Monday, February 21, 2011

OtB Twins Notes

LaVelle Neal informs us that Justin Morneau, who reported to spring training on Monday, is ready to participant in the team activities but still is not 100%.
While the majority of us would be satisfied with simply having Morneau back on the field by Opening Day,’s Jeff Zimmerman collected some research on the 50 players who have returned from the disabled list after a concussion and reviewed their pre-concussion and post-concussion performance.

Zimmerman’s research revealed a notable drop-off in offensive performance – especially in the on-base percentage and slugging categories.

Because the data pool is extremely small, it’s hard to know whether these findings are really indicative of a post-concussion performance. Furthermore, we don’t know if the drop-off incurred was due to the concussion or the time off. After all, any player who spends 60 days away from baseball-related activity will likely experience the same sort of regression. Given Morneau’s description of his symptoms – including fogginess – you can see how one’s on-base percentage may drop when attempting to judge a strike zone through a haze or trying to get a beat on a mind-bending curveball.

In Morneau’s case, back in 2005 when he took a Ron Villone fastball to the dome, he came back strong, hitting .265/.333/.500 in his first 60 games upon his return but finished what turned out to be his worst season as a major leaguer. After missing 81 games last year - in addition to the time off this winter from baseball-related activities - you have to wonder if Morneau is in going to witness a significant drop-off once he returns to action in 2011.
Neal also notes that Scott Baker spent time throwing in the bullpen with little discomfort – only when tossing his changeup.
To me, I do not think Baker is out of the woods for concern over his arm but this is some good news after the initial reports. Baker doesn’t typically use his changeup that often – throwing it 7.5% of the time, mostly to left-handers. On top of that, it is one of his least successful pitches, amassing a career -1.9 runs above average with it and according to Inside Edge, over the last two years, opponents have hit .320 off of his change.

As I noted in the beginning of February, getting Baker healthy again so he can regain the arm angle he dropped in 2010 will likely led to fewer pitches that run astray on him as they did last year.  
The Pioneer Press’s John Shipley tracked down hitting coach, Joe Vavra, and picked his brain regarding Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s swing mechanics. Vavra’s response? It looks good.
Said Vavra:
“I've seen enough on the highlight films and the YouTube and the various different media outlets to know that he's a pretty good hitter. He gets his hands inside the ball well, is able to spray the ball, and it looks like he's able to rotate the ball and drive it."
I’ve taken a couple opportunities to talk about Nishioka’s mechanics this winter and essentially have concluded the same as Vavra. Another interesting nugget provided in the same article was that the Twins do not have their left-handed batting practice arm in camp yet so Nishioka took all his swings from the left-side of the plate.’s Phil Mackey caught up with reliever Anthony Slama who said that he has added a cutter to his repertoire this off-season in efforts to subdue left-handed opponents.

The 27-year-old Slama is a pitcher that appears to be on the cusp of breaking into a full-time relief role. In his four seasons in the Twins organization since being drafted in ’06, Slama has put up attractive numbers working as a closer. In his 249 innings of work, he’s whiffed 345 while producing a 0.4 HR/9 career average leading to a 1.95 ERA. However, while dominant against his right-handed competition, lefties have has some level of success when facing him. Last year in Rochester, righties were limited to a .130 average against with a 2.94 K/BB ratio while lefties hit .242 with a 1.60 K/BB ratio.
Remarked Slama about the cutter:
"That'll be a good pitch for me. I kind of struggled a little bit against lefties. The changeup is a bit of a take pitch for them because they see it early. And typically it'll kind of dive away from them. That's what I'm trying to get groundballs on, and a changeup isn't really a groundball pitch. So I'm hoping a cutter will kind of offset that and give me something to move in the other direction so that the changeup will be nastier."
In his short exposure last year with the Twins, Slama faced twelve lefties, allowing six of them to put the ball in play. Every one of those had elevation as he induced zero grounders.

Reviewing Slama’s limited pitch f/x data on his 4.2 innings at the major league level last year, we see that Slama used his four-seamer/two-seamer combination along with his changeup on the outer-half of the plate which moves away from lefties. Without much available to keep these opponents from diving out over the plate on those pitches, Slama clearly needed another weapon that he could go inside with to keep them honest. If effective, the cutter should then keep lefties from getting solid wood on the change-up, instead beating those into the turf more regularly.   

Mackey’s cohort down in Fort Myers, Tom Pelissero, uploaded a video of the contrast between Joe Nathan and fireballer Jim Hoey while going through their bullpen sessions.
Yup, the ball explodes out of Hoey’s hand. In 2007, Hoey was averaging 95.7-mph for the Orioles while flirting with triple-digits in the minors. Of course, what the clip didn’t show is where the pitched ended up. He’s got the heat but he’s got the wildness too.

I maintain the prediction I made back in January that Hoey has the potential of being a major contributor out of the bullpen this year – provided he harnesses his command and stays healthy. 

Charley Walters, in his infamous ‘Don’t Print That’ section of his column, hints that the Twins are not interested in keeping Danny Valencia long-term.
Since he’s cheap at least through 2012 when Valencia will likely enter his arbitration years, I’m assuming this issue doesn’t mean the Twins will trade him, just progress year-to-year with him until he becomes expensive.

While Valencia emerged as a strong presence at third base – rocking left-handed pitching and fielding his position far better than what had been anticipated – his 322 plate appearances likely do not reflect what his results would be when given a full season. I anticipate some decline in his numbers in 2011 as opponents start to pick through his soft-spots in his swing but expecting his totals to come close to his minor league career rate isn’t farfetched (.298/.353/.469) as he hits breaking pitches extremely well while hitting the ball to the big part of the field often.
Joe Mauer, cover boy for the second consecutive year of MLB: The Show, told reporters that he and some of his teammates actually use the video game as a method for scouting some of their rivals.
You kind of wonder if that sort of a statement is actually part of his duties as the game’s chief spokesman or if the genuinely flip on the game for on-field insight. At the very least, it is infinitely superior to those of Nintendo’s RBI Baseball. Mauer said that the details within the game – specifically, hand placement – is spot-on.  
With scouting companies like Inside Edge, who contributed their stats package to Major League Baseball 2K10, you can see how there is something to be learned from today’s modern games but while this sort of information could be useful in some capacity, accessing video footage of those players should be the preferred method for accurate information.

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