Thursday, November 28, 2019

Holiday movement

There was some action involving the Twins on the eve of Thanksgiving, all of it outgoing:

  • Kyle Gibson signed with the Texas Rangers
  • Derek Shelton was named manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Jeremy Hefner will be pitching coach of the New York Mets
To the degree that any of these moves are a surprise, it would be Gibson's destination. Texas has not been a friendly environment for pitchers, but that's not necessarily relevant now, since the new stadium is to open next season.

Aaron Gleeman noted on Twitter that Gibson made as many starts in the past decade for the Twins as the next two guys (Jose Berrios and Ervin Santana) combined, so it's a bit odd to contemplate a Minnesota rotation without him. He was, early in his career, frequently frustrating to watch, but he developed into a good middle of the rotation arm, at least until he developed his intestinal issues that wrecked his 2019 season.

I bumped into a reader at a supermarket this week who asked: What happened to sinkerballers?  The short answer is: The sinker -- the two-seam fastball -- has fallen out of favor because of the "launch angle" revolution. The flight path of that pitch and the swing patch of hitters looking to lift are simply too similar.

And that's relevant to Gibson because he was a classic "sinker-slider" pitcher. a type that populated pitching staffs for years and now has fallen from favor. He had to reinvent himself a few years ago, and did so. I can imagine him, some time down the road, as a pitching coach. (He may prefer a post-playing career in broadcast, however.)

An off-field aspect to Gibson's departure: He was, I believe, the Twins union rep. With storm clouds massing on the labor front, that could be a significant role in the Twins clubhouse over the next two years. 

Shelton was reportedly the runner-up to Rocco Baldelli during last winter's managerial search, and he was viewed as a hot commodity this winter. The Pittsburgh job, now that Ben Cherington is the general manager, is a better one than it was when the Pirates started looking for a new dugout boss. Shelton should get a genuine multi-season opportunity.

But the Pirates' chaotic offseason rippled onto the Twins. Had they been more decisive early in the process -- they didn't fire Neal Huntington as general manager until well into the process to replace Clint Hurdle -- the Twins might have been able to retain James Rowson. But Rowson took the bench coach job in Miami, and now the Twins have to find a new bench coach to fill Shelton's spot.

And they need a new assistant pitching coach too. Hefner seemed, from this outsider perspective, a wonderful complement to Wes Johnson. Johnson's rep is as a guru of delivery and mechanics. Hefner's strength was in video review and forming plans of attack for pitchers against specific hitters. That, I'm sure, oversimplifies things, but I fully expect the Twins to fill Hafner's post with somebody with his own chops in breaking down at-bats.

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