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3/21/09

Separated at birth?

Here is a little break from baseball and I will try to make this a regular feature in this space. I somewhat started that here last summer, but I will try to be a bit more methodical about it: I will try to get potential look-alikes for the Twins' players and display an picture of them next to a picture of the Twins' player in question.

This one has been much talked about, but the similarities are striking:

Separated at Birth?

Serena Williams and Delmon Young

First annual objective organizational rankings

This is somewhat of a derivative exercise (and that title sounds way too grandiose but this is what I can do this early in the morning.) I do not have much interest in "organizational rankings" as an intellectual activity per se; however, Dave Cameron's attempts to create a list of organizational rankings at FanGraphs made me think twice. Dave is a veteran blogger and he runs the USS Mariner blog (Go read it, if you haven't; lot's of good stuff there.)

Here is the basic premise and it is a good one: there are lists all over baseball about the best minor league systems, about the best front offices, etc.; can we have a single list to combine them all and look at a ranking of the best organizations with our eyes looking at the future and see which are more likely to succeed.

Cool. Home run. Touch them all, Dave Cameron!

But the task seemed too daunting, especially since count down after count down and comment after comment from fans who thought that their organizations were ranked too low, Dave got tired of the criticism and shouted: if you’re one of the 0.1% actually leaving intelligent responses in the comments section, I’m sorry, but for obvious reasons, they’re getting lost in the noise of the masses, when he presented his twelfth ranked franchise. I am sure that there is a lot of thought that went into this and a lot of work, but the problem here is that Dave's criteria were not well defined from the beginning and they were subjective. That opened the door for arguments of the nature I think that the major league talent of the Orioles is B-, why did you rank it as a C? (just a fictional example and the comments were not all that benign.) All that causes frustration to everyone involved; but I think that such condescending remarks do not help one's argument or credibility for that matter (the latest Pope tried that last week in Africa when he claimed that the use of condoms does not prevent HIV infection, but praying does, and it had a similar effect, albeit of different gravity and importance)

Back to the old ball game: How would one go about making such a ranking of franchises without causing all of that drama?

By using objective criteria.

Dave uses four criteria in his evaluations: Ownership, Front Office, Major League Talent and Minor League Talent. Since those things were not defined, and they are so intertwined, I have a hard time differentiating between front office and ownership. If a player is signed or not, is it because of a front office move or because of the owner? If a team decides to rebuilt, is that front office- or owner-driven? Hard to make this distinction. And I opted not to make it.

My criteria are three:

Front Office (includes ownership), Major League Talent, Minor League Talent.

How does one create objective measurements for these? Here is my take:

  • Front Office: The idea is to create a winning team spending the least amount possible. The metric I am using for this is the sum of a team's wins the last three years (multiplied by 5 to emphasize that wins matter more than payroll; and because I do not want to penalize the teams who have it and spent it to create a winner; see: Yankees) over what the team spent as player payroll to get those wins

  • Major League Talent: Remember this is forward-looking. My measurement for this is the sum of a team's wins in the last three years (multiplied by 2 to add more weight to wins, because that's what it matters) over the average age of the team's hitters and pitchers in 2008

  • Minor League Talent: This was probably the easiest thing to calculate. I am using the overall winning percentage of an organization's minor league teams in 2008. Top prospects and minor league stars are great, but organizational depth is very undervalued and those are the guys who would potentially bail out a team if its starting shortstop has a finger caught in a base (sounds familiar?)


That said, here are the raw numbers for each of these categories



and here is the ranking on each of these categories (and their overall ranking; if it is not clear I added the component rankings and ranked the lowest total as number one and so forth, to calculate overall rankings)



based on these criteria, the baseball organizations would rank as follows:

1. Twins
2. Marlins
3. Angels
4. Indians, Athletics
6. Rockies
7. Rangers
8. Blue Jays, Red Sox
10. Yankees
11. Diamondbacks
12. Nationals
13. Padres, Giants
15. Cardinals
16. Rays, Mets, Cubs, Philies
20. Brewers
21. White Sox, Braves
22. Reds
24. Dodgers, Royals
26. Pirates
27. Tigers
28. Mariners
29. Orioles, Astros

Discussion is always welcomed and appreciated. Please ask questions about the methodology and challenge the metrics. I could have used more verbage to describe more of what I am thinking, but this is long as is. I'd love to explain gray areas in questions. This is just an exercise at this point and I will try to do it annually, since the numbers will change annually. And there are a couple of arcane hidden rankings in that last table: the rankings of franchises based on major league talent and the age of that talent, and the ranking of the minor league organizations...

3/20/09

Three more cuts today

The Twins announced that Wilson Ramos was optioned to AA New Britain Rock Cats (which leaves Jose Morales and Drew Butera battling for Mauer's replacement, with Jose Morales' probability being it exponentially increased), Kevin Mulvey and Mike Gosling were assigned to their minor league club. Good thing for Mulvey because he will be able to pitch more innings and get ready for Rochester in 2009, but I am still not sure where Mike Gosling fits (if he does) in the big schema of things...

Since there are only 2 weeks left from Monday for opening day, I still expect more cuts to be announced this weekend or by Monday. Stay tuned.

Catcher profile: Number 40, Wilson Ramos

This is the third and final catcher profile in search for Mauer's potential temporary replacement. The series started with José Morales, followed by Drew Butera, and concludes today with Wilson Ramos

Wilson Ramos is the baby of the trio, since he will not turn 22 until August 10th. He is also the one with the highest upside. He was ranked as the number 3 top prospect for the Twins by Baseball America both for 2008 and 2009. Ramos is Venezuelan and was signed as an amateur free agent in July of 2004 by Jose Leon, the Twins' scout who also signed other notables such as Jose Mijares, Oswaldo Sosa, Yohan Pino, Josmir Pinto, and Frank Mata. His pro debut was in 2006 with the Gulf Coast Twins (short season rookie league) where he played in 46 games (34 as a catcher and 12 as a 1B) and hitting .286/.339/.435 with 3 HRs in 154 AB. He was a GCL post-season All Star. In 2007 he jumped 2 levels, bypassing the Elizabethton Twins (Appalachian league, high Rookie) to join the Beloit Snappers of the Midwest League (A). He appeared in 73 games, 51 as a catcher as 22 as a DH, compiling a .291/.345/.438 line with 8 HR in 292 AB. Last season, he was promoted to the Ft. Myers Miracle of the Florida State League (high A) where he appeared in 126 games (80 as a catcher, 41 as a DH) and hit .288/.346/.434 with 13 HR in 452 AB. He was both an FSL Mid- season and an FSL Post-season All Star. Something that has to be noted is that his batting line has been the same every year in consecutively higher levels, which is not an easy accomplishment.

This winter, Wilson Ramos played winter ball in his native Venezuela with the Tigres de Arague (a team that also included Twins, Luke Hughes, Matt Tolbert, Jose Mijares, Frank Mota and Oswaldo Sosa). He outplayed both Tolbert and Hughes, hitting .317/.331/.475 with 4 HRs in 120 AB (44 games). This earned him a position to the Venezualan team for the Carribean Series finals, where he earned the starting catcher position over the veterans Raul Chavez (10 years MLB experience and the Pirates' back up catcher last season) and Alex Delgado (16 years minor league experience and a cup of coffee with Boston). He lead the Venezualan team to a 5-1 record and the championship by hitting .385/.529/.385 in 4 games (14 AB, 5 singles, 5 walks, 3 strikeouts.) He was a Caribbean Series All-Star.

Ramos is a dark horse (and a fan favorite) in the battle for Mauer's temporary replacement. He does have the highest ceiling that the other 2 (and been outperforming them thus far in the spring), has been very successful in every league he played and is a complete catcher who has both defensive and hitting ability. He absolutely bashes LHP (.344/.401/.520 in 2008 with the Miracle) uses the whole field and has power to all fields (here is his spray chart from 2008. You need to click on the "spray chart" link to see it) This will be the age 21 season for Ramos, and the consensus in the Twins organization appears to be that they do not want to rush him to the bigs quite yet. If we look at the catcher who he could temporary replace, Joe Mauer, it looks like that the Twins are not hesitant to bring up North 21 year old players, if it makes sense. Mauer in his age 20 season (his last in the minors) hit .335/.397/.412 in 62 games with the Miracle and .341/.395/.453 in 73 games with the Rock Cats. Wilson Ramos in his age 20 season hit .288/.346/.434 with the Miracle. He does have more power than Mauer (Mauer had 9 career homes runs in the minors and Ramos 24; they both have played 3 full minor league season); however, he still needs to improve his contact skills and his discipline at the plate. An additional season as a starter in New Britain would probably benefit him. If he puts similar numbers there as he did in 2008 with the Miracle, the Twins might have a very interesting decision in 2010, about who will be Redmond's replacement and Mauer's back up catcher in the Majors: Ramos or Morales?

Update: Ramos was optioned to New Britain today

Ramos has been wearing the number 40 on his jersey in his minor league career but was assigned the number 76 in the major league camp, because number 40 is what Rick Anderson wears.



(don't you love that tag, btw?)

Here is Ramos batting against the Sarasota Reds in an extended spring training game in 2007

3/19/09

Catcher profile: Number 22, Drew Butera

Yesterday, I started the profiles of Twins' catchers who could be Joe Mauer's temporary replacements this season, beginning with José Morales. Today I am continuing the series on catchers by profiling Drew Butera.

Drew Butera, the son of former Twin Sal Butera will turn 26 years old next August 9th. He was signed by the Mets after being drafted in the 5rd round of the 2005 amateur out of the Univesity of Central Florida as a sophomore. He was previously drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 48th round of the 2002 draft, but he opted to go to college. In High School (Bishop Moore High, Orlando, FL) he was the 3A player of the year his senior season and second-team all country in his junior year. The right-handed catcher, was traded to the Twins along with Dustin Martin for Luis Castillo a day before the trading deadline in 2007. In his last season with the Central Florida Scarlet Knights Butera hit .325/.434/.481 with 5 HRs and 10 SB, while throwing out 48% of potential base-stealers. That was his best season (amateur or professional) ever with the bat, earning him a spot in the A-Sun All Tournament team.

It seems that either the transition from aluminum to wood was very hard for him, or the Mets, in their usual fashion, rushed him and had him play a level or two above his place. As a matter of fact, he had been gaining at least level a year in the Mets' system, regardless his performance. In his first pro year he was assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League (low A), where he hit .217/.305/.297 with 1 HR in 175 AB (55 games). Regardless his flirtation with the Mendoza line, he was promoted to the Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League, A) in 2006 and responded in a predictable fashion hitting .186/.297/.281 with 5 HRs in 295 AB. One would think that at this point the Mets would probably step on the break and at least have him repeat 2007 in Hagerstown; that was not the case. In 2007 he was promoted to the St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League (high A) where he hit a reasonable .258/.348/.418 with 5 HR in 182 AB (his best pro numbers at any level.) This earned him a promotion to the Eastern League (AA) Binghampton Mets, where he hit .188/.208/.231 in 117 AB before traded to the Twins.

The Twins, did not act like their normal conservative selves as far as player development goes, and instead of sending him to Ft. Myers in the Florida state league where he was successful with the Mets earlier in the season, assigned him to the New Britain Rock Cats in the same Eastern League. He hit .260/.327/.360 in 17 games for the Rock Cats, which was good enough to earn him a trip at the Arizona Fall League where he hit .250/.314/.313 in 12 games (32 AB). Last season he repeated his assignment with the Rock Cats and somewhat disappointed hitting .219/.308/.354 with 7 HRs at 302 AB. Butera was added to the 40 man roster this fall to protect him from the Rule 5 draft and has 3 years of options left including 2009. He does not have to be in the majors until 2012 and it is probably to his benefit that he doesn't. His defense is excellent. He threw 50% of the would be base-stealers he faced last season in New Britain. Having the benefit of being tutored since a very young age by his father, Sal Butera, even since early in his pro career, Drew is on record (here is a 2005 interview from scout.com) saying that for him defense is the priority for a catcher and success with the bat is secondary. I hope that he changed that opinion the last 4 years, since incomplete catchers are usually AAAA players at best.

If he is rushed to the majors, he could be another Danny Ardoin (career .206/.296/.307 in parts of 5 seasons with the Twins, Rangers, Rockies, Orioles, Dodgers and a lot of trips back and forth to AAA in between; but he caught 38% of would be stealers in the process) or another Sal Butera (career .227/.302/.295 in parts of 9 MLB seasons with the Twins, Tigers Expos, Reds and Blue Jays and many trips back and forth to AAA.) Drew has shown glimpses of brilliance with the bat: occasionally hits for power and has stretches that he has shown a good eye at the plate, but his overall ability as a hitter has not yet caught up with his defensive abilities yet. There are a couple of positive elements from his last season, when he hit .219/.308/.354 with the Rock Cats: His is hitting lefties ok (.269/.364/.358 vs .197/.286/.338 against RHP) and he hits well at his first AB against an opposing starter in a game: .308/.333/.436. He needs to make adjustments, as the pitchers adjust to him and work on his hitting against RHP. The best thing for Butera would be to repeat AA this year, if successful move to Rochester mid-season or in 2010 and then be re-evaluated. Anything else might be a rushed decision.

A couple of anecdotal tidbits about Butera: He is a big opera fan and used to listen to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti in the clubhouse before games while in the Mets' system. I am not sure whether he continued that in the Twins' system, but he is a part of a makeshift band with 3 other Rock Cats: Trevor Plouffe, Dustin Martin and Toby Gardenhire. He has been wearing the number 22 jersey in the minors, but since that belongs to Carlos Gomez, he has been wearing the number 71 in spring training.

3/18/09

Catcher profile: Number 58, José Morales

Because of the ongoing saga with Joe Mauer, and the high likelihood that he will not start the season up North, I am starting a series of profiles of the three most likely candidates to replace him in the start of the season: José Morales, Drew Butera and Wilson Ramos. This is the first of the 3 and it profiles José Morales. Drew Butera and Wilson Ramos will follow tomorrow and Friday.

José Morales turned 26 years old last February 20th. He was drafted by the Twins in the 3rd round in 2001 out of Academia de Providencia High School. He is Puerto Rican, and Puerto Ricans (unlike the other Latin Americans) are subjected to the Major League amateur draft. He was drafted as a second baseman and played 2 years as a second baseman with the Gulf Coast Twins in 2001 and 2002. In 2001 he hit .248/.285/.333 in 117 AB and in 2002 .309/.335/.371 in 175 AB. The next year, the switch-hitter was converted into a catcher and started the season with the Quad Cities River Bandits (Midwest League, A), where he hit .271/.291/.376 in 179 AB and hit his first 2 professional career home runs. Once the River Bandits' season was over, he played 12 games with Miracle at Ft. Myers in the Florida State league (high A) where he had 42 AB and hit .357/.372/.476 (.848 OPS). In this season, Morales played 33 games as a catcher, 4 games at 3B and 4 games a 2B. That stint at Ft. Myers opened a lot of eyes and Morales was fast-tracked as a catcher. It was his age 20 season and the last time that Morales would take the field without catcher's gear (other than one inning with the Rock Cats at second base in 2006).

In 2004 Morales was the starting catcher with the Miracle where he spent his whole season and hit .287/.344/.387 with 4 HRs. He threw out 42% of would be base stealers and was named to the Florida State All Star team. He was promoted to New Britain in 2005, but landed in the DL after 7 games and 20 AB with a back issue (does that sound gravely familiar?) His total production was .209/.273/.306 in those 20 ABs. Next season, 2006, he repeated in the Eastern League (AA) with the Rock Cats, where, still bothered by his back, he hit .211/.276/.311 with 3 home runs. Regardless, he was promoted to Rochester for 2 games in September out of a need because the team had run out of catchers, since Chris Heitz was called up to the Twins and Shawn Wooten quit. For all it matters, he had a single in 7 AB. Next season, however, he was the starting catcher with the Rochester Red Wings (International League, AAA) and put some impressive numbers: .311/.366/.399 (2 HR) in 376 AB. He was an international league All-star in 2007. This earned him a spot on the 40-man roster and a promotion to the Twins, where in his single Major League game, he went 3 for 3 (one double, 2 singles) off José Contreras of the White Sox. Unfortunately, in a Jason Tyner sacrifice bunt attempt in this game, after Morales' last single, while on first base trying to reach second, his cleats were caught in the Dome turf resulting to a broken left ankle. He spent the 2007 off-season recuperating his ankle and reported to Rochester for 2008. In Rochester he hit .315/.348/.426 with 4 HRs and 30% of the would be stealers thrown out, before aggravating his left ankle injury last June 12.

Morales is finally healthy and trying to win a spot with the Twins this season in spring training. Morales is a true switch hitter who utilizes the whole field. here are his spray charts from his 2008 season (click on the spray chart link.) Earlier in his career he has been a better left handed batter, but now he bats equally well from both sides of the plate, even-though he is a better and more powerful RHB. His 2008 splits were .340/.386/.472 against LHP and .303/.331/.400 against RHP. He is not a type of a catcher that will hit the long ball a lot, but one who will make solid contact and will hit several doubles and occasional home runs. Think Brian Harper. One think of note: Morales would be out of options after the 2009 season, so he projects to replace Redmond in the Twins' 25-man roster for 2010.

3/17/09

Is this the future of baseball?

The writing is on the wall; or, more precisely, on uniform sleeves and helmets.

Corporate sponsorship in baseball has slowly moved from billboards behind home plates in the 80s (in full view from the default center field television cameras), to stadium naming rights in the 90s, to the newest fad, followed by several teams in this year's World Baseball Classic:

Corporate sponsor names on uniform sleeves and helmets (and not to pick on team Puerto Rico; several other teams have them, but Puerto Rico played today allowing me to get screencaps)





Is this a sign for things to come to the major leagues?

Do you think that the next step would be naming rights to post-season games and the world series, like with the college bowl games? How does "Jiffy Lube NLDS" sound? What about the "KFC All-star game"?

Or could it be the European soccer model, where teams instead of wearing their team's name on their chests, they wear their team's sponsor's. Will the next iteration of the Twins' franchise be the Minnesota Targets?

What do you think?

The fist cuts

Today was the announcement of the first cuts of spring training. The names were made public first, not by the conventional media and the beat writers who follow the Twins, but by Seth Stohs of Sethspeaks.net. Here is the list:

These 5 players are in the 40-man roster, so they were "optioned" to the minor league camp. Once a player is added to the 40-man roster, his 3 year option clock starts :

Armando Gabino
Trevor Plouffe
Deibinson Romero
Anthony Swarzak
Steve Tolleson


These 6 players were "non-roster invitees" (i.e. not on the 40-man roster) and were "reassigned" to the minor league camp:

Rob Delaney
Toby Gardenhire
Ben Julianel
Danny Lehmann
Dustin Martin
Danny Valencia


Surprises? Yes,actually quite a few:

  • Jose Mijares is still in the big club camp. After he showed up overweight and out of shape, and pitched fairly erratically, the consensus feeling was that he will be one of the first cuts. At this point, he probably belongs more here, than in a major league club. I am not sure that the remaining of the ST for him should not be of the drop 25 lbs in 2 weeks variety.

  • Kevin Mulvey and Brian Duensing are still in the camp. They have low chances of making the 25-man roster and as 2009 starters with Rochester, they would have benefited by more innings of work at the minor league camp

  • Jeff Christie has not been cut. I know that there is need for catchers to catcher bullpens and workouts, but the Twins could have gotten college kids to do than, instead of keeping a guy who was in Rochester last year from getting game work this spring. Christie had all of 2 AB this spring

  • Dustin Martin was cut. Dustin Martin was one of the best performers the first 3 weeks of the spring and outplayed Luis Matos, Jason Pridie and David Winfree. I would have thought that he would have been ahead of all 3 in the Twins' depth chart. For some reason, Gardenhire does not think so

  • Luis Matos is still with the club. After hitting .158/.158/.211 in 19 AB, taking awful routes at the outfield and having balls sail over his head in multiple occasions, I would have thought that the fate of the 30 year old who hit .250/.323/.352 in AAA in 2008 was all but sealed. Martin's great Arizona League performance and great Spring Training performance as well as the signing of 26 year old Justin Huber of Team Australia fame, who is a legitimate power threat from the right side of the plate, would have been the last nails in Matos' coffin. What do I know what is in Gardy's mind?

  • Steven Tolleson was cut. Steven was unlucky. He was out nursing injuries for a week and a half. He got all in all 11 unproductive at bats, putting zeros across the board (he had a double in the exhibition against team Netherlands.) Being part of the 40-man roster and having a great Arizona League performance to follow an excellent performance in the minors in 2008, in addition to the fact that he is a very good defender both in 2B and in SS, I thought that he had an outside chance to make the 25-man roster as a utility infielder. Gardy apparently did not think so.




·

3/16/09

Spring training weeks 1-3 summary.

Three weeks of spring training are in the books and this is how the Twins' players involved in position battles are performing so far. These are the cummulative statistics through week 3 (The rankings are by decreasing OPS for position players and by decreasing WHIP for pitchers) :

Position Players:

Outfield Starter Battle:


Gomez .333/.400/.815, 3 HR, 3 BB, 2 SB (27 AB)
Young .423/.464/.615, 1 HR, 1 SB (26 AB)
Cuddyer .280/.308/.560, 1 HR, 1 BB (25 AB)
Span .097/.200/.097, 4 BB, 1 SB (31 AB)

Spot on the Bench vs Rochester Battle:

Buscher .391/.444/.609, 1 HR, 3 BB (23 AB)
Hughes .444/.444/.444 (9 AB)
Ramos .308/.400/.385, 2 BB (13 AB)
Butera .286/.375/.286, 1 BB (7 AB)
Machado .200/.273/.300, 2 SB, 1 BB (10 AB)
Macri .211/.250/.263 1 BB (19 AB)
Morales .250/.222/.250 (8 AB)
Tolbert .138/.219/.138 2 BB (29 AB)
Plouffe .071./.133/.071, 1 BB, 1 SB (14 AB)
Tolleson .000/.000/.000 (10 AB)

Battle for Rochester vs. New Britain:

Peterson .313/.389/.625 1 HR (GS), 2BB (16 AB)
Martin .444/.421/.556 (18 AB)
Winfree .350/.333/.500 (20 AB)
Valencia .385/.385/.385 (13 AB)

Other notable starter stats:

Kubel .381/.458/.571 1 HR, 3 BB (21 AB)
Casilla .393/.433/.500, 2 BB, 1 SB (28 AB)
Morneau .333/.385/.500 1 BB (12 AB)
Harris .273/.360/.318, 2 BB (22 AB)


Position Player of weeks 1-3:

Carlos Gomez



Honorable mention:, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Dustin Martin, Brian Buscher, Alexi Casilla, Brock Peterson.


Pitchers:

Starter Performance:


Blackburn ERA 0.00, WHIP 0.40, 0 BB, 1 K, 5 IP
Slowey ERA 1.93, WHIP 0.75, 1 BB, 10 K 9.1 IP
Liriano ERA 2.19, WHIP 0.89, 2 BB, 12 K, 12.1 IP
Perkins ERA 3.00, WHIP 1.33, 4 BB, 6 K, 15 IP
Baker ERA 6.00, WHIP 1.80, 0 BB, 4 K, 6 IP

Battle for set up man:

Crain 0.00 ERA, WHIP 0.27, 0 BB, 2 K, 3.2 IP (plus 1.1 perfect innings with 4 K for team Canada in the WBC)
Ayala 0.00 ERA, WHIP 0.50, 0 BB, 0 K, 2 IP; WBC with Mexico
Breslow 1.50 ERA, WHIP 0.50, 1 BB, 8 K, 6 IP
Guerrier 4.05 ERA, WHIP 1.65, 4 BB, 3 K, 6.2 IP

On the bubble; battle for the last 1-2 spots:

Henn 0.00 ERA, WHIP 1.00, 2 BB, 2 K, 4 IP
Keppel 3.60, WHIP 1.00, 1 BB, 2 K, 5 IP
Jones 1.29 ERA, WHIP 1.29, 3 BB, 5 K, 7 IP
Dickey 4.70 ERA, WHIP 1.30, 2 BB, 9 K, 7.2 IP
Humber 9.00, WHIP 1.50, 0 BB, 0 K, 4 IP
Goslin 0.00 ERA, WHIP 1.91, 3 BB, 2 K, 3.2 IP
Mijares 10.38 ERA, WHIP 3.00, 7 BB, 4 K, 4.1 IP


pitcher of weeks 1-3, spring training:

Jesse Crain





honorable mention: Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Fransisco Liriano, Craig Breslow, Jason Jones