Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
- The Twins named Fort Myers Miracle pitching coach, Eric Rasmussen, the new Minor League Pitching Coordinator after the Detroit Tigers wooed Rick Knapp away from the organization to be the Tigers' pitching coach. For the past ten years Rasmussen has been the Miracles' pitching coach helping groom the likes of Pat Neshek, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Anthony Swarzak and so on. In 2008, the Miracle pitching staff led the league in ERA and strikeouts. Back in 2004 Rasmussen was asked to evaluate the progress of Scott Baker, now a potential ace for the Twins. Rasmussen told the Naples News that "(Baker) is on track. He mixes his pitches really well and he's got a good competitive spirit. His fastball is above average and he's got a slider like all these guys, that when it's on, it's an average big league pitch. Most of these guys, when they were in high school, they threw hard enough to where it didn't matter, there's not much need for a changeup. That's the pitch, the one that needs to be developed in pro ball here." Now, as the pitching coordinator for the entire farm system, Rasmussen will be able to keep sending that message. Indeed, the emphasis of the Twins organization had been to drive home not only the ability to throw a changeup but to throw it often. This policy had bode well for the team's staff. It worked for Johan Santana* (who throws it 28.7% of the time in 2008), Francisco Liriano's is harnessing his more often (20.0% of the time) and Glen Perkins is starting to spot his more frequently (15.7%).
*Santana's changeup development has been attributed to Bobby Cueller who was the AAA Edmonton pitching coach in 2002 when he instructed Santana to throw his changeup in every count. "He always had the pitch," said Cuellar, "Johan had to learn to trust it. I told him, 'Don't be afraid to throw it at any time. Trust it, and it will do what it is supposed to do.' It's the hardest thing for a young pitcher to do." Throwing a change nearly 30% of the time is certain to make an appearance in every plate appearance.
- Rick Knapp was very instrumental in working with the pitchers in the Twins' system. Matt Garza recently told the Detroit Free Press that "[Knapp's] big thing is throwing strikes. He wants you to be able to throw any pitch in any count for a strike. That's his philosophy." Another Free Press, this time Mankato's Ed Thoma, penned another tribute to the departed pitching instructor. Knapp's indoctrination of strike zone command within the minor league system has paid dividends since 2001 for big club. Since 2001, the Twins have been either first or second in AL in walks allowed per game:
- More minor manuvers: former Twins catcher Tom Nieto has been named the manager of the AA New Britain Rock Cats, succeeding Bobby Cuellar who will be assuming Stu Cliburn's position as pitching coach of the AAA Rochester Red Wings. Nieto was brought into the Twins organization in Feburary of 1987 when the team packaged Neal Heaton, Jeff Reed, Yorkis Perez and Al Cardwood to the Montreal Expos for closer Jeff Reardon and played in 1987 and 1988 at which point he was traded to Philadelphia along with Eric Bullock and Tommy Herr for pitcher Shane Rawley.
- Beyond the Boxscore's RJ Anderson examines 'What in the World Happened to Delmon Young'. Anderson notes that Young is just only 22-years-old and is possibly the player that develops slowly after several introductions. Or he could be your epitome of an underachieving prospect. Nevertheless, I do want to highlight that Baseball-Reference as Carl Yastrzemski as Young's number one comparable at the age of 22.
- In September's GameDay Magazine, I penned an article outlining how a good number of Major League teams are relocating their minor league teams to cities closer to the fan base. Atlanta, Philadelphia and Seattle were all examples of how a system within close proximity could help kindle the local interest in prospects developing in the minors. Add Milwaukee to that mix. The Brewers have signed a four-year Player Development Contact with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Appleton, WI) in the Midwest League. Brewers fans have the opportunity to drive two hours north instead of to West Virginia when they were playing in the South Atlantic League as the West Virginia Power.
For years I have believed that the image in Major League Baseball's now ubiquitous logo was the image of Harmon Killebrew. Turns out I have been living a lie. A recent Wall Street Journal article profiled the creator of the marketing device who said that it is not based on any one player said Jerry Dior, the New Jersey native who worked on the graphic while employed at Sandgren & Murtha, the advertising firm that created the image. His son once heard the reference on a radio broadcast where the commentator made mentioned of the Killebrew connection. "That's completely untrue. It's not Harmon Killebrew. It's not anyone in particular," was Dior's response.
The Denver Business Journal reported that the Colorado Rockies had a substantial decrease in their viewership on Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain, a 4% decrease. Naturally, when your team goes from a World Series contender to an NL West pretender, the local interest wanes. Not surprisingly, the Twins were among the biggest gainers in viewership (+10.4%) as the team transformed from a 79-83 team that was 17.5 games out of first in 2007 to a 88-75 team that finished one game out of first in 2008. Likewise, the White Sox saw a 68.9% increase in people tuning in as they went from 24 games out of first in '07 to winning the AL Central via Game 163.
Speaking of the Rockies, Bill Elliot from the Edmonton Sun noted that in 2002 - the infamous Moneyball draft profiled in Michael Lewis book - Colorado's front office desired Denard Span in their ninth overall pick. A deal with Span could not be reached so the Rockies selected left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis instead. Span fell to the Twins at the 20th overall pick but not before Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher and Cole Hamels were selected by the Mets, A's and Phillies.
When Hollywood and Major League Baseball come together it is often to mixed results. The examples of "The Natural", "Field of Dreams", "Pride of the Yankees" and "Bang the Drum Slowly" are just some of the movies produced about the game that spin a worthy tale about the diamond and have been viewed as classic works of cinema. To a lesser extent "Bull Durham", "League of the Own" and "Major League" are as well but probably not as highly regarded to film buffs as they are to baseball fans. However, the questionable decisions to greenlight the likes of "Ed", "The Scout", "Summer Catch" and "From Left Field" certainly lends credence to the notion that there should be people fired for even suggesting to waste film on these disasters. So when rumors began swirling that Lewis's Moneyball will be adapted into a screenplay to star Brad Pitt as the A's general manager Billy Beane, the book's main character, has been met with plenty of raised eyebrows. For starters, while the book is insightful and informative, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of action - at least any that could seemingly keep audiences transfixed to the big screen for 120 minutes. A scene in which Pitt's Beane would spend 15 minutes filibustering about the merits of drafting college-level Nick Swisher over the high school arm of Cole Hamels in a draft room would probably be meet with anything but yawns from the general public. Regardless of how the reviews read, I still will be interested to see how this story is laid out. For those familiar with the central characters of the book, here is what Dirty Laundry envisions playing those roles. Supposedly this will be ready in 2011.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
In June of that year, the Minnesota Twins made Matt Garza the 10th pitcher chosen (25th overall) in a solid draft class. Topping the list were future All-Star candidates in Justin Upton (ARI), Alex Gordon (KAN), Jeff Clement (SEA), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS), Ryan Braun, (MIL) and Troy Tulowitzki (COL). The Twins and Garza agreed on a $1.37 million bonus, which inspired the 21-year-old pitcher to tell the Fresno Bee "I'm ecstatic. Any time someone says you're going to be a millionaire and they make it happen, you've gotta be happy."
Garza was shipped to Elizabethton, where his transition to pro baseball was seamless. In 19 innings Garza posted a 25/6 K/BB ratio (striking out 34% of batters faced). Following a nine strikeout outing in six innings against Houston's Appalachian League affiliate, Greenville, the Twins opted to move Garza to single-A Beloit to replace Anthony Swarzak in July 2005. There in 56 innings of work, Garza maintained a 64/15 K/BB ratio (27.2% k%). Garza finished his professional debut with 76 innings and a 3.57 ERA split between two levels.
But when the baseball season concluded, the NCAA found Fresno State in violation of the league's new academic measures. The collegiate governing body stripped equivalent of one baseball scholarship from the program as five Bulldog players were cited for failing marks. Garza was one of the perpetrators. Apologetic, Garza called from Florida to offer support to the teammates in California he left behind. Whereas Garza's low grades cost his former squad a premier player via scholarship, 2005's 2nd round choice from Winthrop University, Kevin Slowey, carried a near-perfect 3.96 GPA with him in his three years at school. This is an interesting contrast between two of the most highly touted Twins pitching prospects - one being described as "temperamental" and the other being labeled "a student of the game". What his educational makeup or character says about Matt Garza's development as a pitcher is debatable, but it speaks volumes towards Matt Garza as a team player.
Nevertheless, with academic strife now clearly behind him, Garza focused on his blossoming professional career. Because of the World Baseball Classic - which took several of the Twins' pitchers out of spring camp in 2006 - Garza was given the opportunity to pitch in front of the Major League coaching staff. "Garza did fine," said manager Ron Gardenhire after one outing in the spring, "He's got a nice-looking arm. He's going to be a nice-looking pitcher. It's nice to get to see the young man throw the ball."
Pushed by Minor League Director Jim Rantz, the Twins advanced Garza through the system aggressively. After just eight starts in the Florida State League - in which Garza threw 44 innings with 53 strikeouts - the organization promoted him to AA New Britain. Garza was now in a league where he was significantly younger than the competition but continued to thrive throwing 57 innings and striking out 68 with a WHIP of 0.95. He had yet to be challenged. By mid-July, Garza found himself in Rochester, making five starts and tossing 34 innings while striking out 33 and walking just 7. Even before the conclusion of the month, former manager Tom Kelly and general manager Terry Ryan were monitor Garza's starts in person trying to determine if the raw but dominate right-hander could help the Twins in the near future. Because of injuries to Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke, Garza's major league debut was accelerated. On August 11th, 2006, Matt Garza took the mound at the Metrodome against the Toronto Blue Jays. Garza would barely last long enough to hear the echoes of the National Anthem cease as the Blue Jays scored seven runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings. "It was a little more than I expected," Garza said of his debut. "I tried to play calm, but when I got out there and heard the crowd, the adrenaline got going really high, really fast and that's when the nerves kicked in. I couldn't stop shaking after that first inning." In his ten appearances in 2006, Garza did nothing to solidify his position on a postseason roster, often appearing "jittery" in his starts. So when the decision to retain Glen Perkins, Willie Eyre or Garza on the roster, it was Perkins that was chosen and Eyre and Garza the odd men out.
As the rest of the Twins shamefully went three-and-out against the Oakland A's in the ALDS, Garza was honored in the offseason. USA Today named him the Minor League Player of the Year in 2006 and earned the praise of his manager. Ron Gardenhire told the newspaper "He's confident in his ability, but not to the point where he doesn't want to listen to anybody. He takes everything in. He understands that no one knows too much in this game. He knows he still has a lot of things to learn even though he's had a lot of success in the minors. That's pretty special in a young player."
When spring camp began in Fort Myers before the 2007 season, it was assumed that Garza would be a part of the rotation. "They say there is a spot open, so I'm pitching my [behind] off to get it," he said. "They said I'm not ready, but if I'm in Triple-A, I'm going to do what I did last year. So I'm coming out of the gate firing." But Garza was experiencing lingering neck problems, unable to pitch off of the mound for the first-half of March, which sidelined him for a period of time. Predicated on this, the decision was made to send Garza to the minor league camp and allow veteran Sidney Ponson to hold the fifth spot in the rotation much to Garza's furor. Reports said that Garza was visably "upset when he arrived in a golf cart at the minor league complex". By mid-May, Garza was at full boil over mode, disgruntled with the amount of pressure applied to make him hone his seldom used off-speed pitches. "I know how to pitch," Garza said [to Pioneer Press reporter Kelsie Smith] by phone. "I didn't get up here because I don't know how to pitch. I said (to Rochester pitching coach Stu Cliburn), 'Just let me pitch. You guys just relax. Yeah, I was in a funk for April. My bad. I'm sorry I didn't deal with disappointment the way you guys thought I was going to. I know I can throw my off-speed pitches for strikes. It's just that I was pressing because I was trying to make them happy, and I can't be that guy anymore. ... I told my pitching coach, and I hope he relayed the message (to general manager Terry Ryan and director of minor leagues Jim Rantz), I said, 'I can't do it, man. I've been scratching my head and not sleeping well at night because I'm trying to be something I'm not.' "
In the same tirade, Garza blamed his poor results at the end of 2006 on a "dead arm", mostly due to his lack of conditioning in the previous offseason. Rantz, who was instrumental in bringing Garza up to the big club in 2006, responded to these claims by saying "If you had a dead arm, I would think that your velocity would really show that. He threw hard, so if that's what he said, that was his thinking. We didn't think that." According to Fangraphs.com, Garza's fastball while with the Twins was averaging 94-mph, far from a telltale sign of fatigue.
As the Twins tried to keep pace with the front running Indians and Tigers in 2008, Garza was recalled from Rochester, who in 16 starts with the Red Wings had thrown 92 innings while striking out 95 and walking 31. On the last day of June, Garza rejoined the team in Detroit, but had some explaining to do about his earlier comments. "Being sent down was the best thing for me, just for the fact that it helped me gain trust in my pitches. I'll throw a changeup (on a) 3-2 count, and not say, 'Oh my God, maybe maybe maybe,' " he said. "I want to be the best pitcher I can be. If that means I have to take a couple of steps back in order to go forward, they know what's best for me." In all, Garza pieced together a good development season, throwing 175 innings between Rochester and the Twins, striking out 162 and walking 63.
The 2007 season concluded with a whimper and without a postseason berth for the Twins. Moving towards 2008, the team readied themselves for a rebuild mode, as newly annoitted General Manager Bill Smith allowed Torii Hunter to depart through free agency and dangled Johan Santana in front of several suitors. With what appeared to be a surplus of pitchers, Twins began looking to flip one of them for an offensive addition. Ot appeared obvious that Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey, two highly regarded prospects, were the commodities that would acquire the largest returns among all of the prospects in the system. As Garza's ascension was at the forefront of Twins fans' attention, Slowey was putting together a good minor league portfolio even if his major league debut was met with less fanfare. In 353 innings at five different levels, Slowey had struck out 342 and walked just 48. In the end it would be Garza, possibly because of his history of butting head's with the coaching staff, that would be the candidate to headline a six-player trade with Tampa Bay that netted the Twins Delmon Young.
His initial review of the Tampa organization was also a not-to-subtle jab at Minnesota's ability to play tug-o-war with prospects: "The best thing about this is that there's absolutely no pressure," Garza said during spring workouts. "I've got the No. 3 job, I know when I'm toeing it up and all I have to worry about is getting ready. Last year, I was kind of fighting an uphill battle. Here, I'm not fighting anything; I'm just going out there and pitching, and it's been one heck of a ride. It's been a blast."
Later, Garza would remark that his tenure with the Twins was "disappointing. They kept a couple guys I felt I was, I could have done maybe, probably, even better than. It was a rude awakening, a humbling feeling. My whole mentality was, 'Win a spot, win a spot, win a spot. Now it's more get ready for that spot and take it to the next level. Try to be that guy. Everyone wants to be that (Johan) Santana. I want to take it to the next level."
It is nothing new for a former Twins player to take the opportunity to vent about their experience as a Twins prospect. After Todd Walker was traded he told the media that "I think [manager Tom] Kelly can go to the extreme when he talks about what a guy can or can't do. Especially what he can't do." More recently, David Ortiz told the Boston Globe "Something in my swing was not right in Minnesota. I could never hit for power. Whenever I took a big swing, they'd say to me, 'Hey, hey, what are you doing?' So I said, 'You want me to hit like a little bitch, then I will.'" There seems to be a limitless amount of former players ready to opine about the franchise's policy of driving the ball to opposite field, becoming more focused on glove work or obtaining consistency with an off-speed pitch (as was the case with Garza) isn't beneficial to how the individual plays the game. To some, these complaints are justified as evident by Ortiz's 40-plus home run seasons. When Garza did it, it comes off prima donnaish.
In just Garza's second start as a Ray, he left a game against the Mariners experiencing pain in his throwing elbow. He would wind up on the 15-day DL with a radial nerve irritation, an injury that Garza insinuated began while pitching with the Twins last year. The Twins manager was befuddled at these claims. "He never missed a bullpen [session] or a start [here]." said Gardenhire, "I don't know what he's saying. I haven't read it and don't plan on reading it, just based on what you said. Everything was documented on Matt Garza and there were no injuries here."
On June 8th, Garza and catcher Dioner Navarro were face-to-face in the dugout tunnel at the Ballpark at Arlington and had to be physically separated by manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey. This was a continuation stemming from heated words exchanged on the mound during the game. The battery mates ironed out their differences prompting Rays general manager Andrew Friedman to referred to Garza as a "recovering emotionalist." Since the altercation, Garza began having "heart-to-hearts" with manager Joe Maddon and visiting a Cal State-Fullerton sports psychologist, Ken Ravizza, to address his issues dealing with his emotions and "accepting input from others".
Two big victories against the defending champion Boston Red Sox got Garza rewarded with the ALCS MVP following a 2-0 record and allowing just two earned runs in 13 innings while striking out 14. No longer is Garza the number three guy avoiding pressure of big games by ducking the number one label, as he proclaimed when he arrived to the Rays camp in the spring - he will be thrusted into the bright lights of the World Series, squaring off with the likes of Cole Hamels. Which Matt Garza will show up to the World Series? Will it be the one that went toe-to-toe with the Red Sox Nation? Or the one that came toe-to-toe with Dioner Navarre? Has all of the turmoil Garza's been through made him the John Smoltz type pitcher that he is so often compared to since Game 7 or will his emotions get the best of him?
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
GS > 50: 8-4 (3-1)
GS < 50: 3-7 (2-5)
Average Game Score = 48
High Game Score = 74 (7/2 vs. Detroit)
Kevin Slowey - 12-11 (4-1 in no-decisions)
Here's a guy who was not handed one "tough loss" and he owes his offense a debt of gratitude for that. Glen Perkins's record (12-4) significantly outperformed what would have been expect with someone posting a 5.14 FIP thanks to an extra run per start over the team's average (6.23 runs per game). His season outside of that solid winning percentage was of mixed results. He led the staff in home runs allowed (25) and was drilled for 12 home runs over the span of seven starts from August 22nd to September 27th. Those seven games were ugly: 35 1/3 innings pitched, 23 earned runs, 14/10 K/BB ratio, a 5.86 ERA and a .333/.373/.647 opponent batting line with an average Game Score of 40 per start. This could be indicative of several things. The first of which being the total amount of innings pitched. He threw 184 innings split between Rochester and Minnesota, well above his previous high. The second ties the aforementioned inning count which was that Perkins was a year removed for a severe left shoulder injury that forced him to sit out the majority of the 2007 season. Pitching in this territory certainly could have led to a tired arm, one that was throwing a fastball 2-mph slower than in 2007. What we should focus on were his eight games between June 9th and July 18th were Perkins did not allow more than 3 earned runs in any of those starts, averaging Game Scores of 52. In that span, Perkins threw 50 1/3 innings, allowed 19 earned runs, posted a 26/14 K/BB ratio, a 3.40 ERA with an opponent average of .267/.318/.405. This Perkins is more in tune with his minor league track record, where he had a 380/144 K/BB ratio with a 3.50 ERA in 367 2/3 innings pitched. Another offseason of restrengthening his shoulder could result in a sustained performace in 2009 like his June-July stretch.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
In 2008, Baker emerged and grabbed the title of staff ace, leading the rotation with the lowest batting line against of .247/.294/.381. Coming into the season, Scott Baker also had the best record of opponents batting among the three starters in 2007 and I noted that Baker had the stuff to pitch his way into Brandon Inge territory, who in 2007 had a depressed .236/.312/.376 batting line. Going sheerly off of OPS, Baker actually did slightly better than turning batters into Inge (675 OPS versus 678 OPS), but unfortunately for Twins fans, his closest comparable in 2008 was none other than Carlos Gomez (who had an OPS of 656). Baseball-Reference.com has Boof Bonser listed as the closest comparable at age 25 for Baker. Now that he is entering his 27-year-old season in 2009, the similarities between him and Bonser will deviate significantly. Baker will assume his rightful position as a number one or number two starter in the 2009 rotation, giving the Twins an excellent right-left combo with Francisco Liriano, and, if he can remain healthy, should accumulate 200 innings for the first time in his career.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008