Results tagged ‘ Minnesota Twins ’

The Rundown: Minnesota Aims for the Middle

Spending Twins.JPEG-062f9The pitching staff for the 2013 Minnesota Twins was positively abysmal a year ago. As a collective, the Twinkies ranked dead last in strikeout rate while simultaneously allowing their opponent’s to rack up more hits than any other staff in the league.

Things were so ugly a year ago that 10 different pitchers made at least 8 starts for Minnesota and just 2 of those 10 finished the season with a sub-4.00 ERA. Twins GM Terry Ryan knows that’s not a recipe for success, which is why he spent most of last week spending upwards of $70 million to shore up his rotation, adding veteran righties Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. The real question is, does that $73 million get the Twins any closer to an AL Central title?

I’m guessing the answer is no. Nolasco will do a solid job providing some strikeouts to a staff in desperate need of them and he does a nice job of keeping the ball in the park, but otherwise it’s difficult to find the positives when the Twins are paying him to be their ace. That being said, Nolasco is a huge improvement over everyone Ron Gardenhire sent to the mound a year ago. He’s the only pitcher on the team with legitimate strikeout stuff and he should eat up plenty of innings on a staff that badly needs a pitcher to do so.

The same goes for new #2 starter Phil Hughes, who should be rejoicing over the fact that he’s leaving the homer-happy Bronx for the spacious confines of Target Field. Hughes has allowed 1 homer per every 5.3 innings pitched in Yankee Stadium since his Major League debut, compared to 1 homer every 10.4 innings in every other park. Target Field, a notoriously deep park, should suit the fly ball happy Hughes nicely.

But a new ball park still doesn’t make Hughes a good pitcher. He still has the same plain, old vanilla fastball and his secondary stuff is mostly underdeveloped. Hughes, even at his best, is still just a league average pitcher.

His ERA+ since becoming a starter full-time is 9 points below the league average and if not for the Yankee offense propping him up for the past half-decade, Hughes would probably be a reliever by now. The righty is just 11-46 if his team scores fewer than 6 runs, which is something Minnesota was quite adept at a year ago. Unless Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano suddenly turn up next season, expect the losses to continue to pile up for Hughes and the Twins.

Washington pickpockets Fister from Detroit

A puzzling offseason in Detroit continued Monday when the Tigers shipped starter Doug Fister to the Nationals in exchange for Steve Lombardozzi and a couple of young arms. That move was followed by the the prohibitive signing of Joe Nathan, who will fill the closer roll in Detroit. It was the second surprise trade in a matter of weeks from general manager Dave Dombrowski, who appears hellbent on remaking these Tigers into a more flexible outfit.

But outside of flexibility, it’s difficult to see how these deals make the Tigers, a bona fide World Series contender, any better in 2014. Most of Lombardozzi’s value is tied up in his ability to play 2nd base, where Ian Kinsler figures to spend a majority of the time. His bat doesn’t really play in the outfield or at 3rd base, and even if you believe that Lombardozzi and Dirks could make a solid platoon in left field, it in no way justifies trading away one of the 10 to 20 best pitchers in baseball.

Don’t believe me? Take a look:

ERA ERA+ K/BB WAR FIP
3.30 124 3.75 13.3 3.21
MLB Rank: 20th 14th 19th 9th 14th

No matter which way you slice it, that’s a hell of a lot to give up for the quintessential replacement player (Lombardozzi), a 2nd year reliever in Ian Krol, and Double-A pitching prospect Robbie Ray. Maybe Dombrowski is hoping that Ray, the owner of a 3.36 ERA in 142 minor league innings a year ago, turns into another solid rotation piece, but even that line of thinking is odd. Detroit, as currently constructed, is built to win right now so why trade away a good pitcher in the hopes of getting one further down the road?

As for Washington’s perspective on the deal, one has to wonder how quickly GM Mike Rizzo said yes. Three seconds? Five seconds? Seriously, if he put any more thought into it I’d be disappointed. With one quick maneuver, Rizzo was able to improve his 2014 roster significantly without damaging Washington’s extended outlook. The Nats now have the deepest rotation in baseball to go along with a group of young and improving position players. With this much talent on hand, anything short of a deep October run will be viewed as a disappointment.

The price of pitch framing

Yesterday the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they finalized a 2 year/$4.5 million dollar deal with 38-year-old catcher Jose Molina and it may very well be the most interesting $4.5 million handed out this offseason. You may be asking yourself  why would any team want to pay an over the hill backstop with bad knees and nothing left in his bat? Well the answers simple. It all comes down to inches, as in the ones Molina routinely adds to a pitcher’s strike zone each time he’s behind the dish.

According to baseballanalytics.org, since 2008, 13.4% of all pitches thrown to Molina that landed outside the strike zone have been called as strikes, which stands as the best mark in baseball over the time frame. That ability to stay quiet behind the plate shows up in the run column as well. According to Baseball Prospectus, Molina saved about 25 runs a year ago solely through his ability to gain an extra inch or two around the corner of the plate.

With Ryan Hanigan joining Molina behind the plate after yesterday’s trade, the Rays now have two of the top 10 framers in baseball behind the dish. Make no mistake, this is a downright brutal offensive pairing. There’s a very good chance they won’t combine for an OPS above .600, but the Rays don’t really seem to care. It’s a clear statement from the organization that they value the ability to get an extra inch or two around the plate over all others when they scour the free agent market for catchers.

Quick hits: Rockies addition

- GM Dan O’Dowd has a little bit of explaining to do following the slightly confusing Dexter Fowler trade. The soon to be 28-year-old is due $7.35 million next season, he’s still arbitration eligible, and he’s been as consistent as they come in Colorado. Fowler’s usually good for 120-140 games, an OPS of .780 or so as well as some solid centerfield defense. In exchange for 2 or 3 wins worth of value the Rockies will receive back-of-the-rotation fodder Jordan Lyles and defensive specialist Brandon Barnes.

-Lyles made at least 15 starts in each of the past 3 seasons for the Astros and he failed to post an ERA lower than 5 each year and the thought of him making 15-20 starts a year in Coors is downright scary. Barnes, for his part, is an excellent defensive outfielder but he’s downright abysmal everywhere else. He struck out in a quarter of his 450 or so plate appearances, while managing a meager 21 walks. It makes you wonder why O’Dowd didn’t hold out for a better package of players in exchange for Fowler.

- One quick though on the Astros: the new regime, led by Jeff Luhnow, has been absolutely nailing these smaller trades. Fowler is just the latest in a long line of minor victories for the Houston front office.

- The Rockies followed that move up by moving close to a deal with Justin Morneau. It looks like they’re going to pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million for the next 2 seasons, which could very well look like a steal when this wacky offseason concludes. Morneau should provide a solid glove and some good pop against right-handers when he’s in the lineup. Manager Walt Weiss may want to keep him out of the lineup against lefties however. Morneau has hit just .205 with 5 homers in the past 3 years.

Minnesota’s Stealthy Rotation Rebuild

worley-570x427In the first 9 seasons of Ron Gardenhire’s reign as manager of the Minnesota Twins the franchise won 6 division titles and finished with a winning record in every season but 2007. Gardenhire’s teams have never made much noise in the playoffs but that has as much to do with the vagaries of the playoffs system as it does with the success of the organization. Six division titles and five 90-win seasons is in nine years is a remarkable stretch of success for a team that has never ranked near the top of the league in payroll, and it stands in stark contrast to the failures of the past 2 seasons. Many of those division title-winning teams were led by a solid offenses that worked like crazy to get on base and pitching staffs heavy on guys with great control and light on players with big strikeout ability. That organizational philosophy blew up in Minnesota’s face during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, as the Twins ranked 2nd to last in run prevention both seasons. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see the organization attack its weakest point by acquiring a trio of young pitchers to rehabilitate a wounded staff.

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Taking a Look at the Verducci Effect

For the past couple of seasons, Sports Illustrated’s excellent Tom Verducci has written a pre-season article concerning the “Year-After Effect”, which has since been named the Verducci Effect. This link, contains the 2012 version of Verducci’s list, which was published all the way back in mid-January. This type of thinking is especially important when we consider innings caps for young pitchers, as evidenced by the recent shut downs of Stephen Strasburg, Jeff Samardzija, and others.

Basically Verducci tries to highlight young pitchers who have seen a considerable increase in their workloads from one season to the next. It’s interesting research mostly because it attempts to spotlight at-risk pitchers, ones who may see a substantial increase in ERA at best, and ones who may become injured at worst.

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Evaluating How Catchers Control the Opposition’s Running Game

One of the toughest things to quantify in all of sports is a catcher’s value on defense. Their are so many responsibilities and subtle nuances that go into being a quality Major League backstop. The best of the best are able to deftly juggle the responsibilities of managing a pitching staff, framing borderline pitches, blocking pitches, holding base runners, throwing said runners out when they attempt to steal, and much, much more. Recently I’ve been doing some research into catching defense and I have been somewhat unsatisfied by both the traditional statistics (caught stealing %, passed balls, and so on) and by the advanced metrics (URZ and defensive runs saved). A few excellent studies in particular have been done to analyze a catcher’s ability to frame pitches, but otherwise most analysis is left to judgment. I’ve been compiling some of my own numbers relating to catchers controlling the base running game in order to gain a better understanding of who the best backstops in baseball really are, and I’d like to share some of my findings today.

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Quick Hits: Deadline Deals from the Buyer’s Perspective

We’ve already talked about the Ichiro trade, the early sales from South Beach, a pair of deals made by the Phillies to improve NL West contenders, and the Zach Greinke deal was covered perfectly by Jonah Keri, so now it’s time to take a look at the rest of the deals around the major leagues during this busy last week, beginning with a trade that has flown completely under the radar thus far.

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Does Anybody Want to Win the AL Central?

Before the 2012 season, nearly every baseball analyst, including yours truly, picked the  Detroit Tigers to absolutely dominate what looked to be a weak division. Well half of that prediction has come true thus far, because the AL Central has indeed been the weakest division in baseball. In fact its been so bad its time to dust off the old nickname, the Comedy Central. Currently the slumping White Sox hold a slim half game lead over the win-a-game-lose-a-game Indians, and a 2.5 game lead over the struggling Tigers. If baseball abolished divisions and moved all teams into one league, no AL Central team would rank among the top 5 in the American League. So does anyone really want to win this thing? Let’s take a look to see which team has the best chance, starting with those White Sox.

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All-Star Watch: American League

The best of the American League this season, and the players you should be voting for on your All-Star ballots.

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Joe Mauer Isn’t the Problem in Minnesota

Its been an ugly season so far in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, as the Twins are already out of contention, fighting with the lowly Cubs, losers of 12 straight, for the unceremonious title of worst team in baseball. There are plenty of reasons for the Twins terrible 15-32 record so far. Chief among them is the fact that the pitching staff has given up 264 runs this seasons. That’s 60 more runs than a league average staff and a whopping average of 5.62 runs allowed a game. But as I was perusing the interwebs, I stumbled upon this post by Nick Nelson, on good ‘ole ESPN.com, and was given another reason for Minnesota’s struggles: Joe Mauer.

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3 Up, 3 Down

3 Up

  1. Mother’s Day Walk-Off Grand Slams. Both Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto made their mother’s happy yesterday, hitting game-winning grand slams. Stanton leveled the baseball he hit, blasting a no-doubt homer to left-center field, off the catwalk, over 430 feet away. Very few players have the power to hit a ball where Stanton hit his blast, and it caps off an impressive week for the young slugger. Stanton has 2 homers, 4 doubles, 10 RBI and is batting .381 over the last 10 games. The Marlins are going as Stanton goes, and it’s no coincidence that his hot streak has led to a 10 win-2 loss stretch for the team. Votto’s grand slam was a bit more dramatic, coming with 2 outs and 2 strikes, the Reds trailing by a lone run. He got a good pitch to handle from Henry Rodriguez and stayed on the ball to drive it to deep centerfield for a homer. Votto single-handedly won the game for Cincinnati, going 4-5 with 3 homers, a double, 4 runs scored, and 6 RBI. He bumped his batting average up to .319, and already leads the NL in walks and doubles. If Votto can keep it up he stands a good chance of winning his 2nd MVP award.
  2. Atlanta’s balanced attack. The most impressive series victory of the entire season in the National League occurred over the weekend when the Braves completed their sweep of the previously red-hot St. Louis Cardinals with a 7-4 victory on Sunday. Atlanta also passed St. Louis as the top-scoring team in the National League, with a total of 189 runs scored, good for 2nd in baseball. The Braves have been getting good contributions throughout the lineup, with 6 of their 9 hitters checking in with an OPS+ above the league average of 97. Freddy Freeman is really beginning to blossom into an All-Star caliber 1st baseman, showing a great ability to get on base and hit for power His OPS+ of 130 ranks 2nd on the Braves and he leads the team in homeruns, 6, and RBIs, 28. Michael Bourne has been terrific since coming over from Houston at last year’s trade deadline, and is hitting .336 with 11 steals. Jason Heyward’s back problems look like a thing of the past and he is showing a new aggressiveness on the base paths, with 9 steals already, 2 shy of his career high. With Dan Uggla and Brian McCann starting to heat up, Chipper Jones bombing the ball like he did a decade earlier as well as a deep pitching staff, the Braves have all the pieces to win the NL East title this year, even with all the depth in the division.
  3. Shine on you crazy Diamond. Scott Diamond posted his 2nd consecutive start of 7 innings without allowing a run for the Twins on Sunday, providing the Twins some sorely needed quality innings. Minnesota has allowed the 2nd most runs in baseball this season, and despite only making 2 starts, an argument can be made that Diamond has been the team’s most effective pitcher. It’s not terribly difficult to be the best when your competition is between Carl Pavano of the 5.02 ERA in 43 innings, or Jeff Gray, the middle reliever. In Diamond’s 14 innings he has yet to allow a run, while walking just 1 batter, allowing 9 hits, and striking out 10. Diamond primarily throws a high-80s to low-90s fastball, mixing in a solid curve and change-up. Minnesota’s offense has also been terrible as well, ranking last in the American League, but at least they have found a little magic out of the former Rule-5 draft pick from the Atlanta Braves.

3 Down

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers Schedule. Wanna know the biggest reason for the Dodgers hot start this season? Yes Matt Kemp is amazing but the Dodger’s creampuff schedule also might have something to do with it. Jonah Keri discussed their schedule earlier in the season, and things haven’t really gotten any more difficult. The Dodgers have played 25 games against teams below .500, most in the entire league. They are 17-8 in those games, feasting on the likes of San Diego 7 times, Colorado 6 times, and NL Central weaklings Houston, Chicago, and Pittsburgh 3 times apiece. The Dodgers are a solid 6-3 in games against teams above .500, but with Matt Kemp sustaining a potential hamstring injury, and the Cardinals coming to town this week, expect the Dodgers to drop off.
  2. 2nd base in Detroit. This position has been comically bad for the Tigers so far this season. Detroit has tried 4 different players at the position so far, a group made up of Ryan Rayburn, Ramon Santiago, Danny Worth, and current Oakland A’s 3rd baseman Brandon Inge. The group’s combined numbers: a .155 batting average with 1 homer, 3 doubles, and 5 RBI. Rayburn has received the most playing time at the position, and has been the worst of the entire group, hitting .135 on the season with only 6 walks, 5 doubles, and no homers in 99 at-bats. Rayburn could find himself cut from the team if he continues to remain this ineffective at the plate. No team that expects to be competitive can have a black hole on their roster the size of the one currently in Detroit at 2nd. The Tigers plan of Verlander, Fielder, Cabrera, and not much else was a risky one, and they seem to be paying the price in the early going, particularly at 2nd base.
  3. Bryce Harper’s Hype. Yes he’s 19 and a very, very explosive ball player. But Harper is only hitting .231 right now in his first 60 plate appearances and looks to be overwhelmed at the plate. He also has a bit of temper problem, and gave himself 10 stitches after a temper tantrum in the dugout where Harper tried to hit his bat on the clubhouse wall, only to have it rebound back in his face. The kid is only 19 and doesn’t have a single homerun at the Major League level yet so maybe the hype about him being the next Mickey Mantle (MLB Network) or Ken Griffey Jr. (ESPN) needs to stop. Let’s have some perspective please people. Both of those players had long, very successful careers and put in the hard work to become Hall of Famers. Harper may get there some day, but for now he’s a .231 hitter, with great speed, who is a little unsure in the outfield, which is why he is late getting to the ball and needs to dive so much. Let’s actually make him do the work, and become even an average Major League hitter before anointing him as the greatest player in history.

3 Up, 3 Down: Midweek Edition

3 Up

  1. Extensions for Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler. Both of these talented 2nd basemen will now play for their respective teams until 2017. Kinsler is getting $82 million from Texas and has an option for 2018 as well. He has been a plus defender, possessing a strong arm and excellent range. Kinsler also has excellent power and speed, especially for a 2nd baseman, twice hitting more than 30 homers and stealing more than 30 bases. Phillips is getting $72.5 million from Cincinnati, and like Kinsler, he is also good with the bat and the glove. He’s a 3-time Gold Glove winner, with 20 homer power and a .272/.322/.433 career slash. Phillips will be 36 when his contract finishes, so it may run past his prime, but he is still an excellent 2-way player. Both of these players are in the top-5 at 2nd base, and their contracts should play out nicely for Texas and Cincinnati.
  2. Cardinal’s offense sans Pujols. Quick name the highest scoring team in baseball? Could it be Detroit, with their fearsome heart-of-the-order. Nah, the best offense so far resides down by the river in St. Louis. (Although Detroit is 1st in average runs per game, St. Louis has played 2 more games.) 6 regulars are hitting over .300, led by the impressive David Freese. Freese has continued his hot hitting from the 2011 playoffs, currently leading baseball in RBIs and is hitting .444/.464/.778 with 3 dingers. Yadier Molina, Lance Berkman, and the newly acquired Carlos Beltran have been excellent around Freese, combining for 5 doubles, a triple, and 5 homers. This offense hasn’t missed Pujols one bit and is easing the burden on a rotation that is missing Chris Carpenter.
  3. Fun Around the League. Houston pulled out some fantastic looking Colt .45 throwback jerseys yesterday against Atlanta. I think they should scratch the Astros name and go back to Colt .45’s, with these jerseys, when they move to the AL in 2013. They are the sharpest-looking throwbacks in baseball. Elsewhere, the Kansas City Royal’s Jeff Francoeur had some fun with the fans out in Oakland during a rain delay last night. It was the 2nd Annual Bacon Tuesday in Oakland, and Francoeur, being a lover of bacon, took action. He tossed a ball, wrapped with a C-note, to some A’s fans and instructed them to get him some bacon. They came back with said bacon, gave him a t-shirt, and dedicated the celebration to him. Francoeur is a fun player, who really enjoys baseball, and always keeps things lively.

3 Down

  1. Mark Trumbo’s Transition to 3rd Base. With the signing of Albert Pujols and the return of Kendry Morales, many wondered what the Angels would do to get the talented Trumbo playing time. He was the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up last year, and has solid homerun power, so it is important to get his bat in the lineup. In Spring Training, LA worked Trout at 3rd and has given him 2 starts at the position so far. Trumbo has looked horribly out of sorts, making 3 errors in 18 innings of playing time. Most of Trumbo’s talent is tied up in his ability to drive the ball, because he doesn’t hit for a high average, draw a good number of walks, or play good defense. He may find himself stuck on the bench, because the Angels have Alberto Callaspo, who is an above-average defender with a league-average bat.
  2. Minnesota’s offense. On the opposite end of the spectrum from St. Louis, we have the Minnesota Twins. The offense has been completely anemic, preventing the team from winning even one of their 1st four games. The team is hitting a collective .165/.252/.240 which all rank in the bottom 3 in baseball.  Six regular players, including Joe Mauer, are hitting under .200 and the team has scored 6 total runs in 4 games. Minnesota does not have a strong enough pitching staff to support such an anemic offense, and if things continue along this path, it will be a long season in the Twin Cities. One positive in the lineup is Justin Morneau, who doesn’t appear to be having any ill-effects from his concussion syndrome, hitting .308/.400/.462. Hopefully he can keep that production up, because Morneau is an MVP candidate if healthy.
  3. Ozzie Guillen’s Mouth. When the Marlins hired Guillen in the offseason, it wasn’t a question of if he would say something stupid, but when. Well, one week into his 1st season in South Beach he has already been suspended for 5 games for comments about respecting Fidel Castro. Well I don’t think he should have been fired, the suspension seems just a little too light. The Marlins should have expected this kind of nonsense when they made the hire. Guillen has always said anything and everything when talking to the media, and he has finally topped himself with his latest idiotic comments.
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