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.