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...



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

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)


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.