Sunday, July 24, 2011

OtB Twins Notes: Twins lineup grounded, Liriano's fastball and trade rumors

On Sunday, the Tigers Rick Porcello ripped through the Twins lineup with relative ease. With the exception of a handful of doubles from Delmon Young, Jim Thome and Danny Valenica, the right-hander kept the Twins at bay, limiting them to two runs on five hits over six innings of work.
Porcello, a career 51% ground ball rate, is just another earth-scorching starter that has dispatched the Twins in recent weeks. Add Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona (career 59.3% ground ball rate) and Justin Masterson (career 56.5% ground ball rate) to that list as well. There is a reason behind this and that is that the Twins have been truly awful against ground ball pitching this season.

According to, the Twins have the lowest OPS against ground ball pitchers in 2011:
AL Teams OPS vs Ground Ball Pitchers (2011)
Even the toothpick-swinging Mariners have managed a better showing.’s Jordan Schelling tells us that Ron Gardenhire was plenty disappointed in Francisco Liriano’s outing.
During the broadcast, fill-in analyst Roy Smalley made it clear that command of the fastball was going to be the focal point for Liriano in this start. Liriano, however, could not find the strike zone with it. According to Inside Edge, just 21 of his 46 fastballs (46%) wandered into the strike zone airspace. Credit the Tigers for not helping out the Twins lefty as they only chased on  two of the 25 out-of-zone fastballs. The lone bright spot is that for a pitcher who held the league’s lowest first-pitch strike rate, Liriano actually managed to get ahead of 12 of 17 of the Tigers’ hitters before falling behind. That’s…progress?
On Saturday, the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connelly said the Twins have heavy interest in the Orioles’ Koji Uehara, sending one of their top pro scouts, Bob Hegman, to Camden Yards while Baltimore’s professional scouting director, Lee MacPhail, was at Target Field.
Uehera would be an outstanding addition to the Twins bullpen. Over the past two seasons, Uehera’s .183 average has been the eighth-lowest in baseball while his 8.77 strikeouts-to-walks ratio has been the second-best behind only Edward Mujica. What’s more is that Uehara thrives in making right-handed hitters look absolutely foolish. Since 2010, he has held a .169 average against, a baseball-best 0.64 WHIP versus righties with an otherworldly 54.00 strikeouts-to-walk ratio.

In addition to having a terrific season as a lights-out set-up man, Uehara’s contract is extremely team-friendly. Having a little over a million left on his contract this season, Uehara has a vesting option for the 2012 season for $4 million if he reaches 55 games (or 25 games finished). So far he’s 10 appearances (or six more games finished) away from having that triggered. For the Twins whose future in their ‘pen is still wideout, Uehara would provide a solid arm that could potentially close at low cost if Nathan or Capps are not retained.

For multiple reasons, back in December I lobbied the Twins to make a run at Uehara. It sounded like there were conversations but the pitcher, who had settled his family in the Baltimore-area, really wanted to remain an Oriole. Now would be a great time to pry Uehara away from the east coast. Teams often stick to one or two trading partners and the Twins have a comfortable relationship with Baltimore (and the Orioles should be more than pleased with their return on Hardy), so it would make plenty of sense for the two teams to hook-up.
During the appropriately titled, Ron Gardenhire Show, the manager told 1500ESPN’s Tom Pelissero that he wanted a “veteran bat” for off the bench, a switch-hitting one at that, in addition to a relief arm.
A quick scour of the soon-to-be selling teams reveals little to no options that fit that description. If the sticking point is a switch-hitter, only the Dodgers’ Aaron Miles, Athletics’ Coco Crisp or the White Sox’s Omar Vizquel qualifies.

While I can see Gardenhire being enamored by the diminutive Miles’s scrap-and-grit, his .284/.322/.355 career batting line does nothing for me. Crisp has performed well against lefties this season and has been above-average on the bases and in the outfield. However, the Twins have plenty of outfield options as is and trying to squeeze Crisp into the fray with Denard Span, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer and Ben Revere makes for a crowded room.

1500ESPN’s Darren Wolfson tweeted to me that he believed that Seattle’s Chone Figgins would be a possibility given his struggles in the Northwest. Over the past two seasons since signing with the Mariners, Figgins has been every kind of awful there is at the plate. By any metric available, you can see that he has not performed. His OPS (594) is the second-worst in baseball. His slugging (.285) has been the worst among qualified starters. His wOBA (.275) is the fourth-worst (interestingly enough, four of the top five worst wOBAs belong to Mariners). There is little redeeming value for the Twins in Figgins.

It’s hard to pinpoint what happen to him that allowed him to spirl out of control. Since switching from the Angels, Figgins has expanded his swing zone, chasing after more balls and putting a greater amount of bad pitches in play. Could a different location with a different lineup allow Figgins to bounce back to pre-2010 form? It’s possible, as it seems that Seattle is the place where offense and dreams go to die.

On top of his struggles, Figgins is shackled to a fairly monsterous contract that includes paydays of $9 and $8 million in 2012 and 2013. It is hard to see Seattle agreeing to chew through a lot of that in order to make it more friendly for the Twins to take a flier out on Figgins. At the end of the day, the Twins need a hitter that can perform now, not a project like Figgins.

Beyond a crowded outfield, the Twins also have a plate full of designated hitting-types in Jim Thome and Jason Kubel. This means that the more veteran options with that oh-so-valuable “post-season” experience that are likely to be flipped (Hideki Matsui,Jason Giambi) have little versatility to offer.
St Louis Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss claims that the Cardinals, who have a need for pitching - both starting and a left-handed specialist - have been in contact with the Minnesota Twins.
This certainly could be an interesting landing spot for Kevin Slowey where the Cardinals love their strike-throwing starters and have done well reviving careers. At the same time, there is little St. Louis likely has available that would help the Twins immediately. There are a few intruging bullpen arms including the 27-year-old Mitchell Boggs who is arbitration-eligible at the end of the season. The Cardinals haven’t asked Boggs to work too many high leverage innings but he has compiled a decent season. For the Twins, he would be a nice right-handed option to reprive Alex Burnett in the 6th or 7th inning.
Because of limited amount of talent that could help the Twins this year, I would bet that the two teams are unlikely bedfellows.
According to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (hat-tip, the Pirates are not pursuing Kevin Slowey.
On any other year of the millennium, the Pirates may have been a worthy partner to pry a decent relief arm away from but as current frontrunners of the NL Central, the Bucs are not likely to surrender any useful pieces.

Still, it’s interesting that Biertempfel says the team isn’t pursuing Slowey. While Slowey and his health is a mystery, it’s somewhat surprising the Pirates are not more interested in the right-hander. After all, the Pirates’ rotation, despite boasting the NL’s fifth-best ERA (3.61) also has the highest xFIP (4.09) suggesting that the sunny days might not last forever with this current group. Additionally, Pittsburgh’s starters have amassed the third-least amount of innings (586.2) indicating they may need some new blood.  
The Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen wonders is Kyle Gibson’s recent struggles in AAA have possibly made the decision to move Kevin Slowey for relief help that much more difficult.

Gibson’s most recent outing in Indianapolis yielded four runs on seven hits and a career-high five walks to just one strikeout. According to Gibson, he had difficulties with his off-speed offerings:
“I felt pretty decent, but my off-speed wasn’t really as good as it has been, so when I was behind in the count I couldn’t really use that to get myself back in the count.”
This has been somewhat of a disappointing string of starts for Gibson who, in the month of July, has allowed 24 hits in the past 14 innings of work. Of course, while the tangible issues with his secondary offerings are substantial, Gibson likely has some reason to gripe about his defense. Gibson owns the second-highest ground ball rate in the International League (57%) but backs that up with the third-highest batting average on balls in play (.346).

The Twins recently held an open tryout camp in Fort Myers and for the first time in six years, the team actually signed a participant: Custer, South Dakota native, J.R. Krogstad.
Evaluators were impressed with Krogstad’s 91 mile per hour fastball complemented by an 87 mile per hour slider. They signed the 6-foot-2 right-hander and shipped him to the Gulf Coast League were the former paleontologist is attempting to rise in the system. Krogstad is an interesting story even if it becomes a footnote in Twins history. 

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