Friday, September 30, 2011

Parmelee's September to Remember

Its funny how small sample size success can frequently send a fan base atwitter.

True, Chris Parmelee posted one of baseball’s best weighted On-Base Averages (wOBA) in the past month. He raked to the tune of .355/.443/.592 with four home runs and six doubles in just shy of a hundred plate appearances. And, all in all, it was one of the best September call-up performances in recent memory.

Still, it is difficult to project a player’s true capabilities just based on a one-month sampling – even if you are combining it with his recent minor league track record.

To be sure, there is plenty to like about Parmelee’s potential just based on his smattering of at bats this year:

  • He has shown a keen understanding of the strike zone. His 28% out-of-zone chase rate was below the league’s average meaning he was not helping the pitchers’ out. Because of this, he was able to draw 12 walks (compared to 13 strikeouts).

  • Likewise, he keeps his hands back to handle breaking and off-speed stuff extremely well. This led to a low swing-and-miss rate of 22% on curves/sliders along with a .813 slugging percentage as several of his balls in play went for extra bases. Not chasing breaking stuff out of the strike zone will tend to result in a smaller strikeout rate.

  • Mechanically, he keeps his hands inside the ball too. This has allowed him to get around quickly on the inside pitch and drive it. Keeping one’s hands in can equate to more power from that leveraged position while incorporating the entire body (rather than swinging with just your arms).

These elements are solid building blocks for a fundamentally sound hitter. Additionally, Parmelee has also shown that he can make modifications too. Beginning two years ago, he axed his upper-cut swing in favor of a more leveled one. This yielded an almost immediate difference in his performance as he cut down on the amount of strikeouts and increased his line drive rate substantially:


TwinsCentric’s Nick Nelson did a thorough job of analyzing Parmelee’s cup of coffee and pumping the brakes for those who yearn for something to believe in with this organization. Nelson particularly advised about getting too amped up over his power output based on his September numbers – which I completely agree with. While Parmelee has a powerful swing and, at 24 years old in 2012, he could develop more pop, at the same time, there are plenty of similar prospects who have murdered it in a small section of the season only to be knocked back down to size.

One such extreme example is the Rangers’ Taylor Teagarden.

In 2008, the catching prospect was having a middling season in the minors but received a September call-up. Prior to joining Texas, Teagarden hit .211/.319/.374 with nine home runs in 286 plate appearances split between AAA and AA. Yet when he reached the majors he had a monster of a month, hitting .341/.426/.829 with five home runs in 36 plate appearances. Following the ‘08 season, based on his late season performance, Teagarden’s name was often cited by the Boston Red Sox as one of the potential targets to eventually replace the aging incumbent Jason Varitek. Instead, the Rangers opted to hang on to Teagarden - along with backstop partner Jarrod Saltalamacchia – only to be rewarded with a .205/.268/.356 line since then (and in a freakin’ hitter’s park, no less).

Teagarden’s story is fairly consistent of what happens to a lot of hitters that have talent but do not demonstrate the ability to respond once the competition adjusts to them. In September ’08, opponents fed Teagarden a steady stream of fastballs. Over 70% of his pitches were fastballs and the right-hander hit .407 on them resulting in an incredible value of 8.1 runs above average. Not surprising, the following season Teagarden saw fewer fastballs coming his way and, when he did get one, he was not able to do much with it. It got to the point where he was sent back to AA to figure it out.

Now, this is not to say that Teagarden’s misfortunes will end with the same results for Parmelee, but it is a cautionary tale of how, when given time to study, scouts can adapt quickly. As the Strib’s Joe Christensen pointed out, teams will eventually find his soft spot:

“[T]here are holes in his swing that big league scouts are sure to exploit by the time he starts facing teams a second time”

As it stands right now, Parmelee’s holes are so obvious it can be seen from space.

Parmelee’s biggest strengths are inside and down in the zone. In fact, lower in the hitting zone the better: According to Inside Edge, he has a .203 well-hit average on all his swing down in the zone (.087 MLB average). On the other hand, he clearly has a fairly significant hole in his swing when it comes to pitches up and over the plate:

His ability to keep his hands in also hinders his ability to reach the outer-half of the plate. In the most basic terms, step one of the opposition’s game plan would be to implement cutbacks on the amount of pitches thrown down in the zone and step two would be to feed him more fastballs up and out over the plate.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Parmelee will experience a collapse like Teagarden did – it simply means that he is less likely of getting “his pitch” (down in the zone) and more likely to get more of those up and out over the plate. As you can see in the chart below, teams already started to focus on that area of the zone. To his credit, Parmelee displayed an adept amount of patience on the majority of those pitches – recognizing it is better to not swing at the ones he knows he can’t handle:

Overall, Parmelee’s offensive attributes are impressive. He has shown veteran-like comprehension of the strike zone, a keen ability to adjust to the breaking and off-speed stuff, a tight swing that gives him power on the inner-half and has demonstrated that he is capable of making changes. With Justin Morneau a huge question mark for next season, while he may never reach the power levels of Morneau, there is some comfort in knowing that Parmelee, who appears very close to a finished product, is readily available.

Now that the Twins' season is over, DiamondCentric has plenty designs avialable on sale - including the Thome Is My Homey, 600 Naturally, FranKKKKKie!, I Love Koobs! and others. 

If you are looking for a fall diversion, DiamondCentric now has a football-themed shirt celebrating the greatest day of the week during autumn: Sunday Funday.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This is the end.

The 2011 Twins season is mercifully over.

It’s odd. When the Twins’ season ended last year, TwinsCentric focused on how the front office can get our team past the New York Yankees during the offseason. This winter, we’re hoping the front office is able to get past the Royals.

The TwinsCentric crew – Nick Nelson, Seth Stohs, John Bonnes and I – will be presenting our Offseason GM Handbook in the coming week. Until then, I hope to provide you with some various statistical breakdowns and some video analysis in this space.

Thanks again for those that have stopped by – even when the baseball was the furthest thing from the minds of most Twins fans. If you have any questions, statements, thoughts or insights, please leave a comment below, email me at or follow me on twitter (@OverTheBaggy). 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Infield Hits: Death by papercuts?

I have spent plenty of time in this space dedicated to the deterioration of the Twins’ infield defense. The once flourishing empire has crumbled into a shell of its former self.

We know that the 2011 infield defense has been both porous and error-prone – a lethal combination for the home team – but it is equally terrible at converting balls that remain in the infield to outs just the same. Heading into last night’s game, the Twins infield had allowed 198 infield hits, by far the most in the AL. That’s also 25 more than they allowed last season. They have allowed 17 more hits than the next closest team, the Chicago White Sox, and a whopping 56 more infield hits than the Boston Red Sox who have allowed the fewest hits within the infield area.

On Monday it was the Twins inability to turn grounders that stay within the infield dirt into outs proved to be their ultimate demise as they allowed another FIVE infield hits.

Kevin Slowey cruised through the first five innings while scattering several hits. Unfortunately, some of those scattered we ones that could have been turned into outs. With one out in the first, Melky Cabrera hit a slow chopper towards shortstop Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe was unable to make the play on the ball and get the speedy Cabera at first. Then, by means of small ball, the Royals were able to move Cabrera to third and score him on an Eric Hosmer sacrifice fly.

Admittedly, the play was somewhat difficult – especially considering from where Plouffe was starting from – but it is not a play that we haven’t seen more athletic shortstops make in the past. But, to be fair, the Royals are one of baseball’s speedier team – racking up 154 infield hits of their own, the second-most in MLB – so it’s difficult to put tonight’s five infield hits entirely on the Twins defense.

That stood as the Royals only run until the sixth inning. Once again it was Cabrera who singled on an infield grounder to Plouffe and once again, the Royals moved Cabrera around to score. Now, Slowey – who was on the brink of collapsing as he is wont to do this season – was not helping his cause at this point either. In fact, he threw 97 pitches and got just 4 swinging strikes (all on fastballs). At the juncture, he was giving up loud outs and hard-hit balls all over the yard.

Kevin Slowey (2011)
1st PA in G, as SP
2nd PA in G, as SP
3rd PA in G, as SP


It is impossible to predict the outcome if the Twins had been able to get some of those outs.  Still, you have to wonder, if Plouffe had been able to make either play on Cabrera, the Royals would likely have not scored – certainly not in the first. Plus, making those plays would have shaved off possibly 10 or so pitches off of Slowey’s pitch count. Is it possible that that would have gotten him through the sixth?

Beyond just last night, think about that on a larger scale – How many additional pitches on the pitching staffs arms? How many runs do 25 additional base runners equate to? Could that be at least a five-win difference on the basis of the infield defense alone?

When the season ends in a few days, one of the biggest offseason priorities should be to find a way to stop the hemorrhaging in the infield.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Plouffe has shown promise, just not in September

For a while there, given the opportunity to try on the shortstop position for next season, Trevor Plouffe looked as if it was going to fit him good.

From August 15 to September 3, Plouffe played in 20 games and hit an impressive .316/.365/.506 in 86 plate appearances. The ball was exploding off of his bat and his fielding was much improved since his early season yips. Unfortunately, since committing the cardinal sin in baseball – forgetting how many outs there are – he has fallen into the abyss. From September 4 on, Plouffe has gone a measly 5-for-43 (.116) in 49 plate appearances and has committed five errors in the field. Basically, he’s playing like a man about to lose the job.

According to 1500ESPN’s Phil Mackey, manager Ron Gardenhire had some remarks directed towards Plouffe’s recent play:
"He's scuffled lately at making plays that really we have to make. And I don't know if he's just relaxed enough, he's comfortable back up here, he knows he's going to play and lost a little bit of the edge, I don't know. Because there's been some sloppy, sloppy play out there when he was going along really, really good and really focused on it. So that just tells you a little bit about the game up here.
You can't let your guard down. You're going along, and I don't know if he's done that, I don't think so. He seems like he's intense and he's doing all of this work, but he's gotten a little sloppy out there lately, and he knows it."
Scuffling is putting it lightly. Like when your mom says "you are not fat, you are husky."

Defensively, we have witnessed some seriously lackadaisical play in the field. For example, on September 14 in Kansas City, with runners on first and third with nobody out, second baseman Johnny Giavotella chopped one towards Plouffe’s right. Plouffe gobbles it up on the move and – while still shuffling his feet and fading away from the play – he throws off-target to Matt Tolbert covering second.

Given the speed and location that the ball was hit, the likelihood that the ball was going to result in just one out was high. Plouffe had all the time in the world on this to get his feet set and make a strong throw to the bag – getting that all-important first out. Instead, he got lazy and fired one into the outfield. The Royals scored and were denied a second run on a solid throw home by first baseman Chris Parmelee (who must have practiced those oh-so-routine throws from behind the camera well in New Britain).

The defensive shortcomings are nothing new to Plouffe’s game – after all, he had a poor camp in the field and his attempts to maim spectators sitting behind first base got him sent back to Rochester for further Twins Way indoctrination – yet, up until recently, he provided a decent stick to compensate for those miscues.  

While Plouffe’s sudden offensive decline has little explanation from a data or scouting standpoint, there are some troubling trends nonetheless that suggest this isn’t just a BABIP-related slump. His line drive rate has dropped drastically in September and he is receiving more fastballs in September but isn’t fairing as well against them as he did in August (-1.4 runs above average in September versus 1.1 runs above average in August). Aside from seeing more fastballs, pitchers are targeting the same spots and mechanically he looks the same.

One of the biggest factors is that Plouffe isn’t pulling the ball as well this month. Take a look at his hit charts between the two samplings:

While spreading the ball to all fields is well and good, pulling the ball is where Plouffe makes his money. So far this season, Plouffe is slugging .679 when he hits the ball to left and six of his seven home runs have gone out that direction.

Offensively, there are signs that there may be sunnier days ahead for Plouffe. Previously, I highlighted some of the mechanical changes that he made that have given him some added power. Essentially, by stabilizing his pre-swing bat movement and incorporating a more violent leg lift/plant, he has been able to drive the ball more resulting in more fly balls and line drives and fewer ground balls. As such, Plouffe has smacked a career-high 22 home runs so far in 2011.

Meanwhile, on the field, Plouffe needs someone to help get him under control. In 2009, the Milwaukee Brewers hired Willie Randolph in part to help improve the fielding of the highly talented second baseman Rickie Weeks. Because of Randolph’s tutelage, Weeks progressed from an error-prone, mistakes machine into a…well, a somewhat slightly less error-prone player who is now capable of making the routine plays. His Ultimate Zone Rating went from a -10.3 UZR/150 from 2005 to 2008, the second worst in baseball, to a much more respectable 4.6 from 2009 to this season. Perhaps the Twins front office need to have someone like Paul Molitor on-staff fulltime to guide players like Plouffe and Tsuyoshi Nishioka which may help them reap the same dividends that it did for the Brewers and Weeks.

Since his dunderheaded play in Anaheim back on September 4, Plouffe has been the epitome of someone lacking focus and it has shown both at the plate and in the field. Perhaps starting with that mental error and compounded by the realization that he is auditioning for a starting role next year has snowballed into this two week mess for him. Whatever the reason, Plouffe, like the rest of the Twins, need this season to come to a merciful close so they can reboot and refocus for 2012.

Better days should be ahead for both. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Focus on the future

While most of the season has provided little redeeming quality for Twins fans, there remains at least one positive take away from this horrific year of baseball in Minnesota: a top five draft pick in 2012.

The unfortunate flipside to that is that this upcoming draft class does not have a Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper, players who are expected to have a substantial and immediate impact for their team. In fact, as’s prospect guru Keith Law notes, the next draft class might be one of the thinnest in years.

Right now, many mock draft sites are projecting Stanford’s six-foot-four right-handed starter Mark Appel as the likely number one overall pick in 2012. Unlike the aforementioned Strasburg, Appel does not have the gaudy strikeout totals. Whereas Strasburg maintained strikeout rates well above the 12.0 K/9 mark, Appel has hovered around the 7.0 K/9 mark thus far in his colligate career. Even the Twins more recent high draft picks such as Alex Wimmers and Kyle Gibson held strikeout rates above 10.0 in their college careers. To fans who have grown tired of pitch-to-contact types the organization has selected, Appel’s selection would likely disappoint.

Still, the lanky-built Appel tosses mid-90’s two-seam fastballs (but was hitting 99 in the spring) and a solid slider that has impressed scouts. Allan Simpson, founder of Baseball America, ranked Appel as the top pitcher in the prestigious Cape Cod League this past summer as he struck out 15 and walked just one in 12 innings of work. In the video clip of him, you will see a long-arm action, a fastball that runs at the last minute and a sharp slider that drops off the table fairly quick:

Another arm that is mentioned within the top five regularly is high school phenom Lucas Giolito. Giolito, a senior at North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (CA), is a six-foot-six, 220 pounds beast and the teenaged right-hander throws 94 while touching 96.3 during the Area Code Games - the midsummer showcase for the nation’s top high school talent.

While the fastball has plenty of life and his 12-to-6 curveball is respectable (he hooks his hand just a bit in the clips potentially giving away the pitch), his deliberate and plodding mechanics could use some polishing. Although they are very repeatable, similar to Kyle Gibson’s mechanics, Giolito has some wasted motion as he lifts his leg and then lowers it almost straight down before driving forward. Engaging his legs more in his delivery would take some pressure off of his arm.

Across the country from Giolito in Tampa, Florida is another touted prep arm in Lance McCullers Jr. McCullers Jr - a six-foot-two, 200 pound righty - had shown a 97 miles-an-hour as a 16 year old and was recently gunned at a Perfect Game event this past August at 100 miles-an-hour.

The problem with McCullers Jr, who currently attends the same high school that the Twins drafted Brad Radke from and is the son of former major league pitcher Lance McCullers, is that although he clearly has a power arm he also has some bumpy mechanics . More specifically, he struggles with landing his front foot consistently which translates into control issues. Because of this, you have to wonder if he would wind up more of a project in the minors with a risk of following the same path as 2008 draft pick, Shooter Hunt.

Meanwhile, in terms of offense, Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero seems to be the best available among position players. This past draft, the Twins selected North Carolina infielder Levi Michael who, by most metrics, was a slightly better hitter than Marrero.

Player Name

Michael, however, is not nearly the glove man that Marrero is at short. While he played short in his final season at UNC after manning both second and third, at least one scout projects that Michael will shift back to second base. Part of the reason is his arm. During the 2008 Perfect Game competitions, Michael was clocked as throwing 85 miles-per-hour across the diamond. For a comparison, Tsuyoshi Nishioka supposedly throws in the mid-80s from short. At the same event, Marrero was registering 93 on the gun. Aside from his arm, Marrero has been lauded for his overall defense in the field. After being labeled the Cape Cod League’s best prospect by Baseball America, his coach said this about the young man:
“He’s the best defensive player I’ve ever seen at 19, 20 years of age. Walt Weiss was pretty darn good, but this young man –I’ve never seen anybody who could get his feet in the right position almost all the time. If for any reason he doesn’t get his feet in the right position, he has the ability to get his hands in the right place, and understand the speed of the runner. I think he’s Omar Vizquel at 20.”
So even though the Twins drafted a shortstop this season (and two more within the first ten rounds), because of the system’s lack of true shortstop talent combined with this year’s defensive ineptitude, targeting someone like Marrero - who has shown high caliber play at the position - makes plenty of sense.

Another position that the Twins have a need within the system is at catcher. Certainly, with Joe Mauer signed through, you know, infinity, there isn’t a pressing need yet we witnessed the glaring hole created when he was hurt and unable to catch, so the front office should be considering some insurance policy. Florida’s Mike Zunino might be that kind of option. Armed with plenty of pop (19 home runs and a .674 slugging percentage in 2011), if Mauer ever needs to move on a more permanent basis to another position in the next few years, having someone like Zunino ready in 2014 or 2015 may help ease the transition. 

Friday, September 02, 2011

Hughes the Force, Luke

Out of options next season, infielder Luke Hughes has certainly made the most of his late season audition so far.
Never considered a blue chip prospect in the minors, Hughes garnered attention in 2008 when he had what some viewed as his Great Leap Forward – hitting .309/.369/.524 with 18 home runs split between New Britain and Rochester. That fanfare would not last long as he would be sidelined with various ailments, including a hernia that required season-ending surgery in 2010.
Even if he isn’t a touted prospect, Hughes definitely has shown a decent enough right-handed bat and utility capabilities in the field that would propel him upwards to Minnesota. Playing in parts of April, May, June and July this season, he had been tasked with manning second, first, third and some occasional DH duties. Although the defense has been adequate enough, offensively Hughes had been hit-or-miss. Over the course of his first 198 plate appearances in 2011 he posted a .233/.296/.317 batting line with nine extra base hits - three of which were home runs.
Judging from that performance, there was nothing to suggest that Hughes’ ceiling was anything more than a utility player or platoon bat…in Triple-A.
Meanwhile, since his recall in August he has provided the Twins’ lineup with what is becoming an exceedingly rare source of wallop. His contact rate is still down, as evidence by his 14 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances, but when he does connect he is packing a punch. In August, he has collected 10 hits, seven of which have gone for extra bases while four of those had left the yard.
This is not just a four-game phenomenon either. In his last 10 games in Rochester prior to being recalled, Hughes mashed to the tune of .333/.366/.641 with seven extra base hits – two home runs - in 41 plate appearances.
When there is a sudden onslaught of power, it does not surprise me to discover that there are some modifications that accompany the surge. For Hughes, those modifications start with his hand set-up – elevating his bat position to his head-level and holding the bat almost parallel to the ground.
Here we see a front view of his set-up of his new stance followed by the pre-demotion one:
Some regular readers may recall that this is the same adjustment that Delmon Young made back in June. Heading into the early June Texas series in which he made his changes, Young was hitting just .219/.250/.271 with six extra base hits in 164 plate appearances. From that point forward until he was traded to Detroit, Young hit .313/.360/.447 with 14 extra base hits in 161 plate appearances so you can see how the tinkering helped tap back into Young’s power vein.
Another component of this retooling is that Hughes has reduced his weight transfer on to his back leg. In the first clip from June we find Hughes making a significant shift from his front leg to his back one when loading up for his swing. Because of this, you see that his head changes planes:   
When hitters show this kind of instability it means that they wind up hitting the top of the baseball more than desired. For the first several months of the season, Hughes had a high groundball rate helping verify that this may have been influencing his game.
Fast forward to August and this highlight demonstrates why Hughes’ alteration is critical adjustment in the hitting process. In it we see a very stable backside – there is little front-to-back shift in his body when loading up. This keeps his head still and on one plane: 
The result of this has been a better line of vision leading to square contact – and a big increase in line drives and fly balls.
It is difficult to tell if Hughes can maintain this pace. Mechanical changes can have sustained results (as Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista have proven) or a temporary boost (as Delmon Young has shown time and again). The difference is a player’s ability to select the right pitches and demonstrate some patience. For his minor league career, Hughes has not shown a high aptitude for drawing walks. Likewise, scouts and pitchers will begin to find a combination that might slow a hitter’s hot streak down – be it a heavy dose of breaking stuff or fastballs in on the hands – and Hughes has yet to be tested.