie and High A ball. These are significant drawbacks. He also hit 11 homers in 40 games in the Florida State League with Hammond Stadium as his home park, and that doesn't happen very often.

Presumably Rooker will advance to Double-A in the spring. Then we might get a better read on his future.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A quality World Series pairing

It's been a long time since the World Series paired a pair of 100-win teams -- 1970, I believe, in which the Baltimore Orioles (108 wins) beat the Cincinnati Reds (102) in five games as Brooks Robinson created the highlight reel that informs today's memories of his career.

Divisions and wild cards have created a multi-tiered postseason that -- my frequent complaint/observation repeats here -- devalues the regular season. It is more difficult for a truly great team to make it to the World Series today.

So praise to the Dodgers and Astros, each of whom were sufficiently dominant in the regular season to hit the century mark in wins and survived two post season series.

Who wins? I assume the Dodgers are favored, not that that matters much. I'm rooting for the Astros, to the extent that I can find a rooting interest here. Certainly I'll be cheering for the baseball.

Here are three things that may decide this series:

Lefty-righty. The Dodgers starters are heavily left-handed. Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Alex Wood have been named to start Games 1, 2 and 4 respectively. Only Yu Darvish (Game 3) is right-handed.

The best hitters in the Houston lineup -- Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez -- are right-handed. The platoon differential favors Houston when they hit.

In relief we (mis)trust: The L.A. bullpen has been more reliable this month than Houston's. It certainly didn't escape notice that the Astros largely bypassed its season-long relief corps in Games 6 and 7 against the Yankees and took five innings from repurposed starters instead in a pair of elimination games. If A.J. Hinch can't get better work from the likes of Luke Gregorson and Chris Devenski in this series, it's going to be difficult to beat the Dodgers.

Seager's back: Corey Seager, the Dodger shortstop, is their best player. He also sat out the NLCS against the Cubs with a back problem, and his absence was hardly noticed. 

As of Sunday, Seager was expected to be on the World Series roster. If he's his usual self, that improves the Dodger lineup. If he's not up to speed, it may hamper them.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Pic of the Week

Yasiel Puig licks his bat on occasion. Why? Nobody knows

Yasiel Puig is a bat-flipping, tongue-wagging, bat-licking outburst of energy. He's also a pretty decent baseball player.

He rubs some people the wrong way. There are frequent reports that many of his Dodgers teammates dislike him.

I can't speak to that. He may be a jerk. If so, he wouldn't be unique in major league baseball.

What I do know is that his exuberance on the field makes him a fun player to watch.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment (manager edition)

The Washington Nationals announced Friday that Dusty Baker won't be back as manager next year.

That's a mistake on the Nats' part.

Baker may not be regarded as a tactical genius, but there are few better at handling a clubhouse of star egos. At 68, he probably isn't a good choice for a rebuilding team, but the Nats are in win-now mode. The Nats have a really good roster, and they have Bryce Harper for at least next year.

Baker fits there. I can't name anybody who fits better.


The Tigers made Ron Gardenhire's hiring official Friday.

One thing I took from the stories of his press conference: He says he weighed 275 pounds at the end of his Twins tenure. He's down about 40 pounds from that, he says.

Let us hope he handles the stress of managing in a more healthy way this time around.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Gardy in Detroit

The word Thursday evening was that the Detroit Tigers had settled on Ron Gardenhire as their next manager, and the Boston Red Sox had settled on Alex Cora.

Neither deal was completely done, but assuming that nothing goes wrong in wrangling the contract details, Gardy will be back in the AL Central.

And good for him. I don't think Detroit is a particularly good fit for him, not that anybody is likely to win with the Tigers for a few years. It's an organization with an over-the-hill core and a weak farm system.

The good news is that ownership --with the passing of patriarch Mike Ilitch -- recognizes the necessity of rebuilding. The bad news is, they haven't much to rebuild with.

I don't view Gardenhire's strengths and weaknesses as a good fit for a rebuilding team. He was, throughout his tenure with the Twins, inclined to prefer proven players and impatient with youngsters. That was understandable when the Twins were contending, but during the last few seasons it was counterproductive. I don't know for sure that Oswaldo Arcia or Liam Hendricks would have turned into viable major league regulars with steadier opportunities; what I do know is that neither developed as hoped.

A team in the Tigers position, I think, would do better to go with a younger, even inexperienced, manager, one less beholden to his past.

I thought, and wrote, that Gardenhire's strengths fit well with the Red Sox. What he doesn't have, and the Sox may well have required, is a history of working with the advanced metrics in vogue today.

It's possible that the past season, spent working with Red Sox alum Torey Lovello with the Arizona Diamondbacks, taught Gardenhire what he was missing with his previous resistance to the new stats. Gardy's about the same age I am; I'd like to think that I'm capable still of growing. But I also know that it's harder for me to accept change.

Anyway, I don't jeer at this:

I also won't jeer at those who want to see the evidence.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Goodbye, Perkins (maybe)

Dept. of non-news news:

We certainly knew necessary formality was coming.

Perkins will officially be a free agent this winter, but according to Bollinger, the Minnesota native and resident will either retire or return to the Twins on a minor league deal.

As said here frequently, I will never criticize a player for trying to play too long. Perkins will turn 35 during spring training; he has the rest of his life to brew beer and fish and do all the other things he does in his non-baseball time, but his baseball time is use or lose. I doubt Perkins' rebuilt shoulder is up to the task of pitching in the majors, and I'm pretty sure he's not really interested in spending next summer in Rochester, New York. On the other hand, Jacque Jones spent the summer of 2010 doing just that in hopes of returning to the Show.

In my view of these things, it up to management to make the call. And management may not wish to make that call yet. A minor-league deal for Perkins would be a very low-risk flier.

What I would prefer -- and I view it as unlikely -- is Perkins with a role in the broadcasts, radio or television, the more prominent the better. A recent player who buys into the metrics and analytics and can explain to the audience how teams and players employ the wealth of new information flowing into the game? Yes, yes, yes a thousand times yes.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A unique scouting hire

The Twins on Tuesday hired John Manuel, longtime editor of Baseball America, for their pro scouting staff.

As a Twins fan, this pleases and intrigues me. As a Baseball America subscriber, it saddens me. BA has a frequent staff churn, but Manuel has been there for 21 years.

The unique part of the hire isn't that the Twins hired a BA alum to scout; other organizations have done that. It's that they landed the biggest fish in the BA pool.

From Manuel's Facebook post on the change:

Last spring, the Wall Street Journal featured all the BA alumni who work for the Cleveland Indians, and Derek Falvey was the one who started that. Derek called me as a reference for Matt Forman back when he was hiring Matt as an intern in the Tribe’s baseball operations department. Derek and Matt went on to bring in more BA alums—five others so far—to Cleveland’s scouting department. So when Derek inquired to me about candidates to pro scout for the organization he now leads, the Twins, I couldn’t help myself.
I asked him, “What about me?”
I’d never asked that question to a member of a front office before. I’d talked about it with friends who are scouts or BA alums like Josh Boyd, Alan Matthews, Chris Kline or Matt Blood, but everyone in baseball knew I made the BA Kool-aid. My passion for the product and for my work has been obvious, over self-indulgent podcast tangents, or 2003 Rice stories during any random subsequent college baseball games, or any excuse to talk about the 2000 Olympics. 
But times change; ardor cools. It’s just not the same job anymore, not in the era of “branding.”

BA just had a pretty significant redesign and content retooling, some of which they've walked back at least a bit. I don't know if that's part of "it's just not the same job anymore." Or maybe Manuel just needed a changes.

But it's interesting that Manuel, who is as well connected as they come, picked the Twins (and Falvey) to pitch himself to. I suspect 30 teams would make room for him on their staff.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mauer and a Gold Glove

For some reason the subject of Joe Mauer and a possible Gold Glove award for him at first base kept popping up on my Twitter timeline Monday.

One ignornamus insisted that Craig Biggio won one of the big ugly trophies during his catching days and might have won one in the outfield. Not true. All four of Biggio's came at second base.

Reality: Only two players have won Gold Gloves at two different positions. Darrin Erstad at first base and outfield (for most of the award's history, the voters made no differentation between left, right and center. This is no longer the case.) and Placido Polanco, who won twice at second base with Detroit and once at third for the Phillies.

Biggio did begin his career as a catcher. He was the Astros regular behind the plate for three seasons and made an All-Star team. Then he shifted to second -- precisely BECAUSE he wasn't a Gold Glove-caliber catcher, and he was an All-Star caliber hitter.

The Astros wanted to keep his bat in the lineup and figured they could improve on Biggio's defense behind the dish. Had he been a high-quality defensive catcher, he probably would have remained a catcher.

Mauer was a legitmate Gold Glove catcher, and those types seldom change positions. Mauer moved because more is known about concussions than in decades past. Move his career forward a decade, and he probably doesn't move to first base -- and he might well have had more brain damage and had his career curtailed, as was the case with Mickey Cochrane, Mauer's closest historical comp.

Should Mauer win the Gold Glove? That is the conventional wisdom in Twins Territory, in large part because Dick Bremer and Co. started beating that drum by midseason. For what it's worth, John Dewan of Baseball Info Systems says Mitch Moreland of the Boston Red Sox had the most runs saved among American League first basemen.

I'd like to see Mauer win it, not because the award changes anything about him but because it would be a little bit more on his side when his Hall of Fame credentials are up for debate. I've said this before, repeatedly: He's done the heavy lifting for Cooperstown.

Monday, October 16, 2017

On Duensing and the Cubs bullpen

Joe Maddon, the manager of the defending champs, is taking some criticism in the wake of Sunday's game, which was decided without the participation of Wade Davis, the Cubs' best reliever and closer (the two concepts are not identical). #OldFriend Brian Duensing opened the bottom of the ninth for the Cubbies, and John Lackey ended it with a gopher ball. Duensing took the loss.

Maddon, postgame, on Davis:

“He had limited pitches. It was one inning only, and in these circumstances you don’t get him up and then don’t get him in. So if we had caught the lead, he would have pitched. That’s it.”

I buy that. Davis threw 45 pitches in that bizarre Game 5 to beat the Nationals. He hasn't worked that deep in years, probably since the Royals gave up trying to make him a starter. I'm sure Maddon's preference was not to use him at all.

Maddon appears to be managing the Cubs as if they don't have a lockdown bullpen right now, even though a number of relievers had strong seasons.

Duensing was one of those. Not just a 2.74 ERA. but 61 strikeouts in 62.1 innings. He coughed up only one lead for the Cubs. He didn't have a big platoon split; in fact, he held righties to a lower slugging percentage. A nice season for the former Twin.

The Cubs pitching staff is based on its solid rotation (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Kendricks, Jose Quintana). But Maddon, by choice or circumstances, is getting just five innings or so a game out of these guys. Which means the bullpen has to pick up the rest, and he rode Davis really hard against the Nationals. He went through three of his middle bullpen guys Sunday (Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop and Duensing) before turning to fifth-starter Lackey.

The decisions Maddon made in previous games led to the decsions he made Sunday. He couldn't go deep with Lester because he was on short rest after pitching 3.2 innings in relief Thursday. Davis's availability was limited. He hasn't gotten a quality start since Game Two against the Nationals, and the bullpen coughed that one away.

Maybe today's offday will straighten things out. Seven or eight innings from Tuesday's starter would help more.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pic of the Week

Cody Bellinger takes a tumble into the Dodgers dugout
in pursuit of a pop foul Monday.
Given Bellinger's importance to the Dodgers, I'm surprised there's nobody there to catch him. It's not like he's going into the opponent's dugout.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Brandon Kintzler, free agent

Brandon Kinzler
pitched in three
games in the NLDS
with an ERA of
I suggested Thursday in my final KMSU segment of the season that the Twins might focus more on building their bullpen depth this winter than on the starting rotation.

That thought might have been overly influenced by the bullpen-crazy postseason so far, but there is, or should be, little doubt that a lot of the teams playing in October were capable of smothering the opposition with waves of quality relievers -- Indians, Yankees, post-deadline Nats, Rockies.

The Twins were never in that position. Paul Molitor spent pretty much the entire season with three relievers he trusted and four he didn't -- and the identity of the ones he trusted shifted frequently.

Molitor trusted Brandon Kintzler right up to when Kintzler was traded at the deadline. And with the Washington Nationals eliminated, Kintzler becomes a free agent.

Dusty Baker handled Kintzler more roughly than Molitor did. Kintzler made 45 appearances for the Twins in four months, mostly to protect leads at the end of games. Kintzler made 27 appearances for the Nationals in two months, mostly in the seventh and eighth innings. He had 10 holds and one save -- and two blown saves -- for Baker.

The ERA was more than a half-run higher in Washington, but the underlying stats weren't a lot different. He was essentially the same pitcher, just used differently. Low strikeout rate, lower walk rate, challenge the hitters to do something with well-located pitches with movement.

Kintzler turned 33 on Aug. 1, so he's no youngster. The analytics don't like his strikeout rate. Bur I will wager Molitor would like him back, and the price is unlikely to be a deterrent. There may not be another organization that would seriously view Kintzler as a closer candidate.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine would be justified in wondering: If we sign Kintzler, will his presence discourage Molitor from using a higher-ceiling pitcher? Probably, if we're only concerned about the closer role. But the 2017 Twins were short all season on reliable relief arms. Kintzler may be low ceiling, but he's also high floor. Ninth inning or seventh inning, he can help.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A great and terrible game

I was really. really hoping by the end of Thursday night's Game Five of the Nationals-Cubs NLDS that both teams would run out of pitchers.

The Cubbies survived, unfortunately. I had hoped that this year, the year of the superteams, the fival four would be the three 100-game winners and a 97-win ensemble. Instead the Yankees and Cubs, neither of which had a regular season nearly as successful as the teams they edged out, advanced.

So it goes. This playoff system devalues the regular season. That's no secret, and it's been my major complaint about the wild card for more than two decades. But this system what we have, and it produces some baseball that is both compelling and unwatchable.

Thursday was both. At one point in the fifth-inning rally in which the Cubs took the lead they had the four-batter sequence of intentional walk, strikeout-passed ball, catcher interference and hit-by-pitch. (The second play of that sequence, in my estimation, was a blown call by the umpires, who misinterpreted Rule 6.03. That says an unintentional backswing that hits the catcher is a dead call and a strike. Jerry Layne and company allowed play to continue and stand.) From Baseball Reference:

The bizarrity -- if that's a word, and it should be -- goes on. Jayson Werth lost a ball in the lights; that cost the Nats a run. Willson Contreras, the Cubs catcher, twice whiffed completely on pitches that nailed Layne, which is a hell of a thank-you for the biffed call. Then he picked off Washington's Jose Lobaton on one of those confounded sliders-foot-off-the-bag-for-a-millisecond replay reversals that should be a firing offense for whoever's in New York.

And four hours and 37 minutes of pitching changes and committee meetings. That is October baseball in the era of Girardi and Maddon, and I hate it. I know this one was in Washington, but leave the filibusters to the Senate and play some ball. I expect there will be limits placed on catchers visiting the mound next year, and hooray for that. It has become abusive.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ron Gardenhire and the Red Sox job

The Boston Red Sox announced early Wednesday morning that John Farrell was out as manager. Within hours, Ron Gardenhire was linked to the opening.

Unlike the Detroit job, Boston appears a good fit for Gardenhire. 

Gardenhire prefers established players and set lineups. In my estimation, his weakest point as a manager is his (in)ability to accurately judge the current skill set of a player. The Red Sox currently boasts eight regulars and a catching platoon. Gardy is not adept at lineup juggling; this team doesn't need that. They don't figure to have spring training position battles to judge. 

The Saux have several big-name starters in their rotation and a stellar closer, but have had some issues of late in the middle of their bullpen. In my estimation, Gardenhire's greatest strength as a manager is handling the pen. The list of relievers who pitched better for Gardenhire than for anybody else is long, starting with Eddie Guardado, J.C. Romero and (to a lesser extent) LaTroy Hawkins through Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon and Dennys Reyes to Glen Perkins and Jared Burton.

I don't know that he's going to get the job. But it would make sense.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bringing Molitor back, the conclusion

Paul Molitor and Derek Falvey dismissed on Tuesday the theory that the delay between the invitation for Molitor to continue as manager and his acceptance signaled some sort of rift or friction betweem the manager and the front office.

Even dismissing Neil Allen as pitching coach was not close to a deal breaker, as Molitor described it.

Speculation and interpretation aside, the result is obvious: Molitor has a three-year extension and the rest of the coaching staff is expected back, although some roles may shift.

I wish Allen well, not only in terms of landing a new job somewhere but in terms of maintaining his sobriety. I suspect there are organizations that would have dumped Allen after his drunk-driving arrest in May 2016, and I further suspect Allen knows it:

“I had a wonderful conversation with Mollie,” Allen said in a phone interview. “I pointed out I can never thank (former GM) Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor enough for what they did for me. Mollie and I talked every day. We had a routine. We got to know each other very well. I absolutely loved the man. I made a great friend.”
That from Mike Berardino's story in the Pioneer Press.

Meanwhile, the reshaping of the organization continued, with the Twins hiring a new farm director. Jeremy Zoll comes out of the Dodger organization. He's 27 and succeeds Brad Steil, who becomes the pro scouting director.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Molitor stays, Allen departs

Neil Allen will
not return as
pitching coach.
The Twins announced Monday that Paul Molitor had accepted a three-year extension as manager. Also Monday, pitching coach Neil Allen told reporters that he had been fired.

I can imagine that Derek Falvey relented on salary and/or contract length for Molitor but not on replacing Allen. Remember, Falvey's area of proported expertise at Cleveland was developing pitchers, and he now has opened up probably the two most important positions in the organization in that field, major league pitching coach and minor league pitching coordinator.

Reusse has a point about the raw material Allen had to work with. Coaching goes only so far. Talent matters, and the Twins ran out a number of pitchers who really have no business on a major league roster in this high velocity era. (Of the 36, 14 had worse Fielding Independent Pitching ratings than catcher and blow-out specialist Chris Gimenez.)

My sense, which may be mistaken, the past three years was that Allen was overly determined to make every pitcher work his way. I remember hearing an in-game interview with Allen during spring training in which he made a sarcastic wisecrack about Kyle Gibson reworking his mechanics and routine over the offseason. I don't know what worked for Gibson and what didn't, what he kept and what he jettisoned, but I know that:

  • what Gibson had been doing didn't work for him physically or on the field in 2016;
  • he had a strong August and September this year; and
  • Falvey's former organization seems quite open to individual experimentation with programs, with Trevor Bauer being an obvious example.

The improvement in the Twins in run prevention this year can be attributed not to the pitching or even the emergence of Jose Berrios, but to the improved defense (and even the improved team defensive metrics appear to be almost entirely Byron Buxton in center).

Mike Berardino listed several in-house possibilities for Allen's former post, but I expect Falvey to reach outside the organization. One interesting question is how much input Molitor will have on the selection.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Molitor watch, Day Four

Paul Molitor, whose status remained unresolved through the weekend, is not the only postseason manager on an expiring contract.

Others in the same position: Dusty Baker of the Washington Nationals and Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees.

Presumably Molitor and the Twins front office will come to an agreement today or Tuesday. But the mere fact that Baker has the Nats job is evidence that an agreement in principle can run aground on the details. Three years ago Bud Black was supposed to be the Nats' manager, but he wanted more money than the team wanted to pay.

Baker apparently wasn't thrilled with the salary either, but he probably figured this was his last best chance to manage again. Black eventually landed the Colorado job (and made the playoffs this year as well).

I devoted the Monday print column to the Molitor standoff. I'd rather have him return, but there's plenty of reason to suspect that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine want to at least keep their options open for replacing him.

Girardi may have to at least win the ALDS to keep his job in New York, especially considering the roasting he's taken over Game Two of that series and specifically for his failure to challenge what proved to be a pivotal HBP call. It's startling to me to realize that he's had the Yankees job for 10 seasons with "only" one World Series title on his managerial resume.

Speaking of the managerial carousel, a couple of #OldFriends are said to be prominent candidates for the Detroit Tigers job: Ron Gardenhire and Mike Redmond.

The Tigers have no shortage of candidates and I wouldn't declare either to be the favorite, but I

  • doubt that anybody is going to win there for a few years and
  • would not be inclined to hire Gardenhire for a rebuilding project.

There are probably teams and situations in which Gardenhire would thrive: specifically, a veteran team with minimal need for the manager to decide who should play.

Gardenhire might be a better fit for the 2018 Yankees than Girardi would be -- but Gardy might not have been a good fit for the 2017 Yankees, who came into the season unsure if Aaron Judge should even be on the roster or if Luis Severino should be in the rotation. But even if Girardi is axed, I suspect the Yankees will go for a manager more obviously analytically inclined.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Pic of the Week

David Robertson, Yankees relief pitcher, reacts
on behalf of all men as catcher Gary Sanchez
takes a foul tip to the vulnerable spot.

Sympathy personified. Not exactly the way players typically react to somebody else getting hit there. When it's somebody else getting a "cup check." it's funny.

Adrian Beltre, the Cooperstown-bound third baseman, apparently disdains wearing a protective cup. Some years ago, when he was with the Seattle Mariners, he took a smash there and wound up on the disabled list with a crushed testicle that reportedly swelled to the size of a grapefruit.

When he returned to action weeks later, his walkup music for his first at-bat -- selected by Junior Griffey -- was "The Nutcracker Suite."

(The word is, Beltre still won't wear a cup.)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Bringing back Molitor, a continuing saga

On Thursday night, there were reports that the Twins would have an official announcement on Paul Molitor's new contract on Friday.

There wasn't. The word Friday was that this won't be resolved until next week.

Evaluating this from the outside:

* The public pressure is on the Twins. Brian Dozier has been quoted: "One hundred percent, I speak for everybody else in here, we hope he’s back.” The metro columnists are, predictably, in favor of retaining him. To the extent that Molitor has leverage in these negotiations, it's the vocal player and media support for him.

* Other leverage is with the front office.

It is entirely reasonable to believe that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in July expected to dismiss Molitor at seasons end and that they had specific candidates in mind. (Two names from Cleveland, Falvey's former organization, have been linked to the job already: Micky Callaway and Sandy Alomar Jr., the latter of whom was among the candidates Molitor beat out three winters ago.) I doubt they are particularly worried about running these talks aground. In a sense, the worst that can happen is that they wind up with the manager they expected three months ago.

At the very least, if Molitor returns -- and I expect he will -- it will be on Falvine's terms, not Molitor's.

The Dozier quote, I'll take with a grain of salt. The idea that any manager is universally beloved in his clubhouse is somewhere short of credible. Casey Stengel supposedly said of managing that on any team, Five guys love you, five hate you and the rest are undecided. The secret of managing is to keep the five who hate you away from the 15 who haven't made up their minds.

We can assume Dozier is in the "love him" camp.

As for the metro columnist support, I've developed a rather deep contempt for their collective baseball wisdom. If Jim Souhan says the sun is shining, carry your umbrella.

As for my position: Tune in to the Monday print column.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Bringing back Molitor

Two beat writers, two tweets:

The Strib tweet is more defenitive, but the Neal story -- like Berardino's -- notes that there were unresolved details Thursday night.

Managerial agreements have been known to derail over salary, coaching staff and authority, and  the second may be in play here:

If Falvine is demanding a coaching staff change with Molitor resisting, my guess is that the tug-of-war involves pitching coach Neil Allen. Derek Falvey played a particular role in Cleveland in their pitching development process, and he is soon to be free to raid his old organization (the agreement to let him come to Minnesota included a one-year ban on the Twins hiring Cleveland personnel). I would be astounded if he didn't raid that organization for a pitching guru or two or three.

The Twins have created openings in their minor league system by dismissing minor league pitching coordinator Eric Rasmussen, and one report suggests they will split that role into two positions, one for the high minors (Double and Triple A) and one for low minors/rehab. So even if Allen is kept on, there are ways for Falvey to cross pollinate the Twins system with Cleveland's.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bullpen as a verb

No starter in either wild card game got to the fifth inning. That wasn't by design; each of the four teams started their ace, and two of the four (Luis Severino of the Yankees and Zach Greinke of the Diamondbacks) figure to get some downballot votes for Cy Young. It was, simply, that nobody had a good start.

But short starts will be the rule this October, and there may well be a game somewhere down the line in which a manager deliberately follows some semblance of Brian Kenny's suggested Yankees pitching lineup for the wild card game. The MLB Network host suggested two innings of Chad Green, two innings of Sonny Gray, then one inning apiece from five relievers. As it turned out, the Yankees got even fewer outs from a starter than Kenny envisioned.

This approach has been dubbed "bullpenning." It happens occasionally in the regular season, when a managers short of pitchers resorts to a "bullpen game," but it's deemed unsustainable over the course of the season. October, with more days off, chillier conditions and more pressure, is another matter.

But we certainly are seeing the game evolve in the short start direction.

Chris Sale of Boston -- he'll start the ALDS opener this afternoon against Houston -- led the majors in innings pitched at 214.1. With the exception of the two major strike seasons, 1981 and 1994, this is the lowest total to lead baseball. We've seen only two league leaders top 250 innings since 2004.

This is partly, but only partly, from a growing adherence to the five-man rotation. The conventional four-day rotation of the 1960s and 1970s -- in which a fifth starter was only used for double headers and the fourth starter skipped when the schedule included a convenient offday -- gave way to a five day rotation, with the fifth starter skipped when possible. In the past decade or so it has evolved to a more rigid five-man rotation, with even the aces pushed back a day for offdays.

That takes a handful of starts away from the best pitchers. But they also work less deeply into games each outing. Ervin Santana was second in the majors in innings (211.1), and only two men made more starts (33). Santana averaged 6.4 innings a start. For a fan who saw 300-inning seasons routinely in his youth, that seems light.

Here's the thing: The game evolves, by and large, in the direction of what works. Today's pitchers are facing lineups capable of hitting long balls one through nine. Jim Palmer and Bert Blyleven didn't. Today's pitchers are expected to work at higher velocities, and it's easier to sustain 95 mph and higher for a handful of innings than for eight or nine, and easier to get there once a week than twice a week.

Easier, not easy.

My personal preference is for longer starts and fewer pitching changes, particularly in-inning changes. The game is going in a different direction. I could rant about that, but it would be like ranting at the Mississippi for flowing south.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

And so it ends

There was an obvious path to victory Tuesday for the Twins: get an early lead and have Ervin Santana, their best starting pitcher, have one of his good games.

The hitters did their part, more or less. They plated three runs in the first and drove Yankees starter and ace Luis Severino from the game six batters in. But they left a couple ducks on the pond in that inning, and they didn't cash in enough in the third, and after that the Yankees bullpen gave them nothing.

And Santana was far from having one of his good games.

So be it. The 2017 Twins were far from championship quality. It took a watered-down format to get them into the October tournament. I can root for them and be disappointed in Tuesday's outcome and still recognize that reality.

I think it was the FiveThirtyEight website that called this the most loaded playoff field ever. Three teams -- Cleveland and Houston in the American League and Los Angeles in the National -- won at least 100 games, and Washington won 97. Three more teams won at least 92. Colorado and the Twins don't really fit in this field.

The 2017 season was still a good one for the Twins organization. They went from 59 wins to 85, from the worst record in baseball to the final postseason berth. That is a genuine accomplishment.

But if 100 wins (and not 95) is a genuine new standard for quality, the Twins are 15 short of that. And it will be more difficult to add those 15 than it was to add this year's 26.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A storm cloud on the horizon

While Twins fans were focused on today's wild-card game against the Yankees, a major big-picture story erupted in Atlanta, where general manager John Coppolella and a top subordinate resigned.

The immediate word was that MLB had found serious rules violations by the Braves in the international free agent market. But the MLB investigation also reportedly found violations beyond the cesspool of the international market, including the domestic draft.

Coppolella headed the Braves organization for two years and a day, and in that time had laregly rebuilt the Braves farm system into a powerhouse. The system is currently ranked either first or second (with the White Sox) by pretty much every outside evaluation.

Here's the thing: Rule bending, even cheating, is standard operating procedure for signing Dominican players. The specific violations by Coppolella and Gordon Blakesley, special assistant for international scouting, haven't been detailed for public consumption, but presuambly they must have been significant to cost them their jobs. Either that, or everybody is at risk.

John Hart, veteran GM who came out of retirement Monday to fill Coppolella's job on an interim basis, said at a press conference that the violations don't involve criminal activity. (A few years ago a White Sox exec went to federal prison in a kickback scheme involving Dominican prospects.)

But it seems very likely that there will be further repercussions against the Braves. Perhaps some signings will be invalidated. Perhaps they will lose draft picks or bonus pool money. Coppolella and Blakesley are probably no longer employable.

And this will affect the Braves, certainly, but everybody else as well. The message is that there's a red line out there, and organizations cross it at their peril -- but its location is uncertain.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Sano or Sa-yes? Some wild card roster speculation

The second half of the Monday print column speculated that Miguel Sano would be the designated hitter on Tuesday in Yankee Stadium and doubted that would be the best decision.

That was written before Sunday's game, in which:

Sano went 1-for-8 in the Detroit series and never got a ball off the ground.

My current guess is that he will be on the 25-man roster for that game but that Robbie Grossman will start at DH.  The reason to have him on the roster: As a pinch-hit threat against the left-handed gas of Aroldis Chapman. But that's just a guess.


Gabriel Moya got the save Sunday with five outs of hitless relief.

Dick Bremer on Sunday cast doubt on the idea that Moya might be on the playoff roster, citing the two homers he's allowed his seven appearances.

I'm not sure he's even eligible, as he wasn't on the 40-man roster Sept. 1 (although he was in the organization). But I do know I'd rather see Moya get the ball as a LOOGY on Tuesday than Buddy Boshers.


There's no way Bartolo Colon will be active for the Wild Card game after going 6.1 innings Sunday. I wouldn't have Kyle Gibson, who had a short start Friday, active either, although he's a plausible reliever on three days rest. I'd just save him for the ALDS Game One start. If that start doesn't happen, so be it. I doubt the WC game will be determined by Gibson's availablity.

The Twins gave Jose Berrios a bullpen test drive Friday, and there's reasonable speculation that Paul Molitor's bullpen blueprint for that one-and-done game is: Six innings from Ervin Santana, one from Berrios, one from Trevor Hildenberger and one from Matt Belisle. That plan, if it is the plan, leaves Taylor Rogers available for LOOGY duties.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pic of the Week

David Price reacts after striking out George Springer to
escape a bases-laded jam in the seventh inning Saturday.

I was hoping, as a Twins fan, that the Astros would win that game Saturday, and beat the Red Sox again today, and that the Yankees would further cooperate by winning their games in Toronto. That would have forced those teams into a Game 163 to decide which was the division champ and which would play the Twins in the wild-card game Tuesday.

That, I figured, would stretch out the pitching staffs of either team and give the Twins some slight advantage.

Didn't happen. The Red Sox won, and thus clinched the AL East.

Price -- who has had a controversial season in Boston, complete with a long stint on the disabled list and an altercation with team broadcaster Dennis Eckersley -- is going to be working out of the Boston bullpen this month. The hope (or expectation) is that he can do for the Sawx what Andrew Miller did last year for Cleveland -- relieve early or late and overwhelm opposing hitters in key moments.

It worked Saturday.