Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Tao of Drew

With Drew Butera's addition to the Twins' Opening Day roster becoming more imminent not happening, we should take a closer inspection as to just who this catcher is.
In 2005, Drew Butera was selected by the New York Mets in the 5th round (149th overall) out of the University of Central Florida.  Butera had just completed a breakout junior season in which he improved leaps and bounds offensively from his sophomore season where he batted .282/.332/.331 with seven extra base hits in 181 at bats to hitting .325/.434/.481 with 20 extra base hits (5 home runs) in 208 at bats a year later. What’s more is that Butera demonstrated greater plate discipline, increasing his walks by 218% (from 11 to 35).   But the offensive contributions were a surprisingly pleasant icing as Butera had already earned the reputation as a great defensive catcher – throwing out 48% of potential base stealers in the Atlantic Sun Conference while posting a .993 fielding percentage.  “Drew is arguably the best catcher we have had at UCF,” said UCF's head coach Jay Bergman.  His stellar defense nearly earned him the Johnny Bench Award, an award presented to the nation’s top collegiate catcher.  In the end, Butera would remain a semifinalist and finished behind winner Jeff Clement, a top prospect in the Mariners organization who slugged over .600 at USC, and Taylor Teagarden, the Rangers top catching prospect.  Butera signed with the Mets for $175,000 and was assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League. 
Butera’s introduction to professional pitching was not without its challenges.  In 55 games for the Cyclones, Butera batted just .217/.305/.297 with 11 extra base hits in 175 at bats (in a league which averages .255/.332/.368) while leading all catchers in the league with 12 errors.  Either way, the Mets were intrigued enough by their new catcher that they extended a non-roster spring training invite to him.  What the Mets found up close was a catching prospect cut from a different cloth.  While most players favor Pop, Hip-Hop, Country and Latin music, Butera showed passion for opera music, listening instead to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti before games.  "This has been an outstanding experience," commented Butera on his first spring training, "You get to see the way the other players carry themselves. There's more maturity here than in college. They are real serious there. Here, you want to win but it seems like they have fun doing it.  I got to be around this a lot growing up with my dad. But to be able to experience it firsthand is amazing. I had to call him yesterday [Thursday] when I got everything set up and let him know what number [92] I was going to be. I told him I was a defensive back but still, everything is exciting."
Lack of knowledge concerning football numeration notwithstanding, the young catcher’s poise was touted by the ever-present scouts.
"I had a conversation with a few scouts about him last night," Former Twin and Drew’s dad Sal, who is a special assistant to the Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, told MiLB.com during the spring training period, "And I have to be careful because I am his father. But I think for a young receiver, he's the total package in terms of receiving the ball, accuracy, strength, blocking the ball, all of it. He just keeps getting better. Where the Mets took him in the draft, I'm glad [general manager] Omar [Minaya] and his staff had the wherewithal to grab him.  He's been around the game his whole life and that's an advantage in itself. If he goes to Port St. Lucie this season it will be a big jump. But I think he can handle it defensively. It's just a matter of how patient they want to be with his offense. But if you saw him when he was a freshman in college, you've already seen how much better he's gotten."
The Mets sent Butera to Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League (A) after his spring training stint.  Behind the plate Butera showed off his cannon arm, scratching out 47% of would-be base stealers, but next to it was a different story.  After spending time working with Lamar Johnson, a former White Sox star in the 1970s, in the Instructional League on trying to recognize pitches faster, Butera failed to bring the lessons with him to the Sally League.  In 295 at bats in 95 games, Butera hit .186/.297/.281 knocking 18 extra base hits while striking out 72 times and walking 42.  After the season, Butera was enlisted in the Hawaii Winter League where his plate troubles followed him (.232 average, rescued by a 5-for-14 streak the last five games), nevertheless, his reputation as a solid game-calling catcher preceded him.  "Drew Butera did a heck of a job behind the plate; the best catcher I've ever thrown to," said Joe Thatcher, Butera’s North Shore Honu battery mate and a Brewers pitching prospect.
In his third season within the Mets organization, he was assigned to Port St Lucie of the Florida State League (A+).  It was there that Butera made significant progress offensively.  In the first-half of the FSL season, Butera kept his average near .300, earning a place at the FSL All-Star game.  Though his average would slip as the season continued, Butera’s .258/.348/.418 with 19 extra base hits and a 24-to-29 walks-to-strikeouts ratio was by far his best composition of his young career, securing him a midseason promotion to Binghampton (AA).  Despite seeing his offensive number slip upon arrival to the Eastern League, Butera showed maturity beyond his years as the Binghampton receiver.  According to Scout.com, Butera made on-the-fly, in-game adjustments with Mets pitching prospect Brandon Nall, calling for more sliders earlier in the count that helps Nell locate his proper arm slot for his fastball.  A month later in the same publication, Butera exposed more insight to his comprehension of his pitchers saying “his slider helped him [pitcher Michael Devaney] helped him stay on top of the ball and stay through his pitches.”
A catcher who listens to opera and processes a pitcher’s game analytically? 
At the trade deadline in 2007, the Twins shipped Luis Castillo to the Mets in exchange for Butera and outfielder Dustin Martin.  While with the New Britain Rock Cats, Butera caught in 15 games, impressing the manager with his ability to control the game.   Offensively, Butera hit .260/.327/.360 with 4 extra base hits in 50 at bats.  After all the shuffling was said and done, Butera had hit .235/.301/.347 with 26 extra base hits with 31-to-55 walks-to-strikeouts in 349 at bats split between two levels and three teams.  "It's the same game [in New Britain], and I appreciate everything the Mets did for me," Butera told reporters while playing in the Arizona Fall League. "But I thank the Twins because they wanted me. It's another door that opened. And my dad was excited because he played for the Twins. He said it was another door opening, too, and that maybe it was a quicker way to the big leagues."


The Twins invited Butera to their 2008 spring training camp, hoping that the former Mets catcher would have some familiarity with some new faces acquired that past offseason from the Johan Santana trade.  Manager Ron Gardenhire gave Butera’s defense a resounding endorsement sayingI think we've all seen that Butera is a really good catch-and-throw guy.  He handles the pitching staff, blocks balls and that's fun to see. Offensively, he's not ready to play here, but I mean defensively, this guy could catch in the big leagues right now." 

After working with Tony Oliva and Rod Carew in the spring, Butera was placed back at New Britain and made subtle improvements at the plate.  "I think a lot of times when I've been inconsistent is when I try to hit the ball too far out in front," Butera self-diagnosed. "So I'm working on letting the ball travel to me and using the whole field."  Butera made small strides at the plate, increasing his walk rate (from 7.4% in 2007 to 9.9% in 2008) and providing a small nugget of pop (from 31.7% xbh% in 2007 to a 39.3% in 2008) while setting a new career home run high (7).  The Eastern League bestowed upon him the title of Best Defensive Catcher as he would post a 33% caught stealing rate. 
Butera entered camp this year with as much of a likelihood of seeing action behind the plate in the Twin Cities as his dad did.  But when Joe Mauer's injury forced the Twins into re-evaluating their catching situation, Butera's defensive prowess came to the forefront.  Yes, higher on the depth chart is Jose Morales - the switch-hitting catcher with a minor league career .283/.328/.377 - who has experience above the AA level, but by all indications, Butera is a far superior reciever and has the capability of being Joe Mauer's full-time caddy in 2010.  
The pitching staff will be so lucky.   

Monday, March 30, 2009

Twins Notes (03.30.09)

After losing to Boston 9-4 on Saturday, the Twins have officially lost the previous three Mayor's Cups.  Francisco Liriano gave up home runs to David Ortiz, Rocco Baldelli and Jason Bay as the Red Sox pitchers shut down the Twins.  Matt Tolbert hit his third home run of the spring off of Javier Lopez but the effort fell short and once again the Twins vacate Florida runners up to the Red Sox.  Hopefully Baltimore will be moving into the Red Sox's old spring training facility soon. 

On Sunday, after a brief interlude of rain the Twins downed the Cardinals, 5-3Kevin Slowey continued his dominance, adding two strikeouts of Albert Pujols to his already impressive spring resume.  In 20 1/3 spring innings, Slowey has compiled an impressive 20-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.  Carlos Gomez drove in two on a double in the second inning.  Backup catcher candidate Drew Butera added another RBI double in the eighth inning.   
Kelly Thesier reports that the Twins sent Charles Nolte to the Yankees solidifying Rule 5 draft pick Jason Jones as a member of the organization.  Nolte, a 23-year-old right-handed reliever, spent 2008 at Beloit (A) where he threw 70 1/3 innings, posting a 2.05 ERA and a 75-to-35 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.  Drafted in 2007, Nolte is an extreme groundball machine, possessing a career minor league groundball percentage of 71%.  This will undoubtedly erode somewhat as Nolte ascends the developmental ladder and his control is a bit un-Twin-like (4.39 BB/9), however, he was an intriguing prospect within the Twins system that combined a high-strikeout rate (9.26 K/9) with groundballs.  The 26-year-old Jones, who has worked 10 innings this spring striking out five and walking three, is described as major league ready but will start the season at Rochester (AAA). 
La Velle E. Neal writes that Joe Mauer is being inundated by fans offering various solutions to his sacroiliac joint inflammation.  The upside is that Mauer is feeling the best he has felt the entire spring.  The downside is that he has been taking nerve tonic which has now created an extreme case of gigantism
Nick Nelson summerizes the American League and provides a player-to-watch for each team. 
Erin Kathleen at Plunking Gomez looks at the career of the great Tony Oliva.  How good was Tony O?  As a 25-year-old rookie in 1964, Oliva would lead the American League in batting (.323), runs scored (109), total hits (217), total bases (374) and doubles (43).  His offensive on-slaught was so feared, that the following year in 1965, Oliva's intentional walk totals shot up to 12, fourth among league leaders (Don Mincher's 15 and Harmon Killebrew's 12 also headlined that list which tells you how fearsome that lineup truly was).  What is also amazing about that season in which Oliva won the Rookie of the Year was his ability to smash right-handed pitching (.341/.380/.616) all over the prairie ground of Bloomington, but saw his bat silenced versus same-sided pitching (.269/.299/.377). 
For further analysis on the Twins outfield situation, be sure to check out Josh Johnson's thoughts on the matter.
Interesting.  Former Twin Torii Hunter has a sinus infection, gets thwacked in the nose by a ball that caroms off the outfield wall then in subsequent X-rays, doctors inform him that his infection is cleared.  His nose is apparently Arthur Fonzarelli's jukebox.
Finally, the stable of Twins writers at Baseball Digest will be taking a crack at preseason predictions this week.  First up, the MVP awards.  Fifty percent of the writers picked a Twin.  Go figure. 


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Where Does Nick Blackburn Go From Here?

Nick Blackburn is of that cut from utilitarian ilk, plodding, methodical and workmanlike.  He appears of the caliber that supplies thousands of man-hours with nary a thanks, nor the ingrained desire to recieve one.  He bridged the rotation from March until the last night in September, making the most starts of anyone in a Twins uniform (33) and working the most innings (193).  On top of that, he was given the start in the biggest of the 163 games played all year - a game in which he made just one mistake to Jim Thome, a player that has capitalized on Twins pitchers' mistakes for eons (hitting 55 career home runs so far).  Yet it is as if fans and analysts have already dismissed him; there's Baker, Liriano, Slowey, Perkins and The Other Guy.  When Blackburn's early spring training knee issue came to light recently, the matter took a backseat to the more popular media stories of Boof Bonser and Joe Nathan's respective shoulders, Joe Mauer's back and the OctoMom's fertilizer fluid donor.  It would seem that he would have trouble finding a shower if he were lit on fire.
Coming into spring training, the Twins starting pitchers have their careers well defined.  Scott Baker secured several years this past offseason with a long-term contract.  Francisco Liriano has been the golden child since 2006 and just needs that full season back to prove it before cashing in.  Kevin Slowey is next on the list obtain his tenured contract.  Glen Perkins has a solid minor league pedigree, a Minnesota birthright and a left-handed throwing arm.  Nick Blackburn is the odd-man out of the rotation.
To be blunt, his moderate success was somewhat hollow.  While Blackburn worked well enough to hold the rotation together for the duration of the 2008 season, internally, the front office began to look elsewhere at the trade deadline, specifically asking the Mariners about overpriced starter Jarrod Washburn in order to place Blackburn in the bullpen.  It wasn't that he was terrible in the second-half but his peripherals took a nasty left-turn.  In his 118 first-half innings, Blackburn possessed a 4.87 K/9 and a 1.37 BB/9 while giving up 0.91 HR/9.  His final 75 innings witnessed a significant drop in strikeouts (3.84 K/9) and a walks inflation (2.52 BB/9) and he began giving up an alarming amount of home runs (1.32 HR/9).  This was obviously the byproduct of pitching more innings in a single-season than he had in any other minor league year.  In addition to that digression midseason, his 4.04 ERA was controlled by the fact that he was not credited 15 runs due to shoddy defense. This was the second-most among pitchers who threw a minimum of 190 innings, trailing the White Sox Gavin Floyd who had 19.  With those runs debited to his account, Blackburn had a 4.75 RA.  Among that same group of pitchers that threw 190 innings, Blackburn was third from the bottom in K/9 with 4.47.  Unlike the aforementioned Perkins who had a low K/9 as well (4.41 K/9), Perkins had a solid 8.76 K/9 in 311 minor league innings while Blackburn managed a 4.90 K/9 in 450 innings.  Perkins's past provides opportunity for a rebound as Blackburn is probably destined to have one under 5.0.  
At 27 in 2009, Blackburn is as close to a finished product as you are going to get.  His repertoire does not feature any particular strikeout pitch (his two best WHIFF pitches - slider and change - he throws less than 16% of the time combined and even then they are both well-under .200 to be consider a true strikeout out-pitch).  His development pattern does not support the idea that his strikeout rate will spike either.  At this point in his career, he is what he is, a guy that doesn't issue free passes and is indebted to the play of the seven other guys behind him.     
So where does Blackburn project in the future?  The Twins once had the identical pitcher named Carlos Silva. Both Silva and Blackburn demonstrated excellent control, worked for groundball contact and chewed up innings.  If it were not for being delivered three years apart and on separate continents, you would suspect that they were fraternal twins.  Silva's career arc should be a strong message to Blackburn.  The Twins balked at paying Silva any more than his market value (and rightly so) when he reached free agency and the organization simply pulled the Chief from the Pitchers' Kleenex box, disposed of him and up popped Blackburn, a pitcher groomed with the identical skillset - all for a fraction of the price.  Because of this commonality, it is apparent that Nick Blackburn will suffer a similar fate as Silva: become a former Twin. 
Blackburn's current value should not be understated.  His contract is cheap and under control for two more seasons (he was worth $11.2 million while earning only $450,000).  His ability to alleviate usage of the bullpen is noteworthy as well as his miserly base-on-ball allowance.  The problem is, this is the type of performance that other organizations overvalue for the wrong reasons, and end up overexerting themselves financially to acquiring through free agency or through trades.  Fortunately, the Twins farm system is laden with control artists in waiting.  The 2009 Baseball Prospectus suggests in the players' comments that "[Kevin] Mulvey is waiting for one of the generic pitchers in front of him to yield a spot somewhere on the staff".  Rest assured that the unidentified generic pitcher BP speaks of is probably that of Nick Blackburn. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Twins Historical Player Profile: Doug Corbett

The Minnesota Twins finished the 1979 season smack-dab in the middle of the AL West at 82-80.  That season, the offense scored 4.71 runs per game led by shortstop Roy Smalley would provided 5.6 batting wins.  The pitching staff relied on the aging Jerry Koosman (20-13), Dave Goltz (14-13) and Geoff Zahn (13-7) and had a fairly supportive bullpen that possessed a cumulatively 3.42 ERA.  At the back-end of the relief staff the Twins had a workhorse in the 36-year-old Mike Marshall
Marshall, a former Cy Young winner in 1974, signed a two-year, $300,000 contract prior to the 1979 season and would make 90 relief appearances (most in the AL), throw over 140 innings, and save 32 games (most in the AL) that year.  The late innings specialist would grab 10 victories and post a 2.65 ERA but also led the team in losses with 15 while converting 76% of his save opportunities.  The surprising Twins found themselves in second-place in the AL West as late as August 15th, behind the division-leading California Angels by two games.  Marshall, however, would finish 0-6 in the final two months of the season as the Twins would tailspin to an 18-24 finish. 
The local ownership began to question Marshall's capabilities and began to look elsewhere for answers.  The front office identified an unprotected reliever in the Cincinnati Reds organization was intriguing enough to secure using a Rule 5 draft pick.  Doug Corbett, a former free agent signed by the Kansas City Royals out of the University of Florida, came equipped with a heavy sinker/slider combination and at the age of 27, the Twins felt that he was Major League-ready.   
Making 73 appearances in his belated rookie season, Corbett averaged 1.8 innings per outing, a trademark of manager Gene Mauch's usage of relief specialists.  Though the season was a disappointment for a team that had regressed from an 82-80 season in 1979 to 77-84, Corbett contributed 23 saves and posted an ERA+ of 220.  His 23 saves was a rookie record that stood until Baltimore's Gregg Olson topped that in 1989 as a 22-year-old rookie with 27 saves; it was an introductory performance garnered Corbett enough votes for third place in the AL Rookie of the Year award (Super Joe Carboneau for the Indians would go home with the hardware).  The Twins, smitten with their newest fireman, signed Corbett to a two-year, $500,000 contract. 
In the strike-segmented 1981 season, Corbett would pitch in 54 of the team's 109 total games finishing with 17 saves and a 2.57 ERA (ERA+ 154) while working an average of 1.6 innings per outing.  His save conversion rate would take a hit as he would save just 68% of his opportunities, a serious drop from his 76% in 1981.  As a team, the Twins took a turn for the worse as well.  The offense supplied the second-fewest runs per game (3.44) - leading only the anemic Toronto Blue Jays - a pitiful showing that less than 8,000 Twin Citians on average witnessed in person in the team's final season at Metropolitan Stadium.  Through all of the turmoil, Corbett was the Twins' only bright spot, earning the team's lone All Star representative berth. 
By 1982, the franchise had crash-landed in their new home in downtown Minneapolis - and so did Corbett.  In just ten games from April 7th to May 8th, opponents smashed him all over the field, hitting .300/.370/.467 in that time while blowing three saves.  Looking to employ the young, inexpensive talent, the Twins sent Corbett along with Rob Wilfong (28) to the California Angels in May for Tom Brunansky, Mike Walters and $400,000.  On America's right coast, Corbett's fortitude would be questioned when he would be known for yelling "Look out!" after releasing high-and-tight fastballs. 
Corbett would have several successful seasons with California, helping the bullpen in the 1986 playoffs, but would struggle in Baltimore a year later and made his last Major League appearance on July 30th, 1987.  He would later pitch in the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1989 and 1990 and is now coaching in his home state of Florida. 

This article is also found at Baseball Digest. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Twins Notes (03.23)

The Twins throttled a Blue Jays lineup that had left the majority of their starters at home 11-to-6.  First baseman Justin Morneau finished 2-for-2 with a home run and three RBIs while third baseman Joe Crede had one hit, a run-scoring double, and walked twice. On the mound, Scott Baker's spring struggles continued as he allowed four earned runs on nine hits while registering five strikeouts in 4.2 innings of work.  Kelly Thesier says Jose Mijares left after he gave up two earned runs in less than an inning of work following an incident in which he was spiked in the ankle while covering first base. 
With hopes of cracking the opening day roster slipping away with each outing this spring, Joe Christensen submits an interesting profile on reliever Jose Mijares, shedding more light on his winter league issues, family background and the Twins view of his preseason weight problems.   Mijares has worked seven innings this spring and has walked nine while striking out six with a gaudy 12.98 spring ERA.  If Mijares is indeed optioned to Rochester, the Twins will likely bring the left-handed Brian Duensing north with the club.  In 10 innings of work, Duensing has given up just one earned run leading to a 0.90 ERA (which is a slight misrepresentation of his actual performance in which he has allowed four runs total, resulting in a 3.60 RA).  Because he is a pitcher that throws to contact, Duensing might project better as a back-of-the-rotation starter rather than a reliever.   
Phil Miller informs us that manager Ron Gardenhire is having second baseman Alexi Casilla take additional fielding practice to reduce the "tiny stutter-steps" he takes when approaching the bag during a potential double-play.  In 833 innings at second base in 2008, Casilla turned 42 double plays -- approximately 0.45 double plays turned per nine innings.  For comparison's sake, Texas's Ian Kinsler led all second baseman with 0.60 double plays turned per nine innings, making 71 relays in 1,062 innings.  With his combination of speed and arm strength, Casilla has the necessary components to compile a solid defensive season.  Casilla's biggest flaw, according to John Dewan's Fielding Bible analysis, is his inability to make plays ranging to his right which shows he has made 11 fewer plays in that direction than the average second baseman.       
Seattle Time's Geoff Baker provides a nice career eulogy for former Twin Corey Koskie.  Baker covered Koskie in 2005 while playing for Toronto and noted that if players on the team he currently follows had played with as much "focus and drive on every pitch" as Koskie did that their "results and reputations would be a whole lot better".
When you finish last in your division after entering the 2008 season with unprecedented expectations and find that your aging talent is incapable of generating offense this spring, your local baseball coverage might attempt different angles to interject some positivity.  For example, John Lowe at the Detroit Free Press presents former Twin and new Tiger shortstop Adam Everett's take on Joe Mauer's injury. 
The latest member of the expanding list of Twins writers at Baseball Digest, Alex Halsted, submits his preposition for replacing Mauer.  As does Aaron Gleeman.  With Ivan Rodriguez mercifully in Houston, it is now a two-man race between Jose Morales and Drew Butera (although both may be carried north for different skillsets).  In my player write-ups in the 2009 Hardball Times Season Preview, one player comment that was omitted prior to publishing was that of Butera.  Because of his inexperience above AA and generally lethargic offense, I stated that Butera has about the same chances as his dad Sal does at seeing time playing time for the Twins in 2009.  Yes, it was a snarky comment and I could have filed that tidbit away and no one would have been any wiser but deep down I know that I should be eating crow. 

At Beyond the Boxscore, RJ Anderson profiles the 2002 Minnesota Twins through win value.  Somehow Denny Hocking was allowed to have 294 plate appearances that year.  Yikes.  
John Bonnes responds to Patrick Reusse's diatribe outlining the Twins roster situation.  Reusse predicts that the Twins will head north with infielders Brian Buscher and Matt Tolbert at the expense of Brendan Harris.  Bonnes refutes this by suggesting that the front office will recognize the fact that both Buscher and Tolbert can be optioned and Harris would have to encounter A) an injury or B) another organization interested in his services. 
Erin Kathleen lists Five Things that she believes will work in favor of the Twins in 2009.   For a good chance at winning the division, the Twins probably will need four of them to happen, especially having Jesse Crain to solidify the bullpen set-up role. 

For those that are unsatisfied with sports talk radio format being limited to talk radio shows, the Twins will begin fielding calls, emails and recorded questions from fans in the stands during the spring training broadcasts on KSTP (AM 1500) writes Judd Zulgad.  Long-time broadcasting trio of John GordonDan Gladden and Jack Morris will limit the play-by-play and focus more on interaction with the listeners and fans, a feature that the Twins are copying from the Chicago White Sox. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Odds. Ends. (03.18)

Chicago White Sox
  • Bartolo Colon's first spring outing for the Sox didn't go according to plan.  The Sun-Time's Joe Cowley reports that in his inning-and-two-thirds of work against the Royals, Colon labored heavily to throw strikes, hitting the zone in just 22 of his 40 pitches. ''The most important thing is he was out there healthy, healthier,'' manager Ozzie Guillen said. ''I could say everything about Contreras because I've known Jose for four or five years. Colon, I haven't seen him pitch in a little while. Obviously, his ball was up a little bit. ... His velocity was good enough for me. He did what I expect." The 36-year-old's results are somewhat textbook considering that he recent underwent elbow clean-up surgery.  As a rule, shoulder injuries wind up with decreased velocity while the elbow injury sufferers usually have more problems with control. 
Minnesota Twins
  • La Velle notes the Twins are determined to use Denard Span defensively - with the expense of playing musical lineups with Carlos Gomez, Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young.  The Twins are favoring using him in left field which would be the most efficient implementation of his skills.  The Metrodome has an expansive left-center field area and a Span-Gomez combination would cover a portion of that.  The downside is that Span has never been asked to field left before.  "It's just something I have to learn how to do," Span said. "It's not that I can't do it. I've just never done it in my short career. That's the biggest thing, learning how to play different positions day in and day out.  I play left field today and the ball is slicing this way, and the next day the ball is slicing the opposite way."  In his brief tenure as the Twins right fielder in 2008 (686 innings), Span was ranked the sixth overall best right field defender according to John Dewan's Fielding Bible.   
  • Over at Fangraphs, Dave Cameron ranks the Twins as the 18th overall organization...one slot behind the White Sox.  Discuss. 
  • The Brewers have designated former Twins relief prospect Eduardo Morlan to assignment after selecting him from Tampa in the Rule 5 draft according to Tom Haudricourt.  The Rays can either allow the Brewers to keep him, or buy him back for $25,000.  Brewers GM Doug Melvin echoed the same sentiment regarding Morlan that one Twins official told me: "We like his arm but that's not our call right now," said Melvin.
 Cleveland Indians
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes celebrated the switch-hitting skills of Indians second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera.  Hoynes notes that Cabrera was taught to be a switch-hitter when he was three-years-old in Venezuela so, therefore, he is a "natural".  Admittedly, Cabrera's minor league splits are that of a disciplined hitter from either side of the plate (.752 OPS RH/.780 OPS LH), but his major league experience has fallen short of his development numbers: in as a left-handed batter he has a .661 OPS with a .957 OPS batting right-handed.  This is not so much a degradation of Cabrera's talents as it is indictment of the media's preconceived notions about switch-hitters: sometimes it is more beneficial to bench a switch-hitter when he is facing a pitcher from his inferior plate side in favor of a platoon instead of wedging the switch-hitter in simply because he fits (I find the managers love it because it is a no-brainer).  The legendary Eddie Murray was viewed as one of the best switch-hitters of all-time but even his numbers suggest that he was better from the left-side (.857 OPS) than his right (.787). 
  • I specifically noted Murray because it gives me the opportunity to forward on this 2003 Joe Christensen article written while he was with the Baltimore Sun (for whatever reason, I keep picturing Christensen with a mullet as I read this...) on the former O's and Indian slugger Eddie Murray.   Christensen - or possibly another reporter - poses the question to Orioles former scouting director Dave Ritterpusch if Murray would have made the Hall had he not been a switch-hitter.  As I highlighted above, he was a better hitter from the left-side, hitting 362 of his 504 career home runs from that batter's box, his non-natural side. 
Kansas City Royals
  • The Twins might not be done with the likes of Sir Sidney Ponson -- according to Bob Dutton at the Kansas City Star, the Royals have signed Ponson to a minor league contract and an invitation to spring training (the 19 days or so left anyways).  In his WBC audition, Ponson worked 9 innings and posted a 4.00 ERA while walking 4 and striking out 4.  After headlining the Netherlands quasi-interesting upset over the Dominican Republic, Ponson will report to Arizona and face the Mariners on Wednesday. 
  • In 2008, Royals catcher John Buck hit .224/.304/.365 - numbers that were fairly consistent with his career line but wiuth a dip in his power.  Buck reveals the source behind his struggles at the plate which puts a human face on why sometimes production declines, something we number-crunchers often forget or don't have access to when providing our analysis.  Buck's wife delivered twins in May - one was hanging on with medical support.  “I had my wife in the hospital,” Buck recalled. “I had one of my boys, Brody, literally on a lifeline with oxygen.  I didn’t want to bring it up. I was having a bad season, and I didn’t want to make it sound like an excuse. To me, that would have been a loser’s excuse. So I kept that private."
Detroit Tigers


  • The Tigers are in such a bullpen predicament that they have invited Juan Rincon to camp and threw over $4 million to Brandon Lyon to help solidify an open sore that was once a bastion of talent in 2006 during their World Series run.  Once again, the young flamethrower that was the centerpoint of the 2006 bullpen, Joel Zumaya, is having shoulder pains that is keeping him from throwing this spring.  After manager Jim Leyland said on Sunday that Zumaya would be ready by Opening Day, Jon Paul Morosi's article in the Detroit Free Press raises plenty of doubts.  After being diagnosed by Dr. James Andrews with an inflammed rotator cuff (not a good cuff to have inflammed), Zumaya started having spasms behind his shoulder, keeping him inactive this spring.  What was once a promising career is now teetering on the brink of being extinguished.   

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What Should Be Done With Mijares?

After a brief yet successful ten outings in a call up last September, a solid contingency of Twins fans were ready to anoint Jose Mijares the bullpen savior in 2009.  Since this audition however, Mijares has showed glimpses of a potential attitude problem and apathy towards his physical conditioning. 
In the 2008 Baseball Prospectus Annual, the commentator noted that Mijares' "attitude was a concern, as it seems that he doesn't like baseball as much as he's simply good at it."  These words were scribed months prior to Mijares' meltdown in Venezuela and it wound up being prophetic.  The Twins shuttled Mijares south to the Venezuelan Winter League in order to consume more innings considering the majority of his development in 2008 was sidetracked by a car accident a year ago while pitching in the same league.  His winter began much like his season ended: In 28 outings, Mijares worked 25 2/3 innings, striking out 32 and walking 12 while posting an ERA of 1.40.  However, the Twins reliever would find himself at odds with Tigres de Aragua manager Buddy Bailey, resulting in Mijares being a no-show to multiple games.  The feud culminated in Bailey scratching Mijares from the playoff roster in spite of Mijares' obvious success.  For their part, the Twins front office revealed little insight as to their interpretation of the events.  "I'm not sure [Mijares] handled it as well as anyone would have liked," Twins General Manager Bill Smith told reporters in January, sounding more like a parent that had been informed their child was acting out in class. 
The silver-lining that came from the winter ball incident was that the Twins were able to stress to Mijares that nothing is guaranteed -- his spot on the roster is going to have to be earned in the spring.  "If he comes to camp thinking he's a lock for our bullpen, he'll probably be in [Class AAA] Rochester after our first cuts," Smith said. "If he pitches the way he did in September, he has a good chance of making our club."  A introduction to Rochester would be wildly beneficial to the long-term development of Mijares' career.  Consider that including his 10 innings in September, Mijares has thrown just 19 total innings above Class AA. You can believe that teams scheduled to face the Twins in September must have been feverishly contacting scouts and coaches that had seen Mijares in AA in 2007 for some semblance of a scouting report.  Consider that he faced just 34 batters in his stint with the Twins in 2008.  Had Danny Valencia or Luke Hughes showed similar success in 34 plate appearances at the Major League level, this would be quickly dismissed as a small sample size rather than sustainable output.  Likewise, Mijares' 2008 should be viewed as just that, a small sample size success. 
Have you noticed that the Twins front office is more obsessive about weight loss than the trainers on NBC's Biggest Loser?  Last year it was Boof Bonser that needed lighten the load.  This year the Large Marge Award goes to Mijares.  Bonser's bio states that he is six-foot-four carrying 260 pounds, which is downright America's Next Top Model-ish compared to Mijares whose six-foot-even frame is carrying 230 pounds on his comparatively more squat body.  Following a team meeting at the conclusion of the 2008 season, manager Ron Gardenhire prodded Mijares to drop some of the extra weight before spring camp.  So far, Mijares has disappointed the coaching staff with his conditioning program.  During an outing on March 7th against the Pirates, Mijares summoned the manager and trainer to the mound after doubling over following a play that had him covering first and indicated that he had "tweaked" his ankle.  Gardenhire later dismissed this to the media, saying "I think he was out of breath.  He's a work in progress."

The weight and focus issues should not detract from Jose Mijares as a pitcher, however.  Nobody is questioning his talent - scouts like his fastball that can reach the mid-90's and his complementary slider with stomach-churning break.   Yes, the mental state of preparedness and extra poundage raises the concern over endurance and what his second-half might look like with substandard conditioning, both mentally and physically, but he has succeeded at every level in his career.  In 265-plus minor league innings, Mijares accumulated 319 strikeouts to 151 walks - a little over two strikeouts to every walk.  Throughout those levels, Mijares showed that he could retire both left-handed and right-handed opponents with ease, producing a .198 BA versus lefties and a .213 BA versus righties.  On top of that, nobody managed to find a way to hit his offerings squarely (opponents have hit line drives just 9% of the time against him). 
Unfortunately for Mijares, this spring has been littered with sub-par performances and ultimately failing to exert himself as the dominate reliever that the Twins need -- allowing six runs while striking out four and walking seven in 4 2/3 innings of work.  Giving Mijares the opportunity to refine his abilities to begin the 2009 season is the right decision for the organization. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Friday Flotsam

Former Twin Craig Monroe blasted three home runs, single-handedly lifting the Pirates over the Twins 6-4.  Centerfielder Carlos Gomez hit his third home run of the spring, raising his spring slugging to .818, as first base prospect Brock Peterson went 2-for-3 with a double.  Gomez is showing much improvement this spring, his three home runs and five extra base hits lead the team, and there is hope for his plate discipline as well.  Peterson, meanwhile, spent the majority of 2008 in the Twins' AA affiliate with a wOBA of .346 (a decline from his 2007 campaign in AA of .386) and will likely start 2009 in AAA. 

Two of Monroe's three home runs came off of Twins starter and newly extended Scott Baker.  Kelly Thesier reports that Baker blamed the lack of control and bite on his breaking balls.  In 10 innings this spring Baker has surrendered six home runs.  Baker has been a fly ball-oriented pitcher that has been blessed with a lower than average Home Run-to-Fly Ball percentage in 2008.  As such, Baker might see a few more of those flyballs sneak over the fence in 2009 as his HR/FB% normalizes.  
Twins set-up man Jesse Crain has developed a "slurve" (slider-curve combination) and is ready to unleash it on unsuspecting opponents says Joe Christensen.  Last season, Crain was recovering from a torn labrum and rotator cuff (the same injury Boof Bonser has this season) that ended his 2007 prematurely.  His velocity rebounded back to his pre-surgery levels, leading to a career-high 7.18 K/9, however his control was off, resulting in a career-high 3.33 BB/9.  Still, not shabby for a guy returning for major shoulder repair.  Crain is targeted as the replacement for Pat Neshek's innings and a guy that continues his strikeout trend while issuing fewer walks would be worth his weight in gold. 
Speaking of relievers recovering from torn labrum surgery, it appears that former Nationals closer Chad Cordero is no longer an option.  Geoff Baker reports that the Seattle Mariners have enlisted his services through a minor league contract and an invitation to spring training.  Cordero is a minimal financial risk for the Mariners but ran the gamut of shoulder tendinitis, torn lat muscle and then ultimately his labrum in 2008.  A rather soft-tossing reliever to begin with, the chances that Cordero will be an impact pitcher in the Mariners bullpen with his injury history is miniscule. 
Charley Walters says that Twins GM Bill Smith rebuffed representatives of Barry Bonds who has been looking for employment.  Yeah, it's getting that bad for Bonds. 
The Rochester Red Wings are soon-to-be TV stars and Phil Miller has some early advice for those that plan to tune in: keep your eyes on team trainer Tony Leo.  The reasoning is that Leo is the only one strapped up with a cell phone in the dugout getting the early call if a player from the Twins succumbs to an injury. 

Twinkie Town's Adam Peterson put his computer to work and churned out a great breakdown on team baserunning.  According to Peterson's calculations, Minnesota was the most aggressive team on the basepaths and the second-best in "Non-SB baserunning" behind the World Champion Phillies.  By comparison, Bill James' findings state that the 2008 Twins were 4th overall at non-SB baserunning under their accounting systems (ranking the Phillies 8th overall). 
KFAN's Phil Mackey runs down the 15 Worst-Projected Hitters for 2009 -- on that list are Nick Punto, Carlso Gomez and Alexi Casilla.
This morning at 11:30 AM I will be guest of Mark Healey on Baseball Digest LIVE.  You can listen live by clicking here or catch a recording at your own leisure.  Be sure you go to Baseball Digest's Twins page for Josh Johnson's memorial of Kirby Puckett


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Odds. Ends. (03.10)

Chicago White Sox
  •  The Sox remain optimistic about Bartolo Colon's progress.  "Bartolo has tremendous pitchability (editor's note: Pitchability?  Is that like Budweiser's Drinkibility?),'' White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. ''He's got really good movement, and he can change speeds. He threw fastballs and changeups only, and we spun about three breaking balls. Everything went good for him.  The feeling I'm getting, and he's saying it a little bit: 'I've got more. I've got more.' But we don't need more right now. More ain't better, and where he's at is fine. We're going to continue to progress from here.''  Colon has not thrown more than 100 innings since 2005 plus he has a ton of mileage on his arm from his younger days with the Indians when he frequently threw 130-pitch games in his early 20s, making the idea that he will be able to provide an entire season as a number four or five starter is a bit of a stretch for the 36-year-old who is coming off of minor elbow surgery. 
  • The Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley handicaps the positional battles for second, centerfield and third. 
  • According to BillJamesOnline.net, the White Sox had a net gain of -20 bases while on the basepaths (by comparison, the Twins were +67 bases on the year).  Apparently, the White Sox are once again looking to rely on the long ball considering the way they run the bases.  So far this spring, AJ Pierzynski was doubled off of first on a fly ball and Josh Fields was thrown out advancing to third twice. 
Minnesota Twins
  • As Joe Mauer's prolonged absence from spring training continues, more and more fans on message boards have been looking outside the organization for potential catching help.  For some unknown reason, Ivan Rodriguez's name keeps being mentioned.  At this juncture in his career, I-Rod is an obvious backup catcher.  The 37-year-old catcher is showing signs of aging: 
    • Since 2005, Rodriguez has had a sharply declining WPA: -0.99 in 2005, -1.06 in 2006, -1.93 in 2007 and -2.24 last season.
    • Likewise over those seasons, Rodriguez saw his power drain: .169 Isolated Power Average in 2005, .137 ISOP in 2006, .139 ISOP in 2007 and .118 last year.
    • His second-half in 2008 showed major decay hitting .252/.296/.362 in 134 plate appearances after hitting .288/.330/.410 in 294 plate appearances to open the season.  The same problem occured in 2007 when he hit .271/.282/.382 after hitting .288/.302/.447 in the first half.
    • Defensively, his ability to throw runners out has been declining as well going from 51.4% CS% in 2005, 50.9% in 2006, 30.8% in 2007 and 32.4% in 2008.  (Well, from superhuman to human anyways but a sign of deterioration nonetheless).
  • There is another camp that is hellbent on catching prospect Wilson Ramos as the replacement for an injured Joe Mauer.  "I really like this Ramos kid," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I think this kid's a pretty good player. He's a big, strong kid who can hit a ball a long ways."  True, the 21-year-old Ramos shows great power potential, slugging .434 in the Florida State League last season when the average slugging was .376.  The problem, however, is that Ramos has not played above high-A which puts him at a great disadvantage when facing Major League pitching.  Even though it is a crude calculation, Jeff Sackmann's Minor League Equivalency calculator suggests that Ramos's .288/.346/.434 in the FSL would have translated into a batting line of .226/.271/.326 at the MLB-level.   
Cleveland Indians
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto is reporting that former Cardinals super prospect Anthony Reyes "has been the most impressive pitcher in camp. Not in terms of stuff, but just savvy and looking ready to go. Not surprised -- those six starts, that 1.83 ERA and 12 walks in 34 1/3 innings with the Tribe late last season said a lot. Now, keep that elbow healthy." Reyes, who was traded late last year to the Indians and went 2-1 with a 1.83 ERA in six starts, has had a long history of elbow/arm problems. According to Driveline Mechanics, Reyes is going to have to work on his delivery if he has any intention of staying healthy for any extended periods of time.  
  • I mentioned before that the White Sox had a pitiful -20 net gain in their team baserunning while the Twins had a +67 net gain running the bases.  The Indians as a team led both of them with a net gain of +74 last year. 
Kansas City Royals
  • Royal utility man Esteban German was released after he cleared waivers on Monday.  German was the causuality of the Juan Cruz signing and was designated for assignment shortly there after.  German had a solid 2006 campaign in which he hit .326/.442/.459 in 331 plate appearances but he regressed significantly over the next few seasons finishing 2008 hitting .245/.303/.338 in 242 plate appearances.  Because of his infield versatility, he will likely become filler for a AAA roster. 
Detroit Tigers

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Fabulous Baker Boy

For his first several years of MLB service time, Scott Baker enjoyed building his frequent flyer portfolio by bouncing between Minneapolis and Rochester from 2005 until this past season where, without an identifiable frontline starter (unless you consider Livan Hernandez a frontline starter and I certainly don't), Baker stepped up as the leader of the rotation going 11-4 in his 28 starts and increased his K/9 from 6.39 in 2007 to 7.32 in 2008.  That's not all:
  • His FIP was the sixth-best among qualified starters in the AL Central (but would quickly ascend the list due to the departure of Javier Vazquez). 
  • Had it not been for the phenomenal season by the Indians' Cliff Lee, Baker would have captured the title of best WHIP in the division at 1.18 - instead he has to settle for second-best in the Central and fifth overall in the American League.  
  • His 3.35 K/BB finished second only to Lee once again in the division and sixth behind the good company of names like Halladay, Beckett, Mussina, Santana and Shields.  This was an improvement of two places from 2007 when he finished eighth in that category. 









S. Baker








Given this progress it seemed like a natural decision that the Twins signing him to a four-year, $15.25 million dollar contract with an option for a fifth season worth $9.25, effectively buying out his three arbitration years for $14.5 million.       








S. Baker


$3 M

$5 M

$6.5 M

$9.25 (Option)

= $15.25 M ($24.5 w/ Option Year)

Red = Arbitration Years Bought
Green = Free Agent Years
Given the lengthy commitment to purchasing Baker's arbitration years, a quick due diligence should be paid to figure if Baker can sustain his 2008 output over the course of the contract. 
Though it may not seem obvious considering his velocity is a rather middle-of-the-road 91.7-mph but Scott Baker possessed the best fastball in the American League Central in 2008.  According to my WHIFF breakdown, among starting pitchers that made a minimum of 20 starts, Scott Baker had the highest WHIFF (.176).  What's more is that Baker's fastball WHIFF was in a league of its own in 2008 among the qualified candidates -- as 17.6% of all swings on the pitch reached the catcher's mitt.   On average the AL Central featured swing-and-misses on just 8.5% (.085 WHIFF) of fastballs.  For the record, Greinke's 14.6% (.146 WHIFF) was second only to Baker (followed then by Fausto Carmona, Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar). 
Baker ranked second in the American League in out-of-zone swings (31.5%) thanks to his slider (.278 WHIFF) set up with his impeccable control of his fastball.  Only Ervin Santana and his sick slider (.387 WHIFF) featured an out-of-zone swing percentages higher than Baker (31.7%).In 2007, Baker was the most chased pitcher in the American League among those throwing at least 140 innings (33.7%). 



Curve WHIFF / %

Slider WHIFF/ %

Change WHIFF/%



.127 / 59.9%

.200 / 5.8%

.259 / 29.5%

.200 / 4.5%



.176 / 61.8%

.180 / 7.2%

.278 / 19.7%

.159 / 4.5%


ARM INJURY RISK (the Joe Mays clause):
When an organization makes a significant investment, they should consider the potential for injury.  In 2008, in 28 starts, Scott Baker accumulated just 54 pitcher abuse points (PAP).  This amount was well-below the AL Central average of 108 PAP this past year.  Justin Verlander led the division with 383 followed by Gil Meche (281), Cliff Lee (266) and Javier Vazquez (236).  In 28 starts, Baker wound up throwing over 110 pitches in just two games.  For comparison's sake, Verlander threw over 110 pitches in 16 of his 33 starts and threw over 120 pitches twice.  What does a light pitch count do for Scott Baker?  Unlike the aforementioned quadruplets, Baker's arm has little to no wear-and-tear on it from 2008 making the likelihood that his 2009 will be injury-free (at least in his arm) that much greater. 

Injury Risk:

2008 PAP

S. Baker


  • Baker's batting average on balls in play was .290 last year, slightly below the league-average of .300.  This was a serious decrease from a year ago when he had a BABIP of .327 - well above the league average.  This differential helped shave his ERA from 4.26 to 3.45.  Even though it is a small adjustment from .290 to league-average, Baker saw fewer flyballs find the ground (.118 vs .167 FB BABIP) thanks to a much improved outfield defense in 2008.  Depending on what defensive alignment the Twins choose to favor will have a big influence on his BABIP numbers.  More hits mean more baserunners which spell more runs.
  • Last season Baker led the entire AL with a left-on-base percentage of 78.7%, well above the expected league average of 72% suggesting that Baker could regress to the mean this coming season as a result allowing a few more runs thus inflating his ERA.  However, some studies have shown that pitchers that have K/9 over 7.0 (as Baker did in 2008) have a 52% chance on a LOB% of over 73%.  Judging from Baker's stuff listed above, he has the repertoire to sustain a K/9 above 7.0. 
  • As an extreme flyball-oriented pitcher, Baker stands a very good chance of allowing home runs.  For whatever reason maybe in 2008, his 8.5% HR/FB% was below the baseball average of 10.0%.  Don't be surprised if Baker is the victim of a few more gopher balls in 2009.













Overall, given his pitching stuff, low injury risk and little worry that he will deviate too far from his 2008 numbers in the coming years, Baker has a better than average chance of maintaining consistency throughout the duration of his contract extension.  His contract is diligent in securing his prime years between the ages of  27-through-30 and allows for the option of his 31-year-old season if he is still effective at the backend of his contract extension.  Baker is essentially a finished product and should be plateauing between now and at least his 30-year-old season in 2012.  The Twins have retained one of the American League's best pitchers with a solid contract.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Projecting Francisco Liriano in 2009

In 2006, the left-handed pitcher dubbed "The Franchise" featured a wipe-out slider that he threw 40% of the time to harmonize with his 95-mph fastball.  It was this lethal combination that incited batters to miss nearly 65% of the time on pitches thrown outside the zone and led to a 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings.  And even if batters did manage to put the ball in play, Liriano induced a groundball on 55% of all contact.  The career detour known as Tommy John surgery would erase his entire 2007 campaign and forced Liriano to reinvent himself as a pitcher.
Things were slightly different for Liriano when he finally returned to the big league hill in April of 2008.  He no longer possessed the 95-mph fastball, instead it was replaced by a 90-mph version and his sharp slider that bit hard at right-handed batters ankles was not traveling 87-mph towards the plate as it had been in 2006.  It spun up to the plate at a lackluster 79.8-mph.  Unlike a torn rotator cuff injury, the recipient of Tommy John often re-obtain their velocity - what changes is their ability to control and throw the various breaking pitches.  The Twins jammed a ball deep into Liriano's left hand and told him to learn to throw a changeup more frequently.  Coaxing the pitch out of him came gradually.

Pitch Type

FB Vel / %

SLD Vel / %

CHG Vel / %

2006 Season

94.7 / 43.6% 

 87.7 / 37.6%

83.5 / 18.7% 

April 2008 

90.4 / 55.8%

79.8 / 27.2%

80.5 / 17.0%

August 2008

90.7 / 54.8%

83.9 / 26.1%

82.0 / 19.1%

September 2008 

91.2 / 51.1%

84.9 / 26.4%

83.0 / 22.4%

As a result of his increased velocity and his liberal use of the changeup coupled with his ability to locate pitches within the strike zone, Liriano saw opponents taking more swings at pitches outside of the zone.  Although opposing batters were making significant contact in April and August, Liriano made more bats miss in the final month of the season, an indication that he was finding the right mix of speed.  With this inflation in pitches chased and overall zone presence, Lirano's strikeout totals spiked back to near-2006 totals in the final month of the season.  

Plate Discipline

 Out-Of-Zone Swing%

Contact %

Zone %


2006 Season





April 2008





August 2008





September 2008





Liriano's batted ball stats also reflect how a different approach can wildly alter the end results.  In 2006, Liriano was an extreme groundball pitcher, a direct correlation of the downward action on his slider.  The 2008 version of Liriano used change of speed to fool his opponents, often receiving swings from batters well ahead of the offspeed pitch.  Instead of pounding a plummeting slider into the ground, batters were out on their front-foot elevating a changeup. 

 Batted Balls 




2006 Season




April 2008




August 2008




September 2008




What does this mean for Francisco Liriano in 2009?  Liriano won't be the pitcher he was in 2006 but he won't be the pitcher he was in 2008 either - the most likely scenario is a hybrid variation.  His numbers in his last month of 2008 probably provide the best window in which to project Liriano.  What will change going forward is his batted ball totals.  Because he is throwing the slider less frequently and throwing two pitches that have higher contact rates more often, Liriano will see a jump in total number of balls in play.  However, by regaining his velocity and still having two solid pitches in his slider (.350 WHIFF) and changeup (.313 WHIFF), Liriano will still be a strikeout-oriented pitcher with a K/9 encroaching on the 10.0 mark.    


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Odds. Ends. (03.04)

  • The Twins' 2008 first round draft pick ( 27th overall) Carlos Gutierrez's introduction to his organization's offense unfolded rather poorly.  After finishing 2008 with High-A Fort Myers, Gutierrez was asked to participate on the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic.  In their exhibition game against the Twins, Gutierrez was brought into the game in the fourth inning - an inning in which he failed to complete.  The 22-year-old gave up two runs on two hits (including a Joe Crede double) in two-thirds of an inning.  The Twins are looking to covert the former University of Miami closer into a starter because of what Baseball America describes as a "Major League-ready sinking fastball".
  • The Oakland A's are reportedly close to reaching terms with former White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera.  According to inside sources, the deal is worth approximately $4 million dollar for one-year of the 34-year-old shortstop's services.  Yes, the deal is valued at half of what the Twins committed for Nick Punto, someone that has not fielded an entire season as a starting shortstop.  The concern of many potential suitors was Cabrera's status as a Type A free agent (as close to leprosy a free agent can get this offseason) costing a first round draft choice to the purchaser.  The Twins, had they reached a similar deal Oakland did, would have had to forfeit their #22 overall draft choice in 2009.  This is a steep price to pay for a declining talent in Cabrera.  The A's, however, always vigilant of a bargain, have the #13 draft pick which is a protected selection.  Instead, the A's will have to concede their second round draft pick making Cabrera that much of a better deal for Billy Beane's organization. 
  • Oakland is also a candidate to sign former Twins' lefty Dennys Reyes according to the San Francisco Chronicle.  It is safe to say that Reyes will not receive the three-year, $12-million contract he was seeking from Cincinnati at the offseason's infancy.  When it was clear that the Twins had no inclination to bring Reyes back, I wrote an ode to how good Reyes's minor league signing in 2006 was to the organization.  In his three seasons in a Twins uniform, Reyes threw 126.3 innings with a 2.14 ERA and a 109-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio for a low sum of $2.55 million AND if the A's action soon, the Twins will receive an additional draft pick in 2009 as well.  That's a pretty good investment. 
  • From the computer of SI.com's Tom Verducci: "This is hard to imagine, but Livan Hernandez could help this team. He looks to be in good shape and throwing well. If the Mets need him to make 32 starts they're in trouble, but New York will have far better pitching depth than it had in previous years if Hernandez can work a little of his 83 mph magic for 15 starts or so."
  • It appears that the Twins should be relieved that they allocated their $3 million dollars elsewhere.  According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinal's Tom Haudricourt the Brewers' Eric Gagne will be sidelined for some time due to a "shoulder ailment".
  • You know your bar has been lowered considerable when the headline reads "Dontrelle Willis' outing has strong finish" yet you managed to walk the 7, 9 and 1 hitters.  The walk to the leadoff hitter, Endy Chavez, forced in Willis' only earned run.  Everything's coming up Willis!
  • If you've got the ESPN Insider, Buster Olney has some excellent details on Francisco Liriano progress through working with Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson:  "Look, he's always going to have a violent delivery. … Every once in a while, he'll go back in his mechanics and it's still going to be violent. We're still trying to get him to finish off his pitches consistently, rather than cutting his delivery off. But he's better."

Monday, March 02, 2009

Notebook Dump (Exhibition Game #5)

Game: Twinks 1, Red Sux 2
Spring Training Record: 4-1
The Quote: "Right now, I think I'm the best centerfielder." - Carlos Gomez.
The Notes:
  • The Red Sox's Kevin Youkilis's solo home run off of Craig Breslow was the difference between the Twins remaining perfect in the 2009 Grapefruit League season.  If the picture above feels strange that's because it is: In 38.2 innings of work in 2008 in a Twins uniform, Breslow did not allow a home run.  It also sounded like this particular one by Youkilis was assisted by the wind according to John Gordon and Dan Gladden on KSTP.  Still, with his 40% flyball percentage, it is only a matter of time before a few stray balls find their way over the fence.  Better to have happened in spring training. 
  • Joe Nathan announced that he is withdrawing from the World Baseball Classic due to an irritation in his shoulder, located in his AC joint - where the collarbone and clavicle meet on top of the shoulder.  The news that he is not participating in the WBC is irrelevant.  What is of concern is whether Nathan will be ready by the season opener as the Twins would be forced into the less-than-ideal possibility of having Luis Ayala close out games.  Since his one inning outing against Boston last week, Nathan has not yet thrown and still experiences discomfort in the shoulder area.  Nathan, of course, downplays the situation. "It's kind of been not bad, but the irritation just got a little (greater) as we've gone on here," Nathan said. "It's something I'm not worried about, but I want to take care of it now, so it doesn't get to a point where I do worry about it." 
  • Last Wednesday, Dr. Coco Eaton performed shoulder anthroscopy on the Twins' Boof Bonser, locating several tears in the pitcher's labrum and rotator cuff.  According to the Twins official press release, the partial tears were repaired right away and the tedious process of healing and rehabilitating begin.  At the conclusion of the 2008 season, Bonser says he experienced shoulder discomfort and had an MRI taken.  In the event of a SLAP tear - the superior aspect of the labrum is torn from anterior to posterior - an MRI usually reveals the damage and, as Kelly Thesier reported on Twinsbaseball.com, Bonser's procedure showed no damage.  In the Twins' opinion, it was a case of tendinitis and kept Bonser from throwing for several months.  Even if there was non-significant damage to the labrum but some tear revealed in the MRI, the best advice would have been prescribing anti-flammatory medication and withholding Bonser from any throwing activities according to Will Carroll's book "Saving the Pitcher: A Revolutionary Analysis of Pitching Injuries and How to Prevent Them".  Carroll stresses that it is imperative that the pitcher refrains from throwing as to not exacerbate even the slightest tear if following the rest-and-rehabilitate regiment.  Unfortunately for Bonser, he began to throw again in early January then again when pitchers and catchers reported to Fort Myers in February, following a cortisone shot to alleviate the pain.  There may have been a tear existing but was never shown on the MRI that was further damaged upon his return to the mound in February resulting in the partially torn labrum (which the anthroscopy found).  Though the surgical procedure of repairing the torn labrum/rotator cuff are becoming more common, reports Carroll, most often pitchers that return from the surgery lose significant velocity and wind up being consistent injury-risks of re-aggravating the labrum.