Friday, November 30, 2007

Replacing Silva (or Adaptation)

Billy Smith had stated in early November that resigning Silva was a priority for the organization. He told La Velle at the Star Tribune that Silva "has been a good player for us, he's a good person in the clubhouse and a good member of this team" At that time I truly believed that the Twins were attempting to do whatever was necessary to bring Carlos back. Under the Terry Ryan Regime, pitching prospects were kept under the stairs in farm system. Only when the moons aligned (or Radke ailing) would Ryan release a prospect into the rotation. Lack of confidence in their own prospects was still evident in Ryan's last season as GM with the offseason signings of Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz. Ryan had seemingly created a front office policy that the organization used as a guiding principle based on inserting major league experience into the rotation in the stead of homegrown talent.

Since that article was published there has been little report of progress of resigning Silva. The Twins were giving the media lip service and had no real intention of making an offer. In the wake of the Twins making a major trade in which top pitching prospect Matt Garza was packaged, it now appears that with the changing of the guard the front office is no longer abiding by the same formula when it comes to the same pitching prospects. As it stands today, it is a forgone conclusion that Silva will not be on the 2008 squad and that (barring any more trades) the Twins will be introducing a 5th pitcher that has little to no major league experience. Had the Twins had one more option year on Silva for a reasonable contract, I would have preferred to have him return to allow for additional seasoning in the minors by some of the 5th starter candidates (Blackburn, Duensing ). Silva's "market value" is unreasonable and could easily replaced from within. As suggested previously, the Twins would stand to benefit from avoiding sinking long-term money into Carlos Silva and let organization like the Royals (who are very interested ) tangle themselves in a contractual folly.

If the world stopped spinning today, eliminating the possibility of a Santana trade and resumed when pitchers and catchers reported, the Twins rotation beginning in spring training would be:

(1) Johan Santana

(2) Scott Baker

(3) Francisco Liriano (pending full recovery)

(4) Boof Bonser

(5) Open

So what do we have to replace (and hopefully improve) when it comes to Carlos Silva? Using Dave Cameron's guideline for evaluating pitching talent, we find that Silva is incredible at finding the strike zone (his walk-rate is nearly non-existent), however he is deficient is several statistical categories, most notably lack of strikeouts (which indicate high contact rate from the batters) and the fallacy that Silva is an extreme groundball pitcher when in reality, he is above-average (Fausto Carmona is an extreme groundball pitcher nearing 60%).

Silva Batters Faced K% BB% GB%
2005 749 9.2% 1.2% 49.2%
2006 811 8.6% 3.9% 43.6%
2007 848 10.5% 4.2% 47.5%

A rotation minus Silva leaves the door open for one of four pitchers: Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn or Brian Duensing. Applying the same standard of evaluation to the potential 5th starters, we find that the Twins have the depth to adequately replace Silva without having to worry about looking on the free agent market or from outside organizations.

Slowey is most likely the favorite to enter the rotation after spending 66.2 innings and 11 starts with the Twins in 2007. His minor league track record is nearly impeccable. In 353.2 minor league innings, Slowey has struck out 342 and walked 48.

Slowey Batters Faced K% BB% GB%
2006 (AA) 242 21.5% 5.2% 40%
2007 (AAA) 523 20.5% 3.4% 43%
2007 (MLB) 297 15.8% 3.7% 30%

Slowey shares the attribute that has made Silva appealing to the Twins, which is also constantly around the strike zone. This is also a trait that Slowey will have to manage better in his second attempt in the majors considering in his brief stint with the Twins he surrendered home runs to 5.3% of batters faced. It is obvious through his strikeout rate that he has the stuff to make bats miss and with the absence of Garza it would appear that the front office will allow him slack on his learning curve

Glen Perkins, who has spent the past two season with the parent club as a left-handed out of the pen, has an equal amount of major league promise. In 334.1 innings in the Twins farm system, Perkins has struck out 353 and walked 124. After conquering the Big Ten, this former Gopher had climbed from 2004 as a 21-year-old rookie ball pitcher to a 23-year-old in 2006 who was sampling the majors for the first time.

Perkins Batters Faced K% BB% GB%
2005 (AA) 346 19.4% 10.1% x
2006 (AA) 503 26.0% 8.9% 38%
2007 (MLB) 115 17.4% 10.4% 42%

Injuries sidelined Perkins last season after he started in Triple-A and moved into the bullpen with the Twins. Like Slowey, Perkins can make batters miss. His walk-rate, however, is borderline. Cameron writes that anything over 11% is a problem and Perkins is certainly flirting with it but the sample size is relatively small to make a concluding judgement on his major league performance. The Twins will most likely not use Perkins in the rotation unless (a) he has a strong spring training, (b) Liriano is not fully healed from surgery or (c) Santana is traded. Dennys Reyes is the lone reliable lefty in the bullpen and the Twins might be considering leaving Perkins there in 2008 to complement Reyes.

When Dave Cameron at the USS Mariner was bemoaning Silva as a free agent landmine, he mentioned that the Twins could easily replace him with extreme groundball-inducer Nick Blackburn. Typically Blackburn's contract had resulted in groundballs 50% of the time. In his limited 11.2 inning exposure with the Twins in 2007, the 25-year-old righty managed to get 40% of the contact to be into the ground.

Blackburn Batters Faced K% BB% GB%
2005 (A+) 384 14.3% 4.2% x
2005 (AA) 188 14.4% 5.3% x
2006 (AA) 565 14.3% 6.5% 48%
2007 (AA) 160 11.3% 4.4% 53%
2007 (AAA) 433 13.2% 2.8% 52%

While his ability to make batter's miss is low - below average - he will certainly drop a few more percentages once in the majors too. Blackburn is throwing the ball over the plate and is replicating Silva's inordinately low walk-rate. In a longer deployment in Triple-A, Blackburn managed to reduce his walks by half and his groundball rate was about 50% in 2007 at both Double-A and Triple-A. Blackburn is unlikely to begin the season in the rotation, in order to allow for more seasoning in the farm system but it is clear that Blackburn is the heir-apparent to being the miracle groundball inducer that some thought Silva was.

The last candidate for the 5th spot is Brian Duensing. The 24-year-old lefty made a fast ascension in the organization and reaffirmed his capabilities with a strong winter with Team USA. In 2006, he ate up three levels of ball (A, A+ and AA). In 2007 he chewed through two more (AA and AAA).

Duensing Batters Faced K% BB% GB%
2006 (A) 291 18.9% 4.8% 54%
2006 (A+) 170 19.4% 4.7% 49%
2006 (AA) 211 14.2% 8.5% 55%
2007 (AA) 206 18.4% 3.4% 44%
2007 (AAA) 483 17.8% 6.2% 52%

Judging from these numbers, it could be argued that Duensing has the most potential out of the five. While lacking any experience higher than Triple-A, Duensing had adapted quite will in his first year, with a high-strikeout rate of 17.8% and a slightly higher than average walk rate (6.2%) and his groundball-rate suggests that he is able to keep the hitters off-balanced.

If the shift in policy - from protecting prospects to utilizing them - includes not only trading some prospects but also giving them innings over overpriced veteran starter (Silva), the Twins are in a very good position in the AL Central. Any of these five are capable of replacing the production that Silva could offer. My assumption is that Kevin Slowey will have every opportunity to enter Silva's role in 2008 but with four other strong candidates behind him, it would be in Slowey's best interested to emerge as a reliable starter otherwise the Twins have numerous options to replace him. What is even more encouraging is the depth that the Twins have behind these four as well: Anthony Swarzak, Yohan Pino , Jeff Manship, Tyler Robertson, et al.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Trade Confirmed

  • I think Bartlett for Harris is a relatively straight-up trade. Harris has a little less experienced than Bartlett at the major league level and has bounced around in several organization (Cubs, Expos, Reds, Nationals, Rays) before having a solid season last year with the Rays (.286/.343/.434, 12 HRs). Harris's numbers have fluctuated over the years and will make less contact than Bartlett but he can hit for more power than Bartlett can (a .148 vs. a .098 ISOP). Harris, however, is more of a second-baseman than a shortstop. While Bartlett made 13 errors in 2007 in 138 games as the Twins shortstop, Harris made 11 in 87 games. Verdict: Harris is a more potent bat, but Bartlett had a better glove and better contact hitter. Hopefully the Twins have intentions of moving Harris to third or second. Maybe the Twins cleared the roster spot for a bigger fish moving to shortstop...

  • It would have been been a terrific trade had the Twins gotten Young, Harris and Pridie for Garza, Bartlett and Rincon. Unfortunately the Twins had to surrender one of their better bullpen prospects.

  • Regardless, I think the GM Smitty has improve this team in ways that Terry Ryan would dare not dream. Smitty has signified that this new regime will not be after to make moves. I am more convinced than ever that both Santana AND Nathan could be traded this offseason. On the FAN, Mark Rosen believed it was quite a gamble for the Twins front office to move major league experienced pitching without the knowledge that Liriano will be 100% by opening day. Then again, Smitty might be ready to add more MLB ready pitching in the forecasted Santana/Nathan trades. The Twins are, however, still deficient in the thirdbase/centerfielder positions. However, from what I know about what planning goes on in the front office, moves are not made simply to shift attention from one area and away from the other. This move might also have players repackaged into other trades before the offseason is over.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Erasing Silva: (Or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Carlos Silva is poised for a pay increase this offseason, upwards of $9 million a season, because of his ability to amass innings. There is basic baseball theory in which Silva's forthcoming payday is predicated upon. It is the idea that if your starting pitching can provide six-plus innings an outing, your bullpen will be considerably fresh during the back-end of a three or four game series. General Managers have allocated a significant portion of their pitching staff to players that have at certain points in their career have proven they can meet or exceed two hundred innings in a given season. The Milwaukee Brewers signed Jeff Suppan to a 4 yr/$42 million dollar contract based upon his perceived durability. The theory certainly has teeth. After all, if your bullpen cannot be trusted with a lead, a short-term fix would be to sign a pitcher that can throw 50+ more innings per season. The basis for Silva's enlarged paycheck revolves are three elements: 1) he throws a lot of innings, 2) his walk-rate is minuscule and 3) he induces groundballs with his sinker.

Are these three reasons enough to commit $50 million and 5-years?

To answer that question we have to address the aforementioned three elements and prove why those elements are not rationale enough to resign Silva. Fortunately for me, the wheel does not have to be reinvented as Dave Cameron at the USS Mariner has already assembled a guide to Evaluating Pitching Talent. In the chart below, are Silva's critical pitching statistical categories the past three seasons.

Silva Batters Faced K% BB% GB%
2005 749 9.2% 1.2% 49.2%
2006 811 8.6% 3.9% 43.6%
2007 848 10.5% 4.2% 47.5%

His base-on-balls per plate appearance is absurdly low. As Cameron reaffirms this in his evaluation: "The average walkrate is 8% for a major league pitcher, though the DH makes the AL a higher walk league than the NL. Anything under 5% is tremendous, and anything over 11% is a problem." This is a strong indication that Silva knows where the plate is. Conversely, Silva's strikeout per plate appearance falls short of the league average. Cameron's research shows that "16% is league average, with 20% being terrific and 12% being a problem", Silva's best strikeout season in 2007 was still well below the acceptable rate for the league. Between strikeouts and walks, Silva was directly responsible for 125 batters-faced.

These statistics show that Silva is near the plate but not inducing swing-and-misses. His groundball per batted balls in play has been roughly above-average to average. Cameron's study says that: "42% is league average, and anything over 50% is terrific, with the best sinkerball pitchers posting rates in the 60-65% range, while anything below 35% can be a problem if its not offset with a high strikeout rate." When 723 batters were putting the ball-in-play in 2007, 402 were hitting them on the ground. Another 321 batters put the ball in play in various other manners. So at face value, Silva's ability to induce the groundball appears positive yet his inability to get strikeouts, Silva has to be extremely reliant on his defense.

Comparing Carlos Silva's 2007 to Boof Bonser's 2007 campaign, one will find not only that they shared the same ability to provoke grounders but Bonser can also retire batters through strikeouts.

Bonser Batters Faced K% BB% GB%
2007 772 17.6% 8.4% 45.0%

Bonser is already a staple in the rotation and will remain there but he has been exactly the kind of young talent that Silva was blocking because Silva is viewed by the organization as an "innings-eater" and a rare, miracle groundball manufacturer while peripheral statistics indicate otherwise. Bonser had direct responsibility (strikeout or walk) for the results of 201 plate appearances. His walkrate is average as is his strikeout rate. As stated above in Cameron's research, inciting groundballs 45% of the time is above league average -- a total of 257 balls-in-play for Bonser were on the ground (which is 145 less chances for a seeing-eye, squib or bouncers down the line than Silva). Bonser has the ability to get batters out on his own, pining them at a 17.6% strikeout rate, a trait that Silva has lacked.

Dick 'n Bert's FoxSportsNet Twins Lovefest have lauded Carlos for making opposing batters beat the ball into the carpet while keeping runners off of the basepaths because of a low-walk rate. This notion coupled with Silva's relative durability (180+ in the past four seasons) and youth (28) will invariably attract attention from the inning-hording GMs. Organizations like the Royals or Mets who have admired him from afar and will overvalue innings pitched regardless of their quality will eventually sign Silva to what could conceivably reach $50 million dollars (although Sean McAdams reports that some teams recognize the depleted talent pool and will avoid the free agent overpricing by seeking a higher quality pitcher via trade )(Then again, last offseason one gm make the statement that the free agent pool was shallow and still managed to overpay for Adam Eaton ). These overinflated contracts are a result of franchises lacking the in-depth analysis into these supposed durable innings-providers that eventually culminate in allocating a significant portion of a payroll strictly to innings rather than outs.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hot Stove Indulges

During the offseason there is no shortage of inane rumors. Fox Sport's Ben Maller offers plenty of links to a nation of columnists and writers that go to print with a trade offer that seems completely make-believe. One of my personal favorites is Paul Hoynsie in Cleveland who does his best to fan and extinguish some of those very rumors for the Tribe in his Q & A column "Hey, Hoynsie!" Considering the gaping holes in the Twins lineup (third, DH, center) and the league's fetish with young pitching, one could easily put team names in a hat and concoct your very own rumor. Thankfully it is not necessary to find a hat. Locally, the Twin Citians are fortunate enough to have two such sources for hot-stove hearsay: Shooter and Sid.

(As a confession, in spite of the recent gaffs of A) reporting that the Twins will indeed have a centerfielder next season (an excellent follow-up to his prior column "Water is Wet"), B) reporting that the Twins lost Alexander Smit to the Reds "the other day" in October when "the other day" happened to be in the previous July (but hey, we've all misplaced blocks of time), and C) making a claim about Silva's contract offer that was totally unfounded, like Nick & Nick, I somehow maintain the belief that Charley Walters rumors carries significantly more weight than Grandpa Sports in the Westside Fishwrap. While both columnists show signs of phoning it in Walters - with no real evidence to prove this credibility aside from his previous connection to the Twins organization - is seemingly the more trustworthy source.)

In his most recent column, Charley Walters has indicated that 34 Kirby Puckett Place is still in contact with the Tampa Bay and discussing a Delmon Young-for-Matt Garza swap. Arriving at this speculation must have been no small feat for Shooter. After all A) the newly-dubbed Tampa Bay Rays have a glutton of young outfielders and the Twins are in desperate demand for such a product and B) the Twins have a surplus of young, inexpensive pitching the likes of which every organization envies. A well-placed phone call to the Twins front office might have confirm that A) the Rays have outfielders and B) the Twins have pitchers. Following that, all a columnist had to do was fill in the blanks that the Rays are willing to trade Outfielder X for Twins Pitcher Y. (Or, perhaps read one of Joe Christensen's past articles from the beginning of November). Story written.

Meanwhile, Rotoworld has already refuted the Young-Garza deal (and as we will see with good reason) but let's play devil (ray)'s advocate and indulge Walters and assume this deal is indeed discussed between the two organizations. This is precisely the transaction that would benefit the Twins long run. When the Montreal Expos swapped Cliff Floyd to the Florida Marlins for Dustin Hermanson and Joe Orsulak, Floyd had spent parts of four season on the Expos roster. He was a young corner outfielder that had previously destroyed Double-A and Triple-A pitching and in 1994 placed 5th in the Rookie of the Year voting. After coming to Florida, Floyd hit very well and established himself as a premium player in the National League. Likewise, Delmon Young has done the same to minor league pitching for the Tampa organization. Last season he finished second to the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia as the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year in the American League. He hit left-handed pitching well (.299/.326/.427) and played in all 162 games for the AL East's perennial losers.

Needless to say, the Twins would greatly benefit from Young's right-handed presence in the lineup.

I have long felt that many of the Twins pitchers are replaceable from within the farm system. If the right deal were presented Baker, Bonser, Slowey and Garza are all expendable. Delmon Young is that type of player. While displaying flashes of brilliance, Garza is certainly not a guaranteed number 1 starter in a rotation. In his previous two seasons with the major league club, Garza has a career strikeout rate of 17.9% (of the 599 batters faced, Garza has pined 105 of them). Comparatively, Garza falls between Scott Baker (who has a career strikeout rate of 16.3%) and Boof Bonser (who is at 18.4%). Baseball Think Factory's ZiPs has Garza finishing 2008 with a 13-12 record and a 4.21 era. If the Twins enter 2008 with a rotation of Santana, Liriano, Baker, Bonser and Slowey ZiPs projects that this group would accrue roughly 63 victories. Substituting Garza for Baker, Bonser or Slowey would only aid the Twins only two or three projected victories.

If Garza were to be traded for Young, the pitching prospects in the farm system including Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak and Yohan Pino will be ready to enter the rotation following the 2008 season. Garza's potential output would easily be reproduced by a younger prospect. I do believe he has the opportunity to have a brilliant pitching career -- most likely as a mid-rotation guy on a good team -- but the chances of an arm injury add risk, which is why (pending a break-out season) the market for Garza might not get any better.

The Rays are hardly without pitching but like almost every franchise it could use more. With a 2008 rotation that will include Scott Kazmir, James Shields, JP Howell and Andy Sonnanstine, a staff that ZiPs projects to win an estimated 42 games, a solid arm like Garza added to the front of this rotation would provide an additional young talent and has the potential to add 5 to 6 more wins per season over any other starter in the Rays system. Considering Garza's projected 2008 era is 4.21 and better than everyone on the Rays staff besides Kazmir's, he could be the number 2 starter in Tampa.

So the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays would immediately benefit from Matt Garza is substantiated as well.

The problem is that in all likelihood if the Twins were that interested in Young, the Rays would ask for another player or two with Garza to make it happen. Similar to the Twins pitching surplus, the Rays have a like situation in the outfield. Currently on the roster the Rays have Upton, Young, Baldelli, Crawford, Gomes, and Dukes in the outfield. The Rays could conceivably trade Young and replace him with another outfielder, however, he is cheap and will avoid arbitration until after the 2010 season. A player like Delmon Young who finished strong in 2007 can definitely replicate his numbers in the coming seasons. Which begs the question: Of all the potential trading pieces, why would the Rays trade Young? If you were the Rays front office would you not most likely consider moving the often-injured Baldelli, the free-swinging Gomes, the domestically-abusing Dukes or the soon-to-be-expensive Crawford prior to Young unless you were blown away by an offer?

The fact is that even though the Twins and the Rays have something the other wants, it does not mean that the two organizations will agree on the price-point.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Torii: Go West, Young Man.

Young might be a bit of a stretch nonetheless Torii's youthful and infectious smile coupled with his front-and-center interviews with Best-Damn-Sports-Show-Period will play well from LA-LA Land. For a spell. As Dave over at USS Mariner has pointed out, Torii's contract demand is a "landmine" - the back-end of his contract would be too pricey for a 37-year-old corner outfielder who could be on and off the DL regularly. Considering the market for a centerfielder (White Sox, Rangers, Dodgers, Angels, Twins), his valuation was expected to be through the roof. there are plenty of franchises just has eager to hand over the money for the front part of his contract. The Angels will certainly look like the team to beat in the AL West with Matthews and Hunter patrolling two-thirds of the outfield. The Twins are small market team and were not willing to subtract from the talent of the ballclub in contract years four and five and I for one cannot blame them.

Where I can blame them is for not adequately preparing for this very situation. Whether it was Twins not restaffing the farm system with centerfield candidates when Denard Span did not live up to his prospect status or the inability to move Hunter in the past offseason (or during the season for that matter) or the foresight necessary to read the free agent/trade market for current centerfielders. I can blame the organization for not being prepared for this. I can.

Torii was on Dan Barreiro this afternoon repeating the mantra that he really, really, really wanted to stay with the Twins, and Barreiro was pissy about the Twins not offering him the money, but $18 million a season is crazy dough. It is, no question. And the Angels are just the franchise to understand what it means to overpay a centerfielder. This past offseason the Angels signed the 32-year-old Gary Matthews Jr to a unconscionable contract calling for 5-years/$55 million. Similar to Hunter, Matthews had a season that was well above his career numbers. His career line was .263/.336/.419 through 2006 following a break out .313/.371/.495 2006 campaign for the Texas Rangers. In his first season with the Angels in his new contract, he performed below his previous career line at .252/.323/.419. While not known for being nearly as fluctuating offensively as Matthews, what some argue as Hunter's best season (I disagree, it was his 26-year-old season in 2002), his 2007 line of .287/.334/.505 was significantly higher than his career line at .271/.324/.469.

Does this mean he won't replicate his 2007 performance? Of course not, he still could hit with the same numbers but all statistical indicators regarding age and previous performance tells us that he certainly won't produce steadily that kind of output over the course of a five-year contract. In fact, it is more probable that his output could significantly drop-off in 2008. His defense will continue to be an asset, and I would assume that he will be a great corner outfielder when his 37-year-old legs finally breakdown in year four or five of his contract minus the power that comes from a left or right fielder. The Twins knew this and decided not to play ball.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Star Tribune's Lavelle E. Neal is reporting that the Twins have strong interest in signing Tony Clark and ESPN's Buster Olney just labeled Clark as the number 1 undervalued free agent this offseason.

These rumors, speculations and subsequent signings of supposed "re-treads" has understandably agitated the Twins fan base. After all, we have been bombarded by a plethora of offseason signings of the aging Batistas, Sierras, Cirillos, and Whites (twice!) in the twilight of the Terry Ryan era. These were certainly low-risk signings but also proven to be low-reward ones too. And had the Twins compiled a shred of research on those players, it would have been clear that the percentages of the bargain-bin players to reward the organization with any offensive production was minuscule at best.

Rarely in the past few offseasons had the Twins had the opportunity to sign an offensive player that would have provided runs at a low-price. In hindsight, the Twins should have been the ones who structured a deal with Frank Thomas instead of Oakland who did in 2006. Thomas, of course, was one of the offensive catalysts that lead Oakland into the 2006 playoffs where he destroyed Twins pitching, hammering 2 home runs in 10 at-bats in 3 games. In the ALCS Thomas was shut down by the steamrolling Detriot Tigers pitching staff who rendered him hitless in 13 at-bats. For $500,000 plus incentives, Oakland obtained the 38-year-old designated hitter who would finish the season with 466 at-bats, mashing 39 home runs with a .270/.381/.545 batting line. Obviously everybody organization would have knocked down their own grandmothers for a deal like that.

At the time there was initial trepidation among baseball insiders as to the kind of season Thomas would produce which was why he could be had for a pittance. In the two previous seasons leading up to his offseason signing with Oakland, Thomas was limited to 345 at-bats. Many believed that Thomas was all but washed up. In 2005, it appeared that his legendary plate discipline had disappeared. Thomas routinely walked more times than he struck out in a season. In 1993 he had a total of 112 walks and only 54 strikeouts. In his appearances in 2005 for the Sox, Thomas struck out 31 in 105 at-bats and walked only 16 times. Injuries and attitude had led to the Chicago White Sox cutting ties with a player that had been with the organization since 1989.

All that for half-a-million.

Which brings me to the Twins interest in Clark. I mentioned Thomas above because over the course of the next week or so, the local media will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Thomas (mainly the age, power and the prospect of a rebound season). Their ability to hit the long ball is what binds these two players together. Thomas has hit a home run in 5.2% of his plate appearances while Clark has deposited home runs in 5.0% of his. While Thomas has hit extra-base hits in 10.3% of his plate appearances, Clark has nearly matched that doing so in 9.8% of his. Realize that Tony Clark and Frank Thomas are not even remotely in the same realm when it comes to discussing plate disciple. As mentioned before, Thomas had a keen batting eye that led to numerous walks and a .421 career on-base percentage. Baseball Propectus described Clark in their book "Mind Game" as a free-swinging out machine and his career obp of .339 reflects that. Over the course of his career, Clark has struck out in 23.2% of his plate appearances. Thomas has struck out in only 13.6% of his. Parish the thought that a signing of Clark could emulate numbers like Thomas provide Oakland in 2006. They are not the same hitter. This is not even apples to oranges. It is apples to something entirely inedible.

The Star Tribune article suggests that Clark is looking for an AL team to designate hit for so that he can achieve 400 plate appearances again. For the record, the last time Clark managed to get to the plate 400 times in a season would be in 2001 where he struck out in 21.7% of them. Admittedly, I do not think the acquisition of Tony Clark would be as disastrous as Tony Batista was provided that the Twins front office comprehend what they have. Clark is a proven pinch-hitter. In 2007, Clark made 36 pinch-hitting appearances for the Diamondbacks and hit .250/.333/.563 and slugged 3 home runs. Meanwhile the Twins were relegated to marching Jason Tyner to the plate as a substitute in the bottom of the ninth to face the dominate closers. For my money, it would behoove the Twins to send Clark to the plate and pinch run Tyner for him once he does drive home the tying run. The problem is, the Twins would not leverage Clark to his potential and give him too many at-bats.

Ultimately, I would speculate that with the rumors that multiple AL teams are looking for a serviceable designated hitter and NL teams who have an opening at 1B or the bench will ultimately raise Tony Clark's potential contract amount. The market will push the value of a 36-year-old free-swinger well beyond a reasonable contract. If the Twins do obtain Clark (and keep Monroe as well), it will be a decent gauge of what flexibility new GM Bill Smith is allotted for payroll.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Monroe Doctrine (Or How I Learned To Not Accept the Twins Offseason Moves)

A few days has passed since the Twins announced that they are relinquishing one of their dimmer stars for the 30-year-old Craig Monroe. While most in the Twins community seem to believe that this is yet again another indication that the Twins are only interested in second-rate stars (Gleeman, TwinsGeek, Nick&Nick ) and truthfully that was my initial gut reaction as well. Why spend any amount of the payroll towards Monroe even if he is a 4th outfielder/DH platoon? Last year the Twins acquired Jeff Cirillo in what turned out to be the final season of his career. When Cirillo wasn't on the DL, his contributions were minimal and was eventually waived and picked up by the Diamondbacks. To some, it would appear that the Twins were once again acquiring an overpaid, low-reward hitter.

Don't be fooled because this is exactly what they got. The only mitigating factor is how the team deploys Monroe.

When the rumor mill began to buzz that the Twins were in talks with the Cubbies for Monroe, my first inclination was that if you are negotiating with the Cubs, why not attempt to get Matt Murton, a young right-handed bat with years left in his legs? After all, the numbers certain indicate that Monroe has probably peaked with his production. Monroe's numbers prior to his 2007 drop-off were not all that impressive and since his best offensive season in 2004 he has steadily declined and his strike out rate has increased.

Monroe AVG. OBP. SLG. BB% K%
2004 .293 .337 .488 6.0% 16.4%
2005 .277 .322 .446 6.4% 15.2%
2006 .255 .301 .482 6.3% 21.5%
2007 .219 .268 .370 6.0% 25.0%
In an ensuing conversation with a high-ranking organizational official, I learned that the Twins view Monroe as a no-risk deal. Essentially the Twins bought themselves the ability to get a free look at Monroe and the ability to negotiate a lower contract. The team believes that Monroe would be a better option instead of Lew Ford as the outfielder on the bench. Meanwhile, Murton was discussed both internally and with the Cubs, however the consensus within the organization is that Murton is not an "everyday player" and the Cubs were seeking several prospects in exchange for Murton.
The Cubs wanted too much for Murton and the Twins were only in the market for a 4th outfielder/platoon DH with power that is seemingly affordable (giving up a Garza or Slowey isn't affordable). I realize that the parameters that the Twins acquired when they sold a prospect for Monroe was the right to (hopefully) reduce his salary to play a very specific role: a right-handed platoon and a power-bat off the bench in a pinch-hitter capacity. Only there are two problems with that: (a) Monroe is not a particularly good hitter against left-handed pitching and (b) Monroe has made 25 pinch-hitting appearance and has hit exactly zero home runs.
So is Monroe the solution to the Twins problem? No.
As a vigilant advocate for Kevin Mench, a player that has continual speculation that the Brewers are going to non-tender him this offseason, I believe the Twins should be bringing Mench in instead of Monroe. In 812 plate appearances against southpaws in his career Monroe has hit .273/.319/.495 (6.7%BB%/18.5%K%). Mench, however, in 775 plate appearances against left-handers has hit .305/.361/.563 (7.7%BB%/6.8%K%). Monroe has hit home runs in 4.4% of his plate appearances against lefties. Mench has homed in 5.1% of his.
While I was lead to believe in my brief conversation with the Twins official that the options present were Lew Ford versus Craig Monroe, in which case, everyone would hopefully opt for Monroe. The spin from the front office would like you to believe that there were no other options for the same product for the same price range when that simply wasn't the case. There was a better product at the same price range.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Prospects in the Pen
Three minor leaguers you will hear about in 2008:
2007 Batters Faced K% BB%
AA/AAA 316 25.6% 16.7%

A girthier Dennys Reyes (if that's possible), the 22-year-old, 6 foot, 230 lb lefty has made a quick ascension through the Twins organization. Originally signed as a 17-year-old out of Venezula, Mijares dominated in the bullpen at every level moving from from a 19-year-old rookie ball closer to the 22-year-old left-handed specialist who is currently playing for the Tigres de Aragua in the Venezuela Winter League. Last season when camp broke, Mijares had the tragedy of losing his brother to violence in Venezuela. He is certain to begin the season in Rochester, however, if Liriano is not ready by the opener and Glen Perkins is moved into the starting rotation, Mijares might be tapped to be an additional left-hander out of the bullpen.

Bobby Korecky

Senior Bobby Korecky is one of the many pitchers Steve Merriman has helped since he rejoined the Michigan coaching staff. [BRENDAN O’DONNELL/Daily]

2007 Batters Faced K% BB%
AAA 358 19.8% 9.4%
The 28-year-old Korecky was the final player sent to the Twins in the Eric Milton deal with Philadelphia in December 2003. Drafted by the Phillies in 2002 out of Michigan, Korecky was the centerpiece of their pitching staff. In the Phillies farm system, Korecky bounced between a starter and a reliever until his final season there in high-A Clearwater. Once with the Twins, he moved to Double-A New Britain and continued to perform well in the pen. In April 2005, Korecky underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery but reemerged in 2006 with 13 saves he split between Double and Triple-A. Rochester leveraged Korecky like the relief aces of old. In 66 appearances, Korecky pitched 85 innings and saved 35 games an all-time high for Rochester (a mark that was previous set at 23 by Travis Bowyer). Currently pitching with the Tigres in the Venezuelan league, Korecky has held batters to a .179 average in 10.2 innings pitched. Because of the Twins' glutton of bullpen help, his age and his overinflated saves, Korecky could stand as a great bargaining chip much like Bowyer was in getting Luis Castillo. I would not be surprised to see him move prior to the beginning of spring training. If he is not, he could be brought in midseason to play the role Matt Guerrier played in 2006 if Guerrier expands to be more of a specialist of late inning stopper that Juan Rincon once was.

Eduardo Morlan

2007 Batters Faced K% BB%
A+/AA 289 34.2% 6.9%

This 21-year-old right-handed Cuban, tore through the Florida League in 2007. He was dispatching batters at a 30%+ rate. If you watch this video of him warming-up, you will notice that he is built solid from the waist-down much like a younger version of Juan Rincon. While his lead foot does not reach and drive as much as some of the other pitchers who generate power from their legs (Colon comes to mind), it is obvious that he has a very steady, very balanced delivery. While still a season away from the majors since Morlan only has limited time in Double-A, Baseball Prospectus's Joe Sheehan views him as potential trade bait for the Twins to find a power-hitting third baseman (namely Garrett Atkins).

Monday, November 12, 2007

What to do with Rincon

In an alternate 2007, the Twins would have passed on pitchers Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz opting to use Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey or Glen Perkins from opening day in the rotation, they would have declined to resign Rondell White instead electing to extend Torii Hunter's contract passed 2007 (before the season began when his stock was still reasonable), offered a minor league contract and an invitation spring training to Dmitri Young, traded a C-list pitching prospect for career minor leaguer Jack Cust, traded one or two of several pitchers from the farm system to the Milwaukee Brewers for Kevin Mench, and, most importantly, packaged Juan Rincon in a trade with one of several teams looking for bullpen help.

With the 2007 emergence of Pat Neshek as Gardenhire's 8th inning guy, it was apparent that Juan Rincon was being phased out of the primary set-up role to Joe Nathan. Rincon certainly did not aid his cause with his regression into a bullpen liability either. Some have questioned whether the decrease in productivity was directly correlated to his 2005 suspension for his use of performance-enhancing drugs. Following the 2006 season in which his strikeouts per game plummeted from 12.6 in 2004 to 10.1 in 2005 to 8.0 in 2006, Rincon avoided arbitration by signing a 1-year, $2 million dollar contract. The Twins were rewarded in 2007 by his worse season to date, posting averaging 7.0 strikeouts per 9 innings and surrendering 9 home runs in 59.7 innings (a horrid 16.1% home runs to flyballs ratio). Not only were his 63 appearances in 2007 a low in the previous four seasons and his ERA had inflated to 5.13, nearly 2 runs higher than his previous 3 seasons.

Gardenhire began dispatching Neshek into the 8th innings regularly in 2007. In 171 matchups in the 8th inning, batters were hitting a paltry .193/.278/.359 with 39 strikeouts (22.8% K%) and 18 walks (10.5% BB%). Meanwhile, Rincon was asked to retire 108 batters in the 8th inning and faired poorly letting hitters bat .313/.361/.525 with only 21 strikeouts (19.4% K%) but only 7 walks issued (6.4% BB%). The numbers indicate that Rincon certainly was around the strike zone but was being hit hard.

It was clear that Rincon was expendable. Despite a decline in production, Rincon (or rather the entity that he is) was still highly valued in major league baseball terms prior to and during the 2007 season. Focus after the 2006 season was the bullpen. Cleveland, Detroit, and Baltimore all gave lucrative contracts to relievers attempting to bolster ailing pens. Rincon, meanwhile, has been a proven set-up man still arbitration eligible. In mid-season 2007, teams were willing to part with young players for bullpen help: The Dodgers gave up Wilson Betemit for the Yankees Scott Proctor. Super utility player Ty Wigginton was traded to Houston for Dan Wheeler. Naturally, both Proctor and Wheeler had a better leverage considering Proctor had the most appearances the previous season and Wheeler had those coveted (yet overrated) saves in his resume. And neither were implicated in substance abuse allegations.

In 2007, Scott Proctor was having a down-year coming off a season in which he had 83 appearances with the Yankees in 2006. In 2006, the 30-year-old right-handed reliever was averaging 8 strikeouts per 9 innings while walking only 3 and giving up 12 home runs in 102.3 innings pitched. Aside from Rivera, Proctor was the most reliable member of the Yankees bullpen. In 52 appearance in 2007, Proctor's strikeout rate was down to 5.8 per 9 innings and his walk rate had inflated to 4.6. On July 31st, the teams on rival coast's made the deal sending Betemit to New York and Proctor as bullpen insurance in LA. While Proctor's strikeout rate improved slightly in the Senior Circuit (7.7 per 9) he still was putting people on base regularly (4.4 walks per 9). The Dodgers never really had faith in Wilson Betemit and had several prospects ahead of him at third base. While displaying some power, Betemit strikes out too frequently and is not that good with the leather. The 25-year-old Betemit hit .262/.322/.417 in three seasons of Triple-A. In retrospect, is that the Twins could have marketed Rincon to the Dodgers as their potential bullpen insurance and the Twins would have been happy to have another candidate for third.

Ty Wigginton was frequently mentioned on the rumor mill list because of his pop and ability to play all 9 positions. Tampa Bay was looking for anything with an arm that threw in the general vicinity of the plate. Houston had been playing musical closers with Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler. Wheeler was the likely candidate to move. His productivity was a swing-pendulum at one point in the season he was closing games and at others he was in mop-up duty. Wheeler's stock benefited the most from having saves. In 2007, he had trouble with runners in scoring position and 2-outs, a critical matchup where you would want your reliever to win on more occasions. In 45 matchups, batters hit .432/533/.622 and surrendered 18 runs. Rincon on the otherhand, was deployed 29 times in similar situations and rendered only 4 hits and 7 runs while limiting batters to a .154/.241/.154. In all likelihood, the Twins would have had to do some savvy marketing and package Rincon with another prospect to balance the Wigginton deal.

What is apparent is that the Twins do not understand how to evaluate the trade market. As confidence in Rincon was slipping withing the organization coupled with Neshek, Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier's ability to provide the same output as Rincon was did in latter innings, the Twins should have been determined to unload him while the market was still high on right handed relievers.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Win Now, Or Win Later?

Following a four-game sweep to the St Louis Cardinals on November 10th, 2006 Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski changed the overall philosophy of the Detriot Tigers from a franchise focused on rebuilding and stregthening a depleated farm system to one that is concievably mortgaging the future for that elusive World Series title. With two World Series appearances with two different teams, creating a winning environment is not new to Dombrowski, this "win-now" mantra uncharted territory for the executive.

Dombrowski had seen previous action building, destroying and then rebuilding again the Florida Marlins. He used the market to sign free agents (Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield and Moises Alou ) while filling in the positions through the internal sytem (Edger Renteria, Luis Castillo) and well orchestrated trades. Moves like trading Dustin Hermanson and Joe Orsulak to the Montreal Expos for the little used Cliff Floyd has been the corner stone of the Dombrowski era. While Hermanson ended up having a decent tenure in Montreal, Floyd emerged as a dangerous middle of the order hitter (and was later traded back to Montreal in 2002 that netted the Marlins frontline starter Carl Pavano ).

During the ensuing implosion of the Fish, Dombrowski sent away numerous vital players of the 1997 World Series team. Most trades brought Florida back players who would later help the team complete in 2003. Kevin Brown was traded to San Deigo for Derrek Lee, Al Leiter sent to the New York Mets for A.J. Burnett, and Floyd for Pavano as mentioned above. These are three of the trades that later allowed the Marlins to reclaim their championship title in 2003. It should also be noted that he delt some of his elite players for prospects that never panned out (Conine to Kansas City for a low-A washout, Alou to the Astros for three nobodies, Robb Nen for more nobodies). More the exception than the rule, it was through the shrewed trades and draft picks, that Dombrowski aided in building the 2003 championship following the fire sale.

Never during his time as the GM of the Marlins did Dombrowski dabble in trading prospects for over-hyped stars. Signed them via free agency sure, but never did he sacrific the stability of a franchise. Which is why when he completed the trade of aging and often injured Gary Sheffield for three high quality prospects Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett, I was somewhat dumbfounded. Sheffield, the 38-year-old high-priced and limited the designated hitter, had spent a large amount of 2005 on the DL. He seemed to be growing older by the at-bat so any production the Tigers did gain from him, it would be for only a couple of seasons. Shortly after the 2007 season ended, Dombrowski executed a trade with the Atlanta Braves sending the Tigers' fourth and seventh best prospects (Jairs Jurrijens and Gorkys Hernandez ) for the 32-year-old Edgar Renteria. A player that has been excused of being an NL-only player after a down season with Boston. This one season after he sent his 6th (Sanchez) and 10th (Whelan) for Sheffield. Within two seasons, Dombrowski has sent four of his top ten prospects for expensive aging free agents.

What is happening?

The 2006 Tigers, built from genuine homegrown prospects (Granderson, Inge, Verlander, Zumaya), well-executed trades (Guillen, Polonco, Bonderman) and several key free agent signings (Rogers, Ordonez, Rodriguez), had a strong resemblance to the 1997 Florida Marlins (in fact, both finished with 90+ wins and claimed the wild card spot). The nucleus of the 2006 Tigers could be attributed to three trades in Dombrowski's reign:

1) Bonderman (and Pena and German) for Weaver.

"I couldn't believe that's what the trade was," said a seemingly disgruntled Jeff Weaver told the media on July 7th, 2002, "There were no big leaguers. Zero. They let one of the best pitchers go and got nothing for it."

On July 5th, 2002, the Tigers were 39 and 53, 17 games behind the first place Twins and admittedly looking to rebuild. Their solitary trading chip (and number one starter) Jeff Weaver was 6 and 8 with a 3.18 ERA. Weaver had chewed up 200 innings in the previous two seasons for a franchise that lacked stability. In a three way trade that sent Weaver to the New York Yankees, while the Tigers recieved minor leagues Carlos Pena, Franklyn German and a (a month later) prospect named Jeremy Bonderman from the Oakland Athletics.

Of course, this one move started a domino effect of trades that landed Detriot the necessary core to push them from the bowels of the AL Central to the cusp of World Champions. Granted, it is hard to predict the future, just as Weaver pointed out in is triade to the media above. Despite his delusions of granduer, did the Tigers recieve "nothing" as Weaver liked to say?

Weaver, 25-years-old at the time of the trade, was packaged to New York and contributed 12 wins and 12 losses in his two seasons as a Yankee. In 2002, he added 5 wins and 3 losses in addition to 2 saves. His greatest detriment to the Yankee organization came in the form of post-season collapse. After winning two straight games following the series opening loss, the Yankees were in dire straights. In game 4 of the 2003 World Series, Weaver surrendered the game winning home run to Alex Gonzalez of the Florida Marlins in a Series that the Yankees would ultimately lose in six games. Even if you are dubious about statistical value, this sole moment signalled the end to the Yankee dynasty (then again, Torre could have dispatched Mariano Riviera and did not) and Weaver's arm was responsible for that.

Upholding Weaver's predictations, Pena never lived up to his gospel-like praise from Baseball America for the Tigers. Pena did manage to get on-base a fair share for a power hitter while contributing 75 home runs in his three seasons in Detriot before being released after 2005. Pena displayed all the tools that Billy Beane coveted: power, patience and a respectable on-base percentage. Detriot did not have similiar patience. Had the front office waited on Pena, they might have been reward with the similiar season he had for Tampa Bay in 2007 finishing with 46 home runs, 103 walks, and .282/.411/.627.

Franklyn German won 8 games out of Detriots bullpen between 2002 and 2005. His only losses came in 2003 with 4 losses though he saved 7 games. German was claimed off of waivers by the Florida Marlins on August 3rd, 2006. Incidentally, German could be regarded as the "nobody" Detroit recieved.

Which brings us to Bonderman. The trade was executed on July 5th, 2002. The Oakland Athletics still owed Detriot a "player-to-be-named-later". Bonderman was a 19-year-old toss-in from the high-A California league. He had 144.3 innings and 160 strikeouts under his belt when he went from high-A to the majors. The Tigers threw him in -sink or swim- and Bonderman promptly lost 19 games in 2003. To his credit, the Tigers lost an additional 100 more games when he didn't start coupled with an offense that was outscored 928-to-591.

In a move that was percieved as a payroll dump where the Tigers avoided having to pay Weaver nearly double his 2002 salary, the Tigers ended up netting Jeremy Bonderman who started 3 games in the 2006 playoffs with a 1 - 0 record. Bonderman and the Tigers slowly started to improve over the next couple of season, he finished with 11-13, 14-13, 14-8 and 11-9 records in 2003 to 2007. Weaver's record has trailed off significantly, he went 5-7, 14-11, 8-14 and 7-13. Weaver finished 2007 being paid $8.32 million while Bonderman was compesated half of that at $4.5 million. Despite not paying immediate dividends, it is clear that Detriot was rewarded for its return on investment netting a future dominate front-line starter at half the cost of Weaver.

2.) Guillen for Santiago and low-A burn out.

Dave Dombrowski turned his attention next to shoring up the infield. On January 8th, 2004, the Tigers acquired Carlos Guillen from the Seattle Mariners for a pittance.

Never too big on the entire youth-movement (see: various USS Mariner posts ) Seattle's new general manager Bill Bavasi insisted on going a different direction at shortstop for the 2004 season. After failing to unload Guillen onto the Cleveland Indians for Omar Visquel, a deal that ultimately fell apart, the Mariners signed Rich Aurilia and Scott Spiezio for shortstop and third.

Left with Carlos Guillen and no place to put him, the Mariners began shopping him around. Detroit offered a utility infielder and a low-A prospect and Seattle bit. The centerpiece was Ramon Santiago, 24, a career .231/.297/.311 hitter. His appeal to Seattle was that he was under contract for $307,000 and was not eligible for arbitration until after the 2005. Seattle would have been better off simply dumping the entire salary upfront.

In 2004, Santiago had exactly 39 at-bats with the parent club and witnessed 8 more in 2005 before returning to Detriot after he was outright released. Juan Gonzalez, the low-A prospect, has yet to ascend higher than A ball and is currently in the Dodgers organization. Guillen, meanwhile, has anchored a position in Detriot that hasn't been occupied steadily since Trammell, he has been a two-time All-Star and hit 65 home runs over four seasons. He contributed 76 Win Shares to the Detroit Tigers, Seattle recieved zero.

In the same year the Mariners opted not to pay Guillen, who by the way produced 23 Win Shares for Detriot in 2004, Aurilia managed 3 Win Shares (On July 19th, 2004 the Mariners ended the Aurilia experiment by trading him to San Diego for "future consideration" and began using Willie Bloomquist at shortstop). Spiezio, meanwhile, faired a tad better, lasting the entire 2004 season with Seattle but was released on August 19th, 2005 after a horrendous season (he did have a renaissance of sorts with the World Champion Cardinals in 2006). Spiezio provide the Mariners with 2 Win Shares in 2004 and 2005.

3.) Polanco for Urbina & Martinez.

By June 8th, 2005, the Tigers were in a familar spot battling the lowly Kansas City Royals for the dweller with a record of 27-30 and 12 games out of the AL Central race. Unsatified with the performance Omar Infante had been providing at second base, the Tigers traded away Ugueth Urbina, the 31-year-old closer who was 1-3 with 9 saves in 25 games with Detriot and 32-year-old utility infielder Ramon Martinez to Philadelphia for 29-year-old Placido Polonco.

What can be said is that Detroit grifted Philadelphia. In exchange for two aging players, one a relief pitcher who was steadily declining (and would be out of the league soon) and making $4.0 million for the season and a punchless utility infielder scheduled to make $1.025 million the Tigers recieved a solid-contact rate, line-drive hitting, young second baseman who was making $400,000 less than the two players traded away. The Phillies recieved 1 Win Share from their newfound utility man in 65 plate appearances in 2005 while Urbina converted one save in seven opportunities adding 5 Win Shares in the process. Polanco became the most consistant contact hitter in the AL, hitting .338, .295 and .341 since the trade. He also added 51 Win Shares. This is the definition of smart trade. And with that, Detroit had found a very cost-effective number two hitter.

The trades represent a complete plan when it comes to addressing the needs of an organization. Because of these three moves coupled with the emergence of draft-picks and the performance of the free agents, the Tigers packaged one of the strongest offensive and defensive rosters since the first Bush administration, and took the American League's wild card spot into the World Series. While the efforts fell short, the combination of talent and prospects certainly made the Detroit Tigers early favorites for 2007 and beyond. Depleted your farm system, however, is not in the best long term interest of your franchise.