Monday, April 30, 2018

Notes from the weekend

Nothing against Matt Magill, the most recent fringe guy to land, probably only temporarily, on the Twins roster, but when he came in to pitch Sunday I decided it was permission to turn off the game and take a nap.

Which meant I missed probably the highlight of the day for the Twins, since Magill got seven outs without allowing a run.

And -- surprise! -- he gets to stay on the roster. Tyler Duffey got sent down after the game, with another move to come today.

Agai, this is tinkering with the unimportant parts of the active roster. Duffey and Magill combined to allow one run in 5.1 innings, but Jose Berrios and Taylor Rogers had already allowed seven in 3.2.


Luke Bard cleared Rule 5 waivers and was returned to the Minnesota Twins, which, as I figure things, means the Twins didn't lose anything through the Tyle Kinley Experiment. Indeed, as Bard is not on the 40-man roster, the Twins emerge slightly better off than had they protected Bard from the draft last November.

And if either Nick Burdi, on the disabled list with the Pittsburgh Pirates, is returned (probably not on the table until 2019) or the Miami Marlins pass on taking Kinley back (doubtful), all the better.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Pic of the Week

Ronald Acuna Jr. hits his first major league home run.
The Atlanta Braves called up the consensus top prospect in the minors last week. Ronald Acuna Jr. won't turn 21 until December, and the Braves have the two youngest players in the majors in their lineup (the other being second baseman Ozzie Albies).

Age matters. As Jay Jaffe explains in this Fangraphs piece, ANY playing time in the majors at 20 --Acuna's age, and Albies's age last year -- signals a rare talent. Acuna, simply by reaching the majors this year, has at least a 5 percent chance of reaching the Hall of Fame. Ditto Albies.

Their career arcs will be interesting to follow.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Hale you say

During my biweekly radio spot on KMSU Thursday I opined that the Twins were going to be OK. They were leading the Yankees at the time with Kyle Gibson looking good, and the lowly Cincinnati Reds were next on the docket.

And then the Yankees got three in the bottom of the ninth to win that game, and on Friday the Reds hit the Twins pitching with the same ugly stick the Yankees used. Eight losses in a row.

David Hale gave the Twins some length out of the bullpen Friday, in exchange for which the Twins designated him for assignment. This may well have been their intent when they landed him -- try to get him through waivers and stash him on the Triple A roster. Presumably his replacement on the active roster, unknown at this point, will be somebody who can go multiple innings if they get yet another short start today or Sunday.

This is a fringe-of-the-roster move and not all that significant in and of itself. Few games are determined by the 12th or 13th pitcher. What is significant is the reason for the roster churn. This will be four pitchers for that spot in five days, and that's because the important pitchers are suddenly ineffective en masse.

It looks, and feels, a lot like 2016. This is a better team than that. They need to perform like it, and soon.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The arson squad lights up another one

Seven losses in a row for the Twins now, three of them walk-offs. What a disastrous road trip for the Twins.

The veteran bullpen additions -- Fernando Rodney, Zach Duke and Addison Reed -- each bear a walkoff loss on their lines in this span. And yeah, Rodney had some "help" Thursday from the corner infielders (Miguel Sano and Logan Morrison) in setting up the fatal homer, but this remains true: Rodney has yet to have a 1-2-3 inning.

The Twins shuffled a bullpen roster spot repeatedly Thursday: First they filled the spot vacated by Tyler Kinley with Aaron Slegers, which gave them a long man if Kyle Gibson's start went poorly. (It didn't; it might have been the best start of Gibson's career.) During the game they announced that they had claimed David Hale on waivers; after the game they returned Slegers to Rochester. So Slegers had a prime seat for Thursday's game and got paid for watching, which isn't that bad a deal.

Claiming Hale, a 30-year-old who has pitched in the majors for Atlanta, Colorado and the Yankees without really establishing himself, feels like a return to the revolving door of mediocrity the Twins spun around in last season. I didn't expect that this season.

Thad Levine, the No. 2 in the Twins front office, told reporters the Twins had pursued Hale during the offseason. True or not, Hale is not really a fix for what ails this pitching staff. He's going to be used as a long man. The problems are early in games, with inconsistent starts, and late in games, where the Rodney-Reed-Duke-Trevor Hildenberger-Taylor Rogers quintent have not gotten it done.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The end of the Tyler Kinley Experiment

Tyler Kinley's ERA
is 24.38. That decimal
point is not misplaced.
The Twins announced after Wednesday's loss to the Yankees (six losses in a row now) that they would designate Tyler Kinley for assignment. So the Rule 5 guy is coming off the 40-man roster, either by trading his Rule 5 rights to somebody willing to carry him on the 25 man roster all year or by returning him to the Miami Marlins, whence he came.

I've noted often enough that the Twins exposed Nick Burdi and Luke Bard to the Rule 5 draft in order to open a roster spot for Kinley. Bard was DFA'd a few days ago by the Angels; his status is unknown. Burdi will spend most if not all of the season on the disabled list as he rehabs his surgically reconstructed elbow; his Rule 5 clock won;t start ticking until 2019.

My sense of this is that I wouldn't trade either Bard or Burdi for Kinley, but one aspect that I haven't dwelt on much is that Kinley has been healthier than either of the others. Both Bard and Burdi have missed a lot of time to injuries in the minors. (They've also been, generally, more effective when they've been able to pitch than Kinley.)

This is a common thread among the young arms the Twins discarded during the off-season to clear space on the 40-man roster. Not just Bard and Burdi, but J.T. Chagrois and Randy Rosario -- hard throwers with injury histories. If half of life is just showing up, half of pitching is just taking the mound.

Kinley could take the mound. He just wasn't good enough on the mound to get more innings for this team, and even with this losing streak, this team has sufficient ambitions that it can't afford to sacrifice a roster spot to somebody it can't use.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Weather or not, a losing streak

The less said about the Twins play of late, the better.

Nevertheless, I shall expend a few, perhas trite, words on the subject.

  • A team is never as good as it looks when it's winning and never as bad as it looks when it's losing.
  • The Twins' five-game losing streak is now longer than any losing streak they had in 2017.
  • I have no idea how much their sporadic schedule affects their inconsistent performance, but Jose Berrios' outing Tuesday shouldn't have been affected.
That last point probably merits some discussion. Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn had long layoffs between starts. There was the lost weekend against Chicago during the blizzard, and the trip to Puerto Rico in which neither pitched, and the result was that each went more than a week between starts.

Berrios, however, has worked on pretty close to normal rest -- five days off in Puerto Rico, four days in New York. He was very good against Cleveland on his native island, not very effective against the Yankees. 

The ESPN crew doing Monday's game talked quite a bit about the shortage of games for the Twins, and I will accept the notion that they have yet to get into the rhythm of the season. I haven't yet myself. Too many off days, too many rain/snow outs. 

If that's a problem, it's a self-curing one. They're going to play 162, just not as many of them in April as everybody else.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Busenitz down, Duffey up

As the Twins discover that, yep, they do too need a long reliever. ...

LaVelle Neal assured somebody on Twitter that this year's bullpen is better than last year's. "Going through a rough patch," the Strib reporter said. Perhaps, but that's assuming that the expiration dates haven't been hit on Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke, ages 41 and 35 respectively.

I was a bit surprised two weekends back when the Twins added a relief arm. They were, at the time, in the middle of a series of snowouts and looking at four days in a row without games. The bullpen was, if anything, overly rested at that point.

And then they had a 16-inning game in San Juan. And then they transformed one of those relief arms into the fifth starter (demoting Gabriel Moya to activate Phil Hughes). And the bullpen is pretty beat up.

Bad games and bad series happen, even to the best teams, and one ought not overreact to them. But the Twins really feel like a different team without Byron Buxton in the lineup.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Notes from the weekend

Ugly series all told against Tampa Bay for the Twins. They couldn't deal with the former Twins in the Rays outfield (Denard Span and Carlos Gomez) and the bullpen stuck so bad one assumes the trainer had to check the old guys for signs of decomposion.

Span went 5-for-14 with three runs and six RBIs. Gomez scored the winning run on Friday and hit a monster walk-off homer off the previously impregnable Addison Reed on Sunday.

Go-Go, by the way, is hitting third for Tampa Bay despite a .160 batting average. It's still early.


Gabriel Moya, lefty reliever I really like even through his major league numbers to date aren't good, was optioned out Sunday to make room for Phil Hughes. Dick Bremer was claiming that Hughes showed improved velocity on his rehab assignment, but we certainly didn't see that in Sunday's start.

For the first time, I now consider it a genuine possibility that the Twins will give up on Hughes relatively soon. They're on the hook for not only this season but next on his contract, so that's a genuine consideration. But when Ervin Santana returns -- and my guess is end of May at the earliest for that -- there's no room for him in the rotation. And there may not be room for him in the bullpen either.

Gotta get outs. And Hughes needs to start getting them soon.


Luke Bard, a hard-throwing relief prospect the Twins lost to the Angels in the Rule 5 draft, has now been designated for assignment. If he slips through waivers, I would assume the Twins will happily reclaim him.

Bard is said to have the highest spin rate on his four-seam fastball in the majors this year. That's nice. It obviously wasn't enough to keep him on the Angels roster.

If the Twins get him back, it may make it a bit easier for Minnesota to abandon the Tyler Kinley experiment. Kinley has pitched just three innings so far, and those innings haven't made Paul Molitor eager to increase his role. It's difficult for a contender to carry a Rule 5 guy.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pic of the Week

Broken bat, home run. Seriously.

I have posted broken bat photos before. I've not posted a broken bat photo in which the batted ball went 400-plus feet for a home run.

It's not the first time somebody's broken his bat hitting a homer. I remember Jack Howell doing it with the Angels on a Game of the Week in the 1980s, but that was a cheapie down the foul line. Barry Bonds did it in Miami at least a decade a ago, and that was no short shot.

This one went to right-center. Bryce Harper, man. Some kind of strong.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Fernando Rodney Experience

Fernando Rodney has appeared in seven regular season games now for the Twins. He has two saves, two blown saves (one a vultured win), and a loss in a game he entered tied.

What he doesn't have yet is a clean, 1-2-3 inning. He had a chance at that Friday night, but after striking out the first two men he faced with a one-run lead he put a pitch in Carlos Gomez's ribs. Then came a steal and a grounder that bounced over the shortstop, and the lead was gone.

And the next inning Zach Duke, who is about as veteran as Rodney, messed up a PFP play at first base as the winning run scored from second.

I don't want to hear about the bad luck on the bounce, and I don't want to hear about the ump missing the call at first on Duke. The problem starts with hitting Go-Go. Rodney has spent his entire career flirting with disaster, and disaster took him up on the offer Friday.

It comes with the territory.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Should they have played in San Juan?

As it became evident last September how badly Hurricane Maria had damaged Puerto Rico,  I expected MLB to cancel the planned Indians-Twins series in San Juan. They didn't.

Those games were played Tuesday and Wednesday -- the second one in the midst of an island-wide blackout, with literally millions of Puerto Ricans in the dark and backup generators powering Hiram Bithorn Stadium. The stadium itself needed extensive repairs after the storm to be ready for these two games.

And I ask myself: Was it worth it? Should the needs of MLB have been a priority in the reconstruction of Puerto Rico? Is it right that the ballpark is fixed when blue tarps remain on rooftops all over the island? Or did the games provide a useful dose of escapism, pride and hope for the island's beleaguered residents?

The image of the ballpark as a brightly-lit oasis in the blackout darkness of San Juan is both repugnant and attractive. My instinct, despite my obvious fandom, is to declare that the trivialities of  sports must be far down the list of priorities in a disaster such as Maria. But it's also true that people need some relief from constantly facing grim reality; a joyous diversion is helpful in stressful times.

As a practical matter, diverting the stadium generators to a different use would not have solved the blackout. The rickety, outdated and undercapitalized power grid is one of Puerto Rico's major drawbacks; no amount of backup generators can resolve that problem.

Michael Lananna of Baseball America this winter wrote of the determination on the island to play its winter league. It was a shortened season, and there were no night games, but there was a winter league, and Puerto Rico went on to win the Caribbean Series. There is reason for pride in that accomplishment.

Baseball is part of the pattern of life in Puerto Rico (and here). How much a part depends on one's personal tastes. Playing two major league games in San Juan doesn't mean the island is back; it certainly doesn't fix the problems. But it probably represents a small step forward, and if nothing else for a few days reminded the rest of the country that a portion of our fellow citizens are still hurting.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ryan LaMarre, starring in small sample size theater

Ryan LaMarre's
second major league
RBI was a gane-winner/
Ryan LaMarre, who had the game-winning hit in the 16th inning in the midnight hour in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is now 7-for-12 with five strikeouts. All seven hits are singles.

The man's BABIP -- batting average, balls in play -- is 1.000. His batting average is .583.

Obviously, he's not THAT good. If he was, he wouldn't be coming off the bench, much less be on the option yo-yo with Rochester. (LaMarre was optioned to Rochester during the snowed out weekend, restored to the active roster as the 26th man for the Puerto Rico series, and restored to the 25-man roster to take the place of Byron Buxton when Buxton went on the disabled list.)

Nothing in LaMarre's minor league track record says he's a quality hitter. He is said to have reworked his swing over the winter. and he hit .500 during spring training to find a spot on the opening day roster.

Still, a manager who believes in "the hot hand" would start increasing LaMarre's playing time. And with Buxton sidelined and Max Kepler apparently feeling something in his knee, there may be more at-bats in LaMarre's immediate future.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A game! A game! (A loss)

The Twins finally played a game Tuesday night. And they got beat.

News flash: Corey Kluber is pretty good. So is the Cleveland lineup.

Both the Twins and Cleveland had been a long time between games; four days without playing for Minnesota, three for the Tribe. Another news flash: It's been a miserable spring all over.

Facing Cleveland is tough enough; facing Cleveland with a well-rested bullpen and Kluber to start is even tougher. Take the L and move on. At least they got to play, got back into it, and did so in actual baseball weather.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Small sample size theater

"Small sample size theater." That's a phrase I heard Monday afternoon on MLB Network in discussing Shohei Ohtani. I like it, amd I'm stealing it.

Scene I

A regular reader of these posts dislikes the Twins decision to play Eduardo Escobar at shortstop during the suspension of Jorge Polanco. Shortstop, he opines, should prioritze defense, and Escobar is not as good with the the glove as Ehire Adrianza.

I agree with the second point, but think the first is something of a sliding scale. You can sacrifice some defense at any position to get more offense. (See the second half career of Jeter, Derek.)

And then there's this:

Small sample size theater, yes. But so far, Escobar isn't killing the Twins infield defense.

Scene II

I watched Justin Verlander and Bartolo Colon duel on "Sunday Night Baseball" the other night. Wow. Verlander allowed one hit -- a homer -- in seven innings, and Colon threw seven PERFECT innings before cracking in the eighth. 

The game went 10 innings, and the Texas Rangers eventually won, 3-1 in 10, so neither starter got a decision. (I thought this during the recent Astros-Twins series and tweeted it Sunday night: If the Astros have a weakness, it's their bullpen.)

Colon, who finished 2017 filling out the Twins rotation, has started twice and relieved twice for the Rangers this year. He has a 1.45 ERA in 18.2 innings. Still throwing almost nothing but fastballs, still surviving on location.

Scene III

The Twins have played 11 games so far this season, the fewest in the majors, and will have another off day Thursday after the Puerto Rico series. They're going to pay, eventually, for such sporadic play.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins promoted relief pitcher Alan Busenitz during the weekend snowouts to take the roster spot vacated with Ryan LaMarre's demotion.

This would make more sense to me if the Twins bullpen was overworked and weary. But they haven't played for three days now and won't play today either.

Two possible rationales to going to 13 pitchers:

  • Addison Reed's illness (reported earlier last week as strep throat) is persisting;
  • The lack of consistent games to play is setting back the starters' ability to go deep into games.


Jay Jaffe, whose work analysizing Hall of Fame credentials has become quite influential among the voters, wrote this Fangraphs piece on the implications of 2,000 hits for Joe Mauer.


Speaking of Mauer and 2,000 hits:

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Pic of the Week

Fernando Rodney strikes a pose during Saturday's blizzard.

This photo comes via the @LosTwins twitter account, the Twins' official Spanish language feed.

He may be from the Domincan, but, as with the image from the previous week of him catching snowflakes in his mouth while pitching, he seems to get some enjoyment from the snow.

I also suspect that he'll be happy to get to Puerto Rico this week.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Demoting Ryan LaMarre

Ryan LaMarre, optioned to Triple A Rochester soon after Friday's game was postponed, has had an odd eight at-bats this season.

He has four singles, and he has four strikeouts. His BABIP -- Batting Average on Balls In Play -- is 1.000. File that under "samll sample size oddities" and forget it as insignificant.

The demotion itself may not be highly significant either. Nobody expects the Twins to play today, and Sunday may not be very hospitable for baseball either. They're off Monday, and on Tuesday and Wednesday they play Cleveland in Puerto Rico, and apparently both teams get to have 26-man rosters for that tw-game series. So it's quite likely that LaMarre will be reinstated for the Puerto Rico games, and won't actually miss any games for this demotion.

The Twins didn't make a corresponding move Friday with the outfielder's demotion. So why do it at all? One thought is that Addison Reed, who was said to have strep throat earlier in the week, was ailing again Friday, and LaMarre's roster spot is likely to go to a healthy reliever should Sunday's game be played.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Mauer 2K

Joe Mauer is hitting .412 so far.
Joe Mauer got career hit number 2,000 Thursday night, a ground ball through the box against a drawn-in infield that drove in a pair of runs and doubled Minnesota's lead.

Regular readers of this blog know that I see Mauer as having done the heavy lifting for the Hall of Fame. His decade of excellence as a catcher stands with anybody in the game's history, and he will this year, barring a recurrance of the injuries that have occasionally limited his output, steadily climb up career lists.

Hit number 2,000, for example, put Mauer past Jimmy Collins for No. 287 on the all-time hits list. Collins, a third baseman whose career straddled the 19th and 20th centuries, is enshrined in Cooperstown.

Another 100 hits, which (again assuming good health) figures to come no later than August, would take him to a tie for 228 on the list (with Clyde Milan, who spent his career with the Twins' Washington predecssor) and past Hall of Famers Gary Carter, Johnny Bench, Deacon White, Chuck Klein, Dave Bancroft, George Kell, Bobby Doerr, Earl Averill, Bill Mazeroski, Johnny Mize and some guy named Harmon Killebrew.

Two thousand hits ain't 3,000; it's not an automatic entry to Cooperstown. But it is a milestone that is typical of Hall of Famers. A couple of years ago it was widely assumed, including in this corner of cyberspace, that 2018 would probably be the end of Mauer's career. His bounceback season of 2017, and his hot start this year, make a return much more likely. And the longer Mauer can go, the more impressive his career totals will become.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Contemplating Max Kepler

Max Kepler's big day Wednesday -- two homers, including the walk-off in the ninth inning -- gave him a slash line on the young season of .281/.395/.625.

Even before Wednesday's long ball exploits, when his slash numbers looked more like 2017's, Kepler simply looked like a better, more advanced hitter this spring than in seasons past. This is certainly plausible; he turned 25 just before spring training opened, and he didn't face advanced competition before turning pro and coming to the States at age 16.

But it's worth noting that two weeks into the season Paul Molitor has allowed him to step to the plate just five times against left-handed pitching. When the Twins face a southpaw -- as, for example, Dallas Keuchel of Houston on Tuesday -- Molitor just happens to decide to get Robbie Grossman and Ryan LeMarre some playing time.

I can't argue with that. The Twins set up their bench to give them platoon options for the array of left-handed bats among their regulars, and Kepler in 2017 was emphatically troubled by left-handed pitching.

I'm sure Molitor would insist if asked that he's not platooning Kepler. And to the extent that Molitor is managing not only for 2018 but beyond, Kepler shouldn't be platooned. There is star potential in him, and he needs at-bats against lefties to develop that potential.

Therein lies the conundrum for the manager, balancing the urgency of winning every possible game with the postseason as the goal with the need to develop the talent. Right now, it appears Molitor is giving the win-now more weight on that scale.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Contemplating Ryan Pressly

Ryan Pressly's
strikeout rate soared
last season, but so did
his homers allowed.
I have been at times -- most of last season, this year's spring training -- eager to see Ryan Pressly's roster spot go to somebody else. What I've seen is velocity with sometimes shaky command that proves all too hittable.

The Twins have been more patient. And so far this young season, that patience is being rewarded.

On Tuesday, Pressly, now 29 and a veteran, made his fifth appearance. He has now worked 5.1 innings, allowing just six baserunners and striking out six, with no runs allowed.

I've said repeatedly that even after this offseason makeover the Minnesota bullpen was shy a reliable power arm. Pressly has been that for the first couple of weeks.

Pressly's strikeout rate has risen rather steadily from his 2013 rookie season, when he was a Rule 5 pick -- 4.4 K/9 in 2014, 7.2 in 2015, 8.0 in 2016, 9.0 last year. He's at 10.1 so far in 2018, and that will certainly play.

What wrecked 2017 for him was allowing 10 homers in 61.1 innings. He's kept the ball in the park so far in 2018. He got to pitch with a narrow lead for the first time Tuesday; it probably won't be the last.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Logan Morrison and the four-man outfield

The Houston Astros have deployed a four-man outfield on occasion this young season. The first to get the treatment was Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers. Logan Morrison on Monday night was the most recent.

Both are left-handed power hitters of, let us say, limited batting averages. Gallo is about as close to a "three true outcomes" (strikeout, walk, home run) hitter as we may ever see. Last year he had 532 plate appearances; 312 of them resulted in one of those three outcomes.

Morrison isn't nearly as extreme (601 PA in 2017, with 268 walks, strikeouts and homers), but the idea is the same. 

In Morrison's case, the four-man outfield was trotted out when he got to two strikes (and no runner on second). The Astros had third baseman Alex Bregman playing back by the warning track in left field, and absolutely nobody on the left side of the infield. The three "real" outfielders were in center to right, and the remaining infielders were all on the first base side of second.

The "obvious" response is the bunt to the left side, but that's unlikely to be attempted with two strikes, especially by somebody as unaccustomed to the bunt as Morrison. 

The flip side of this aggressive defensive positioning is that it may be unnecessary. Morrison went to two strikes in 314 plate appearances; he slashed .148/.258/.311 in those trips. Get to two strikes on him -- the fewer balls the better -- and the real work of the at-bat is pretty much over. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Watching an #OldFriend

Brandon Kintzler is something of a "the one that got away" for me, and it's a bit strange because I am fully aware of his limitations as a pitcher.

I don't know that the Twins front office prefers Fernando Rodney to him, but I believe they do. Rodney has the better strikeout rate, and that, sabermetrically, is more important in 2010s baseball than Kintzler's lower walk rate. I still prefer Kintzler to Rodney, myself.

Anyway, the Twins signed Rodney and the Nationals signed Kintzler, and Rodney has the ninth inning in Minnesota and Kintzler is a setup guy in Washington, and presumably everybody's happy except the blogger in Mankato.

Late Sunday night I was watching the Mets and Nats go extra innings on a cold night in D.C., and in comes Kintzler for the top of the 11th.  The ESPN crew said that Washington had hoped not to use Kintzler Sunday; he had pitched the day before and twice in three days and been roughed up both times.

And he took the loss Sunday. A bloop hit, a sac bunt, an intentional walk and a broken bat single plated the go-head run for New York. Then he got the ground ball and the double play, but the Nats couldn't tie it in the bottom of the inning.

What I saw, in short, was the Brandon Kintzler we saw with the Twins. Everybody made contact, nobody hit the ball hard, and the breaks went against him. It happens.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Pic of the Week

Josh Reddick of the Houston Astros is showered with
sunflower seeds in the dugout after hitting a grand slam.
Honestly, this week gave us two indelible images involving the Twins -- Fernando Rodney catching snowflakes in his mouth during the ninth inning in Pittsburgh, and Challenger the eagle trying to perch on the shoulder of James Paxson before the Target Field home opener. I've already used the photo of Rodney and the video of Challenger.

This one isn't as good as the others, but that's a mighty high standard.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Rule 5 update

Tyler Kinley has yet to appear in a game for the Twins; Paul Molitor is, presumably, looking for a really low-leverage situation for his debut, and the Twins haven't had that yet except in the Jose Berrios complete game.

Meanwhile, Luke Bard, one of two pitchers claimed off the Twins in Rule 5, has gotten into three games for the Angels. He's pitched four innings and allowed one run on two hits and five strikeouts, all of which is good; he's also walked four, which is bad.

The other Rule 5 loss, Nick Burdi, is on the 60-day DL with the Pirates. His Rule 5 clock really doesn't become a factor until 2019; he had Tommy John surgery last season and isn't likely to pitch this year.

Bard versus Kinley is an intriguing comp. The Twins COULD have put Bard on the 40 last winter; they wouldn't have gotten Kinley in that case, but Bard would have options and could be sent to the minors. Kinley, as a Rule 5 guy, can't. There would be roster flexibility.

And the Twins will need a fifth starter next week, which will require a roster move. It's more likely that Gabriel Moya will be the demotee than that Kinley will be offered back to the Miami Marlins, but ... the reality of Rule 5 for contending teams is that it's really hard to devote a roster spot to that kind of player for the full season. Even if the Twins think Kinley is better than Bard, the flexibility matters. I'd rather have Bard.

And the payoff for keeping a Rule 5 guy is often slim. The Cincinnati Reds -- not a contender, of course -- two winters ago took catcher Stuart Turner out of the Twins system and kept him. He hit .134 in 82 at-bats. Last week,  his Rule 5 requirements satisified, the Reds waived him. He cleared and was outrighted to Triple A. So the Reds no longer think he's worth a 40-man roster spot, one year after carrying him on the active roster all season.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Fly like an eagle

Nice job, Challenger. But next time, go for the pitching shoulder, not the glove side.

Seriously, I'm impressed with how cooly Seattle starter James Paxton handled this "attack" from a big raptor. Fortunately, he was not hurt, and if he was rattled, it's didn't show in his pitching.

And I would hope the Twins rethink this bit of the Opening Day ritual. Even if Challenger is not capable of surviving on his own in the wild, he's not domesticated.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Fernando Rodney, playing in the snow

Fernando Rodney catches snowflakes in his mouth
during the ninth inning Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

I wasn't a big fan of the signing of Fernando Rodney to anchor the Twins bullpen, and I continue to have my doubts about the wisdom of that move.

But I can like this. The Dominican seems to revel in the snow. That attitude will probably come in handy for the upcoming homestand.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Thursday is supposed to be the Twins home opener. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a months-long hunch (accurate, as it turns out) that the weather today would be inhospitable to baseball, I won't be there; I believe this will be the second home opener I've missed since 1987.

So I'll shovel the driveway and sidewalk this morning and report to work in the afternoon.

The Twins, as I understand it, really want to get Thursday's game in. Friday's backup offday promises to be even colder. It's gonna be a rough homestand, at least in terms of weather.


The gold medal men's curling team is to throw out the first ball Thursday. My hope is that skip John Shulster rolls the ball toward home plate and the other three sweep it though.


Sports Info Solutions -- formerly Baseball Info Solutions, so apparently they're branching out into other sports -- listed Jake Odorizzi as one of last year's more overachieving pitchers in the American League. This suggests that the Twins' Opening Day starter is due for a rougher season.

Pitching is notoriously difficult to project, and one factor not included in SIS' statistical analysis is health. Odorizzi had back and foot issues last year. Good health, while hardly a given, might turn that "downward arrow" around for him.


I'm putting this at the end because I don't want to beat the Chase Sisco brohaha to death (assuming it hasn't been), but I wanted to note that Brian Dozier's comment immediately after the game implied that he expected the Baltimore veterans to come down on the Twins.

Uh, no. Orioles first baseman Chris Davis:

"There are certain things I don't agree with, when you talk about the unwritten rules, but I definitely think that what Chance did was warranted," Davis said prior to Monday's game against the Astros. "He was trying to help us win the ballgame. In fact, I told him, if you had made that first out that inning, I was going to lay a bunt down."
Well, there was already an out when Sisco bunted, but ... yeah.

Davis, incidentally, is said to be the most shifted player in the majors. He hit .215 last year and isn't doing that well in the first week this season. He probably should try a few bunts.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

On bunts and shifts

Brian Dozier's complaint about Chance Sisco's bunt on Sunday drew enough blowback Monday that he tried to defend it by noting that the Orioles had not held Ryan LeMarre on first in the top of the ninth:

“When they didn’t hold our runner on, they conceded to the fact they didn’t want us to steal, so we didn’t steal.”

I'm not going to try to sort out that sentence or hunt for the logic in it. I'm more interested in posing and exploring this question: Why are bunts against the shift so rare that a veteran such as Dozier can believe that doing so violates the game's ethics?

Let's begin by making and testing these assertions:

  • Teams shift to get more outs than they would get playing in a conventional alignment.
  • Teams shift in the belief that the specific hitter either will not or cannot adjust to take advantage of the open spaces OR
  • if he does, that the result is an acceptable tradeoff for keeping the hitter from pulling the ball.

The first seems rather self-evident, although Joe Posnanski also sees a mind-games element to the strategy. Which ties into the second point. Hitting is difficult, and the shift arguably plays with the hitter's mind.

The third might be the most interesting one. Posnanski writes that researchers believe Ted Williams, the most famous inspiration for overshifts, went 13-for-16 bunting against those shifts, "a sweet little .813 average."

OK, let's knock that down a little. Let's say that your typical left-handed hitter facing a shift -- someone like Sisco -- can bunt .600 against the shift. Let's further concede that that will all be singles, with no walks or HBPs, so that .600 batting average on bunts translates to a .600 on-base percentage and a .600 slugging percentage.

I differentiate here between righties and lefties because there is a significant difference in the shifts. The shifts Dozier faces leave the first baseman still relatively close to the bag, because somebody has to take the throw. The shift Sisco bunted against had nobody near third and thus all he had to do was get the bunt past Berrios. It's a little more difficult to bunt against the right-handed shift, but hardly impossible.

Anyway, back to our bunter with the theoretical slash line of .600/.600/.600. How many hitters can reasonably expect an OPS of 1.200 swinging away? Barry Bonds at his steroidal peak. Williams had a few years in that vicinity. The likes of Chance Sisco or Max Kepler can only dream of such heights.

And.600 seems fairly conservative, especially for someone like Kepler or Eddie Rosario, who can actually run. It might be something closer to .800, and even Bonds and Williams didn't put up 1.600 OPSes.

If hitters bunted aggressively against overshifts, the shifts would quickly disappear. If Kepler bunted everytime he came up against a shift that left third base open, teams would quickly stop shifting against him. Why make him a .600 or .750 hitter? It might take only one game for the shifts to stop.

Nobody's tried that yet, however. Maybe it's because hitters doubt their ability to bunt even when there is no defense offered. Maybe they believe it's a surrender to the opposition or an admission of weakness. I have a colleague who derides bunting as "skirt ball."

Just because Williams responded to the shift with defiance doesn't make that the right approach for everybody.

Monday, April 2, 2018

On bunts and no-hitters

Jose Berrios was spectacular on Sunday, and the Twins won 7-0. Then they turned the spotlight away from their young hurler to a ninth-inning bunt single by Baltimore's Chance Sisco, which they termed "bush league" and "not good baseball."

Nonsense. Berrios to that point had pitched out of the stretch to exactly one batter. The O's needed baserunners -- and, crucially, the Twins were in an overshift, with three infielders on the right side against the left-handed Sisco.

If' it's not good form to bunt for a hit when down seven, why is it good form to be in an overshift when up seven? The illogic in the position espoused by Brian Dozier, Eddie Rosario and Berrios himself is glaring.

Sisco reached base and triggered the closest thing Baltimore had to a rally all day. His bunt wasn't "bad baseball." It was good baseball, and the Twins shouldn't be complaining.

You don't want him to bunt? Don't overshift him. He's a slow catcher. It's that easy.

I suspect that part of the Twins angst over the Sisco bunt was the very real possibility that the one hit allowed by Berrios to that point could be changed to an error. It was a fly ball hit by Sisco with two out in the third Eddie Rosario got a glove on at the warning track but couldn't hang on. The scorer ruled it a double.

In the Twins TV booth, Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer agreed. Me, I thought it was a ball that should have been caught.

Those are subjective opinions. For a more objective call:

Ball's caught 90 percent of the time? Yeah, there's grounds to appeal that call.

Cisco's bunt single made that point moot in terms of getting a no-hitter, and later in the inning, Berrios gave up a clean single. So he got a three-hit shutout. I'll take that.

Now, let's play a what-if. Say the official scorer had ruled that third-inning fly an error. Would the Twins still have conceded the bunt to Sisco in the ninth? My guess is they would, and I still wouldn't be irritated if Sisco bunted with a no-hitter on the line. I don't know when that "unwritten rule" of not bunting late to break up a no-hitter came into being, but the literature of no-hitters is riddled with attempted ninth-inning bunts.

Sisco was competing, not surrendering. Good for him.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Pic of the Week

Eduardo Nunez of the Boston Red Sox celebrates
his inside-the-park homer Thursday.

Not a bad way to open the season at all.