Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Duensing was made for the bullpen

While the Twins try to piecemeal together their once glorious bullpen that has now been blown to smithereens, there is one player already on the roster who should help make the late innings much less of an adventure.

As the Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen reported that the team is bumping Brian Duensing from the rotation and relocating him back to the bullpen.

If you separate out the data from Duensing’s match-ups against same-sided opponents, you would see a pitcher with a tremendous track record:

Duensing vs Left-Handed Hitters (2009-11)

Swg. Str%
(via Fangraphs & Inside Edge)

Last season, Duensing held lefties to a .210 batting average against, the 14th-lowest among qualified MLB starters last year. What’s more is that Inside Edge’s video scouts found that lefties had a .103 well-hit average off of him – the best in baseball - meaning that nobody on the left was able to put good wood on the ball.

He absolutely stunned them with his outstanding slider. Against his slider, they had a .036 well-hit average (fourth best in baseball) and routinely beat the ball into the ground (61%) for an easy conversion to an out.

Meanwhile, his peripheral stat line against right-handed opponents paints the picture of a much more ordinary and pedestrian hurler:

Duensing vs Right-Handed Hitters (2009-11)

Swg. Str%
(via Fangraphs & Inside Edge)

Of course, we know the results in 2011 were not simply “pedestrian”, they were an abomination. Thanks to righties teeing off on him, their .558 slugging percentage and their .329 batting average against him paced baseball.

Part of the reason for this barrage was due to his inability to keep the ball down against righties – which I pointed out back in August. Specifically, Duensing failed to his two main pitches to righties down: his fastball and his changeup. His fastball, on average, finished a little over an inch higher in the zone than it did in 2010. His change, his favored secondary offering to righties, finished nearly two inches higher on average in 2011 over the previous season. Because of this, Duensing experienced a significant spike in the amount of square contact being made. His line drive rate allowed to right-handers rose from 15.7% in 2010 to 22.2% last year.

To be honest, I have had troubles pinpointing what in his delivery has caused this much fluctuation. Video wises, it is hard to pick up on any major changes. Judging from pitch f/x data, however, it would appear that he is dropping his arm angle slightly for his changeup. His average release point on his changeup to righties in 2010 was several inches higher and several inches closer towards first base. This may be an indication that he was been lowering his arm slot when releasing his change thus having it remain up in the zone rather than staying on top of it.

Interestingly enough, the video scouts at Inside Edge did not feel that right-handers actually smashed the ball around off of him as much as his the stats from the previous two paragraphs would indicate. According to them, they concluded that righties had a .236 well-hit average off of him. It was well above the league’s average but 17 other starters saw harder contact including Tampa’s David Price and Arizona’s Ian Kennedy.

So here’s what we know: Duensing’s stuff is stupid good against lefties. If he is limited to a higher portion of left-handed match-ups, as would be the case if he had the luxury of being inserted into those prime situations in a given ball game, he will likely succeed and put up very good numbers. We also know now that he struggles mightily against right-handed opponents. Given a higher pool of those opponents to face in 2011, overexposed Duensing was battered continuously. Then again, he demonstrated in 2010 that when he was able to locate his pitches properly, he was able to keep righties from launching an extra base hit assault (52% groundball rate is not too shabby).  

I tried to make it abundantly clear last year heading into spring camp that his arsenal is best suited for relief. Yes, he had some impressive outings in 2010 but that did not detract from the fact that he would be substantially more effective among the relievers. Without any outside additions or prospects ready to move him from the rotation, the Twins decided to let their good fortune ride. His results in 2011 should more or less solidify this fact in concrete: Duensing is made for the bullpen.

Monday, November 21, 2011

An introduction to Ryan Doumit's offense

The Twins front office worked quickly on the free agent market this winter, first signing Jamey Carroll to a two-year deal and now on the verge of inking Ryan Doumit to a one-year contract (pending a physical on Monday).

With the Twins looking to use the 30-year-old Doumit in a variety of ways (catching, first base, right field and DH), it is clear that they envision him to be an offense-first contributor. Doumit has had some ups and downs at the plate, many of these peaks and valleys are likely due to his laundry list of injuries over the course of his career.

For the most part, the switch-hitter has thrived at the left-side of the plate (798 OPS) but has been somewhat less effective from the right (718) during his seven years at the major league level. As a lefty, Doumit is a significant pull hitter, yanking 58.2% of all balls in play to the right side of the field:

Because he hits a high percentage of line drives this direction (over 20% of his career), Doumit has posted decent numbers. His left-side power numbers have been bolstered from playing at PNC Park – a field which is 320 feet to the right field corner despite a 21-foot tall wall – and he has hit 41 of his 67 career home runs in Pittsburgh. This approach may actually transfer well into Target Field. Target has very similar configurations to PNC, aside from the right field wall being eight feet further back and the wall being two feet taller, left-handed hitters have found the space between the foul pole and the stadium’s overhang seats to be very inviting.

Meanwhile, from the right side, Doumit is also a pull hitter:

The difference, however, is that from the right side, Doumit is much more prone to knocking the ball straight into the ground, bouncing out to third and short quite often (58% for his career). He does have a high tendency of line drives this direction as well but does not hit many fly balls. This means you won’t see a ton of home runs coming from what is his natural side (1 every 50 PAs on the right side versus 1 every 28 from the left).

The thick-built Doumit isn’t necessarily a prototypical “power hitter”. The most home runs he has hit in a season was 18 in 2005 split between AAA Indianapolis (12) and Pittsburgh (6). Yes, injuries have likely curbed some of his power one aspect of his swing stands out to me as a potential power restrictor.

Unlike the vast majority of major league hitters, Doumit does not pivot on his back foot – from either side of the plate. Whereas the rest of the offensive population tends to twist their back foot (a reverse pivot), Doumit keeps his foot planted and his heel to the ground. Here is an example from the left-side of the plate:

Compare that to Jason Kubel’s swing:

Here is Doumit’s swing from the right-side of the plate:

Now compare that to Michael Cuddyer’s swing:

While Doumit still has plenty of positive weight transfer and unloads his hips extremely well, not pivoting off of his back leg foot means that his upper body is doing more of the heavy lifting. Strong individuals have had some success swinging like this. Early in his career, White Sox right fielder Carlos Quinten shared this trait, performing extremely well in 2008, but has since changed his mechanics in recent years. So, although he’s got plenty of strength, Doumit is likely not generating the maximum amount of power he could if he swung more conventionally.

So what does the future hold for Doumit in Minnesota?

This past season in Pittsburgh, he posted what was perhaps his best season in limited time hitting a healthy .303/.353/.477 in 236 plate appearances. Going forward, I anticipate he will experience some drainage in his batting average and his on-base percentage next year.

On his way to the best season of his career in 2011, Doumit managed to hold a .331 batting average on balls in play – well above his .304 career average. Part of the explanation behind that was because a substantial amount of ground balls became hits (35.2% vs. 24.0% league average) which for a player with slower foot speed like Doumit, I would wager that a higher percentage of those bouncers are converted into outs in 2012.

On the other hand, even though his walk rate dropped, Doumit made some strides in his plate discipline.  He became increasingly patient at the dish. After swinging at 45.8 percent of pitches in 2010, he offered at just 42.4 percent this season, also reducing the rate in which he chased pitches outside of the strike zone (27% down from 32%). This helped trim down his strikeout rate from 19 percent to 15 percent. If he can continue this kind of restraint in 2012, he’ll likely see that walk rate rise again which may help his on-base percentage stay afloat despite the projected decline in his BABIP.

With a one-year deal, there is little risk involved for the organization. Signing Doumit provides the Twins roster with a player who can – at the very least – stand at a handful of positions and provide above-average production at the plate. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

What is the plan for the rotation?

Baseball’s GMs have invaded Milwaukee and the game’s roster-creators are undoubtedly using the time to discuss impactful deals presumably in-between stops at the Miller Brewery tour and the Harley Davidson factory.
On Wednesday Twins’ general manager Terry Ryan checked in from Wisconsin with Tom Pelissero and Phil Mackey for 1500ESPN’s Talkin’ Twins feature and illuminated the locals on his thoughts towards his 2012 roster construction. When asked about the plans for the starting rotation and whether it would be different from the previous season, Ryan said:
“Hopefully not too different, except for those guys will be out there for 30 starts.”
Cue the sad trombone.
For most fans, this was likely a concerning statement. After all, the starting rotation was infirmed for a substantial part of the season and what did wind up pitching managed to put up the AL’s third-worst ERA (4.64), allowed the most hits (1,086) and finished with the second-fewest strikeouts (617). I’m certain that there is a groundswell of fans that would prefer the slate-wiped clean from the current crop and replaced with five power-arm pitchers who would rather die than allow contact.
Nevertheless, Ryan continued his interview by listing Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano – all of whom missed significant time in 2011 – as the pitchers the organization is counting on and then added that they would like Carl Pavano to match last year’s output.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
A full season of Baker and Liriano at full tilt would be an appetizing tandem. Last year, Baker was having an All-Star caliber season, going 7-5 with a 3.01 ERA and a 104/30 K/BB ratio in 17 starts before his elbow started barking.  Meanwhile Liriano is simply one season removed from his 14-10, 3.62 ERA and 201/58 K/BB in 191.2 innings that even earned him Cy Young consideration. If that pairing can revive whatever mojo they were working with in 2011 and 2010 for the entire 162-game stretch, there is reason for optimism right there.
Although he absorbs a considerable amount of flak (and given some horrendous results the past two seasons, it’s not entirely unmerited) Blackburn, when healthy, has demonstrated that he is an extremely capable back-of-the-rotation innings-eater. The past two seasons he has been without his slider thanks to the bone chips in his elbow and was constantly Party Rocked by right-handed opponents. The eternal optimist that is the Twins front office is of the mindset that, now that he’s had his second clean-up, this time it will be better.
Finally, Pavano has managed to buoy the rotation as it was steadily sinking into the turf. He’s 222 innings gave the bullpen some much needed relief. Yes, he too was battered around but a substantial portion of his hits came because of an uptick in the grounders that became hits. In 2010, 22.5% of his grounders were hits. This past season 27.0% of his grounders were hits, well above the 23.5% league average rate. That number spiked mostly because of plays like this and thisbehind him. Perhaps with the addition of Jamey Carroll, Pavano will see more of those grounders converted to outs.
So the Twins are content with marching into 2012 with a rotation of Baker, Pavano, Liriano and Blackburn and…and...wait a second…Baker, Pavano, Liriano and Blackburn. One, two, three, four. Hmm, unless the Twins plan on unveiling the first four-man rotation used since Kansa City in 1995, there appears to be a significant vacancy.
While it is possible they decide to address that opening from within, there is preliminary indication that Ryan and the Twins are looking outside the organization to fill that position as well.
Not long ago, a Cincinnati radio station reported that the Twins were one of several teams to check in on Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto. The 25-year-old represents a solid immediate and long-term addition to the rotation. Locked into a very team-friendly contract which is scheduled to pay out $5.4 M in ’12, $7.4M in ’13 and $10M in ’14 including a club option for 2015 ($10M), Cueto has shown promise towards being a front-end type pitcher. Yes, his strike out rate dropped for the fourth straight season but the regression was offset by a significant jump in his ground ball rate (rising from 41.7% to 53.7%). The Reds altered Cueto’s landing point this season to avoid tipping his pitches and he became less slider-reliant. This helped shave over a run off of his ERA for the year.
Likewise, while it seems improbable, ESPN’s Jim Bowden tweeted that the Twins were one of ten teams confirmed by club sources who were interested in free agent Mark Buehrle. Unlike Cueto, Buehrle fits within the Pavano mold in which he uses guile to get his opponents out and should do so at a price northwards of $10M per season next season. This would seemingly price him out of the Twins’ plans (unless they happen to move a contract like Pavano’s or reconcile the bullpen issues with minimal spending). If partnered with the original four, Buehrle would give the rotation two hurlers who could almost guarantee 200 innings each.
The team has also been connected with two Japanese pitchers as of late, right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, and now left-handed Tsuyoshi Wada. The Twins were linked to Iwakuma last year when they submit a bid for the rights to negotiate with him but speculation now is that since he is an outright free agent, they will at least discuss the idea of signing him. Like Iwakuma, Wada is also a free agent and is sort of a Buehrle-lite. Turning 31 in 2012, Wada uses a plethora of pitches and speeds (none on the fast side) to retire hitters. He throws strikes, can work deep into ballgames (often throwing over 120 pitches) and keeps the ball inside the park. However, the issue with projecting Japanese pitchers, aside from the jump in competition, is that their pitchers throw once a week while MLB pitchers throw every five days.
So while Ryan may downplay the potential of adding any additional rotation arms, there are plenty of signs that the Twins are active in completing their five-man from outside the club. More options will likely surface in the next few weeks leading up to baseball’s winter meetings in Dallas, which you can read about in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook. For now, just be thankful Bruce Chen’s name has not been connected to this club...yet.
(Closed-circuit to Terry Ryan: Ignore that last sentence.) 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

OtB Twins Notes: Doumit & Willingham, Punxsutawney Phil, Street and Mark B

According to Joe Christensen at the Star Tribune, the Twins have contacted the agent of Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham expressing interest in the free agent catcher and outfielder.
With a backup catching need and a potential outfield vacancy needing attention if (ahem, when) Michael Cuddyer leaves, Doumit and Willingham are two sensible options to fill those positions. Doumit, who will turn 31 in April, recently turned down the Los Angeles Dodgers’ one-year, $3 million offer. He is coming off an injury-filled yet somewhat successful season offensively in his limited reps: In just over 200 plate appearances, the switch-hitting Doumit batted .303/.353/.477 with 8 home runs. Perhaps more impressively, he raked a healthy .315/.393/.519 against left-handed pitchers, potentially giving the Twins a DH/C option when the team squares off against tougher southpaw’ed foes.

The downside is, aside from the regular injuries, is that his catching is borderline atrocious. According to a study conducted by Baseball Prospectus’s Mike Fast, Doumit was found to be the worst receiving catcher in the game, costing his team roughly 66 runs since 2007 (or 26 per 120 games behind the plate). For a team like the Twins whose rotation works the corners and relies on expanding the zone, having a catcher behind the plate who shrinks it could be detrimental. Furthermore, fans have noted that his arm strength is slightly above average according to Fangraphs’s Fans Scouting Report, scoring it a 57 since 2007 while his accuracy was rated a 34 (out of 100). The Pirates recognized this and often tried to move him to first or right field in order to keep his potent bat in the lineup. Simply put, if signed, his catching duties probably should be limited. 
In terms of Willingham, my thoughts on him have waned. His coming off a well-time high production year at the age of 32 and is interested in a multi-year deal (reportedly a three-year deal according to his agent Matt Sosnick). In 2011, he batted a decent .246/.332/.477 with 29 home runs and 98 runs batted in. While it was a down year for his average and on-base percentage, impressively Willingham slugged .523 at his home ballpark in Oakland while the rest of baseball’s right-handers only managed to slug .363. What was his secret? Willingham is a dead-pull hitter with his power, yanking almost every home run towards the foul pole in left (24 of his 29 were dead-red left field). In the cavernous Oakland stadium, pulling the ball was the only way to hit for power regularly.

Much like Oakland, Target Field plays in a similar fashion. The gaps are distant, the wind pattern knock fly balls down in center and forget about trying to go opposite field if you are a right-handed hitter. By most player accounts, pulling the ball is the only way you will hit anything out. Unfortunately, players like Delmon Young said he had to change his style of hitting which affected his overall play. Unlike Young, Willingham is a natural pull hitter and would not need to alter his style to accommodate for the home park.

Defensively, by most advance metrics Willingham has been subpar in the outfield. The fans have found that he has below average speed (41) and a below average arm (47). Because of this he has been used as a left fielder, only playing the occasional innings in right. If the Twins add him and keep Denard Span and Ben Revere, they will have two rangy outfielders (much like before) but now two players whose arms are substandard for their positions (Are we sure Ben Revere isn’t left handed? Has anyone confirmed that yet?).

Judging from that assessment, he is almost golden in Minnesota, right? Sure, but on the other hand, he’s entering his mid-30s and has had several knee issues. That could wind up in problems in Year 2 or 3 of his contract and block younger superior defensive talents like Joe Benson.
Nevertheless, because of the scarcity of decent right-handed hitting outfielders it is not surprising that ten teams are currently interested in him yet due to Michael Cuddyer on the market at the same time, Willingham should land a marginally smaller contract despite outperforming him in 2011. My guess is that, unless a team greatly overbids for his services, Willingham will not sign a deal until after Cuddyer makes his decision, setting the bar for the next best outfielder on the market. 
Update: 1500ESPN and 5 Eyewitness News' Darren Wolfson checked in with the agent of the two players (they both share Matt Sosnick of SosnickCobbe). According to the agent the Twins, right now, are "not front-runners for either player." 

Interestingly enough, Doumit’s and Willingham’s agent, Matt Sosnick of SosnickCobbe, announced that the Twins have re-signed left-handed reliever Phil Dumatrait.
You know when you step in dirty bubble gum and you pry it loose from your shoe and toss it away only to step in it again a few moments later?

Dumatrait earned his way on to the Twins when Jose Mijares proved ineffective and injured. While the 30-year-old’s numbers look superficially good (3.92 ERA) the peripherals were gut-wrenching as he had a 29-to-25 strikeouts-to-walk ratio while allowing 45 hits in 41.1 innings of work. He was particularly awful against righties (.985 OPS, 15/18 K/BB), he managed to fend off lefties (.627 OPS, 14/7 K/BB) per his job description.
What makes him appealing to the organization is that Ron Gardenhire loves having his left-handed pitchers “spin it” (toss sliders). In 2010 Randy Flores was effectively fired from the team as he refused to “spin it”. For his part, Dumatrait, spins it. Last year he threw sliders 40% of the time to left-handed opponents.

Since the Twins cut him loose earlier in the offseason, this is very likely a minor league deal and having him waiting in the wings of the organization is a fine emergency plan for the bullpen.

Denver Post’s Troy Renck says that the Rockies are shopping closer Huston Street and that the Twins might be a likely fit.
First off, it’s likely just speculation. The Twins have an obvious vacancy so, naturally, any available closer they may call to inquire upon. There’s no confirmation that the Twins have even reached out yet. However, if they do, Street would be a very good fit for the team.
The 28-year-old Street has one year left on his contract for $7 million with an option year in 2013 for $9 million (or a $500,000 buyout). Street, while extremely talents with good results over his career, has battled injuries on the reg including a right ulnar nerve in 2007, biceps tendinitis in 2009 , shoulder inflammation in 2010 and a groin injury at the end of last year.

Again, when he’s been able to get on the mound, he’s been wildly successful. Dating back to 2007, Street has the fourth-highest swinging strikes rate among relievers at 13.9% - tied with the now overpaid Jonathan Papelbon. Beyond that, he throws strikes consistently, walking only 111 people in 436.1 career innings. Essentially, he’s Matt Capps with the ability to strike fools out. For the Rockies, he’s converted 88.2% of his save chances, giving them piece of mind at the backend of the bullpen.
The Rockies are known to have interest in Carl Pavano, who stands to make $8 million in 2012. Flipping Street for him makes sense. Pavano’s contributions to the Twins rotation last year, while seemingly unspectacular, his 222 innings were invaluable consider the shape of the bullpen and the crumbling rotation. In the past three seasons, only 11 other starters threw more innings than he did – finding that kind of consistency is difficult.
Replacing Pavano would be difficult but may be this next item could have something to do with that…

Former GM and current ESPN talker Jim Bowden reports that the Twins are one of 10 teams who have been confirmed from club sources as “playing on” White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle.
Here’s what I said about Buehrle in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook:
“Since 2000, only two other pitchers have thrown more innings and just six have had a higher WAR than Mark Buerhle. By most accounts, the White Sox left-hander has defied the principles in which SABRists have judged pitching. He doesn’t get hitters to miss (his 84.7% career contact rate is the sixth-highest since ‟02) nor does he coax a heck of a lot of ground balls either. He simply changes speeds, locations and gets opponents to get themselves out – year after year. The Sox are almost at payroll capacity so the likelihood of re-signing Buerhle, who has made $14 million per year since 2008, seems non-existent.”
Yeah, hey, I can’t figure him out. He doesn’t throw hard. He doesn’t get strikeouts. He doesn’t get a ton of grounders. He repels statistically-minded people. And yet, somehow, he manages to avoid surrendering 500 home runs a year while playing at a softball field. He keeps roughly 72% of his base-runners from scoring. Year-after-year. If you look at his heat maps, he’ll work the entire zone with various breaking pitches with different speeds and tie opponents up into little knots.

Because of the level of interest in the Type B Buehrle, it’s likely going to force the Twins out of consideration. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What does Jamey Carroll provide for the Twins?

Without much time to get re-acclimated to his new-slash-old position, general manager Terry Ryan addressed a critical need for the team. Yes, it isn’t as a sexy move similar to the one that brought JJ Hardy to the Twins two years ago at this time but the pending signing of Jamey Carroll is a step in the right direction.

Carroll, a soon-to-be 38-year-old utility infielder, is not an appetizing addition at first blush. He has little power, little range and little experience as a full-time player. What he does offer is unparalleled patience at the plate and sure-handedness in the field. It is only after you inspect his track record and his skill set that you should recognize that he is what the Twins need for 2012 and quite possibly the most cost-effective way of filling that need.

Defensively, he has seen a sharp decline in the amount balls he can get to. Carroll stepped into the shortstop role on a more regular basis with the Dodgers the past two seasons when Rafael Furcal was sidelined. His play has been described as solid and able to convert plays within the typical zone but because of his advanced age, he lacks the coverage to make plays on those borderline grounders (something that Hardy excelled at). By’s fielding metrics, among those shortstops with 1000 innings the past two seasons, Carroll registered 46 plays made out of the zone. Only the aged Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria made fewer out-of-zone plays. Of course, compared to the flotsam that was trotted out to short last year (see: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, et al), Carroll’s ability to convert on the simple plays should be somewhat of a boon to the Twins starting rotation – one that had a groundball-heavy tendency last season (45.3% ground ball rate).

Offensively, Carroll is the epitome of a scrappy hitter, making him what has recently become the expected archetypical Twins addition. Without much power to speak of, he exercises an extremely selective approach at the plate, swinging at just 35.4% of those thrown his direction since 2009 – a lower rate than everyone else besides Bobby Abreu and Brett Gardner. For people who grew tired of Joe Mauer watching far too many first-pitch strikes sail by, Carroll will give you more fits. Last season he swung at just 8% of first pitch offerings, tying him for the lowest amount of times he took the bat off of his shoulder with former Twin, JJ Hardy.

For the most part this technique has served him well. In the on-base percentage department, Carroll has been able to coax a high percentage of walks. His 10.5% walk rate is the sixth highest among second basemen and the highest among shortstops over the past three seasons. Because of this, Carroll has amassed a .364 on-base percentage since 2009, trailing only Ben Zobrist, Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley in that department. To put that in perspective, among Twins players only Joe Mauer, Jim Thome and Justin Morneau were able to put up a higher on-base percentage that Carroll in that span.

Needless to say, Carroll makes pitchers grind through at-bats - his 4.27 pitches-per-plate appearance last season was the sixth-highest in baseball – yet there are signs that while his patience equals a walk it may also be costing him some run production at the same time.

Over the past three seasons, Carroll has come to the plate with runners on base 513 times and he’s managed to drive in just 64 runners – the lowest amount among those with 500 or more plate appearances with runners on base. Without any power to speak of – his .314 slugging percentage is the lowest in that group as well – he is forced to rely on his superior trait, patience. This has led to instances of him attempting to extend the inning by walking (a good thing, to be sure) but unable to bring home any of those runners on his own (questionable).

So he doesn’t drive runners but that’s not what the Twins are signing him up to do. He’s there to extend innings and wear pitchers out.

As mentioned above, Carroll has very little power to speak of. His isolated power number of .056, a measurement that shows how adept a hitter is at extra base hits, has been the seventh-lowest in baseball since 2009. His approach is that of a slasher, a hitter who goes to the opposite field and up the middle. Last year, almost 80% of his hits came when going that direction as you can see the cluster of his hits falling in center or right field:

The “taking-it-the-other-way” approach is one that the Twins organization has encouraged for years and, although it has occasionally kept players from realizing their full potential in Minnesota, in Carroll’s case he has been born and bred for that. At times he will dive over the plate to drive the ball on the outer-half to right and on others he will inside-out a pitch on his hands. Here are a handful of his swings that exemplify that style:

The biggest question that has been circulating is why would the Twins commit so much of their very finite payroll room in 2012 towards Carroll? The Star Tribune highlighted the details of the forthcoming deal:
 “Carroll's contract is for two years and $6.75 million guaranteed. It includes a $250,000 buyout and an option for 2014 that becomes effective if Carroll gets more than 400 at-bats. If he passes that threshold, he can accept $2 million and play for the Twins in 2014 or turn it down and become a free agent.
While the $3.37 million per year may seem absurd, particularly when you consider he has never made more than $2.5 million a season and is closing in on 40 years old, according to’s player valuation system, Carroll has provided at least twice that amount of value in each season since 2007. Last season, he gave the Dodgers $9.8 million in value. Without question, Carroll - even if his role is just that of a utility safety net - should be able to at least match his contractual value in a limited role.  

In the end, Carroll’s signing is a stabilizing signing. The Twins were hemorrhaging last year in production from the shortstop position and he has been a constant at both second and short for the Dodgers these past two years. He could very well wind up fulfilling the Matt Tolbert role on the team while challenging the middle infield incumbents to improve or move aside this spring. If injuries crop up, he is a sound player to replace someone for an extended period of time rather than inserting someone not prepared for the job. 

Monday, November 07, 2011

Bill Smith's trade history hindered Twins

It was a tumultuous first year for Bill Smith. He had to face the reality of the face-of-the-franchise Torii Hunter leaving via free agency as well as annual Cy Young candidate Johan Santana making it known that he wanted to play in a larger market – preferably New York. In the first few months at the helm, Smith made two trades that would forever tarnish his reputation in Minnesota in the fan's eyes.

In November 2007, Smith dealt Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie. In efforts to replace Hunter’s right-handed stick, the Twins purchased the promising Young at a high price. Garza would help fortify the Rays rotation while Bartlett would boost the Rays defense in the infield. After receiving 16.2 wins above replacement from Garza and Bartlett, Tampa’s shrewed front office would move the pair for more prospects and useful parts including Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer, Hak-Ju Lee, Cesar Ramos and Adam Russell. Once the Twins were finished with Young (or rather Young finished with the Twins depending on who you are asking), Smith was only able to fetch Cole Nelson and Lester Oliveros. What’s more is that the Twins wound up paying over $2 million more in salary for their return as well.

Meanwhile, the Santana trade was a poorly timed, poorly executed deal which is viewed as Smith swapping the cash cow for a pile of beans. While none of the beans amounted to much, Smith did manage to save over $10 million and only lost out on 1.2 WAR (only factoring in 2008 for Santana which would have been his walk year). At the time, reports came in that the Yankees and the Red Sox had better packages ready (with Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester being some of the names bantered around), but both teams ultimately rescinded their offers (if those offers were legit in the first place). Comparatively, Gomez and company seemed like a sheer fleecing by the Mets and Keith Law’s analysis had the Mets coming out on top:
“In the abstract, it's hard to accept dealing your marquee player and top trading asset without getting your partner's top young player in return, and that's what the Twins did. They did get back significant economic value in four young players, each of whom has under one year of big-league service and two of whom aren't even on the Mets' 40-man roster yet, so the Twins will have each of them under control for six full years of service. That return in exchange for just one year of Santana's services is reasonable. But premium players should fetch premium prices, because there's value to a club in having so much production coming from a single roster spot. And in this case, Minnesota GM Bill Smith did not get a premium prospect in return.
In hindsight, Smith failed to get that premium prospect and now most of the Santana bounty is scattered across baseball. Would have waiting until the trade deadline open more avenues or create more trade scenarios than the one he was pigeon-holed into prior to the season?

Even though the Santana-for-Gomez  and the Garza-for-Young trades started his legacy off on the wrong foot, Smith and his team were able to piece together favorable trades after the more egregious ones. He grabbed Carl Pavano and Jon Rauch for a pittance. Orlando Cabrera and Brian Fuentes were also exchanged for little compensation. He landed JJ Hardy for Carlos Gomez. Those moves together provided the Twins with 6.2 wins above replacement and only “cost” the team roughly $10 million in added salary.

After the handful of trades that worked towards the Twins favor, Smith began to execute what would be considered two of the more painful and damaging trades to the organization.

At the trade deadline in 2010, the Twins bullpen was shallow and in need of a boost. They targeted the Nationals’ closer Matt Capps. Capps, who was an All Star that season and performing well for the lowly NL East club, was far from a dominating arm. He was a step above Jon Rauch, whom the Twins acquired the year before at the waiver deadline for the flotsam known as Kevin Mulvey. Only instead of giving up a player of Mulvey’s caliber, the Twins offered up Wilson Ramos – the Twins top prospect as well as the 58th overall by Baseball America. With little offensive help at the upper levels, the utter depletion of the team in 2011 exposed how badly they needed someone like Ramos. Ramos did quite well for the Nationals – both offensively and defensively. He hit .267/.334/.445 with 15 home runs in 425 plate appearances. Capps, meanwhile, who was re-upped for this past season, regressed hard and was beat around while earning $7 million. While the jury is still out because Ramos’s career is just beginning, thus far the Twins have lost 3.1 wins above replacement and have paid over $8 million because of this deal.

While the intentions were never clear – payroll, performance, injury history, clubhouse mannerisms – the Twins decided that they needed to move on from shortstop J.J. Hardy. True, he had a shortened season in 2010 but his second-half numbers were indicitive of an elite player, not to mention at a very difficult to fulfill position. Whether it was his decision or someone else in the club’s call, Smith sent Hardy and Harris to Baltimore for a pair of damaged minor league arms in Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobsen. HoeyJacobsen floundered a bit in the minors attempting to develop a secondary offering as well. Hardy, on the other hand, smoked pitches all over Camden Yards armed with health and a new approach to pull the ball. This move cost the organization 5.2 wins in 2011 but managed to save $6 million in salary in the process.

While there were some notably disastrous trades made, overall Smith managed to lose just 10.3 wins above replacement but saved the team $7.67 million after all the wheeling and dealing was done.

Here’s the thing: It is hard to fully evaluate a GM’s tenure. There are no encompassing metric which neatly ties in free agent signings, trades, minor league development and amateur draft in a budget-neutralized context. Because of this, it’s hard to accurately compare the work of one organization to the next. Is saving almost $8 million in salary over the course of ten trades in four years good or bad? How about costing your team 10 wins over four seasons? Is that average for a GM?

Reviewing Smith’s trade track record, it is not hard to see that he likely has done more harm than good. While he was proficient at adding pieces in-season, his ability to build for the future through trades was atrocious. It is this area that newly appointed general manager Terry Ryan was particularly successful at. During his first administration, Ryan managed to build a competitive franchise by trading off soon-to-be departing players and the excess fat. With a system that is currently bottom-heavy and holes abound on the major league roster, installing someone like Ryan who has been lauded for his ability to extract talent from other teams is the right decision for the Twins.