Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

Rabbit Maranville, the Hall of Fame shortstop, got to Cooperstown on the strength of his glovework, which was legendary.

But he was a poor hitter, both at the plate and in the brawls he doted on causing -- but pretty good at hitting the sauce.

One day Maranville -- who stood just 5-feet-5 -- came out of the team hotel and picked a fight with a cabbie. He lost the fight. Undeterred, he picked another cabbie, who also licked him. Then a third. Then a fourth. After a fifth fight, a team employee dragged Maranville away.

"What are you doing?" he demanded of Maranville.

"I'm trying to find one I can lick," Maranville said.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A bit more on Sano

I don't wish -- or intend -- to dwell on the Miguel Sano situation. But I thought I'd post links to these two more in-depth pieces on it, in large part because they contain more insight than I do on Sano's behavior with women.

This is Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Getting in trouble for (the pursuit of women) “was only a matter of time,” said one person familiar with Sano, whom he called “a ticking time bomb.”
OK, unnamed sources. As a professional journalist, this makes me a bit uncomfortable. (In contrast, the Washington Post's expose on Roy Moore used named sources, on-the record quotes and collaborating details.) But Passan's a pro himself, and I think highly of his work.

Brandon Warne in the ZoneCoverage site passes on an illuminating story from a fan about Sano's time with the Chattanooga Lookouts. According to him, the team's female ushers were kept away from the Lookouts dugout area specifically because Sano badgered them so much. As Warne says, this ancedote doesn't address the Bissen claims directly, but in my mind it adds to the credibility of her statement.

Both pieces are worth your time.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Sano allegations

Some weeks ago somebody -- I don'r remember specifically who -- observed that when the #Metoo movement hit sports it was going to get ugly.

This made intuitive sense. Big-time pro sports is a male-dominated field with a well-documented history of contempt for the women who venture into its periphery and an atmosphere of male promiscuity. Also involved: a tradition of protecting the "talent."

Well, #Metoo hit the Twins Thursday when a Twin Cities photographer, Betsy Bissen, tweeted out a her account of an unpleasant 2015 encounter with Miguel Sano, who she says attempted to drag her into a restroom and repeatedly tried to kiss her. The tribal trolls reacted as one might expect, and Bissen has now protected her Twitter account, so I can't link to the statement.

Sano, in a statement that was probably crafted by his agent, denied Bissen's story. If I have to choose between the two, I'll believe Bissen, partly because some of her friends in Twins Twitter say she told them of the incident at the time, and partly because of jock culture. It's certainly not inconceivable.

This poses an intriguing challenge to the Twins front office. It's easy enough for a team to dump a marginal player who does something stupid/inappropriate/criminal. Sano is a rare talent, and there are plenty of other teams that would love to take him onto their roster. (Note how eager the Yankees and Cubs have been to have Aroldis Chapman around.)

I have for some time sensed a toxic Red Sox-like vibe around the Sano-Twins relationship. The front office talks up not only his talent but his dedication, and the metro columnists undercut the latter, proportedly on the basis of what they're being told by the field staff. There are a lot of fans convinced that Sano is lazy because Pat Reusse and Jim Souhan told them so.

As I understand it, the question of suspension for Sano isn't up to the Twins but to the commissioner's office. But the question of whether to keep Sano around, that is up to the Twins. There had been chatter of a Sano-for-a-pitcher trade (specifically Chris Archer); this won't tamp down that kind of talk.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The bullpen takes shape

The signings of veteran relievers Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke have given some shape to a restructured Twins bullpen for 2018.

The back end of the relief corps seems fairly set:

Closer: Rodney
Setup 1: Trevor Hildenberger
Setup 2: Taylor Rogers
LOOGY 1: Zach Duke

Duke and Rogers might swap roles. I seem to be considerably cooler to the Duke signing than most internet commentators, certainly cooler than the actual decision makers.

That's only about half of a modern bullpen. The 2017 Twins carried eight relievers for much of the season, and unless and until they shore up the starting rotation, I will assume the 2018 Twins will do the same. So four more arms.

The four givens listed above aren't, with the possible exception of the aging Rodney, a collection of power arms. So we can expect that at least one spot will go to a high-velocity arm, and the Twins aren't short of internal candidates for that: Ryan Pressly, J.T. Chagrois, Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss.

My take on that group is: Pressly is the highest floor and lowest ceiling. Chagrois has the highest ceiling but a history of injury. Busenitz didn't pitch as well as his ERA would indicate in 2017. Curtiss, who had a cup of coffee last year, is the only one of the group without some level of major league success. My guess is Pressly is first in line, which would fit with the risk-avoidance approach the front office has taken with the Rodney and Duke signings.

I would also expect Tyler Duffey to return to the multi-inning role, pitching two or three innings at a time two or three times a week He seemed to thrive in that role for a couple of months in 2017; his performance deteriorated when he was deployed in shorter and more frequent outings.

Then there are the rehab projects, Trevor May and Phil Hughes, to consider. May had Tommy John surgery last spring, Hughes a second round of thoracic outlet syndrome. Both are nominally starters, but we don't know as the calendar turns over how ready either will be for 100 pitches every five days.

The Twins rotation is rather unsettled as of now, with Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson as givens, Aldaberto Mejia the likely fourth starter and question marks behind him. I doubt the Twins want to go into spring training counting on one of Hughes or May for the fifth starter role -- again, they've prioritized risk avoidance. While they haven't moved yet on the rotation, I still expect them to add at least one starter, and I think they want two.

But they don't have a lot of roster flexibility with either May or Hughes. Each is either on the disabled list or on the major league staff; they can't be optioned out. So the more starters the Twins add, the more likely May/Hughes are to land in the bullpen, which makes a certain amount of sense in the rehab process.

Which would give us a bullpen like this:

Closer: Rodney
Setup 1: Hildenberger
Setup 2: Rogers
MR 1: Pressly
MR 2: Duffey
Utility: May
Long: Hughes

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Twiins put up their Duke

The signing of Zach Duke became official Tuesday evening, and as I implied in that morning's post, I'm not impressed.

I understand the logic. He's a high-floor, low-ceiling veteran reliever. Gabriel Moya, the prospect who tore up Double A last year and got a cup of coffee in September, has a higher ceiling but a lower floor. Bringing in Duke to be the second lefty in the bullpen is an exercise in risk avoidance.

That said, I doubt the Twins' postseason chances hinge on the bullpen's second lefty. If  Buddy Boshers and Craig Breslow couldn't cripple them last year, Moya isn't likely to either. And I strongly dislike seeing a kid with an 0.77 ERA in the Southern League get logjammed by a journeyman.

The Twins clearly like Duke a lot more than I do. I see him as a non-roster invitee candidate; they gave him a 40-man roster spot and a $2 million contract.

Presumably Moya is now ticketed for Rochester. If he puts up a 0.77 ERA there too, he won't stay there long. Heck, if he triples the ERA, he'll move up.

Supposedly the Twins think Duke can get both lefties and righties out. He certainly hasn't been used that way. Since he became a bullpen guy, he's never had a season with more innings than appearances, and the ratio is seldom close. Paul Molitor has not been very inclined to one-out relievers so far.

The numbers are of limited use at best here. Duke had a better OPS against righties than lefties in 2017, although that's a slender reed to lean on. He only faced 31 righties all season. For his career, his platoon splits are rather lopsided -- .809 OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) vs. righties, .705 vs. lefties -- but even there, we're mixing his early career as a starter in with his relief work.

Plus there's the injury factor to cloud things. Duke pitched last year in a rapid return from ligament surgery, and I've seen some reports that his stuff improved as the season progressed. I am sure the Twins have a better grasp on what Duke is now as a pitcher than I do.

Bottom line: I'm not thrilled, but even if the signing is a failure, it won't cripple this team.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Duke of Zach

Various Twitter reports Monday had veteran lefty reliever Zach Duke in contract agreement with the Twins, pending a physical.

As Christmas gifts go, this one seems to me destined for the returns counter. Duke,who turns 35 in April, had an impressively quick return from Tommy John surgery last year. The results were not as impressive. His strikeout rate in particular plummeted.

To be fair, Duke has a solid resume as a LOOGY, a Left-handed One Out GuY. Once the Pirates abandoned the notion of making him a starter, he found a productive niche, or at least as productive as a lefty specialist gets. But I'm not so hot on guys who throw 58.2 innings in 74 appearances, as Duke did for Milwaukee in 2014.

As I contemplate the Twins depth chart among lefty relievers, Duke looks like Number Three at best. Certainly he's behind Taylor Rogers. In my mind -- but not necessarily the Twins' estimation -- he should be behind Gabriel Moya as well. Duke and Buddy Boshers? I'll give Duke the nod there, at least tentatively.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Duke is getting a major league contract or a minor league deal with spring training invite. Either way, it does not figure to be a significant addition for the Twins.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry (Steve) Christmas

Away back when I was in high school, the Minnesota Twins drafted a catcher out of an Orlando, Fla., high school. He was a 33rd-rounder, so not a hot prospect, and he didn't sign with the Twins. He attended a couple of colleges in Oklahoma and signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 1977.

And then he started grinding his way up the minor league ladder. Low A, high A, Double A, Triple A. He got to the majors with Cincinnati in 1983 and came to the plate 19 times.

The Reds traded him to the White Sox. He got 11 at-bats with the Sox in 1984, hit .364 with a homer. The Sox rewarded him with a full season at Triple A the next year, then they released him.

He signed with the Cubs. Another year at Triple A, nine more major league at-bats, and that was it. His career ended at the age of 28.

And yet today we celebrate Steve Christmas ... what, that's NOT the Christmas story?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

Every year for Christmas Week I post a Rickey Henderson story, since Rickey was born on Christmas.

And some year I'm going to run out.

World Series, 2004. The day after the Boston Red Sox win Game 4 to complete the sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, Rickey calls the Red Sox front office. He wants tickets to Game Six.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Taking note of some details from the past week:

The Twins announced the signing of Kai-Wei Teng, a 19-year-old right-handed pitcher from Taiwan who is listed as 6-4, 260 pounds, which sounds massive. The signing had been reported during the summer, but I suspect the Twins put off making it official for purposes of gaining a year of control.

This reminded me to check on Chih-Wei Hu, who caught my eye when I saw his first start in Cedar Rapids a few years ago. The Twins ultimately traded Hu to Tampa Bay for Kevin Jepsen.

Hu pitched in 10 games for the Rays last year, all in relief, and spent the rest of the season in Triple A. The Rays apparently view him now as a bullpen candidate.


The managers for the Twins minor league affilates have all been named. Joel Skinner at Triple A Rochester, Tommy Watkins at Double A Chattanooga, Ramon Borrego at high A Fort Myers, Toby Gardenhire at low A Cedar Rapids, Ray Smith at high Rookie Elizabethton and Dan Ramsay at rookie Complex Fort Myers.

Smith stays put (2018 will be 32 years in E-town). Skinner and Ramsay are new to the organization. Watkins and Borrego each moved up two levels, and Gardenhire spent much of 2017 in Rochester helping Mike Quade, who was limited physically after his spring training auto crash.

Friday, December 22, 2017

From the Handbook: Pitcher repertoires

This is one of my favorite and most used portions of the annual Bill James Handbook. I have generally written something annually out of this section, and almost always about Phil Hughes -- in large part because his repertoire changes so much from year to year.

Tracking it backwards:

2017: 46 percent fastballs, 21 percent cutters, 20 percent curves, 13 percent change ups.

2016: 49 percent fastballs, 26 percent cutters, 23 percent curves, 3 percent change ups.

2015: 59 percent fastballs, 20 percent cutters, 16 percent curves, 5 percent change ups.

2014: 65 percent fastballs, 21 percent cutters, 14 percent curves, less than 1 percent changeups. (This was his first year with the Twins and the best season of his career.)

2013: 62 percent fastballs, 0 percent cutters, 17 percent curves, 16 percent sliders, 5 percent change ups, less than 1 percent splitters. (With the Yankees; note the use of the slider and the absence of the cutter.)

Obviously the thoratic outlet issues -- with surgery after the 2016 season and now again -- has had something to do with this, but the fastball useage keeps declining, and the percentage of changeups reached a new high last year.

I don't know what to expect from Hughes in 2018, other than that if he's sound he's going to be on the staff. The man's signed through 2019. He might be in the bullpen, he might be in the rotation. I don't think he's going to be effective if his velocity remains below 90 mph, as it was last season. 

And I don't think he's going to be effective throwing a lot of changes, either. I always thought that Neil Allen and his change up obsession was a poor fit for Hughes as pitching coach. It will be interesting to see if Hughes backs away from the change with Allen gone -- although if the velocity is gone for good, it probably doesn't matter.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

On "short" home runs

A reader given to emailing comments to me suggested (regarding Monday's post) that Brian Dozier might lead the league in "short" home runs.

Well, let's look at the data from Baseball Info Systems:

Dozier in 2017 had 22 flyball outs that traveled 330 to 349 feet, no homers of that distance.

Edwin Encarnacion had 20 flyball outs in that range -- and three homers.

Aaron Judge had just 11 outs in that range -- and two homers. Scooter Gennett, 10 and 3. Mookie Betts, 20 and 3. Carlos Santana (who, like Encarnacion, played for Cleveland), 18 and 2.

There are a LOT of players with more flyball outs in that range than Dozier. Whit Merrifield of Kansas City: 31 outs of 330 to 349 feet, no homers.

Obviously, the ballpark has a lot to do with that. Kansas City's yard is unforgiving of fly balls, Yankee Stadium the opposite. Pull a popup down either line in Boston, you got a chance. Something in Cleveland seems condusive to particularly short homers. I don't think Target Field has any particularly soft touches in that regard.

Dozier hit 33 homers in 2017, and 22 of them went at least 390 feet. Five were between 350 and 369, six between 370 and 389. Encarnacion (38 total) had 15 homers shorter than 390.

Mike Moustakas -- big home park -- also had 38 total. Nine of them were between 370 and 389. Only three were shorter than 370, but with about the same number of fly ball outs shorter than 370 than Encarnacion.

And here's an oddity that caught my eye: Gary Sanchez of the Yankees had a total of 37 flyball outs of 330 feet or more, and 33 homers. That's really strong percentage. He has a favorable park, but that's a lot of homers per flyball.

Anyway, if I had to crown somebody as the king of the cheap homer in 2017, it would be Edwin Encarnacion, not Brian Dozier.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Contemplating Eric Hosmer

A decidedly non-Twins topic ...

Eric Hosmer came up with his best season to date in his walk year, which also happened to be his age 27 season -- the most common age for a career year. There seems to be a certain lack of traction for him in free agency, however.

"Seems to be" may be the key phrase in that sentence; his agent, Scott Boras, has seldom been one to pull the trigger early in the process.

Still, the news this week that the Boston Red Sox had re-signed Mitch Moreland to play first base seems to have closed off the normal deep-pocketed franchises from Hosmer. The Yankees and Ddogers are almost desperate to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018 (in part to free themselves up for potential runs at Manny Machado or Bryce Harper next winter); the Cubs have Anthony Rizzo at first base; the Angels are committed financially in one case, morally in the other, to fitting both Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani in the lineup.

The Padres have been linked frequently to Hosmer, but it really makes little sense for either. The Padres are not close to contending, and they would have to move Wil Myers, their best player, to the outfield to make room for Hosmer. Myers has been a poor outfielder and a pretty decent first baseman.

There's a very good case for the proposition that Hosmer's best option is to stay put in Kansas City, where he is beloved. He could be, to use a Twins parallel, Kent Hrbek to George Brett's Harmon Killebrew --  something short of a Hall of Fame career but a revered lifer. But players who want to be franchise icons don't hire Scott Boras.

This year's free agent class had two first basemen, Hosmer and Carlos Santana, who struck a three-year, $60 million deal with the Phillies. Santana is four years older than Hosmer and didn't have as good a 2017, but has been the better hitter -- and certainly the more consistent one -- over the years.
I'm not sure the Phillies were a good fit for Santana, but he's getting paid.

Hosmer's big 2017 -- he slashed .318/.385/.498 in a difficult power environment -- belies his rather pedestrian career numbers. Boras is, certainly for public consumption and probably behind the scenes, selling Hosmer as much for his "intangibles" as his numbers. He's a winner.

And for a certain class of baseball lifers, that's not a difficult sell. One thing that I found remarkable in the World Baseball Classic last March was that Jim Leyland, manager of the USA team, strongly preferred Hosmer to Paul Goldschmidt. Leyland had, essentially, six players for five lineup spots: outfielders Mike Stanton, Christian Yelich, Andrew McCutchen and Adam Jones and first basemen Hosmer and Goldschmidt. Jones and Hosmer were pretty much lineup fixtures; Goldschmidt was part of a rotation through the DH spot.

Look at the numbers, including the defensive metrics, and there's no question; Goldschmidt is better than Hosmer. Part of was, no doublt, the fact that Hosmer hit lefthanded, Goldschmidt right, and the American lineup was a bit shy on lefty bats. But Hosmer has always had more appeal to baseball's traditionalists than to the quantative analysts.

His problem this winter: The "quants" have more influence on front offices and the money decisions.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

From the Handbook: Pitcher analysis

Let's take a dive into the Twins' newly signed closer, Fernando Rodney.

According to the Bill James Handbook, in 2017 Rodney

  • threw a total of 978 pitches to 231 hitters
  • struck out 65 men and walked 26
  • 70 ground balls, 21 line drives and 43 fly balls
  • threw strikes on 61 percent of his pitches and got swinging strikes on 21 percent
  • opened 114 at-bats with a no-ball, one-strike count, 94 one-ball, no-strike
  • had 37 full counts
  • went to two strikes on 133 hitters, three balls on 60

All of which tells us ... probably not very much. We already knew that command is sometimes a problem for him. We're going to see a lot of deep counts. (I didn't know, however, how many grounders Rodney got last season.)

Brandon Kintzler last year threw 64 percent of his pitches for strikes. The difference between Rodney and Kintzler on that doesn't sound like much ... just three percentage points. It amounts to about one less strike every three outings. But that difference adds up. It's why Kintzler walks less than two men per nine innings and Rodney more than four.

Monday, December 18, 2017

From the Handbook: Long outs and home runs

It's been long enough since I delved into the Bill James Handbook for a topic that you might have hoped that I've given up trying to mine that vein. No such luck.

This section deals with long fly balls -- those that went out of the yard and those that were outs. Brian Dozier, for example, hit 10 fair balls at least 400 feet (according to this accounting); all 10 were homers. Obvious, you say? Well, no: Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers also hit 10 400-footers, and four of them were outs. (The Detroit park has some space to its centerfield.)

Most 400 foot (or more) flies do leave the yard. Joe Mauer was 3-for-3, Jorge Polanco 5-for-5, Byron Buxton 5-for-5, Eddie Rosario 8-for-8, Miguel Sano 14-for-14, Max Kepler and Eduardo Escobar 9-for-9.

Things start getting dicier just a little shorter, however. Dozier hit 20 balls between 390 and 400 feet; 12 were homers, eight were outs.  Rosario hit 17 balls that distance; nine were homers.  Kepler hit seven; four homers, three outs. Mauer's four were evenly split. Just eyeballing it, that seems the "usual" percentage; a bit over 50 percent of balls hit 390 to 400 feet are homers.

And then there's Sano. Sano hit nine balls that distance; eight were homers. I'll assume it's a fluke until I see it repeated.

(There's an obvious flaw in all this -- it doesn't account for balls neither caught or a homer, say a double off the wall.)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

You may have seen the videos the Twins made this spring titled The Escobar Name Game, in which Eduardo Escobar struggles to come up with the names of his teammates.

(If you haven't, visit here and here. It's worth the time.)

Escobar is far from being unique in his inability to remember names. Babe Ruth was notorious for that as well.

When longtime teammate (and ultimately fellow Hall of Fame inductee) Waite Hoyt was traded away from the Yankees, Ruth felt he had to say something in farewell. What he came up with:

"I'm going to miss you, Walter."

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

It's official: ByungHo Park was given his release Friday. He's going back to Korea and the Nexen Heroes.

I still think it could have worked here, but he got one chance, and whether it was because of injury or his skill set, didn't take advantage of it. And he never got another.


Former Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia is taking his power bat and stubborn approach to Japan. So he's gonna get paid: $1.7 million guaranteed from the Nippon Ham Fighters. He'll be teammates with Michael Tonkin again.


The Twins have hired Joel Skinner to manage their Triple A team. Fans of a certain age might remember him as a light-hitting catcher in the 1980s with three AL clubs (White Sox, Yankees, Indians). Fans of even older vintage might remember his dad, Bob Skinner, who was the left fielder for the 1960 World Series champion Pirates and later a major league manager.

Joel Skinner had a very brief stint as Cleveland manager himself (2002; he was 35-41) and has managed in the minors 13 seasons. He's been in the White Sox system for the past five seasons.


Ramsey appears to be the most interesting name of the bunch. The Twins drafted him out of high school in 2011 but didn't sign him; he went to Florida State instead and was a first round pick of the Cardinals. He really hasn't hit enough at any level to justify that draft pick, and he hits left-handed, which doesn't really fit with the Twins outfield. A right-handed hitter would be more useful.

I would expect to see Sawyer in training camp, because he's a catcher and they need guys to catch all those bullpen sessions, but he's probably Double A fodder. Featherston has somehow gotten more than 200 plate appearances over the past three years with three different major league teams. Utility infielder on a team that doesn't have an opening for such on the major league roster. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Rodney and Rule Five

The Twins had a busy Thursday with bullpen moves:

  • They lost a pair of power arms from their Double A bullpen in the Rule 5 draft;
  • They picked up a power arm from a Double A bullpen in the Rule 5 draft and
  • They reached a reported contract agreement with veteran closer Fernando Rodney.

Let's start with the latter, since that is certain to have an effect on the 2018 team.

Most of us know Rodney to some degree. He spent seven years with Detroit to open his career; he was the losing pitcher in the famous Game 163 of 2009. He'll turn 41 during spring training, he's third in career saves among active pitchers (behind Francisco Rodriguez and Huston Street), he's made three All-Star teams and the Twins will be his ninth major league team.

This well-crafted opinion was issued early Thursday, after news that Brandon Kintzler had reached a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals:

They are quite different in pitching styles and repertiores. Rodney throws 60 percent fastballs and alomost 40 percent changeups; Kintzler throws more than 80 percent fastballs. Kintzler's strikeout rate and walk rates are both near the bottom of the league; Rodney's strikeout and walk rates are both about twice Kintzler's. Rodney threw strikes on 61 percent of his pitches (21 percent swinging strikes); Kintzler, 64 percent and 9 percent. (Stats from the Bill James Handbook.)

I'd rather have Kintzler pounding the strike zone than Rodney fighting his command. And since Paul Molitor's stated rationale for going with Kintzler and then Matt Belisle as his closers was that he could rely on them throwing strikes, I suspect Molitor might agree.

Kintzler got two years, $10 million from the Nats; Rodney one year at $4.5 to $6 million depending on incentives. (Both deals are pending physicals; both reportedly include an option year.)

It's possible the Twins preferred Kintzler too, but that Kintzler preferred the Nats. Or that the Twins truly see the addition of a veteran closer as a placeholder and want/expect to transition to a younger pitcher in that role as the season progresses and thus didn't want to do multiple guaranteed years. 

A lot of Twins fans will be irritated by his habit of wearing his cap cocked to the left and his post-save celebration of pantomining firing an arrow into the sky. I will be more irritated by the 2-0 counts and walks.


Lost in Rule 5: Nick Burdi and Luke Bard. Gained in Rule 5: Tyler Kinley. Three hard-throwing right handed relievers who spent much of 2017 in Double A.

Burdi and Bard were high draft picks during the second Terry Ryan era; both have missed more time than they've spent on the mound in the minors. The Twins reportedly tried to trade Burdi to the Braves last summer in the Jaime Garcia trade only to have him rejected on medical grounds. My guess is that the new regime does not believe either can remain sound enough to help the major league bullpen. And Burdi in particular is unlikely to fill the 90-day active roster requirement to retain Rule 5 picks in 2018. 

Kinley has been in the Marlins organization. His numbers in Double A and Triple A are not impressive, but he has apparently been dominating in winter ball so far, and the Twins opted to take a flier on him.

I will be surprised if Kinley sticks. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Adding Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda's season ended in July.

The Twins on Wednesday signed free agent pitcher Michael Pineda to a two-year deal. They realistically expect something out of that contract in the second year.

Pineda had Tommy John surgery last summer. Most of 2018 will be spent rehabbing the rebuilt elbow. He'll spend the winter on the 40-man roster, open the season on the disabled list and will certainly be moved to the 60-day DL (and off the 40-man roster) as soon as the Twins need a 40-man spot next season.

As matters stand, the Twins have Jose Berrios set for the 2019 rotation. Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson will be eligible for free agency after 2018; Trevor May and Phil Hughes, like Pineda, are rehab projects; and prospects Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Felix Jose and Aaron Slegers have not established themselves in the majors.

The Twins obviously want to add a big-name starter this winter; the openness with which Thad Levine in particular talks about Yu Darvish is certainly a change from the close-to-the-vest approach of Terry Ryan. Pineda, even without the surgery, is not a big-name starter, although he has some impressive secondary numbers and (when sound) the tools to become a big-name starter.

What he is right now is inventory for 2019.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Trade barriers

My Tuesday long-distance monitoring of the winter meetings opened with Twitter chatter of a supposedly specific trade offer involving the Twins, and ended with general manager Thad Levine downplaying the notion of a trade because of the rise of analyics.

The latter idea is that more formulas and fewer old-style scouts means a narrowing of opinions on what specific players are worth. And at its heart, trading is about different opinions of player value. If everybody pretty much agrees that Player X is worth 10 and Player Y is worth 13, the team with Player Y isn't going to make the deal.

That said, there will be trades made. Some, probably most, will be at least partially financally driven -- salary dumps a la Giancarlo Stanton. A variation of the salary dump is moving a player a team knows it won't re-sign -- the Brian Dozier trade the Twins didn't make last winter. Such trades are often discounted, which is why the Twins didn't pull the trigger.

Anyway: Tuesday morning's rumor involved a package of prospects -- Nick Gordon, Tyler Jay and Zack Granite -- supposedly going to Pittsburgh for Garrit Cole, who has two years left before free agency.

Assuming the accuracy of that package, I might do that were I running the Twins. As I see it:

  • Gordon lacks the power to be a quality regular shortstop, and the Twins have plenty of shortstops above and behind him
  • Granite might become a Denard Span-type leadoff hitter/centerfielder, but it won't be with the Twins for lack of opportunity, and as a left-handed hitter he's not even a particularly good fit on this roster as a fourth outfielder
  • Jay has had trouble staying on the mound.

The obvious drawback to swapping those three for a front-of-the-rotation starter is organizational depth. There isn't opportunity now for Granite, but what if an outfielder takes a significant injury?

I can also see the Twins shying away from including Jay in a trade. Subsitute a lower-ceiling pitcher and it becomes more palatable. (Make it Kyle Gibson and throw in the money for his contract and it becomes a lot easier for me to pull the trigger -- but Pittsburgh might not go for that.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In search of closer No.5

Paul Molitor, in his three seasons managing the Twins, has never had a stable back-of-the-bullpen plan.

He inherited Glen Perkins, an All-Star, as his closer. Perkins was better than ever for the first half of 2015, then got hurt and kept pitching. His season deteriorated, and by season's end Kevin Jepsen had supplanted him in the ninth inning.

Perkins tried again the next year, but one regular season outing was enough to convince everyone that the offseason's rest hadn't solved things. Jepsen, who had been reliable in 2015, wasn't in 2016, and by midseason Brandon Kintzler had taken over the ninth.

Kintzler held the job for more than a calendar year. He proved effective in the role -- effective enough to get a replacement appointment to the All-Star team in 2017 -- until the Twins traded him to Washington for a prospect and international spending space.

At which point Matt Belisle emerged as the quasi closer. Molitor didn't go "full Eckersley" with Belisle -- there were a few long saves by people like Tyler Duffey and Dillon Gee and Gabriel Moya -- but for three outs, Belisle was Molitor's preferred choice in August and September.

What all four have in common: They were veterans. They'd been around a while. There's not much else they have in common.

Jepsen threw hard, with uncertain command; Kinztler has a mediocre strikeout rate but good command and movement; Belisle's 2017 K rate was stronger than Kintzler's, but his ability to work consecutive days was, and remains, questionable.

What I take from this: Molitor prefers a known quantity for the end of games. Not necessarily a "proven closer" -- indeed, none of the successors to Perkins had ever held the glory job even as a fill-in before the Twins --  but somebody who's been through plenty of ups and downs, failures and successes.

And now, while Belisle (and Kintzler) free agents, the job is vacant once again.

The Twins during the second term of Terry Ryan spent a number of high draft picks on relief prospects. As a result they have a number of young, high-upside relief arms in their system. I've been listing them and waiting on them for years. And it's time for some of them to break through.

Indeed, the exposure of Jake Reed and Nick Burdi to the Rule 5 draft this week, the waiving of Randy Rosario (lost to the Cubs) and the sale of Michael Tonkin to a Japanese team all suggest the new front office is at a "prove it" point with a number of them.

Even without those four, the Twins still have Tyler Jay, J.T Chargois and Luke Bard (among others) in their minors, while Trevor Hildenberger, Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss and Moya all finished 2017 with the big club with varying levels of success.

From the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino at the winter meetings:

“I think somebody on our current roster will garner a save (in 2018),” Twins general manager Thad Levine said jokingly on Monday at the winter meetings. “I think we’re open-minded we may have our closer of the future on our current roster. Do we want to thrust that person into that role come Opening Day? Ideally not.”
Which suggests that the Twins are looking for a veteran to fill the job to open the season -- with an eye to moving him out of the role as Molitor grows more comfortable with using one of the kids.

Such a high-floor, low ceiling approach generally irritates me, but I understand it. The 2018 Twins should view themselves as a playoff contender, and as such don't want to give away games because an inexperienced pitcher panicked late. And as a team entering a window of contention, they don't want to shipwreck a promising relief prospect emotionally. Let them grow into the job.

At the same time, they have enough young arms who could be the next star reliever that there's no good reason to overspend on the likes of free agents Wade Davis or Greg Holland.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The Modern Era committee made its Hall of Fame selections and rejections Sunday.

It corrected one injustice by selecting Alan Trammell. It repeated another by leaving Marvin Miller out. And it committed a highly predictable error by electing Jack Morris.

That last is not a popular position in Minnesota. Morris was born and raised in St. Paul, he had that marvelous Game Seven to win the 1991 World Series, and he has a role in the Twins telecasts. (He's awful in that role, but that's the norm for FSN, which seems content to have analysts a generation behind the times.)

But the truth is, Jack Morris will be among the very worst pitchers in the Hall. (Rube Marquard and Jesse Haines are probably worse.) He was, as I said here, only once the best starting pitcher on the writers' ballot during the 15 years he was eligible. And he wasn't the best starting pitcher on the Modern Era ballot either. Both Tommy John and Luis Tiant have better credentials.


The winter meetings officially begin today in Orlando, Florida, but two of the biggest moves of the offseason have already happened: Shohei Ohtani signed with the Angels, and (pending a physical) Giancarlo Stanton will be traded to the Yankees.

I really don't get the Stanton hysteria. Yes, he hit 59 homers. Yes, he's a top-of-the-charts power hitter. He also has a long history of injuries -- 2017 was only the second time he's played 150 games. And his presence, plus that of Aaron Judge, probably means the Yankees are not going to be contenders in the Bryce Harper derby next winter.

Given a choice between Stanton and Harper, I'll take Harper. And it's not close.


Nor do I see Ohtani as a perfect fit with the Angels, although for his price tag imperfect fits are quite acceptable. Where do they get him the at-bats he desires? The outfield is pretty full with Mike Trout, Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun. DH? They're paying Albert Pujols $24 million a year though 2021, and he can't move anymore.

And if Mike Scoscia comes out of spring training saying, "We weren't really serious about giving him at-bats."  that's not a good look. They're going to give Ohtani a legitimate opportunity to play or have a grumpy Ohtani -- and a reputation for deceit.

But all that can be a useful problem, if they handle it right.


Back to the Stanton trade. I snorted the other night at the office when I read the Associated Press lead to the trade story:

After helping the New York Yankees to five World Series titles, Derek Jeter might help them win another.

The notion that Jeter is being a sleeper agent for Brian Cashman is silly. The notion that Jeter is over his head in running a major league franchise is not.

And what is obviously true here is that Jeter's ownership group overpaid for the Marlins and are undercapitalized. Their primary goal this winter to unload debt, and the biggest piece of debt they inherited from Jeffery Loria's inept outfit was Stanton's contract.

Jeter tried to send Stanton to the Giants or Cardinals; Stanton, armed with his no-trade clause, refused. Ultimately, it came down to sending him to the Yankees for a pittance or having his contract on the books, and Jeter's group can't afford that contract.

Jeter may well have mishandled the trade talks by exposing his lack of alternatives, although that lack of alternatives was fairly obvious. The biggest mistake, however, was overpaying for a teardown project. They should have let Loria go bankrupt.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

The Hall of Famer with the shortest name: Mel Ott.

Master Melvin on the advantages of six letters:

"Every time I sign a ball, and there must have been thousands, I thank my luck that I wasn't born Coveleski, or Wambsganss, or Peckinpaugh."

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

A few interesting developments Friday involving the Twins:

I won't pretend to know how exactly Kalk will affect the Twins pitching, but his addition certainly emphasizes the analytic bent of the new front office. 

Apparently one of his pet projects with the Rays was trying to discern when a pitcher is about to get injured. Every team would like to crack that code.


Severino is am 18-year-old second baseman who was one of the international prospects declared free agents by MLB in the Atlanta scandal. He's said to have big power potential. The Twins gave him a bigger bonus than the Braves did in the original signing. He's a switch hitter. 

The $2.5 million is more than the Twins have left in their bonus pool after treading chunks of it to Seattle and Anaheim, so presumably they are dipping into their 2018 pool.


Jake Mauer, who I had come to regard as the best managerial prospect in the Twins organization, will not be running any of their farm teams next year. 

Tommy Watkins has been named manager of Double A Chattanooga (Mauer's post last year), and Toby Gardenhire will be the manager in low A Cedar Rapids (Watkins' job last year). Still open are high A Fort Myers (Doug Mientkiewicz, fired) and Triple A Rochester (Mike Quade, reassigned). 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Kevin Maitan was the most prominent of the prospects declared free agents by MLB in the Atlanta Braves international investigation, and the 17-year-old shortstop signed with the Angels this week.

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reports that the Twins offered him more, but he chose the Angels because there is less competition in that farm system.

Plausible? Yes. For one thing, he got to keep the Braves bonus, so he's effectively double-dipping. The life-changing aspect of the signing isn't as life-changing.

The Angels system has been notoriously barren for a few years. It's a bit better now, but there is no question that the Twins system, even after graduating a bunch of position players to the majors and even lacking impact position players in the upper levels, is deeper than the Angels.

And that's particularly true at shortstop. The Twins have a 24-year-old major league shortstop in Jorge Polanco. They have a former high first-rounder ticketed for Triple A in Nick Gordon. And at the lower levels -- at the level Maitan played last year and above -- they have Royce Lewis, Wander Javier and Jermaine Palacios, and I'm not sure Maitan is more talented than any of those three.

It would be eminently sensible for Maitan to chose the easier path to the majors.


The Twins, the first major league team to extend its protective netting a couple years ago, announced that they will further extend (and raise) the netting at Target Field before next season.

As far as I know, this hasn't drawn near the criticism that the original extension did, And it shouldn't. Much of the Target Field lower bowl is notably close to home plate, distractions are everywhere, and making the experience safer has no real drawback.


Reginatto was in the Twins org last year, hitting .303 at Rochester in part-time play. Stassi got some major league time with the Phillies and didn't produce. Pettit's had parts of five seasons in the majors but never got out of Triple A in 2017.

Presumably all three will get spring training invites. Presumably all three will not make the active roster.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Prospects for nothing

The Twins got busy Wednesday night:

A reference like "$1 million in international pool money" -- which is what the Twins traded in each of these deals -- isn't actual dollars. What they traded is cap space, the right to spend $1 million on international free agents. So the Twins landed a pair of reasonable prospects without paying anything. Cue Dire Straits: "Prospects for nothing."

The Angels and Mariners paid $1.3 million in draft bonuses this year to Pearson and Banuelos. The Twins got them for Shohei Ohtani ammunition. They still have more than $1 million in international pool space available, and four of the finalists for the Japanese phenom are tapped out and unable to offer Ohtani more than $300,000, so another such deal might be ahead. Or they might re-sign Jefry Marte for a fraction of his original deal -- the Twins negated his $3 million deal when he failed his physical.

The prospect rankings cited by Bollinger are from's list. Baseball America's list isn't quite so high:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

From the Handbook: Holding Runners

This is actually from a section entitled "Pitcher hitting, fielding and holding runners, and hitters pitching." And since we all already know Chris Gimenez pitched in six games last season, we'll narrow it down to something else a bit off beat -- holding runners.

Kyle Gibson pitched 158 innings for the Twins in 2017. Six runners attempted to steal off him; only one was successful.

There there's Jose Berrios -- 145 innings, nine attempts, six steals. Ervin Santana: 211 innings, 13 attempts. 11 successes.

To be sure, there isn't as much basestealing today as there was when I was young and artificial turf was in vogue. Managers wisely are less interested in one base in an era when there are twice as many homers hit and higher strikeout rates make "manufactured runs" less likely. And more precise data on "pop times" -- the time between the pitch hitting the catcher's glove and the catcher's throw to second hitting the infielder's glove -- and base runner speed gives managers a better handle on the real chance of a specific runner stealing a base successfully.

The result is that while basestealing attempts are down, success rates are up.

Unless you're running on Gibson. In which case, not only are attempts rather infrequent, success is even more rare.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

From the Handbook: Relief pitcher use

One of favorite segements of the annual Bill James Handbook in recent years has been the relief pitching breakdown, detailing how different relievers were used.

One of the running themes in the blog last season was Paul Molitor's handling of his always thin bullpen. He never seemed to have more than three guys he trusted -- and the identities of those three changed frequently.

The Handbook breaks down the usage of 12 Twins relievers -- the 12 with at least 10 relief appearances.

A few items:

The Twins reliever who inherited the most runners was Ryan Pressley, 38 -- one more than Tyler Duffey. Eleven of Pressley's inherited runners scored (29 percent). But 17 of Duffey's scored (46 percent, worst of the 12 listed). The best strand rate: Michael Tonkin, who has been sold to the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan (10 inherited runners, one scored).

The reliever with the highest leverage index -- a measurement of the cruciality of the at-bats -- was Brandon Kintzler, the closer who was traded at the end of July and is now a free agent. His leverage index was 1.7. For context, 16 of the 30 major league teams had at least one qualified reliever with a higher leverage index.

Kinztler didn't get a lot of chances to pick up saves with Washington; Dusty Baker generally gave the ninth inning to fellow mid-season pickup Sean Doolittle. Kintzler's leverage index with the Nats was 1.8.

No real surprise here: The Twins reliever with the most consecutive days pitching was Taylor Rogers, 19. What is a surprise, to me at least: the next highest was Matt Belisle  with 13. I'll wager that the majority of them came after he ascended to the glory job after Kintzler was traded.

And the Twins reliever with the most "long" outings --  more than one inning -- was Duffey with 18, more than twice that of any other Twins.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ohtani resolution (for the Twins)

So much for Shohei Ohtani coming to Minnesota:

The Twins were perceived, at least in some corners, as a dark horse candidate to land the Japanese phenom, and Thad Levine made no bones in recent interviews that the pitcher-outfielder was a top priority. But they didn't get to the interview stage with him.

Neither did the New York Yankees, who were, by the conventional wisdom, the mostly likely successful suitor. It's kinda amusing to see the reaction of the NYC tabs to the news:

Anyway, that's their problem. And it really is something of a problem for the Yankees, who desperately want to get under the salary cap threshold in 2018 to break the escalating penalties for "overspending" before the anticipated free agencies of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Ohtani represented not only a major talent upgrade but a cheap one. That last is, this winter, rather vital to the Yankees. They were, apparently, really counting on landing him. And now they won't.

For the Twins, there is now a clear top priority in the free agent market, at least if we fully credit Levine's recent interviews (always a dangerous proposition with any general manager): Yu Darvish.

Darvish is, of course, another Japanese pitching star. He has more mileage than Ohtani and is going to be more expensive by multiples, but he's a proven commodity, Levine knows him well from their mutual tenure with the Texas Rangers, and there's no position player/pitcher two-way drama involved.

I'm not saying that the Twins will land Darvish, who is probably the biggest conventional free agent in the market. I am saying that he's their target. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

Before Casey Stengel became a genius as manager of the New York Yankees, he was a failure as manager of the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers.

One lowlight of his Dodgers tenure was his invention of a pickoff play at third base. The pitcher was to throw the ball at the right-handed batter's head, the idea being that the sight of the batter going to the ground would cause the baserunner to freeze, while the catcher would have a clear lane to throw to third.

The problem, as Stengel later described it: "The fellows I had playing third base for me used to freeze right along with the base runner, and our left fielder was kept busy running down the ball in the bullpen."

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Tender thoughts on Kyle Gibson

Friday was the deadline for "tendering" contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Twins have six such players -- infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza, outfielder Robbie Grossman and pitchers Kyle Gibson, Ryan Pressley and Trevor May. Each was tendered.

This was expected, although at the start of August I figured Gibson was a non-tender candidate. Bt he was much better in August and September, and even if he gets $6 million out of the arbiration process, that's still cheaper than the cost of a 160-inning pitcher in free agency.

Still, I wouldn't feel overly secure were I in his position. My sense is that the Twins are serious about signing one free agent starter -- Thad Levine, the general manager, has explictly named two big names, Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani -- and trading for another.

The offseason goal, in short, is to make Jose Berrios the fourth starter and Ervin Santana either the second or third best starter in the rotation. If that happens, Gibson -- and Aldaberto Mejia and surgical recovery projects May and Phil Hughes, among others -- are left to scrap it out for the fifth starter spot. Of those four, Gibson may have highest floor and the lowest ceiling.

I've seen Gerrit Cole and Jake Odorizzi linked to the Twins in trade rumors, although I doubt the Twins have the upper-level minor league talent to pry Cole away from the Pirates. Odorizzi may be more obtainable -- the Rays are said to be ready to reboot -- and I can see the Twins building a package around shortstop prospect Nick Gordon for the right-hander. And I can imagine, in that scenario, Gibson being part of the package, with the Rays getting him to plug into their rotation for a year.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Minor changes

Some news out of the Twins minor league system Thursday:

Wilson is the most recognizable name in that bunch to me; he spent time with three different AL teams last season, Detroit, Texas and Tampa Bay. Astudillo has some ... how to put it ... unique characteristics, as summarized by this piece. But really, I expect the backup catcher to be Mitch Garver.


There will be more changes among the minor league managers. We already knew Doug Mientkiewicz was out as the manager at High A Fort Myers. Now Mike Bernardino reports that Mike Quade is shifting out of the job at Triple A Rochester. Quade had a rough year physically after being involved in a traffic crash during spring training. 

And Berandino says Tommy Watkins, who ran Low A Cedar Rapids last year, is "tentatively" ticketed for Double A Chattanooga in 2018. Jake Mauer, who had the Chattanooga job last year, "is said to be weighing his professional options after spending the last 10 years managing in the Twins’ system." Which implies that it's Mauer's choice. 

I would think the Twins would (a) want to keep Mauer around and (b) that he would be a logical choice for the Rochester job, but I remain a bit dumbfounded by the ouster of Mientkiewicz. I don't have a handle on the thinking here.

Another tidbit from Bernandino: Toby Gardenhire -- son of Ron, former Twins farmhand, former head coach at UW-Stout -- is likely to wind up with a managerial job somewhere in the system. I'll guess not at Rochester.


There's some more shuffling going on. Bob McClure, who's been a pitching coach for three major league teams and was a teammate of Paul Molitor in the long ago and far away of Milwaukee, is to be "senior pitching advisor," a new position. 

The Twins hired Japanese native Masa Abe, 39, as assistant athletic trainer, which is interesting if only because Shohei Ohtani's questionnaire specifically asks about the medical and training facilities.