Friday, December 14, 2012

Which Twins Pitchers "Gave their team a chance to Win" in 1012

One of the cliches that you will hear from the Twins is about wanting starters who will "give their team a chance to win" each time they take the mound.   Obviously the pitcher is only one part of winning and losing.  But I thought it would be interesting to look at last year's starters through the prism of whether the Twins won. Here they are in order of team winning percentage:

Sam Deduno 8-7
Scott Diamond 14-13
Cole De Vries 8-8
PJ Walters 6-6
Nick Blackburn 8-11
Carl Pavano 4-7
Francisco Liriano 6-11
Esmerling Vasquez 2-4
Liam Hendricks 5-11
Jason Marquis 2-5
Brian Duensing 3-8
Anthony Swarzak 0-5

There has been talk of putting either Duensing or Swarzak into the rotation. But, as you can see, the Twins lost a lot of games last year with those two starting. A higher percentage than with any of the other starters. Likewise there are a lot of complaints about Nick Blackburn, but the Twins actually won a higher percentage of games when he was starting than with most of their other starters.

I think what this really shows is that no matter who was on the mound, the Twins weren't winning often enough to be in the pennant race. Terry Ryan has said that while pitching was clearly a big problem, it wasn't the only problem. This may just confirm that. But it clearly means that simply finding five Scott Diamonds isn't going to make them competitive.

Perhaps Vance Worley is better than any of the guys the Twins put out there last year. Its also possible that some of the other players above, including Diamond, will be better next season.

The Twins had a combined record of 25-45 with the pitchers who started the year in the rotation,  Blackburn, Pavano, Liriano, Hendricks and Marquis.  Next year's group can't do much worse.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kevin Correa = Scott Diamond

You can make what you want of this, but last year Kevin Correia and Scott Diamond had remarkably similar results.

In terms of innings pitched, Diamond ranked 80th and Correia 81st among major league pitchers.

Diamond faced 714 batters and got 173 innings pitched. Correia faced 728 batters and got 171 innings pitched.

Diamond gave up 184 hits, Correia 176.

Diamond struck out 90 and Correia 89.

The only large differences are that Correia walks a lot more batters,  46 compared to 31 for Diamond. And, probably at least partially as a result, Diamond gave up fewer earned runs, 68 compared to Correia's 80.

To be blunt, none of those differences are really very meaningful The obvious advantage Diamond has is that he is young and therefore likely to improve. The advantage Correia has is that he has a longer track record and last year was not far from his career norms. But, based solely on their performance last year, these two can be expected to produce at about the same level.

As I said at the beginning, you can make what you want of that. I think it ought to temper any certainty you have about Diamond or doubts you might have about Correia.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Twins Pitching Takes Shape

From their reaction, some Twins fans have been in denial about the real state of the Twins starting pitching. The idea seems to be that the Twins need to sign a high quality free agent and then fill out the rotation around them with guys from their system. But that isn't really true. The Twins went into the off-season needing at least two and probably three starters from outside the organization.

So far they have added two starters Vance Worley and Kevin Correia. I haven't heard that they are done and they still have a roster spot open. But whether they like it or not they may not be able to sign another pitcher. Given the demand for pitching, the high prices teams are willing to pay and the fact that the Twins are not a particularly desirable landing place for a free agent, they may not have any good options.

I did an analysis of the Twins pitching earlier. But here is what Twins rotation looks like this:

Scott Diamond
Vance Worley
Kevin Correia

Failing to add another starter means filling out the rotation with two of the following:

Cole De Vries
Liam Hendriks
Kyle Gibson
Trevor May
Pedro Hernandez

Bullpen Conversions:
Brian Duensing
Anthony Swarzak

Sam Deduno
Emiliano Vazquez
PJ Walters
Nick Blackburn

That long list includes only three pitchers who have not had past opportunities and failed, Gibson, May and Hernandez. I think Gibson is the only one of those three with any realistic chance to be in the rotation out of spring training and he is a long shot.

You can make the argument that De Vries and Deduno did not really "fail" their opportunities so much as looking like not very inspiring solutions. As a 5th starter, one of them might be acceptable. As the only two candidates for the 4th and 5th starter slots they really aren't.

Of course you can project one of those other guys stepping up to take a spot. But it isn't really realistic to rely on pitchers who have had a hard time getting five innings per start in their brief major league careers. What's more realistic is that, in desperation, they rush a prospect (Gibson) or step into the bullpen to pull out Duensing or Swarzak for another shot as a starter. Thus weakening the bullpen and/or sacrificing the future, while giving the rotation just another weak spot.

If you want to understand the signing of Correia understand just how thin the options are at the end of the list even after he was signed. The Twins really need one more starter so that Deduno and De Vries are fall back options for the 5th spot instead guys who are penciled into the rotation unless someone unseats them in spring training. Correia may not be the answer, but he is certainly a better option as the third or fourth starter than Deduno and De Vries.

They probably paid too much for him. But I suspect that goes with the Twins territory these days. Money is about all they have to offer. Moreover, Correia signed for about 1/15th the money Greinke got. He may have been a bargain in this market.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Center Field Candidates Offense

Terry Ryan named three candidates for center field next year. They include Darin Mastroianni, Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson. Ryan points out that all three have the defensive skills need for center field. The question, he said, is whether they can handle the offense.

That raises an interesting question about the Twins offense. Because not only did they trade away two center fielders, they also traded away the top two hitters in the batting order and lot of team speed.  Their current batting order looks like this:


If you look at those three question marks you see the problem. There is not really an answer at leadoff hitter in the bunch. Carroll can bat second. You can plug the shortstop into the number nine spot. But the center fielder really also needs to be the leadoff hitter. As a leadoff hitter Mastroianni probably has the advantage right now because of both his experience and his base stealing ability. Hicks was fine at AA, but he is a long shot to step into the major leagues at the top of the order. Benson is probably the least likely of the three to fit in that spot.

As I pointed out elsewhere, if Mastroianni wins the center field spot the Twins really lack a fourth outfielder who can play center field. Its possible they will bring in someone else to compete for the center field position who can take that role. If not, then either Hicks or Benson have to be on the roster to provide a backup in center field. I think Benson is the likely choice in that scenario. His strikeouts may keep him from playing regularly, but his power and defense would make him a decent fourth outfielder.

Is Torii Hunter still looking for a job?

Span vs Revere and Winter Meetings

There is a meme out there that the Twins got more for Ben Revere than they did for Denard Span. I don't think that is necessarily true.

Here are the arguments in favor of the Revere Trade:

They got two pitchers compared to one pitcher and two is better than one.

One of th pitchers they got has major league experience. The jump to the major leagues is the biggest jump and Vance Worsley has made that jump. The other two guys haven't.

Here are the arguments in favor of the Span trade:

The pitching prospect the Twins got for Span, Alex Meyer, is a potential dominating ace. There aren't many pitching prospects in the minor leagues who really have that kind of talent. He dominated two levels of A ball in his first professional season.

Trevor May, while pitching at a higher level than Meyer, struggled at AA last year. He headed in the wrong direction with his walks and hits going up and his outs down.

Vance Worsley, while a potential major league starter, has yet to stay healthy and productive enough to get 150 IP over a full season in the big leagues. He had a 1.511 WHIP last year and elbow surgery to remove bone chips this fall.


There is one other thing to keep in mind. Both pitchers in the Revere trade had to be added to the roster. Meyer did not. At first blush this may not seem important. But it means the Phillies will be able to keep a player they wouldn't otherwise, a gain for them. And the Twins will not have roster space for a player they might otherwise have been able to sign. 

With the Nationals the opposite was true. Since Meyer did not have to be added to the roster, trading Span opened a spot on the Twins for another player. Likely a free agent starting pitcher or their Rule 5 pick. And the Nationals used a roster spot for Span that could have been filled by someone else.

On a related note, this also means Meyer is going to be under the Twins control longer than the pitchers obtained from Philadelphia. Trevor May is on the options timeclock, he needs to develop before his options run out. Meyer is on a timeclock too, but he has more seasons before he needs to be kept on the 25 player roster. 

This is also an issue with the relative value of Span and Revere. Obviously Span will need to be paid more immediately. But he will also become a free agent when his contract ends. Revere, by contrast, has 5 more years before he can become a free agent and a couple years before he is arbitration eligible. In short, the Phillies are going to get several more seasons from Revere than the Nationals are from Span.

All of these effect the value both teams got in the trade.

The real test of which trade is better will be how well these players do when or if they have big league careers. The Twins in the past have been pretty good at grabbing players off other teams.

I think if  Meyer becomes a dominating ace, the Span trade easily wins the contest. If he turns out to be another Francisco Liriano, then it was a loser. If he ends up somewhere in between it will depend on how the guys they got for Revere do. The projections for May and Worsley are probably more in the Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn or Boof Bonser range.

What these trades do is open a spot for Aaron Hicks either now or in the near future. The Twins are obviously comfortable with Darin Mastroianni in center if Hicks isn't quite ready. And Terry Ryan suggested they would give Joe Benson a shot at the job as well. If Mastroianni is the center fielder, you have to wonder who the 4th outfielder is. They certainly aren't going to have Willingham, Parmelee or Doumit playing center field. At least I hope not.

Other Winter Meeting News

In other news the Twins took a couple guys in the Rule 5 draft without losing anyone. The Twins took Ryan Pressly in the Rule 5 draft. Pressly was shifted from starter to reliever during last season and pitched very well in AA and then even better in the Arizona Fall League last fall. Apparently he looks like a hard thrower with a sharp breaking ball who has had control problems. He didn't show the control problems in the AFL. If he can harness his stuff and be consistent he could be a good addition to the bullpen.

The other player taken was third baseman Mark Sobolewski. He was taken in the minor league portion of the draft so the Twins can leave him in the minor leagues. He may or may not be given an invite to spring training, but Terry Ryan said they were trying to create competition at third so that sounds like he will be given a shot. Apparently he is an above average fielder who just started showing some pop in his bat. He's the same age as Trevor Plouffe.

Obviously the Twins still need more pitching. But that will have to wait until the teams finish bidding on the top free agents and the rest of the market opens up. There are also rumors that they offered a minor league contract to third baseman Jack Hanahan, a St. Paul native. He may go somewhere else if he can get a major league contract, but he would be more competition for Plouffe.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Rule 5 Draft

While the rumor mills are churning out new material on the hour from the winter meetings, I thought I would talk about something that will actually happen this week. The Rule 5 draft.

Just briefly. The rule 5 draft allows teams to select players not protected on a team's rosters. There are actually three drafts.  The one we usually think of is the draft for players not protected on the major league roster. But there is also a AAA draft for players not protected on the AAA roster and a AA draft for players left off the AA roster. The new player agreement extended the years players are exempt from the draft to 3 or 4 seasons depending on their age when signed.

Any player taken in the major league phase must be kept on the 25 player roster for the full year or offered back to the team they were drafted from. That does not apply to players taken in the minor league drafts. They can be assigned anywhere. Teams can also arrange a trade, but the player must first pass through waivers with every other team getting a chance to claim them. The claiming team would also have to keep them on the 25 player roster.

To see how this works here are three examples from the Twins. Johan Santana was claimed in the rule 5 draft. He spent the entire season pitching for the Twins as a starter and in the bullpen. He spent the next season in the bullpen and then was sent to the minor leagues to transition to starting. The rest was history. Scott Diamond was taken by the Twins. They decided he wasn't ready to play in the major leagues but they arranged a trade with the Braves to keep him. He spent 2011 in the minors and started 2012 there. Now he is the only starter the Twins have penciled in for next spring. Brian Buscher is an example of the minor league draft. He was selected, played at New Britain and then blossomed enough to claim a spot on the major league roster. That is really pretty rare. Even Terry Ryan admitted to surprise.

The Twins have the fourth pick in this year's draft. They are obviously going to look at pitching. This will be true of every team. Every team nees pitching and its a lot easier to carry someone as the 12th or 13th pitcher than it is a position player. In addition, the Twins have lots of opportunities in their rotation. So pitching seems the most likely spot.

In addition to pitching, the Twins have openings for a shortstop and backup middle infielder. Its easy to carry a guy who is a slick fielder and undeveloped bat as a backup in the middle infield. Those are also players that are sometimes left unprotected if a team doubts their bat will never come around. The fact that they let Tommy Field go after the rosters were set may indicate they saw someone they liked who was left off a roster.

Finally they are looking for competition for Trevor Plouffe at third base. Its highly unlikely anyone left a guy capable of competing for a third base job off their roster. But I think the Twins would jump if that should happen.

I am not going to try to guess who gets taken. For one thing, if it was obvious the player wouldn't be available at all. That means this is a scouting exercise.  Twins have shown some success with that, but anyone taken is a long shot to ever help at the major league level. Of course there is Johan Santana ...

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