Twins Notes (3.20.08)
- Stats Blog recently analyzed the potential break-out players in 2008, 25-and-under, based upon increase in slugging percentage. Prince Fielder had the largest increase of slugging of 135 between 2006 (.483) and 2007 (.618), his second consecutive year with that honor. The 6th overall on the list was Jason Kubel, who increased his slugging percentage 64 points from 2006 (.386) to 2007 (.450). Kubel, a favorite to have a big season based both on his second-half performance in 2007, his peripheral stats and now slugging track record, has had a very strong spring posting a .250/.341/.417 in 36 at-bats with 2 home runs but most importantly 5 walks and only 2 strike outs. "Jason Kubel will be in there every once in a while [italics added]. We have a new baseball team out there. The good thing about it is these guys are game-on. They are all playing pretty good. We have been mixing in a lot of people." Gardenhire said, which echoed previous sentiments he relayed earlier in the month. "Kubel proved he can hit the second half [of 2007]," Gardenhire told columnist Patrick Ruesse, "I've decided that with him what you see is what you're going to get. He's going to be that speed. And when he turns it up a notch, we don't notice. It's not that much of a notch." Although all indications suggest that Kubel is a strong candidate to have a break-out season, his manager is the only one who is seemingly not convinced.
- Speaking of increase in power, over at Lookout Landing, they discovered (thanks to the new Fangraphs charts) that relief pitcher Matt Guerrier had the 6th highest increase of miles per hour on his fastball since 2005 at 2.0%. Not surprisingly, he experienced a proliferation in use as he provided confidence in a bullpen that was reeling with the loss of Jesse Crain and Dennys Reyes in 2007. Along with his fastball, his strikeout rate increased from 12% to 19% from 2006 to 2007. He finished with 14 holds -- one less than Pat Neshek and tied with Juan Rincon. With Crain and Reyes healthy for 2008, Guerrier's role is undefined after giving up as many runs as he has thrown innings this spring (7) and has seen them littered with hits (11) but he also missed four days this spring due to "family issues". Guerrier was listed at one of the potential internal replacements for Joe Nathan as the closer. "With his big breaking ball," Gardenhire said, "as a starter he'd get through two times through the lineup. But now you put him in the pen and let him go through the lineup once, and he eats them up." Guerrier proved to be reasonably effective in late & close situations, especially compared to Rincon (124 plate appearances, .274/.331/.434 versus 96 plate appearances, .298/.372/.452), Guerrier was vastly inferior to Neshek who posted a .135/.220/.262 line in 126 plate appearances. Though the increase in usage in the "late & close" situation suggest that Guerrier may have the make-up to be a closer, Neshek is still the clear choice to be the heir apparent.
- Then again, Joe Nathan is pretty confident that a deal with the Twins is imminent. "They had a good meeting and it seems like both sides are heading in the right direction," said Nathan. "From the way my agent is talking, this thing looks closer to getting done." Nathan, who was second only to Boston's Jonathon Papelbon in save conversion (90.2% to 92.5%), and is deserving of a long-term contract. Unlike various closers with gaudy save numbers Nathan has consistently secure games that have a differential of 2 runs or less while some closers obtain saves with a 3 or 4 run cushion (Cleveland's Joe Borowski and Detroit's Todd Jones come to mind). In spite of his dominance, he hasn't been nearly as unhittable in "late & close" situations as Neshek was in 2007. Nathan, in 199 plate appearances in situations that quantified as "late & close" by Baseball-Reference.com, had a batting line of .219/.284/.331. As mentioned before, Neshek posted a .135/.220/.262 in 126 plate appearances. Though I wouldn't mind a Neshek/Nathan combo in the 8th and 9th, if Nathan is traded mid-season, the Twins are in good hands with the hometown hero.
- While the starting rotation has as much resolve as the plot of Lost, several unexpected pitchers are throwing themselves into the race. Brian Bass certainly has done everything possible to earn a spot. In 10.2 innings this spring, Bass has compiled 8 strike outs, walked only 2 and has had a 1.74 era. "He's put himself in a good situation here to be one of our options, to be one of the guys on our staff," Gardenhire said. "It will probably go right down to the end until we have to make a decision. We like him a lot [but] it's just going to be what is the best fit." Bass re-emerged with the stuff that once made him a prospect in the Royals organization in 2007 and led the organization in greatest increase in strikeout rate from the previous season among Twins minor league prospects (from 11% in 2006 to 19% in 2007). As previously stated, the final spots in the rotation/bullpen have yet to be defined, but the most common names circulating among the Twins writers are Blackburn, Humber and Perkins. Bass has not been granted the opportunity to start in spite of his 2007 performance and early spring dominance while the aforementioned three have all had at least one start a piece. The unfortunate situation for Bass (or more appropriately the Twins) is that he is out of options and will either have to be placed on the team or risked being sent through the waivers before being reassigned to Rochester -- a risky venture considering his most recent numbers and the eternal search for pitching. An argument could have been presented to retain Bass and never sign Livan Hernandez, however, Bass could not contributed that "veteran leadership" that a 33-year-old could supply.