Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Twins 25 Player Roster

The Twins just finished setting their 40 player roster. But only 25 players can make the club out of spring training. While the winter is hardly over, it is still interesting to look at who would be on the roster if it was made today. If nothing else it gives us some idea of who might not have a place to play next March.

Rotation (5)
(Likely Competition: Acquired veteran, Duensing, Manship, Swarzak)

Bullpen (7)
(Likely competition: Keppel, losers in starting pitching competition, Delaney)

Catchers (2)
(Competition: Butera)

Infield (6)
(Competition: Acquisition, Plouffe, Valencia, Hughes, Tolleson )

Outfield (5)
(Competition: Acquisition,  Martin, Roberts, Tosoni)

I think both Pridie and Casilla are out of options so they will likely be lost if they aren't on the roster. But unless the Twins pick up another player, they don't really have much competition for a spot on the roster anyway. The starting rotation is a mess and the bullpen becomes very crowded if Liriano or Perkins end up there. 

Mauer's Durability

A couple years ago Patrick Reusse pointed out that, despite the difference in talent, AJ Pierzynski had produced as much for his teams as Joe Mauer since the Twins traded AJ to San Francisco to make room for Mauer as the Twins big league catcher. He quoted Bud Grant that "durability is as important as ability". Strangely, since he missed the first month of the season with an injury, Joe Mauer proved Reusse right when he claimed the MVP award this week. After his missed April, Mauer played almost every day the rest of the way, mostly at catcher. His gaudy MVP numbers reflect that durability. Justin Morneau's MVP season was a similar testament to durability and had he stayed healthy he might have challenged Mauer for the MVP this year.

Several bloggers have made a point that the Twins had a lot of players, including Mauer, who had good years last season. But they ignore the fact that their two MVP's, Mauer and Morneau, each missed a month of the season. A healthy, durable Morneau and Mauer playing a full season next year will make the team better regardless of any off-season acquisitions or emergence of young players like Delmon Young. But durability remains the key - you can't use your talent if you can't stay in the lineup.

Conclusions from Roster Decisions

It is difficult for fans to evaluate minor league players. We get to see very few of them play and when we do most of the players on the field are not major league quality. We can look at their statistics and get some idea of their abilities, but adjusting that for their age and the quality of the opponents often make those numbers only vague indicators of their major league potential. For Twins fans its the Appy League syndrome. Every year some player comes out of the Appy league with gaudy statistics that have inexperienced fans excited. Usually they are out of the system in a couple years. That's what happened to Ozzie Lewis this year. He won the MVP in the Appy League a couple years ago was released after this season. Often the age of a player at a certain level tells us more than the results they get. A 21 or 22 year old playing at AAA is usually an indication of a someone with a lot of talent regardless of their numbers. Otherwise the team wouldn't have them playing their at all.

How a team moves a player should be one of the first indicators for fans of how good he is. When Steve Singleton was left off the 40 player roster it was a clear sign that he is not a major league quality defensive shortstop and likely never will be.  If he were, he would have been protected given his success with the bat at AA and in the AFL. Instead the Twins reached down into A ball to protect Estarling de Los Santos, a slick fielding shorstop who has struggled to stay healthy. Singleton may still be a prospect, but if he is limited to second base his bat is not anything special. 

Clearly the Twins are not completely discouraged by Danny Valencia's season at AAA. His high number of errors and poor hitting over the last half of the season seemed to indicate that he had hit a wall once he faced competition his own age. It will be interesting to see how he does next year. But it will also be interesting to see whether the Twins make a move to shore up third base during the off-season. That will probably tell us more than Valencia's spot on the roster. Otherwise they go into spring training with a competition between Tolbert, Harris, Valencia and Hughes for third base. If the Twins add a second baseman, Punto becomes part of that mix. If the Twins think Valencia is close to being ready, then they may be willing to let Tolbert or Harris keep the seat warm. Otherwise third base looks like a place where there is an opportunity to improve, even if that means resigning Joe Crede.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

40 Player Roster Predictions

The Twins need to set their 40 player roster by Friday in preparation for the winter meetings and the Rule 5 draft. I did an evaluation of players who are eligible for the rule 5 draft here:


Since then, I have learned that neither Tosoni nor Slama are eligible since they were draft and follows and, as noted, Ramos is already on the roster.

The Twins currently have 35 players on the roster, so they have five openings. Here are the players I think they should protect:

Guerra, Burnett, Waldrop, Van Mil, Singleton

I think these five players have the most upside as major league players. I may be over-valuing Singleton if his defense isn't up to snuff, but the reports I have seen say he is a solid defensive player with enough range to at least play second base in the big leagues. His bat looks like it will be major league as well.

To be clear, I don't think these are the players the Twins will protect. My guess is that Valencia will be protected. The Twins seem to be high on him despite his struggles at AAA last year. Delaney is another possibility. Both of them are closer to the big leagues than any of the players on my list. There may also be some surprises from the lower minor leagues, but usually those guys don't stick even if they are taken in the Rule 5 draft. Of course, there are exceptions like Johan Santana and Roberto Clemente. You don't want to the GM who lets a future Hall-of-Famer get away.

The other thing to remember is that the Twins can still open up roster spots by releasing players after they have set their roster. That is what happened with David Ortiz. They released him to open a spot prior to the Rule 5 draft after not being able to find anyone willing to trade for him. They can wait until they see who is available in the Rule 5 draft to decide if there is someone they like better than their own guys who are on the roster. 

Monday, November 09, 2009

Legacies - Trades that Keep on Giving

If you look at the Johan Santana trade, the Twins have now received Jon Rauch, JJ Hardy and Delios Guerra for Santana. I thought it would be interesting to see what other players the Twins have in their system that are the legacies of earlier players.

Nick Punto - Punto was part of the Eric Milton trade. Milton in turn was part of the deal that sent Chuck Knoblauch to New York.
Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, Jason Pridie - Received in trade that included Jason Bartlett, who in turn was received for Brian Buchanan who in turn was part of the deal that sent Chuck Knoblauch to New York
Brian Duensing - 2005 Draft pick from Nationals for Cristian Guzman who in turn was part of the deal that sent Chuck Knoblauch to New York.

Alexi Casilla - Trade for JC Romero
Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano - AJ Pierzynski
Glen Perkins - 2004 Draft pick from Mariners for Eddie Guardado

Of course there are still other minor league players that were received as compensation draft picks.  But I think the list above gives a pretty good idea of how long a trade can resonate through an organization. Last spring the Twind released minor league pitcher Zach Ward, who by one measure was the last legacy of the Frank Viola deal in the 1980's. He came to the Twins in trade for Rick Aguilera (although Aguilera had been signed as a free agent after being traded to Boston.) We can hope the Santana deal resonates as long.

Friday, November 06, 2009

What's Wrong with UZR?

The Twins just made a deal trading Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for JJ Hardy. UZR is being sited by all sides of the discussion of whether this was a good deal for the Twins. The proponents of the trade point to Hardy's UZR as evidence that scouting reports that his defense is declining are wrong. People concerned about the trade point to the Twins outfielders low UZR's as evidence that, without Gomez, the Twins pitchers are going to struggle because of poor outfield defense.

So what is UZR and how is it calculated. At its most basic UZR measures how many batted balls a player turns into outs compared to other players at his position. This is done by dividing the field into zones and then recording each ball hit to each zone.  Players are then rated based on more calculations of how many runs the result represents based on how many runs are scored on average after that outcome. I am not going to go into the accuracy of this last calculation because whatever innaccuracies it introduces probably have little or no impact on the relative scores of players at the same position.

Lets look at the general idea. That you can determine a players range by where balls are hit and how often he turns them into outs. In essence, a bouncing groundball up the middle is the same as a line shot. A lazy fly ball caught at the wall is the same as Willie May's catch. The fact is, UZR ignores the most important factor in whether a fielder catches the ball which is how hard it was hit. And, as anyone who has followed the Twins ought to know, the nature of the field surface is also important. Balls hit on long grass are going to move much slower, than balls hit on the old Metrodome surface. And UZR gives no credit for cutting off a hard hit ball and holding a player to a single.

In short, UZR is all but useless in evaluating player's defense. It ignores the most important factor in whether a ball is a hit, how hard the batter hit it.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Top Ten Prospects of 2000 - 10 years later

The year is 1999 and the Twins have just finished their worst season since 1982 with a record of 63-97. Rather than wait til next year - the attitude of a lot of fans is wait for the new millennium. As it turned out, that turned out to be true when the first season of the next century found the Twins in the heat of a pennant race. But the end of the 1999 season was not a time of real hope or optimism. Still people looked forward to the prospects in the Twins system that they hoped would bring another day. So who were those prospects. Here is a list of players who played with the Twins minor league teams that year and later appeared in the big leagues ( this is from Baseball Reference and there seem to be a some problems with their database):

Justin Morneau
Rob Bowen
Tommy Watkins
Luis Maza
Travis Bowyer
Kevin Frederick
Brian Wolfe

Willie Eyre

Quad Cities
Bobby Kielty (22)
Mike Restovich (20)
Luis Rodriguez (19)
Grant Balfour (21)
Juan Rincon (20)
Saul Rivera (21)

Fort Myers

Micheal Cuddyer (20)
Mike Ryan (21)
Brad Thomas (21)
Juan Padilla (22)
MIchael Nakamura (22)
Danny Mota (23)
Ryan Mills (21)

New Britain
Luis Rivas (19)
John Barnes (23)
Cleatus Davidson (22)
Chad Moeller (24)
Kyle Lohse (20)
Jack Cressend (24)
Gus Gandarillas (27)
Matt Kinney (22)
Jason Ryan (23)

Salt Lake City
Matt LeCroy (23)
Brian Buchanan (25)
Chris Latham (26)
AJ Pierzynski (22)
Mike Moriarity (25)
Tony Fiore (27)
Jeff Harris (24)
Dan Perkins (24)
Mike Redman (25)
Kevin Ohme (28)
JC Romero

Based on actual performance here is how I would rank the Twins Top Ten prospects in retrospect

Justin Morneau
Michael Cuddyer
AJ Pierzynski
Juan Rincon
Kyle Lohse
Mike Redman
Matt LeCroy
Luis Rivas
Chad Moeller
Grant Balfour

Others to consider: Bobby Kielty,  Rob Bowen, JC Romero

This is a hard group to judge. None of the players after LeCroy would be considered unqualified successes.  Morneau, Cuddyer and Pierzynski are the only real stars.

Here is Baseball America's Top Ten for 2000:
1.Michael Cuddyer, 3B
2.Michael Restovich, OF
3.Matthew LeCroy, C
4.B.J. Garbe, OF
5.Luis Rivas, SS
6.J.C. Romero, LHP
7.Kyle Lohse, RHP
8.Johan Santana, LHP
9.Juan Rincon, RHP
10.Ryan Mills, LHP

Missing: Morneau, Pierzynski, Redman, Moeller, Balfour
Misses: Restovich, Garbe, Mills
Santana was taken in the 1999 Rule 5 draft so I did not rank him. 

For Twins, Doing Nothing is a Great Option

Over at www.TwinsCentric.com a group of bloggers has created a handbook for amateur GM's to use in their hot stove league discussions. They also have a contest for people to put together a roster to start next season. The blogs are alive with the argument that the Twins have to DO SOMETHING in order to be competitive next year. 

"Doing nothing" is never really an option in the off-season because there are players' contracts to negotiate, options to be picked up, free agents to re-sign and other decisions to make. But the SOMETHING demanded by bloggers and fans is usually a trade, free agent signing or other action that will result in significant changes to the Twins roster for next year. But this year, just avoiding significant  changes would leave the Twins a very strong contender. The Twins roster at the end of the season was very solid, as they demonstrated with their winning streak even with several key players injured. It is hard to see how they improve on that roster if all their injured players are healthy.

Of course just "standing pat" is going to require some activity. Pavano, Cabrera and Crede are all free agents and probably hoping to get a multi-year contract from someone. With a solid core of young players, I don't think the Twins should hand out a lot of multi-year contracts to players in the downside of their career. But the Twins ought to do their best to sign any, or all, of that trio for the 2010 season.

With those three signed you have, a bevy of potential starters competing for one or two open spots in the rotation with others filling out an already deep bullpen. In the infield, you have several players competing for time at second base and providing depth for the inevitable injuries elsewhere. And the outfield returns with the same mixture as last year. In short, you have a team that is much stronger than the team that is starting the year much stronger than the team that won the division last year.

The Twins off-season ought to be focused on keeping what they have,  including getting a long term deal done with Joe Mauer.

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