Thursday, January 29, 2009

Did The Twins Screw Up By Signing Kubel?

    Both Dave Cameron (Fangraphs) and Rob Neyer (ESPN) seem flabbergasted that the Twins signed Jason Kubel to such a lucrative deal.  Cameron's solution would have been to cut Kubel loose and then sign 30-year-old Eric Hinske to a one-year, $1 million-to-$2 million dollar contract the Pittsburgh Pirates are soon to close with the former Rookie of the Year
Cameron writes "Compare that to Hinske (the guy who had to settle for a one year deal as a role player on a terrible team) - the offensive skillset is practically identical, but Hinske can actually play a competent 1B/OF. The offensive difference in their CHONE projections add up to 2-3 runs over a full season, but the defensive gap is clearly much larger. It’s hard to make a case that Kubel > Hinske."
Likewise, Neyer states "Hinske was worth around $9 million last year; Kubel was worth around $2 million. That difference is due largely to the fact that Hinske can play the outfield passably, while Kubel is (or should be) restricted exclusively to DH duties"
In the strict GMsian sense, both Cameron and Neyer have an argument.  They are analyzing this in a pure "cog-for-the-machine" sense of designing a roster.  Hinske is cheaper part and has the potential to provide similar output with the added caveat of defense if necessary.  The problem with the two writers' proposals as outsiders to the Twins organization is that the Twins are not interested in the defensive part of the equation.  Certainly a more enlightened franchise (Seattle, Boston) might weigh the added benefit of having a player on the roster that could stand in with serviceable defense but as it stands, the Twins have four outfielders ahead of anyone else on the outfield depth chart, so the focus revolves around the offense provided. 
Last year, the 30-year-old left-handed batting Hinske hit .247/.333/.465 with 20 home runs and 88-to-47 K-to-BB ratio in 432 plate appearances while playing corner outfield for the Rays.  Comparatively, the 26-year-old left-handed batting Jason Kubel hit .272/.335/.471 with 20 home runs and 91-to-47 K-to-BB ratio in 517 plate appearances while being used as a designated hitter.  Very similar, right?  On top of that, both have been treated like a platoon candidate over the duration of their careers.  Where Hinske has seen 78% of his plate appearances against right-handed pitchers (hitting .264/.347/.458), Kubel has seen 81% of his plate appearances against the right-handed variety (hitting .275/.327/.464). 
There should be consideration towards the trajectory of their 2008 season to put their final numbers into context.  Hinske opened the season white-hot, batting .292/.407/.639 with six home runs in 86 plate appearances with a solid 14 walks to 12 strikeouts.  From May 1st through September, Hinske hit .236/.315/.424 with 14 home runs in 346 plate appearances while walking just 33 more times and striking out 76 times.  His numbers were buttressed by a torid first month of the year.  In his initial month, Kubel hit .237/.257/.381 with four home runs and a putrid three walks to 20 strikeouts in 101 plate appearances.  As Kubel's season progressed and he was given a regular spot as the DH when Craig Monroe was released, Kubel hit a much sturdier .281/.353/.495 with 16 home runs in 416 plate appearances while walking 44 times and striking out 71 times.  If you use this as an indicator for future performance, Kubel's season shows progression while Hinske's shows wear. 
Furthermore, Kubel has made growth in proving that he can be used as an everyday player and not just a platoon partner.  The Twins gave Kubel more exposure to left-handed pitchers (22% of his at bats) and was somewhat useful hitting .232/.330/.374.  Hinske, on the other hand, was an extreme platoon player with only 12% of his plate appearances against lefties where he hit just .143/.263/.224.  There is value in having someone that kills a rally if a LOOGY is brought in.
The truth is that Kubel is just reaching his peak season and will be playing  his best baseball (in theory) in the next several years.  Meanwhile, at 31 in 2009, Hinske will see his numbers drop, both offensively and defensively, as he ages towards obscurity. 


Monday, January 26, 2009

Odds. Ends. (01.27.09)

  • The Hardball Times 2009 Season Preview finally went to the printers this week and will begin shipping next week.  Editor David Gassko posted a nice run-down on what you will receive if you purchase the book, which I highly recommend and not just because I wrote the Twins section.  There are many great contributors that helped make this book possible and The Hardball Times is always one of the frontrunners when it comes to baseball analysis (and unlike some baseball websites, their content is always free of charge).  Order your copy today.     
  • Fangraphs's Marc Hulet wrote a piece reflecting back on the Johan Santana trade.  Hulet's understated conclusion is that the trade hasn't gone as well as the Twins hoped it would have.  In general, trading one superstar player for a handful of players typically fails.  Bill James determined in his 1988 Abstract that "Talent in baseball is not normally distributed.  It is a pyramid.  For every player who is 10% above the average player, there are probably 20 players who are 10% below the average."  (There are the exceptions to that Jamesian rule: Giants GM Brian Sabean figured this out when he accepted A.J. Pierzynski for three players.)  Essentially, it is hard to replace the superstar that is Johan Santana, which is why none of the three pitchers (Humber, Mulvey and Guerra) will provide the type of innings that Santana did.  Most analysts tend to focus on Carlos Gomez when deciding the victor of this trade.  Gomez contains the largest likelihood for R.O.I.  Subtly, Gomez's presence in centerfield (+32) probably shaved off runs from Slowey (44% fb%) and Baker's (45.7% fb%) overall totals.  This should not be taken lightly, however, that isn't as easy to measure as say, a .657 OPS and therefore easier to deem it a bad trade.   An improvement in his offensive production in the next several seasons coupled with one of the three pitchers emerging as a significant contributer could swing the trade into the realm of acceptable.  What should be understood at this point is that none of the three will provide production on a Johan Santana scale. 


  • Of all the manuvers Royals GM Dayton Moore made this offseason, signing Zack Greinke to a 4-year, $38M contract is head-and-shoulders the best.  Though known for mental issues that sidelined him in 2006 for the majority of the year, Greinke emerged in 2008 as one of the top young starters in the game.  The 25-year-old threw 202.1 innings while striking out 183 and walking just 56 for a FIP of 3.56.  The Royals have purchased Greinke's first two free agent years (2011, 2012) but all indications suggest that Greinke should be as effective at 28 and 29.  Even though the Royals called on Greinke at the tender age of 20, he rarely threw more than 100 pitches in a start.  This was also true in his 2005 season.  By taking the year off in 2006 and working mostly out of the bullpen in 2007, Greinke has protected his arm from the abuse that a lot of young pitchers on poor teams suffer (see: Radke, Brad).  Rany Jayazerli at Baseball Prospectus developed a system of monitoring "Pitcher Abuse Points" or PAP.  In short, going from research conducted by Craig Wright, Jayazerli expounded upon the notion that it is not the amount of pitches a pitcher throws that results in injuries, but rather it is throwing with a fatigued arm.  Consider Mark Prior, for example.  At age 22 in 2003, Prior would often throw more than 130 pitches in a game, averaging 113 pitches per start.  At age 21 in 2005, Greinke made 33 starts and only threw over 110 pitches twice (111) and averaged 93 pitches per start.  Because Greinke avoided both throwing all together and amassing a hefty pitch count at an early stage in his career, he is now a solid candidate to pitch well into his 30s while flameouts like Prior attempt to make a comeback with the Padres. 
  • I received a spattering of emails (read: three) inquiring which side of the fence I actually stood when it came to signing Joe Crede in response to the article posted yesterday.  It may have been a bit ambiguous. I do believe that depending on the terms of the contract, Crede could wind up a bargain free agent.  What I do not believe is that Crede will replicate his totals if the Twins acquire him based upon the disadvantage that a right-handed batter has in the Metrodome.  Fans should put that into perspective.  Rondell White befell the same fate.  At Comerica, White found the seats every 24.4 at bats (7 HR in 171 AB at home).  Comerica's left field power alley is 10 feet closer to home than the Metrodome.  The Twins brought him in and White hit a home run every 34.4 at bats at the Dome (4 HR in 153 AB).  The Dome squelches the majority of right-handed power hitters.  That said, I highly respect Crede's glovework -- enough to compensate for his low on-base percentage -- and if the Twins think his back is healthy enough to play 130 games, I'm for it. 
  • The Star Tribune's Jim Souhan recently took the time to solve the Twins' third base woes: move Michael Cuddyer back to third.  Number one, this resolves the vacancy at third at the same time it does alleviate the logjam of an outfield.  Souhan's argument involves not having to spend money or players in acquiring a working part that could play third.  On the surface, this proposition makes sense.  Cuddyer has a history of playing third base (after being drafted as a shortstop) and, all things considered, third base is only one position back up the Defensive Spectrum from right field (DS: 1B -- LF -- RF -- 3B -- CF -- 2b -- SS).  But the problem lies in that Cuddyer will be 30 in 2009, the defensive spectrum is not kind to outfielders that are converted back to third basemen.  Steven Goldleaf conducted a study that suggested nearly 75% of all attempts to reconvert outfielders to third basemen fail.  Cuddyer's age is pulling him to the left on on the spectrum -- accept that Jim. 


  • TwinsFest sounds like a resounding success as the total number of patrons exceeded 31,000 -- the third-highest total behind 2007 which saw 35,000 visitors at the Dome following a miraculous comeback season and the second-highest in 1992's crowd of 32,000 following their second World Series title.  In today's economic and below zero climate, it is surprising that the Twins have been able to maintain such interest within a team in an offseason in which the resigning of Nick Punto was the hot stove headline.  Things could be worse, you could be a Pittsburgh Pirates fan.  This past weekend, PirateFest, celebrated their all-time attendance high of 15,000 visitors to the three-day event.  After going 488-644 since 2002 (.396 winning percentage), the Pirates front office rewarded the loyal fans by signing Craig Monroe and Ramon Vazquez.   


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Crede Considerations.

There are a few points that we should consider when discussing the potential acquisition of Joe Crede.  On the surface, Crede has the makings of a bargain value free agent that the market ignored due to health issues and low on-base percentages.  The Twins are actively in pursuit of Crede, monitoring his workouts in Arizona and negotiating with Scott Boras on the terms of a contract.  Outside of his back and the length of his deal, there are a few other things the front office should review. 
His upper-cut swing has become more prevalent in the past several seasons (53.7% FB% in 2008) at the expense of line drives and grounders. In an environment like Chicago, this plays well.  Flyballs, as we will see, have the tendency to seek over the wall.  Grounders on the grass infield tend to be outs where as in the Metrodome they sneak through the infield and often run gaps.  US Cellular is 330 down the left field line and 375 to the power alley in left-center.  The Metrodome requests an addition 13 feet to clear the fence down the left field foul line (343) and another 10 to reach the power alley (385).  These dimensions at the Dome punish right handed flyball hitters seeking solace of the prevailing winds and rewards a line drive, gap hitter.  Crede still has a solid power swing - most likely will be trading those home runs in Chicago for doubles (or perhaps flyouts) in Minneapolis. 
From March 31st until July 21st in 2008, Crede hit 17 home runs in 312 at bats -- a home run every 18.3 at-bats.  This certainly screams power and by comparison, Justin Morneau, the Twins leading home run slugger, socked 11 in 292 at bats during that same stretch.  Morneau's was a pace of a home run every 26.5 at bats.
Before declaring Crede as the better power-hitter, consider the context.  Morneau played his home games at the Metrodome which favors left-handed batters but in general suppresses runs.  In 81 Dome games, Morneau hit 12 home runs in 301 at bats - pacing for a home run every 25.0 at bats.  Away from the Dome, Morneau played in 82 games and hit 11 home runs in 322 at bats - a slower pace of 29.2 at bats between home runs.  This is a slight difference but balanced for the most part.  Conversely, Crede's power performance was inflated by playing home games at US Cellular.  In 47 games at his home field, Crede hit 11 home runs in 162 at bats - a superhuman pace of a home run every 14.7 at bats.  In 50 games outside of US Cellular, Crede hit just six home runs in 173 at bats - a more earthly home run every 28.8 at bats.  The same is true over the entire duration of his career.  While playing at US Cellular, Crede has hit a home run every 19.3 at bats; away he hits them every 25.5 at bats.  Subtract his former ballpark from the equation and one would expect his home run total to deflate.  
In 2008, 131 home runs were hit at the Dome in 5,283 at bats resulting in an extreme muted home run pace of one every 40.3 at bats.  US Celluler, on the other hand, witnessed 206 home runs in 5,363 at bats resulting in a home run every 26.3 at bats.  Since the Major League average was a home run hit every 34.7 at bats, this means that the Dome suppressed home run totals by 16.1% and US Cellular increased home runs by 31.9%.  The difference between exchanging US Cellular for the Dome would, on average, decrease the home run rate by 34.7%.  Therefore, Crede's home run pace at the Cell of 14.7 HR/AB would drop to 19.8 HR/AB had he spent his season in Minnesota.
Admittedly, this transfer to the Dome with the applied formula above would have cost Crede a measly pair of home runs since his pace was so incredible.  The forgone conclusion here is that Crede is very unlikely to repeat the pace of 14.7 home runs per at bat in 2009 regardless of where he plays.  Assuming that his impressive 14.7 HR/AB regresses to his norm of 19.3 HR/AB in 2009, we can expect that his home run rate will increase to roughly 26.0 HR/AB while playing for the Twins.  On a wag, let us say that Crede gets the exact amount of at bats in 2009 has he did in 2008 due to various ailments and platoon situations.  Instead of the 11 home runs he had in Chicago, six or seven is a more reasonable expectation to hit at the Dome.
This is a roundabout, convoluted way of saying Crede's home run totals will drop in 2009 so the expectation of Crede in a Twins uniform should adjust accordingly.  

Supplanting the platoon of Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris with Joe Crede does not necessarily spell an increase in offense, either.  From June 14th on, after they were anointed the starting third basemen, the Twins duo hit a very respectable .294/.346/.436 (.782 OPS) in 95 games.  Crede, playing in just 97 games, hit .248/.314/.460 (.774 OPS).  With the combination of Buscher/Harris, the Twins would average 5.177 runs per game (according to the Baseball Musings Lineup Analyzer).  Substituting Crede and his 2008 numbers within the Analyzer and we find that the Twins would average only 5.126 runs per game - a 0.051 loss in runs generated per game.  This is far from an upgrade.  The upgrade would come in the form of defense provided. 

Signing Crede should be based upon his defense first and foremost.  When it comes to fielding his position, Joe Crede has been one of the bar none best defenders in the game.  Since 2006, Crede has converted 55 extra outs above what was expected among third basemen.  Last year he made 13 additional outs in 834 innings, fourth best among third basemen.  No platoon combination could replicate the potential glovework that a healthy Crede could supply.  The problem, as Phil Rogers notes in the Chicago Tribune, is how Crede's back will respond to playing on the artificial turf. 


Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Solid Game Plan

Which would you rather have as a free agent member of your bullpen based on their 2008 numbers? 


    • Reliever A: 29 yrs, 92.0 mph fastball, 55.1 innings, 39/24 K/BB and a 5.07 FIP
    • Reliever B: 32 yrs, 92.1 mph fastball, 46.1 innings, 38/21 K/BB and a 6.13 FIP
From April 1st until June 8th, Reliever A threw 28 innings with a 20/16 K/BB ratio and a opponent batting average of .292 while accumulating an Runs Allowed Average of 6.75.  From March 31st until May 20th, Reliever B pitched 19.1 innings with a 18/16 K/BB ratio and a similar opponent batting average of .295.  During a stretch of the season, both pitchers had hiatuses from the Majors for completely separate reasons.  Reliever A returned to the Majors on July 10th and from there until the end of the season, he pitched 27.1 innings with an improved 19/8 K/BB ratio and a hefty .304 opponent batting average.  Reliever B would return to his club on July 3rd and throw 27 more innings and would also improve his efficiency, striking out 20 and walking just six as he lowered his opponent average against to .230. 
In regards to batted balls, both had opponents hitting the ball solidly.  Reliever A saw 21.6% of balls in play scorched as line drives while Reliever B had 23.7% of balls in play roped on a line.  According to Inside Edge's Player Report Cards, Reliever A had a higher average of well-hit balls (.286 vs .251) than Reliever B indicating that opponents were making slightly better contact against him.  Both relievers had 37% flyball rates, and both were victims of a heavy number of those aerial assaults sneaking over the fence.  Reliever A witness 11.6% of his flyballs turn into home runs while Reliever B saw an incredible 20.4% of reach the bleacher seats. 
When The Hardball Times released their 2009 Marcels projections (defined indepth here), both pitchers projected strikingly similar:
    • Reliever A: 30 yrs, 59.0 innings, 45/24 K/BB and a 4.52 FIP
    • Reliever B: 33 yrs, 53.0 innings, 44/22 K/BB and a 4.55 FIP
Reliever A recently signed a minor league deal with an American League club while Reliever B is still on the market.  Give up?  Reliever A is Juan Rincon and Reliever B is Eric Gagne
To recap, these are two very similar pitchers in the sense that they have struggled mightily in the past few season (Rincon more so with control and Gagne with health issues).  The difference is what they will command in earning potential.  The Tigers offered Rincon a minor league deal with the hopes that former Twins Minor League Pitching Instructor and now Tigers pitching coach, Rick Knapp, will iron out what he perceived as bad mechanics.  If he performs well in spring training, the Tigers may have an inexpensive solution in their bullpen.  On the other hand if Rincon flops, he will be roster filler in AAA at minimal cost.  Meanwhile, if Gagne receives the speculated one-year, $2 million dollar contract, this would make him the second-highest paid member of the Twins bullpen.  Though Gagne showed evidence of improvement in the later portion of the season, there would be better options to extend a one-year contract to, specifically former Cardinals reliever Russ Springer
    • Gagne - 2008: 32 yrs, 92.1 mph fastball, 46.1 innings, 38/21 K/BB and a 6.13 FIP
    • Springer - 2008: 40 yrs, 91.5 mph fastball, 50.1 innings, 45/18 K/BB and a 3.51 FIP
Yesterday, Seth Stohs noted that the Twins may be in negotiations for the free agent reliever.From the Twins perspective, adding Springer makes complete sense.  For starters, Springer has pitched admirably in the past two seasons with the Cardinals, throwing 116 innings with a 2.48 ERA and a 111/37 K/BB ratio.  Secondly, like the aforementioned Gagne, Springer is speculated to be in the one-year, $2-$3 million contract range but unlike Gagne, the Twins can have a level of confidence that their free agent is less of a gamble.  The aspect of Springer's game that aligns the most with the Twins is that Springer is a flyball-oriented pitcher.  In 2007, 50.6% of his batted balls went skyward.  Last year, 49.3% were elevated.  Amazingly enough, not that many found their way to the seats -- he gave up three home runs in 2007 and four in 2008. 
The Twins are frequently abused for not "thinking sabermetrically enough" and for their "lack of transparency".  True, the Twins may not verbalize their intentions but when you read between the lines, you can see that there is a method to the madness.  What is unsaid is that the Twins seem to recognize the fact that they have a very strong defensive outfield - at least in comparison to their infield - but especially with Gomez and Span shrinking the potential gap real estate.  In 2008, the infield had a revised zone rating of .762 (with a league average of .772 in the AL).  Their outfield had a revised zone rating of .899 (.900 being league average) and this was much improved once Span assumed right field.   At the trade deadline, the Twins bypassed groundball machine Chad Bradford and missed out on LaTroy Hawkins, who has been groundball-oriented in recent years, in favor of Eddie Guardado (over 50% of Guardado's batted balls were flyballs).  On paper the theory had merit.  Where the Guardado experiment failed was that the Twins expected a 37-year-old pitcher with history of arm troubles who had just finished throwing his highest total of innings (49.1) since 2005 to continue to pitch effectively deep into the season.  It is with this logic that makes adding Russ Springer perfect sense.  Springer and his flyball tendencies will have a fresh arm after the offseason and a reasonably priced contract that is predicated upon a plan rather than a project.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Best Season By Position

In 2003, Rob Neyer released a book entitled, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups".  The book dissected all of the baseball teams throughout history and Neyer submitted what he ordained as the Best Single-Season Performances for each position.  Using Baseball Musing's Lineup Analyzer, a tool that finds out how many runs per seasons a lineup would score, I decided to find out how correct (or possibly incorrect) Neyer was.   Inserting each Twins into the lineup nine times, I would be able to obtain how many runs per game the player would score if the lineup were constructed just of that player.  For example, a lineup that consisted of just 1975 Rod Carew would score 6.977 runs per game.
Each offensive position is listed below with both Neyer's pick and the Analyzer's pick including a small recap of the player's season and the player that had the second best season in Twins history. 
  • First Base - Neyer: Rod Carew, 1977 | Lineup Analyzer: Carew, 1977
Seems like a no-brainer when you consider that Carew was near .400 the entire season and it earned him his only MVP award. 
1st | Rod Carew | 1977 | 1.011 OPS | 8.159 runs per game
At the beginning of the 1970s, the Twins migrated slugger Harmon Killebrew back to the keystone after a journey that moved him across the diamond to third to allow Rich Reese to absorb innings.  Thankfully, the Killer's bat - one that earned him an MVP award - carried him that season as he swatted 49 home runs, but provided as much range defensively as an Easter Island statute.  By 1972, injuries caught up to the 37-year-old Killer and he no longer was able to stay on the field consistently.   The Twins attempted several replacements like Joe Lis, Craig Kusick, Johnny Briggs and even future manager Tom Kelly.  The Twins decided to move second baseman Rod Carew -- who had one three straight batting titles -- to first in order to lengthen his career.  Though he lost his efforts at his fifth straight batting title in 1976 to the Royals' George Brett and Hal McRae on the last day of the season, Carew came back to produce the best season of any Twins first baseman in 1977, leading the American League in total hits (239), batting average (.388), runs (128), triples (16) and intentional walks (15).  His final batting line of .388/.449/.570 was well above that of the American League first base average of .271/.338/.441, earning him his only MVP award and his 11th consecutive All-Star appearance.  The high-octane offense of Minnesota in 1977 (1st overall in runs scored) was denied postseason berth by a bad pitching staff, whose 4.36 ERA was 12th out of 14 teams, and dropped to 4th in the American League West, 17.5 games out of first.  
2nd | Harmon Killebrew | 1961 | 1.011 OPS | 7.760 runs per game 
Killebrew helped usher baseball into the prairie land by wowing the Bloomington patrons with moonshot dingers.  The 25-year-old Idaho-native slugged 46 home runs, 29 at the Met, and finished the year with a .606 slugging percentage.  Unfortunately, his introduction to Minnesota came in the same year as the great Maris-Mantle race to 61 as well as other first baseman like Detroit's Norm Cash and Baltimore's Jim Gentile's outstanding seasons which pushed the Killer to 11th in the MVP voting despite one of his best seasons of his career.  
  • Second Base - Neyer: Chuck Knoblauch, 1996 | Lineup Analyzer: Knoblauch, 1996 
Knoblauch's 1996 season essentially secured his shipment out of Minnesota, a bittersweet season in that respect.
1st | Chuck Knoblauch| 1996 | .965 OPS | 7.629 runs per game
After finished 1995 with a 56-88 record and 44 games behind the AL Central champion Indians, the Twins front office signed Paul Molitor and Greg Myers hoping to regain some competitiveness by shoring up the designated hitter and catching positions in Kirby Puckett's declining years.  Puckett, however, would never see the field in 1996 and would later retire.  In spite of the loss of Puck, the Twins would improve.  Molitor had a solid season (.341, 58 extra base hits, 119 RBI) but youngsters like Marty Cordova (.309, 16 home runs, 111 RBI), Rich Becker (.291, 12 home runs) and Scott Stahoviak (.284, 13 home runs) would be big factors in helping the Twins gain 22 games in the win-column following a dismal season.  It would be 27-year-old second baseman, Chuck Knoblauch, that would contribute the most.  While the American League's average second baseman would hit .281/.345/.404 in 1996, Knoblauch would compile a line of .341/.448/.517 adding 63 extra base hits, 45 stolen bases and 140 runs.  Overshadowed by 'roided-up mashers like Juan Gonzalez, Albert Belle, Rafael Palmeiro and an unheard of season by Brady Anderson who would all hit more than 45 home runs, Knoblauch would finish 16th in the American League MVP voting. 
2nd | Rod Carew | 1975 | .918 OPS | 6.977 runs per game 

In what turned out to be his last year as a second baseman, the 29-year-old Carew won his fourth straight AL batting title in 1975 with a .359 average. Manager Frank Quilici would begin to transition him to first base at the end of the season where he would assume the position full-time in 1976.  Carew would lead a bad Twins team (76-83, 4th AL Western) in hits (192), runs (89), doubles (24), RBIs (80), on-base (.421) and slugging percentage (.497). 

  • Shortstop - Neyer: Zoilo Versalles, 1965 | Lineup Analyzer: Cristian Guzman, 2001


The Twins are not exactly a team that was loaded with historically good shortstops.  Yes, Versalles won the MVP in 1965 but it has frequently been contested.  I have to cough when I proclaim Guzman as the franchise's owner of best season for a shortstop in 2001, because as everybody who watched Guzzie day-in and day-out share the same frustration - he strikes out alot and walks only by gun-point.  Interestingly enough, Neyer completed disregarded Roy Smalley's arguably best performance as a Twins shortstop. 

1st | Cristian Guzman| 2001 | .814 OPS | 5.356 runs per game
Guzman's 2001 lone season of relevance with the Twins coincides with their first winning season since 1992.  After two seasons with little substance behind his low contact, suddenly in 2001 his batted balls found more gaps.  His strikeout rate stayed the same as his walk rate declined but his average on balls in play skyrocketed from .284 in 2000 to .343 in 2001.  This would lead to his career-best batting line to date of .302/.337/.477 adding 50 extra base hits (14 triples and 10 home runs) as well.  Considering his stats were held up by a gaudy batting average on balls in play, it is no wonder why his numbers came crashing back down to earth the following season. 
2nd | Roy Smalley | 1978 | .795 OPS | 5.355 runs per game 
Smalley barely missed hurdling Guzman for the best offensive season as a shortstop according to the Lineup Analysis, falling short by a one-hundredth of a point.  In many ways, his season was far superior.  Smalley demonstrated far more patience at the plate, walking in 12% of his plate appearances (Guzman only mustered up walks in 4%) and had far more power potential, hitting 19 home runs to lead the Twins in that category.  Contextually, Smalley's season as a shortstop was an overall better performance in comparison to the league average shortstop.  In 1978, the average shortstop hit .254/.308/.332.  The majority were of the slap-hitting mold, recruited more for their defense.  Smalley's line of .273/.362/.433 far exceeded the expectations of a shortstop.  Guzzie's 2001 season in which he hit .302/.337/.477, on the other hand, was performed in a condition in which the average shortstop hit .273/.328/.415.  So whereas Guzman was only .009 better in OBP and .062 better in SLG, Smalley was .054 better in OBP and .101 better in SLG then his counterparts. 

  • Third Base - Neyer: Gary Gaetti, 1986 | Lineup Analyzer: Harmon Killebrew, 1969
There are a couple explanations for the discrepancy for the two conflicting choices.  For starters, the Lineup Analyzer weighs heavily for on-base percentage.  In the two years that Gaetti is cited by Neyer he had two pedestrian OBPs - .347 in 1986 and .353 in 1988.  By comparison, Killebrew had OBP of .427 in 1969 and .411 in 1970.  Neyer is probably leaning toward the gloves of which Gaetti supplied plenty and Killebrew none. 

1st | Harmon Killebrew| 1969 | 1.011 OPS | 7.921 runs per game
In 1969, the 33-year-old Killebrew presented possibly his best season of his illustrious career.  The Twins repositioned Killebrew back to third base for the third time in his career, he last played the hot corner regularly back in 1966.  True to his form, Killer was a defensive hack, unable to range well and making errors on balls he did get to, he more than made up for these shortcomings with his bat with a .276/.427/.584 batting line.  In what would be his lone MVP season, Killebrew played in all 162 games and led the league in home runs (49), on-base percentage (.427), RBIs (140) and walks (145).  After finished 7th in the American League in 1968, the Twins vaunted to the top of the newly formed AL West Division in 1969 - thier .599 winning percentage was only bested by Baltimore who would bounce them out of the playoffs in a highly contested three game series (the first two games were decided by one run in extra innings). 
2nd | Harmon Killebrew | 1970 | .975 OPS | 7.281 runs per game 
Killebrew followed up his MVP season with a solid encore.  In 157 games, Killebrew hit 41 home runs and drove in 113 more.  He would finish third in the MVP voting behind a cat-like Boog Powell and teammate Tony Oliva.  Once again the Twins found themselves second in the American League overall behind the Baltimore Orioles and once again the Twins made a three-game exit in the playoffs to the Earl Weaver-managed Birds.  Fans in Bloomington would witness the Orioles outscore the Twins 21-to-9 in the first two games before finishing them off in Baltimore.  Defensive problems manifested themselves for the now 34-year-old Killebrew who would go back to first base in 1971 to allow for the 23-year-old Steve Braun to handled third. 

  • Left Field - Neyer: Harmon Killebrew, 1964 | Lineup Analyzer: Killebrew, 1964
In Twins history there has not been many hitters in Killebrew's league. It gets harder to set single-season records when Harmon played all over the diamond, too.  Only Larry Hisle (.902 OPS) and Shane Mack (.861) had comparable seasons while manning left field on a regular basis.

1st | Harmon Killebrew| 1964 | .925 OPS | 6.732 runs per game
In efforts to keep Vic Power and then Bob Allison in the lineup, the Twins moved Killebrew out to left.  Though slowfooted, Killebrew was decent with the glove when he could get to balls, committing just seven errors in 1,390 innings in the outfield in 1964.  The 28-year-old Killer would launch 49 home runs (1st in AL) and drive in 111 (3rd) but would strikeout 135 times (3rd). 
2nd | Harmon Killebrew | 1962 | .911 OPS | 6.507 runs per game 
Surprised that Killer would own the top four seasons for two positions?  Me neither.  After his breakout 1961 season at first, Killebrew was moved to third when the team brought in defensive wunderkind Vic Power, who was now 34-years-old.  In his book The Cool of the Evening, Jim Thielman noted that Power was essentially Doug Mientkiewicz before their was Doug Mientkiewicz -- a good glove, light hit first baseman.  While Killebrew hit 48 home runs and slugged .545 in a position he was far from suited for, Power had been hitting .290/.316/.421, well-below the league average for a first baseman (.273/.362/.454). 

  • Center Field - Neyer: Kirby Puckett, 1988 | Lineup Analyzer: Puckett, 1988
Yup, Puckett stands alone as the best centerfielder in Twins history.  It would not be Torii Hunter who would contest Puckett's seasons as the best either, but Lymon Bostock who had an OPS of .897 in 1977.  Too bad Puck had to suffer though strike-shortened seasons.  In 1994, Puckett was hitting .317/.362/.540 with 20 home runs and 112 RBIs in 108 games.  When baseball returned in 1995, he batted .314/.379/.515 with 23 home runs in 137 of the 144 games played. 

1st | Kirby Puckett| 1988 | .920 OPS | 6.660 runs per game
Puckett had just helped Minnesota secure its first-ever World Championship in 1987, when he followed that with an even better season in 1988.  He would have his highest-batting average of his career (.356) but would finish behind Boston's Wade Boggs (.366). In addition to that, Puckett would finish the season with his highest hits total (234), RBI total (121) and slugging percentage (.545) of his abbreviated career.  Although the Twins would improve by six games in the win-column following their World Series victory, the team would finish 13 games behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL West.  Puckett would experience a sharp decline in the power department the following year in which his home run total would drop from 24 to 9 and his slugging would drop from .545 to .465. 
2nd | Kirby Puckett | 1986 | .903 OPS | 6.429 runs per game 
Puckett's second best season also was the organizations' second best as well.  In 1986, after his first two seasons hitting just four home runs in 1,248 at-bats, Puckett smacked 31 in 680 that year (a career best).  His .328 average was third in the league behind Boggs and Don Mattingly.  Puckett performed at a much higher level than a league average centerfielder who would hit .266/.334/.406 in a season in which Puck would hit .328/.366/.537.
  • Right Field - Neyer: Tony Oliva, 1965 | Lineup Analyzer: Oliva, 1964
Oddly enough, Oliva's 1965 season does not even break the top two seasons of the Cuban.  Neyer says that Oliva's contributions in 1965 helped win the American League (true).  As a pure season goes, Oliva's 1964 was by far his best and therefore the Twins' best season as a right fielder.  In 1964, Oliva provided 4.3 batting wins to the team.  In 1965 it was 3.5.  By OPS+, Oliva's 1965 season of 141 was behind that of his 1971 season 154 and his 1964 season of 150. 

1st | Tony Oliva| 1964 | .916 OPS | 6.697 runs per game
Oliva's first full-season, one that earned him the Rookie of the Year honors, was also the best season by any Twins right fielder.  The 25-year-old Cuban native emerged on the scene to hit .323/.359/.577 with 32 home runs and 94 RBIs to boot.  The Twins as a team floundered in 1964, playing eight games below their projected Pythagorean Record of 87-75 to finish 79-83, sixth in the American League and 20 games behind the front-running Yankees.   Oliva finished fourth that season in the AL MVP voting, behind such baseball nobility as Brooks Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard, even though Oliva had more hits, a better average, more doubles, runs scored and more home runs (with the exception of Mantle). Still, the Twins now had Oliva who would fit nicely along side Harmon Killebrew, Don Mincher and Bob Allison to help Minnesota reach their first postseason in 1965. 
2nd | Tony Oliva | 1971 | .915 OPS | 6.567 runs per game 
Oliva's knee injuries began to appear first in 1968, which caused him to miss 34 games.  Somewhat healthy by 1971, Oliva hit .337/.369/.546 with 22 home runs and drove in 81 at 32-years-old.  He would miss a portion of the year mid-season and sat frequently to rest.  In 1972, Oliva would be able to only play in 10 games the entire year.  The addition of the designated hitter in 1973 would resurrect his career for a few more seasons but he was far from the hitter he was prior to 1972.

  • Catcher - Neyer: Earl Battey, 1963 | Lineup Analyzer: Joe Mauer, 2006
It is hard to fault Neyer for this because in 2003, Joe Mauer was just a heralded prospect in the minor league system.  Since his introduction to the Majors, Joe holds the top two seasons as a Twins catcher.  Battey is the obvious second choice when it comes to Twins catchers all-time.  

1st | Joe Mauer| 2006 | .936 OPS | 7.209 runs per game
It should be noted that Mauer's incredible 2006 season, one in which he flirted with .400 for a portion of the year and was the first AL catcher to win the batting title, was better than all of the Twins past-and-present efforts among the outfielders.  After putting together a very good 2005 season following an injury that limited him to just 35 games his first season, Mauer started to lace the ball around the Dome.  His .429 on-base percentage was good enough for second behind Manny Ramirez and Travis Hafner (.439 each).  This production helped the Twins win the AL Central again after doing so from 2002-2004 and then declining in 2005.  In what was bound to stir controversy among Twins fans and statheads alike, Mauer finished sixth in the AL MVP voting behind teammate Justin Morneau, whose OPS+ of 140 was bested by the St. Paul native by four points.
2nd | Joe Mauer | 2008 | .864 OPS | 6.395 runs per game 
The Twins as a franchise have not had too many offense-oriented catchers in their history.  In fact, you can could them on one hand: Earl Battey, Brian Harper, A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Mauer.  Behind Mauer's .864 OPS in 2008, only Battey in 1961 and 1962 (.847 and .835 OPS, respectively) compete for the top spot.  Nevertheless, Mauer's second batting title season also qualifies as the second-best in team history.  Mauer would hit .328/.413/.451 in 536 at bats, gaining ground among sports writers would would improve Mauer's MVP placement by two spots.  Once again, Mauer would finish behind Morneau despite having identical OPS+ (137) and playing a far more demanding defensive position. 

  • Designated Hitter (1973-present) - Neyer: Chili Davis, 1991 | Lineup Analyzer: Davis, 1991
For the Twins, finding the the best Twins designated hitter is like spotting Gulliver among the dwarfs... Davis stands out.  There are a few notable efforts that were close to Molitor's second best season, including Pedro Munoz (.827 OPS, 1995) and David Ortiz (.839, 2002) but historically the Twins have not produced anyone who can just focus on hitting.

1st | Chili Davis| 1991 | .892 OPS | 6.462 runs per game
Chili Davis will go down as one of the best free agent signings in Minnesota history.  After his 1990 season in California in which he hit .265/.357/.398 and just 12 home runs, GM Andy MacPhail signed him to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million.  In 1991, Davis would hit .277/.385/.507 and a career-high 29 home runs while driving in 93, helping to propel a very good offensive lineup to the postseason and their second World Series title.  Davis would hit two home runs against Atlanta - a two-run home run in Game Two and another two-run shot in Game Three. 
2nd | Paul Molitor|1996 | .858 OPS | 6.169 runs per game 
The front office had a much different vision of what they expected in 1996 when they signed Paul Molitor to a
two-year, $5.525 million dollar contract.  Molly had just been a hero in Toronto when the Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series title, earned the MVP award that series.  Molitor played well, hitting .341/.390/.468 with 225 total hits including nine home runs and 113 RBIs.  He hit his 3,000 hit in a Twins uniform that year but the empty milestone went for nothing as the Twins finished 78-84 in 1996.  The 39-year-old Molitor would steadily decline in 1997 and 1998 before retiring. 
  • Most Efficient Lineup:
According to the Lineup Analyzer, this below, is the best suited lineup for this collection of talent, one that would average 6.694 runs per game.
1 - 2B - Chuck Knoblauch - .842 OPS
2 - 1B - Rod Carew - 1.019 OPS
3 - CF - Kirby Puckett -  .920 OPS
4 - LF - Harmon Killebrew - .952 OPS
5 - 3B - Harmon Killebrew - 1.011 OPS
6 - SS - Cristian Guzman - .814 OPS
7 - DH - Chili Davis - .892 OPS
8 - RF - Tony Oliva - .916 OPS
9 - C - Joe Mauer - .936


Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Reliever Market

  • What's Gone:
Guillermo Mota
The Dodgers reacquired the 34-year-old Guillermo Mota, signing their former set-up man to a one-year, $2.35M contract (that includes $300k in incentives).  In 2008, Mota pitched adequately in the Brewers bullpen, throwing 57 innings while striking out 50.  Mota hasn't been relevant since 2005 when he was with the Marlins when he threw 67 innings with a 60-to-32 K-to-BB ratio and a 3.68 FIP.  Since that year, Mota, pitching for the Indians, Mets and Brewers, produced FIPs of 5.36, 4.42 and 4.45.  For encroaching on his mid-30's, Mota can still bring it, hitting 94-mph consistently on the gun.  The problem is, he just isn't certain where it is going anymore.  After issuing 2.73 BB/9 in 2006 Mota's erratic tendencies emerged in Milwaukee where his walk levels spiked to 4.42 BB/9.  Mota spent the majority of his career as a fastball-changeup type pitcher, but developed a slider in 2008 which he used as his secondary pitch (moving from 7% slider usage in '07 to 24% in '08).  As a result, his groundball rate rose from 34% in 2007 to 44% in 2008.  This pitch made him far more effective against right-handed opponents as he saw his same-sided batters decrease from a hefty batting line of .284/.348/.454 in '07 to a low line of .216/.283/.352 in '08.  The $2.3 is a nominal fee but a reasonable one in this market considering Kyle Farnsworth is set to make $9.25 M over the next two years.
2009 Bill James Prediction: 56 innings, 47-to-22 K-to-BB ratio, 4.31 FIP. 
Jorge Julio
The Brewers signed 29-year-old former Orioles closer, Jorge Julio, to a one-year, $950k deal.  Julio's introduction to 2008 with the Indians was absolutely horrendous.  Used in just 17.2 innings while posting a 18-to-11 K-to-BB ratio, Julio struggled to keep runs off the board as opponents slugged .523 off of him leading to a 5.60 RA.  Following his release by Cleveland in June, the Braves who were desperate for bullpen assistance, grabbed Julio.  The Braves sent him to AAA Richmond where he struck out 45 in 39.2 innings with a 2.04 ERA, earning a recall in September.  What came back to Turner Field was a different product:  Julio was throwing harder and had dropped the changeup, switching to a fastball-slider combo.  This slight alteration helped Julio miss more bats (13.86 K/9) and induce far more groundballs (69%).  Julio's control problems are an issue but for less than a million dollars, Julio very well could be a Brewer bargain.
2009 Bill James Prediction: 34 innings, 33-to-17 K-to-BB ratio, 4.69 FIP
Joe Nelson
In 2006, Joe Nelson was providing a bad Royals bullpen with 44.7 fairly solid innings of relief -- Nelson struck out 44, walked 24 and posting a 4.43 RA.  After missing all of 2007, Nelson was signed as a free agent by Florida and assigned to AAA Albuquerque.  In May, the Marlins summoned the 33-year-old right-hander to South Florida where Nelson put up great numbers - striking out 60 in 54 innings and walking just 24.  Right-handed opponents hit a lowly .189.  Right before the New Year, Tampa Bay signed Nelson to a one-year, $1.3 M contract.  Unlike Mota or Julio, Nelson isn't a hard-thrower, his fastball doesn't crest 90 but he complements it well with a 79 mph changeup.  This combination led Nelson to a K/9 of 10.00 last year.  There are some concerns within his peripheral numbers that indicate regression this coming season. For starters, Nelson had a high left-on-base percentage of 84.8%.  Typically, that statistic tends to equalize the following season, leading to additional runs.  Likewise, at .280, Nelson's batting average on balls in play was twenty-points below the league's average.  Tampa should receive a very good reliever in 2009, they just shouldn't expect the one they saw in 2008. 
2009 Bill James Prediction: 64 innings, 72-to-30 K-to-BB ratio, 4.05 FIP
  • What's Left:
Brandon Lyon
It is a small wonder how Brandon Lyon maintained such a manageable ERA of 4.70 in 59.1 innings in 2008 considering some of his peripheral numbers.  For starters, he left less than 70% of his base runners on (69%) and his batting average on balls in play was through the roof (.355) -- these kind of stats usually require NASA computers to calculate the ERA.  What grounded Lyon's performance was that he posted his career-best K/BB ratio (3.31) which led to a FIP of 3.84, indicating that his actual pitching was better than his ERA.  He pitched in the second-highest offense generating ballpark, Chase Field, in which he threw almost exactly half of his innings in 29.1 and had a bloated ERA of 7.06.  Away from Phoenix, Lyon possessed a 2.40 ERA.  The possibility of removing him from such an environment and inserting him into the Metrodome (which had the third LOWEST offensive totals) is intriguing - almost worth the hefty contract that he could command.  Wherever Lyon lands in 2009 -- according to, the Tigers are taking a serious run at him -- he will do better.
2009 Bill James Prediction: 55 innings, 35-to-15 K-to-BB ratio, 3.91 FIP
Eric Gagne
The Brewers completely overestimated Eric Gagne's value going into 2008.  His stint in 2007 with the Rangers and then Red Sox inflated his sticker price to an unconscionable $10 million for one season.  Sure, his strikeout rate (8.83 K/9) and his FIP (3.30) would suggest that the 31-year-old former closer was effective, but for the ransom Gagne commanded you would have expected something similar to his 2004 numbers (12.46 K/9 and 2.05 FIP).  He was still throwing gas (92.1 mph) yet opponents were making much better contact, hitting line drives 24% of the time, ending the year with a slugging against of .494.  There is, however, two distinct Gagnes in 2008.  Between March and May 20th, Gagne threw 19.1 innings with a 18-to-16 K-to-BB ratio, a 6.98 ERA, and an opponent average of .295.  Following his return to the team in July, Gagne pitched 27 more innings with a 20-to-6 K-to-BB ratio, 4.33 ERA, and a .230 opponent average.  This hiccup in Milwaukee has greatly deflated his potential earnings - it was so bad that the Brewers declined to offer the Type B free agent Gagne arbitration in fear that he might accept.  Depending on his asking price, Gagne could be a solid contributor to a bullpen in 2009 - Bill James seems to think so.       
2009 Bill James Prediction: 52 innings, 61-to-16 K-to-BB ratio, 3.32 FIP
Chad Cordero
The league's affinity toward Chad Cordero has me baffled.  Here is a closer that seems to be of the mold of non-dominate stuff (89-mph) and recovering from injury, yet umpteen teams are listed as interested in him - twelve were represented to watch him throw off the mound last Friday.  For whatever reason, Cordero is one of those pitchers that avoids being hit hard (in 2006 he gave up line drives on just 12% of balls in play) and held opponents to a .228 batting average.  Because of his slider, he's been harder on lefties (.217) than he has been on righties (.226).  The Twins have eyes on him and are monitoring his progress but with the representation, I would be shocked if the Twins landed him.
2009 MARCELS Prediction: 48 innings, 38-to-17 K-to-BB ratio, 4.10 FIP

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Boof Breakdown






Zone %

2007 - Fastball





2008 - Fastball





What is apparent is that Bonser still has very good control and decent velocity on his fastball.  As a matter of location, Bonser's control of his fastball was above the MLB average (64% MLB zone avg).  In terms of velocity though, Bonser's average on this pitch has dropped minimally in three straight seasons even though he does throw harder than his MPH indicates, hitting 93-94 regularly.  If he does maintain a full-time conversion to the bullpen in 2009, I would expect that his average velocity increases because he will no longer have to reserve gas as he would have as a starting pitcher.  He favored throwing it to lefties versus the right-handed counterparts (63% vs 52%) which will incite some to use that as a possible explanation why his success against left-handed batters has waned. 





Zone %

2007 - Curveball





2008 - Curveball





Bonser's curveball went from a passable pitch in 2007 to a good pitch in 2008.  Nearly 35% of all swing put on his curve -- one that has a good -10 mph difference along with a large break -- missed.  The change in WHIFF may be due to the fact that he reduced the usage against left-handed batters from 2007 to 2008, which might be his key to success against those hitters. In 2006, he used his curveball 14% against lefties and they slugged .451 off of him.  In 2007, Bonser used his curveball 24% (350) of the time against left-handed batters.  That year, lefties slugged .563 off of him.  In 2008, he threw it less frequently, nearly 19% (177) and witnessed his left-handed slugging percentage drop to .486 this past year.  Conversely, he's thrown that pitch more excessive each year to righties:  In 2006, it was 10% of his pitches to them.  In 2007, 14%.  In 2008 he was throwing it nearly 20% of the time.  In those three seasons, his right-handed opponents' slugging went from .469 to .360 to .405. 





Zone %

2007 - Slider





2008 - Slider





In 2007, Bonser used his slider as his go-to pitch against righties, employing it 31% of the time.  This past year, it was thrown 24% to them instead mixing in more curveballs.  On occasion, he threw the slider to left-handed opponents but it was his main weapon-of-choice against the same-sided opponents (as should be the case since the pitch tends to break into the wheelhouse of left-handed batters).  As I had previously mentioned, the slider might be the main culprit for Bonser's inability to retire right-handed batters in the first-half of the season.  Bonser's slider, when effective, has a sharp downward motion.  The 2008 version of the pitch seemed to lack that bite.  Certainly it wasn't a pitch that the was hit hard -- he gave up just two home runs on this pitch -- but it wasn't fear either as his ability to throw it for a strike dropped.  I would wager that opponents' scouting reports reflected this zone degradation and subsequently batters chased it less which led to a lower WHIFF average. 





Zone %

2007 - Changeup





2008 - Changeup





This was a pitch that Bonser wanted to mix in to his game more, he told the press this past spring.  It may have not inspired enough confidence or it could have been since his curveball actually provided a bigger discrepancy in velocity he used it as an offspeed pitch instead.  Regardless of why he did not follow his game plan, his changeup improved in 2008 as indicated by the handful more chases (.206 WHIFF) that in 2007.  Despite this improvement on the pitch, when Bonser enters the season in the bullpen, I anticipate that he will ditch the changeup in the 2009 season as relievers typically employ a three-pitch arsenal. 
As Bonser begins to accept his destiny as a relief pitcher in 2009, we will see a higher rate of fastballs thrown (~65%) at a higher average velocity (~93-94).  If used correctly, Bonser will face 70% right-handed batters and just 30% left-handed next season.  Right-handed opponents should see a nice split of 50% fastballs, 30% curveballs and 15% sliders with the rare changeup mixed in.  Lefties will see a higher percentage of fastballs (65%) and an even 15% each of the changeup/slider. 

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What About Boof?

Not long after Boof Bonser's sentence to the bullpen, I analyzed Boof's pitching through the use of pitch f/x.  My conclusion at the time was that his slider, a pitch he threw nearly a quarter of the time to righties, was flattening out at that time in the season, resulting in an unexpectedly high .288/.322/.441 batting line against righties as of June 14th.  Still, at the conclusion of the season, Bonser had improved his approach against the same-sided opponents, dropping his batting line against to .260/.295/.405, suggesting that he had regained his slider and his repertoire was playing well in the 'pen, a sign that he could be capable of assuming a meatier role in the 2009 bullpen. 
In addition to this in-season improvement, there are several other statistical indications that -- as the Counting Crows song so eloquently puts it -- this year could be better than the last.  For starters, his fielding independent metric of 4.51 was much better than his swollen 5.93 ERA.  Secondly, his left-on-base percentage of 57.9% and those with severely low LOB% sometimes rebound the following season.   Lastly, Bonser's candidacy as a solid bullpen contributor is buttressed by his minor league legacy.  Over the course of seven minor league seasons, Bonser has struck out 916 batters in 884.1 innings while walking just 398.  His last full season at AAA in 2005, Bonser led the International League in strikeouts. 
It is hard to refute those three cited examples as justifiable reasons for Bonser being anything but an excellent internal candidate for the vacant set-up role.  However, if you look closer at his numbers, there are two glaring problems with Bonser's game that supersedes his ability to be an effective reliever in high leverage situations: (1) He is useless against left-handed opponents and (2) He can't pitch from the stretch. 
The first is his approach against left-handed opponents. 

vs LHB


RHP League-Average vs LHB










Lefties are a demographic that had not given Bonser trouble in 2006 but were suddenly a blight on his landscape in 2007.  In his first year, Bonser had limited lefties to a .251/.305/.451 batting line.  In the subsequent season, it swelled to .349/.407/.563.  Prior to his demotion to the bullpen, Bonser had improved upon his 2007 numbers with a .297/.322/.441 line.  Unfortunately he regressed in the 'pen and at the 2008 season's end, lefties had hit a collective .315/.378/.486.  If you are looking for a silver-lining, it was a tad better than his 2007 numbers on the whole, however, the bulk of the destruction happened when Bonser was in relief.
More recently, in 12 starts in 2008, Bonser had thrown 66.1 innings with a 42/20 K/BB and high 7.08 RA but a low .267/.316/.418 opponent batting line.  Following his transition to the bullpen, Bonser threw 52 innings and compiled a 55/16 K/BB ratio but still posted a 6.02 RA as opponents batted .307/.353/.474 off of him.  As I mentioned above, Bonser's opponent average against right-handers DROPPED when converted to a reliever.  On the other hand, up until June 14th lefties were hitting .297/.322/.441.  At the end of the season, it rose to to a firm .315/.378/.486.  The inflated batting line as a reliever came in direct result of left-handed opponents. 
The second problem is that he is atrocious when pitching from the stretch (something that relievers are requested to frequently, often with the game on the line).  Similar to his left-handed struggles, pitching with runners on manifested itself after his rookie season. 

Runner On Base












What seems to be given him the biggest problem is when runners are on first - more so than any other base path alignment. 

Runner On First












In addition to the higher batting line, Bonser's stolen base rate skyrocketed too from 57% SB% in 2006 (4 in 7), 61% in 2007 (11 in 18) and 100% in 2008 (11 of 11).   Considering that limiting a baserunner from scoring may be more important in the later innings in a high leverage situation, Bonser appears to be a liability under these circumstances.  Clearly this is a bigger problem than his weight.  This is a mental issue. 
That said, the benefit about being a reliever is that you do have a manager that can use you at appropriate times as to not exacerbate your weaknesses.  Bonser can be inserted during times when three right-handed batters are due up.  Naturally, this leaves him susceptible to the occasional left-handed pinch hitter, but those are seldomly fearsome.  Where Bonser becomes an issue is when he allows one of those hypothetical batters to reach base and forces Gardenhire to select from allowing Bonser to continue to face Hafner, Martinez, Thome, etc. with a runner on first -- which, as we've seen above, is a recipe for disaster -- or bring in a left-handed situational reliever (Breslow/Mijares), if any are available.  That begs the question, how common is it that three right-handed batters are batting in succession without a leftie giving them reprieve?  How likely is it that Gardenhire will save Breslow or Mijares until after Bonser pitches?  In the end, a solid 8th Inning Guy, like a closer, should not need this much management.  Bonser is simply not that guy. 

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Odds. Ends. (01.05.08)

  • Traveshamockery or not?  The Indians' acquisition of Mark DeRosa was met with quasi-outrage by La Velle when he first reported on his blog.  Admittedly, I too was keen on DeRosa for several reasons.  For starters, in comparison to Adrian Beltre's $12 million, DeRosa was due only $5.5 million in 2009, a reasonable addition to the Twins' payroll.  Secondly, he had repeat back-to-back seasons in which his on-base percentage was above .370 along with a walk rate that increased from 7.8% to 10.4% to 12.0% over the past three years indicating that he is showing a mature plate approach in his early 30s.  Furthermore, he appears to be an intelligent baserunner.  In 2008, he swiped six bases and did not get caught once.  Finally, he has peppered the field with line drives - hitting 22% of batted balls in this manner since 2006 - an indication that his rather high .325 BABIP is not a fluke.  Though you might be able to dismiss his home run potential as being in the 10-15 range in 2009, you cannot overlook the fact that between his patience and method he would not have improved the Twins ballclub. 
  • That Said...It is easy to say in retrospect the Twins should have scrounged up three borderline prospects to equal Cleveland's offer.  As La Velle outlined, the three prospects the Indians turned over were hardly bluechippers.  If DeRosa turns in a season that declines even slightly, he will be a likely candidate for a Type A or Type B free agent, netting Cleveland at least one draft pick to replenish the trio lost.  However, negotiations with one organization might not reflect ones with another.  For example, during the winter meetings the reports were that the Cubs wanted Jason Kubel in return.  It could be quite possible that the Cubs viewed this as equal value while the Twins scoffed at the idea.  A few weeks later, Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rogers wrote that the Cubs might be interested in moving DeRosa if "they got a package of solid prospects, like outfielder Ben Revere and pitchers Jose Mijares, Jeff Manship and Andy Swarzak (sic)."  The Twins consider Mijares a potential suitor for the bullpen in the immediate future and Swarzak might also be a contributor as the season progresses.  Though I might consider Manship a viable trading chip, the other three should be used only on an acquisition of a player that would remain with the Twins for more than one season.  To dispell the organization's passive tendencies this offseason, GM Bill Smith told the PiPress's Charley Walters "We're trying; we're working hard at it, but a lot of deals that people have asked for, if we made them, people would really be mad at us. We've explored a lot; we've got a lot of people working on evaluations. But we haven't found a deal that makes us better without giving up our future, and we're not going to do that."
  • Last word on DeRosa...I've seen on numerous message boards that DeRosa would have fit nicely in the number two spot -- and if I were a lineup consultant that is the recommendation I would have made too.  Putting a player that has the ability to produce a .370 on-base percentage is statistically sound -- which would get two players on base in front of Mauer and Morneau -- however, Ron Gardenhire seems to be of the mind that believes bat control and the ability to advance runners through sacrificing are the key attributes of a number two hitter.  Had DeRosa been at his disposal, I would be inclined to think he would have batted him sixth, seventh or eighth, similar to where he batted with the Cubs in 2008.  As I mentioned previously, the Harris-Buscher platoon hit .294/.346/.436 (.782 OPS) after June 14th when they became the regular third base tandum.  So even though DeRosa was not acquired, I believe the upgrade would have been marginal at best over the pair. 
  • Knucking Things Up. When the Twins resigned R.A. Dickey for the second time in as many offseasons, it became clear that the organization was determined to follow through on allocating a knuckleball pitcher to throw in the climate-controlled Metrodome.  This to me, is fascinating for because this is a fairly progressive strategy for the Twins organization.  Of course, the knuckleball is far from a new idea -- as it was in vogue since the early 1900s -- sabermetrician and former Ranger employee, Craig R. Wright, who porposed the implementation of a knuckleball program in the 1980s.  His suggest never caught on at the time as most of baseball at the time saw the knuckleball not so much like the Metrodome's climate, but unpredictable and fell out of fashion in the developmental ranks.  Remember Bob Uecker's tip for catching them?  "You wait until it stops rolling and pick it up," quipped the former catcher and current Brewers radio announcer.  In 1989 Wright and former pitching coach Tom House co-authored "The Diamond Appraised" in efforts to provide both slants on highly debated topics and issues.  In one chapter, titled "The Knuckleball: Baseball's Most Underrated Pitch", Wright outlined a historical perspective of the pitch and why it fell to the wayside -- mostly out lack of young pitchers developing the pitch -- and it died out.  “Catchers hate it,” Jim Bouton, the author of “Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues,” said to the New Yorker. “Nobody likes to warm up with you. Coaches don’t respect it. You can pitch seven good innings with a knuckleball, and as soon as you walk a guy they go, ‘See, there’s that damn knuckleball.’”  Wright's chapter set to work dispelling the myth that the knuckleball is inherently wild.  He cited the walk rate of a dozen knuckleballers, like Wilbur Wood, Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro and showed their walk rates were at or below league average at the time.  Wright concluded this by saying more organizations should take the opportunity to teach a pitch at a lower-level in the farm system. He suggested that five or six borderline prospects be identified to be candidates to convert to a knuckleball.  This is oddly close to what Ron Gardenhire has proposed -- maybe I've underestimated his thinking (or at least reading habits).  Now professional baseball has Tim Wakefield, Charlie Zink, Charlie Haeger (who Mankato Free Press's Ed Thoma thinks is worth a big league shot), Dickey and Lance Niekro, the former Giants first base prospect who is working his way up in the Braves organization using the flutterball.
  • Turning Japanese.  The Toyko Times is reporting that there are three teams remaining in the bidding for former Dragons pitcher Kenshin Kawakami: the Orioles, Cardinals and the Twins.  Several different sources suggest that Kawakami is comparable to current Dodger Hiroki Kuroda, who finished his first year state side with a 9-10 record with a 3.73 ERA and 116-to-42 K-to-BB in 183 innings of work.  Back East, the Daily Yomuri Online took a look at the duo's Japan League career.  The author cited that Kawakami pitched in an extremely pitcher-friendly ballpark with a high scoring offense and a very solid bullpen.  Kuroda, on the other hand, played in the homer friendly Hiroshima Citizens Stadium with a poor defense.  When Kuroda reached the Majors, he was placed in the pitching-friendly Dodger Stadium where he thrived, going 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA. 
  • Honest Work.  The New York Times had a refreshing story on the Arizona Diamondbacks' prospect, Clay Zavada, from Streator, Illinois.  The tale of Zavada is one of many of typical minor leaguer signed in the late rounds (Zavada was drafted in the 30th and received a bonus of $1,000) and have make little during the season (Zavada makes roughly $280 a week in the Midwest League).  “Not all of these guys are getting million-dollar bonuses,” said A. J. Hinch, the director of player development for the Diamondbacks. “I don’t know that everybody is quite aware of what these guys go through in order to give themselves a chance to make it.”