Thursday, March 31, 2011

Best Twins Team Ever?

This year's Twins could be its best ever. I am not going to spend a lot of time evaluating past Twins teams. But the current lineup combined with pitching depth could make this one of the strongest, if not THE strongest Twins team. Certainly in recent memory going  back to the last time they played baseball outdoors at Met stadium. 

The Lineup

Denard Span - Span has the potential to hit .300, will take a lot of pitches and is a good baserunner who can steal when called on. 

Tsyoshi Nishioka - Nishoka looks like a solid number two hitter. He will hit for average, can play little ball and is the fastest runner in the system. And he knows how to use that speed to steal bases.

Joe Mauer - Mauer is a recent MVP and capable of putting up another season just like it.

Justin Morneau - Like Mauer, Morneau is a recent MVP. In fact, he may have been an MVP again last year if he had stayed healthy.

Delmon Young - Young hasn't been an MVP, yet. But he certainly has that potential. He is a .300 hitter with growing power.

Justin Kubel - Kubel is another.300 hitter with home run power. 

MIchael  Cuddyer - Unlike the first 6 hitters, Cuddyer is not a .300 hitter. But he can hit 20+ home runs with decent average.

Danny Valencia - Another guy who has hit .300 last year and added some power towards the end of the season. Not numbers you expect to be releagated to a number 8 hitter.

Alexi Casilla - Like Span and Nishioka, Casilla has speed, decent on base skills and a little gap power. He profiles as a leadoff or number two hitter, but not on this team.

This lineup is not the 27 Yankees. But if everything goes right, it is the best offense in baseball. It is relentless from top to bottom. Guys who can get on base and run at the top of the order.  MVP power and average in the middle of the order with solid hitters to follow. It strings together three little ball guys who can both set up the middle of the order and manufacture runs in low scoring games. This team will clobber mediocre pitching and can scrape out runs even against elite pitchers who shut down the middle of the order.

The Starters

What sets this starting staff apart is its depth. All six starters have all shown their ability to consistently keep the team in the game. Over the course of the season that depth means the Twins will not be auditioning minor league pitchers pressed into duty as a result of injuries or failure. There aren't going to be very many games where opposing teams will have a safe lead early. Nor are they going to hand the game over to the bullpen in the 6th inning very often.

The Bullpen

This bullpen has two former allstar closers in Narthan and Capps. But like the starting staff, it is again depth that characterizes the bullpen. They have a half dozen guys at AAA who would be in the bullpen for most other teams. Neshek was released because he couldn't even take a AAA spot and is now in the Padres bullpen. 

The Bench 

The bench has three players. A future HOF in Thome as the extra bat and Tolbert and Repko has defensive replacements. Given the offensive power in the Twins lineup, that combination is exactly what you are looking for.


This is a completely sunny description of the Twins. But this is opening day - which is a time for optimism. Likely not everything will work out, but if it does this team could win 110+ games. Can it win the World Series? Sure, but only after it gets to the playoffs. I think by the trade deadline this team will have us talking about what they need to do to be successful in the playoffs, not to hold off their central division rivals. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

There is no such thing as "Expected Runs"

One of the most misleading of all the sabermetric devises is the use of probabilities that a run will score or  a team will win as a measure of individual results. 

The basic idea, made popular by a guy with the nom-de-plume of Tango Tiger,  is how many runs to teams score a run or games do they win after a change on the field. 

As an example. how many runs do teams score with one out and runner on first, compared to one out and a runner on second. How does that compare to to two outs and no one on base. This is used to determine the value of a stolen base, compared to getting caught stealing. You can see a recent example of this methodology here: .

You can take this a step further and ask - what is the impact on wins. For instance, You start with how often teams win with a score of 3-2 in the bottom of the 8th with no one out and no one on base. After a player doubles, you compare that to how often a team wins in the new situation, with the score still 3-2 in the bottom of the 8th with no outs, but now a runner is on second.

At first glance this seems like a reasonable measure. But it is no more reasonable than it is to say "How often do players hit home runs?" and then apply the result to Justin Morneau and Matt Tolbert. While the number of outs and runners on base are certainly factors in how often a team will score, who those runners are, who is pitching, who is in the bullpen, who is batting next .... are all at least as important. So when you make a decision to bunt or steal, you have a lot more to consider than what will happen on average in the new situation.

The fact is that baseball results are not random data. They are being influenced constantly by players and managers on both teams acting to optimize the results in their favor. Players don't randomly steal bases based on the number of outs. Managers don't randomly bunt. In fact, players don't even approach each at bat randomly and neither do pitchers. Its only through willful ignorance, ignoring what players, managers and professionals tell us about what they are doing, that we can pretend that this kind of analysis gives us any real insight.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

If Luke Hughes were Tonya Harding

For those too young or too old to remember, Tonya Harding was famous for her figure skating. She became infamous for having her chief rival knee-capped just before the world championships. *

So Luke Hughes has lost the competition for utility spot despite hitting almost as many home runs this spring as the rest of his teammates combined. Imagine him responding to that announcement by Gardy. "So, who do I need to kneecap to get to the major leagues?"

Here is the answer in descending order of preference:

1) Jason Kubel

Hughes best position is hitting. Kubel getting hurt would allow Hughes to share DH at bats with Jim Thome. Since they are being cautious with Thome's work load, this would probably give Hughes is largest role.

2) Cuddyer or Young

This is the equivalent of Kubel getting hurt, since Kubel would likely move to a corner outfield spot if either of these two are injured.

3) Thome

With Thome hurt Hughes could share the DH spot with Kubel. But I think he would have fewer at bats than he would if he shared it with Thome.

4) Valencia

Hughes can play third base and his bat may play there as well. By contrast, if you stick Tolbert at third you lose a lot of offense at what is, on balance, an offense oriented position.

5) Nishioka

Its possible if Nishioka were hurt that Hughes would take his place. But it is not a lock. Its also possible they would call up a better defensive replacement or use Tolbert.

6) Tolbert

Its possible if Tolbert was hurt that Hughes would have his spot. But its also possible that he wouldn't for the same reasons he didn't win it in the first place. A utility player with some speed who can play all the infield positions well is more valuable than another bat on the bench.

7 Casilla

He is last on the list because a quality shortstop lik Plouffe is almost certain to be called up to play shortstop every day if Casilla is hurt. Hes on the list because there is an outside chance they would move Nishioka over to shortstop.

Obviously, Hughes isn't going to knee-cap anyone. Still, if I were one of these guys I would be very careful around Hughes when he has a bat in his hand toward the end of spring training.

*And you thought figure skating was a sissy sport! The fact is skating sports of all kinds include a lot of hard knocks when you fall down. As professional hockey demonstrates, its just a short step to inflicting bruises in other ways.

*Just to be entirely accurate, I don't think it was ever proven Harding actually directed the assault.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hughes and Hughes

Patrick Reusse has an article on the Twins bullpen today that suggests it is coming into shape with Nathan, Capps, Mijares at the front as expected. Reusse seems to think Manship and Hughes are next in line with Diamond and Perkins competing for the third left hander. That leaves room for either the 6th starter or one other pitcher. While I respect Reusse, I am not sure that is an accurate read of the current state of affairs, but even if it was I think he is way ahead of himself.  We are just getting to the point in spring training where the hitters have started to catch up with the pitchers. From here to the end of the season the real tests will happen as every team, like the Twins, start to play their regulars and players who still have a legitimate shot at a place on the roster. Reusse also thinks the Twins may move a starter, likely Slowey, to get a hard throwing right hander for the bullpen. That scenario also seems unlikely to me. It may happen, but more likely later in the season when things have settled out more. Including making sure Gibson is really ready to contribute if needed.

The other "story" is that Luke Hughes may win the utility spot. This is based on the fact that Gardy thinks Hughes is a legitimate hitter and he said the utility guy didn't absolutely have to be able to play shortstop. He could move Nishioka over there if he needed to. This still seems extremely unlikely. While, as Gardy admits, Nishioka can play shortstop, I don't think a double play combination of Hughes and Nishioka is something Gardy is going to want to do very often. You essentially weaken yourself at two positions with two rookies and a shortstop with language difficulties. Not a good scenario. I suspect Gardy wants to keep Hughes spirits up, but I don't think there is really much chance of his winning the job. If he does, it is a sign Gardy has some doubts about either Casilla or Valencia offense. Because those are the only two guys Hughes would likely pinch hit for. I guess he might get an at bat for Kubel, but with Thome on the bench even that seems unlikely.

Frankly, this looks like the work of a professional sports writer making a lot of meat out of some pretty thin gruel. I guess we will find out as the next two weeks play out. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

14 Players Sent to Minors (UPDATE)

Yesterday, I thought it would be fun to speculate on who the 14 players are that will be sent to the minors Monday in the first cuts. Here were my guesses with the actual players sent out and a comment:

Optioned from major league roster: (guesses)



Comment: Beresford and Holliman were shown as on the 40 player league roster on the Twins site and seemed like obvious candidates to be sent down. That is wrong, they have 42 players listed. Beresford and Holliman are already in the minor league camp, but they did get a couple of appearances in spring training games as extra players.

Manship apparently is seen as a bullpen guy at Rochester rather than a starter. He is a long shot to make the cut for the major league bullpen, but he is still alive.

Tosoni is a bit of a surprise. He apparently is not one of the first guys they are going to look at if an opening occurs on the big league club.

Benson, Parmelee and Guerra were all sent to AA. That isn't totally unexpected, but it may be an indication that they are still a couple years away from the big leagues. It may also just be a question of where there is roster space on minor league clubs.

Reassigned to minors: (guesses)


Comment: Apparently they want to see more of Danny Rams. Bazardo was projected as as a AAA starter, so his inclusion here is not a huge surprise. Bailey is apparently ahead of Huber on the depth chart.

I am sure to be wrong about a bunch of those. There are other candidates, Bazardo, James and Waldrop are all possibilities, as are Brown, Lambin and Huber. I think Benson is a possibility and Slama, although I don't think they will send him out hurt.


Comment: They sent out most of their minor league outfielders. I think Dinkelman and Revere are the only guys left not expected to be on the opening day roster. That may be a sign the Cuddyer is just about ready.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Which 14 Players To Minors?

I thought it would be fun to speculate on who the 14 players are that will be sent to the minors Monday in the first cuts. Here are my guesses:

Optioned from major league roster:

Reassigned to minors:

I am sure to be wrong about a bunch of those. There are other candidates, Bazardo, James and Waldrop are all possibiltities as are  Brown, Lambin andHuber. I think Benson is a possiblity and Slama, although I don't think they will send him out hurt. 

Boring Spring Training

his has got to be one of the most boring Twins spring trainings in years. You can tell the bloggers and media are struggling to create something of interest out of it.

Is there really a battle for the utility position between Matt Tolbert, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes? Probably not. Hughes can hit like Babe Ruth, but its still hard to imagine Gardy going with Nishioka as his only backup option at shortstop. Plouffe has as much chance at taking the starting shortstop position away from Casilla as he does the utility spot from Tolbert. In either case, he would need an outstanding spring training while his competition showed fatal flaws. Tolbert is the utility guy barring injuries.

There is some mild interest in the battle for the 5th starter position. There was an attempt by some in the media to put Gibson in that mix, but that has fallen flat. Everyone is excited by Gibson, no one thinks he is going to be on the roster to start the season. Whether he gets a callup will depend on his performance in Rochester and injuries/failures among the Twins starters. It is hard to get very excited about a competition between Slowey and Baker. Neither is an ace in the making and either is likely to be a solid starter. The loser of that competition will be in the Twins bullpen. Likely in a long reliever role.

Which brings us to the only interesting thing happening. There are four bullpen spots pretty much set. Nathan, Capps, Mijares and Slowey/Baker. It looks likely that Perkins is going to be in the mix as well barring a meltdown later in spring training. That leaves a bunch of guys competing for the 6th and 7th spots in the bullpen. A tough battle for mopup roles! HooHah, is that exciting or what!?

Of course Nathan, Morneau, Mauer, Cuddyer and Young's health have created a few stories. But most of those questions appear to be answered. There has been some effort at creating suspense over when Mauer will actually be ready to catch. But those appear to be media inspired as well with Mauer and Gardy insisting he is going to be ready for opening day. Morneau' concussion is really the only legitimate concern and even that seems to be disappearing.

Of course there is the curse "May you live in interesting times." Boring means things are going according to the off-season plan. Most of the questions that heated up the hot stove seem to be answered.

For now, opening day is still a couple weeks away. We are just going to have to wait 'til then for any meaningful news.

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