Sunday, February 28, 2010

OtB Twins Notes (03.01.10)

In response to reporting late to spring training, Justin Morneau said that he wanted some additional rest before hitting the regular season grind -- one in which he semi-jokingly said won't contain back-to-back days off until the All Star Break. After consecutive seasons in which his production went south in the second-half of the year (2009's injury notwithstanding), the Twins have to be considering how to handle Justin Morneau's playing time to ensure he's at full-strength in the latter portion of the schedule. Sitting him more frequently in the first-half may be a sound option in order to lengthen his effectiveness. However, that replacement probably won't be Jim Thome. Ron Gardenhire excused Thome from the defensive drills this spring in order to curtail the risk of injuring the big man's often injured back.

When the Twins signed baseball's last 20-game loser in Mike Maroth, the bar was set low for him. He would bide his time at Rochester and fill out the rotation in the International League while attempting to demonstrate he still could retire major league hitters. On the surface, his Puerto Rico winter league numbers look appealing (3-0, 2.60 ERA), his 15/13 K/BB ratio in his small sample of 34.2 innings does not project well. Topping out a 83-mph in 2007, his last foray in the majors, Maroth throws a mixture of breaking and off-speed stuff to keep his baby soft fastball from being obliterated. As such, he's a high contact pitcher that relies on his defense to convert the outs behind him. With Brian Duesning, Anthony Swarzak and Jeff Manship ahead of him on the depth chart, Maroth in a Twins uniform With a 16.2% strikeout percentage against lefties (versus 9.5%  strikeout percentage against righties) in his career, if he can retire left-handed batters at a decent clip in the first-half of the year, Maroth might be a candidate to assume the Ron Mahay role towards the end of the season. 

Kelsie Smith tweeted that Jose Mijares took a Jason Kubel line drive off of his throwing forearm during live batting practice on Sunday. (While Mijares's health is the focal point of this story, I'm impressed that Kubel, a lefty not known for his same-sided hitting abilities, lined a shot off a very overpowering left-handed pitcher). Although Mijares went down after the incited, he walked off the field on his own and is expected to being okay. In an article, an unnamed scout said "left-handed hitters have no chance against him." Last season, Mijares held lefties to a .193 batting average while striking out 27% of the total population faced. 

Danny Valenica has dedicated himself to improving his defense, talking extra infield practice before games while playing in Puerto Rico, but he is still fairly raw in his plate approach and fielding. In truth, he's a Nick Punto or Brendan Harris injury away from being called into service. In camp on Sunday, Valencia was tasked with facing an improved Francisco Liriano. Says Kelly Thesier, who was watching the match-up, Valencia just shook his head after a few fastballs and said "unhittable". 

SOOZE's query regarding Brian Duensing's probability of making the team in '10 prompted's Rob Neyer to comment. Neyer's take? Don't get too attached. Yes, at 27-years-old, Duensing's opportunities to latch on are thinning. Yes, it's hard to expect the sustained performance over the course of 30 starts like he did in his nine in '09. Liriano's re-emergence has made Duensing's climb that much more difficult but the lefty has a better track record than Neyer's citation of record and ERA (two of the worst statistics to use for future performance, by the way). Although his strikeout numbers are fairly muted, in the past three season, Duensing's FIP has been decent and is a groundball-oriented pitcher (50% GB in the minors, 45.5% in majors). 

According to Susan Slusser, the Oakland A's beat writer, pitcher Brett Tomko signed a minor league deal with the A's but received a comparable offer from the Minnesota Twins before ultimately deciding to remain in California. After being released by the Yankees in July following several bad stints out of the bullpen, the A's picked him up and used him as a starter. In six starts, Tomko was 4-1 with a 2.95 in 36.2 innings with a 22/6 K/BB rate. His success in Oakland coincided with a paring back of his changeup and an increased use of his split-finger. Even so, at 37-years-old in 2010, the chances of him repeating those numbers in a bigger sampling are slim.

Fellow TwinsCentric members John Bonnes and Nick Nelson were on the AM1500 with Darren Wolfson for an hour on Sunday discussing some of the pressing Twins topics. On the subject of the prodigal Jacque Jones, Wolfson provided some insight from last year's spring training when Wolfson was covering the sport for CBS and Jones was in camp with the Reds. Said Wolfson on the show: "He's done." It is hard to believe that Jones could bounce from being finished in the majors to making enough progress in the Mexican and Independent Leagues to return to form. 

Former Twins catcher Chad Moeller gives his reflections on catching two of the organization's top pitchers in the past two decades: Johan Santana and Brad Radke. Moeller caught the duo in 2000 and was really only their receiver for roughly 300 hitters between the pair, so his insights probably are not that particularly insightful. The life-long backup catcher caught in the Twins organization from 1996 (after he was drafted in the seventh round following an ACL tear in his last college game) until being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in March of 2001. You have to credit Moeller for carving out a decent niche as a backstop caddy and collecting a steady paycheck despite being unable to hit his weight (210) from 2004 to 2009 (.209). 

Speaking of former Twins, according to a New York Post article on baseball's code, back in a 2006 Twins-Red Sox match-up at the Metrodome, center fielder Torii Hunter took a hack at a 3-0 fastball in spite of a 8-1 Twins lead. In order to avoid an all-out beanball war, after the game Ron Gardenhire dragged Hunter to a laundry room to meet with Sox manager Terry Francona to explain that the unspoken infraction was due to Hunter's "inattentiveness" rather than attempting to run up the score (or pad his stats).

After playing host to a significant number of teams in the spring, Florida's numbers have begun to dwindle as government-financed complexes in the Arizona desert have lured away teams in recent years. With the Phoenix-area constructing new facilities on a seemingly annual basis, the numbers between teams in the Grapefruit League (Florida) and the Cactus League (Arizona) is now 15-15 between the two states when it was 22-8 in favor of Florida as recently as 1998. The likelihood that the Twins relocate any time soon is minimal. In addition to a strong presence of Minnesota residents that either vacation or retire in the Fort Myers area, the franchise has spent almost every winter conditioning in Florida since 1936 (with the exception of the World War II years). 

At the risk of reporting something that will potentially detract from the TwinsCentric Viewing Party at Major's in Apple Valley on March 13, the Twins and Target Corporation will also be opening Target Plaza outside of the new ballpark on the same date. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is Kevin Slowey Sandbagging Us?

In a recent profile, Twins starting pitcher Kevin Slowey made some rather candid comments.

When asked about his progress in rehabilitating his right wrist, Slowey remarked that the wrist – now equipped with two screws - feels different. While the procedure was a success and able to remove the bone particles that were floating in his pitching wrist, it has an entirely new sensation says the righty.

“You always project yourself to be where you want to be,” the Twins right-hander told David Dorsey of the Fort Myers News-Press. “I don’t know if I’m going to ever feel the same like I did before.”

The overall tone of the article was fairly pessimistic. KFAN’s Phil Mackey noted that Kevin Slowey is a “matter of fact” personality when providing quotes in the clubhouse. And his honest explanation of his recovery is probably typical of his character. It's possible that Slowey is trying to under-promise and over-deliver. Still, with the Twins putting a great deal of confidence in Slowey’s ability to rebound, you have to consider the subtext of this refreshing honesty.

In 2009, Slowey struggled to find anything particularly useful to compliment his precision-tuned fastball. As someone without glass-breaking velocity, Slowey was reliant on spotting his fastball, deception and changing speeds. Working off of his fastball, he mixed in a balance of sliders, changes and curveballs.

As noted in his Pitching Appraisal, Slowey improved his changeup in ‘09, inciting a heartier portion of misses:


Pct Thrown












With the exception of his fastball, which was stung around the field heavily, his biggest problem was his slider. While the pitch was an above-average offering in ’08, it was an increasingly more hittable pitch (at least in terms of contact). The ailing wrist probably led to the flattening out of the pitch – losing vertical drop and adding a sweeping motion:













Slowey’s statement suggesting that he doesn’t feel the same as before leaves room to wonder what the long-term effects of the surgery are. While he may be able to return, without his slider, he might not be the same pitcher. Monitoring his slider this spring will give a good inclination as to what direction he is heading towards in ’10.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Read His Lips: No New Pitches

After leading the league in foul ball strikes in 2009, Twins opening day starter Scott Baker shrugged off the need to develop another pitch to add to his repertoire. In Charley Walters’s recent column, the Pioneer Press’s sports columnist quoted the righty as saying “No new pitches. Try to sink the ball and cut the ball and throw some breaking balls for strikes.”

This past year 35% of his strikes came in the form of “dyslexic home runs” (those not fouled off with two-strikes). When he ran the count to two-strikes – a feat he did almost better than anybody, by the way - hitters were able to make just enough contact on 48.5% of their swings to stay alive in the plate appearance and increase his pitch count totals by one. This small inefficiency may be costing the righty small potatoes in terms of his pitch totals but the extra life was enough to give hitters another opportunity to inflict damage: Ten of his 28 home runs were allowed with two-strikes on a batter.

What was the cause for all of this partial contact? Fastball usage and location.

If you review the list of the top foul-strike leaders, you’ll notice that the list shares a lot of names in common with the top fastball users.  Baker not only favored his fastball heavily overall, he turned to it 66% of the time when he was in a kill count. Additionally, he went upstairs in the zone to subdue hitters. While this was lucrative for him, striking out 36.4% of hitters when throwing high gas, it also allowed for numerous nicks and ticks to stay alive.

Given this, should Baker consider adding another pitch? After all, Joe Nathan adds pitches like a celebrity hording “Friends” on Facebook and he only assumes 5% of a season’s total batter matchups.

In short: No.

Baker comes equipped with two very formidable weapons in his arsenal. Believe it or not, he has one of the most effective fastballs in the American League. According to’s weighted runs scale, his 19.8 wFB on his heater ranked just behind Justin Verlander (24.3 wFB) and Zack Greinke (25.8 wFB) among league leaders. His fastball also induces higher-than-average swing-and-misses.  On top of that, his slider is no slouch either – missing more lumber than a clear-cut forest.

In all, it’s not necessary to add a pitch that has been suggested and should continue to refine his approach using what he’s got – which is solid. Tweaking his pitches slightly can have just as effective results as adding a completely new pitch. For example, Cliff Lee’s ’08 emergence coincided with the addition of a two-seam fastball. As Baker mentioned, it getting his current set of offerings to do slightly different things, particularly with two-strikes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

OtB Twins Notes (02.22.10)

I’ll admit it, even with all of my trepidation surrounding Jim Thome’s one-dimensional abilities and power decline potential, I’ve gone on record as saying this is a good move for the team. For a low-risk contract, the roster will have a powerful pinch hitting option late in the ballgames against a large corps of right-handed closers in the American League. Remember, they lost 20 one-run games in ’09. At the time it seemed curious. After all, the Twins had a plethora of left-handed hitters including a burgeoning righty-killer in Jason Kubel entrenched at DH, Thome’s only realistic everyday playing option. It turns out, according to Kelly Thesier, the Twins front office was not necessarily targeting Thome at the time: Smith admits Thome wasn't the ideal fit for the club, as they were seeking a right-handed bat who could play the outfield -- far from what Thome will give them.” In truth, the market wasn’t very friendly to find a player that fits that profile which led the team to Thome. Nevertheless, there remain several options available in potential minor league deals including the often injured Rocco Baldelli and the hacktastic but potent Johnny Gomes.

Without an obvious right-handed bat to assume the designated hitting duties against tougher lefties (read Sabathia comma CC), Ron Gardenhire’s lineup might be a bit more creative. Neither Jim Thome or Jason Kubel have had much success in recent years facing southpaws. Kubel had shown a brief stretch in 2009 were he hit same-sided pitching well but still wound up hitting .243/.299/.345 in 164 plate appearances. Thome demonstrated a bit more pop last year (.409 slugging) so he might be the de facto candidate to DH unless the Twins acquire a right-handed platoon option in spring training.

Now that camp has officially starter, LaVelle E Neal has nine questions facing this year’s Twins team.

Twins opening day starter, Scott Baker, told the Shreveport Times that he was feeling strong heading into spring training. A year ago, Baker experienced some tweaks in his shoulder which resulted in him missing some time towards the end of spring training and the start of the regular season. This season is different. Said the Twins veteran pitcher: "I feel like I'm right where I need to be. The more years you have under your belt, the better you know what it takes to get prepared for spring training and the upcoming season. I don't necessarily think you work any harder than in previous offseasons. You just become smarter about it."

This time last year the Twins were concerned over the shape that Jose Mijares was in. After an early outing in spring training in which Mijares appeared fatigued and winded following an inning of work, manager Ron Gardenhire quipped “He came back in a shape” suggesting that that shape might be oval. This year, things haven’t changed much. Unable to get a visa to report to TwinsFest and skipping winter ball as well, the Twins are very interested to see what kind of condition their primary lefty out of the pen is in. Even with the off-season visa delays, LaValle E Neal was told by GM Bill Smith that the organization fully expects Mijares to be in camp on-time.

Over at Twinkie Town, Jesse Lund has a great Q&A with the Twins’ assistant GM, Rob Antony. Lund covers a little bit of everything with Antony but one topic that is particularly interesting is Anthony shedding light on the Jacque Jones/Charlton Jimerson acquisitions and what it could mean for the Minnesota and Rochester outfields.

The excitement over Francisco Liriano’s winter league performance has officially reached the mainland. Not that Ron Gardenhire is believing too much of the hype just yet. According to a story in USA Today, Gardenhire told reporters that "You just have to wait and see how he carries it up to here. It's one thing pitching down there and it's another thing pitching up here. But the reports are that he's really throwing the ball well. He could be one of those ace in the holes if he can come back and bounce back, keep his arm up and the ball down." His choice of using “arm up” is interested phrase because what this suggests is that it could mean that the manager (or more likely Rick Anderson) potentially endorses scap loading that Liriano practiced in ’06. Reviewing his dominating outing on, you’ll notice that his throwing elbow is below his shoulder in the cocked position (as opposed to above it like he did in ’06). Andrew Kneeland of put together a nice video compilation of his form and I left a fairly exhaustive explanation behind this phenomenon in his comment section, but in short, Liriano keeping his arm below his shoulder is far more beneficial towards his health but it seems that he has adapted to throwing with this new motion – one that may have struggled with in ‘09.    

Now that the regular season is just around the corner, Joe Christensen documents some of Target Field’s obstructed views however, this was covered extensively by back in November of this past year. As a matter of personal experience, the first year the Twins played the Brewers at their then-brand spankin’ new Miller Park, I grabbed tickets off of the Brewers website that were advertised as “obstructed view” in left field. How obstructed could the seats be, I thought? After all, it’s a brand-new stadium.  The correct answer was “very obstructed”. I got to my seat only to find that a foul pole – one that spanned shoulder-to-shoulder on me -- was positioned less than six inches from my face and the edge of the bleacher seat. Forced to relocate to standing room only if I wanted to actually watch any of the game, I was furious about paying full retail for the ticket that was the equivalent to slapping a burlaps sack on my head as I entered the gate. Hopefully the Twins do not have anything this extreme but if they do, here’s to hoping they have the common decency to not charge full price.

Finally: Welcome pitchers and catchers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Splits of Nick Punto

Prior to bleating out my Nick Punto Day post a week ago, I descended into his batted ball split numbers located at to see if the contains the secret to the ebb and flow of his offensive output. In his five seasons in a Twins uniform he’s gone from slightly below average hitter to a super below average hitter and back again. A team that has numerous offensive contributors in the lineup can withstand a slightly below average supplier who can compensate for his offensive shortcomings on defense. When those numbers decline into the red zone of a super below average hitter no amount of glove love can makeup for the lack of production.

As a switch-hitter, Punto has demonstrated very little to indicate that he is more or less proficient from one side of the plate or the other. He’s inept at both. Aside from having a better sample-size from the left-handed batter’s box – an additional 1,000 plate appearances – he had a very balanced equilibrium:

Punto's SplitsCareer PASlashesOPS
vs RHP as LHB1,739.244/.324/.323.647
vs LHP as RHB788.256/.318/.326.644
To be sure, there’s nothing particularly attractive about anything he’s done from either side of the plate. Any way you slice it, it’s below average production.

With the reality of Punto starting the season as a regular at third base, we need to try to identify if he is capable of rebounding or if we will witness more abysmal production.

Turning our attention to the past four seasons of his hit distribution, we can see some trends emerge that separate his better years from his putrid years. I highlighted Punto’s better year of 2006 and 2008 in italics and marked the columns that standout to me in red:


Let’s focus in on his left-handed splits first as this was where he had the majority of his at-bats. In 2009 and 2007, otherwise known as The Punto-esque Years, Punto struggled when turning on pitches from the left-handed batter’s box. In 2007, he pulled 33.3 percent of his balls in play but hit an extremely high amount of groundballs (81%). Because he held a below average BABIP on grounders that year, we need to assume that a majority of those wormburners were scooped up by infielders thus the .214 batting average. This past season Punto elevated the ball a tad more (61% GB), but had an even lower BABIP in ’09 on groundballs (.204 versus .230 in ’07) so the assumption is that a greater total of those batted balls were converted to outs thus the .182 batting average when pulling the ball. In comparison to his better years where he hit above .300 while turning on the ball, Punto had above average line drives rates resulting in a few more hits.

One thing that should jump out at you about the progression of his right-handed splits is how he went from a balanced spray-type hitter with up-the-middle tendencies to an extreme opposite field hitter. After successive years of pulling over 20 percent of his pitches, he yanked fewer than 5 percent. There are two logical conclusions that I can draw, (1) he was intentionally slashing pitches the opposite way because he was putting better wood on the ball and getting better results or (2) slowing down physically. Likewise, in his better seasons, Punto drove more line drives back up the middle whereas in his down years, his total amount through the box and on a line both dropped considerable.

There are tons of moving parts to consider when evaluating Nick Punto and projecting his future performance based on his batted ball track record. Overall, he is a groundball hitter that had disproportionately bad and good batted ball averages in the past four years. Maintaining a decent line drive rate and above average walk rate to boot, you would expect his suppressed groundball BABIP to revert back to average (.240) and thus a markedly improved season this coming year. From the left side of the dish, his numbers to center and to left field are consistent. The only discrepancy has been his ability to pull effectively. Because this was contingent on groundballs pushing into the outfield, I suspect that he will post better numbers from that side of the plate as his groundball BABIP equalizes. On the other hand, looking at the direction of some of his hit distributions, I’m inclined to believe that something else is amiss, particularly from the right-side of the plate (maybe injury or age-related decline). This is a minor concern considering that the presence of Brendan Harris on the roster gives Ron Gardenhire a good option to replace Punto against left-handed pitchers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

OtB Twins Notes (02.15.10)

I knew that the payroll had been cresting uncharted levels with each acquisition and arbitration avoidance but when I read that the Twins could have a total payroll higher than that of the Los Angeles Dodgers, I got light-headed.  Of course, this turned out to be somewhat misleading. As Joe Christensen noted in his blog following the Orlando Hudson signing, the Twins were projected to enter 2010 with a payroll near $96 million. However, Jon Weisman at Dodgers Thoughts has estimated the Dodgers’ payroll to be closer to $98 million but a substantial portion of that ($17.9 million) is to cover players that no longer play for Los Angeles. If you subtract that from their existing payroll, the Dodgers are paying their uniformed employees approximately $80.2 million – about $16 million dollars short of that of the Twins. Since USA Today started tracking organization’s payrolls in 1988, Minnesota has not outspent Los Angeles yet, and when those $17.9 million dollars worth of obligations are removed from the McCourt’s ledger, anticipate that the financial pendulum will swing back in favor of the Dodgers.

Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan tweeted that Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson told him that Scott Baker will be the team’s opening day starter this season. Baker very much deserves of this role and with the exception of a 2006 Liriano, the most qualified as well. As I noted in the pitching assessments last October, Baker was one of the game’s elite starting pitchers but whose 4.37 ERA distracts from his actual ability to dominate. In addition to possessing the second-best fastball in the American League by weighted runs standards (behind Cy Young winner Zack Grienke), Baker’s WHIP and K/BB were both seventh best in their respective categories while finishing the year 13-3 with a 3.67 ERA in his final 24 starts.

With a glove-slap to Joe Christensen, Pat Neshek checked in and provided an update to his rehab.  While Christensen chose to focus on his reported velocity (which according to Neshek was around 88-90-mph, about his career average fastball velocity) one area that is more relevant to his Tommy John recovery is the location of his pitches.  Neshek relayed that: “The hitters also said that my fastball was pretty straight when I left it up in the zone (duh) but when it was down it was very hard to see and was a great pitch for me.  After hearing this I knew I had to concentrate now on hitting my spots and keeping the ball low.” What we don’t know is if Neshek was leaving a majority of his fastballs up in the zone as opposed to low, which if he has troubles keeping the ball down might result in some ugly (albeit meaningless) spring numbers. One thing that I keep repeating is that studies have found that control is the last thing to return for TJ pitchers so monitoring where his pitches wind up in spring training rather than how quickly they get there will be more vital to his recovery.  

Fox Sports Net announced that they will be carrying four of the Twins’ spring training games, including the March 13th meeting with the defending National League champion Philadelphia Phillies. As baseball has been gone too long and winter seems to be unending in this state, TwinsCentric has scheduled a TwinsCentric Viewing Party at Major’s Sports Café in Apple Valley. This will give local Twins fans the opportunity to congregate under one roof to watch and discuss preseason baseball with some of the collaborators of the Maple Street Press Twins Annual 2010. In addition to watching the game and basking in the glow of fellow Twins fans, TwinsCentric patrons will receive $2 pints and two-for-one appetizers as well as the opportunity to win copies of the Maple Street Press Twins Annual, 2010 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook, Major’s Sports Cafe gift cards and many more Twins-related products. For more information and updates on this event as we grow closer to that March 13th date, following TwinsCentric’s twitter feeds or friend us on Facebook.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What It Means to be Punto-esque

For whatever reason, the mere mention of “Nick Punto” and “starting job” evokes a kneejerk reaction as if someone just suggested aborting puppies on Christmas morning. You would think that in addition to rounding third a tad too overzealously in the deciding divisional game, needlessly diving headlong into first base to impress some omnipresent Pete Rose and producing incorrigible offensive numbers in successive odd years, that Punto somehow managed to find the opportunity to sleep with everyone’s sister and never call her back. This hatred to one local player might be legendary among the fans but is all this abhorrence validated?

While there is no denying the obvious shortcomings in his batting average (.229) or power (.284 slugging) this past season, but you cannot continue without acknowledging that he was partially a victim of unlucky batted ball outcomes when it came to the former. When people become enamored by his odd-and-even, up-and-down offensive numbers, some fail to comprehend the level of chance that factors in once the ball leaves the bat from year-to-year. Without the capabilities of putting too much of a charge into the ball, Punto’s better offensive season -- at least by batting average standards – of 2008 and 2006 the Twins’ infielder had two very good batting averages on groundballs in play. In 2008 while hitting 44.7 percent of balls on the ground he held a .293 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) - besting the league’s average by .053 points. Likewise, in 2006, Punto hit groundballs on 46.3 percent of balls in play and exercised a decent .282 BABIP on those which was .042 points better than the league average. On the other hand in his down years, his BABIP on groundballs in ’07 was -.010 points below the league average while hitting them 50.9 percent of the time (to be sure, his line drive BABIP was considerably worse than average as well dragging his numbers down a cavernous abyss). Meanwhile, this past season, he knocked 47.7 percent of pitches in play on the ground and managed to post a BABIP of just .204, -.036 points worse than average.

For the record, I do not entirely believe that Punto will be able to rebound in 2010. Because of the aforementioned batted balls, his offensive numbers will be extremely volatile and because of the abundance of replacement option at third, management will be less likely to continue to trot him out there in the event of a prolonged slump. As a hitter that cannot lift too many balls over the fence (or outfielder’s heads for that matter), Punto’s overall batting average is contingent on groundballs finding seams in the infield. In order to overcome this fluctuating game-of-chance that is central to his offensive performance, he has to contribute at a very high level in various other arenas of the game in and out of the batter’s box. There’s plenty of evidence that goes beyond the conventional statistics that highlights Nick Punto’s contributions.

Some people cringe at the term “scrappiness” the same way women do upon hearing John Mayer’s depiction of his Jessica Simpson exploits. One such example that qualifies as a scrapper in which he excelled was working the count, taking pitches, fouling a large number off and ultimately drawing a walk. Punto’s 4.20 pitches-per-plate appearance was the highest in the Twins lineup. Part of this was due to his ability to foul off pitches. In total, he fouled off 341 pitches (46% of his swings) more than his total swings that wound up in fair territory (308). Even though this is not a redeemable skill per se, Punto had 35 at bats in which he made a pitcher throw seven or more pitches, roughly 10% of a starting pitcher’s arsenal in one plate appearance. In the end, this does not show up in a boxscore (and habitually annoys the viewer at home who just wants to see hitter’s mash taters) but this conducts an invaluable service by allowing his team to see the pitcher’s entire repertoire and wears said pitcher down much quicker. Furthermore, Punto’s managed to finish the at bat more frequently with a free pass to first this past season – increasing his walk rate from 8.5% in ’08 to 13.5% in ’09. Because of his higher than the norm walk rate Punto’s .337 on-base percentage was above tolerable and average for an American League infielder. If he can somehow coax the baseball gods to allow a few more of those grounders to skip into the outfield and maintain this walk rate, the Twins would have an above average infielder.      

Although there is no widely accepted stat that encompasses baserunning(uh)itude that is accepted on the same level of other metrics, there is no doubt that Punto runs the bases like a Lexus hugging the California coastal highway. On the bases in ‘09 Punto’s well-timed tenacity and willingness to scamper for the extra base regularly gave the Twins a runner in scoring position. He swiped 16 bases in 19 attempts, advancing safely 84% of the time. More than that, he made just one out on the bases outside of the three times he was caught stealing. According to Bill James’ Baserunning Analysis Punto netted +27 in total bases. For what turned out to be a part-time player, this was phenomenal. Tenth on James’s Baserunning Analysis leaderboard for the season was former Twin Jason Bartlett who was +30, had a little over a hundred additional plate appearances than Punto to gain his extra bases. As a ninth hitter, he truly does don the qualities of a “second leadoff hitter” – getting on base and scoring runs from the bottom of the order.   

On defense, Punto provides flexibility, which is a quality and service that cannot be overlooked with expanding bullpens claiming precious roster space. And he does so not in the same manner as “Cuddyer can play center field if Denard Span went down.” Not only can he play three infield positions, he can play them well. Last year, he was decent at shortstop (4.7 UZR/150) and better yet at second (9.4 UZR/150). But the reality is that his opportunity in 2010 is at third where has done extremely well throughout his career (19.9 UZR/150) and this may be better suited as he has experienced shrinking range as he ages. In 2006 while playing third, Punto was the sixth best defender according to John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system (+16) and was eighth the following year (+10). Relocating him back to third would help solidify the defensive alignment around the diamond, particularly useful when groundball pitcher Nick Blackburn is on the mound.

So the mistreatment of Nick Punto is a bit unjust. Consider for a moment the term “Punto-esque”, a phrase used to describe futility at the plate in the Upper Midwest. It has slipped into the Twins fans’ lexicon as seamlessly as “Munson” or “Mendoza line.” This, of course, is perpetuated by casual fans that have latched onto some of the visual events that Punto symbolizes (i.e., making an out at third in the ALDS, sliding into first, pathetic batting averages, tendencies to sleep with your sister, etc). A look beyond the standard numbers reveals that he is a player that is able to provide more to the team than meets the eye. He demonstrates with his plate discipline, his baserunning skills and his versatile defense. He’s proven to be exceptional in other areas of the game that, if not make up for, at the very least compensates for his deficiencies at the plate. Perhaps we should re-assess our traditional beliefs of the composition of a ballplayer and begin to realize that we can use Punto-esque to describe an underappreciated player who finds other ways to contribute to a division-winning team.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Around the Central (02.09.10)

Rummaging through the news and notes from the Twins interdivision rivals so you don’t have to:

Chicago White Sox

ESPNChicago’s Bruce Levine notes that the White Sox are in the market for another situational left-handed reliever. Levine speculates that Chicago could potentially target Toronto’s Scott Downs in a trade.

  • ANALYSIS: With Matt Thornton and Randy Williams as the two left-handed options on the 40-man roster, the White Sox’s bullpen would be better served by upgrading from Williams, particularly in context to the Twins’ left-handed heavy lineup. Downs, who will be 34-years-old in March, has disassembled same-sided opponents well. In his career, he’s struck out 22% of all lefties and limited them to a .651 OPS. What’s more is that he’s due $4 million in 2010 and will be a free agent after the season so the Blue Jays should be motivated to move him.  Still, other than Justin Morneau (1-for-11, 2 Ks), Minnesota’s heart-of-the-order left-handed constituency has recorded success off of Downs as  Jim Thome (4-for-13, HR, 2B) and Joe Mauer (5-for-10, 2B) have hit the southpaw well.’s White Sox beat writer, Scott Merkin, believes that the Sox are not interested in bringing back outfielder Jermaine Dye no matter what his price drops to.

  • ANALYSIS: While some (surprisingly) National League teams appeared interested in his services, Dye still lingers on the market with pitchers and catchers reporting in a little less than a week.  With age and fielding limitations restricting him to designated hitter duty, Dye’s future is cloudy. His nasty second-half numbers (.179/.293/.297 in 246 plate appearances) might have signaled that he is no longer able to remain productive for an entire 162-game stretch.  As a role player like former teammate Jim Thome’s position with the Twins, Dye could be a very solid contributor. He smacked around left-handed pitching well in 2009 (.292/.387/.508 with 14 extra base hits in 150 plate appearances) and had a muted batted ball average, posting a BABIP of .269, one of his lowest of his career. A team that implements a platoon effectively should wind up with a decent bargain in Dye.

Cleveland Indians

Prior to signing with the Twins, the Indians were aggressively pursuing Orlando Hudson. According to’s Indians beat writer, Anthony Castrovince, the cash-strapped organization offered Hudson a two-year, $10 million dollar deal that was heavily backloaded in a 2012 buy-out.

  • ANALYSIS: It was an interesting competitor for Hudson’s services. The Indians had spent 2009 shedding payroll, trading the likes of Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Carl Pavano, Ryan Garko and Mark DeRosa to offset the ledger that was hemorrhaging money and refill the farm system. Mark Shapiro and company probably noted the undervalued Hudson available at a bargain buy and concocted a plan to use him for half of the season then flip him for prospects at the deadline. Castrovince said that the Hudson offer had very little financial commitment to 2010 so the bulk of the investment would have been pushed on to another organization. For a team in rebuilt mode like the Indians are, this would have been a good play.

Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes is not convinced that Aaron Laffey will be a member of the Indians’ wide-open starting rotation in 2010.

  • ANALYSIS: This really isn’t a surprise but Laffey at one time was a top-flight prospect in the Indians system.  Kind of the Glen Perkins of the Cleveland organization. The left-handed Laffey was able to induce groundballs at an insane rate (62%) while developing in the minors and posting acceptable strikeout rates. This certainly hasn’t translated at the major league level and in each passing year, Laffey loses a little bit of his wormburning and K abilities. Additionally, Laffey, who has never been mistaken for a strikeout artist, walked over four batters per nine innings and saw a good amount of those grounders slip past the infield defense (.262 GBBA) in ’09. He’s still just 25 in 2010 and if he can find control of the strike zone, he could be a capable rotation component.

The Indians head into spring training with hefty competition in left field, including Michael Brantley, Trevor Crowe, Jordan Brown, Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan.

  • ANALYSIS: One of the dividends of the CC Sabathia trade with Milwaukee, Brantley received an early introduction to the majors when Grady Sizemore when down in September. His initial foray into the bigs was a reaffirming one as the 22-year-old hit .313 with an on-base percentage of .358. Those numbers are a tad on the unsustainable side as his average was floated by an inflated .376 BABIP. Still, the kid rarely strikes out, draws walks and has some great speed on the bases so he could be a great addition to the top of the lineup. Kearns is a solid corner outfield defender so he could be used to bring some value to a left field position in which the Indians were the fifth worst in baseball according to the Plus/Minus system.


Detroit Tigers

The Tigers locked in Justin Verlander to a five-year, $80 million extension that will keep him in Detroit through his age-31 season.

  • ANALYSIS:  Whoa boy. This is going to be one of those careers to monitor. True, Verlander’s essentially has been healthy as horse – only two minor blips pop up on the fantasy pitchf/x DL tool since 2005 – but the team has put a lot of mileage on his arm. Last season, Verlander led all of baseball in Pitcher Abuse Points (219,899 PAP!!!!). This was 125,287 points higher than the runner-up in Tim Lincecum. In 11 of his 35 starts, Verlander threw over 120 pitches, maxing out at 129 and averaging a baseball-high of 112 pitches per start. Five years feels like the perfect length for a pitcher like that but don’t be surprised if some of these high totals result in various arm injuries in the duration of his Motown contract.

The Tigers are still interested in bringing in Johnny Damon, says’s Tigers beat writer, Jason Beck.

  • ANALYSIS:  After losing one of baseball’s best two-spot hitters in Placido Polanco this offseason (as well as leadoff hitter in Curtis Granderson), acquiring Johnny Damon might be the best counterpunch Detroit can make. Transitioning from Yankee Stadium where the left-handed hitting Damon launched 17 of his 24 home runs to Comerica’s distant outfield fences will certainly zap the majority of his pop, but Damon will still manage to coax walks and caused problems for the opposing team on the bases (12-for-12 in stolen base attempts in ‘09). The question is whether he can field in the more expansive ballpark.    

The Detroit Free Press’s George Sipple relays that Jeremy Bonderman, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, is throwing well down in Florida.

  • ANALYSIS:  Right now, the Tigers believe Bonderman, 27-years-old, can be their rotation’s number four starter. If he can go back to his pre-2007 form, he’d be a heck of an addition.  That said, he’s throwing his fastball at 90-mph, down from 93.3 in ’06. Likewise, after getting hitters to miss on 55.2% on all out-of-zone swings that season, hitters have made an abundance of contact, missing on just 36.4% this past season in limited duty. His slider has taken a substantial hit (from 2.34 wSL/C in ‘06 to -10.27 wSL/C in ’09) which may have a lot to do with his diminished velocity on the pitch – dropping from 85.4 mph to 82.0 this season. With an entire offseason of rest on his shoulder, Bonderman is young enough to bounce back but his injury list is extensive and daunting.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have signed Rick Ankiel to a one-year deal (and a mutual option for 2011) and have stated that he will be the team’s starting centerfielder in 2010 says the Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger.

  • ANALYSIS: In landing Ankiel, the Royals have swapped Mike Jacobs's all-or-nothing power, low-OBP at-bats for Ankiel's similar plate skill set. Ankiel, however, can play a serviceable outfield but is a miscast in center. He's got the arm but his range is deficient. Nevertheless, his acquisition moves Jose Guillen off of the field and into the designated hitter's role thereby improving the defense in that respect.

Royals manager Trey Hillman made some comments regarding his 2010 alignment now that Chris Getz and Josh Fields are in the mix. According to's Royals beat writer, Dick Kaegel, Hillman wants Getz at second but will consider him at short if Mike Aviles is not ready this spring. The Royals skipper also wants Fields at third but will get some looks in left field as well.

  • ANALYSIS: Since the trade, it's been interesting to see how Hillman will line these players up. The second base incumbent, Alberto Callaspo, hit .300/.356/.457 as the Royals' second best hitter behind Billy Butler. As a line drive hitter who makes regular line drive contact, Callaspo is capable of repeating these numbers (absent the slugging percentage). Defensively, in his first full season at second, he posted a UZR/150 of -7.5. Getz was slightly better in Chicago in the field (-6.7) but is not as skilled offensively as Callaspo. Fields meanwhile has struggled at the major league level to make regular contact, connecting on just 71% of his swings. In the field, he has failed to live up to his namesake committing eight errors in just over 400 innings at third in '09. With Alex Gordon firmly entrenched at third, Fields will get spot starts all over the diamond from third to left to DH which should not help with his flaky contact rate. 

Friday, February 05, 2010

Hudson acquisition addresses Twins' biggest need.

In 1996 the Minnesota Twins scored a massive 877 runs. Today, this still represents the high-water mark for the ballclub’s offensive flood and only the 1936 Washington Senators scored more in the franchise history with 889 (and they did so in an impressive 153 games). That year’s Twins lineup boasted some of the game’s finest on-base machines: Leading off was Chuck Knoblauch’s .448 OBP, fifth best in the AL. Batting third was future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor who exercised a healthy .390 OBP. At cleanup was the sophomore Marty Cordova - fresh off a Rookie of the Year season - procuring a .371 OBP and had yet to be sidelined by a vicious tanning booth injury. Bridging the top of the order in Knoblauch to the heart of the order in Molitor and Cordova was the 24-year-old Rich Becker and his robust .372 OBP.


Part of the reason the franchise’s lone offensive juggernaut is frequently forgotten is that the pitching and defense allowed a stunning 900 runs, the most in the team’s history since relocating to the prairie, and finished a distant 4th, 21.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians. Nevertheless, this 1996 club holds the blueprints to one of the game’s offensive truths: Get production from your two-spot, score a ton of runs.


I expanded on this subject matter at length in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook*:  


In 1986, Bill James constructed a poignant analysis on lineup composition and revealed that the total runs scored and second spot in the batting order had the strongest correlation among any player in the lineup -- more than leadoff, third or cleanup.  Mr. James noted in his 1986 Baseball Abstract that “many managers tend to waste the second spot in the order by putting somebody there who isn’t one of the better hitters on the team...Too many managers will say ‘bat control’ as if these words were a magic wand, and place some .260 hitter with a secondary average of .150 batting second…”


What Mr. James was trying to convey was that a sizable portion of baseball managers were submitting lineups that 1) had an excellent on-base oriented leadoff hitter, followed by a guy that 2) would slap the ball the other way or lay down a bunt thereby advancing the runner but surrendering an out, followed by 3) the team’s best hitter. Conceding the out was not advantageous for an offense. His solution to create an optimal lineup, one would want to enlist as many hitters in a row that avoid making outs – regardless of the out’s so-called productivity.


Since Becker’s 1996 campaign, the Twins have not had significant production from the two-spot. In fact that season’s team was the last one to have an OBP above .350 in the two-spot. This has been partial due to personnel and partial due to managerial decisions to implement a contact-heavy, sacrificing mentality.


Later on in the same article, I noted:


“Fast forward to 2008 - 22 years later – where Twins manager Ron Gardenhire unwaveringly presented a lineup card that embraced Weaver’s logic and opposed the method Mr. James’s research recommended. His use of Alexi Casilla that season reflected the long instituted Weaverian belief that a two-hitter should be an avid bunter as Casilla was the only AL representative among the top ten with 13 sac hits. What’s more, Casilla was the only nonpitcher

(aside from the light-hitting Wily Tavaras) to be on that list as well. This should speak volumes towards A) the belief in Casilla as a hitter and B) the capricious handling of precious outs by management...


…This past season, however, the levy finally broke completely. The average batting line from the number two spot in the American League was .277/.337/.430 (767 OPS). In other words, the average number-two hitter was creating outs 66.2 percent of the time. The Twins meanwhile, hit .262/.306/.394, getting out in a whopping 69.4 percent of their plate appearances.”


That 69 percent of plate appearance by the number two hitter that resulted in outs was the third highest in the AL. Only the lowly Royals and Mariners recorded more outs from their lineup’s second spot. This lack of production was glossed over because the lineup scored runs in bunches based on the presence of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. While this was a good thing, I implored the Twins to consider how many runs they were passing on neglecting to improve the two-spot, making it an essential Offseason To-Do List item.


 “The makeup of a two-hitter can be debated, but a strong contributor’s worth cannot be wholly ignored. There is no telling how many runs were lost or potential rally’s shortened because of poor at-bats by the team’s two-hitters. Had the Twins in 2009 employed a similar hitter to that of Boston (Pedroia), New York (Damon) or Texas (Young), there may have been more opportunities for the middle of the order to drive in more runs. Therefore, in 2010, the organization should attempt to acquire an adequate candidate that can perform duties of a high-caliber number-two hitter. As it stands, that person needs to come from outside the organization.”


That person did indeed come from outside of the organization. As of Thursday night, now with the one-year, $5 million contract to second baseman Orlando Hudson, the Twins can cross that gaping need off of their agenda.


As outline in length here on Wednesday, Hudson has numerous appealing qualities that the organization called for. While holding a career .348 OBP, in the last three seasons Hudson has greatly improved on this mark, posting a .366 OBP while walking in 10.1% of his plate appearances since 2007. Although I do not foresee Hudson’s OBP reaching quite the same level as it did in the offensive-friendly NL West upon transitioning back into the AL, he’s extremely capable of owning the highest OBP out of the Twins’ two-spot since Rich Becker. Inserting Hudson’s potential of an OBP of .350 or above behind lead-off hitter Denard Span (.390 career OBP) and in front of Mauer (.408 career OBP) and Morneau (.350 career OBP) will give the Twins a chain that will avoid needless outs and should commence pumping out runs ad nauseam.


*You haven’t purchased the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook yet?! It’s only $7.95 right now! Go! Go do it now.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Orlando Hudson still lingering on the market.

In the Twinscentric Offseason GM Handbook, we speculated that Orlando Hudson would be the most desired free agent second baseman on the market. After all, his wOBA in the past three years is the sixth-highest (.353) among second basemen, plays above average defense all while turning just 32-years-old in December.  With that in mind, we pegged him primed for a multi-year contract (three years) with an average annual value of $6 million. Turns out, we were the only ones that thought so and in yet another offseason, the market is collapsing in on Hudson.

Since the hot stove action began, players that we viewed as inferior second baseman have been signed. Placido Polanco (Phillies, but moving to third base), Jamey Carroll (Dodgers) and Ronnie Belliard (Dodgers) all have found teams. What’s more is that Polanco, two years Hudson’s elder, wound up with the exact contract from Philadelphia that we had earmarked for Hudson.

There are several unbelievable positive attributes about Hudson that are worth mentioning. His 2009 season with the Dodgers in which the switch-hitter produced a batting line of .283/.357/.417 proved that he was still very capable of being an offensive threat even after moving away from Arizona’s Chase Field. That condensed ballpark in the desert allowed Hudson to hit a stalwart .294/.365/.448 between 2006 and 2008. By all accounts, Hudson is poised to continue that production. His BABIP (.332) was thirty-two points above the league’s average, which in some cases would be a sign for some regression, but as a line drive/ground ball hitter with speed, he is very capable of continuing a BABIP that outperforms the norm. Likewise, his career .348 on-base percentage holds up well when you consider his maintained walk rate that is also typically above average. This means that Hudson’s 2010 season is not as contingent on him hitting safely to buoy a respectable OBP (unlike Delmon Young whose lack of walks makes it difficult to hold an OBP above .340).

Furthermore, he’s havoc on the base for the opposing team but very conservative at the same time. In the past three years, he’s swiped just 22 bases, succeeding with an outstanding 84.6% rate. Similarly, in ‘09, Hudson went from 1st-to-home on doubles eight times in 11 opportunities. This was the seventh highest in all of baseball. To be clear, this is not necessarily a repeatable skill, but if you take into account for the fact that he was on base 65.2% of the time in his career with his quickness, there is a strong likelihood that he will be on base to motor home if his team has some doubles machines behind him (i.e., Mauer, Morneau, Thome, Cuddyer, etc). When you couple this with his plate skills, you see that Hudson makes for an ideal number two hitter.

Reviewing his qualities, Hudson is a product that should sell itself, not the kind of good that needs to be coerced into buying, right? However, the only really suitors left for Hudson appear to be the Washington Nationals, (oddly) the Seattle Mariners and the Minnesota Twins – and even those doors are closing fast. According to Bill Ladsen, Washington’s reporter, the team has attempted to woo the free agent but Hudson and the Nationals are not seeing eye-to-eye financially. Hudson had originally sought a $9 million, one-year deal – slightly better than his 2009 contract which came to $7 million total with incentives. Uninterested in paying retail, the Nationals offered a one-year, $3 million contract worth $4 million based on incentives. Despite not getting his desired amount, Hudson appears to have little designs on playing at this discounted rate.

The Twins, meanwhile, have announced that they are strictly Wal-Mart shoppers, only interested in the low price due to their budget limitations. Joe Christensen blogged that he had a gut-feeling that the Twins would pass on Hudson even if his price tag was reduced to $3 million dollars. Even at this extreme reduction, I've got to say that I agree with him. Christensen continued by citing the team’s hopes that Alexi Casilla would rebound to fill the number two spot in the order. Naturally, this inspired outrage among the faithful. Use whatever method or metric you wanted it is impossible to come to a conclusion where Casilla is a better option than Hudson.

Before you head to your pitchforks, consider this: A recoil season is not out of the question for Casilla. While developing in the system, Casilla has shown the capability of getting on base consistently while making a high rate of contact. For the most part, he’s continued that in the majors, exercising a high-walk, low-strikeout rates but had struggled with putting the ball in play well. His .240 BABIP was insanely repressive as his groundball and line drive batting averages were severely below the norms which submarined his entire season. As a career .298/.371/.375 minor league hitter, he has been Orlando Hudson without the pop. Sure, he’ll never achieve the same power numbers as Hudson but he could reach base more frequently and do just as well while on there (Casilla swiped 11 bags without being thrown out). While he has only shown a small portion of that side of him, if Casilla rebounds and plays to his potential, he could be every bit as equal to Hudson but of course, there’s the rub. Whereas Casilla is skilled enough to be Hudson’s equivalent if given an opportunity (and at a price that fits the budget), the guarantee of Hudson’s track record will cost you anywhere from $3 million to upwards of $7 million but with confidence that you purchased consistency in the lineup.