Sunday, April 08, 2012

Twins Stink!

As one fan put it, "Opening Day! We're going to win 162 games this year!" That fan was mocking themselves, unfortunately the media isn't.

If you read the local media, including the blogsphere, you would think that the Twins had never lost two games before or looked bad doing it. But its funny how bad looking games often turn into losses and vice versa. What have we learned from the first two games of the season? Nothing. And its simply silly to pretend we have.

Of course, some people may have had unrealistic expectations based on spring training. Those are the folks who are alarmed at Francisco Liriano's performance yesterday. They imagined Liriano as a dominant ace and Cy Young candidate. What we saw yesterday was, instead, a typical Liriano. We also have seen the Twins suspect defense at work. Valencia may be a better fielder, but he isn't a gold glove candidate. He is going to miss balls. Same with Willingham out in left field. They didn't sign him for his defense. We haven't yet seen the offense at the level we expected or will need to compete. But we have watched only two games against two pitchers.

We have also seen a typical Gardy move. He started Revere in right field after he put Doumit there for the opener and got burned. Doumit turned a fly ball into a triple. If that ball was caught, the game would likely have been at worst tied. If you were keeping track of games lost by weak defense, the opener was a good start. Despite the defensive misplays yesterday, that game wouldn't be on the list. The defense was worse, but it didn't explain the loss. Instead, Liriano had a signature game.

Fortunately, this is baseball. Liriano will have good days where he looks like "Franchise". He always does. And the Twins will have good days. Every baseball team does. We need to watch a lot more games to have any better idea of the balance between the two than we had three days ago.

There are still 160 games to play. Lets try not to turn each of them into a new defining event for what kind of team the Twins have this year. Oh, wait. Expecting that from the media is the same as expecting Liriano to be consistent. Its wishful thinking.

The roller coaster is the most popular ride in most amusement parks and sports writers are, after all, in the entertainment business. They get paid to attract an audience.

Hang on to your hats! Because if Swarzak pitches well today, there will be calls for him to replace Liriano in the rotation tomorrow. That ought to get someone a few more page hits.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Opening Day - Can the Twins Win the Division?

Its opening day when all fans are optimists about their home team. But is there really a realistic chance for the Twins to win the division? The answer is certainly yes. There are two barriers to them being a contender. But both could be overcome.

The first is the Detroit Tigers. It is very unlikely, even with the best of outcomes, the Twins could beat the team Detroit has on paper. On paper, the Tigers are by far the best team in the division. Its hard to imagine the Twins being able to beat them if the Tigers stay healthy and play up to their ability. But, as we should have learned as Twins fans last year, teams don't always do either of those things. The Twins need to Tigers to stumble to have a shot, but there is nothing unrealistic about that happening.

In addition to the Tigers stumbling, the Twins will need to have some breaks. That includes their core players staying healthy and playing up to their ability. The mantra around Mauer and Morneau being the key to the Twins success remains true. You can add Span to that list. But the Twin offense looks like it can produce some runs and the starting pitching, while hardly outstanding, has five guys who have shown they can keep their team in the game. That combination can win a lot of games.

Is it likely the Twins will win the division? No. Is it realistically possible? Yes. That's why they play the games.

Parmelee Batting 8th

Ron Gardenhire made a point about his offense by pointing out that Chris Parmelee was going to be batting 8th. Parmelee forced his way onto the roster with this bat last fall and this spring. In Gardenhire's view, that he is batting at the bottom of the order is an indication of how strong his lineup is. I thought it would be interesting to compare today's opening day lineup to last years.

Here is the 2011 lineup:

The opening day lineup in 2010 looked like this:

The differences:

Carroll vs Nishioka
I am not sure I have higher hopes for Carroll than I did for Nishioka last year. But he will almost certainly, absent injury, produce better results. This will be a definite improvement.

Young vs Willingham
Again, the expectations for Young were much higher than his actual performance. Willingham will likely be an improvement.

Doumit vs. Cuddyer
Doumit has the advantage of being a switch hitter. He doesn't have Cuddyer's power, but he will hit for a slightly better average. Overall, last year's lineup with Cuddyer was stronger. The Twins will be very pleased if they get that kind of production here.

Valencia vs Kubel
Kubel was a much better hitter than Valencia. Its unlikely Valencia will match even Kubel's injury limited season.

Parmelee vs Valencia
This is hard to judge, given Parmelee has limited major league experience. If his bat really warrants his promotion to the big leagues, he should be more productive than Valencia last year. But that isn't guaranteed.

The folks that are coming back in the same spot are Span, Mauer, Morneau and Casilla. If any of them stay healthy, they will be more productive than last year.

In addition to improvements from those four, the Twins can expect better output from Carroll, Willingham and perhaps Parmelee. They will likely get worse production from Valencia and Doumit. Overall, its clear the key to offensive improvement from last year's isn't the off-season acquisitions or the development of young players. Its staying healthy. Big surprise.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Fort Myers Lineup

The Fort Myers Miracle A ball team gave the major league Twins a battle in yesterdays final spring training game. Like Rochester and New Britain, Fort Myers has a lot of players who have previous experience at this level.

Levi Michael isn't one of them. As the Twins first round choice last year, he headlines the roster at Fort Myers. The last time the Twins took a college middle infielder with their first pick was Chuck Knoblauch in 1989. Knoblauch started the 1989 season at low A and then was moved to high A as a shorstop. In 1990 he stared the year at second base in AA and the next year he helped the Twins win the World Series as a rookie.

Michael is not likely on that kind of fast track. But he is starting in high A ball and could easily end the season at AA. Like Knoblauch there is a chance he will end up at second base in the big leagues, but he will start out at shortstop for Fort Myers.

The Fort Myers starting staff looks like it will be Pat Dean, Adrian Salcedo, Manuel Solimon, BJ Hermsen and Marty Popham. Dean is a 2010 third round choice, Salcedo has been a highly touted prospect and is still only the third youngest player on the Fort Myers roster. Solimon is a former third baseman who throws very, very hard. Hermsen is in his second year at Fort Myers. Popham is an older guy who was a minor league rule 5 choice.

The bullpen includes Ricky Bowen, Tony Davis, Jhon Garcia, Jose Gonzalez, Matt Hauser, Edgar Ibarra, Bruce Pugh, and Caleb Thielbar. I don't think any of these guys are top prospects, but that is typical of A ball. With a few exceptions, talented pitchers are used as starters to give them innings and the opportunity to develop all their pitches.

That catchers are Josmil Pinto, Dan Rohlfing and Danny Rams. Rams was a second round choice in 2007. He still projects to have major league power, but he will be playing the outfield and first base in addition to catching. Rohlfing and Pinto appear to the organization guys.

The starting infield looks to be Michael Gonzales, Danny Santana, Michael and Jairo Perez.
Andy Leer and Anderson Hidalgo are the backups, with Danny Rams playing some at 1b. Aside from Michael and Rams, the rest of the infield doesn't have any top prospects.

The outfield looks like it will have Angel Morales in center, with Orlando Arcia and Lance Ray at the corners. Ryde Rodriguez is the fourth outfielder. Arcia is a top prospect who was added to the major league roster and spent time in the big league camp. Morales has been seen as a top prospect with above average speed and power, but has had injury issues slow his development. Ray was an 8th round pick in 2010. Danny Rams will also play in the outfield corners.

If you were ranking the prospects here it would be Michaels, Arcia, Morales, Salcedo, Rams, Dean, Solimon. That doesn't mean the other players have no chance. They are far enough from the big leagues that they will have a lot of opportunities to develop.

It appears Fort Myers is going to start with a veteran team with a lot of guys capable of putting up big numbers. With little apparent room at New Britain and Rochester, it will be interesting to see how that works if they show they need a bigger challenge.

Here is how the lineup was set up for the game with the Twins:

2B Santana
3B Perez
RF Arcia
C Rohlfing
LF Ray
CF Morales
DH Rams
1B Gonzales
SS Michael

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

First Rounders Hicks, Wimmers Start Season in AA at New Britain

Two of the Twins top prospects and a number of players who were competing for jobs in the major league camp will start the year at New Britain. The Twins signed a lot of players in the off-season and now need to find them places to play. You don't want young players you have plans for sitting on the bench at AAA. And given the experience last year where they lacked major league ready players at AAA, they probably aren't interested in letting anyone who might help this year go just to make room for someone on the AAA roster.

Alex Wimmers, the Twins 2010 first round draft choice, leads the starting rotation. I am not sure who the other starters will be. The likely candidates are Dave Bromberg, who was hobbled by injuries is back at AA for a second straight season. Bobby Lanigan, who was a third round choice in 2008, Steve Hirschfield, a ninth round choice in 2007, Logan Darnell, a sixth round choice in 2010 and Luke French, who made appearances in 2009 and 2010.

The bullpen has Delios Guerra, the last guy from the Santana trade, returning. Lester Oliveros, the young pitcher the Twins got from Detroit for Delmon Young. Daniel Turpen, the pitcher they got in return for Kevin Slowey. Andrew Albers, a guy they picked up last year from an indy league. Luis Perdomo, who was signed as a six year free agent.

The catchers are Chris Herrmann and Daniel Lehman. Lehman is a good defender who has bounced around the organization. Herrmann, who can also play the outfield, was in the AFL last fall and the Twins are high on his offense.

The middle infield looks to be shared by Pedro Florimon, who was in camp as a potential major league utility guy, Estarling de los Santos, who was on the roster a couple years ago and James Beresford. I think all three are still prospects as defensive players. Nate Hanson looks like the first baseman with Debinson Romero back at New Britain at third.

The outield will feature Aaron Hicks in center. Hicks is a top Twins prospect with plus skills across the board. He is outstanding defensively in center field. He continues to struggle from the left side as a switch hitter. Darin Mastroianni, claimed on waivers this winter, will play somewhere in the outfield while backing up Hicks in center field. Evan Bigley and Mark Dolenc are both sluggers back for their third season at AA. They will likely take corner outfield spots and DH.

If you were ranking the top ten prospects here they would be Hicks, Wimmers, Herrmann, Guerra, Oliveros, Florimon, Lanigan, Turpen, Bromberg, Mastroianni. All those guys have a legitimate shot at the big leagues. With several other players who are long shots as major league players, this team is loaded with potential. With the exception of the two first round choices, Wimmers and Hicks, almost everyone on the roster has played at this level before. The question is how well they build on that past experience. Its not impossible several of these players will be in the big leagues before the end of the year if they develop.

UPATE: Baseball America is reporting that both Bromberg and Lanigan will start the year in the bullpen and Albers will be in the rotation.

Last Year's Twins vs This Year's Twins - The Position Players

A year ago I predicted the Twins, if everything went right, might have one of their best team's ever and win 110+ games. Obviously a lot went wrong and the Twins ended up with their worst record in over a decade.

Since last spring there has been a large turnover on the roster. In fact, less than half the current Twins were on the opening day roster last year. I thought it would be interesting to compare how this year's team projects compared to how I saw things last year. To be clear, I am comparing my projection of the team on opening day last year to this year's opening day lineup. I am not comparing the reality of last year to my projections this year.


Last year, I thought Joe Mauer was a solid number three hitter with the potential to be an MVP and gold glove. There were questions about his power. That projection hasn't changed, but the upside seems a lot less likely after a year of injuries and low performance. Last year's backup, Drew Butera, was a solid defensive catcher whose bat was a big question mark. This year's backup, Ryan Doumit, is a solid hitter whose defense is a big question mark. Overall, the catching position projects slightly lower than last year on opening day.

First Base:

Last year, I thought Justin Morneau was another potential MVP. This year he is at DH and Chris Parmelee will take his place, likely batting 8th. Parmelee is a rookie, but he turned heads in his callup last fall and then again this spring. His career projection is a good hitter for average with moderate power, but he probably won't hit .300 or 20 home runs this year. His defense still needs work. The projection for first base this year is a lot lower than last year. Parmelee just doesn't compare to Morneau.

Second Base:

Tsyoshi Nishioka was the second basemen last year and batting second in the order. Here is what I said about him then "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." He wasn't close to that description, but it probably isn't far off from the projection for this year's second baseman Alexi Casilla. The major difference is that Casilla will likely be batting 9th. I don't think Casilla has the optimistic upside I saw in Nishioka, but he has most of the same tools I thought Nishioka was bringing to the table. I am slightly less optimistic that Casilla will harness them and my projection for second base is slightly lower than last year.


Last year, Alexi Casilla was the shortstop and his projection was much the same as this year at second base. The difference was that his defense was less certain at shortstop. This year Jamie Carroll is the shortstop with a different skill set. He is expected to be an adequate shortstop, with adequate range and arm. His defense doesn't project as well as Casilla's, but he projects more reliably there than Casilla did. As a number two hitter, he is expected to get on base and can steal occasionally but, again, doesn't have the potential upside I saw in Casilla. Overall my projection for shortstop is slightly lower than last year.

Third base:

My projections for Danny Valencia haven't changed much. We got about what I expected last year with perhaps more problems on defense than I projected. His actual performance will have to improve only slightly to match my expectations last year. So my projection for third base is unchanged.

Left Field:

Last year, I saw Delmon Young as the third potential MVP in the Twins lineup. It looked like he had broken out in 2010 and was poised to reach the potential projected for him when he was the first player taken in the draft. My projection for Willingham doesn't approach that level. He looks like a solid bat with some pop in the middle of the lineup, but he isn't going to be a star. My projection for production out of left field this year is a lot less optimistic.

Center Field:

Here is what I said about Span last year: "Span has the potential to hit .300, will take a lot of pitches and is a good baserunner who can steal when called on." Nothing has changed about that projection.

Right Field:

Last year, Michael Cuddyer projected to be a solid middle of the order hitter who would produce 20+ home runs while playing adequately in the field. Ryan Doumit, who I think will get most of the playing time here, projects a lot like Cuddyer as a hitter. But his defense is going to be severely challenged. There has been at least a slight decline in my expectations from right field.


Last year, Jason Kubel was the DH. He projected as a solid left-handed hitter who could hit .300 with 20+ home run power. That is about what Justin Morneau projects as this year, albeit a slightly better version all round. Morneau's upside is an MVP quality bat, which Kubel's was not. Morneau's injuries leave some big questions about how productive he will be. I still expect more out of him than I projected for Kubel last year.

Bench: Last year the bench had Jim Thome, Matt Tolbert and Jason Repko. This year's bench is Luke Hughes, Trevor Plouffe, Ben Revere and Sean Burroughs. There is no bat on this year's bench to compare to what we thought we were going to get from Jim Thome. But Tolbert and Repko projected as defensive replacements and neither one projected to match the offense any of the players on this year's bench. This year's infield bench is mostly defensively challenged with the exception of Sean Burroughs at third base. Revere projects as a better defender than Repko in the outfield. Plouffe isn't as good on defense as Repko, but is a much better bat. Overall the bench projects as much deeper this year. But the infield defense isn't there and no one projects to step up and carry the offense like Jim Thome. Overall, I think that makes the bench look a bit weaker than I thought it was last year.


If you look at those evaluations the Twins offense look much worse at two positions (3,7), slightly worse at two positions (4,6), three positions are unchanged (5,8,9) and two positions have a slight improvement in offense (2, DH). The bench is about the same, with better depth this year compensating for Thome last year. Remember this is comparing my projections last year to this year's projection, not actual performance. The Twins are almost certainly going to be a better offensive team than last year's actual performance. But they leave spring training with, deservedly, a lot lower expectations.


The Twins defense is much worse at two positions (3,9), slightly worse at two (2,7) and unchanged at four positions (4,5,6,7). The bench is much worse overall.


Last year, the Twins started the season with six experienced major league starters. The bullpen had two closers in Capps and Nathan. And I thought the spring training competition had surfaced a bunch of effective bullpen arms with several backups at Rochester. Remember we are comparing projections, not reality.

The Twins have shifted Brian Duensing to the bullpen and installed Jason Marquis as the 5th starter. I am not as optimistic about Marquis as I was about Duensing. I am not sure I would change my projections for any of the returning pitchers. Pavano will be consistent, Liriano will be inconsistent. Baker and Blackburn will likely be solid starters. Liam Hendricks doesn't project to be the pitcher Kyle Gibson did, but it looks like he will get an earlier shot at winning a spot.

Overall, this year the Twins starting staff appears to be less deep without a Slowey. They have some guys like Swarzak and Maloney who are in long relief roles that may be able to step in if needed. But neither one has proven themselves as major league starters the way Slowey had. Scott Diamond is again at AAA, ready to help if needed.

It again looks like the Twins have surfaced a bunch of effective bullpen arms in spring training and with several backups at Rochester. But the only closer is Capps. Perkins and Duensing add a couple more arms that have proven reliable in the past, but neither one compares to Nathan.

Overall the both the starting staff and the bullpen look slightly weaker than they did last year at this time. Combined with the weaker defense in the field, I would project the Twins to give up more runs than I projected they would last year at this time.

So its not just the bad taste in our mouths from the last season's August and September collapse. The Twins have changed since last spring and not for the better. Even if everything goes right, "on paper" this team is likely going to have to overachieve to make the playoffs. But they play the games on the field, not on paper.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Twins Farm System - Rochester Roster

The AAA roster is really a major league reserve roster. While there are prospects at AAA, players really prove themselves at AA. Players at AAA may still be developing, but the roster is loaded with older "AAAA" players who are waiting for a chance to fill in at the major league level. The Rochester Redwings roster this year is no exception.

The Rochester team has struggled the last few years and there are rumours they are looking to change their affiliation if the Twins don't give them a competitive team. That may be why the Twins have stocked this year's team with a lot of experienced players.

There are only six players without any major league experience, Cole Devries, Carlos Gutierrez, Tyler Robertson, Brendan Wise, Ray Chang and Brian Dozier. Dozier is the only player on the team who has not played above AA in the past.

The starting rotation includes Scott Diamond, Cole Devries, Sam Deduno, PJ Walters and Daryl Thompson. Diamond was the Twins Rule 5 pick last year and made some major league starts. Devries is from Eden Prairie, MN and a former MN Gopher. He started a couple games at Rochester last year, but has been mostly a reliever since reaching AA a couple years ago. The other three were all off-season free agent signings.

The bullpen includes Jeff Manship, Anthony Slama, Tyler Robertson, Carlos Gutierrez, Brendan Wise, Casey Fien and Esmerling Vazquez. Manship pitched for the Twins a couple years ago but spent most of last year in the minor leagues on the DL. Slama has been effective in the past, but again was hurt last year. Carlos Gutierrez is a former Twins first round choice who has a devastating sinker, but lacks other pitches. Tyler Robertson has been a top prospect for the Twins in the past and was added to the 40 player roster last fall. The last three are off-season free agent signings. Fien and Wise were among the last pitchers sent out in the major league bullpen competition.

Catching is crowded with former big league backup Drew Butera, Rene Rivera and JR Towles sharing duties. Towles is the best hitter of the bunch, Butera is the best defensive catcher. If the Twins go to a third catcher at some point, Butera is the one most likely to get the call.

The infield has slugger Aaron Bates at first, former Japanese batting champ Tsyuoshi Nishioka at second, Brian Dozier at short and Ray Chang at third. Mike Hollimon appears to be the utility infielder, but there will be a lot of players moved around during the season to keep them flexible depending on what roles are needed by the big league team. Matt Rizzoti will likely platoon some at first base when he isn't DH'ing.

The outfield has Joe Benson in center, flanked by Rene Tosoni and Matt Carson. Brian Dinkelman will likely get turns at the corner outfield spots, as well as playing some infield and DH'ing.

The starting rotation is worrisome. I am sure the Twins expected Liam Hendricks to be part of the rotation and that may still happen. Otherwise, Diamond is the only one you would call a potential major league starter. If the Twins need starters, there isn't much to choose from there.

The bullpen, by contrast, looks very solid with a number of guys who did well in spring training and appear ready to step in at the major league level. Of course, the same thing was true last year and spring training performances proved an illusion in several cases.

The offense has some questions, but could be very good. But there are also players who are real question marks like Nishioka. If he hits AAA pitching like he did in Japan, he's an offensive threat. If he struggles the way he did last year in the majors he could be real liability. Tosoni was a promising prospect rushed to the big leagues. He could break out this year. Benson needs to cut down his strikeouts, but when he makes contact he is going to hit some home runs. Bates and Rizzoti add power to the lineup.

Its almost opening day and the world always looks hopeful. But this Rochester team looks like it could end the string of losing seasons. Its not loaded with future stars, but it has a lot of solid, experienced players.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Are Ryan and Gardenhire on the Same Page?

According to Gardenhire, Plouffe is a "super-utility" player who will backup at second and shortstop in addition to playing the outfield. According to Rhett Bollinger at "I told him super-utility everywhere," Gardenhire said. "Shortstop, second, everywhere." Two weeks ago, Bollinger reported "GM Terry Ryan says that Trevor Plouffe will remain in OF and will only be used at SS in emergency situations." Ryan has been repeatedly saying Plouffe was moving to the outfield, yet it appears he has at least one and maybe two guys ahead of him for playing time with Doumit playing a corner outfield spot and Revere as the fourth outfielder.

This isn't the only example. During the off-season we heard about the Twins wanting more speed in their offense and getting back to the basics on defense. But the batting order now is loaded with station-to-station hitters from Mauer through Parmelee. Casilla, Span and Carroll are the only players in the everyday lineup with above average speed. And, as I have mentioned before, the defense is questionable almost everywhere with the exception of Span in center field and catcher when Mauer is behind the plate. Casilla is really the only other player with the tools to be an above average defender and he has been an inconsistent defender.

Then there is the discussion of Dozier where Gardy says he is ready, and Ryan clearly doesn't think he is. That may be just nuance, but it sounds like more than that. I don't remember hearing this kind of disjunction before between what was coming out of the GM office and the manager. I wonder if the two of them are headed for some conflicts. Smith, no doubt, had to defer to Gardy's judgment about players. Ryan doesn't. That may take some getting used to.

Cherry Picking Stats to Prove a Point about Joe Nathan

The professional "Twins Fan" at the STRIB had this great stat in a story about Joe Nathan today:

"From 2006-09, Nathan picked 36 spring training innings and yielded only six earned runs."

Nathan has given up 8 runs in 7 games this year in spring training with the Texas Rangers. The statistic above was supposed to show that this was unprecedented and was evidence that Nathan might fail as the Ranger's closer.

You will notice however, "Twins Fan" chose four seasons, ending three years ago, for his comparison. I don't know what his spring training numbers were before 2006, but if you include numbers after 2009, in 2011 Nathan had pitched 8.1 innings in spring training and given up 10 runs. That would kind of change the message And that is about what you would expect from a veteran sports writer posing as a fan. The skill in massaging the facts to fit the story narrative are well-honed by experience.

Perhaps more to the point, spring training numbers are irrelevant. Veterans are getting themselves in shape and preparing for the season. While Nathan's age and injuries certainly make him a candidate to fall off a cliff. His spring training performance doesn't mean much of anything.

Rating the Beat Writers

Spring training is almost over. In addition to learning something from spring training about the Twins players, we also can learn something about where to get information and commentary about what is happening. As Twins fans, our major source of information about the team and its players are three beat writers. There are a handful of other sports writers/ talk radio personalities who also throw in their two cents worth, but the primary burden falls on Lavelle Neal of the STRIB, John Shipley from the Pioneer-Press and Rhett Bolinger from Here are my rankings and comments:

Rhett Bollinger:

Bollinger reports seem to be based on talking to Twins officials and reporting what they say. The result is that we often get quotes from Twins officials we might not hear elsewhere. But, more importantly, the information we get isn't infiltrated with his own opinions. The result is a much clearer idea of what the guys making decisions think and plan, rather than press-box chatter and speculation. Because he is posting to the web, his reports on the the Twins web site often provide the most complete and timely coverage of events, in addition to regular twitter updates with links to his stories. There is no paywall around any of his content. If you get your news online, this is the place to start.

John Shipley:

Shipley does a pretty good job of getting the story and filling it out with a lot of details. He has a regular twitter feed that he updates often and interacts with fans. Press-box chatter sometimes leaks into stories, but he obviously spends a lot of time talking to Twins players and management. He occasionally has quotes you won't see elsewhere.

LaVelle Neal:

I used to think Neal was the best beat guy out there. But its been a long time since that was the case. He writes for the biggest circulation paper and, as such, he has the highest profile. But mostly he seems to have a hard time reporting without injecting his own story. Some people like that, but it makes it hard to know when you are getting the Twins management's plans and when you are hearing Neal and the other press corps' own ideas. If you like gonzo journalism, where the reporter is the story, Neal's your guy. His stories are behind the STRIB paywall.

There are some other regular contributors from spring training this year. Joe Christenson, the other STRIB reporter, is the most prominent. He isn't the "personality" that Neal is, but he provides similar coverage. Again, his offerings are behind the STRIB paywall.

Talk radio personalities also took Florida vacations and reported on spring training. Since I don't listen, I don't know what they had to say. From the tweets and occasional online stuff, it seemed like the usual banter of opinion and posturing designed to attract listeners rather than be informative. I'd take it all with a grain of salt. Which is probably why I never listen...

One of those radio personalities, Pat Reusse, did a few pieces in his role as STRIB columnist. They were the usual mix of knowledgeable baseball commentary, while sustaining the hyper-critical media persona he adopted as the apparent successor to Don Riley in that role when he started at the St. Paul newspapers. Reusse is probably the most knowledgeable of any of the folks. His years of covering the Twins give him a perspective on a lot of the hype that goes on that is useful, if you can separate it from all the chaff self-conciously designed to sustain his media image. Like all the STRIB content, his commentaries are behind its paywall.

There are a number of bloggers who provided first hand accounts from spring training. But for those fans and bloggers stuck in the frozen (or thawing) northland, the beat writers provide the kind of access to the Twins management and details of spring training even the bloggers and fans on the ground in Fort Myers don't really have.

Twins Projected Opening Day Lineup

Here is my projected Twins opening day lineup:

Span - 8
Carroll - 6
Mauer - 2
Morneau - DH
Willingham - 7
Doumit - 9
Valencia - 5
Parmelee - 3
Casilla - 4

Pavano - 1

Its definitely a hitters lineup. Although Mauer and Morneau are the only real standouts, there aren't any really weak bats in the bunch either. Defensively, Mauer, Casilla and Span are the only ones who are going to add much. The rest are barely adequate to mediocre defensively, with Doumit the weakest link. This is not a team that is going to save its pitchers a lot with its defense.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Bullpen Competition Extended

With Baker on the DL and Marquis likely on bereavement leave the bullpen competition is over for the moment with the Twins going with four starters:

and eight relievers:

Casey Fien was the odd man out.

The Twins will need to add a fifth starter by the 9th game of the season. Which means there is still competition for the last bullpen spot. Burnett is the only one of the relievers in that competition that has options left. It is likely he will be the odd man out.

The other wrinkle here is that Terry Ryan suggested that if Hendricks pitches well, he could claim a permanent spot in the rotation. That would mean moving a starter to the bullpen, pushing a second reliever out. So while spring training is over, the competition for spots on the roster really isn't.

The Ilusion of Intellectual Advantages

The New York Times has an article that relies on the modern media narrative that intellectual innovation is the key to competition. There is actually little evidence this is true in major league baseball.

For instance, the claims that Oakland's use of "moneyball" techniques made it successful are largely contradicted by the facts. Instead, Oakland became successful the old fashioned way. They drafted and signed players like Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Muldur. They complemented that core or homegrown stars with relatively cheap veterans. Almost none of these decisions had anything to do with statistical analysis, nor with finding market niches others were ignoring. Since they adopted those "innovative" techniques under Billy Beane, Oakland has not been noticeably successful. Certainly not when compared to the "tradition bound" Twins.

Instead of innovation, teams that have success rely on better execution of established methods. They have better scouts, who do a better job of evaluating a player. They have farm systems that do a better job of developing players skills. They spend money on good players and don't tie up payroll in over-priced failures. They avoid mistakes. Of course if they are the Yankees, they can afford more mistakes than normal markets, but even the Yankees can struggle when they make too many bad choices.

The New York Times focuses on the things of interest to fans. Team budgets and evaluating the players on the field. But the team success may have more to do with how teams are managed. Do they put the best scouts in the field? Do they have a minor league staff that brings out the best in players and trains them to play the game right? Do they have a development philosophy and values that run throughout the whole organization?

There may be some "big ideas" that will help make a difference in getting those results right. But mostly it will depend on the baseball abilities of the top management, attracting the right baseball people and the willingness of the owners to let the baseball people run the organization. Innovative ideas are the least of what is important.

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