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4/3/15

Ervin Santana suspended 80 days for use of synthetic testosterone and the Twins react

MLB announce that Ervin Santana, who was the Twins priced free-agent acquisition costing them $55 million for four years and their second round 2015 draft pick was suspended for 80 days for testing positive for PEDs.  He tested positive for Stanozolol, a form of synthetic testosterone, commonly known as Winstrol and used by bodybuilders to increase lean mass.   Interestingly, Stanozolol is available in the US only as a Veterinary drug there days.  It is a schedule III drug, like codeine and synthetic LSD, so the chances of it being in an OTC prep that someone can take without his knowledge are zero.

The Minnesota Twins, in an equally disappointing reaction, recalled Aaron Thompson for the last bullpen role and moved Mike Pelfrey to the rotation. 

This in not a good way to star an expensive four year contract, and I hope that the next CBA empowers teams to void such contract in these circumstances...

Meanwhile, Santana has issued the following statement:


    "Ever since I was a child I always had to work harder than everyone. Not too many people believed I could become a major leaguer. I worked hard to achieve everything I accomplished and I take pride in proving that through hard work dreams can come true.

    I would never put baseball, my family, or my country in a position where its integrity is jeopardized. I preach hard work, and don't believe in short cuts. I am very disappointed that I tested positive for a performance enhancing drug. I am frustrated that I can't pinpoint how the substance in question entered my body. I would never knowingly take anything illegal to enhance my performance. What I can guarantee is I never knowingly took anything illegal to enhance my performance. That's just not me, never has been and never will.

    Moving forward, I need to be more careful on what I consume in my home country, I will be more vigilant of medications I take so that I don't commit another mistake. Having said that, I believe it is best to move forward and accept the punishment that has been negotiated by MLB and MLBPA for my positive PED test. This is unexpected news for me and my family. I am issuing this statement so the public knows where I stand. My deepest apologies to my family, fans, colleagues, teammates and my current employer the Minnesota Twins. All I can do now is continue to work hard, and when the suspension is up, come back to doing what I love."



3/28/15

The Twins 2015 Opening Day Roster is Practically Set; No surprises but 40-man work.

The Minnesota Twins, have announced several cuts, trimming down their Spring Training roster to 31.  They announced that Jordan Schafer won the starting Centerfielder job, with Shane Robertson, backing him up and platooning against LHPs.  They also announced that Mike Pelfrey will be in the bullpen and the 5th starter will be Tommy Milone.   Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario, Trevor May and Mark Hamburger were cut as a result.  Also, it was announced that Danny Santana will be the starting Shortstop.  Yesterday Lester Oliveros was outrighti

It might seem as a surprise to some, but from what I have seen during Spring Training it was pretty much anticipated.  This is my guess of the Twins' 25 men Opening Day roster 5 days ago from Fort Myers:


My only surprise was Milone over May,  but by then May did not have his last (pretty unfortunate) outing.  I had argued early and often that Pelfrey was better suited for the pen and that is where he should end up and really that decision was pretty much obvious around last weekend.   Also, I was convinced that Robinson had a  chance for the fourth outfield job (remember, he was a fourth outfielder in a World Series team?)   Robinson and Schafer pretty much outhit both Hicks and Rosario and it was obvious with their play on the field that they were ahead of the competition. 

Still a few battles are left, mainly for the back up catcher and 2 bullpen jobs, but as I indicated then, I strongly believe that Chris Herrmann will win the back up catcher position (and not only because Josmil Pinto suffered a concussion) and Blaine Boyer (not Doyle as in the tweet) and JR Graham will win the last 2 bullpen jobs over the lefties Aaron Thompson and Caleb Thielbar, both of whom have options.

The opening day roster is set, but there is only 1 open spot on the 40-man roster, and Boyer,  and Robinson will need 2.  Pending any trades, I think that Michael Tonkin's, and Stephen Pryor's spots (and even Logan Darnell's, but he is a starter so likely more valuable) are the ones closer to jeopardy, since there are several pitchers ahead of them.

In additon to the major league moves, in minor league moves involving former top 40 prospects, the Twins announced the retirement of C Tyler Grimes (number 38 prospect before the 2014 season) and that they released C Matt Koch (number 22 prospect before the 2014 season), RHP Tyler Jones (number 39 prospect before the 2014 season), IF  Will Hurt and  LHP Josue Montanez

3/27/15

Spring Training Redux: How will the Twins do in 2015? Here is my prediction.

After my visit to Fort Myers was said and done about a year ago, I gave my prediction about how the Twins will do in 2014 and the main reasoning behind it.  You can find that here (and, yes, I did predict that they will finish 70-92, but that's not something to be happy about.)   During this Spring Training, I took a risk: I suggested that the Twins can actually compete, if they do three things: Fix their bullpen, fix their outfield, and fix their attitude.   Here is reiterrating that reasoning from the first part of that series of posts:

First: In order to make significant, measurable and effective change, you cannot focus on changing 20 things.  Too many balls in the air, some will drop.  Focusing of few things that you can change and make an effort to do so, is much more effective.  Second: I do believe that with the changes this off-season, the Twins removed a huge barrier to their success: Breaking ties with Gardernhire, Anderson, Ulger and Steinbach (even though they did not go far enough in my opinion, but this is all another matter,) is the equivalent of starting the seasons with (at least) plus five wins
So that next number in that loss progression looks more between 83 and 87.   So those three things that need to be done, if done correctly and effectively, will be enough to give the Twins an extra 5-7 wins, putting that total loss range to 76-82 and that is not a losing record.  The top number of that range (86-76) is close to a wild-card number and likely, if the Twins get there, they will compete for the title in a weakened and more balanced Division.



So there are the parameters.  And in each of the above linked posts, I explained in detail what I was looking to see when I was down there at Fort Myers, and, here is what I saw, and will try to put into win-loss numbers:

First of all, I am standing by that underlined statement up there.   So, if all things are the same, the baseline record of the 2015 Twins is 77-85.  Take it to Vegas.   Of course that is pending major injuries to 3/5ths of the rotation and 3/9ths of the position players (but that is, yet, another story.)

How much higher than that can get?  Let's take those three things one at a time and see:

The bullpen Here are my thoughts before my trip to Fort Myers, and here is what I think now:  It still is incomplete.  Happy to see that Blaine Boyer and JR Graham will likely make the team.  They will be an improvement.   It looks like Mike Pelfrey will make the pen, but not sure in what kind of role.  Caleb Thielbar might be optioned.  That's on the positive side.  On the negative side Tim Stauffer might be a disappointment, or at least a mop-up vs. a set-up reliever I thought that he would be.  Also, Casey Fien looks like a lock again, based on small sample size.  Glen Perkins' velocity topped at 93 mph, which is a concern, even though command and control was there.  One wonders whether he will be ready to be a lights out closer in the beginning of the Twins' season at Detroit...   Tough to quantify, but I would say, taking Perkins' health risk into account, plus 1 might be right here.  So the new baseline is 78-84.  Next:

The Outfield Defense: Here are my before thoughts, and this is what I saw: Nah. Not yet.  Let me start with a (bonus) prediction:  The Twins will have the following 4 outfielders in their roster (L/R) : Oswaldo Arcia, Jordan Schafer, Torii HunterShane Robinson will be the fourth outfielder, platooning with Schafer at CF against LHP and Eduardo Nunez will play LF as well.  So 4.5 outfielders with Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario optioned to AAA.  What I saw at Fort Myers was somewhat disturbing:  a. the positioning of the outfield was way too shallow (not sure who is the Twins' OF coach these days or who is responsible for that), b. Hunter is a teenager at heart but not in body, which means he wants to do above and beyond, but he comes short in a bad way, over-running balls and over-throwing cut-off men. c. Hicks will not make the team and he is a better defender than Schafer.  Have to give this a zero right now.  Baseline still 78-84.  Next.

The Attitude: Here is what I said about that.  And I will be brief.  Is this a team for which I got a gut feeling that it expects to win each game?  No. But, is this a team that is paying more attention to detail, seems happier as a bunch, and actually talks to each other on the field about what they should do more than last season?  Heck, yeah.  Hard to quantify, but I think plus 2.  So the new baseline is 80-82.

Conclusion: This will not be another 90 loss team, unless something weird happens.  80-82 is the baseline.  Another factor:  I did get some 1987-like excitement there, like this might be a magic year (like that one.)  But I think that they are one year away.  So my prediction for 2015 is that the Twins will have the same record as their Pythagorean in 1987: 79-83.  But, yes, this year feels a lot like 1987, and you never know what is going to happen...




3/23/15

Twins Spring Training Report from Fort Myers: 3/23/15: The Day the Skies Opened

Today the Twins were playing against the Philadelphia Phillies at Clearwater, so it was a back field day at Fort Myers, to have a better look at the Twins' prospects.   Blustery and overcast day, which rained up in Clearwater enough to delay the Twins-Phillies start time and later in Fort Myers to wash everything out in the back fields at around the 8th inning.

But there was some great action:  At field three, the AAA players were playing against the Orioles AAA team and at field four, the AA players against another Oriole team.  Later at field two the Twins high A and A teams had a scrimmage.  Because of the weather situation at Clearwater, Ervin Santana stayed at Fort Myers, to join the AAA team, and it was the focus of attention.  I am certain that there will be reports about his pitching, LEN3 was there, among others, and was watching carefully, but my attention was at field four at the Chattanooga team.  I did see Santana throw 4 sliders in a row, which left a wide-eyed Orioles played unable to do anything but strike out looking (one was in the ground for a ball) and I had enough. 

For the Lookouts, the starter was DJ Baxendale, a pitcher who pitched the single most dominating game I have ever seen two years minus a day ago, and made it all the way to number 15 in my 2014 off-season Twins prospects list, but struggled mightly once he reached New Britain, so I was eager to see how he was pitching.  He pitched with mixed results.  His fastball was from 88-92 with excellent movement and excellent command in the first 3 innings.  He threw (not enough times) a low 70s curve that did make knees buckle and he commanded it pretty well.  However his high 70s slider was lacking command and his low 80s changeup was inconsistent.   I am not sure whether that slider is a new introduction to his repertoire (did not have it back then) but it does not seem like it is working.  Some of the changeups were great, with a lot of tailing movement away from LHBs, but others were on the ground.  Most of the mistakes were on hanging sliders, and one happened with 2 outs, after Niko Goodrum dropped an easy double play ball while trying to take it out of his glove.   I think that Baxendale has shown flashes, but was not the same commanding pitcher I saw previously.   

Staying with the pitching side for the lookouts, he was replaced by Madison Boer who was once a borderline Twins' top ten prospect, but looked really tentative.  His fastball was at 89-92 with not much movement, but did induce a couple of fly outs, and was supplemented by a violent mid-80s slider that has a lot of bite and the makings of a really filthy offering, but at this point it is not a well commanded pitch.  This season is a make or break season for Boer, I believe.  With a couple more miles on his fastballs and command of his slider, I do see him as a potential reliever, but the problem is that the Twins have at least half a dozen more ready righty pen arms at this point.  Tim Shibuya relieved Boer and did not change my mind from what I wrote about him a couple days ago here.

This Chattanooga team is a powerful one.  There were 5 home runs hit at that game.  Two, one from Michael Gonzalez and Adam Walker (the Twins' number 31 prospect, who had a second one to the right field) hit the middle of the batter's eye at dead center, beyond the 405 feet fence, with Walker's being a screeching line drive, while Gonzalez' a monster fly.  DJ Hicks added another one to the right center, which landed at the next field and Jason Kanzler, who is doing all he can to impress while keeping Buxton's Centerfield position warm, until the major league CF job is done and the AA outfielders get demoted, hit a fifth over the left field fence.   Even though the home runs were impressive, I think that the best plate appearance was by the most powerful member of the Lookouts' team and it was not a home run:  with Terry Doyle, a familiar face, on the mound for the Orioles,  Miguel Sano went 0-2 on a questionable inside looking strike one and a swinging strike two.  He took the next four pitches (all balls and some close) and walked right before the DJ Hicks' home run.  This shows that Sano is maturing as a hitter and recognizing the strike zone, which is a great thing to see from the Twins' top prospect who has been criticized about "striking out too much" by some.



..

A few interesting sightings at Field Two:

Felix Jorge was back on the mound throwing his pitches with good velocity and excellent command after a fairly disastrous season split between Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids.


Also at hand was the Twins' number six prospect, Amaurys Minier who played left field.  He made an excellent fielding play at left on a ball that was caught by the (by then really heavy) wind and moved towards the infield and his swing can generate a lot of power.  He has a very powerful build, but still a lot of athleticism.  In a way similar to Sano at that age, he appeared like a man among boys in that field:



A couple of parting thoughts from Field Four about the Twins' number 2 and 3 prospects:   Jorge Polanco made a couple of difficult plays at shortstop look routine.  I am not sure how the rumors about him not being a good shortstop fielder are spread and why, but every time I see him, I am looking at an above average shortstop play.   Byron Buxton has a hard time with off-speed pitches.  His last plate appearance went like this:  FB- Looking Strike, CH - Swinging Strike, CH (dirt in front plate) - Ball, FB (high) - Ball, FB (inside) - Ball, CH - Swinging Strike - K.  Interesting situation in the outfield involving Mike Kvasnicka who played left and Buxton:  There was a play at left close to center and both were going for the ball, with Kvasnicka, very loudly yelling "I got it" and Buxton letting him get it.   Good to see that the lesson from the last time those guys went after the same ball was fully learned. 

You can find all the 2015 Spring Training coverage from Fort Myers and beyond, here.




3/21/15

Twins Spring Training Report from Fort Myers: 3/21/15: A Tale of Two Starters

The Twins has a couple split squad games today, against the Rays at Port Charlotte and at the Hammond Stadium against the Orioles.  Here are my notes from the home game:

After Alex Meyers' demotion yesterday, there are only 3 pitchers left in the battle for the 5th rotation spot:  Mike Pelfrey, Tommy Milone and Trevor May.  The last 2 started the respective games today, with Milone taking the node for the home game.  While May ended up pitching a no-hit 4 innings at Port Charlotte, Milone had an adventurous start in Fort Myers.   He is a pitcher who really needs to be spot on and if he is not, it is like a batting practice, and the Orioles showed that in the second inning, when they timed perfectly his 83-87 mph Fastballs, hitting them all over the park, and one (by former Twin Steve Pearce) off the staircase that leads to the RF berm, for a HR.  He complemented his fastball with a 79-81 mph change and a 73-75 mph curve that were hit and miss.  Totally unimpressed with Milone, maybe because I do not think much about LH junk ball pitchers, but I think that after today Milone took a step back from Pelfrey and May in that competition.

To be noted: in the Orioles 4-run second inning, Josmil Pinto was hit three times!  by Adam Jones' back swing on the head and left the game after the inning was over.  Mildly surprised that the Twins' pitchers did not retaliate for their catcher, but the next pitcher who faced Adam Jones, was Glen Perkins...   Perkins had a decent outing, other than hanging an 82 mph slider to Delmon Young for a HR in the 5th.  9 pitches, 6 FBs (90-92,) 3 SLs (81-82) all but one strikes, but a strike was a long one too.   He was pounding the zone, but he is at least 4-5 mph with both of his pitches from where he needs to be.

Brian Duensing pitched 2 scoreless innings and he seems in mid-season form with all 4 of his pitches working:  His Fastball was 89-91, threw 2 curves at 73, one for a looking strike,  got a ground out and a couple of  looking strikes with a mid 80s change and his slider was fairly lively at the low 80s, inducing a couple of jammed pop ups.   Watching JR Graham pitch was a treat and I think that the Twins have found a good one.  Will be very surprised if he does not make the team.  He pitched 2 scoreless innings, and here is the sequence of his pitches (fastball unless mentioned) :  First inning: 91-ball (B), 93 swinging strike (SS), 94 ground out (GO).  94 fly out (FO). 94 Foul (F), 84 (SLider) Looking Strike (LS), 86 (SL) SS.  Second inning:  92 Hit. 95 B, 91 B, 93 LS, 94 F, 95 F, 81 (CHange up) B, 93 LS - K. To Mr Parmelee: 91 B, 96 F, 85 (SL) B, 84 (SL) F,  85 (SL) SS - K. 95 SS, 92 B, 95 B, 96 GO.   Very good movement with the fastball, and, as you can see, he does very his speeds.  Changeup is not his stronger pitch and he threw only one, but his slider is above average.  Looking forward to seeing him this season with the Twins.

As far as position players, disappointed with Torii Hunter who killed a couple of Twins' rallies, the first by hitting into a double play with the bases loaded and one out on the first and the second by striking out with runners in scoring position and one out.  If you read the box score, you'd think that Danny Santana had a good day with two hits,  but what the box score does not show is a couple of awful swinging strike outs and a dropped ball when Rohlfing tried to throw the runner away that ended up moving the runner to third.  I think that the battle for the starting Shortstop position is neck to neck as far as Santana and Eduardo Escobar are concerned.  Hicks had a bad day at the plate and had a mishap (took a bad route and the ball dropped inches from his foot, but was too shallow) at the outfield that went for a double and a trapped ball that he could have caught.  Between the four centerfield contenders nobody has really pulled ahead at this point.  Eddie Rosario is hitting .242/.235/.515, Shane Robinson .269/.345/.385, Hicks .222/.313/.370 and Jordan Schafer .217/.357/.261.  Pick your poison.   Oswaldo Arcia had a good play with the glove on a shallow fly ball that he aggressively called Hicks away and fielded cleanly; that ball would had been an adventure for Willingham last season.

Really impressed with the improvements at Hammond Stadium, but there are a few things sorely missing:  A couple of (small) infield boards; one to indicate balls and strikes and outs and the other pitch velocity.  The main board is not visible from all outfield seats well.  But there is always next year.

Tomorrow and Monday, there are no home games for the Twins, so expect full coverage of the action at the minor league fields.


3/20/15

Twins Spring Training Report from Fort Myers: 3/20/15: Where are the fastballs?

Today the Minnesota Twins hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates at Hammond Stadium.  As usual, before the game I trotted by the minor league fields that today were hosting a celebrity from the baseball world:


A dad watching his kid pitch a bullpen:


And then walk with him after he was done:

 
Interesting enough, not many fans had an idea of who the dad was.   And he was about as humble as a baseball superstar as I have seen.  He had his picture taken with fans and shook his head and smiled when I told him that his kid has a great arm, from one dad to another.  And Derek Rodriguez does have a great arm.  He was tossing nice crisp fastballs when he got his mechanics right. But his mechanics were all over the place to begin and his pitching coach was there talking to him pitch after pitch, and Derek incorporated the feedback.  I think that making the transition to pitching will be hard, but I think that he has the determination, the tools and the family and Twins support to do it.  Will likely start 2015 in Extended Spring Training, but I fully expect him to see him progress fast.

Every Spring Training there are a couple of players who are relatively unknown, but do make an impression to me.  The first one I will point this year is Jack Barrie, a 19 year old Aussie First Baseman who made his pro debut last season with the GCL Twins.  This kid has Kennys Vargas written all over him.  Great plate presence, quick wrists, one to keep an eye on.  And I bet you never have heard of him. 

Back to the big boys playing the Pirates.  Kyle Gibson started for the Twins and after his recent discussion about adding velocity,  I was betting that we'd see at least one 95 mph fastball on the (2 mph or so) fast Hammond Stadium radar, and we did.  The problem with Kyle today was that his 93-95 mph fastballs were lacking the movement and the downward break his 90-92 mph fastballs did.  Also his slider was not there (he threw 2 in the first innings, including the first HR to Cervelli).  In the third inning, he seems that he threw all sliders and change ups.  At least he was working the kinks out.  No worries about Gibson.

In a tale of two who are fighting for the 25th man spot on the roster.  Eduardo Nunez beat out a cleanly-fielded ground ball to the SS (our own Pedro Florimon, btw) for an infield hit and managed to steal second two pitches afterwards.  Shane Robinson (who is fighting for the same spot,) drove him in with a scorcher on the first base line and then, after Dozier was hit by a pitch to fill first, was thrown out at third on a double steal that found Dozier safe and sound at second.  Robinson had some decent plays at left today, but I still think that Nunez is probably fighting with Herrmann (who did not play) for this spot as is now...

Back to arms.  Blaine Boyer came in to pitch in the middle of an inning and was effective.  And then pitched another inning and was effect, but in his second inning his velocity picked up a few notches.  His fastball moved from 89-90 all the way to 93-94, his curve from 73 to 76 and he threw some change ups at mid 80s (all well commanded, btw,)  which made me think that indeed there might be some pitchers who are different (and better) if they come up with no outs and no ons on the top of an inning.  Michael Tonkin and Stephen Pryor followed.  Tonkin, who have since been opted, topped up at 94 and so did Pryor, who really did some nifty glovework in a comebacker, which made me think whether there are any real fastball pitchers left on the roster, since that gun is 2 mph or so fast and these 3 are pitchers touted to hit high 90s.  Maybe too early, but still somewhat concerning...

In another note, it was great to see Toper Anton again, and meet Steve Lein and John Bonnes.  See you guys around the next few days.


3/19/15

Best Fantasy Baseball Bets On Minnesota

The Minnesota Twins might not be ready to be a playoff contender in 2015, but they will definitely show improvement with their young roster. They are taking a somewhat long approach to rebuilding, but they have one of the most talented minor league systems in the game right now. For 2015, there are at least a few individuals who should be able to put up some pretty nice fantasy baseball numbers.

Brian Dozier might not be a household name around baseball, but he is turning into one of the best 2nd baseman in the game. He might not hit for a very high average, but he brings power and speed to the table. He is also a very disciplined hitter, so his on-base percentage will help players to play in a league with that type of format.

Glen Perkins had a few nagging injuries last year, but he was still pretty productive in the closer role for the Minnesota Twins in 2014. His ERA shot up a little bit, but he still finished with 34 saves and a pretty nice strikeout rate. He is going to slip a little bit in fantasy baseball drafts, but he still provides decent value.

Finally, Joe Mauer is still probably considered to be the face of the franchise despite the fact that he is clearly in decline. He is officially a full-time 1st baseman, but that’s still doesn’t help him stay in the lineup on a consistent basis. Injury issues really held him back in 2014, as he hit just 4 home runs and drove in 55 while hitting .277. His dynamic should go up a little bit, but the power numbers aren’t going to get all that high. At a deep position my 1st base, he probably slips out of the top 20 and therefore brings very little value except in deeper leagues.



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This post has been contributed by Hanna Miller

Twins Spring Training Report from Fort Myers: 3/19/15 Perk and the Prospects

Today the Minnesota Twins played against the Rays at Fort Charlotte, which meant minor league side by side double-header action of Rochester and Chattanooga against the Red Sox' AAA and AA squads at fields 4 and 5 of the Complex.  

The much anticipated moment today was the return of Glen Perkins who got the first inning with the AAA club against the PawSox.   Based on reports from people who were at Fort Charlotte, he did not feel any pain.   He was carted to and fro field number 4, which is the furthest away from Hammond Stadium and he threw warmup tosses to Kyle Knudson, who was also the starting Catcher for the Red Wings.   During the game, he threw 14 pitches, most strikes.  His fastball was sitting at 90-91, hitting 92 and 93 once each.  His slider was at 81-82, all figures that are a good 4-5 mph below his season form, but it is still the second (he pitched against the Gophers) game for him.  During his warm ups he did seem to throw a couple of changeups, but could had just been slow fastballs.  All in all a good appearance, but he has to ramp up pretty quickly.



The second biggest name, as far as players are concerned, was Miguel Sano who played at Field number 5 with the Chatanooga squad.  His agent, Rob Plummer, was on site and had a change to have a very enlightening (but off the record) conversation with him.  Interesting guy and he seems really proud of the fact that he signed Sano when he was 14.  Miguel answered with a three-run monster home run that likely broke a window or two at the subdivision past the fence, with this swing, off William Cuevas :



As a side note, Sano appears fitter than last season.

Speaking of celebrities, Tom Kelly was at hand and had a chance to meet with one of his former pitchers, Paul Abbott, who pitched for Kelly's Twins from 1990-1992:




I had a chance to see several other prospects and here are quick notes:

Greg Peavey was selected by the Twins from the Mets in the AAA portion of the Rule 5 draft last winter.  He came in to pitch after Glen Perkins in the AAA side and was pretty impressive.  He has three pitches:  A 90-91 mph Fastball, a low 70s slow curve and a low 80s change.  Pitching mostly with the first 2, but his change did produce strikeouts.  Good control and command of all his pitches, very fluid motion; he is definitely a dark horse.  A mature pitcher.  Also in the AAA side of things, Cole Johnson made a good appearance.  He is a fastball slider pitcher with his FB hitting 94 but his slider location was inconsistent.  Pretty early in Spring training for that.

On the AA side of things, both Nico Goodrum and Michael Gonzalez appear different.  Gonzalez appears much fitter and for the 27 year old, this might be his last chance in a Twins' uniform. Goodrum has been working with a personal trainer this off-season and he got some muscle.  He is also taking much more robust at bats, than last Spring Training.  If you squint really hard, you might confuse him with Byron Buxton, as far as physique goes:



As far as the pitchers at the AA side went, Tyler Duffey started, but I chose to look at Glen Perkins and Greg  Peavey next door.  I did have a good look at Jeff Reed, who was unhittable at the Arizona Fall League and was really impressed.  His fastball was at 95-96 this early and his slider at high 80s.  I will not be surprised is he and Nick Burdi are with the big club come August or so.  Interesting 3/4 delivery with a fairly aggressive motion.  Tim Shibuya pitched a couple good innings.  He is really deceptive and one of those "rubber arm" guys.  Good repeatable mechanics, good control and command, I really see him as the long man in a major league bullpen some day. 

It was a treat seeing Jorge Fernandez, my 19th Twins' prospect, to catch today.  Really good hands , excellent feet (he got a guy out on a difficult high bounce off the home plate) and very good receiving ability.  I never had any doubts about his bat, but really liked what I saw with the glove today.   He is a guy who is not considered a prospect, does not get many praises, but I really enjoyed watching Stephen Wickens play today.  Good fundamentals and instincts on both sides of the ball, good glove and versatility, might get the 26 year old into the big leagues some day, if he gets his contact rate and plate discipline a bit higher.

As a parting shot, here is Sam Perlozzo, the long time major league coach and manager, who started his playing career with the Twins, having an 1 on 2 base-running tutoring session with the Twins' number 2 and 3 prospects.


Tomorrow the Twins are hosting the Pirates at Hammond Stadium and I will be there.  You can find all my 2015 Spring Training posts here





3/18/15

Twins Spring Training Report from Fort Myers: 3/18/15

Today was my first full day at Fort Myers and the Twins had a split squad duo of games, with the half of the team hosting the Orioles at Hammond Stadium and the other half a few miles away playing the Red Sox at Jet Blue Park.  This was the second year in a row as far as renovations went for the facilities, and the Hammond Stadium looks really great.   The front facade is extended to both broaden the concession place plaza and put a roof over it and to host a couple new elevators and gift shops.  There are 4 gift shops in all now, which are much better than the single closet-size one that was there 3 years ago.  The main one, which about the size of an average AA ballpark gift shop, even had Miracle T-shirts.

For some reason there was no pregame batting practice on field number six, as it has been the norm the seasons before; I suspect that it has to do with the split-squad games today.  Joe Vavra was throwing batting practice to someone's kid in the under-stadium cages.   Not much activity in the minor league parks also;  Sporadic batting practice at the Chattanooga, including Miguel Sano and DJ Hicks hitting some good ones off Stew Cliburn, who looks scarily like Rick Anderson these days.  Jorge Polanco and AAA infielders had bunt practice at the Rochester field.  Nothing much there as far as minors go, other than Nick Burdi was surrounded by a whole slew of autograph seekers when he showed up.   No home game tomorrow, so I will be able so spend a full day with the prospects.

As far as the game today went, there were a few things of note: 

In the first inning, Joe Mauer hit a routine soft grounder to the shortstop, who had a hard time fielding it, dropped it, recovered it and threw to first to get a slow trotting Mauer out.   This was not a great thing to see from the Twins' highest paid player.  Had he run full speed, he would had been safe. I hope that these kind of plays do not happen again.   On the other hand, the subsequent inning Eduardo Nunez beat out a non-trivial cleanly fielded infield single to the shortstop; hard not to see the contradictions between someone who has a job and someone who is fighting for one.

Torii Hunter is a yeller at the outfield.  And this is a good thing.  And he does not only yell "I got it".  In  couple of situations, a fly ball to right center and a shallow fly to the right, he yelled for Schafer and Dozier respectively to go and get it.  And it worked.  That was a good thing to see.  Eddie Rosario was great with the glove at left.  He did throw out Delmon Young when he tried to stretch a single, but even more importantly (and you cannot see that on the scoreboard) he took a triple away from an Orioles hitter with a great route and a great below the knee catch.  He made it look so easy, that I bet that most of the Stadium thought that it was a routine play.  It wasn't.   Speaking of routes, I am not sure that Jordan Schaefer is the best one out there.  Had a long fly really misjudged and hit the wall, allowing eventually Torii Hunter to make the throw to the infield.  That ball was catchable.  Being a left hand throwing Centerfielder might have some disadvantages.

As far as pitching went, Stephen Pryor really surprised me.  He pitched fine, but there were earlier reports about him being healthy and being back with his mid- to high-90s velocity.  He topped at 92 in Hammond Stadium's (fast) radar today, which is not extremely thrilling, to say at least.  For comparison's shake, Ervin Santana hit 93.

Back there tomorrow morning and expect a full report on the prospects, tomorrow evening.



3/16/15

First Cut at the Twins' 25-man Opening Day Roster and Analysis of Remaining Spring Training Battles

After the 18 recent cuts the Twins made (some of them unannounced yet) yesterday, the camp roster was trimmed to 43 players.  I did provide a break down of those players by position yesterday, also mentioning whether they have options or whether they are on the 40-man roster.   Based on these numbers, I am taking a preliminary look at  the Twins' potential opening day roster, position by position:

Position players (13)

Catchers (2/3)

Suzuki, and one of Pinto/Fryer/Herrmann.  Herrmann might be added as a third catcher/Utility.  Fryer is not on the 40-man roster

Infield (6/7)

Mauer, Dozier, Santana, Escobar, Plouffe.  One or both of Vargas and Nunez.  Nunez is out of options


Outfield (4/5)


Arcia, Hunter and two or three of:  Hicks, Rosario, Robinson, Schafer. Schafer is out of options, Robinson is not on the 40-man roster.

Pitchers (12)

Starting Pitchers (5)

Hughes, Santana, Nolasco, Gibson; one of Milone, Pelfrey, May, Meyer.   All have options, but Pelfrey has to accept assignment.


Relief Pitchers (7)

Perkins, Duensing, Fien

one or two of Milone, Pelfrey, May, Meyer

two or three of Pressly, Stauffer, Thielbar, Tonkin, Achter, Graham, Thompson, Boyer, Pryor, Hamburger.  Stauffer and Graham (rule 5) have no options, Boyer and Hamburger are not on the 40 man roster.

These are the major battles right now in the Twins' camp:

The Starting Centerfielder and fourth outfielder:   Hicks/Scafer/Rosario/Robinson.  The first two have higher probability to win the CF starter.  If Scafer wins, both Hicks and Rosario will be optioned because they will need to play daily, making Robinson the fourth outfielder.  If Hicks or Rosario win the starting position, both Schafer and Robinson can make it as a fifth outfielder.  Robinson is on the 40-man roster, but might take Graham's spot if he does not stick.  Verdict:  Too early to tell, but looks like Hicks & Scafer will be the 2 who are going north

The backup Catcher: Pinto, Herrmann and Fryer are fighting for one spot.  Fryer is not on the 40-man roster, thus having a bigger mountain to climb.  Herrmann will be in the utility fight as well.  Verdict:  Too early to tell, both Herrmann and Pinto have been good with the bat this Spring, Fryer has not, but has been very good with the glove.  This might go until the last days.

The Utility Position: Nunez, the one of Schafer or Robinson who did not make the cut in the Outfield and Herrmann will be fighting for one position.   Verdict: Too close.  Scafer and Nunez are out of options, Robinson is not on the 40-man roster.

The 5th Starter and one or two bullpen positions: Milone, Pelfrey, May and Meyer are fighting for one spot. Verdict:  Milone and Pelfrey are the forerunners here, in a battle that will be bought to the end with the loser going to the pen.  I think that Meyer will likely start at Rochester; May has a chance to make the Twins' pen, thus getting 2 pen positions from this group.

The final 2-3 bullpen positions:   Pressly, Stauffer, Thielbar, Tonkin, Achter, Graham, Thompson, Boyer, Pryor, Hamburger.  The three most veteran pitchers in this group (Pressly, Stauffer and Tonkin) have been the Twins worst pitchers in Spring Training, while Hamburger, Pryor, Graham and Thompson have been shining.  Verdict: This can go both ways.  The safest would be to option May, and start with Stauffer, Thielbar and Graham.  Would it be the best?  Likely not, based on what Stauffer and Thielbar have shown.  Will be interesting to see how this will shake out as well.  This decision will also be very telling about Molitor's and Allen's philosophies.


Three things the Twins need to do to compete in 2015: Part III: Fix the attitude.

This is the third and last, but not least, segment in this series.  You can find the first segment (fixing the bullpen) and the rationale for the series here, and the second segment (fixing the outfield) here.  I think that the most important (and some times the hardest or the easiest) thing to fix for the Twins to win, is the team attitude.  

How do you measure attitude and how does attitude prevent some one to win, and what is that "attitude" thing anyway.  Isn't that thing that your parents and teachers talked about when you were growing up, or something else.  Well, as far as baseball goes, I will let former Twins' player and Texas Rangers' manager Ron Washington describe it in this 30 second video.   To borrow Washington's words from there, a winning attitude is when you "expect to win" and "do everything you need to do to win".  Arguably, the Minnesota Twins the last couple of decades has as motto (at their best,) do all you can do (aka bust your tail) and you win some, you lose some.  Those were exactly the words of a smiling Michael Cudduyer at the Twins' dugout, on September 30, 2008, after the Twins lost game 163 at the White Sox (and part of the reason was that Cuddyer did not do what he needed to do to win, colliding with and forcing the ball out of AJ Pierzynski's glove to score.)

And giving it all and being "good enough" has been the Twins' motto.  And the majority of the fans were ok with "good enough", winning the title of the weakest division in baseball about half of the time, going belly up during the post-season and when they played the AL East, in the 00s.   And if the fans are happy with "good enough", you get a brand new ballpark and brand new season ticket sales and that is more that "good enough" as far as revenue goes, when it is not broken, why even bother to think about fixing it?   That was the Twins' past decade of "Glory", in half a paragraph.  And then it went South.

What happened? Well, the Twins did not even do all they could do in the ballpark; add that to a culture of favoritism in the clubhouse, where it did not matter to whether the veterans did all they could do, but when people outside the inner circle opened their mouths were thought under the proverbial bus; add that to not expecting to win, to start with, and you got 99 + 96 + 96 + 92.  And most importantly, no excuses for even the most single-sighted fans to believe that this team can win, thus a drop in tickets, thus a drop in revenue, thus...

To win, a team needs a leader who expects to win and make sure that his players and coaches do everything they need to do to win.  Here was the most common expression of the previous Twins' leader during games the last several seasons (hanging on to the dugout railing optional) :



Is this the expression someone who is doing all he needed to do to win and lead by example.  Is this the expression of someone who expects his team to win?  Or is this the expression of someone who looks defeated and solemn?  Rhetorical question.

There was not a more obvious time for me to see that the Twins players not only doing what they needed to do, but not even all they could do, and was fine with the manager and the coaches, than this particular game last spring training.  Before I went down there last season, I did have hopes that with the changes they made in the rotation, plus some players improving, had a chance to break even and have an 81-81 record.  But after what I saw, I predicted that the Twins will end up the 2014 season with a 70-92 record.

That is the past, and tomorrow I am landing at Fort Myers where I will be for more than a week and be able to see how thing are, but I have a good feeling that they are heading the right way.  Other than getting rid of their manager and pitching coach, which by itself is adding 10 wins pretty much, and replacing them with good baseball people and a Hall of Famer as manager,  they brought back Torii Hunter.  It did not make much sense at the beginning, and I think that they guy is a prick, plus he left the Twins' in free agency just for money and he added insult to the injury, by singing with the biggest division rival in his second free agency, but there might be something positive:  As I indicated here, Hunter can help the young players (who were tainted by the Twins' clubhouse attitude, it is no secret) realize that they have to at least give it all and lead by example. 

I have seen signs from Molitor that he is leading his players towards doing what they need to do.  First example, was the no-cell phone policy during game days, which was awful last season.  Players need to focus in the game and not in their social media during game day.   Second, he benched Aaron Hicks during a game for losing track of outs; a gesture that has not happened during a Twins' Spring Training since 1965, when Sam Mele, the Twins' manager, took Zoilo Versalles (the eventual 1965 MVP) out of the lineup because of lack of effort.  And you know what the Twins did in 1965.  Also, after a couple of mishaps in short fly balls and lack of communication between infielders and outfielder, Molitor had extra drills of those circumstances with the whole team.  The whole team.  In previous years, veterans and the inner circle would be excluded and only few would participate in similar drills.

There are a lot of positive signs about (at least) a realization that the teams attitude needed to change to win, and actual steps taken this direction.  I will be able to know more about how things will play out in this department, in 10 days or so, after I return from Fort Myers and see the team play this Spring.  Last year I predicted that 70-92, based on what I saw, I hope that this year, it is the reverse...


3/15/15

The 43 Players left on the Twins Spring Training roster after today's 18 cuts

The Twins announced a whole bunch of cuts today, did not announce a bunch of others.  It was a good timing in that there is no MLB game tomorrow so the cut players can play with their teammates.   According to different reports the following eighteen players were cut, officially and unofficially:

Sano, Kepler, Berrios, Buxton, Duffey, Rogers, O'Rourke, Meneses, Garver, Turner, Darnell, Polanco, Salcedo, Diaz, Wheeler , Oliveros, Farris, Grimes

Who is still remaining at the Major League Camp (in no particular order, * denotes a non-roster invitee) :

22 position players (which means 9 more cuts to go and 7 non-roster invitees, which makes the position player situation much clearer than the pitcher;  Players on the 40 man roster with options are marked with #)

5 Catchers:

Suzuki, K
Herrmann, C (#)
Pinto, J (#)
Fryer, E (*)
Rohlfing, D (*)

10 Infielders:

Dozier, B
Escobar, E
Santana, D (#)
Vargas, K (#)
Mauer, J
Nunez, E
Beresford, J (*)
Bernier, D (*)
Plouffe, T
Martinez, J (*)

7 Outfielders:

Hicks, A (#)
Rosario, E (#)
Robinson, S (*)
Arcia, O (#)
Schafer, J
Hunter, T
Ortiz, D (*)

21 pitchers (which means 9 more cuts to go and only 2 non-roster invitees)

8 Starting Pitchers:

Hughes, P
May, T  (#)
Nolasco, R
Meyer, A (#)
Santana, E
Pelfrey, M (# - but has to give consent)
Gibson, K (#)
Milone, T (#)

13 Relief Pitchers:

Duensing, B
Perkins, G
Pressly, R (#)
Stauffer, T
Thielbar, C (#)
Tonkin, M (#)
Achter, A (#)
Graham, J
Thompson, A (#)
Boyer, B (*)
Pryor, S (#)
Fien, C
Hamburger, M (*)

3/12/15

Looks like the Twins had only one awful pitcher and 13 at average or above in 2014, according to this new data.

A great article was written today by  Jonathan Judge and published at The Hardball Times, called FIP in Context, introducing an new metric, called cFIP, or contest-adjusted FIP that attempts to "estimate the pitcher’s true pitching talent during a particular season".  Always interested in new pitching metrics development, and not only because I have partaken myself in the endeavor. this is an interesting one, albeit much more complex than PE and xPE.  It also correlates well with SIERA, which along with xPE (because it is easy to calculate) are my 2 favorite predictive metrics regarding pitching performance.

I will not steal Jonathan's thunder, please read that excellent article, but I will present his framework and then present his work regarding the Twins' pitchers (he calculated cFIPs for every pitcher in the league the past 4 years, including Jamie Carroll.)  The cFIP scale is normalized to 100 for average, just like OPS+ and ERA+, but it is a minus scale, meaning that less is better, like ERA and FIP and SIERA and all similar metrics.   Should have been called cFIP-, but that is a different story.  So 100 is average and less is better.  Jonathan Judge has the following buckets of pitchers, according their cFIP:


<70 nbsp="" p="" superb="">70–85    Great   
85–95    Above Avg.   
95–105    Average   
105–115    Below Avg.
115–130    Bad   
130+    Awful

Let's put the 2014 Minnesota Twins' pitching staff in those buckets.  For reference, players that are not still with the team are in (parenthesis).  I am also including the 2015 cFIP numbers of the newcomers this off-season.  They have an asterisk behind their names, that would have made Barry Bonds jealous:

Superb:
Phil Hughes    70

Great:
Glen Perkins    74

Above Avg.:
Casey Fien    89
Tim Stauffer    91*
(Yohan Pino    94)

Average:
Aaron Thompson    98
Logan Darnell    99
Ricky Nolasco    100
Trevor May    101
Ervin Santana    101*
Michael Tonkin 102
Caleb Thielbar    103
Blaine Boyer    103*
Lester Oliveros    105

Below Avg.:
(Jared Burton    106)
(Kris Johnson    106)
(Sam Deduno    107)
Stephen Pryor    108
Kyle Gibson    109
(Anthony Swarzak 111)
A. J. Achter    112
Ryan Pressly    112
Brian Duensing    114
Tommy Milone    114

Bad
(Matt Guerrier    116)
(Kevin Correia 119)

Awful:
Mike Pelfrey    132

 A few obsevations:

  • According to this, the Twins had a superb pitcher, Phil Hughes, a great pitcher, Glen Perkins, and 13 total (I am not counting the newcomers) pitchers (that is a full MLB staff, ladies and gentlemen) who were average, above average, great or superb.  Mike Pelfrey (who tied for worst in the majors in this metric) was the only awful pitcher in the Twins' staff
  • But, The Twins had the second worst bullpen in the majors according to xFIP and SIERA and the third worst rotation in the majors, according to SIERA (fourth according to xFIP)
  • Other than Yohan Pino, who was an unfortunate loss, The Twins' front office seems to behave pretty well according to this metric: The pitchers they let go, are all bellow average or beyond.  They did keep a few below average pitchers, and they did keep Mike Pelfrey, who is better suited for the pen and was injured.  Other than Duensing who had a down season, the below average pitchers are all young. 

Big issue in the big picture here:   The Twins had a whole staff worth (13) pitchers who were average and above, yet they managed to be almost at the bottom of the league in pitching.  Those things seem pretty conflicting.

Let's dig deeper and check out the 2013 Twins' cFIP buckets that Jonathan Judge calculated.  For reference purposes, players who left after 2013 are in parenthesis and I added Ricky Nolasco (with an asterisk) as well


Superb:
Glen Perkins    63
Casey Fien    67

Great:
Nobody

Above Avg.:
Jared Burton    91
Caleb Thielbar    91
Ricky Nolasco    93*
Michael Tonkin    94

Average:
Anthony Swarzak    97
Brian Duensing    97
(Shairon Martis    105)

Below Avg.:
Mike Pelfrey    109
(Liam Hendriks    110)
Ryan Pressly    111
(Cole DeVries    114)
(Andrew Albers    115)

Bad: 
Kevin Correia    116
Samuel Deduno    116
(Josh Roenicke    118)
(P.J. Walters    122)
(Vance Worley 124)
Kyle Gibson    125
(Scott Diamond 129)

Awful:
Nobody

This is some really interesting data.  Here is what I see:

  • I think that I either underestimated the Twins' Front Office use of metrics in personnel decisions building the team or Jack Goin should buy me a beer next week at Hammond Stadium, because this tool really describes what the Twins are doing regarding personnel decisions:  The tend to get rid of below average and below pitchers and add average and above pitchers.  Hughes was around 100, but I did not add him here.  This is a stop the presses type of statement, me coming close to shake my head in approval of what the front office is doing... 
  • This tells a tale of 2 cities:  All the Average and above pitchers were relievers.  All starters were bellow average or worse but not awful.  And Pelfrey was the best.  
  • Enough with 2013.  What happened in 2014, comparatively to 2013?  Every single reliever from Perkins down regressed, while the starters (save hurt Pelfrey and replacement level Correia) improved. This is fundamentally interesting, because it kinds of breaks some old school axioms.  And the one excuse for the decline of the Twins' pen in 2014 was that, they were worse because they were too tired because the rotation was so bad.  This data, turns this upside down:  The Twins 2013 rotation was worse than the Twins 2014 rotation, and the 2014 Twins' pen made the 2014 Twins rotation worse.  So a bad pen can make a rotation worse.  Like a reliever coming in with 2 outs and the bases loaded to give a grand slam and 4 runs to the starter. What a concept...
I am starting to really like this metric...  So (and this is really hard for me to say) the Front Office did some improvements for 2014, that actually seem to be supported by real data, but the pitching tanked compared to 2013.  Why?

I'd love to hear your theories after this, and this is what I am thinking:

  • Look at that 2014 list up there.  In your mind, normalize it for playing time.  That would shift the buckets heavier to the below average.  How many games did Pino or May start compared to Pelfrey, Correia, Deduno?  Why was Burton used in high leverage situations over better relievers?  Yes.  Do the same normalization for playing time for the 2013 data.  And you are looking at evidence of what has been written here loudly and clear about mismanagement of the Twins' pitching staff by Gardy and Andy for ages.
  • This has to be part of the reason cause for the pen decline in 2014, and the root causes are described within there.   And they have to be fixed.  And, yes, metrics can be devised to normalize and approximate defense independent pitching, but I have not yet seen one that could estimate the madness of the Twins' 2014 OF (what is the range factor :) of a bucket?)


This actually makes me more hopeful, because it seems like the Twins are doing an effort to address some things.  So, what do you say?


3/5/15

Random Twins Thursday Tidbit: Who the hey is Jon Schaeffer?

It's been bugging be for a while, but for some reason, Jordan Schafer a. sounded familiar when the Twins acquired him last season and b. spelling his last name has been giving me hell.  Now I know the reason.  I have been confusing him (subconsciously apparently) with the Twins' 1987 9th round pick from Stanford, catcher, Jon Schaeffer. Jon Schaeffer had a pretty good career in the Twins system, making it to AA and had a career .282/.404/.458 minor league line, which for a catcher is pretty darn phenomenal.  Schaeffer followed the Chris Herrmann (who was drafted as an OF) and Dan Rohlfing models, rotating between, Catching, playing First Base and the Outfield.  This was pretty much the norm for all catchers under the watchful eye of Twins' minor league director Jim Rantz.   For some weird reason, Schaeffer was traded to the Athletics in June of 2000 for T.R. Marcinczyk, a power-hitting first baseman who was slashing .325/.386/.525 in the California league and had topped 23 HRs the previous 3 seasons.  Marcinczyk (who would had been a great complement to Mientkiewicz and Pierzynski) spend another year in the minors and then quit baseball with a career .262/.345/.473 line and 105 HRs in 6 seasons.  Schaeffer quit baseball that year.  I guess a degree from Stanford (even in Sociology) gives better opportunities than being a catcher with a .862 career OPS in the minors might give.   By the way, Jon Schaeffer is six months younger than the oldest position player in the majors, Twins' RF Torii Hunter (Born on January 20, 1976; Hunter was born on July 18, 1975).  In a where they are now, Jon Schaeffer, going by Jonathan, lives in LA with his family and has had a successful career in the financial services and insurance arenas.

Three things the Twins need to do to compete in 2015: Part II: Fix the outfield

In the first part of this series, I discussed why the Twins should focus only on improving 3 things, and if they do so, they will be competitive.  I also spoke in length about the first of those things, fixing the bullpen.  Today, in the second part, I will be discussing the outfield.

The outfield situation was, using one word, horrid in 2014.  And this is nothing new.  I looked at the outfield defense performance at length, while the ashes of the Twins' season were still hot.  You can find that analysis here. This statement from that writeup summarizes the Twins' outfield defensive performance in 2014:

[The 2014 Twins outfield sum of] plus/minuses is 57.  Which means that the Twins' outfield gave up 57 more runs than an average outfield.  In 2014 the Twins scored 715 runs and gave up 777 for a 62 run differential.  If they had an average outfield, that differential projects at -5, which projects to an 80-82 record, which, albeit not competitive, is respectable.

In the bullpen segment I indicated that the Twins' bullpen was 27th in the majors in ground ball percentage.  The overall pitching (including the rotation) was also 27th in the majors in this metric.  This had a compound effect:  The pitching resulted in a lot of balls on the air, and the defenders who were supposed to catch those balls could not.  And this is an issue; how large of an issue?  According to the above calculations, it was a 10 win issue.   That plus/minus was by far the worst in the majors outfield defense.  The second worst outfield, according to that metric, was the Indians' with -43.  It is pretty interesting that other than the Royals who led the majors in plus/minus with +37, the rest of AL Central (Tigers at -22 and White Sox at -21) was also at the wrong side of zero.

This was a very obvious problem and needed addressing this off-season.  What did the Twins' do in the off-season to address this? 

a. They replaced traded and subsequent retired Josh Willingham (-8 UZR/150; need to use normalized rate metrics for comparison here because of the discrepancies in the number of chances, thus the UZR/150) with Torii Hunter (-20.1 UZR/150 in 2014; but -5.1 UZR/150 in 2013 and +14.0 UZR/150 in 2012; don't go home yet, I have a theory about this.)

b. They have Oswaldo Arcia switch from Right to Left

c. They have Jordan Schafer (1.2 UZR/150 OF,) from the begining of the season.

d. They brought in 30 year old Shane Robinson (10.6 UZR/150 OF) who is a defensive wizard and can play all 3 positions 

e. they hope that Aaron Hicks (-8.2 UZR/150; yes UZR does not like Hicks) will win the centerfield job;

and last but not least

f. they pinky swore that they will not play catchers, DHs and shortstops at the outfield (maybe they should play Nunez on occasion, he is a pretty good left fielder.)  Presumably the aforementioned 5 outfielders will take those innings.

How will that work?  On paper, this is pretty much the same outfield that was the most awful outfield in the majors.   In reality, the last point (f, i.e no Kubel, Bartlett, Colabello, Parmelee et al), has the potential to make this outfield about 29 runs better than it was in plus/minus (that's approaching Tigers & White Sox territory.) And it could potentially be better.   The starting Twins' OF looks like Arcia at Left, Hicks and/or Schafer at Center and Hunter at Right.  For this, let's assume that Hicks will win the CF position and Schafer will play in all 3 spots.

Allegedly, according to the Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, Arcia had problems with the RF overhang at Target Field that caused his fielding problems.   Terry Ryan suggests that Arcia "was a pretty good minor league outfielder".   From what I have seen, Arcia has been an average corner outfielder (Ryan's suggestion, btw, in that linked piece that Arcia was "a pretty good center fielder" is pretty inaccurate, esp. as far as range is concerned.)  Most fielding measures, have Arcia being a better Left Fielder than Right Fielder (and some of them, like Total Zone Fielding Runs Saved Above Average (Rtot), have him as a slightly above average Left Fielder.  Plus, he is young and has the potential to improve.  In 2014 the Twins as a team used eleven different Left Fielders (none of them Named Oswaldo or Arcia) who accounted to -4 Rtot for the season.  Arcia's Left Field performance in 2013 projects to +5 Rtot/year; so this is a 9 run differential.  If Hicks (51 Rtot/yr at LF; small sample size 22 Innings) or Schafer (career 13 Rtot/yr, 2014 21 Rtot/yr at LF) or Shane Robinson (career 5 Rtot/yr at LF) play 25% of the games there and Arcia 75%, we are looking more at a 12 run differential in the position from 2014.

In 2014 the Twins used seven different Center fielders who accounted for -9 Rtot for the season.  Hick's performance on CF in 2013 was 3 Rtot/yr, then went downhill in 2014 for a career of +1 Rtot/yr.   In 2014 Schafer had a +1 Rtot/yr as a Center Fielder in a smaller sample size between Atlanta and Minnesota.  Assuming that Hicks will start and Schafer will be the back up, I think that it is safe to say that we are looking at a baseline of around 1 or a 10 run differential at Center Field, which is just a baseline, because with Hicks getting consistent play and back to 2013 levels, it could be close to 13-15 runs. 

The Twins used ten different Right Fielders in 2014 who accounted for a whopping -17 Rtot for the season, which was in par with Torii Hunter's -18 Rtot/yr for 2014.  Do you remember that point in the listing above under a., regarding Torii Hunter's exponential UZR/150 drop the past 3 seasons?  It is the same for his Rtot/yr:  It dropped for +4 in 2012 to -5 in 2013 to -18 in 2014.   And by looking at film of Torii's outfield adventures with Detroit, I think that it is potentially fixable.  Most of his issues were from taking bad routes to balls, misjudging balls, missing balls and the like, indicating that he had a hard time getting a good look and a good jump and positioning.  Torii Hunter is the oldest fielder in the majors.  I am pretty sure that I saw Torii Hunter wearing eyeglasses in an interview with MLB Network when with the Angels regarding the Pujols' signing.  So, one plus one means that he needs to see an ophthalmologist, which might had happened during the off-season.   I also hope that he will take a lot of fly balls out there, as well.  If Hunter's fielding returns to his (below average) 2013 levels of -5 Rtot/yr, we are looking at a 12 run differential at Right Field.   Right Field is Jordan Schafer's best position with 22 Rtot/yr.  So assuming Schafer as a late inning replacement or starting 20%  of the games there, a 14 run differential at Right Field is realistic.  

So, the total differential is about 36 runs, or 6 wins better than 2014, using this calculation.  This still projects a below average outfield (basically because of Hunter at RF,) just not an outfield as horrible as 2014.  Thus the 36 run differential vs the 57 for an average with that calculation.  Can the outfield get even closer to average?

 Another note about 2014:  I believe that part of the bad performance at the outfield was the on the manager.  11 LFs + 7 CFs + 10 RFs (14 different individual players in total) adds to exponential combinations and an outfield needs to play together to gel.  The most games a player started in any OF position was Arcia at RF with 97 at Center Field Santana (62) and at Left Field Willingham (52) led in starts.   You cannot build consistency this way.  This matter cannot be calculated, but will definitely add to the sum total of the fielding performance of the 2015 outfield.  The musical chairs need to stop and have four to five rear ends landing on them and not fourteen.  That was begging for trouble and trouble was what the Twins' got with their OF defense in 2014.  A consistent outfield will improve the individual performances and will be the only way that the Twins' OF defense will get close to league average...





  

3/2/15

Three things the Twins need to do to compete in 2015: Part I: Fix the pen.

At first read, the title of this series sounds very much like A Midsummer Night's Dream: Do I dare suggest that the team that went from 99 to 96 to 96 to 92 losses the past five seasons needs to do only three things to compete?   The next number to that Arithmetic Progression up there is between 88 and 92 and that is not competing by any means.   Let me explain my train of thought here before the nice kind people in white come and get me to warmer climates:  First: In order to make significant, measurable and effective change, you cannot focus on changing 20 things.  Too many balls in the air, some will drop.  Focusing of few things that you can change and make an effort to do so, is much more effective.  Second: I do believe that with the changes this off-season, the Twins removed a huge barrier to their success: Breaking ties with Gardernhire, Anderson, Ulger and Steinbach (even though they did not go far enough in my opinion, but this is all another matter,) is the equivalent of starting the seasons with (at least) plus five wins. 

So that next number in that loss progression looks more between 83 and 87.   So those three things that need to be done, if done correctly and effectively, will be enough to give the Twins an extra 5-7 wins, putting that total loss range to 76-82 and that is not a losing record.  The top number of that range (86-76) is close to a wild-card number and likely, if the Twins get there, they will compete for the title in a weakened and more balanced Division.

The first thing they need to do to get there is to fix their bullpen.  And I hope that they know that this was a huge problem in 2014; as a matter of fact a bigger problem than the rotation.  I touched it a bit here, suggesting that they spend some more money and get another late inning reliever, even though this bird has flown already, there are similar possibilities, especially in a trade, outside the organization.  But there are potentially intriguing possibilities inside the organization.   Let's frame the problem first, and then let's look at what they have at hand, and explore potential solutions:

The Problem:

In 2014, the Twins' bullpen was bad; how bad?  It ranked 29th in the majors in both xFIP (4.18) and SIERA (3.84).  And those are numbers that are a. fielding independent so Gardy's Catchers at the Outfield are not factoring in, and b. reflect the actual talent of pitchers and not external parameters, thus really measuring how good the staff is in a vaccum (as much as one can have.)   So why the Twins' pen was one better than the worst in the majors?  Let's do some root cause analysis:  Here are some other numbers for the pen, and their rank in the majors: K/9: 6.66 (30th), K% 17.3 (30th), SwStr% 9.2% (30th), GB%: 40.1 (27th), FBv: 91.5 (27th), Contact% 80.9 (1st).   So, in other words, the Twins pen:  Had the worst strikeout rate in the majors, the worst swing strike percentage in the majors, the third from the bottom ground ball rate in the majors, the third from the bottom fastball velocity in the majors and the most contact rate in the majors.  However, it could had been worse:  The Twins' pen ranked 15th in BABIP (so they were not particularly unlucky) and 23rd in HR/FB.  So in simple terms, the 2014 Twins' pen:

  • Could not induce swings and misses or strikeouts
  • Put the ball in play more than any other pen
  • And the put the ball in play with the third worst velocity in the majors
  • When the ball was in play was the least on the ground than all but 3 other teams 
  • Thankfully, they were lucky enough that their fly balls translated to home runs in a rate less than league average and batted balls (other than home runs) were hits at a league average rate.

What they have at hand:

To see what they have at hand, let's create an imaginary construct called the league average reliever.  So here are the numbers (and I am focusing on the Twins' weaknesses here) of the league average reliever: xFIP: 3.67, SIERA: 3.34  (those 2 are pretty much equivalent, they correlate with 92% coefficient, so I will be focusing on SIERA only for simplicities' sake), K%: 22.2, Fastball velocity (FBv): 92.5, Swinging Strike% (SwStr%) : 10.5.

Here are how the current Twins' bullpen candidates (and "locks") performed in those categories in 2014.  If they are equal or better than the average major league pitcher, that number is in bold. For players mostly in the minors, I am including their K% in the minors (in parenthesis).  The other numbers are not available.


Pitcher SIERA K% SwStr% Fbv
LHP



Glen Perkins 2.62 25.4 11.2 93.4
Brian Duensing 4.29 14.4 8.6 91.1
Logan Darnell 3.55 19.6 (18.1) 9.9 89.8
Aaron Thompson 3.8 19.4 (22.5) 10.8 89.1
Caleb Thielbar 4.06 17 6.2 89.1
Tommy Milone 4.57 14.5 7.3 86.6
Ryan O'Rourke
NA (28.7)

RHP



Lester Oliveros 4.62 18.5 (35.4) 9.8 93.7
Ryan Pressly 4.18 11.5 (24.6) 8.3 93.3
Blaine Boyer 3.45 18.1 (23.5) 9.8 93
Michael Tonkin 3.56 18.4 (24.2) 8.4 92.8
Casey Fien 3.43 19.6 10.4 92.3
Trevor May 4.2 20.7 (23.5) 9.4 91.9 (*)
Stephen Pryor 6.94 12.5 (27.2) 5.7 91.7 (*)
Tim Stauffer 3.09 24.5 10.9 91.1
A.J. Achter 5.11 10.2 (24.6) 8.3 90.2
J.R. Graham
NA (15.7)

Mark Hamburger
NA (16)



So, in other words, the Twins now have only 2 pitchers who were above the proverbial average pitcher in 2014:  Glen Perkins and Tim Stauffer. In a seven men bullpen, this is not very encouraging.  For the time being, let's pen in Perkins and Stauffer and look for 5 more names, at least one of whom has to be a lefty.  I assume that starting pitching prospects like Alex Meyer, Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey & Jason Wheeler, will be in AAA if they do not make the rotation, so these 5 are out of this discussion. 

One wild-card is Mike Pelfrey.  I believe that he has the stuff to make an excellent late inning reliever, and make the jump the Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan did before.  However, Pelfrey has been a better starter than either Perkins or Nathan, so his ceiling as a late innings reliever is higher than both.  Pelfrey has pitched on 2 games in relief (for the Mets in 2007) thus if that transition happens, it should happen as soon as possible, to be able to pitch in consecutive days when the season starts.  Why do I think he can be a good late innings reliever?  His fastball is explosive when healthy and is his primary weapon.  As a starter, he has to mix his pitches.  As a reliever, his 92.5 mph fastball, can easily gain 3-4 more miles an hour.  His curve ball is a good complimentary offering and he would have the luxury to drop his non-successful slider and cutter and just occasionally mix his less than stellar split finger change.  This makes 3.

As far as righties go, the Twins will likely take Casey Fien up north (and hopefully not use him in high leverage situations, because he is below average in all of the above categories, and he is one of the major drivers of the low GB%, since his is only 32.1.)  Fien would not be my choice.  I would rather see what Trevor May can do as a reliever.  Similar discussion with Pelfrey, his 91.9 mph FB average will get to the mid 90s as a reliever, plus he had the second best K% of the group in the majors and a respectable SwStr% (mostly as a starter, and will get better as a reliever.)  And the cherry on top is that we led the 2014 Twins' pen with 2 Ground Balls per Fly Ball and a 57.1% GB%. May projects as an above average reliever.  This makes 4.

Need a lefty, and from that group, I'd go with Brian Duensing, and not because he is the most veteran.  Brian Duensing (like Glen Perkins) regressed a bit in 2014, mainly losing about 1 mph velocity in his fastball and losing effectiveness in his slider.   That translated to a K% drop from 20.9% to 14.4% and a SwStr% drop from 10.5% to 8.6%.   That said, he had the highest GB% from all lefties in the Twins' pen (45.7%) and has by far the highest velocity from the lefties left in the list.  As far as offerings go, I think that Duensing has too many pitches.  Losing either the slider or the curve (both have been inconsistent) and focusing on one, plus regaining his 2013 form (which was at or above the average pitcher's) will do wonders for the Twins.  I hope that the new pitching coach will help in these regards.

This makes 5 which leaves a lot of candidates for 2 spots.  I think that the Twins will need someone who can fulfill the Anthony Swarzak role, but all of the above have been starting pitchers and there is flexibility, which means that if (e.g.) Tommy Milone loses out for the fifth starter job, he does not have to be the long man in the Twins' pen.  Having a long man by committee, might actually be an interesting approach.  The most intriguing names above for me for the last 2 spots are Aaron Thomson, Stephen Pryor, J.R. Graham, Ryan Pressly and Blaine Boyer.  Pryor use to throw fastballs in the high 90s (career average 96.4) but velocity slipped due to injuries last season.  Very similar situation with the rule 5 pick, J.R. Graham and their former rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly.  Blaine Boyer is the veteran in the group, with good track record and might make the team.   As far as another lefty, Thomson is ahead of Thielbar (who in addition to be below average in every respect, has a 31.8% GB%) in my book.

Should the Twins go out and target a "known quantity" like Jonathan Papelbon (2.86 SIERA, 24.3 K%, 12.1 SwStr%, 91.2 mph, 41.9 GB%) in a trade? I think that it will definitely help, but putting Pelfrey and May in the pen might work equally well.  I think that the bones are there.  Perkins and Duensing should rebound from regressive seasons, Stauffer was a good acquisition, if you break down the numbers, and they will find 2-3 more relievers.  But they have to take the best 7 up north, which means that they might have to make tough choices regarding below average extreme fly ball pitchers like Fien and Thielbar, even though there might be the belief that they are still under scholarship.