Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
This is a top ten list for 2010-2011.
Once again, they are in no particular order, but simply the players I think are likely to contribute the most at the major league level at some point in the next 8 years. I look out 8 years in terms of expected contributions, because most players have reached their peak by the time they are 27. While talented young players sometimes get to the major leagues quickly, it also sometimes takes several more years before they show their full talent. That time frame even may be a little longer this year for some of the international signings who will still be in their mid-20's eight years from now.
I don't rank prospects because frankly just choosing the "best" prospects is at best a rough guess. Deciding whether Max Kepler or Miguel Sano will produce more at the major league level between now and 2018 is way beyond what is reasonable with the information available to the average fan like me. It is probably way beyond the ability of professional scouts who get paid to do this and have both the opportunity and experience to evaluate them first hand.
As always, I am not considering players drafted this summer for the list. I also leave off the international signings from this year.
Ben Revere (OF)
The last couple years, I have said the question was whether Revere will develop the power the Twins saw when they drafted him. It appears the answer is no. Even without home run power, he has speed and high batting average that will allow him to contribute at the major league level. Perhaps even next year.
Gibson ran through three levels in his first professional season. He struggled a bit to start at both AA and AAA, but then settled in and pitched very well. He looks like he will be ready to join the rotation next season if there is an opening.
Nothing much changed with Hicks this year. He has shown himself to be exactly what the Twins expected, a highly athletic outfielder whose bat is also going to be special. He showed some progress with a good finish at Beloit.
Gutierrez lacks the secondary pitches to still be on track to be a starter. It appears the Twins are ready to settle for the late inning bullpen role many projected for Gutierrez when he was drafted. He will pitch in the AFL this fall and may compete for a bullpen spot next spring. He will likely start next year at AAA.
Parmelee was demoted from AA to Fort Myers, but then had a second half breakout after returning to AA. His bat started to display the potential the Twins saw when he was drafted. The power still hasn't fully developed, but that is a matter of time if he continues to hit like he did the last half at New Britain. He will play in the AFL again this fall. He has been playing the outfield, but he may end up at first base.
I have been a skeptic on Bromberg. But he pitched well this year at Rochester after a mis-season promotion from New Britain. He is only 22 and clearly held his own against the older competition. He projects as a mid-rotation starter or setup guy in the major leagues. Despite being at AAA, he is likely a ways away from being ready to pitch in the big leagues. Gibson, Gutierez and Bullock are all ahead of him
Bullock struck out 105 batters in 74 innings at two levels in his first full year in professional ball. He actually got more strike outs after being promoted to New Britain. Unfortunately, he also walked 43 hitters. If he can refine his control, he looks like a guy who will be a major factor in the Twins future bullpen. That could happen next year, but he is probably a couple years away.
Sano was a highly touted international signing. At 17, he showed why in his professional debut. He already hits for average and power. He played a little shortstop, but his future is probably at third base. His bat will play there if it develops as projected.
Like Sano, Kepler was a highly touted international prospect, but from baseball poor Europe rather than the baseball rich Dominican. Kepler did not show Sano's power, but he has a solid bat combined with speed. Because he plays the outfield, he is probably not in Sano's class. But he showed why some people saw him as the best prospect to ever come out of Europe even if that is a pretty low bar.
Angel Morales (OF)
Morales still has outstanding speed and power, although his power numbers were down at Fort Myers. This is a guy who could be as a superstar or a super bust. Morales continued problems making contact are a bad sign but he is still very young. He will likely play winter ball so we should see continued improvement next spring. It will be interesting to see whether he moves up to AA to start next season.
Trevor Plouffe (SS)
Dropped out of top ten - what I said last year with comment:
Last year: "Last year, I said Plouffe is probably still a year away from taking over as the Twins shortstop. That still may be true, but he came on the second half of the season at AAA. His errors remain a worry, but it is apparent his bat is just about ready. He will get a chance to win the shortstop position in spring training, but is likely to end up back at AAA"
Of course, once the Hardy trade was made, Plouffe's chance was gone. Its important to remember Plouffe remains a young player. He did not look like he has star potential in his major league debut. He could still be the Twins shortstop if and when Hardy leaves. But he is looking a bit like Brendan Harris, enough bat and glove to play in the big leagues, but not enough of either to be a major contributor.
Deolis Guerra (P)
Last year: "Guerra was a touted part of the Santana deal but the Twins turned him into a project, working to improve his delivery. He has made progress this year, finishing the year at AA. Next year he will likely start the season at AA again. But if he develops as expected, he will likely have the opportunity to show his stuff in the major leagues at sometime next year."
Guerra faded at AA as the season progressed. His inability to keep up with the league is a bad sign.
Wilson Ramos (C)
Last year: "A power hitting catcher with a plus arm and defensive skills. You can't get much better than that. I am just repeating what I said last year. If he can stay healthy for a full season, this kid has star written all over him."
Ramos was traded. He still has the tools to be a major league regular catcher, but there were some comments indicating the Twins had questions about his weight. Even if his weight problems reduce his mobility behind the plate, his bat and arm should still keep him in the major leagues. But it might be more as a backup catcher, DH and bat off the bench, rather than an allstar.
Rene Tosoni (OF)
Last year: "Tosoni is in the Arizona League. was injured this year. He hits for both average and with enough power to take a corner outfield spot. He is almost ready to contribute at the major league level. The question is how the Twins find a spot for him."
Tosoni was injured most of this year. He still has potential, but its not clear that he will stay healthy long enough to ever develop that potential. And he didn't show much at AA before he was hurt.
Tyler Robertson (P)
Last year: "Robertson remains one of the Twins top young prospects. He is still a couple years away but he has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter"
Robertson remains a prospect. But he really struggled at New Britain this year. He will pitch in the Arizona Fall League and that may determine whether he is protected on the roster. He has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter but he is looking more like a bust right now. And he is likely at least a couple years away.
As I said above, I left last summer's Twins draft choices off the list just as I did last year. Shooter Hunt continued to give a good demonstration of why waiting for players to get a full year as a professional under their belt is a good idea. Sometimes players just don't make the transition to the professional game. Alex Wimmer may be great, but it would be a good idea to see how he does pitching every five days before making any decisions beyond what we knew when he was drafted. I have yet to see a first round choice who would not project as a top ten prospect in the fall after they were drafted, so you can just stick him on the end of this list if you are so inclined.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
First, Lee is a free agent after this year and it is unlikely the Twins are going to be able to resign him. That means they are getting about two to three months out of him, plus whatever draft picks are provided in compensation for losing him. Normally adding a guy to the top of your rotation is a major upgrade since they replace the worst guy in the rotation. But Lee is likely to replace Slowey or Blackburn. If you look at the ups and downs of those three pitchers, Lee is better than the other two, but there are periods where his performance was worse than either Slowey or Blackburn at their best. Lee is a likely upgrade in the long run, but the Twins won't have him for the long run. Instead, they will get two or three months out of him. Those could be his great months, his mediocre months or his terrible months. Or he could get hurt and produce nothing. In any case, the Twins will never get another bite of the apple.
The second issue is the price. Ramos and Hicks are both guys who project as major league stars or maybe even superstars. The Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter type of players that you build championships around. When you give up one of those guys, you don't find a replacement. Of course, Hicks is a long way from the big leagues and not dominating the Midwest league, Ramos has struggled some at Rochester. For people who re-evaluate prospects once a month those things are meaningful. But no one really should have changed their opinion about either one based on this season. There just hasn't been enough of it. Rolling the dice on Lee is one thing, betting the house on him is another.
Which brings us to those draft choices. Its important to remember that which draft choices the Twins get depends on where Lee signs. If he signs with someone in the top half of the draft, the Twins get a second round choice - or lower. The only way they get a first round choice is if Lee sgns with a team in the second half of the draft that didn't sign a higher ranked free agent. They will also get a supplemental pick. The drop off after the first few picks of the draft is almost a cliff and it really only levels out some when you get to the 100th player chosen. Its important to remember that the new compensation system for unsigned players is pushing even first round draft choices down the ladder some.
The last time the Twins traded top prospects in this way was sending Denny Neagle and Midre Cummings to the Pirates for John Smiley to replace Jack Morris. Smiley didn't get them to the playoffs, the rotation had holes in it for years while Neagle became a 20 game winner. And the draft choices received when Smiley left? They mostly turned to dust as most draft choices do. Ramos and/or Hicks for Lee is a bad gamble, sending both of them is the kind of deal that keeps teams perpetually in the second division.
Monday, June 14, 2010
There are two problems with this, the benefits are not as great as you would expect and the costs are a lot greater. Mauer with a .400 OBP will get on base 8 times in those 20 extra plate appearances, while a guy with a very low .300 OBP will get on base 6 times. Over those 120 plate appearances for all players, the average is likely going to be closer to .350, which means they will get on base 42 times compared to 36 times for players with a .300 OBP. In other words, you are gaining about 6 base runners over the course of the season by moving Mauer into the number two spot and everyone else up. Of course, there is more to the issue than just getting on base. Presumably getting on base will include a variety of hits, including some for extra bases.
So what are the costs? The major issue, the reason your best hitter is usually batting third, is Mauer will come to the plate with a lot fewer base runners on base. Lets look at the impact just on the first inning. If Span gets on base at a .400 rate, Mauer batting number two will have a runner on base 64 times over the course of a season. With a .300 guy in the number two spot, he will come to the plate with two runners on 19 times (.3*64) and one runner an additional 29 times for a total of 93 plate appearances with 102 base runners. Of course that is assuming neither runner scores, but for the rough purposes here I think we can ignore that.
However Mauer isn't the only one who loses RBI opportunities with a shift. Morneau, now batting third, will also have fewer base runners. Those opportunities shift to the number 4, 5 and 6 hitters. Presumably Cuddyer, Kubel and Young. I am not sure that is a great new strategy to shift RBI opportunities to those three from Morneau and Mauer. Its hard for me to see how shifting those 48 base runners away from both Mauer and Morneau is offset by an extra 6 base runners over the course of the season.
Those impacts are from the first time through the order. After that, if you just shift everyone up, the number nine hitter essentially takes over Span's role in the current lineup. Span is now hitting directly in front of Mauer where the number two hitter was before. And, of course, this all assumes that players do not change their approach based on the new situations they are in. That is undoubtedly not true.
There are a lot of good reasons for the tradition of putting your best hitter number three. Before proposing to change it, you need to consider what they are.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
To understand how far from reality the names of some statistics are look no further than FIP. This is an acronym for Fielding Independent Pitching.
According to Wikipedia the formula for this statistic is as follows:
You will notice IP (innings pitched) is the denominator. The formula for a pitcher's IP is the number of outs made while he was pitching divided by 3.
Of course "outs" are hardly fielding independent. Even a pitcher who strikes out one batter per inning has fielders who help get the other two.
So, in fact, this statistic is not fielding independent at all, despite the label its creators put on it. Do the results of a pitchers fielders actually change the pitcher's FIP? Lets look at two scenarios where a pitcher faces 9 batters:
groundball hit, groundball hit, groundball hit,
strikeout, walk, walk, strikeout, home run, strikeout.
In this scenario his FIP is 13+6-6/1 for 13.0 FIP
groundball out, groundball out, groundball out,
strikeout, walk, walk, strikeout, home run, strikeout.
In this scenario his FIP is 13+6-6/2 for a 6.5 FIPIf the fielders catch those groundballs and turn them into outs, they cut the pitcher's FIP in half.
Is FIP really "fielding independent"? Not hardly. But you wouldn't know it from its name or how it is used around the internet.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
So as we look at the last draft of the decade, lets look at its earlier drafts.
In 2001, the Twins made Joe Mauer their first draft pick of this millennium. At the time there was a lot of talk about two more advanced players, Mark Prior and Mark Teixera, and some people criticized the Mauer choice as a budget move. If it was, it was a good move as Mauer may turn out to be one of the greatest players ever to play the game.
In 2002, The Twin took Denard Span. He didn't move as fast as Mauer and a lot of people gave up on him. But he has come into his own. He's not Torii Hunter, but he is a good major league center fielder and will likely remain the Twins leadoff hitter for a long time to come.
In 2003, the Twins took Matt Moses. His bat was supposed to carry him, but it didn't carry him very far. He never really got beyond AA.
In 2004, the Twins had two extra first round choices, the picks were Trevor Plouffe, Glen Perkins and Steve Waldrop. This draft demonstrates the patience required to really know how a draft came out.
Plouffe just had his first brief stint in the majors and impressed the coaching staff. It looks like he is ready, but is blocked by last year's deal for JJ Hardy. It looks a bit like a repeat of the experience Span had when the Twins brought in Carlos Gomez.
Last season, Perkins looked like he was going to be a regular in the rotation, or at least a stalwart of the bullpen. Right now he back at AAA struggling to put things together after ending last season early with an injury. He seems to have burned some bridges with the club's management. But he is probably not going anywhere until he shows he is ready to pitch again in the major leagues.
Waldrop suffered an arm injury and is just now playing his first year at AAA, working out of the bullpen. He looks like he may be ready if there is an opening. But he is not on the major league roster.
In 2005, the Twins took Matt Garza who turned out to be extremely talented and also extremely hard for Ron Gardenhire to deal with. He got dealt to Tampa for Delmon Young.
In 2006, the Twins took Chris Parmelee. Parmelee was considered a slugger and he still is. Unfortunately he makes contact so rarely his opportunities to show off that power are limited. He was just demoted from AA back to A ball after struggling in his first year at New Britain. He isn't finished, but he is not on a fast track of any kind. At best he looks like an all or nothing guy that bats low in the order.
In 2007, the Twins took Ben Revere. Like the choice of Mauer, this was criticized as a financial move. Unlike Mauer, Revere is unlikely to be a hall-of-famer. But he has shown that the Twins knew what they were doing. He is the organizations fastest player and top base stealer. He has hit over .300 at every stop. He was criticized as a slap hitter when drafted and he has yet to show any real power. But it is likely, like Span, his power numbers will improve as he gets more mature. He is never going to be a big home run threat, but a guy who hits balls into the gap and can run like the wind is likely going to be a productive major league player. The other knock on Revere is his defense, He isn't a polished defender yet and his arm is never going to be a plus.
In 2008, the Twins had two choices. Aaron Hicks and Carlos Guttierez.
Hicks has everyone excited as a guy who has both speed and power. But he is very raw and is not on a fast track. He started the year at Beloit with a very cold bat. He then got very hot for a while raising his barring average in to the .300's. That hot streak ended and his hitting has fallen back to the mid-.200's. He may get a promotion in June, but its possible the Twins will let him play out the year in low A ball.
Guttierez was coming off arm surgery when drafted. Because of the surgery he had been used as a closer his last year in college. The Twins, however, drafted him as a starter. He has a great sinker, but needed to work on auxiliarly pitches as a starter. He has been used carefully as they try to build his stamina. Last year they moved him to the bullpen to finish the year in order to avoid over-working him. He is back at New Britain this year and doing well. Given the Twins depth in pitching, its possible they will give up on the idea of him starting. But he has the potential to be a number one or two starter if he can develop pitches to go with his sinker.
In 2009, the Twins took Kyle Gibson. Gibson didn't pitch last summer and is already at AA this year where he now seems to be thriving.
In general, recent drafts will seem better than earlier drafts. This is because guys like Gibson are all about projection and tools. Whereas players who have been around a couple years have usually started to show a few warts. But its important to remember Joe Mauer, the first pick of this decade, is just reaching his prime. Drafts in baseball require a lot of patience.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
"historically what percentage of games were won by the home team carrying various leads or deficits into the top of the ninth.
Leading by 5 - win 99.7% of the time
Leading by 4 - win 98.8% of the time
Leading by 3 - win 98.0% of the time
Leading by 2 - win 94.5% of the time
Leading by 1 - win 86.6% of the time
Tied - win 52.2% of the time
Losing by 1 - win 15.2% of the time
Losing by 2 - win 6.3% of the time
Losing by 3 - win 2.9% of the time
Losing by 4 - win 1.3% of the time
Losing by 5 - win 0.6% of the time"
I think the really interesting part of this data is that it clearly shows that not all runs are created equally. While the data here is only for one particular situation, I think the pattern is likely to apply regardless of the inning.
In a tie game, the first run that scores in the bottom of the 8th raises a team's chances of winning by 66%,more than all the additional runs combined. The second run raises the team's chances by 10% and the third run raises the team's chances by 4%. If the home team starts the bottom of the 8th down by a run, the first run it scores raises its chances of winning by 243%.
On the other hand, when down by two runs, scoring the first run only increases the chances of winning by 141% and when down by 2 runs only 117%.
What this demonstrates, of no surprise to traditionalists, is that in a close game, playing for one run is by far and away the better strategy than playing for a big inning. If you are down by more than a run, then playing for the big inning makes more sense.
One other note. I calculated the increases based on the formula (chances after run scores- chances before run scores)/(chances before run scores). That is to say, the change in the probability a team will win. You an argue whether the percentage increase is more appropriate than just the straight number of additional games a team would win. But the pattern is the same either way. And, of course, these are averages. It may well be that in close games where both teams are scoring runs in bunches, the extra runs become more important. Or that a single run is more important in a pitchers duel. In fact, both of those are likely true. Those are the limits of all "probabilities" in baseball. There are so many variables that every situation is different and the average has only limited value for a specific decision or player.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
"There is little if any difference among major-league pitchers in their ability to prevent hits on balls hit in the field of play."
"The critical thing to understand is that major-league pitchers don't appear to have the ability to prevent hits on balls in play."
In support of that claim, McCracken goes on to site the following about pitchers' Batting Average on Balls In Play ( (H-HR)/(BFP-HR-BB-SO-HB) ):
"The vast majority of pitchers who have pitched significant innings have career rates between .280 and .290."
Of course McCracken's claim caused a sensation in the statistical community. It greatly simplified the troublesome need to consider team defense when evaluating pitching (FIPS anyone?) It all but eliminated the need to consider pitching when evaluating fielding. As a result, the statistical community developed all sorts of new statistics working from his premise and it has been extended to hitters.
Now you would expect some healthy skepticism of that claim. The obvious question is what was the league BABIP in 2000 when McCracken did his "study?" If the vast majority of successful pitchers, those that got a significant number of outs, are all above average in getting hitters out on balls in play you would probably conclude it is unlikely they have no control over it. But the league BABIP was and is around.300. That is 10-20 points higher than the figure sited for the "vast majority" of successful starting pitchers as identified by McCracken.
Now you might think this was overlooked all these years. It wasn't. That .300 average is sited on the Baseball Prospectus site as the "typical" BABIP for pitchers. In fact, that claim is itself inaccurate. The average (mean) for all pitchers is .300, but the typical (median) pitcher's BABIP is actually considerably higher since the best pitchers face more batters than those with higher BABIP. But either way, the best pitchers have the best BABIP, well above an average pitcher.
As others looked at the numbers and raised troublesome question about McCracken's basic premise finding numerous examples that contradicted it, they were explained as "outliers", ground ball pitchers, etc..Many pitchers had career BABIP far lower than the .280 McCracken claimed and the range of career. BABIP for pitchers goes from as low as .250 up to .350. Very similar to the range in hitter's batting averages. Combined with McCracken's own data showing the vast majority of successful starting pitchers have above average BABIP, you would think pitchers influence over whether a ball goes for a hit had been proven. Successful pitchers are successful, in part, because they get hitters to put the ball in play in ways that make it easy for their fielders to turn them into outs. That certainly is traditional baseball wisdom. And the actual numbers support it.
Nonetheless, McCracken's basic conclusion has become an urban legend. Like any urban legend, once believed, no amount of facts will cause people to abandon their belief in it. None of us like to admit we were enthusiastically wrong.
Friday, April 02, 2010
The criteria for this are always a problem, I don't think people even agree on who the top pitcher for last year was. So here are my predictions in specific categories:
Strikeouts - Liriano
ERA - Liriano
Innings Pitched - Baker
Wins - Slowey
I think Liriano will be back but continue to struggle pitching deep into games. The result will be fewer innings pitched and a lot heavier reliance on the bullpen. Together those translate into fewere wins. Baker is going to get a lot of outs and pitch deep into games, but he will give up some runs while doing it. Slowey will get as many outs as Baker, but will give up fewer runs while getting those outs. The combination will translate into the most wins.
Saves leader - Guerrier
I think the closer by committee will really be Guerrier to start. I think he will handle the job well enough to hold the job until/unless the Twins trade for a closer.
Joe Mauer - The other candidate is obviously Morneau but if Mauer stays healthy his position is going to make him more valuable than anyone else on the team even if he doesn't put up the same MVP numbers as last year.
Twins Best Rookie
The only rookie on the opening day roster is Drew Butera and his role as temporary backup catcher means he can only win this category by default. So the question is who is most likely to contribute later in the year. I suspect the popular choice will be Danny Valencia. But, aside from my doubts about him, the Twins would have to move someone to make room. I doubt they are going to do that in the middle of a pennant race. The most likely spot for a rookie to get shot is at the back of the bullpen, so the question is which of the rookie pitchers in the minors is most likely to help out.
Kyle Waldrop - Waldrop is not on the major league roster. But he and Anthony Slama have both been kept around right up to opening day. I think Waldrop, a former first round sandwich pick, is the better talent.
Twins Most Improved Player
Delmon Young - I think the sleeper here is Jacques Jones, but he has no place to play. So unless someone gets hurt he will likely have to be most improved somewhere else. Young needs to be the most improved player or he is not going to play much. You can almost see Gardy straining to figure out how to have Thome in the lineup every day, so Young is going to be on a very short leash.
This is a hard category since it deals with expectations. I am going to put JJ Hardy here since I think some people look for his numbers from a couple years ago and expect that as a return to normal. I don't think that is going to happen and mid-way through the season we are going to start hearing complaints about his defense. By the end of the year, shortstop will not be seen as one of the Twins strengths.
Bold Predictions (think of several if you'd like)
The Twins will win 100+ games and have more than one 20 game winner. I think with their offense and deep starting staff the Twins are going to win a lot of games for the pitchers who are the most effective.
The Royals will surprise people as their young players break out.
Neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox will make the playoffs.
A.L. Central Prediction (Standings):
Three Keys to Success for the Twins:
Keeping people healthy - this is always a key to success. For the Twins the most important player to keep healthy is Denard Span. Revere was impressive in spring training. But he is not ready to lead off and play center field in the major leagues at the same level as Span. Span is not the team's MVP, but he may be the most irreplaceable.
Finding an effective closer - this is Twins most obvious question mark. A lot has been made of the difference between the "average' closer and a great one. But the alternative to great is not average, as anyone who remembers guys like Dave Stevens can attest. A terrible closer, who goes through stretches of blown saves, would be a real problem. It will spill over into the rotation and offense as everyone else tries to step up to compensate.
Maintaining their defense - I think Gardy pays a lot of lip service to defense, but he usually ends up going with the guy who has the better bat. That is fine when most of your players are average to outstanding defenders. But this is a team with several players who are playing a new position (Span), whose defense has questions (Young, Cuddyer, Kubel) or may be in decline (Hardy, Hudson, Punto).
Monday, March 22, 2010
The other question is whether it was a good baseball decision. A lot of comparisons have been made to other players - Mauer got the fourth richest contract in history. But the scary thing about Joe Mauer is he may not have reached his potential yet. He is only 26 and his power numbers are likely to increase. Last year he hit a.most 30 home runs while missing a month of the season. He has the potential to win the triple crown as a hitter while continuing to be the best defensive player at the games most demanding position. Especially with better on base guys at the top of the order and with Morneau hitting behind him. If that happens, Mauer may contend with Babe Ruth as the best player to ever play the game. And Twins fans can spend the next nine years talking like Yankee fans about whether their hometown team will be able to win the World Series, instead of whether they can get into the playoffs.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
With Nathan a question mark, there are one or two positions open. I assume Liriano has all but won the fifth starter position. The other pitchers still in camp are Neshek, Duensing, Perkins, Manship, Slama, Waldrop and Maroth. The last three are not on the major league roster.
Neshek has done well in spring training but still has not got his velocity up to 90-mph. As I understand it, he still has options left and if he isn't throwing at full velocity, they are likely to send him to Rochester to work on his arm strength.
Gardy made a comment about Perkins getting his work in because he was going to "be a starter somewhere". I think the Twins still hope to move him, but if not he is likely going to get the sixth starter spot pitching at Rochester. He also still has options left.
Duensing is still competing (along with Perkins and Liriano) for the last starter spot. Since I think Liriano has won that competition, Duensing is likely to end up starting at Rochester. But if both Perkins and Duensing are still around one of them will likely be in the major league bullpen.
Manship has struggled so far in spring training. Unless he can step things up in his next couple outings, he will likely start the season at Rochester. If he improves and Perkins is moved, he might get a major league spot as the long reliever while Duensing is at Rochester keeping himself ready as a starter.
This leaves the three non-roster guys. I am not sure where the room is found for them, but I don't think that will be the decisive question in choosing bullpen spots.
Maroth has the advantage of being a major league veteran. With two spots open, it seems likely that will be an advantage. If Nathan (or an outside guy) is the closer, then filling the last spot with someone inexperienced may be less risky. Of course Maroth has to show he can get major league hitters out. He had a rough start to the spring, but obviously they still think he could help them or he wouldn't still be in camp.
Slama has been turning fans heads. Likewise, Waldrop has had good success. The two of them need to show they can continue that success as the competition improves the rest of spring training.
I would call Duensing and Maroth the favorites right now, but Slama and Waldrop have legitimate shots at spots. I don't think Gardy wants Perkins around and will find a way for that to happen whether by trade or sticking him at Rochester.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Optioned RHP Deolis Guerra, RHP Loek Van Mil and INF Estarlin De Los Santos to New Britain (EL).
Reassigned LHP Jose Lugo, C Jair Fernandez, C Danny Rams, INF Steve Singleton and OF Rene Tosoni to their minor league camp.
For people unfamiliar with this process, the first three players are on the major league roster, so they have to optioned onto a minor league roster. The others are not, so they can simply be reassigned.
None of these players were really candidates to make the Twins this spring. The only surprise here was Rene Tosoni and it probably does not bode well for his future. I am not sure he was ever really a candidate to back up Span in center field, but his quick exit from the major league camp probably means he is not seen has having any role this year. Of course, that can change over the course of a season. The purpose of the minor leagues is to develop players and Tosoni is just arriving at AAA. So its not like he is a lost cause. Jose Lugo's early exit is also a bit of a surprise and an indication that he is going to be minor league roster filler, not major league depth.
Another big surprise was a couple players who did not get sent out. Ben Revere hasn't played above A ball and is expected to start the season at AA New Britain. That he was not part of the first round of cuts indicates Gardy wants to take a longer look at him against better competition. Of course it may be that, except for Span, he is the only true center fielder in camp. Chris Parmelee, another A ball player, is another surprise although Parmelee also played in the more advanced Arizona Fall League. It may be both of these guys are former first round draft choices that they just want to challenge. But its also possible they are closer to being ready than expected.
I suppose it is also a surprise that Toby Gardenhire is still hanging around. That demonstrates what being a jack of all trades, including a catcher, can do for you. It also helps to be the manager's son of course.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Jason Kubel is a good example of why young players rarely break in as DH's. It usually takes close to a 1000 major league at bats before a player settles in and is productive. Kubel didn't become primarily a DH until 2008 with over 750 plate appearances. And he still has played the outfield about 50 games each year while primarily being the Twins DH. You have to be able to play the field initially in order to get the major league at bats to prove yourself as a hitter. Contending teams just don't usually hand the DH spot to unproven rookies - in fact, no team does.
Of course, if Portes hits well enough, some team will find a way to get him in the lineup. But "well enough" is not they way Jason Kubel hit to start out, it means busting out of the gate with Kubel's numbers from last year. That is tough for a player to do. Portes may be a guy who does, but more likely he will remain a spring sensation.
The other thing to remember about spring training is that, in most games, there are really two games. The first half of the game the regulars play against one another. Then the second game is when prospects, who are likely going to start the season in the minor leagues, relieve the regulars and play against one another. I haven't looked at who Portes faced, but it is likely those home runs weren't hit off major league pitching. Certainly not the quality of major league pitching he would face starting in April. That is another reason why spring training results don't tell you much - at least not until the last week or so.
I like Portes and have wondered when we might see him break out. But, absent a position, he is likely to remain one of those guys who tantalizes us as fans with his numbers at AAA.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
One of the best reactions was from Ozzie Guillen who suggests that Latin players are going to take over the game entirely. He may be right and that would be a shame for America's pastime.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Baseball Prospectus compiled all the data from the past 10 years, and home teams that had a save situation entering the ninth inning -- leading by three runs or fewer -- converted 87 percent of those saves. Road teams converted 86.1 percent of their ninth-inning save situations.In other words, whether it's Nathan or anybody else standing on the mound, the Twins have less than a 14 percent chance of blowing that save."
It actually doesn't mean that. It means that is the average, but some pitchers are below average - perhaps a long way below average.
The other problem is, as most people know, the real difference is not how well pitchers do with a three run lead. It takes a real meltdown to blow one of those and those are pretty rare for any quality reliever. If you dilute the sample with a lot of sure things - you get a high percentage of success. But it tells you nothing about the relative ability of the closers, it just means you have masked it with a lot of situations where failure is basically random.
A closer who blows three or four more games than the next guy costs his team three or four wins. That is enough to decide a close pennant race. And if the alternative to Nathan pitches like Dave Stevens, it will be more than three or four games the Twins lose as a result.
Sunday, March 07, 2010
Jon Rauch - The role of closer is one that puts a lot of pressure on a pitcher, as the veteran in the bullpen Rauch may be the most ready to step up in that role. He is not, by any means, the guy with the best stuff.
Jesse Crain - Based on his performance in a setup role, Crain would appear to be an unlikely candidate. But closers are a different breed. They pitch only one inning, go all out and need to handle pressure. Crain has pitched in that role in college and the minor leagues and his stuff might well hold up better under the lighter load of closing.
Clay Condrey - Like Rauch, he is veteran. Like Rauch, he really lacks the stuff to be a closer.
Pat Neshek - I would rate him higher, but having not appeared at all in the big leagues for a couple years it seems unlikely that he is ready to step in immediately in the closer role. He needs to be eased back into the role.
Jose Mijares - He has the stuff. He is a lefty. But he struggled in the pressure of the pennant race last fall. He does not yet appear to have the maturity and bulldog makeup of a closer. He may not be ready, but then no one else is either.
Matt Guerrier - In some ways, he should be at the top of this list. But I think his promotion to closer would be the peter principal at work. He can be a solid setup guy, but his stuff is not lights out and is not likely to improve in the closer role.
Francisco Liriano - He has the stuff, but he looks to be a potential ace in the rotation.
Anthony (corrected) Swarzak - He has the stuff to pitch in that role, but he may not be ready for the major leagues. Its hard to imagine the Twins putting a rookie in that role. Especially one who has struggled at the major league level.
Glen Perkins - I think he is more likely to be trade bait for a closer than to be handed the job.
Brian Duensing - I don't think they are going to move him out of the rotation and he isn't really closer material anyway.
One thing I think is important to note. The light work load of the closer and the critical situations in which they are used often mean they get better results than the same pitcher pitching more often would in a setup role. So numbers alone don't telly you a lot about who will be able to do the job. Having great stuff helps. But being able to handle the pressure is even more critical. A guy who can't come back the next day after losing a game is a disaster in the closer role where almost every time they are out there they are preserving a win the rest of the team has achieved. Three straight meltdowns can have the whole team pressing. With Reardon, Aguilera and Nathan, the Twins have not seen a lot of that in the past twenty five years. But anyone who remembers Ron Davis, or the brief period in the mid-90's when various pitchers struggled in the closer role, Nathan's arm troubles are alarming.
Friday, March 05, 2010
What has not been commented on is Span's role in the offense. Not only do the Twins lack a center fielder, but they lack any other players who fit the leadoff role. The next best guy with the combination of on base percentage and speed is proablay Nick Punto. Hudson gets on base, but he is slow and really much better suited to the number two spot. Harris doesn't get on base enough and lacks speed. Casillas? He needs to win a spot on the roster and he isn't an on base guy. The best guy is probably Joe Mauer - just like he is the best number two hitter, number three hitter ...
This lack of organizational depth at AAA in two critical areas is actually alarming. Putting Michael Cuddyer out in center field between Jason Kubel and Delmon Young is going to give the Twins perhaps the worst defensive outfield in baseball. A lineup with Nick Punto at the top looks a lot less formidable, especially if some of the other question marks, like JJ Hardy, come up with negative consequences.
There is a lot riding on Denard Span staying healthy.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
The story of Kirby Puckett's career is that it ended "tragically" when he developed glaucoma. But there is an elephant in the room. Here is just one of many links that discuss the connection between steroid use and glacuoma and cataracts:
"With long-term use of steroids, cataracts or glaucoma may develop."
Moreover, Puckett ultimately died of a stroke. Strokes are another known potential side effect of abuse of steroids.
So is there evidence in Puckett's career of the kind of jolt in productivity that we now see as evidence of potential steroid use? The answer is yes - in spades.After hitting a total of 4 home runs in his first two full seasons ( and 41 doubles) in 1300 plate appearances, in 1986 at the age of 26 Puckett power suddenly "emerged" with 31 home runs and 37 doubles in 723 plate appearances. His strikeouts increased, his walks declined, but his batting average improved by 40 points from 1985. Puckett had gone from a 5'8" singles hitter to the next Hack Wilson in a single season.
Of course that doesn't "prove" Puckett was using steroids, any more than Bonds and McGwires power surge proved they used steroids. And Puckett's fans will use that as a defense, just as Bonds and McGwire fans did when the obvious signs of steroid abuse were pointed out to them. But there is plenty of evidence that Puckett's career end and death were both the elements of a classic greek tragedy, that which makes you great will bring you down.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Certain barring injury:
All but certain:
Until he shows he is healthy and able to pitch, last years injury leaves some questions. No one expects that to be a problem, but he has said he still has some pain and that is never a good sign.
Everyone wants Liriano to take this spot by demonstrating he is back to his 2006 form. The other two primary candidates are Perkins and Duensing and neither one can compete with a 2006 Liriano. Assuming Liriano is something more than last ear but less than 2006, Perkins is probably next in line based on experience. But the more Gardy talks, the less I think he is really ready to put last year behind him. Duensing pitched well in the rotation last year. But its not clear if he can do that over a full season. The other two candidates, Swarzak and Manship, are longshots. Swarzak got the rotation call before Duensing last year, so a good spring training and continued struggles by the lefties could put him in contention. Manship is probably more showcasing himself for an early callup, but if the others all stumble he is a very longshot if he steps up his game.
Sixth Spot: Obviously this is one of the losers in the group above. But it is important to remember that getting through the season with five starters would be very unusual. Whether the Twins hang onto Perkins may depend on whether one of the other pitchers is clearly ready to step in. If there is stiff competition for the fifth spot in the rotation, then Perkins may be gone. But if the 5th spot is filled by default, they may hang onto Perkins as the only guy who has shown he can pitch successfully in the major leagues, even if he isn't their first choice. That is also true, if Liriano takes the job, but Duensing and Swarzak struggle.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
1. Jose Morales - I think he is almost a lock to be the second catcher if healthy.
2. Brian Duensing - He is going to be in the competition with Perkins and Liriano for the fourth rotation spot and the seventh spot in the bullpen. He looked ready at the end of last year and will likely be the first guy called up if someone goes down even if he fails to make the staff out of spring training.
3. Drew Butera - I think he only needs an opportunity. The roto folks will never consider him a contributor because of his lack of offense. But his defense will make him a contributor as the second catcher.
4. Ben Revere - This may be a stretch, but I think by the end of the season Revere is going to be ready to contribute at the major league level. With the Twins thin in the outfield, especially center field, I think Revere has a shot at contributing in September even if there are no openings before then. By mid-season he may be the first choice if Span goes down.
5. Anthony Swarzak - After Duensing, I think Swarzak is the guy closest to being ready to help if there is an opening on the pitching staff. That could be as a starter or a reliever.
6. Alex Burnett - I think its likely Burnett will see time in the bullpen by the end of the season. He is close to ready and a season at AAA is going to put him over the top by September.
7. Jeff Manship - Manship may be ahead of Burnett on the opportunity list, but behind him in his chances to contribute if given the opportunity.
8. Rene Tosoni - He is ahead of Revere in his development and the thin outfield gives him a chance of helping early in the year. The bigger question is whether he can take any opportunity he gets.
9. Wilson Ramos - I think he is fourth on the depth chart and probably not quite ready, but if Mauer went down he might be the guy with the combination of defense/offense the Twins need. If it is later in the year he may be ready to step up and take the opportunity.
10. Luke Hughes - Hughes has one tool, a right-handed bat with developing power. He is getting to the age where that power could be enough to give him a shot if something happens to Thome.
11. Danny Valencia - He could win a roster spot out of spring training. He could also continue his AAA and winter ball struggles. I am skeptical he can contribute this year even with the opportunity.
12. Rob Delaney - Like Valencia, I am not sure Delaney can take the opportunity but he is likely to get a shot at some point.
13. Trevor Plouffe - Unless JJ Hardy gets hurt or his defense fails completely, Plouffe doesn't have much chance. He might get a callup in September but is not likely to be a contributor.
On roster, but no real chance, Estarlin de Los Santos, Loek Van Mil and Delios Guerra are protected on the roster but both would need tremendous breakouts to get to the big leagues, much less be ready to contribute.
14. Anthony Slama - Slama has a shot at getting a callup in the bullpen, but again his actually contributing is less likely.
15. Kyle Waldrop - Not ready yet, but could be by the end of the season.
16. Brock Peterson - he may get a callup, but he is unlikely to be able to contribute much
17. Juan Portes - a long shot to get a chance, his bat might contribute if he is given one.
18. Jose Lugo - a lefthander who could contribute to the bullpen in that role
19. Mike Maroth - another lefthander
There are several additional players in camp who are there to fill out spring training rosters. I think the remaining catchers, Daniel Lehman, Danny Rams and Jair Fernandez fit that role. Likewise Toby Gardenhire, Brian Dinkelman and Steve Singleton.
20. Chris Parmelee is unlikely to be ready to help in the major leagues this year but he could break out and, like Hughes, his power is the kind of tool that can contribute at the major league level for a short period.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Jim Thome 08/27/70
Joe Nathan 11/22/74
Clay Condrey 11/19/75
Carl Pavano 01/08/76
Nick Punto 11/08/77
Orlando Hudson 12/12/77
Matt Guerrier 08/02/78
Jon Rauch 09/27/78
Michael Cuddyer 03/27/79
Brendan Harris 08/26/80
Pat Neshek 09/04/80
Justin Morneau 05/15/81
Jesse Crain 07/05/81
Scott Baker 09/19/81
Nick Blackburn 02/24/82
Matt Tolbert 05/04/82
Jason Kubel 05/25/82
J.J. Hardy 08/19/82
Jose Morales 02/20/83
Brian Duensing 02/22/83
Glen Perkins 03/02/83
Joe Mauer 04/19/83
Drew Butera 08/09/83
Francisco Liriano 10/26/83
Denard Span 02/27/84
Kevin Slowey 05/04/84
Alexi Casilla 07/20/84
Luke Hughes 08/02/84
Rob Delaney 09/08/84
Loek Van Mil 09/15/84
Danny Valencia 09/19/84
Jose Mijares 10/29/84
Jeff Manship 01/16/85
Anthony Swarzak 09/10/85
Delmon Young 09/14/85
Trevor Plouffe 06/15/86
Estarlin De Los Santos 01/20/87
Alex Burnett 07/26/87
Wilson Ramos 08/10/87
Deolis Guerra 04/17/89
Does this matter? I think it does. Because there are two things that effect k/9. It goes up when a pitcher strikes a batter out and it goes down when they induce an out. A high k/9 may be caused by the ability to strike batters out or by the inability to induce batters to make feeble hits. The average ball in play goes for a hit (minus home runs) about 30% of the time - for statheads the major league BABIP is about .300. If you are below average in that regard, as Randy Johnson was, you will need to strike out a higher percentage of the batters you face to be successful. But Johnson is a rarity, most successful pitchers are above average at inducing outs and the best pitchers are usually good at both. If you have a pitcher with a high K/9 you need to look at the hits they are giving up to determine whether that reflects a great strikeout artist or just an inability to get people out any other way.
Monday, February 15, 2010
JJ Hardy. Almost every evaluation of the Twins has Hardy hitting and fielding the way he did a couple years ago. But last year Hardy really struggled offensively and there are reports his defense has slipped as he has matured. He no longer has the range to be a plus at shortstop. Even Hardy's lose season averages last year may be optimistic, inflated by one hot month. If he continues to struggle the Twins will have a huge hole at shortstop.
Delmon Young: The Twins outfield looks solid, but it depends on Delmon Young hitting the way he ended the season, not the way he started out. That is a reasonable hope, but again until Young shows he can use his potential over a full season it is not a certainty. If he doesn't, with Gomez gone there are not a lot of options available to fill the hole. We may see Kubel in left and Thome at DH more than we want.
Jim Thome: Thome is old. He faded at the end of last season and didn't do very well in a pinch hit role. Its possible he will not be able to find his swing with irregular playing time for the first time in his career. Its also possible that fade was not a fluke, that pitchers found they could challenge him in ways they avoided to start the year.
Orlando Hudson:. Its not clear whether Hudson slipped and lost his job or if Joe Torre just decided to ride the hot bat in the playoffs. But it is a bit suspicious when an all-star, gold glove defensive infielder is replaced in mid-season no matter how hot the other player's bat. Hudson is slow and his "gold glove" defense may not be what it was. If his OBP slips, the excitement about him in the number two spot in the order could fade to disappointment at a base blogging runner who fails to score even when he gets on base.
Kevin Slowey: Slowey is being counted on to fill a spot in the rotation, but reported his wrist was still sore form his surgery which had two screws put in it. Its possible that will change his delivery or effect his control.
Francisco Liriano The spring hype about Liriano's return to his 2006 form could turn out to be just that and Liriano will struggle the same as last year.
Michael Cuddyer Cuddyer really stepped up when Morneau was hurt. Its not clear he can sustain that over an entire season. He could contribute to a disappointing outfield.
Carl Pavano. Pavano's arrival really transformed the pitching staff last year. Or maybe it didn't, but it coincided with improvement in the rest of the staff. Pavono may not be quite the pitcher some people have projected and he could easily follow a long line of disappointing veterans. He is not really an "inning eater". Instead he is a solid mid to back rotation starter. If he is asked to step up to the number two or three spot in the rotation he may not be up to it.
Joe Nathan Nathan is going to start slipping at some point. This could be the year and the Twins don't really have anyone to take his place.
The rest of the bullpen: The Twins bullpen looks solid, but ... any or all of its members could disappoint. Relief pitching is always high risk and the Twins are counting on a number of players who have had their ups and downs.
Of course there are also some players who could step up and surprise us. If you look at that list there is good reason for Twins fans optimism. Except for Hardy and Young, the downside for most of these players is either unlikely or not catastrophic.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
While his defense is outstanding, on offense Punto has had his ups and downs. He lacks any power, so his already low batting averages some years have been even emptier. Where he makes up for that is by working pitchers. There were several times last year that the top of the order benefited from a pitcher who was cruising along until worn down by Punto. He is not an easy out and that is reflected in his decent on base percentages even when his batting average is down.
He has not been particularly durable. When asked to play 150 games in 2007, he had his worst offensive year. Bad enough that even his stellar defense didn't make up for his lack of offense. That is largely the basis of all the abuse he gets. But he recovered with a lighter work load in 2008 and 2009. Still his durability is something to keep in mind this year when he will likely share third base with Brendan Harris.
Some people would call Punto the quintessential utility player. But he is really better than that. He is not Cesar Tovar, but he's not Al Newman either to name a couple of past Twins payers with similar versatility. Utility players don't get 400+ at bats year after year.
This may well be Punto's last year with the Twins. He is losing some of his defensive prowess as he ages and the Twins have Matt Tolbert ready to replace some of what he brings to the table. But he has served the Twins and their fans well up until now. It would be great if he could leave with a World Series ring.
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