Sunday, August 30, 2009

Valencia or Plouffe at Third Next Year?

There has been a lot of excitement in the Twins blogsphere about Danny Valencia. Valencia has hit well at every level and has provided hope that he could fill the hole the Twins have had at third base since Corey Koskie left. That excitement only grew when he landed at AAA and went on a tear.

By contrast Trevor Plouffe's name usually comes up in the context of "failed" Twins draft choices. He has moved rapidly through the system despite lack of outstanding numbers at any level. He is in his second year at AAA and he started the season by hitting under .225 in April and May and was still under .250 at the allstar break.

The result is that Valencia is hitting .296 .317 .457 at AAA while Plouffe is hitting .259 .310 .402. It seems clear that Valencia is more ready than Plouffe to contribute at the major league level.

Unfortunately, those numbers are highly misleading. Afterall, the minor leagues are about development - its how a player ends the season, not how they start it, that determines how successful a year they had. And when you compare Valencia to Plouffe post allstar break, Plouffe has been doing much better.

Valencia's second half numbers are .265 .291 .400 - nowhere near what you would like to see from a guy you are ready to hand third base to, even if it were against major league pitching. Valencia had a bad slump in there, but he has not been tearing up the league even since that slump ended. It looks like his AAA numbers are inflated by a hot start.

Plouffe, by contrast, has been much better offensively in the second half. His numbers are .286 .333 .466. since the allstar break. And in August he is .309 .370 .543. Those August results are probably a little misleading due to the small sample size that allows them to be skewed by one recent game where he went 4 for 4. But he has hit over .270 every month since May.

Plouffe, who is two years younger than Valencia, looks like he has stepped up this year. Valencia looks like he may have hit a wall at AAA. Of course, that is based on half a season. Valencia may still be able to adjust and step up into a major league role. But, right now, Plouffe has given a lot more evidence his bat is almost ready for the major leagues.

There is still the question of whether Plouffe's glove is ready to let him play shortstop which is a defensive position. Plouffe has made a lot of errors while mostly playing shortstop. But he has also had time at third base in his career. Valencia is strictly a third baseman. So its hard to know which would be the better defender at third. But if you were going to roll the dice with a young player at third next year, Plouffe looks to be ahead of Valencia at this point.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Media Myth - Whining about the Twins Farms System

I would put a link here, but no one should be encouraged to read the STRIB baseball coverage if anyone other than Pat Reusse is writing - and then only half of his stuff. Jim Souhan has an article today where he laments that lack of help the Twins have got from their minor leagues this season. He goes even further to suggest that the Twins are struggling because of poor first round draft choices 10 to 12 years ago. He further laments their trades. You might wonder how they have built a pennant contender with one of the younger rosters in the league.

The first problem with a discussion based on first round draft choices is that less than half the players taken in the first round of the major league draft ever appear in the big leagues. Let me be clear, that is not that they aren't very successful as major league players, but that no major league team is even willing to give them an opportunity during the regular season. If you go back 12 years, Ryan Mills and BJ Garbe are really the only first round choices by the Twins for whom this is true. Matt Moses looks like a likely addition to that list since he is still struggling to hit at AA six years after he was drafted. There are also four players picked between 2006-2009, Chris Parmelee, Ben Revere, Hicks and Gibson who no reasonable person would expect to be in the big leagues. The first three are all high school kids and not even Joe Mauer moved through the system that fast. Four of the remaining five players the Twins took in those 12 years have played in the big leagues, Adam Johnson, Matt Garza, Joe Mauer and Denard Span. The remaining first round draft choice in those 12 years was Trevor Plouffe, another high school kid who is at AAA this year.

Major Leagues

BJ Garbe
Ryan Mills

Possible Failures



At worst, the Twins success with their initial first round choices has been average and that is only true in the very unlikely event that Plouffe never plays in the big leagues. Of course the Twins have had some other first round choices - Perkins and Waldrop in 2004 and Gutierrez last year which would add a success (Perkins), an unknown (Gutierez) and a possible failure (Waldrop).

In addition, during that same period the Twins drafted and developed several players that have played roles in their success the last few years Morneau, Kubel, Blackburn, Slowey and Crain - all after the first round.

Of course Souhan is just following the whining narrative that has become the hallmark of the STRIB's Twins coverage. Whether its in the comments or the columns or the news, they twist the facts to fit that narrative.

Take the claim the Twins have got no help from the minor leagues this year. There is a short answer to that is Jose Mijares, without whom the Twins would likely be out of the pennant race. There is a long answer - that adds Mulvey, Duensing, Keppel, Swarzak, Morales and , most recently, Gabino to that list. Not all of those players have performed well. But four of those seven made their first appearances in the big leagues this year. The real problem is that the Twins did not have enough pitching to replace three starters (Slowey, Liriano and Perkins), two injured setup guys (Bonser and Neshek) and two failures (Ayala and Breslow). You can put guys like Humber, Keppel, Morillo, Dickey and Henn anywhere you want in that mix, there still is no case that the problem was a lack of depth in the minor leagues. The other problem is that they lacked infield prospects beyond Tolbert and Casilla who were already on the roster and struggling.

But the whine is not just about the lack of middle infield help this year. The whine is that this is somehow indicative of some long term failure (note the draft choices from 12 years ago on the list of complaints). But, far from lacking young prospects, last year the Twins added three virtual rookie starters (Slowey, Blackburn, Perkins), two virtual rookie outfielders (Span, Gomez) and a virtual rookie second baseman (Casilla). Not to mention Bonser in the bullpen and Buscher at third base.

Then there is the "bad trade" whine. Increasingly the Garza for Young trade looks like a mistake. The Twins pitching is struggling and Young's bat is not setting the world on fire. If either weren't true, it would be a lot less glaring a problem. But the whining about the Santana trade is a different issue. Obviously the Twins made a deal of the present for the future. Complaining about that trade now makes no more sense than a Mets fan complaining about it because Santana is having minor elbow surgery. No one was about to give the Twins immediate help that was the equivalent of Santana. The ultimate success of that trade will depend on how the young players obtained develop.

In short, the Twins are in the pennant race because of their player development, they have a lot of talent in their system and it will always get here too slowly providing apparent support for the STRIB (and other bloggers) whine.

Note: Names for Souhan and Moses were corrected

Twins in the Arizona Fall League

The Twins announced seven players will play in the Arizona Fall League. This is a development league for top prospects giving players a chance to test themselves against better competition. Those assigned are not always a teams best prospects since playing time is limited and many players, pitchers in particular, may take the fall off after instructional league. In general, the league is a hitters league with teams not willing to risk their best pitchers with some other organization's manager and/or pitching coach.

Here are the Twins players with their age:

Rene Tosoni - 23
Chris Parmelee - 21
Steve Singleton - 24

Steve Hirschfield - 24
Mike McCardell - 24
Alex Burnett - 22
Spencer Steedley -24

My first reaction, without looking at their ages,  was that this was a younger group than the Twins normally send. But looking at the Mesa Solar Sox roster the Twins players are not really young for the league. Singleton is the oldest player on the Solar Sox, Tosoni is the third oldest and  there are a half-dozen position players younger than Parmelee. On the pitching side Alex Burnett is the second youngest pitcher on the team by only a month, but Hirschfield, McCardell and Steedley are all average age or older.

So what looks like a young crew based on the levels they played at this year, on closer inspection of their ages looks about normal . This appears to be an effort to jump-start some players who have not moved that quickly through the Twins system. That is not to suggest that these guys are old for their level, but for "top prospects" they aren't all that advanced either.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Twins September Call-ups

Major league rosters expand September 1st. This means the Twins can activate anyone on the 40 player roster on September 1st.  In the past the Twins have usually waited until the minor league seasons are finished to call up players they just want to take a look at but they will add players immediately if they think can help in the pennant race. So who are the likely call-ups:

Catcher - Morales is the most likely guy here. My bet is they call him up September 1 so that they can DH Mauer without worrying about losing the DH.  They might give Butera a callup later given his defensive skills.

Infield - I think Tolbert and Buscher are probably givens. Buscher may even be added August 31st to put him on the playoff roster.  Plouffe and Tolleson are both on the roster, but its not clear either one can help in a pennant race. My guess is these guys get call-ups only if the Twins are all but finished when the Rochester season ends.

Outfield - The Twins have a surplus in the outfield already. But they may take one more look at Jason Pridie. Pridie would provide a pinch runner and more flexilbility in how Young and Gomez are used.

Pitching - I think the Twins will add enough pitching so that the bullpen is overstocked.  Dickey, Swarzak, Mulvey are already on the 40 player roster and likely to be added for the September run. Given the pitching struggles, any of those three could find themselves on the playoff roster if they get hot in September.

There are a lot of players who are not on the roster that might warrant a look. But there does not appear to be any players on the 40 player roster that the Twins are likely to release in order to provide room for them. Pridie or Dickey would be possibilities if they are ready to give up on them. Deibinson Romero is a young A-ball player who might pass through waivers. Luke Hughes would be the other player they might be ready to give up on. I think all of those are doubtful The most likely scenario is that they wait until the season is over and guys like Crede, Redmond and Cabrera leave as free agents to start promoting players. That means this year September call-ups are going to be limited to the players already on the major league roster.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Playoff Roster - Getting Ready for the World Series

As we approach the end of the month, the Twins will need to make decisions about the makeup of their playoff roster. In theory, the 25 players on the roster on September 1st make up the roster for the playoffs. But, like many major league "rules" this one has a some nuances. Players on the DL September 1st are also eligible for the post season roster and they can be replaced with another player if they are still injured when the playoffs start. A pitcher can only be replaced with another pitcher and a fielder with another fielder. So the decision on how many pitchers to carry on their playoff roster has to be made before September 1st.

The Twins have 12 pitchers and 13 position players right now, but I would expect they would add another position player to the playoff roster. They can get by in the playoffs with four starters. Given the weaknesses in their rotation, finding four, much less five, quality starters is going to be a challenge. Its possible that will lead them to carry an additional reliever, but if their bullpen is getting that much work during the playoffs they probably are in trouble in any case.

The Twins have three pitchers on the DL, but no everyday players. This means that they can decide which pitchers to carry later, but once they set the roster on September 1st they will have to go through the playoffs with the everyday players on that roster, barring any injuries. Here are the current players on the roster:


So who would you add to that list or change. What seems to be missing on the current roster is a left handed bat off the bench. The only hitters you would likely pinch hit for are Casilla, Harris and Punto. But, once you get to the World Series you are also going to have to pinch hit for pitchers. So, odd as it may seem, the Twins will be setting their roster September 1st wtih one eye on the World Series.

One candidate for the 14 player is Jose Morales. He provides a switch hitter off the bench. They already have Redmond on the bench as a  backup catcher and Mauer is going to start every game in the playoffs. Morales is probably a better hitter than Redmond, but he has less major league experience and the Twins are unlikely to remove Redmond from the playoff roster.

Another candidate is Brian Buscher. Gardenhire has already said he expects Buscher to be called up in September. Buscher has not been hitting that well at Rochester., but he does give Gardy an experienced left handed bat on the bench.

Tolbert would also be a candidate. He will also be a September callup, but his role is as a pinch runner and infield backup. I don't think that really fits the need very well with Punto and Harris filling the infield need and Gomez likely being available on the bench during the World Series.

My guess is they will go with Brian Buscher. Of course its possible they will try to grab a veteran bat off waivers.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Perkins, Liriano are Twins Last Hope

For the Twins to remain in the pennant race, or get back into it, will depend on their pitching getting back on track. Is there any chance of that happening? I think there is. Right now the Twins have two starting pitchers who will give them a chance to win when they are on the mound - Baker and Pavano. The remaining healthy potential starters are not promising with Blackburn, Swarzak, Duensing, Humber and Manship all struggling with some basic flaws in their ability to get major league hitters out. The next couple weeks will see all of them get a chance to pitch either as starters or in relief of one another.

There are also two guys on the DL, Liriano and Perkins, who have shown the ability to pitch effectively in a pennant race.  And RA DIckey just put up a decent outing at AAA. His success depends on his knuckleball and if he has it working again there is no reason he can't be just as effective at the major league level. So there are three guys who  are not currently on the 25 player roster who could step in by Labor Day. 

Of that first bunch, the most likely to step up is Blackburn. He has been effective in the past, but there are plenty of doubts about his ability to continue that success. Of course there were always doubts about his ability to be successful and he silenced the doubters with his performance. If he is going to hold his position in the rotation, he needs to turn things around soon. Last night was a good start. Once Perkins and Liriano return, the Twins are far more likely to experiment with prospects than give starts to a struggling Blackburn.

Of the prospects, Swarzak has the best stuff but major league hitters have caught up to him. He probably has at least one more start to adjust. Not because he deserves it, but because there are not a lot of other options. Duensing is next in line. He has the advantage that hitters are seeing him for the first time. But any success he has now will likely  be tested when they repeatedly play Central Division teams in September. Humber was called up to give them a live arm in the bullpen. He may get a start, but only if the others fail. Same with Manship.

You can add Gabino, a young pitcher who is on the 40 player roster and has been doing well at AAA, to the list of potential experiments but he probably won't get any opportunities to start until the Twins are out of the race. In fact, even that is unlikely. While he has recently had some starts at AAA, he has always been seen as more a reliever at the major league level.

So the Twins success the rest of the way really depends on Perkins and Liriano coming off the DL and pitching effectively. If that happens, the Twins will make a race of it. If it doesn't, well there is always next year.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Can Mauer still hit .400?

As a starting point, lets just say that anyone, even Joe Mauer, hitting over .400 is highly unlikely. So when we ask the question, the obvious, simple, answer is no. But we aren't really talking about something that is likely. We are asking a question about whether the highly improbable is still possible.

If we assume that Mauer gets 500 at bats he will need 200 hits to hit .400. He currently has 139 hits in 363 at bats. so he would have to hit 61 for 137 (.446) to make the 200 for 500 mark and hit .400.  So far this year, Mauer has yet to sustain anything like that number for a full calendar month. He hit .414 when he came back in May. On the other hand, he is hitting .485 so far this month (as of August 19th). So while the idea remains highly improbable, he probably is closer to it than he was back in June when people were already talking about it with four months still to go in the season. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Anyone Notice the Twins Offense?

The collapse of the Twins starters has obscured the fact that the Twins offense is in overdrive. They scored 6 runs in last night's game and that is about average for the month of August.  They have now scored 103 runs in 17 games this month. That is almost a full run higher than their season average. For the season, the Twins lead the Central Division in scoring, just ahead of the Cleveland Indians. Which makes even clearer that the real struggles of this team are caused by pitching failures, in case anyone doubted it.  But if the pitching can get on track, the Twins offense may still be able to carry the team into the playoffs.

What is Wrong with the Twins Pitching

In truth, we should have expected this. The Twins started the year with five young pitchers in the rotation. None of them had more than one full season of major league success. And there were really no pitchers ready immediately behind them. We saw that when R.A. Dickey stepped up to take a start early in the year. But while some setbacks were expected, three of the "young five" are now on the DL and the performance of the rotation does a lot to explain the Twins struggles to stay in the pennant race. Its been a lot worse than we should have expected.

So is there a reason? I think its possible that in an effort to save the bullpen, starters have been left in the game too long. That has an immediate impact when they stop getting hitters out, but it also has a cumulative impact as the workload starts to wear them down.  Ironically, the result is even more pressure on the bullpen making it in turn even less reliable.

Here is a comparison of the 2008 and 2009 season for the "young five", Baker, Liriano, Perkins, Slowey and Balckburn

2008 the five made 128 starts and threw over 100 pitches in 39 games.

2009 the five have made 93 starts and already have thrown over 100 pitches in 38 games.

Perkins is the only one of the "young five" whose highest pitch count this year has not exceeded last year's top count and his equaled last season.

In short, the "young five" have been asked to do much more this year. It is not unlikely, it was too much. And that may explain the current state of the rotation.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


"They can't stick with this rotation — Blackburn, Swarzak, Perkins, Baker, Liriano — and expect the sort of consistency it takes to make the playoffs."

That quote from Joe Christiansen's blog is a great example of how "serious" baseball fans can still completely misunderstand the nature of the game. Would replacing Swarzak in the rotation with  Washburn, much less Jon Garland,  suddenly make Blackburn Baker, Perkins and Liriano more consistent? You can replace Liriano instead, but that does nothing on the days, like yesterday, when Swarzak pitches.

Some people take this even further, arguing the Twins should make a priority of replacing Keppel, Duensing or Dickey with a better mopup pitcher.  The problem the Twins have with pitching is not going to be fixed with a single trade, the bottom line is they guys they have are going to have to get better and more consistent. 

There is no doubt that adding a veteran ace would help the pitching staff, including the bullpen. But adding a mediocre, inconsistent veteran isn't going to change anything. 

Of course, Joe Christiansen is just trying to keep the media's "the Twins need to make a trade" narrative going. The formula of every blogger: stir pot, watch traffic increase.


MLB Twins Updates