Thursday, April 06, 2017

Mauer and Buxton

The Twins three and four hitters, Byron Buxton and Joe Mauer, both struggled offensively in the first three games. Its a small sample size and I suspect most people aren't over-worried about Mauer. That could be a mistake, but Mauer didn't strike out in half his plate appearances as Buxton did. Buxton's lone hit came from beating out an infield grounder. This is not really what you want from a number three hitter.

The other difference is Mauer actually has a long track record of hitting major league pitching. Buxton doesn't. In fact he has never been successful at that task for more than a week at a time. The sports writers keep talking about his September performance last year. He actually had one hot week when he was first recalled from Rochester. After that his performance was pretty much the same as it was the rest of the year. On September 7th he had raised his season batting average to .225 and that is how he finished the year. He did manage to increase his OBP with a late surge of walks.

That was very similar to his performance when he was recalled the first time last year. He had a hot week and then went stone cold until they sent him back to Rochester. Its way too early to start thinking that will happen again, but his cold start certainly is not reassuring.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Jim Pohlad's Impatience

Jim Pohlad wants more wins now. And that explains a lot about the Twins organizational failures of the last few years. The Twins who used to be patient, have turned impatient. Instead of building a team they are trying to find a quick fix.

Jorge Palanco is not a shortstop any more than Miguel Sano was a right fielder. In normal times, the Twins would have let these players develop at their natural position. Danny Santana isn't a major league center fielder, but he could well have been a major league shortstop given some more time at the position in the minor leagues.

In the past, long term development would have been  a priority. But since 2008 winning  next season has been the Twins priority. The result is that players have been consistently rushed to the big leagues, playing at whatever opening might be available for them. And its not just the players listed above, you can easily make the case that Trevor May's upside was a reliable Twin starter. But they needed him in the bullpen. Likewise Alex Meyer, who may well turn into a star starter. Byron Buxton can certainly play center field, but he still is not making enough contact to be the offensive force people hoped for. Sano may also turn out to be an all or nothing slugger as the Twins seek whatever immediate benefit they can get out of these two potential stars at the cost of their developing the upside projected for them.

In short the problem for the Twins starts at the top. Its not the manger, general manager or baseball people that are the problem. Its the owner's impatient demand for "more wins", now.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Myths of the Offseason

Every off-season the media and bloggers create some urban legends that aren't really supported on closer look, but they get repeated over and over again until people start to believe them. It sort of works like political campaigns, interesting trumps truthful. Pun intended.

For the the Twins this off-season its the idea that Byron Buxton showed major improvement with his September performance. The reality is a bit different. He had a great first week - just as he did the first week in June when he returned from the minors. Unfortunately, like June, he couldn't sustain anything like that. He raised his batting average to his season average .225 with a 1 for 4 performance on  September 9th. He then hit .225 over the next 21 games to end the season at .225. It was an improvement over his earlier dismal performance, but I am not sure hitting .225 is going to be enough to keep him in center field no matter how many balls he runs down.

This is similar to last off-season when we kept hearing how good the Twins were at the end of the 2015 season, when again the reality was different. They had a great May.  It was their only real winning month of the season if you throw the October games in to September.  They were 10 games over .500 entering June.. But they were a sub-500 ball club from that point on. They were only 5 games over .500 by the end of June, 4 games by the end of July and then played .500 ball the last two months to stay at that level.

That was encouraging, given their struggles in recent seasons. But the second myth was that the Twins had somehow improved after the 2015 season. In truth they had lost their right fielders, Torii Hunter and their center fielder, Aaron Hicks. They also lost Mike Pelfrey, who was second on the team in getting outs, and Blaine Boyer who lead the relievers in innings pitched. In addition Brian Duensing was gone. Their additions were a potential backup catcher, some potential relief help and a potential DH. In short, far from building on the previous season, They were looking for an awful lot of people to have the best year of their careers just to hold their own at .500. That it didn't happen shouldn't really have caught anyone by surprise, but it did.

So here are this off-season's myths:

1. Byron Buxton's September showed he is ready.

2. Moving Miguel Sano back to third base will solve his hitting problems. Sano strikes out too much and its likely he will strike out more, not less, as pitchers see more of him.

3. Paul Molitor showed he was a great manager in 2015 and 2016 wasn't his fault. Molitor was a professional hitter and DH most of his career and it shows in his decisions. He is going to need several more years of managing before he is ready to lead the Twins to a championship, if he ever is ready.

4.   The new baseball people are smart young forward thinking people who will fix a backward, out of date, organization. In truth, like Molitor, they are going to have a learning curve. So far they have demonstrated they are smart enough not to make snap judgments. We will have to wait until later in the season and the next off-season to really judge how good they are. But if they are successful it will be because the Twins organization was already pretty good.

5. The Twins need to add pitching. In fact, the Twins need to see what they have before they start adding additional arms for the long haul. They will no doubt add some veteran options for the bullpen. But beyond that Santana, Gibson, Hughes, Sanchez, May, Berrios, Perkins et al need to be given a chance to see what they can do. Another Ricky Nolasco isn't the answer.

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