Monday, December 31, 2007

The 2007 Minnesota Twins Draft Review: Continuum.

This is a continuation of sorting through the statistical deluge that is the first seasons of the Twins 2007 amateur draft picks. Please click here if you want the full round 1 through 10 rundown. While initial reviews had condemned some of the Twins selections as frugal and misguided (particularly Keith Law's ESPN and Carlos Gomez's Hardball Times diatribes bashing the Ben Revere pick), but on the whole, it appears that while opportunities may have been wasted on the organization's behalf (i.e. too much focus on catchers) in the early rounds, the later picks too have contributed in their inaugural seasons. Frugal, yes. Misguided? You decide:

r11.362) Andrew Schmiesing - 21-years-old - of

Schmiesing, like Glen Perkins before him, was a standout athlete at Stillwater (all-conference in baseball, football and basketball) and opted to attend St. Olaf's in Northfield where he excelled on the diamond and the gridiron. Prior to the baseball draft, Patrick Ruesse penned an ode to the multi-sport Schmiesing and his impending decision: football or baseball. When the Twins selected the local standout with their 392nd overall pick, Schmiesing decided to forgo both a college degree and a football career and report to the Gulf Coast League. Once there, Schmiesing showed great plate discipline (walking in 13.5% of his plate appearances) and contact (12.8% strikeout rate) resulting in a .321 batting average and superb .421 on-base percentage (this from a league whose averages are .252 and .332 respectively). Lacking any significant power (a .037 isop and only 4 doubles), Schmiesing beat the ball into the ground far too frequently (50% gb%) coupled with a low line drive percentage (9% ld%) from someone with a 6'4" frame. If his power develops and he retains his plate awareness, Schmiesing has the potential advance within the organization.

r12.392) Michael Tarsi - 21-years-old - lhp (sp)

The first left-handed pitcher selected by the Twins, Tarsi, a graduate of UConn, was another immediate contributor to the Elizabethton Twins. The 6'8" lefty threw 52.2 innings in 11 starts which resulted in a 5-2 record and a minuscule 2.22 (in a league whose average is 4.17). He has good command of his pitches as evident by his 26.6% strikeout rate and low 5.9% walk rate. When batters were making contact he induced groundballs in 68% of balls in play and did not yield a home run. Tarsi is yet another good starting pitching prospect in an already good cadre of arms.

r14.452) Danny Rohlfing - 18-years-old - c

Another catcher selected by the Twins, this time from the St Louis, MO area, Rohlfing has had a tough first year for the GCL Twins. While playing against older competition (average of 20), Rohlfing finished with a .232/.313/.250 batting line, significantly lower than the league's .252/.332/.359 average. What's more, Rohlfing in his 64 plate appearances struck out 17.2% of the time. When he did make contact, Rohlfing hit groundballs in 56% of the ones in play. Rohlfing is still young enough to improve his performance next season and this does not spell doom for the young catcher however it does hinder his hopes for advancement in a system that is flush with catchers such as Rams and Lehmann elected in the same draft ahead of him (and as we will later see Ben Petsch drafted behind him).

r15.482) Daniel Latham - 23-years-old - rhp (rp)

Like Blair Erickson selected in the 10th round, Latham had considerable success as a college closer for Tulane University, his first professional season was not as rewarding. At Elizabethton, Latham's peripheral numbers were very good (26.2% k% and 2.4% bb%), however he gave up 14 earned runs (including 2 home runs) in 25.1 innings of work. His inflated era (4.91) seems to be isolated into one month. In 6 innings in July, Latham had an era of 12.00 as a result of a babip of .565 and only inducing groundballs on 27% of the balls hit in play. In spite of this, Latham did not walk anyone and he struck out 27.2% of the batters faced in that stretch. Ultimately, his 28-to-3 strikeouts-to-walks is indicative of someone who has good command and an out pitch. If he can keep hitters from making solid contact, increasing his groundball rate, Latham could be another useful reliever in the existing arsenal.

r16.512) Nelvin Fuentes - 18-years-old - lhp (rp)

Fuentes appears to be someone who is throwing to contact (read: finesse), especially when you consider his GCL Twins numbers (11.5% k%, 2.77 era and a low .194 babip). Unfortunately, his accuracy could use some help since he ended up walking 5 in 13 innings of relief (9.6% walk rate) which would negate the entire purpose of being a pitcher who pitches to contact. From the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, one might consider Fuentes to be a future LOOGY but gave up a .625 average against left-handed batters (5 hits) and struck out none. The ability to get left-handed batters out is a strong prerequisite for a lefty in the bullpen. Fuentes will have to adjust his approach and find the strikezone if he would like to advance in the system.

r18.572) Lee Martin - 21-years-old - rhp (rp)

Like Fuentes, Martin reported to the Gulf Coast League and performed well out of the bullpen when looking at the standard numbers. His 2-1 record coupled with a 3.21 era and 13 strikeouts looks good but his control looks suspect when you consider his 10.9% walk rate. Then again, of the 55 batters faced Martin managed to entice groundballs on 54% of balls in play. A few more season could correct his command.

r19.602) Ben Petsch - 23-years-old - c

Petsch had an electrifying season until a broken hand effectively sidelined him for the remainder of the 2007 season. A graduate of Belmont University in Nashville, Petsch started with Elizabethton and began campaigning as one of the more successful late round catchers selected. Drafted as a catcher in name only, Petsch has played all over the diamond including both corner outfield positions, first base and catcher. He spent most of his first season as a professional in left field (13 games). Offensively, Petsch showed patience, power and the ability to make consistent contact. In his 95 plate appearances in the Appalachian League, Petsch coaxed 21 walks (22.1% bb%), struck out only 15 times (15.8% k%), produced an isolated slugging average of .162, and sprayed line drives over the field at an 18% clip. Before receiving a promotion to the Midwest League, Petsch hit .311/.463/.473 resulting in an ops of .936 - 224 points above the league average. After Allan de San Migual was promoted from Beloit to Ft. Myers, the Twins took the opportunity to advance Petsch as well, having him fill de San Migual's roster spot. In 14 plate appearances for the Snappers, Petsch once again produced solid numbers including walking 4 times, knocking in 2 rbis and tripling once (leading to a .200 isop). Petsch will have to wait until next season to reaffirm his legitimacy, however with the numbers he has thus far provided, he certainly has the opportunity to be one of the better offensive prospects to watch in 2008.

Picks in rounds 21 thorugh 50 forthcoming (although only six of them signed)...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The 2007 Minnesota Twins Draft Picks: A Retrospective.

Not too long ago when I was in high school, Michael Lewis had yet to pen Moneyball, and Britney Spears was still a virgin, a student ballplayer from a rival school in my conference happened to be selected in the amateur drafted following my junior year. He was fast, tall and was spoken of by others as if he had all the tools. Frankly, he looked like a ballplayer but many of us were dubious of his skills simply because we were high school boys and generally skeptical of undue praise for other players. In the middle of the hype that brought various college coaches to the games, our pitcher claimed he was going to strike him out in four pitches each at-bat. Sure enough, in two consecutive at-bats, our pitcher set him up with inside fastballs only to get him lunging after two outside offspeed pitches. It was beautiful and this help garrison our notion that scouts were drafting on appearance rather than skill. After spending several seasons on the diamond with him, most of us ended up thinking that we were better than him, regardless of the amount of division one offers he would be receiving.

When he eventually got drafted in a very late round, there was a mini-mutiny from some of the juniors who began to think that our coach was not "repping" us enough to college coaches and scouts. To quell the small riot, in one of the rare nuggets of insight I remember my high school coach expounding on us shortly after the kid from the rival team would have been reporting to a rookie league or instructional camp, the coach gathered us around and hit us with some knowledge. He said "Major League draft picks are like sperm: only one in a billion is ever going to be productive."

Even though this statement did not relieve the idea that none of us would never be drafted (or play for a major college), I carry it with me whenever I review the five-billion rounds of draft picks. Even thought Michael Lewis and Billy Beane have since corrected me regarding the importance of the major league draft, I can't help but use the sperm metaphor (gross, but surprisingly accurate) when considering the most recent draft. After all, the minor league system is like a funnel where the strong advance and the weaker players are discarded back to the towns from whence they came. Some have troubles adapting to stronger pitching and wood bats. Some can't rely on two pitches alone that carried them through high school ball. The Twins Draft Class of '07 has finished jockeying for position in the rookie leagues. Here is a breakdown of picks in rounds one through ten following their first professional season:

r1.28) Ben Revere - 19-years-old - CF

After being questioned for selecting yet another powerless outfielder, the Twins were rewarded when 19-year-old Kentucky native Ben Revere demonstrated the qualities of a respectable draft pick in a half-season in the Gulf Coast Rookie League. In a league that averaged an ops of .691, Revere produced a .849 ops. The pre-draft analysis proved accurate when it came to his power and speed. His inability to hit the long ball (0 home runs) was apparent but he offset this with an isolated power average (isop) of .136 through 16 extra base hits (25.8% xbh%). Revere has the speed as indicated by his 21 stolen bases, however, getting caught stealing nine times ultimately cost team scoring opportunities, netting the team negative run production of -0.17. Overall he finished with a .325/.388/.461 line that earned him a spot on the GCL post-season all-star team. In comparison, Denard Span finished his first season in rookie ball Elizabethton with a paltry line of .271/.343/.319 and a ops that was below the league's average. Span, four years Revere's elder, followed up his first year with a season shared between the GCL and Midwest league and has played himself into a spot where he is no longer the centerfielder of the future. Revere also had a good split between righties and lefties. The left-handed Revere hit .299/.342/.438 in 144 at-bats against righties but handled lefties much better with a .404/.508/.532 line in 47 at-bats. Though 216 plate appearances are not enough to pass judgement, it would seem that Revere has more tools than previously thought and has a better chance of making an ascension to the big club.

r2.92) Daniel Rams - 19-years-old - C/1b

Reporting to GCL Twins in July, Daniel finished the season in typical fashion for a 19-year-old catcher. Displaying no significant power (no home runs, .093 isop), Rams had trouble adapting to the level of pitching that differed from what Gulliver Prep in Miami offered, striking out in 22 of his 107 plate appearances (20.6% k%) and managed to coax walks times (5.6% bb%) against GCL pitching. He finished the season with a middle infielder batting line of .258/.311/.361 but actually slugged better than the GCL average of .359. In 16 games behind the plate, Rams did not commit any errors. He carries great arm strength in his 222-lb frame. One scout told Baseball America that "whatever is the highest grade on your scale, that's what his arm is". Rams's large stature is could hinder his development as a catcher which is why the Twins are giving him reps at first base. Offensive improvement such as pitch recognition is a must for Rams if he expects to move beyond single-A ball.

r3.122) Angel Morales - 18-years-old - rf

Plucked from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Morales was ranked number 198th on the pre-draft rankings by Baseball America when the Twins selected him 122nd overall. In his first season with the GCL Twins he lacked plate discipline as evident by his 30.3% strikeout rate (44 ks in 143 plate appearances). He finished the season with a respectable .256/.357/.405 and two home runs. Morales produced a .762 ops, 71 points higher than the league average which could indicate that he isn't over-matched but in need of more plate appearances. He also slugged 46 points higher than the league average as well. In an organization like the Twins that are hoping for outfield talent to develop, Morales will get all the slack in the world to see if he can develop as a hitter.

r4.152) Reggie Williams - 19-years-old - ss

Signed with the Twins on August 16th, 2007. Williams comes from an fairly athletic lineage which bodes well considering his father, Reggie Sr, was a football player who played for the Houston Oilers in addition to the Arizona Wranglers and LA Express of the USFL. Reggie Jr reported to the Instructional League in Ft. Myers in September.

r6.212) Michael McCardell - 23-years-old - rhp (sp)

Could be the steal-of-the-draft for the Twins at the 212 pick overall. A graduate of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, whose motto is "Continue on...even if she says no" (no joke), McCardell is the first college graduate and pitcher that the Twins drafted which is probably not a coincidence. Currently John Sickel's number 10 Twins prospects, McCardell began 2007 blasting his way through the GCL (and much younger competition). In 67 batters faced, McCardell struck out 44 of them (40.2% k%) in addition to only walking 3 of them (2.9% bb%). Recognizing a need to challenge him, the Twins moved him up the farm system hierarchy having him start 8 games in Elizabethtown where he went 5-1 with a 2.00 era. He treated the offensive in the Appalachian League with the same disrespect, striking out 70 of the 174 batters faced (37.3% k%) while maintaining the same control as demonstrated by his 4.5% walk rate. In October he was deservedly named to Baseball America's Rookie All-Star team. While currently being developed to be a starter, I wouldn't might seeing McCardell be transitioned into the bullpen where he could replace Eduardo Morlan as the organization's future closer.

r7.242) Dan Berlind - 20-years-old - rhp (sp)

This 6'7", 210-lb Los Angeles native reported to the GCL Twins and finished with 56 innings, a 6-1 record and a 2.02 era. Like McCardell selected a round before him, Berlind is slightly older than the competition. But like McCardell before him too, Berlind dispatched the hitters like someone older should. Of 222 batters faced Berlind pined 52 of them (23.4% k%). He may have some control issue to massage (9.0% bb%) but it is more nitpicking on my part. Judging from this YouTube clip of him in junior college, you can see that he uses his size well: he stays tall and does not rush his delivery. His body does fly-open slightly on the pitches low and away. Often pitchers approaching his height have the tendency to rely only on the large arm-whip action. This to me says that he was already a well-groomed pitcher when the Twins spend their 242nd pick on him. A season in Elizabethton will undoubtedly help finesse the remaining raw thrower out of him and hopefully develop into yet another high-caliber Twins pitching prospect.

r8.272) Danny Lehmann - 22-years-old - c

Rice University's Danny Lehmann was the Twins's 272nd pick and the second catcher selected. While not having has many acclimates defensively as Rams, Lehmann put together a so-so year with Elizabethton. Finishing with a batting line of .221/.333/.364, Lehmann slugged 3 homers and bagged 2 doubles leading to a .143 isop. He made decent contact, striking out in only 11.1% of his plate appearances he also had a keen batting eye walking in 10.0% as well. The 5'11" catcher seems to beat the ball into the grass as evident by groundballs in 52.0% of his batted balls and managed to hit line drives in only 9% which resulted in a poor .219 babip. If his contact improves to the point where he is getting more air under the ball, Lehmann could be productive at the plate in the future.

r9.302) Steven Hirschfeld - 22-years-old -rhp (sp)

Yet another large statute pitcher (6'5", 220-lb), Hirschfeld, in his inaugural professional season, finished with Elizabethton 1-2 record with an era slightly higher (4.26) than the 4.17 Appalachian League average in 25.1 innings pitched. While this doesn't look particularly reaffirming, Hirschfeld essentially had one bad month. In June, he pitched 3.0 innings of shut-out ball. July proved more tumultuous where his 17.1 innings resulted in a 6.23 era. His babip was an inflated .308 but he did strikeout 18.3% of his 71 batters faced and walked only 4.3%. It would appear that he was working up in the zone considering his groundball rate was 33%. In his 5.0 innings of work in August, Hirschfeld did not allow a run in 19 batters faced. When they did make contact against him in August 82% of them were groundballs. While his bookend months were solid, the 8.o innings of shut-out ball just isn't enough to pass judgement on a pitcher. If his strikeout rate/walk rate remains consistent next season, Hirschfeld could prove to be a good draft pick in round 9.

r10.332) Blair Erickson - 23-years-old - rhp (rp)

The UC Irvine closer who holds the NCAA record for saves with 53 entered Elizabethton with the same late-innings dominance that he had while with the Anteaters. In 17.2 innings, Erickson struck out 17 (22.5% k%) and surrendered only 14 hits with his very good 68% groundball rate. reports that Erickson's fastball has lost some velocity (now in the 87-91 range) prior to the 2007 season and his slider has lost its bite. Dispite all the initial reports, his first-year results were good. His performance might attributed to being two years older than league average but he still proved to be overpowering. In the wake of the Eduardo Morlan trade and losing Tim Lehay in the Rule 5 draft, Erickson has the opportunity to aggressively advance within the Twins farm system as a closer.

Analysis of picks 11 through 20 forthcoming later this week...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Most Improved Prospects (Increased Plate Awareness Edition)

The Oakland Athletics have a keen eye for finding prospects that have the ability to get on base through walks whether it be the highly touted prospects like Carlos Pena and Daric Barton (who had a 13.0% walk rate in Triple-A) to Jack Hannahan* who was an solid mid-season acquisition that once again was plucked from another organization that did not value the walk. Jack Cust had an obscene walk rate of 24.4% in 2006 and was still not given the chance at the major league level until Oakland acquired him. Even newly pilfered prospects from the Diamondbacks organization in the Dan Haren trade have a history of patience. Billy Beane realized early on that one of the hardest things to teach is plate discipline, so he has stocked his farm system with batters that have a good idea of the strike zone. Patience has never been a strong virtue practiced by the Twins nor has it been a trait targeted when acquiring prospective talent. It stands to reason that having a roster of players that a) do not swing at bad pitches, b) makes the pitcher throw more pitches then necessary and c) gets on base in the process is a good philosophical building block for a team.

More than that, monitoring the walkrate is a good barometer for evaluating talent in the farm system. It is a major indication of whether or not a prospect is adapting to pitching. If a prospect is elevated to the next level and sees a significant decrease in the walks rate it is a telling sign that the player might not be able to assimilate. For instance, one-time heir to the third base throne Matt Moses had a solid year in 2005 at Ft Myers with a walk rate of 9.4% (28 walks in 304 plate appearances), midway through the season he received a promotion to Double-A New Britain where he struggled and saw his walk rate drop to 6.9% (14 walks in 204 plate appearances). The following season Moses started at New Britain and had a similar walk rate of 6.8% (30 walks in 516 plate appearances) leading to a very pedestrian obp of .295. The Twins, who have been reluctant to relinquish their faith in the former 1st round draft pick from 2003, let him begin 2007 with the Rochester Red Wings where his very poor walk rate of 2.2% (a ridiculous 4 walks in 181 plate appearances) got him bumped back down to New Britain for the remainder of the season. It is normal for a prospect to experience some neutralization when acclimating to higher levels of considering that the pitching talent should be getting more accurate as they ascend through the farm system.

Between 2006 and 2007, the Twins have had several of their prospects make significant inward adjustments in their approach at the batter's box:

5) Brock Peterson - 8.0% in 2006/10.1% in 2007 - increase of 2.1%

Drafted in the 49th round in 2002, 23-year old Peterson had the dubious privilege of not only being in Justin Morneau's shadow but also Garrett Jones. He had a solid season at Quad City (leading the team in hits) however the offensive production in his first season at Double-A New Britain has projected him past Jones in a lot of people's minds. In his second season at high-A Ft Myers in 2006 Peterson hit .291/.356/.497 with an ops of .853 in a league that averaging .701 and on a team that was averaging .696. He supplemented that with 21 home runs and an isolated power average (ISOP) of .206 to an organization desperate for power. This earned him the opportunity of Double-A. Peterson had a tough time in the early months of the season (a walk rate of 5.8%, 5.8% and 2.6% in April through June) but followed that with a strong July and August (21.9% and 18.3% respectively) and end with a .285/.381/.476 line (as well as 15 home runs). His .858 ops was 120 points high than the league average.

4) Brian Buscher - 7.4% in 2006/10.0% in 2007 - increase of 2.6%

Also a member of the previous Twins Top Five (contact edition), Brian Buscher has since been relegated to utility role now that the Twins have signed Mike Lamb. Gleeman has the full run down on Buscher's career which certainly has had its ebb and flow. His power has been described as Ron Coomer-esque, his defensive at third is serviceable (better than Lamb) and he would be a candidate for one half of a platoon but his peripheral numbers in the past season has sent the message that he might only be getting better. Last season when splitting three level, Buscher proved that he is better than a throw away prospect hitting Double-A and Triple-A pitching well. His stint with Minnesota was less reassuring to the front office that Buscher was the 2008 opening day third baseman (.244/.323/.329 in 93 plate appearances), but he was able to reduce his strikeouts and increase his walkrate which may indicate a turned corner. If nothing else, Buscher/Matt Macri will make a phenomenal platoon at Rochester in '08.

3) Juan Portes - 5.2% in 2006/8.1% in 2007 - increase of 2.9%

Another alum of the previous Twins Top Five (contact edition), Portes's consistency in 553 plate appearances for Fort Myers should earn him a promotion to New Britain in 2008. Almost all of his numbers improved in 2007 over his previous season in Beloit:

Extended Statistics
2006 20 A Beloit 288 268 .079 5.2% 19.1% .284 46% 11% .256
2007 21 A+ Fort Myers 553 495 .141 8.1% 16.1% .307 41% 19% .324

2) Luke Hughes - 6.3% in 2006/9.9% in 2007 - increase of 3.6%

This 23-year old non-drafted Australian native second baseman had the best season of his career last year but was a seemingly different player every month: one month it appeared he was swinging wildly for the fence the next he had zen like discipline. The results were a .283/.353/.438 season with 34 walks and 68 strikeouts in 362 plate appearances for New Britain. The Twins have Alexi Casilla playing second in Rochester or Minneapolis next season, more than likely Rochester, so Hughes will have to have an exceptional season to move further up in the organization or risk becoming a causality.

1) Brian Dinkelman - 4.7% in 2006/11.5% in 2007 - increase of 6.8%

Dinkelman will be on of the most watched position player the Twins have in their organization after his performance in 2007 not only because it was good but because the clock might be against him. After being named to the Midwest All-Star game, the 24-year-old Dinkelman hit .269/.367/.437 between low-A Beloit and high-A Ft Myers. He has a high walkrate and a low strikeout rate while hitting a good amount of line drives in play (16% of batted balls). The problem with Dinkelman (besides his name sounding like it belongs to a mathlete) is that he is considerably older than his competition of low-A and his numbers would be slightly padded due to facing more inexperienced pitching. That being said, Dinkelman has to be a strong bet to be given the opportunity to play in Double-A in 2008 if his starts the season well in Ft Myers.

*As a matter of personal experience, in high school Hannahan hit a home run off of me that cleared Hamline Avenue by four or five houses. Then again, I was the Brad Radke of Minnesota High School baseball and gave up quite a few jack-bombs my junior year. Brutal.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Gate Value of Johan Santana

I have been seeing an awful lot of commentary on the on-going Johan Santana saga that his departure from the Twins would have ill effects on the attendance. To wit, Johan became the Minnesota Twins version of Must See TV. His ability to dispatch batters at a constant rate coupled with the way he could make even the most professional hitters look foolish with his change-up was, well, sick. Santana emerged in 2004 as someone whose starts were not to be missed, be it at the Dome or on FSN. His on-field contributions go unquestioned, meanwhile his gate value can be.

I did a quick on-the-fly analysis of Johan Santana's gate value as described in Vince Gennaro's book Diamond Dollars in which he was able to ascertain a monetary value of Pedro Martinez's home starts to the New York Mets overall revenue. Financially, it was determined that the Mets stood to benefit more from increased attendance at Shea Stadium in Martinez's roughly 12-18 starts than any other pitcher in their rotation, therefore Martinez's value to the Mets far exceeded the basic on-field contributions. His presence on the mound in Flushing, New York directly contributed to the Mets's bottom-line.

Obtaining information from Baseball-Reference for the attendance records I found that in 2007 Santana made 15 starts in front of Metrodome crowds that ranged from a high of 48,711 (the home opener, also a season high attended) to a low of 20,849 (a Tuesday night game against the Indians). In all, 492,200 people saw Santana starts over the course of the year averaging 32,813 per start. The rest of the rotation made 66 home starts that had a high of 42,373 (A 62-63 team that had Scott Baker starting a Tuesday night game against the Mariners) and a low of 13,977 (once again Scott Baker who was pitching a Wednesday afternoon game against the Indians long after the Twins were out of the race on September 5th). In those 66 home games 1,804,169 people attended those started by a Twins pitcher not named Johan Santana, an average of 27,335 per start.

The difference per game is equal to 5,478 more people on average attending a game started by Johan Santana versus any other Twins pitcher. According to's study of Major League franchises, the Twins average ticket price is $17. All things being equal, the Twins stood to gain on average $93,126 extra revenue on the days that Johan was on the rubber at the Dome. It could be argued that the Twins actually would have averaged more than that figure since fans would want to sit in sections with better views of the mound and plate area which are significantly more expensive. Over the course of a season, on average Santana has earned the Twins $1,396,890 above and beyond the other starters. Another way to look at it is that of the $37 million made on gate revenues, Johan directly contributed 3.5% of that.

Is a 3.5% loss at the gate enough to persuade the Twins front office to extend one of the most lucrative contracts in the majors? No. Having a two-time Cy Young winner on the roster certainly doesn't hurt the gate numbers at a place like the Metrodome - which during some games has the drawing power of a tractor pull - but for a franchise like the Twins poised to reap the benefits of having a brand-new outdoor stadium it doesn't make financial sense to sign Santana to an contract that will undoubtedly burden the payroll for years (no, the payroll will not be readjusted that significantly when the new stadium opens) when the new facility will draw the attendance for at least three seasons whether Johan Santana or Terry Felton is starting.

Friday, December 14, 2007

American League Central Update (Mitchell Report Edition)

Chicago White Sox

While four ex-Sox players were listed in the Mitchell Report, Jim Parque had the longest tenure with the South Siders. Former Mets trainer Kirk Randomski indicated that Parque -- while at the time in question was with the Devil Rays -- wrote him two checks totally $4,800 for human growth hormone. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Parque vehemently denies (which as you will see will be a trend for these ballplayers) any allegations that he took HGH in any form. Much like Bonds's flaxseed oil defense, Parque says that the money was for Randomski to acquire ‘‘a bunch of supplements, some creatine, vitamins, some stuff to increase my red-blood-cell count and some herbs from South America that were supposed to help with my injuries.’’

Prior to the alleged date of receiving the PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) Parque was 31-34 with both the White Sox and Devil Rays following October 18th, 2003 dated check he has no wins or appearances in a major league game (a handful in Triple-A Tacoma in 2007 though).

‘‘Either someone isn’t telling the truth, or steroids really don’t work because I was throwing 80, 81 mph before the report said I took them, and I was throwing 80, 81 mph after I allegedly took them,’’ Parque told the press. It may be arguing semantics with Parque, but he was actually accused of taking HGH and not steroids. At times mistaken for one in the same, HGH is proven to help recovery rather than improve strength which is was anabolic steroids do. Therefore an increase in miles-per-hour might not be an good variable when looking for someone on growth hormones. What seems to sell this to me is that Parque in 2003 was coming off his third straight season of being injured, possibly desperate to maintain a steady paycheck, Parque probably turned to find something that might speed his recovery.

Cleveland Indians

Paul Byrd's outing might be the freshest in people's minds considering the attention it garnered when the news was released shortly after his game 6 start against the Red Sox and caused chaos in the Indians clubhouse before being beaten by the Sox in game 7. Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Paul Hoynes has the complete list of the Mistake by the Lake's ties to the scandal. Juan Gonzales might have best story: While at a Toronto airport on October 4th, 2001, a duffel bag containing syringes and steroids was discovered by authorities. Gonzales claimed it was his trainers. His trainer claims it was Juan's.

Even though Gonzales most likely began juicing while with Texas (a hotbed of suspected juicers including Palmerio and Rodriguez), the numbers he produced in Cleveland at 31-years-old were outstanding. Too outstanding. In 140 games, Gonzo hit 35 home runs and batted .325/.370/.590. In a time when the league was slugging .429, Gonzales was slugging .161 higher than the American League average. Gonzales was an All-Star and Silver Slugger. The Indians cakewalked their way to a 91-71 record for the Central title. Also on that squad connected to the Mitchell Report was back-up catcher Tim Laker and Steve Woodard. That same year the 33-year-old second baseman Roberto Alomar hit 20 home runs with a line of .336/.415/.541 (he slugged like a designated hitter). While not named in the report, Alomar had contact with Rafael Palmerio for three consecutive seasons in Baltimore. The temptation was there.

Detroit Tigers

Gary Sheffield is one of the high profile names from the report, but nothing new is revealed. "Game of Shadows" had far greater accounts as to when, where and why Sheffield was purchasing what he claimed was "vitamin". In 2003, the year he was connected to Victor Conte and BALCO, Sheffield slugged .604 in comparison to the league average of .433. His offensive production helped add 5.3 wins to the 101-win Atlanta Braves. While not currently connect to steroids, he has since slipped into being injury-prone.

From the Mitchell Report: "At the end of the 2004 season, a clubhouse employee was cleaning out the Detroit Tigers locker room when he found a black toiletry kit that was locked. He and another Tigers employee opened the bag and found unused syringes and vials that they determined were anabolic steroids. They did not report the incident. The employee said that he could not remember who the bag belonged to." This is a difficult task for the clubhouse employee because three players on this team were listed in the report (Rondell White, Nook Logan and Fernando Vina ) while one seems to have all the symptoms (Ivan Rodriguez). On a terrible 79-win team, these four players contributed 38 win shares*. (I am tempted to use an asterisks next to the win shares of all steriod/hgh players from here on out).

Kansas City Royals

The Royals right now are keeping up with the major league pace of placing a large investment into a player that has links to PEDs. The Astros are up there as well by trading 5 prospects for the accused Miguel Tejada. After signing a lucrative contract with Jose Guillen to a 3-year $36 million dollar deal, the Royals found out immediately they had damaged goods (even though it was also common knowledge prior to his signing). These steroid/hgh players should be running the risk of having their contracts revoked due to false advertisement. Jason Giambi toed that line two seasons ago when it was reported that he was an admitted steroid user. Speculation had the Yankees nullifying his contract due to the reports, ultimately they decided against it. Prior to 2003, Guillen was an average outfielder being shipped around the league. In 2003, Guillen set a career high for slugging at .569, significantly higher than his previous best of .430 while with the Devil Rays, and since then his performance has been relatively consistent (minus an injury shortened season in 2006 with the Nationals).

Did the Royals sign him expecting him to perform at that level? Obviously so or they would not have sank $12 million a year into him. If I am a general manager, I would be sure to insert language that speaks directly to the past use of PEDs in the contract and if it comes to fruition that the player in question is indeed guilty of either hgh or steroids, the amount of pay per season is automatically adjusted in the favor of management. Needless to say, there are some organizations that would take advantage of this safety net however it would protect the small-to-mid market teams that overextend themselves by signing a player like Guillen who may not replicate his production now that he is not juicing.

Mitchell-Boston Ties

Of the AL Central for a moment, I am not sure I actually believe this. The Boston Red Sox claim that they had no prior knowledge of Brendan Donnelly involvement with PED when they cut him a few hours before the release of the Mitchell Report. According to Red Sox spokesperson John Blake the organization "didn't get anything until Mitchell released it at 2 o'clock. So there's no way that anybody had any inkling that Donnelly would be mentioned in that report." The validity of the report has been broched upon before. In this specific case it involves Sen. George Mitchell, who also is a director of the Boston Red Sox, and a last minute decision by Theo Epstein to non-tender Donnelly. While Donnelly had been injured since June 10th and Boston has been relatively good at shedding dead weight, Mitchell, who has an involvement with a team and a report with club officials, might obliged to slip some information that would make the decision that much easier to make. Here's what we do know: New Englanders cheat. Maybe it is that Southie mentality, but since Video Tape Gate, I wouldn't be surprised if that tidbit about Paul Byrd wasn't a well-timed leak too.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Most Improved Prospects (Increased Contact Edition)

An organization like the Twins that has limited major-league ready prospects needs to thoroughly scrutinize and monitor the progress of its developing talent considering the increased cost of acquiring a free agent to replace one that isn't homegrown. While I am confident that Jim Rantz and Mike Radcliff have a good handle on the farm system, there are some concerns that talent isn't being expedited as well as it should. For instance, there are no clear cut internal replacements of Torii Hunter since Denard Span has not proven himself of high caliber. Likewise many believe that Matt Tolbert would be a better candidate for second than Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla. Looking at some of the critical peripheral numbers (K%, BB%, XBH%, ISOP, OBP) that changed from 2006 to 2007 will help highlight who these individuals are.

What a high contract rate essentially means is that the prospect is adapting to the pitching at an acceptable pace. If a strikeout rate drops significantly this a sign that a player is ready to be moved to the next level or conversely it is a symptom that the player will need more time to develop (or perhaps may never be moving hire). The low strikeout rate (strikeouts/plate appearances) indicates that a player is maximizing his plate appearances by putting the ball into play and placing the burden on the defense (we will dissect the quality of balls-in-play at a later date). These analytics are solid performance evaluations for prospects.

The top five improved contact:

5) Juan Portes -- infielder/outfielder -- Decrease of 3% between 2006 and 2007.

Drafted in the 15th round of the 2004 draft by the Twins out of a Massachusetts high school, Portes began his career in the Twins Gulf Coast League. In 44 games, Portes hit .327/.380/.530. He began 2005 with Elizabethton where his numbers in 64 games were the beginning of an offensive reduction after posting a .286/.349/.494 batting line. Moved to low-A Beloit in the Midwest League, Portes struggled again. In 288 plate appearances with Beloit he struck out 55 times (a 19.1% strikeout rate). Even though his numbers with Beloit were less than ideal (.231/.278/.310), the 20-year-old Portes was advanced to High-A Ft. Myers. Quickly the promising career that Portes started with was heading in the opposite direction. However, his numbers rebounded at Ft. Myers (.269/.336/.410) where he had a career-high 553 plate appearances and 89 strikeouts (a 16.1% strikeout rate) once again reaffirming the belief that Portes could be a major league player eventually.

4) Brian Buscher -- 3rd base -- Decrease of 3.6%.

In 524 plate appearances with Double-A Connecticut in 2006, Buscher struck out 75 times (a strikeout rate of 14.3%). Picked up by the Twins in the 2007 Rule 5 Minor League draft, Buscher split time between Double-A New Britain, Triple-A Rochester and finally the Twins. In that duration, Buscher had 529 plate appearances and struck out only 57 times (a 10.7% strikeout rate). This improvement is further highlighted by his decrease from 17.1% strikeout rate in his 484 plate appearances in 2005. What can be determined from this is that Buscher has increased his ability to put the ball in play -- a significant prerequisite to getting a base hit -- following an aborted winter league performance, a strong spring could place Buscher at the top of the short third base candidate list.

3) Drew Butera -- catcher -- Decrease of 5.6%.

Like Buscher, Butera spent 2006 in a different organization (the Mets) but has intimate knowledge of the Twins franchise considering his paternal connections (his dad is Sal Butera ). Butera was assigned to Single-A Hagerstown where he had 348 plate appearances, of those he struck out 69 times (a strikeout rate of 19.8%). Beginning in 2007, the Mets placed Butera in High-A St. Lucie where midseason he was packaged with Dustin Martin for Luis Castillo. Butera reported to New Britain and was promoted to Rochester. In that time span, Butura was given 387 plate appearances and reduced his strikeouts to 55 times (a rate of 14.2%). While it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Butera may end up being a back-up catcher candidate for the Twins in 2010, it is more than likely the 24-year-old Butera will be blocked by Mauer and Redman and will be repackaged or released.

2) Matt Allegra -- right field -- Decrease of 6.6%

Matt Allegra, like Butera and Buscher before him, was drafted by a different team. Allegra was drafted by the Oakland Athletics out of Manatee Junior College in Florida in the 16th round. In his tenure with the A's, Allegra sampled several different levels before they let him leave as a minor league free agent following his 2006 season split between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. Allegra struck out 128 times in 436 plate appearances (a 29.3% strikeout rate). Prior to the 2007 season, the Twins signed Allegra and placed him in New Britain. Allegra received 414 plate appearances and managed to cut down his strikeouts to 94 (a 22.7% strikeout rate), but is still obviously a free-swinger. While this is a significant improvement and could imply that Allegra has indeed been able increase his contact by a small adjustment or being able to recognize pitches better, there is also the possibility of regression. The mitigating factor is that the Twins do not have many outfield prospects (two lighter following the Rule 5 draft) so Allegra will be in Rochester to open the 2008 season. We should continue to monitor his progress.

1) Jose Morales -- catcher -- Decrease of 9.3%

Discovered in Puerto Rico, Morales was drafted as a shortstop in the 3rd round by the Twins in 2001 (77th overall). Morales played second base until 2003 where he was moved behind the plate while with the Quad City River Bandits. By 2004, Morales was a full-time catcher. (The problem though was that 76 picks earlier in 2001 the Twins had drafted a high school catcher from St Paul named Joe Mauer). Offensively, Morales was decent. That same season Morales hit .286/.339/.386 in the Florida State League and was named to the all-star team. After missing significant time in 2005, Morales came back with New Britain in 2006 and hit a paltry .215/.280/.319 in 251 at-bats. In 282 plate appearances, Morales struck out 56 times (a 19.9% strikeout rate). After a promotion in 2007 to Rochester, Morales had a career year where in 108 games he hit .311/.366/.399 and was called up to the Twins on September 8th, 2007. He had one of the best debuts for a Twins player in quite some time. In three at-bats, Morales had three hits (including a double and a run scored). In the top of the 5th, Morales was hustling to second on a Jason Tyner bunt and was injured on the play. Lifted from the game, his season was officially over. In 418 plate appearances, Morales had struck out 44 times (a greatly reduced 10.6%). Morales, talented but blocked by the Baby Jesus and the Naked Walker, could still find employment on the roster in 2008 as the elusive third catcher that Gardenhire had been vocal about.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's Official: Monroe's In The Mix.

Most fans suspected as much: the Twins have finally signed Craig Keystone Monroe to a one-year, $3.8 million dollar deal plus incentives (possibly totaling $4 million). As I stated previously, Monroe isn't the worst acquisition the Twins could have made (Butch Husky was, no wait, Tommy Herr), specifically because this is a non-guaranteed contract. If he has a poor performance in spring training Monroe can be released at a cost of $636,667 - a marginal risk.

It is notable that spring training is not the ideal time to pass definitive judgement on a player considering both the sample size and the quality of pitching. Considering all the slack that Rondell White received, unless Monroe proves stupidly ineffective against Double-A pitching at Hammonds Field this March, it is a given that he will be brought north. The problem is that Monroe does not have any competition for the 4th outfield/DH/right-handed bat position. Buuuut he could...

(Warning. Shameless Kevin Mench plea forthcoming).

Milwaukee has officially designated Kevin Mench for assignment. If the Twins were to pursue Mench, they would either have to make a similar trade like they did with the Chicago Cubs for Monroe or wait several days and attempt to sign him to a modest free agent contract (if possible). Another potentially low investment to build depth. If we were to compare the two option in the parameters of the defined role (4th outfielder/Right-Handed Bat vs Lefties) we find that both have two different offerings to the organization:

Defensively in 2007 neither would be classified as specialists. Far from. Mench spent his time in Milwaukee platooning with Geoff Jenkins in both left and right field while Monroe was the everyday left fielder in Detroit until traded at which point Chicago didn't seem to know what to do with him (playing 39 innings in center and 46 in left). Monroe played 795 innings in left field for Detroit with only 3 errors (.982 fielding percentage) and throwing out 6 runners on the bathpaths. Of 152 balls in his zone, Monroe was able to make the play on 129 (a .849 rzr rating) on top of which he made 33 plays on balls hit out of his zone. With Mench splitting his time between Jenkins, Mench played only 377 innings in left field. Even though he did not commit any errors (1.000 fielding percentage), it is another misleading statistic: 47 balls were hit in Mench's zone and he made plays on only 38 of them (a .809 rzr rating) and he was only able to make 17 plays outside of his zone. In 219 innings in right field, Mench had 53 balls in his zone and made the play on 47 of them (a .868 rzr rating), he made two fielding errors reducing his percentage (.976) but he did throw out another 3 baserunners (equaling Monroe's total) and made 10 plays on balls out of his zone totaling 27 between left and right field.

While Monroe is better at covering ground, both seem to have reasonable arms and make few errors. Considering the limited time that either would actually spend on the field, I'd declare this a push. If you are placing Mench in the field, you wouldn't be losing a substantial amount of glove and if you were to use Monroe, you would not necessarily gain that much defensive either.

left field - 2007 innings played errors fielding percentage runners thrown out rzr percentage ooz
monroe 795 3 .982 6 .849 33
mench 377 0 1.000 3 .809 17

*hardball times

If either of these players were to get at-bats against RIGHT-handed pitching, neither would improve the line-up (and with Kubel available, this should never be an option).

vs. righties - 2007 home runs average on-base percentage slugging
monroe 6 .197 .247 .308
mench 0 .212 .261 .303


The peripheral numbers here tells the same story:

vs. righties - 2007 plate appearances bb% k% xbh% hr% ops+
monroe 287 6.2% 27.5% 6.2% 2.0% 75
mench 142 5.7% 7.7% 7.7% 0.0% 56

Monroe is slightly better than Mench against the righties but also was given twice as many plate appearances.

To say that the Twins were offensively deficient against left-handed pitching would be an understatement. Grossly ineffective is more appropriate. Of the three players that were able to provide production, one is now in Anaheim, and Delmon Young has been acquired to hopefully replace that offset that loss. Therefore, either Monroe or Mench would be asked to improve on that. In 2007, both players had roughly the same amount of plate appearances versus left-handed pitching (Monroe's 144 to Mench's 166) with seemingly similar but ultimately different results:

vs. lefties - 2007 home runs average on-base percentage slugging
monroe 6 .271 .309 .469
mench 8 .314 .343 .558


When you dissect the peripheral numbers further you will find that Mench is a better option because of his considerably higher contact rate (14.0% less strikeouts per plate appearance) with nearly identical power.

vs. lefties - 2007 plate appearances bb% k% xbh% hr% ops+
monroe 140 5.0% 20.0% 12.1% 4.2% 99
mench 166 4.8% 6.0% 12.0% 4.8% 139

Mench is on-base more and making more contact than Monroe when facing lefties. If Gardenhire were to maximize production against left-handed pitching, such as getting runners on and moving them over, he would be rewarded by implementing Mench.

I anticipate a team like the A's or Blue Jays who analyze talent less on appearance (i.e. Matt Stairs) and more on the offensive production to sign Mench to a small contract much like the one Stairs was inked to last season.

The problem is that if Mench were to be used for the National League team, he would had to be played in the field. The added incentive in the American League is that as a designated hitter, Mench would not have to play the field. With Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer available, Mench would never have to see the field when lefties are pitching. At this point, Mench is grossly undervalued. Admittedly at times it would appear that I have a man-crush on Mench, however I have a complete opposite sentiment towards Mench after reading the Journal-Sentinel's Brewers Blog comments. Judging from the numbers, Brewers manager Ned Yost did use Mench in the correct manner, limiting his plate appearance versus righties to minimum. His body type earned him nicknamed Shrek has opened the door for ridicule. Brewers fans have decided that he took up roster space when in reality he was quite productive in his limited role.

Meanwhile, Monroe's production has declined and probably leveled off and he provided the Tigers with 3 win shares in 2007, Mench in his limited role gave the Brewers 8. On the record I am not anti-Monroe nor do I think that Mench is the Twins key to the postseason, however introducing Mench as a possible option would a) give motivation to Monroe, b) better comparison during spring training and c) be one of the least expensive acquisitions that would improve the lack of offensive against left-handed pitching. On paper (or more appropriately, on blog) the Twins would stand to gain more from Mench than Monroe.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Anatomy of a Rumor (Shortstop Edition)

When you look at the projected Twins lineup for 2008 it appears to contain more gaps than all the regional malls in America combined. Despite finding a right-handed bat to replace Torii Hunter's offensively, Billy Smith has not yet addressed problems that existed at the end of 2007 season (third and center) and recent openings that were created when trading Bartlett to Tampa (short and leadoff). There is more certainty with who will be on the presidential ballot; the Twins middle infield is anybody's guess.

In his press conference with reporters at the winter meetings, Ron Gardenhire attempted to offer some resolve to the matter from the manager's perch. Inquiring as to what the manager thought about the shortstop situation Gardenhire said, "We got Harris in the mix. We've got Punto and Casilla. We've got some good young infielders. I think Harris looks like offensively he can do something offensively: He can swing the bat. If he comes in and shows that he can move around a little bit and make the routines plays and all those things, he'll get a good look at it."

When asked about his recent shortstop dilemma's solution could come from outside the organization, Gardenhire kept the door open for a possibility of a trade or free agent signing. "Not going to back ourselves in a corner," Gardy said, "There could be possibility of going out and finding somebody and making a move to get a shortstop if you had to. If one pops up in your face, you're not going to back away from it, but we've got people in-house that can -- we think can do the job. We don't know that, but we think it. I know Punto can."

From Gardenhire's perspective (not necessarily the Twins front office, mind you) the shortstop options are: 1) Brendan Harris, 2) Nick Punto, 3) Alexi Casilla (Although the possibility seems slight. In a subsequent question, Gardy said "Casilla is kind of a loose cannon. He can make some of greatest plays in the world, and he can get a little out of whack."), 4) Unknown Free Agent, and 5) Unknown Traded Player.

In the ensuing question, a reporter pressed if David Eckstein - who makes an "exorbitant" amount of money - was someone Gardy would be interested in for shortstop Gardy replied, "Yes, I've had a lot of respect for him. A winner. Proven winner. Guys like that, you know, those are decisions and things we'll talk about as you go along."

This one response to a loaded question has incited plenty of chatter in message boards demonizing Gardenhire's preferences. The phrasing of the question reads as follows: "Guy like Eckstein, whose salary is exorbitant." That is barely a question. Even an inept defense attorney would have been screaming "Objection! Leading the witness." Nevertheless, ESPN's Jerry Cransick fueled the fire by writing in the ESPN winter meetings blog that: "With the Twins in search of middle-infield help, one potential target is free agent David Eckstein. "I've always had a lot of respect for him," said Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire. "He catches the ball. He knows how to play. He's a proven winner."

This is a great example of how much weight to put into so-called rumors reported on by even respectable media. Desperate for blog fodder, Cransick did some quick math: Twins have a need at shortstop in addition to Gardy is seemingly infatuated with Eckstein (based upon his interview response). Ergo, the Twins must be interested in signing David Eckstein.

When the interview is read in context, it would appear that no logical person would read further into Gardy's answer for several reasons:

1) If Gardy did offer a derogatory or negative response towards Eckstein and the front office signs Eck anyways, Gardy has now backed himself into a corner and has invited a disgruntled shortstop situation even before the cleats hit the turf. As a major league manager, he knows part of his position is being a mayor.

2) Consider the free agent in question. Eck has been able to command a healthy salary based on the notion that he is a "proven winner" playing in the World Series with both the Cardinals and the Angels. That being said, Eckstein is a Type-B free agent, meaning the Twins would have to sacrifice a draft-pick for signing him.

3) Most importantly, the Twins have very similar options internally and are plenty aware of that. As glove men are concerned, Eck is declining. In 2007, he had one of the worst revised-zone-ratings of any starting shortstop in the National League (.783) and the two below him that have played more than 900 innings in the season were Hanley Ramirez (.773) and Stephen Drew (.777). Ramirez hit .332/.386/.562, a powerful bat that can be forgiven for his fielder errors. Drew was making $4.2 million dollars less for providing the Diamondbacks with 4 more win shares than Eckstein (16 WS to 11 WS). Harris, meanwhile, was playing in 200 less innings at shortstop managed to have a the identical revised-zone-rating as Drew (.777) while playing in a more defensively difficult league (American) and division (East). Harris also provided the Rays with 3 additional win shares than Eckstein gave the Cardinals.

Now that the Eckstein-to-Twins rumor has been thoroughly discredited (by Rotoworld too), let's play devil's advocate and suggest the notion that the Twins are currently seeking external candidates for short. Rotoworld reported that Eckstein is looking for a multi-year deal (after all, he is only seven months older than Edgar Renteria) and goes on to state that the Twins would only be interested in a "stop-gap" season and therefore would not be able to come to terms with the free agent. My question is, who are we "stop-gapping" for? Trevor Plouffe may be more than a season away from being major league ready and may not have the makeup of a shortstop (he made 32 errors last season in Double-A). Behind him in the organization's depth chart appears to be the 24-year-old Steven Tolleson who spend last season at Ft. Myers. At the major league level, Harris is better suited for second or third while Punto is better glued to the bench maintaining the Denny Hocking role. Likewise, Casilla will be at second if anywhere at all next season.

Considering the nature of the market for free agent shortstops (Eckstein, Neifi Perez, Royce Clayton), Eckstein is by far the best option. In full disclosure, I think Eckstein is far from an ideal candidate to man the position. Then again Harris, Punto and Casilla are also all far from ideal. Without a doubt Eckstein will be overvalued and qualify for a larger contract than deserved. The money that would be used in signing Eckstein would be better allocated if used in other avenues (dh, 3b, cf). Optimally, it would benefit the Twins to acquire a shortstop through a trade rather than overpay for a shortstop. One that can also bat lead-off.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Rule 5: See You Real Soon.

What I enjoy about the Rule 5 draft picks is the scrutiny that must (or at least should) take place within an organization prior to their selection. Everybody knows the stories of how one team recognized the talent in Kevin Cameron, Josh Hamilton, Dan Uggla, Johan Santana and Bobby Bonilla that their previous owners failed to capitalize on. Your Rays, Pirates, Royals and Nationals should all benefit from having the opportunity to at least sample on a trial basis some of the either forgotten or overlooked talent. The worse your team finishes, the better chance you have of obtain the one or two quality players available during the draft. But first, you must have a opening somewhere on your roster for a player that another organization has deemed not in their top-40. Then you go shopping hoping to obtain something useful from the bottom of the barrel. Finally you have to determine whether the draft pick is worth the space on your roster during spring training or risk losing $25,000 dollars when sending him back. If you think about it, it could be a hell of a reality show on ESPN.

Which brings me to the Minnesota Twins. While I suspect none of the players will not amount to a hill of beans and most likely make their way back to our farm system like cows out for a mid-afternoon stroll, it is telling that 10% of the total Rule 5 draft picks (major and minor leagues) had been developed by the Minnesota Twins (11.6% if you include former draft pick cum Tampa Bay Ray Evan Meek ). Scouting Director Mike Radcliff told the Pioneer Press's Phil Miller that “it’s a glass-half-full sort of thing. We’re disappointed to lose players we’ve invested in, but it means we have talent in our organization.” Talent that went unrecognized. Part of what a franchise needs to do is monitoring the market and gauging the interest of other clubs for players that might not be in the organization's long-term plans and work a trade. With holes in the infield and outfield, the Twins could have potentially traded Cameron prior to the Rule 5 draft in 2006 for a similar caliber player that could develop into a major league centerfielder. What one team ignores, another might value. It speaks volumes that we may have internally ignored 3 of the 18 players drafted.

The three that were selected in the major league portion (thankfully none named Yohan Pino) are as follows:

1st Pick (1st player drafted): Rays take yet another Twins pitcher (but immediately trade him to Cubs ). Tampa had a prearranged deal with the Cubs for $150,000 ($100,000 after the $50,000 draft fee) for the Rays to select Lahey then hand him over. "He's got real good sink with a ground ball ratio of almost 3-to-1 and the makings of a pretty good slider," Cubs farm director Oneri Fleita said. "It's amazing—I think he has 178, 179 innings and has less than a hit per inning pitched. That's pretty good for a guy who just got converted. We're excited to see him." In the 20th round of the 2004 amateur draft the Twins selected catcher Timothy Lahey from Princeton. After finishing 2004 in Elizabethton with 84 at-bats and a weak .202/.317/.333 line, the Twins decided to move him from behind the plate and onto the mound (inviting plenty of comparisons to Troy Percival). Lahey threw 25.1 innings with Elizabethton and struckout 30 while saving 15 games in 2005. The following season Lahey was moved to High-A Fort Myers where he pitched in 44 games. Facing 315 batters, Lahey had a 18.1% strikeout rate and a 8.6% walk rate and managed to get hitters to beat the ball into the ground 65% of balls-in-play. Scouts began saying he was throwing a "heavy ball" and was deceptive due to the short-armed, catcher-style motion that Lahey had. Baseball America compared it to that of Keith Foulke's. In 2007, Lahey was escorted to Double-A New Britain where he faced more polished hitters. While his strikeout rate (16.3%) and walkrate (9.6%) remained consistent, he surrendered home runs in 8% of the balls-in-play and his groundball capabilities declined to 53%.

I am convinced that Lahey would not have been able to ascend to the Twins as a closer or even in mop-up duties. There were too many pitching prospects ahead of him. His stock may have escalated due to saves and caught the attention of several organizations. I would assume that there was a sentiment within the Twins organization that Lahey would be expendable. After all, he was not protected prior to this draft. Conversely, they also must have known that he possess some qualities in a pitcher that is highly sought after. Qualities that some teams, like the Cubs, who would be willing to trade a surplus of minor league outfielders for. Wish we had the opportunity to have a swap-meet.

15th Pick (12th player drafted): Mariners take Dickey. The Twins had just "passed" with their 11th overall selection followed by three more passes when Seattle snagged another Twins pitcher. The newly-anointed knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who the Twins signed to a minor league contract less than a month ago, was drafted by the Mariners. "It's a great opportunity for him [Dickey] because he got a roster spot out of it that he didn't have with us. He goes to their big league camp," Bill Smith told the AP. "We were a little disappointed because we were kind of excited to have him."

The 33-year-old Dickey had spent significant time in the Rangers organization and saw ample duty in both spot-starting and long relief. Dickey threw in over 221 innings with 151 strikeouts with the Rangers in 2003 and 2004. Last season the Brewers used Dickey as a starter for their Triple-A Nashville associate. That is when Dickey discovered the knuck. Facing 707 batters in 2007, Dickey struck out 16.8% of them and issued free-passes to 8.5%. His knuck was effective at getting the groundball on nearly 55% of balls-in-play. Despite the stigma of being over 30 years old Dickey reinvented himself as a knuckleballer coming into the 2007 where he ended up with a 13-6 record (but 10-2 and a 2.52 era after June 1st) in the Pacific Coast League. His final 3.72 era was almost a full earn run under the PCL's average of 4.68.

Even though it is more likely that Dickey will make his way back to the Twins after spring training, USS Mariner speculates what sort of hilarity could ensue after a flame-thrower like Felix Hernandez is replaced with a butterfly throwing reliever like Dickey. Even if Dickey was not selected in the Rule 5 he would have been a dark-horse to break camp with the Twins. Still I was looking forward to watching the knuckleballer at Hammond Field and the Mariners have stole that from me.

(Aside: Great New Yorker article about the lost art of the knuckleball.)

(17th player drafted): Nationals pick up yet another outfielder. In an attempt to have the only 25-man roster made up entirely of outfielders (Dukes, Logan, Kearns, Mo Pena, Langerhas, etc), the Washington Nationals grabbed 25-year-old Garrett Guzman. Baseball America describes him as Orlando Palmerio-ish: an undersized, left-handed fourth outfielder. Nats General Manager Jim Bowden agrees: "We think he can be a fourth outfielder in the big leagues right now. He's a quality kid who hits the ball hard, he goes the other way with it."

In New Britain in 2007, Guzman outperformed his career line (.290/.339/.439) with a .312/.359/.453 season. His 74 ops+ was his best since his 18-year-old rookie season of 326+. In subsequent seasons after his whopping .967 in the Gulf Coast League Guzman's production declined and leveled posting ops+ of 62, 58, 11 and 18 in Low-A, High-A and Double-A. This tells me that he had a gross inflation of production in 2007. His stock could not have been higher. The Twins's system was desperate for outfielders and probably read too much into some of his early statistics but ultimately decided that he might not have the same output as his 2007 season. At 25-years-old and facing Double-A pitching for the second straight year does not scream major league ready. They don't speak too highly of him in Washington neither.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Deflating Detroit Rock City

In 2003, the Detroit Tigers had lost 119 games. Five years later in 2008, 119 wins is a reality.

Mitch Albom, Detroit Free-Press columnist and sob-story novelist, wrote a column following the Cabrera/Willis trade tossing acclimates around but not yet notifying the Motor City citizens to start stockpiling ticker-tape for next November. Jason Stark at ESPN has also stated that the American League pennant goes through Motown as well. Phil Roger's is raving about the deal, in fact, he has already crowned Detroit AL Central champs and the second-best team behind Boston (he currently has the Twins ranked third in the division but ready to fall if Santana or Nathan is dealt). FoxSport's Ken Rosenthal loves them too. Hell, Bud Selig should just have the trophy thing engraved now. Get the discount.

On paper this team looks good. Too good. Insanely good. $130 million a year good. This 2008 squad is reminiscent of the All-Star line-up Homer Simpson's softball team had when playing the annual softball game against the rival power plant and Mr. Burns went out and acquired ringers (not before Smithers had to inform him that his right fielder had been dead for over a hundred and thirty years). Undoubtedly with a roster that included Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco, Daryl Strawberry, Roger Clemens, etc, etc, it was expected that the team was going to win that softball game. Only the night before the big game -- one by one -- the players started disappearing (Ozzie Smith's ride in the blackhole) or arrest for all the unsolved murders in New York (Steve Sax) or gargantunism (Ken Griffey Jr). These are the sort of events that will need to unfold in order to keep this Tiger lineup at bay. Nothing short of localized global warming, entirely concentrated in the Greater Detroit area will keep this from being the one of the most formidable team ever. That or maybe we just send them all an invite to a "get to know your new teammates" party in some warehouse which we will stock with HGH and steroids. We'll lock them in, call the feds. Baseball players within close proximity to performance enhancing drugs? Case closed.

It is not my nature to be entirely that doom-and-gloom. I for one am not ready to have Metrodome ushers hand me prepunched All-Star ballots for all-Tigers. Always your source for Glass-Is-Half-Empty for your division rivals, I have constructed several talking points that might alleviate this constant chatter that already has Detroit crowned World Series champions for the next infinity years:

1) Renteria and Sheffield are least likely to replicate their career numbers. With injuries and age, these two might not have the opportunity to live up to their projections. At 31, Renteria played in his fewest games (124) since his rookie season (106). His defensive numbers are a tad misleading considering his fielding percentage has not change meanwhile, according to the Hardball Times, his revised-zone-rating has was his lowest last season (.815) since his short-lived Boston endeavor (.805). While the .815 RZR mark would have been good enough for third in the American League, in the National League it was only good enough for 8th. The shortstop crop in the AL is a) shallow and b) forced to defend against one more batter (the dh) who can typically rake (exception: Tyner, Jason). This increased offense in the American League exposed Renteria as a passable shortstop while he was with Boston. Expect him to decline in defense similar to his transition to Boston and put up a line just as similar to his Red Sox days .276/.335/.385 (in a right-handed hitter friendly park, no less!).

Sheffield, meanwhile, is old. In 2008 he will be 39. While he still can pack a punch (25 home runs in 494 at-bats), his final line in his first season with Detriot was much lower than previous seasons in with he accumulated nearly 500 at-bats (.265/.378/.462). Sheffield still has a penchant for drawing walks and taking pitches (4.1 pitches per plate appearance). In 2007, he had an isolated slugging of .321 in May and .270 in June where he hit 16 of his 25 home runs. He faded almost as fast as he started, ending August with a .093 ISOP and September with .062 ISOP. This decline could be attributed to aging, where a player no longer has the wherewithal to last 162 games. When you consider it, spring training beginning in March through September would be a tough stretch for any 39-year-old that is being asked to contribute everyday, even if it is only as a dh. My inclination is that Sheff will have a similar season in 2008 as he did in 2007, only with more games on the DL and fewer home runs due to a overall drop in power later in the season. Curious side note: he was able to tie his second highest amount of stolen bases (22), a mark he established at 29-years-old, nearly a decade prior.

2) Does anyone really believe Todd Jones is a lights-out closer? Whenever Todd Jones was asked to closer out the Twins, I never had that overwhelming feeling of closure as I did when Troy Percival or Mariano Rivera were in their prime. Part of the reason is that he is the most underwhelming closer in baseball today (not named Joe Borowski). Of the 265 batters faced, Jones managed to strike out only 12.5% of them. This strikeout rate is borderline for a major league pitcher, let alone the guy you hand over to protect the game in 9th. Couple the lack of strikeouts with his obscene 8.7% walkrate and the fact that Jones only was able to use his good glove infield on only 45.6% of balls-in-play is not a good definition for the word "lights-out". What this indicates is that Jones has been the recipient of both good luck and a lax definition of a "save". The hard work had been performed by Zumaya or Rodney. Jones was ushered in to not hand over a 3 or 4 run lead, which he only managed to do in 86% of his save opportunities. In 2008, Jones will be without his set-ups in Zumaya and Rodney missed a significant portion of the season with various arm injuries. Word is that the Tigers are looking to sign Latroy Hawkins. Hawkins who was able to induce groundballs 65% of the time last season, will be a disaster minus his Colorado Rockies defense. Pending any trades involving Inge or Marcus Thames for bullpen help, the Tigers have a soft-spot once the starting pitchers are removed from the game.

3) The Tigers seem pretty set on sending Jacque Jones up to the plate three times or more a game. I am not the one to inform Detroit that Jacque is your prototypical free-swinging out machine. In his book, "Fantasyland", Sam Walker used his sports writer credentials to obtain insider information by accessing the players directly in the locker rooms. In one chapter Walker described an encounter with then-Twin Jacque Jones discussing the recent Ron Shandler book. The stats from Shandler's book essentially pegged Jones as a hitter that had incredible luck and was sure to decline in productivity due to his high strikeout rate and batting average on balls-in-play. Jones reviewed Shandler's book with Walker looming over head and was utterly dejected. Following that 2004 season, Shandler was exactly right as Jones regressed from a .304/.333/.464 hitter into a .254/.315/.427 hitter when some of the balls-in-play stopped falling to the turf. After signing with the Cubs, Jones rebounded with a .285/.334/.499 2006 season but saw his power disappeared in 2007, as he finished .285/.335/.400. His home run production decreased sharply as he had been hitting home runs in 3.9% (2004), 3.9% (2005) and 4.6% (2006) of his plate appearance while ending with home runs in 1.0% of his plate appearance last season. This may be triggered by a focus to make better contact. His strikeout rate was the lowest ever in 2007 (14.1%).

Meanwhile, Jones is notoriously inept versus left-handed pitching. If the speculation is true and the Tigers do unload Marcus Thames to compensate for the increased payroll, Jones will certainly be asked to face the league's southpaws. In his career, Jones has managed to put up a Puntoesque .233/.281/.355 line. This makes Jones a prime candidate to bring in your lefty specialist forcing Leyland to use his bench early.

Last of all, I take comfort in knowing that all Twins fans have the scouting report down on Jacque Jones: breaking stuff over the right-handed batters box. He can't hit them, he can't lay off.

4) Magglio Ordonez will not have the same type of year as he did in 2007. While regression seems to be my fall back defense, of all the players in the Tigers line-up Ordonez has to be far and above the most likely candidate to have a regressed season if for no other reason than his 2007 campaign was monstrous. As a 33-year-old, Ordonez put up an MVP-type year with a .363/.434/.595 line. Rediculous for a career .312/.370/.522 hitter. Make no mistake, Ordonez can rake. However, while a very patient hitter (12.3% walkrate in 2007) and a keen batting eye (11.6% strikeout rate in 2007), again Ordonez is another example of a Tiger getting extremely lucky: His batting average of balls in play was .383. That sort of production is bound to decrease (probably back down to his 2006 level of .317, but still...).