Monday, June 29, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (06.29.09)

Jim Souhan stresses the importance of Justin Morneau's long ball to the Twins' overall play, indicating that the Twins are 13-3 when the big Canadian homers.
In the booth, Dick 'n Bert noted during Friday's broadcast that Morneau had been working on not striding to keep his head (and along with it, his eye level) steady.  Hitting coach Joe Vavra offered some insight to this approach: "The last couple of days, he's gone with the no-stride approach just to corral the strike zone.  He worked a few walks, so I think he started feeling the zone and his timing a little bit, and today he went with a stride, and he was able to minimize it.''  Although he went 1-for-9 since Thursday in Milwaukee, he coaxed four walks.  Avid Twins fans may recall that Michael Cuddyer took a similar approach to refining his discipline at the end of April.  He was hitting just .224 when he decided to focus on reaching base through working the count.  Over the course of four games, Cuddyer went 2-for-9 but worked out seven walks. The next eleven games, Cuddyer hit .368/.442/.658 in 43 plate appearances. 
Bobby Keppel's four inning introduction to the Twins was acceptable.  He got 70 percent of balls in play to be beat into the ground while he struck out three and walked another three.  This was the expectation for the recently DFA'ed Luis Ayala at the beginning of the season when the Twins signed him this past offseason.   The Twins touted Ayala's groundball ability thanks to a sink action.  However, where Keppel's sink actually exists (as seen here), Ayala's pitchers were consistently up in the zone (seen here).  It has become evident that the Twins signed Ayala on reputation alone. 
The Twins will look to add a 12th pitcher now that inter-league play is over says La Velle E Neal.  Though a popular choice, Robert Delaney has not had the best introduction to AAA.  In 15.1 innings, Delaney has a 11-to-6 K-to-BB ratio while giving up three home runs and 11 earned runs.  The hard-throwing Juan Morillo has been a rollarcoaster, striking out 40 in 30 innings while allowing a .183 batting average against but walking 20 with a 3.30 ERA.  Meanwhile, Jesse Crain has struck out seven while walking three in his 3.2 innings of work since being demoted.  Unless the Twins have intentions of converting Anthony Swarzak to the bullpen, Crain is probably the logically choice to return to the major-league roster.
FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal reminds us that Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett is currently the top shortstop in OPS at .969 comparative to the league average of .706.  Brendan Harris, meanwhile, has produced a .790 OPS since taking over short.
Aaron Gleeman asks "What Happened to All The Bunt Hits?" from a year ago.
J.C. Romero is back in the news from grabbing 25-year-old Robert Eaton by the neck after Romero refused to sign an autograph and Eaton brought up Romero's recent steroid bust.  Commenting on this situation may be too much like a pot-calling-the-kettle-black coming from someone that blogs about baseball -and I certainly don't condone the actions of former Twin Romero - but for crissake, don't be a 25-year-old yahoo asking major-leaguers for autographs.  And if you do insist on requesting signatures, when he refuses to sign, ixnay on the eroid-stay
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval had a late night room change at 3 AM in Milwaukee after what he thought was a ghost in his room.  This is not an out of the ordinary charge at the Pfister Hotel.  This old, but luxurious, hotel in downtown Milwaukee is over 116-years-old and has been the guests of visiting ballclubs for years.  Numerous clubs have noted strange noises - Adrian Beltre, then a Dodger, slept with his bat in his bed the entire night.  A few Marlins bunked together out of fear of the paranormal.  Other guests claim they have seen the images of the hotel's first owner Charles Pfister overlooking the grand lobby.  Carlos Gomez had a run in with the hotel a year ago when his iPod kept mysteriously turning on from across the room.
Ken Lipshez examines the difference between winning and developing at double-A New Britain.  Not surprisingly, mid-market clubs like Minnesota have to place a greater emphasis on getting plate appearances and innings for their prospects while teams like the Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox) and Trenton Thunder (Yankees) have much older rosters and have won or been runners-up in the Eastern League North Division the past four years. 

Saturday, June 27, 2009

National League ball? Yes, please.

The intricacies of National League baseball are downright beautiful. 
If a style of play were like a television sitcom, National League ball would have a complexity and subtleties like that of the multi-layered Arrested Development.  The American League play, on the other hand, is better geared towards those that need a structured guidance and those that appreciate a laugh-track much like Everyone Loves Raymond
The majority of managers in the American League today appear to be on autopilot.  The only semblance of strategy is deciding whether or not implement the infield shift on hitters like David Ortiz, Jim Thome or Travis Hafner.  It is a glorified softball league.  It seems to me that more and more, National League teams are starting to mimic their American League counterparts.  Consider the rosters of the hacktastic Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks.  These are organizations that have lumbering sluggers more appropriate for play at USCellular.  This shouldn't be surprising as those organizations have inserted uninspired managers that come equipped with AL pedigrees as both players and managers so it is expected that they would operate their team as such.  It is uninspired.  Still, even if trends might be suggesting that the style of play is shifting towards that of the American League-type behavior, I still envy the National League for supplying the frameworks that fosters innovation.
Where else would someone like Cardinals manager Tony Larussa thrive?  Larussa and his Redbirds are such a breath of fresh air in an otherwise unimaginative league.  Anyone who has read Three Nights In August realizes how much  Larussa agonizes over every minutia of strategy, of every match-up, of every pitch.  He's playing every possible scenario over in his head to determine what provides his team the greatest advantage.  He is a self-admitting proponent of playing the statistically beneficial platoon match-up but recognizes that they are far from foolproof.  LaRussa has instituted various strategies, like the one-inning closer, that are by and large followed by every team today (for better or worse).  During the 2007 season, Larussa moved his pitcher up on position in the batting order to give the Cardinals the "second lead-off hitter" - an entity that Twins fans hear frequently when either Nick Punto or Carlos Gomez is hitting out of the ninth spot.  Research will show you that this strategy will prove fruitless over enough games, yet Larussa was not afraid to go against baseball's common logic while the rest of the league's coaches coast on cruise control.  
So when the Twins sent pitcher Glen Perkins to the plate with runners on second and first with one out, my attentiveness increased threefold.  With a three run lead in the top of the sixth inning, the Twins were looking to advance Michael Cuddyer to third and Joe Crede to second.  To an unappreciative outsider, this situation would have been an ordinary bunt attempt, but as Buzz Bissinger described in Three Nights regarding Larussa's infield defenses "the complexities are dizzying, the effort to prevent something perhaps encouraging the very thing you want to prevent, the system of pulleys and levers vengeful and sadistic, damned if you do and, given the normal shelf life of a major-league manager - about four years - damned if you do anyway."    

On Friday night, with a three-run lead and three at-bats remaining, the Cardinals wanted to do everything they could to get the second out a third and keep the differential at three.  Larussa ordered first baseman Albert Pujols to position himself 3/4ths of the way to home while third baseman Joe Thurston drifted halfway down the line to cover the left-side of the infield.   If a ball would be bunted by Perkins, it would have very little real estate to roll before one of four players engulfed it.  Back over at second, second baseman Skip Schumaker was holding Cuddyer on like a first baseman to keep him from advancing to the unoccupied third prior to the pitch.  Upon the pitch, Schumaker would have to make a mad dash to first to field a throw in the event that the only play would be there.  Cardinals shortstop Tyler Greene was cheating toward third ready to cover that base where the first out option would be for the defense.  Dizzying complexities indeed.
Perkins took a ball then fouled off a bunt attempted to bring the count even.  With 2/3rds of the infield within a fifty foot radius of home plate, the Twins had Perkins try to pull back and hack at a pitch, hoping to chop it hard enough passed the charging infield and possibly score Cuddyer from second.  Perkins instead bounced the pitch up the first base line but foul.  On 1-2, Perkins managed to lay down a bunt that would land in a space just in front of the pitcher Adam Wainwright whose only play wound up being at first giving the Twins a successful sacrifice.   
Yes, the inning eventually ended on Denard Span's ensuing ground out rendering the entire production meaningless.  Where else but in the National League does this kind of play exist?  Where there is a 100 percent certainty that a batter is going to bunt?  Yes, you can argue that replacing a player whose soul purpose is to bunt creates the offense and with it, a broader fan-base (one that can float seamlessly between monster truck rallies and long home runs).  The designated hitter is a bell that cannot be unrung.  It is ingrained in the fabric of the sport and ensures that 14 players that would have otherwise moved on to greener pastures still receive a paycheck.  That said, we can take the opportunity to celebrate the few days a year now when baseball truly has strategy again. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (06.22.09)

It seems that Joe Mauer gave Jason Kubel the flu.  Kubel left in the third inning of Sunday's game vomiting but is expected to be okay for the Milwaukee series starting on Tuesday.    
Tom Powers is convinced that Luis Ayala might be the first to be jettisoned from the roster in 2009.  Ayala had been a pitcher that has seen various results - depending on his locale.  In 19.1 innings of work at the Dome, he has posted a 8/6 K/BB ratio with a .370 batting average against.  Away from Minneapolis, Ayala has thrown 13 innings with a 13/2 K/BB ratio and a .186 batting average against.  Ayala could be very useful over the course of the next nine games while traveling to Milwaukee, St. Louis and Kansas City. 
You love this game, admit it:

Month of June





Leverage Index

Player A






Player B






In order to move Jesse Crain down to Rochester, the Twins were forced into a roster move.  The sacrificial lamb in this case was Twin Cities native Ben Hendrickson announces Jim Mandelaro.  Hendrickson's tenure in the Twins organization where he pitched in six games in relief and worked 10.2 innings while walking nine and striking out nine.  After posting a 7.84 ERA, the Twins no longer had use for him in the bullpen.
When it comes to bullpen help from within the system Joe Christensen reiterated what general manager Bill Smith said on the Twins' pre-game show on AM1500 which is that the team could give some serious consideration to right-hander Bobby Keppel.  The 27-year-old has worked in 23 games with three starts at Rochester, throwing 55 innings while posting a pedestrian 28/13 K/BB.  Like Ayala, Keppel is a big contact pitcher and has been getting a ton of groundballs (55 percent) and has plenty of outs converted behind him (.158 average on GB).  Smith will be in Rochester this week to assess the AAA stock and could make a decision quickly as Keppel's contract has an opt-out clause if he does not make the big league team by July 1st.
When you hear about how good Alexi Casilla's numbers are at the plate in Rochester, just write it down and forget it.  Casilla's mental lapses continue to carry on in the minors.  Kelsie Smith reports that Casilla made yet another throwing error on a routine play at second. "That's the part I don't like to hear, but he's swinging the bat better," Manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I like to see him catching all the balls and not hear the routine error thing."  With Nick Punto hitting .450 (9-for-20) and hitting line drives at an unsustainable 38 percent clip since assuming second base, Gardenhire has little incentive to move Casilla back to the Twin Cities...that is until Punto crushed his ribs on a needless head-first slide into first base
I don't weigh in on performance-enhancing drugs or any of the players that so choose to partake in the experience because to me there is so much grey area.  Denard Span, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer are all recipients of LASIK eye surgery.  Did that enhance their performances?   Not really, its such a commonplace and, not to mention, legal thing that no one really bats an eyelash.  This circumstance is obviously not Jose Canseco injecting Mark McGwire in his buttock in a bathroom stall but Cuddyer's recent cortisone shot to his index finger is another such example of an acceptable use of a steroid.  According to Tom Power's column last week, receiving a shot of cortisone isn't like your average flu shot.  It's like the doctor inserting a metal McDonald's drinking straw into your finger.  Had Cuddyer not taken the cortisone, he would have been certain to miss more games. It is strange how baseball says that you can use this one under this condition but all others are off the table. (Here's Wade Boggs with the opposite stance on the War of Drugs, by the way.  Fueled by High Life.)
(I'm not sure what I just said but I immediately regret the Canseco/McGwire buttock thing.)
Jayson Stark of wrote that the Twins have been telling other teams that Delmon Young is "exceptionally available".  In a recent trip to the Twins Pro Shop in Apple Valley, I took note that the retailer was selling street banners that hung around the Plaza from the 2008 season that included ex-Twins Mike Lamb, Adam Everett, Craig Monroe and one current Twin: Delmon Young.  You decide whether this is sheer coincidence or an ominous sign that Young's days in Minnesota are numbered.
Twinkie Town suggests that Pirates' Freddy Sanchez might be the solution to the Twins production at second base.  At this point, Tommy Herr would be an upgrade at two. 
It did not work as intended by Bill James when he and Theo Epstein introduced a disasterous closer-by-committee to the Red Sox bullpen in 2003, nevertheless the Rochester Red Wings are implementing the same theory at AAA.  Since closer Sean Henn was called up to Minnesota, the Red Wings have been left without a closer so at the end of the games manager Stan Cliburn will use Tim Lahey, Rob Delaney or Juan Morillo to save games at different times says Jim Mandelaro.
Fort Myer Miracle Chris Parmelee, one of the rare heavy artillery hitters in the Twins organization, won the FSL All Star Game Home Run Derby contest
As predicted, the Twins 27th round draft pick, Erik Decker, will remain a Gopher and focus on the gridiron rather than the diamond.
Lastly, I'm Twitting.  Follow me if you think that might me be the kind of thing that you think that you are in to.

Player A = Juan Cruz, Player B = Luis Ayala 

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Development of Nick Blackburn

Nick Blackburn’s nine inning gem yesterday afternoon was a thing of beauty.  I’ve said it before that I believe Blackburn’s attributes make him a prime candidate to not withstand the ebb and flow of defensive changes.  To be sure, by retiring just 10 percent of batters through a strikeout, Blackburn has placed the majority of his success in the hands of his surrounding fielders.  Rarely are pitchers successful for a long period of time without the ability to strikeout batters, eventually hitters find seams in the defense.  But let’s put that logic aside for a moment and just celebrate Blackburn for what he is, here and now.


Through his first 14 starts, Blackburn has managed to win six games and lose just two, making his .750% winning percentage in the top ten of AL starters, not to mention that his 3.09 ERA is within the top eight as well.  Since his May 10th start Blackburn has had a 1.85 ERA yet because of offensive shortcomings or bullpen implosions, the Twins have gone just 4-4 in those eight starts.  It is clear that Blackburn’s performance is contingent of avoiding hard contact.  His balls in play has witnessed a precipitous drop in the amount of line drives from last season (falling from 20.9% in ’08 to 16.0% in ’09) in addition to an ample drop in the amount of flyballs leaving the yard (10% in ’08 versus 5.9% in ’09).  Because of this, Blackburn’s slugging percentage against has also subsided (from .441 a year ago to .384 this year). 


Retiring hitters the first time through the order has also been are area of vast improvement for the Oklahoman.  In 132 match-ups in 2009, Blackburn has allowed no home runs while keeping the wolves at bay through a .207/.265/.314 batting line.  Compare that to last season when he allowed 10 home runs and a .303/.337/.458 batting line in 301 plate appearances. 


Clearly the area in which he has improved the most is getting outs by way of groundballs.  As his groundball percentage has increased (from 44.9% to 46.9%), Blackburn has seen more of them converted to outs and shaved points off of his batting average against on grounders (from .259 in ’08 to .205 in ‘09).  The Joe Crede acquisition might be most beneficial to this development.  In John Dewan’s Stat of the Week column, Dewan highlighted the top defensive fielders by looking at their “runs saved” figures that Crede’s 8 runs saved is tied for 5th and the third-highest among third basemen (Seattle’s Adrian Beltre and Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman have saved 9 apiece).  Include Crede in the infield and the Twins have a fairly stalwart defense.


Another aspect that has led to success is his variety of pitches that are thrown consistently for strikes.  During yesterday’s game, Pirate Eric Hinske told catcher Mike Redmond that the pitch he had hit was the first one of the dozen he had seen that was the least bit hittable.  Looking at Blackburn’s pitch assortment on, you can see the collection of pitches that Blackburn throws and the different breaks associated with each pitch.

Look at the motion of each pitch.  Blackburn has three distinctly pitches that bend into right-handed batters and away from lefties (four-seam, two-seam and changeup) and three others that run in on left-handed batters and away from righties (cutter, slider, curve). 

Here's another thing that makes his slider (1.18 wSL/C) and his curve (0.62 wCV/C) particularly effective is that Blackburn's pitch repertoire causes plenty of issues of recognition.  Where the slider is thrown at similar velocity to his fastballs, unlike the two-or-four seamer it has a definite break away from right-handed bats.  As opposing hitters are focusing on pitches that are running in on their hands, Blackburn drops a slider that runs away.  The curveball has a different effect as it is throw with less movement then "better" curves, yet with a 15-mph difference in velocity, making it difficult for hitters to keep their weight back. 
There are indicators in Blackburn's numbers that suggest that the second-half of the season will not go as smoothly as the first.  Consider that his 5.9 home run-to-flyballs ratio is well below the league average is a sign that it is possible that a few more will eventually sneak over the fence.  Likewise, his batting average on groundballs might also creep up now that Brendan Harris, a shortstop with less range than Nick Punto, is manning the position.  Even still, Blackburn has made it though roughly 50% of his season's starts without an severe damage and has improved considerable in a lot of areas.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crain optioned to Rochester. What was wrong?

When Jesse Crain rose to prominence in the Twins bullpen in 2005, the 23-year-old right-hander had vultured 12 wins while maintaining a 2.71 ERA despite walking more than he struck out (29/25 BB/K) in 79.2 innings of work also finishing eighth on the AL Rookie of the Year ballot.  The curious thing about Crain's success is that it was based entirely on the fielders behind him.  Thanks to a high percentage of groundballs (46.9 percent) Crain carried a lowly .216 batting average on balls in play helping him keep his ERA sub-3.00 even though he was striking out an underwhelming 2.8 batters per nine innings. 
Crain's biggest weakness was his approach to left-handed batters.  For his pitch selection, Crain used his 93.1-mph fastball (69 pct) and a 73.7-mph curveball (13 pct) when attacking lefties that year. In 130 match-ups against opposed handed batters, Crain walked 15 while striking out 10 but once again managed to get by on avoiding big contact (.212 babip vs LHB).  Even though his strikeout totals were extremely low, Crain's velocity difference (19.4-mph on average) kept hitters at bay and induced a ton of groundballs. 
The following season, Crain's altered his pitch repertoire, specifically to left-handed batters.  Instead of his fastball-curve combination that he had used in 2005, the 24-year-old Crain used his now 94.3-mph fastball (75 pct) and his 86.9-mph slider (14 pct).  In 116 plate appearances, Crain's adjustments lead to more strikeouts and fewer walks (21/8 K/BB) but decrease in velocity difference (now at 7.4-mph) seemed to allow lefties to make better contact as their slugging percentage against rose 53 points.  Overall, Crain's numbers were head and shoulder's better as he was now striking out 7.0 batters per nine innings and appearing to be the closer-in-training the Twins had projected in his developmental days.
After pitching consecutive season of more than 75 innings each and 156.1 combined, Crain's shoulder broke down and needed repair in 2007.  Upon his return to the bullpen in 2008, Crain once again changed his approach to left-handed batters, throwing them a hearty dose of fastballs (70 pct) with a fairly even amount of sliders (13 pct) and curveballs (15 pct).  Even still, Crain appeared to have lefties under control (not to mention that with Dennys Reyes and Craig Breslow in the bullpen, Crain saw fewer lefties total) but the slugging percent rose another 22 points. 
While Crain has managed to keep right-handers at a .240 batting average against this season, he has been nothing short of a hot mess against left-handers.  The 26-year-old has abandoned his slider once again and has been using his fastball far less frequently (64 pct) while the use of his curveball has increased a great deal(22 pct). Unlike the 2005 verison of his curveball, Crain's bender was no longer the big 73-mph loop it had once been.  Now it was closer to 80-mph.  In 29 match-ups this season so far, Crain has walked seven lefties (two intentionally) and struck out just 4 while they are holding a 1.000 slugging percentage thanks to five extra base hits, three of which were home runs.  Without being able to locate his curveball for strikes consistantly, hitters waited on the fastball and feasted on the off-chance it came in the zone.  Two of the three home runs came on 3-2 counts when Crain was forced to throw a fastball for a strike because of little confidence/ability to throw his two other pitches for strikes. 
Crain's demotion is a good thing, both for he and the Twins.  He still has the talent to retire right-handed batters regularly but It provides him the opportunity to rebuild his approach to left-handed batters.    

Crain versus LHB



































Monday, June 15, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (06.15.09)

Scott Baker's month of June has started off well for the righty.  In three starts, Baker is 2-0 with 23-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks in 22 innings of work.  One of the biggest trend differences for the Twins number one starters between this month and last is that Baker's is getting more chases on pitches out-of-zone (35.1 percent in June versus 29.8 percent in May) plus fewer balls being put into play on those swings (53.9 percent in June versus 70.2 percent in May).  In addition, Baker has seen his average fastball velocity increase from 90.6 to 91.7 in the two months, something that may stem from mechanical adjustments pitching coach Rick Anderson tried to implement.
Like everybody else, Patrick Reusse throws in his two cents regarding Delmon Young and how Young's prospect-hype-cum-professional-career-disappointment might mimic that of former Twins prospect David McCarty.  While in theory, the comp is good - two highly touted prospects unable to adapt at the major league level - however, the two players had wildly different developmental paths to the bigs.  As the collegiate-groom McCarty demonstrated progress in the discipline department prior to being advanced, high school draftee Young's plate approach dissipated at each subsequent level (K/BB ratio increased from 2.26 to 3.14 to 4.33 in consecutive years).  The Rays never allowed Young to fully collect himself prior to pushing the next level (a team that has 100-losses doesn't have that luxury).
Minnesota Twins fans certainly traveled well to Chicago to be able to worship at the baseball cathedral that is Wrigley Field this past weekend, however, not all baseball insiders feel the same about the facility.  White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told Joe Cowley at the Chicago Sun-Times that "I puke every time I go there. I'm just being honest. If the Cubs fans don't like the way I talk about Wrigley Field ... I don't say anything about their fans, but Wrigley Field? They have to respect my opinion because that's the way I feel. A lot of great people are working there, the clubhouse people working there - I wish they had a better clubhouse, but besides that, it's exciting when the game starts. Of course it's exciting because that's one of the best, it's always crowded. But besides that, it's terrible.''
Alexi Casilla, who was send down to Rochester prior to the weekend, missed Sunday's game due to back problems reports the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.  This back issue may have to do with a cross-country drive that Casilla went on.  Instead of rendezvousing with the team in Toledo, Casilla flew to the Twin Cities to drive his vehicle back to Rochester (a possible sign that he knew he was not returning to the Twins any time soon).  USA Today's Bob Nightengale noted that these kinds of demotions for players like Casilla are often wake-up calls to players that once thought to have had concrete roles at the Major League level but have a few shortcomings that need additional attention.
Sid Hartman believes that right-handed relief pitcher Rob Delaney might get the next call to Minnesota in search of another bullpen arm.  Since his promotion to Rochester, Delaney has struck out seven and walked just one in seven innings of work.  His 5.14 ERA is the product of a four runs outing.  Juan Morillo's has struck out 31 in 22.1 innings of work but has walked 15 in as many appearances.
Charley Walters would like the Twins to acquire another hometown hero, Robb Quinlan, from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  The statement is base on nothing specific (besides that he is a local yokel) and would provide the Twins with little-to-no value as a back-up first baseman/third baseman right-handed bat that never really hit lefties all that well (.295/.336/.449 in 587 PAs).  Wait.  Maybe the Walters was suggesting Quinlan for the bullpen...hmmm.
Jon Paul Morosi at Fox Sports says that scouts are giving Houston's shortstop Miguel Tejada rave reviews for his work this season.  Undoubtedly, Tejada will inevitably wind up being the hot trade topic this year because of his former MVP pedigree, it should be noted that his rebound power performance in 2009 is buttressed by a favorable home field condition.  His six home runs have all come at Minute Maid (albeit not all in the short left field porch) but the circumstances should dictate that all buyers' beware when acquiring the 35-year-old. 
Jeff Zerbiec of the Baltimore Sun says that the Twins, along with the Baltimore Orioles, are the top two teams interested in Dominican Republic shortstop Miguel Angel Sano.  Sano is just 16-years-old but has already drawn comparisons to Florida's superstar shortstop Hanley Ramirez.  Because of so many doctored birth certificates of prospects in the Dominican, one team actually ordered a bone graph which showed Sano is indeed between the ages of 16-and-17.  While the Twins have not been known as aggressive pursuers when it comes to high-priced International prospects, pursuit of Sano makes sense for an organization that does not have a significant pipeline of shortstop prospects - it wasn't until the 8th round of the 2009 draft when the Twins selected their first shortstop, James Dozier, out of Southern Miss.  The young shortstop is rumored to command at minimum a $3-million-dollar signing bonus (with 30 percent going to his handlers) but a large economic leap from his current tax bracket.       
Joe Gaetti is having a tough go at it this season.  After being traded by the Twins to the Rangers (where he played at Double-A Frisco), Gaetti stint in the Rangers organization lasted just nine games before being released.  Two weeks ago the son of former Twins third baseman Gary, signed with the Tampa Bay Rays and was assigned to the Montgomery Biscuits

Thursday, June 11, 2009

See you at Wrigley



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I could do Shooter's job

Me (on Sunday): "One right-handed reliever that might be available at the trade deadline is former Twins and current Astro LaTroy Hawkins, who has been filling in for the injured closer Jose Valverde who is returning to Houston shortly.  The Twins flirted with the idea of acquiring Hawkins last year and since his trade to Houston, Hawkins is 3-2 with a 1.41 ERA while throwing over 44 innings and striking out 47 and coverting eight saves."  
Charley Walters (on Wednesday): "Don't be surprised if the Twins make a deal with the Houston Astros soon for former Twins reliever LaTroy Hawkins. The Twins are seriously interested and the Astros are in last place in their division, making the 36-year-old right-hander expendable. It also doesn't hurt that Hawkins, who is popular in the clubhouse and whose fastball is still in the 95-mph range, could cost Minnesota just $2.3 million for the rest of the season. His salary this season is $3.5 million. In 26 games for Houston, Hawkins is 1-2 with a 2.55 earned-run average and 23 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings. He has eight saves in nine opportunities since taking over as the Astros' closer for the injured Jose Valverde."
I should have added "seriously interested" in my write up.  Damn. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mauer and the fastball

Baseball analysts league-wide, attempting to do what they are paid to do, are throwing in their two cents trying to explain Joe Mauer's sudden home run capabilities and an .845 slugging percentage. 
FSNorth's Ron Coomer told MinnPost's Pat Borzi that the power explosion has to do Mauer correcting a "weak-side drift" in his swing - that his front hip had the tendency to move forward right before swinging.  This correction has allowed Mauer to have a more balanced and loaded stride, generating additional power in his swings.  On another recent broadcast, FSNorth's other analyst Roy Smalley noted that Mauer's swing has a definite shoulder drop which is leading to more lift on the ball, hence more balls disappearing into the left field seats instead of landing as a double.  Both sideline reporters had submitted video evidence comparing this year's swing to last year's version to support their claims.  The clips did support Coomer and Smalley's theory however comparing one solitary swing to one other lone swing reveals very little (had they rundown over 150 swings from last year to this year I would have put more stock into their assessments). Certainly any number of small minutia adjustments could have been made to his swing in this past offseason but Mauer more or less differed and said that "I don't think my swing has changed at all."
Perhaps there is something less physically involved in his surge.  By Mauer's own accounts, he says that he has been "seeing the ball better".  Consider this: Mauer is absolutely killing the fastball and, on top of that, he's getting a ton of them thrown his way. 
Mauer's early returns in 2009 shows that he is very capable of punishing a fastball -- hitting 11 of his 12 home runs on heaters., who added a statistic that provides the run aboove average value of each individual type of pitch, shows that at a 5.23 runs above average, Mauer leads all hitters per 100 pitches (min. 120 PA):




Joe Mauer



Luke Scott



Albert Pujols



Kevin Youkilis

Red Sox


Victor Martinez



These numbers are just another way of saying that these guys are good fastball hitters.  A few states south of Minnesota, Albert Pujols (.346/.470/.698) is demolishing the rawhide in the same vein yet Pujols only sees 53 percent of balls thrown at him as fastballs.  Likewise, Boston's Kevin Youkilis (.349/.470/.631), another hitter renown for his batting eye, and is now seeing just 54 percent of his pitches as fastballs thanks to a 4.24 wFB/C.  Cleveland's Victor Martinez (.344/.412/.555), like Youk and Prince Albert, has also seen his fastball offerings drop to the 54 percent range.  Mauer, on the other hand, has received nearly 70 percent (67.1%) of pitches thrown to him of the fastball variety.  This is a rather rotund amount considering the quality of hitter that is Joe Mauer. 
Look at this list of the hitters receiving the most fastballs by percentage.  Those who are getting high percentages of fastballs are of the slap-hitting, high-contact pedigree and offer very little of a power threat:   



Fastball %

Isolated Power Average

David Eckstein




Luis Castillo




Chone Figgins




Placido Polanco




Jacoby Ellsbury

Red Sox



In a lot of ways, Mauer shares similar characteristics to those on the list (unlikely to chase pitches, low strikeouts, etc) which merits a fastballs but at the same time Mauer's .405 ISOP has little in common with Placido Polanco's .103 ISOP.  The Tigers second baseman has not be able to generate any scoring when facing a fastball as evident of his -0.97 wFB/C, giving pitchers the impression that more fastballs will equal greater success against Polanco. 
Mauer's power surge may have to do with a greater influx of fastballs that are typically reserved for slap-happy hitters.  With a larger propensity to drive the ball for extra bases, pitching coaches will eventually instruct their pitchers to throw more offspeed and breaking pitches.  Mauer still has the ability to capitalize on what should be fewer fastballs in June but it probably means less of an opportunity to replicate his unearthly month of May.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (06.08.09)

Since his return from his bereavement leave on May 24th, Delmon Young is now 5-for-37 with 21 strikeouts and just one walk.  At, Dave Cameron asks "What To Do With Delmon" and his response is to manufacture a similar mysterious mental "injury" that befell Detroit's Dontrelle Willis and St. Louis's Khali Greene to allow the Twins to circumvent the waivers and allow Young some "rehab" work in the minors (to which Tim Marchman agrees). 
At Tenth Inning Stretch, Thryros presents one of the many problems with his swing - alignment.  This, to me, is a problem but it is a tree in a forest of problems for Young.  What he doesn't draw attention to, but clearly has plenty of visual evidence of, is that Young is unable to generate power from his lower half because of improper weight-shifting in his legs (look at the rear leg bend compared to that of the other sluggers).  He has very little leverage from below the waist.  Other issues include his loading problem where his weight is shifted too far on his front foot prior to the pitcher releasing which leads to the need to start his swing earlier, resulting in poor pitch recognition (commits too early on breaking stuff and to many late swings on fastballs) and opposite field hits.  This is not a hit-your-way-out-of-it-funk, Young needs a complete rebuild.       
KFAN's Phil Mackey takes a look at Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano.  In his past three starts Baker is 2-1 but has thrown a very improved 21 innings with 20 strikeouts and just one walk.  Still, balls keep sneaking over the fence as he allowed five home runs in those starts.  Liriano on the other hand has to work on his offerings to right-handed opponents (who are slugging .531 off of him with nine of the ten home runs allowed) and while pitching from the stretch (hitters are slugging .590 when runners are on base). 
Twins left-handed reliever Sean Henn has never been known for his control, as he has walked 55 batters to 51 strikeouts in his major league career, but let's agree that the guy can deliver when it comes to downhome baseball quotes (insert your own Texas twang):  "I'm not a big control guy, so for me to try to hit a gnat's rear would be stupid.  Obviously, those walks correlate into runs. So I'm going back to what I did in the minors: trust in your stuff, hit the zone, let the seven guys behind you work for you. I feel like I'm throwing the ball over the plate more than I ever have."
I am a big believer that a baseball team can inflate the value of a relief pitcher by putting said pitcher in situations that best fit his strength.  Dennys Reyes was an excellent example of this in 2006 and Craig Breslow was another last season.  Henn could be another addition of the same ilk if deployed well situationally.  Henn's weakness is clearly throwing strikes to right-handed batters as 46 of his 55 career walks have comes against right-handed opponents (his three walks this year have all been against righties), yet in 2009 righties are just 1-for-13 (.077) - a possible affirmation for being effectively wild - while left-handed opponents are 5-for-13 (.385) with three doubles.  Speaking of Craig Breslow, the former Twins has held opponents to a .192 batting average in eight innings while strikeout eight and walking just one since being acquired by Oakland. 
Star Tribune's Patrick Reusse released this little nugget of a column regarding the hype around the Joe Mauer contract extension.  In not so many words, Reusse informs us that Mauer will either stay or go and essentially says "stop worrying about it, you hoople heads".  In addition to that, Reusse cropdusted a nice message to those of us that analyze numbers that we are "a small minority that think it's all about make-believe statistics."  With that in mind, Aaron Gleeman tells us that Mauer is leading the team in the make-believe statistic of Runs Above Replacement with 27. 
One right-handed reliever that might be available at the trade deadline is former Twins and current Astro LaTroy Hawkins, who has been filling in for the injured closer Jose Valverde who is returning to Houston shortly.  The Twins flirted with the idea of acquiring Hawkins last year and since his trade to Houston, Hawkins is 3-2 with a 1.41 ERA while throwing over 44 innings and striking out 47 and coverting eight saves.  
Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Paul Hoynes discusses the transition away from the Metrodome and what it will mean to a team that has taken advantage of the quirky indoor home field moves outdoors.
Nick Nelson takes a jog around the very winnable AL Central. 
Twins GM Bill Smith spews out non-sensical jargon about "consistency" and the Pioneer Press's Charley Walters dedicates column space to it down.