Sunday, August 30, 2009

Twins acquire two relievers, lose minor league pitching depth

 In series of roster moves prior to the weekend, the Twins secured right-handed set-up man Jon Rauch from the Arizona Diamondbacks for a player-to-be-named and left-handed specialist Ron Mahay after he was released by the Kansas City Royals but lost surging pitching prospect in Yohan Pino to the Cleveland Indians to complete the Carl Pavano trade.
The availability of minor league arms shrank by one more as Pino was selected by the Indians.  Not surprising, Pino has compiled a stellar year split between AA New Britain and AAA Rochester.  In his past two starts, Pino tossed back-to-back eight inning performances while striking out 13, walking two and allowing just one run.  Complaints from the various levels of the farm system were vocal as the Twins have borrowed numerous pitchers this season as injuries and ineffective outings piled up leaving affiliates with undefined rotations as guys like Jeff Manship, Armando Gabino, Sean Henn, Brian Duensing waited for standby flights to the Twin Cities as new arrivals from the lower ranks arrived.  Where Pino would have projected with Minnesota is debatable as he was demonstrating great stuff as a starter, but, at the very least, he could have been a fairly decent reliever as he shut down right-handed batters (.181 batting average, 24 percent K/PA) in 2009. 

The Twins instead looked externally for candidates to fill the bullpen positions. 

A former closer while with the Washington Nationals, Rauch’s season opened to some powerfully unsexy numbers.  In 18.2 innings over 22 appearances, opponents slugged .530 off of him including three of his five home runs allowed.  It was this first-half performance that incited us to write Rauch off as “not a guy you would want in a Twins uniform late in a ballgame” for the TwinsCentric Trade Deadline Primer.  How were we supposed to know that Rauch would turn things around?  Post-May 25th, Rauch improved his location by dropping it down in the zone (51.4 percent post-May, 44 percent April-May).  Since then hitters have been unable to make as solid of contact, slugging just .364 off of him and he has procured a 2.84 ERA in 31.2 innings in 33 games.   

Complete with a neck tattoo, Rauch is a seriously imposing presence on the mound, but part of what makes him unique is the height which will allow him, as Bert likes to say, to “create that good downward plane” on his fastball.   His six-foot-eleven frame is reminiscent of the IDS building in a 1970s Minneapolis skyline when he is on the field.  With Matt Guerrier encroaching on yet another season of 75-plus appearances, obtaining Rauch provides relief for Guerrier who broke down at the end of the past two seasons from the heavy workload.  At 31 years old in September and a pre-paid tab for his arm next year, Rauch is a reasonable investment at the waiver deadline and particularly a better move in context of the organization’s timeframe for Pat Neshek’s return.

Ron Mahay, on the other hand, is flotsam that has fallen from the Royals organization.  Kansas City inked Mahay to a two-year, $8 million deal that was fueled by good intentions and in effort to capitalize on his successful 2007 season but the results were terrible when put into practice.  Following his season split with Texas and Atlanta in a year when he limited left-handed batters to a .189 batting average (.542 OPS), Mahay became a valued commodity for teams looking for bullpen help.  For whatever reason, the Royals opened their pocketbooks to a 36-year-old reliever coming of an artificially created career year and wound up with an expensive mess.   Mahay followed up the 2007 season by getting shelled by opponents for two straight years – even against same-sided batters who hit .269/.321/.429 off of him in that duration. 

The 38-year-old lefty has control problems leading to those pesky late-game base-runners (4.07 BB/9) which  is never a positive, at the same time, Mahay has also been a victim of balls finding holes (.360 BABIP) and more wind channels than average (14.5 percent HR/FB).   The Twins have been light on the left-handed arms since Sean Henn was sent back to Rochester and Brian Duensing was shifted to the rotation so Mahay will keep Jose Mijares from being overtaxed during the stretch run.   If the Twins curb his exposure to right-handed hitters (who are slugging .638 off of his fastball), Mahay’s got a shot at being a decent contributor for $80K for the remainder of the season.   Still, with the possibility that Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins may return as relief arms, Mahay’s role in September with the Twins appears increasingly foggy.

The moves were a long-time in the making; issues that should have been fixed in June or July rather than this late in the year.  The duel acquisition undoubtedly addresses two problems in the bullpen and, better yet, it removes the struggling Philip Humber from the mix -- a huge addition by subtraction.   

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Find a Penny, pick him up?

Rest of the season he has good luck?  It is a sobering thought to realize that a pitcher who is 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA is a sound addition to your rotation, but that is what Brad Penny would be to the Twins


There are several things to consider when reviewing Penny’s pedigree and look beyond the lopsided record and bloated ERA.  In a lot of ways, Penny is very similar in Boston as Carl Pavano was in Cleveland, his former rotation-mate while with the World Series champion Marlins.  Like Pavano, Penny is not as bad as his ERA.  It’s hard to look at a 5.61 earned run average and not be immediately turned off - after all, it is the pitching statistic equivalent of seeing Kathy Bates naked.  Nevertheless, Penny has AL’s 27th-best xFIP which shows he’s hurling better than what the yardstick of ERA explains.  While it is not elite caliber, he has pitched better than Nick Blackburn (5.07 xFIP) and this fact alone means there would be an immediate upgrade to the rotation.  


Second, Penny has been thwarted in his efforts to keep runners from circling the bases.  His left-on-base percentage of 64.4 is one of the lowest among all AL starters (well below the average of 71.9).  Part of this is his fault as he has allowed 27 of 30 potential stealers to advance a base but Jason Varitek is also the worst qualified catcher in both leagues at throwing out runners (just an 8.9 pct caught-stealing rate).  Combine that with the fact that you have made three starts against the stealth thievery squad that is the Tampa Bay lineup and it makes sense that you will find more runners in scoring position undeservedly.  Pair him with Joe Mauer and those same runners might think twice before breaking to second. 


Third, defensively, the Red Sox converted a below-league average amount of balls in play into outs.  While I noted that Pavano had the third-worst among qualified pitchers in the AL at the time of his acquisition, Penny exercises bar none the worst defensive efficiency ratio (.673) in the league.   This makes perfect sense when you consider his outfield unit in Boston.  With the exception of Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox have a fairly slow-footed assortment of outfielders that equates to a.883 revised zone rating as a group (tied with the Angels for the lowest in the league).  Penny’s 40 percent flyball rate makes him lean slightly more towards being a flyball pitcher (though he’s probably closer to neutral) and has a high-than-normal .275 batting average on his flyballs (.223 league-average) because of the coverage.  At .918 revised zone rating in the outfield, the Twins have one of the better units, particularly with Carlos Gomez and Denard Span consisting of 2/3rds of the fielders.  Provide Penny that same support and it will shave that many more hits off of his totals. 


Lastly, Penny’s control has been borderline fantastic this year.  In 131.2 innings in 2009, he’s walked just 42 (2.8 BB/9).  Part of this is that he has been fairly vigilant at throwing strikes (52.2 pct zone presence) and working ahead of the hitters (60.5 pct first-pitch strikes).  This is an attribute that plays well within the Twins program: Throw strikes and let your fielders do the work.


Of course, this isn’t like someone just walked away from a BMW with the keys left in it.  Penny has plenty of dings that cannot be as easily buffed out with advanced statistics.  Since the all-star break, opponents have slugged .548 off of him along with seven home runs in seven games, not to mention 50 hits in 38 innings pitched leading to a beautiful disaster WHIP of 1.657.  Even with this foreknowledge of multiple hit potential and the necessary $1.1 to $1.4 million expense it cost to enlist his services for the remainder of the season, Penny would be worth every (corny pun redacted).  Face it, with a small glimmer of hope that exists for the Twins with the final month encroaching, no matter how talented they may be, the division will not be won on the backs of Armando Gabino or Jeffrey Manship.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Twins and pitch counts.

About now, I should be extolling the virtues of having Philip Humber, Bobby Keppel and Jesse Crain in the bullpen, a group whose collective contributions this month prior to last night’s game was a .314 average against along with 14 extra base hits.  Humber was unhittable last night, but not the good kind.  Keppel continued to be hit hard but miraculously escaped several jams thanks to sloppy baserunning.  Crain was downright brilliant, retiring six straight O’s before Nolan Reimold nine-ironed a slider for a double in the 8th


What’s more interesting to me right now is the body count of Twins pitchers that is amassing.  Since the start of the season Boof Bonser, Pat Neshek, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, Jesse Crain, Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano have made visits to the disabled list.  With the exception of Slowey’s wrist, all of the others are associated with the arms.  "Twins starter" is swiftly becoming an occupation as dangerous to your health as any profession.  Because of these injuries, the Twins have had to use Brian Duensing, R.A. Dickey, Anthony Swarzak, Kevin Mulvey, Philip Humber, Jeff Manship and now Armando Gabino to temp. 


The overabundance of sore arms and elbows has led to questions regarding their physical conditioning and how well their arms have been built up.  Are the Twins putting enough emphasis on increasing arm strength in the minor league levels?
In an article earlier this month in the Southwest Florida News Press, Fort Myers pitch coach, Steve Mintz, who is in his first-year replacing the long-time coach Eric Rasmussen (who replaced the departed Rick Knapp), revealed through a David Bromberg quote a bit of the organization’s pitching development strategy: 
"I threw 77 pitches in six innings in one of my recent starts, and I was like, 'This is it?' " [David] Bromberg said as Mintz informed him to take a seat in favor of a reliever. "He wants us to be healthy. He wants us to become playoff pitchers.”

If I understand this correctly, the Miracles' pitching coach is limiting a fast-rising prospect’s pitch count to ensure that he is healthy for the Florida State League playoffs?  This is an absurd development policy.  First, it is a meaningless post-season event.  Secondly, more and more it is becoming accepted that less pitching actually increases the risk of the injury in the long run.  In order to properly build his and other prospects arm strength, Mintz should be requiring these kids throw more in the games, not preparing for playoffs. 
Was the pitch count treatment the same when Perkins and Liriano were in Fort Myers?  Were the two lefties protected?  Obviously with both recovering from injuries that took them out for an extended period of time, the circumstances may be different, but did a soft workload weaken their arms? 
Meanwhile at the Twins' top affiliate in Rochester, manager Stan Cliburn - who has seen numerous staff members pulled into duty in Minnesota - was given a different edict regarding pitch counts.  Following Yohan Pino's August 19th start, Cliburn said:
“We carried him all the way to his pitch count – 113, three over the max of 110. It was just an outstanding performance. The whole team knows what he did. He picked up the bullpen, the whole staff.”
The 110-pitch threshold should not surprise anyone as the organization does not like to have starters go beyond that number even at the major league level.  In 124 starts in 2009
, the Twins have made just 47 starts (37 pct) in which they have gone over 100-pitches, the second-fewest in the AL.  The franchise seems to cultivate their arms to handle this limit and nothing more.  Stretching pitching prospects to a 115-mark seems reasonable as they ascend through the system.  This way, when they do reach Minnesota they'll be more than prepared to handle Rick Anderson's prescribed 100-pitches and would be ready to go further if a bullpen is in need of a rest.
The debate rages on regarding the amount a pitcher should throw in the minors.  Too much and he flames out; too little and he can't handle a full-seasons workload.  Too much and he's injured; too little and he's injured.  Baseball researchers will be intently monitoring pitchers emerging from the Rangers organization in the next few years as the team has implemented high pitch counts in efforts to keep their products from injuries.  My vote is for more pitches at the lower levels.  

Monday, August 24, 2009

OtB Twins Notes: 08.24.09

Following the Twins’ 5-4 victory over the Royals, La Velle E Neal revealed that the team decided to send right-hander Anthony Swarzak back to Rochester after Swarzak experienced a soul-crushing month of August going 0-4 with a 14.85 ERA.  Like most young pitchers, Swarzak will have to relearn the value of getting that all-important first strike.  Following a first-pitch strike, opponents held an OPS of .635 but crushed him (1.120 OPS) if he fell behind 1-0.  After getting ahead of hitters regularly in June (59.1 first-pitch strike) and July (56.0 FPS), Swarzak’s ability to attack the strike zone vanished in August (48.7 FPS) which led to 8 home runs in the month and a .900 slugging percentage. 

Prior to demoting Swarzak, the Twins tapped 25-year-old Armando Gabino from Rochester and scheduled him to start Tuesday against Baltimore.  The Twins landed Gabino from the Indians organization in 2004 during the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft and spot-started while primarily working as a reliever.  In his 36 appearances in AAA (five starts) this year Gabino worked 83 innings allowing 64 hits and a 54-to-20 K-to-BB ratio.  Maintaining a very impressive WHIP (1.01) -- a product of both his control (2.30 BB/9) and defense (.239 BABIP) – which does not appear to be a statistic that will travel with him to Minnesota considering his flyball tendencies and unsustainable home runs per flyball numbers (21% LD rate/41% FB rate with a 5.6% HR/FB).  His addition ensures that Swarzak will not have to receive another beating however, there are two more deserving starters in Kevin Mulvey and Yohan Pino currently at Rochester.  

Closer Joe Nathan was unavailable for Saturday night’s game against the Royals because he had thrown a season-high 53 pitches in his two-inning blown save turned win.  "There's been times when he's saved like three, four games in a row and I'm like, 'No way,' but it didn't come up when we needed to use him," [manager Ron] Gardenhire said. "I'd say, 'No way he's going to be pitching,' and he would say, 'Yeah, I'm pitching."  The 53-pitch night was the most pitches thrown in an outing since 2000 (and the most as a Twin dating back to the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees).  The 34-year-old is having a great season, yet is far less efficient then he was in his younger days. Among those with at least 40 innings pitched, Nathan is the leader in strikeout rate (11.5 K/9), ERA+ (249) and WHIP (0.842) but at 4.25 pitches-per-hitter Nathan is 5th in that category among relievers and his highest total since 2004. 

Without Nathan’s services in the ninth inning, Ron Gardenhire turned to Matt Guerrier to secure the 8-6 lead on Saturday.  After allowing the Royals to pull within one on Yuniesky Betancourt’s run scoring fielder’s choice.  Guerrier got Josh Anderson to bounce to Alexi Casilla for the final out, recording the first non-Nathan save in almost a year and the 14th save without Nathan since he arrived in Minnesota in 2004. 

Joe Crede was scratched with a sore lower back from Sunday’s game.  His absence from the Twins’ lineup means the third baseman has missed 30 percent of the total games played and a strong indication that he will fall well short of the 525 plate appearances necessary to obtain his full $7 million contract.  After starting the year hitting .240/.303/.504 with 9 home runs and 22 RBIs in 35 games through May 28th, Crede has declined significantly hitting .221/.286/.367 with 6 home runs and 26 RBIs in 53 games.  Irreplaceable defense notwithstanding, Crede’s substandard offensive performance since May raises the concern that his health is now hindering his production on days in which he is in the lineup.      

Francisco Liriano may be out for longer than anticipated reports Rustin Dodd on  Liriano told the media on Saturday that his arm "It’s been like that for probably like a month. My stuff, it was getting worse. I didn’t want to keep pitching like that. My arm was dead.”  His fastball’s average velocities in those five starts were 91.0, 92.2, 92.2, 88.4 and then 89.5.  More telling was the fact that his fastball was drifting further up in the zone, throwing 35 percent of his fastballs up on August 12th and 17th (his season average was around 20 percent). There could be a number of things wrong (shoulder, lats, etc) that leads to the elevation, but I would wager that this fatigue is not associated with his Tommy John-operated elbow based upon the decrease in velocity.  Liriano will be looked at by doctors when the team gets back to Minnesota this week and could rejoin the Twins as a reliever if deemed healthy. 

Dodd also noted that Boof Bonser’s rehabilitation from his torn labrum and rotator cuff surgery is going so well that Bonser may be available in the bullpen come September.  Another veteran relief arm would appease Ron Gardenhire who said thatCan't screw around. There are some spots out there. We can't end up with your whole Triple-A staff in the bullpen, (they're) kids. We're another late-inning guy away most of the time. You saw that again last night."  Questions regarding his potential effectiveness aside, the Twins are in desperate need of a reliever to absorb the load from Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares.  In the month of August alone opponents are 34-for-107 (.318 BA) with 14 extra base hits off of Bobby Keppel, Jesse Crain and Philip Humber. 

Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman appears to be one of the few East Coast-based writers who will go on record saying Joe Mauer is the 2009 MVP with his other-worldly performance this season.  While this fact should be obvious to beat writers across the country, just to reiterate in the event any stop by here today: Mauer is leading the AL in Batting Average, On-Base and Slugging Percentage – and by a wide-margin too.  The next closest candidate to Mauer’s .638 slugging is the Angels’ Kendry Morales at .572.  Naturally, Silverman cannot pass up the chance to lust over of Mauer’s presence in Massachusetts in 2012, wondering aloudNever mind whether the Twins can afford that pricetag or not. The question is whether the Sox can afford to get in yet another bidding war with the Yankees, whose contract with Posada expires after the 2011 season. Do they have a choice?”  

Twins' minor league director Jim Rantz was in New Britain recently inspecting the organization AA talent and beamed about the team’s pitching stock, most notably Deolis Guerra and his change-up.   Said Rantz, “If [Guerra] can locate the fastball and throw strikes, that changeup is deadly. That’s a weapon. And is slider is not too bad either. He’s got good tilt. He’s got 83, 84 miles per hour. He’s gotten better.  This is only a 20-year-old kid and he’s already got about four years under his belt. I’m pleased with the advancement that he has made and how he’s come along.”  As I examined last week, Guerra’s polished mechanics in 2009 have contributed to his success and has given the Twins a potential number three starter in the coming years.


Thursday, August 20, 2009


After two seasons and 168 innings split between two-leagues in the Mets system, Deolis Guerra had compiled a decent peripheral set -  averaging  7.3 strikeouts per nine innings while walking 3.6 per nine.  Once with the Twins organization, the team assigned him to Fort Myers (HA) where, at 19 years old, Guerra was nearly three years younger than his competition last year.  In 2008, his third stint in the Florida State League, word trickled in that his fastball had lost a few MPHs and his control vanished.  In what was his worst month, Guerra threw 23 innings in August and issued 20 free passes.  Not surprisingly, his overall walk rate ballooned (4.9 BB/9) while his strikeout rate shrank (4.9).  Reports of Guerra's reduced velocity and sub-par peripheral numbers conjured up collective groans from Twins territory as the budding pitching prospect acquired for Johan Santana trade seemed like it it was heading for another prospect miss. 
However, beginning 2009 with his fourth tour of duty in the FSL, Guerra showed signs of progress.  His strikeout rate, albeit still below the FSL average of 7.3, was an improved 5.8 K/9.  Additionally he was able to shave off several walks, dropping his rate to 2.5.  This development earned him an advancement to AA New Britain on July 7th.  His relocation to the Eastern League brought out the best of the big righty.  In his July 23rd start against hte Portland Sea Dogs, Guerra struck out 12 in seven innings and earned the Eastern League's Pitcher of the Week award.  In his most recent start, Guerra flirted with a no-hitter, actually not allowing a hit to the Akron Aeros for six innings and striking out nine before being lifted for a relief pitcher.
Where did this monster come from?
Normally in order to figure out what has changed I'd pour over pitchf/x data or the Inside Edge database attempting to find some answers to Guerra's improvement.  Maybe he regained velocity, changed arm motion, mixed in more breaking balls, etc.  Unfortunately these methods are unavailable when looking to analyze minor league talent.   Instead I wander through the few available youtube clips of Guerra and tried to breakdown his mechanics between the two seasons.  Dissecting video contributed to the Internet by the now-defunct SaberScouting from 2008 of Guerra's performance in Fort Myers in comparison to Guerra's New Britain performance supplied by we can identify several items that he has refined in his mechanics that has led to this improved execution. 
The first thing that should jump out to you about the two motions is how stable Guerra is in his 2009 mechanics (bottom-white-uni) comparative to 2008 (top-greys).  Guerra's movement appears more fluid and steady this season.  Last year's model on the other hand contains some heavy herky-jerky actions.  This stems from his days in the Mets' organization, when Guerra sped through both the system and his delivery; neither of which were very good for him as a young pitcher.  The Twins set out to regroup his delivery and get him back under control. 

One of the most identifiable differences in his two deliveries - or at least the one the eyes focuses on first - is his leg-kick.  In 2008, his leg-kick had more of a pronounced pendulum swing appearance about it before bringing the leg up to where the balance point should be.  Because he is not bringing up his leg in a controlled manner, the extra movement prevents him from getting to a collected balance point to drive off the rubber.  Due to this inertia in his lower-half, his upper-half must counter to achieve a state of equilibrium between his lower and upper extremities.  Guerra forced his top-half to do an over-exaggerated wrap - a process where his back rolls to the point where he is showing the hitter both digits on his uniform.  This contortion causes his shoulders to rotate off the second-home line and onto the east-west axis, where they are almost parallel with first-third (but more appropriately, the second baseman and third base line).  This season, Guerra has implemented a more 'contained' and deliberate leg-kick, the lift of which looks more intentional rather than a someone doing an impromptu Rockette's routine.  He still brings the front leg close to his chest to derive power from, only Guerra is in far better control of his actions, keeping his lower and upper portions in unison.   
Once he twists his upper body off of the driveline, Guerra would need to re-adjust his motion to direct his momentum to the batter.  This resulted in another problem in Guerra's 'long-arming' the ball:  
Although these two videos are shot at slightly different locations above the left-handed batter's box (and set at a slightly different pace), you can clearly see that Guerra's arm in the top clip reveals Guerra reaching back further - almost dipping his back shoulder - in last year's model prior to coming forward with his delivery.   In addition to that, Guerra's elbow is wandering in some fairly uncharted territories.  It takes a substantial amount of effort to get his pitching arm righted once it wanders off this far.  Furthermore, Guerra's 2008 arm action gives the hitter several more reference points to pick up the ball and time him better whereas this season Guerra seems to hide the ball a bit better (even though you can pick it up for a brief moment behind his back).
Guerra's newly stabilized mechanics undoubtedly play a significant role in both his increased velocity and command of the strike zone.  Because he is still just 20 years old and playing in a league that is nearly five years older on average, it would be best to see Guerra repeat AA New Britain in 2010 to ensure that his mechanics remain consistent and avoid regressing into bad habits before advancing to AAA Rochester.     
A special thanks to the guys at who have been posting the New Britain footage on youtube.  I encourage you guys - as well as anyone else that has access to a camera and the farm system - to keep the clips coming onto youtube! 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

OtB Twins Notes 08.17.09

Nick Blackburn had a deteriorating performance in the second-half of last season as his K/BB ratio dropping from 3.56 to 1.54 and his ERA swelling from 3.65 to 4.85.  The right-hander has experienced a similar fading in the beginning of the second-half of 2009 thus far.  Prior to his start against Cleveland on Sunday, Blackburn had witnessed his second-half ERA open at 8.87 as his slugging percentage against shift from .393 to .639.  Following Tuesday's 1 2/3 inning outing against Kansas City in which he surrendered four earned runs on six hits and two walks, the right-hander and pitching coach Rick Anderson reviewed video footage to identify any potential problem areas.  According to Joe Christensen, the pair noticed that Blackburn was not using his legs as much as he was in the beginning of the year and, after several bullpen sessions this week, they felt confident that they had corrected this problem.  Unfortunately, when implemented into practice, Blackburn was once again bombarded by opponents, allowing six runs on three home runs in a pathetic 2 1/3 inning showing on Sunday and raising his second-half ERA to 10.79. 

I had long suspected that because of his inability to strikeout batters regularly in addition to his high-contact rate that Blackburn would eventually regress this year.  This complete unraveling, however, was unexpected.  Interestingly enough, according to pitch f/x data Blackburn threw a total of three two-seamed fastballs (5.5 percent) on Sunday.  Comparatively, Blackburn threw this pitch 36 times in his start against the Detroit Tigers on July 5th (33 percent).  This decrease indicates one of two things.  The first being a glitch in the system registering the pitch as a four-seamer due to little movement, the second being Blackburn’s lack of confidence in the pitch and thereby not throwing it. Either way, the side bullpen session was not enough to get the right-hander back on track or confidence in his abilities.

While Blackburn has had a rough second-half, Anthony Swarzak has too suffered dearly in August.  In his three starts this month, Swarzak is 0-3 with an 18.00 ERA and an opponent batting average of .543.  John Shipley notes that Ron Gardenhire is pondering whether to remove the rookie from the rotation. "Well, we'll decide that later," Gardenhire told reporters. "Let's let him rest on this and let everybody think about this and try to figure out where we go next. We'll get through this today and then make a decision in a few days."  One of the bigger differences between Swarzak’s July (2-1 record, 3.50 ERA, .239 BAA) and his horrendous August (0-3, 18.00 ERA, .543 BAA) is his ability to get ahead of the batter.  In his July starts, Swarzak got strike one in 56.0 percent of his match-ups.  This month the righty has managed to fall behind in 62 percent of his match-ups, putting the hitter in favorable counts.

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle’s Jim Mandelaro wrote that the recent promotion of Jeff Manship should be a message to Kevin Mulvey and Philip Humber. Paraphrasing Mandelaro’s opinion, the columnist feels that Manship is a good pitcher who probably isn’t quite ready for the big leagues.  Understandably, his 4-2 record and 3.22 ERA makes him appear to be a better option but in reality, he might be a slight degradation from Humber and certainly from Mulvey.  Following an eight-inning, five-hit outing Manship dropped his opponent batting average to .277, slightly lower than Mulvey (.278) and Humber (.280).  Conversely, Manship has sported a slightly worse K/BB ratio (1.76) than Mulvey (2.14) and Humber (2.00).

Reviewing Manship’s outing on Sunday at we find graphical evidence that he is an extreme over-the-top hurler (as opposed to three-quarters).  If you follow the link, you’ll see that Manship’s release point is in a direct line with home plate – most pitchers tend to be off to the side.  While those three-quarter pitchers get more horizontal movement on their fastballs, Manship’s offerings cut downward descending from a little over six feet to around two feet on average.   This has led to over 50 percent of his balls in play being put on the ground. 

At John Dewan’s Stat of the Week, Dewan ran down my favor unavailable stat: the first baseman scoops.  According to the Fielding Bible database, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau led the field in 2008 with 44 scoops.  This year, he is 12th with 19 scoops.  This downturn is due to Joe Crede’s presence at third.  A year ago, the combination of Mike Lamb, Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher made 12 throwing errors.  That trio obvious lent itself to more errant throws in the dirt than with the addition of Crede who delivers nothing but chest-high strikes.  

Twins pitching prospect Jay Rainville announced with little fanfare that he was retiring last week telling hometown Pawtucket Times that he felt he could not “compete at the Double-A level”.  When the Twins nabbed Rainville in the supplemental round of the 2004 draft (39th overall), the organization felt they had a major steal and signed him to an $875K bonus.  As a high school pitcher out of Rhode Island, Rainville already touched 95-mph, control and a desirable 6’2” and 220 pounds frame to mold into a power pitcher.  In his first two pro seasons, Rainville threw 176 innings between three levels and going 15-7 with a 3.06 ERA and a 4.16 K/BB ratio quickly becoming another touted arm in the system. Nerve damage in his throwing shoulder would erase the entire 2006 season for him and when he returned, Rainville’s velocity had dropped significantly. Post-surgery, Rainville had gone 22-24 with a 4.60 ERA and a 2.14 K/BB ratio.  His track record reiterates Baseball Prospectus’s Joe Sheenan’s prophetic acronym TINSTAPP (There Is No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect) no matter how projectable they may be. 

Alan Schwarz at the NY Times examines why there has not been a left-handed catching catcher since Barry Distefano for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1989.  Anyone know who the last left-handed fielding catcher in the Twins organization was?

Joel Millman at the Wall Street Journal details the influx of foreign talent within major league baseball’s minor league system. 

As we continue to watch futility personified in the second base position, a reminder that Milwaukee’s Felipe Lopez is now batting .333/.390/.438 (32-for-96) in 24 games since being acquired on July 19th from Arizona. Internally, fielding-challenged Steven Tolleson is batting .311/.364/.426 in 61 at-bats in August.         

Friday, August 14, 2009


With three days remaining in the signing period for the amateur draft picks, the Twins are placing themselves in a position to lose their first number one pick since Travis Lee in 1996.  Kyle Gibson, the right-handed pitcher out of the University of Missouri, has requested a bonus of near $2.5 million – well above the MLB slot recommendation of $1.287 (a ten percent decrease from 2008) – based upon a outstanding college track record and a high Baseball America ranking.  The Twins’ offer is supposedly $1 million short of Gibson’s request as the organization has valid concerns regarding his injury history.  While Gibson certainly has talent, the Twins have what should be viewed as legitimate apprehension to schilling out that money.

In December 2008, well before the release of his injury, Driveline Mechanics deconstructed Gibson’s delivery.  Using this video segment of Gibson pitching in the Cape Cod League in 2007, Kyle Boddy of identified several problematic areas in his mechanics; the first of which is less troubling then the other two.  Because of Gibson’s tall, lanky frame, he’s got an enormous distance to cover in his stride – a step that takes just shy over an eternity.  Boddy focuses in on the leg-lift itself which, as he notes, is borderline worthless.  This has been echoed in several different scouting forums and it provides insight to Baseball America’s lone criticism of Gibson was that he was unable to generate more velocity during his three-year tenure in the Show-Me-State: he’s throwing all arm (a problem I’ll address in a minute).  From a developmental standpoint, it would seem that Gibson still has velocity yet to be milked out of him.  Gibson’s motion of raising his long leg in to a very solid balance point is good; however, instead of driving towards the plate, Gibson lowers his leg then starts his push towards home – minimizing hip force.  Why is that a problem?  It puts added exertion on his arm.  


The arm, of course, is a huge fixation when projecting Gibson.  Prior to June when it was made known of his forearm fracture, Gibson was touted as a top five and certainly a top ten pick in the 2009 draft.  The news of the arm injury naturally caused many teams to recoil in doubt.  Forearm stress fractures are typically results of repetitive flexion-extensions (flexing-straightening) of the elbow or pronation-supination (inner-outer movement) of the wrists.  Reviewing the footage of Gibson’s arm motion, Boddy finds that there is plenty of evidence of this.  Highlighting his loading process, Boddy notes that his elbow at this position comes to a point of near hyperabduction.  While his scapula loading (or “scap loading” which is the act of bringing your arm/elbow to shoulder height and then pulling the elbow back towards the shoulder) might not be as violent as say, Brandon McCarthy, this motion is a forced one – causing undue stress on the shoulder and elbow joints.  Although it might not be the source of his forearm stress fracture (I would suspect that might have to do with his plus-slider that he would have been throwing with his upper-body), Gibson’s mechanics will need some re-evaluation in the lower-levels unless the Twins want to flirt with more injuries.   


Oddly enough, Gibson told Alex Halsted in his recent interview that he is most like the Tigers’ Justin Verlander – who was a similarly tall, thin, hard-throwing, right-handed collegiate draft pick.  Unfortunately, that’s about where the similarities end.  Gibson claimed that he is like the Detroit pitcher in that he “allows his body to work with his arm.”  This may be a simple case of terrible self-awareness or an ingenious PR push at the signing deadline but my guess is that it is the former.  It is true that Verlander generates a substantial amount of velocity from a hip-heavy motion and while he shares a high leg kick with Gibson, Verlander uses this height to propel his body forward thus creating less effort on his arm.  Gibson certainly does not share this trait.  Furthermore, Joe Christensen’s blog re-posting of the quote only tossed more chum in the water for disgruntled Twins fans who subsequently littered the comments section with scathing words for the franchise that would choose to pass on the next Verlander.   


Yes, Gibson’s 6’6” frame allowed for unbelievable projectability and his lower portion of his body could probably be corrected in rookie ball but his right-handed delivery mechanism might already be beyond damaged coupled with the time commitment to overhaul his mechanics and it is decisively tougher to open the checkbook.  Spending what Christensen reported was a desired income of $2.5 million suddenly seems like a foolish investment.  The Twins scouting department gambled on Gibson’s projectability and wagered that he would be more accommodating to sign for the current MLB slot recommendation considering all of the factors which caused his stock to sink.  The organization probably figured they could outfit him with new mechanics and teach him to throw a change-up thereby transforming him into a top-of-the-rotation pitcher or, at minimum, a solid relief arm.  Meanwhile Gibson, like every other red-blooded American, believes he should be paid what he are worth – and Gibson had been told his value was of a top five pedigree. 


It is quite the contradiction, as Twins minor league prospect guru, Seth Stohs, noted in a recent conversation, the Twins spent time telling him how desirable he was to the organization then when it comes down to dollars and cents, they retract their message.  We like you, just not as much as you think you deserve.   It is a hard truth of the business on both sides. 

Monday, August 10, 2009

What Is Wrong With Perk?

Twice now in a little over two weeks, Glen Perkins’s shoulder is the subject of medical attention.  This time, the Twins lefty and his agent, John Courtright of SFX, took matters into their own hands and elected to seek out an MRI.  Judging by the organization’s mishandling of pitching injuries, I’d say their request is justified. 

Perkins cited his decrease in velocity (which declined from an average of 91-mph in April to 89-mph since July 22nd) as Exhibit A and the inability to keep the ball down in the zone as Exhibit B.  The loss of velocity is often a symptom of shoulder ailments and sometimes a prelude to a torn labrum.  Using pitchf/x charts from, there is ample evidence that his release point has dropped in his more recent starts.   This is noteworthy because if you are unable to maintain the same height of your previous arm angle/motion because of shoulder irritation, your elbow will naturally lower along with the rest of your arm.  A lowered elbow translates into higher pitches.  This makes perfect sense when you consider that since his July 22nd start, Perkins has allowed five home runs and an opponent slugging percentage of .694 in 13 innings.

There is a high probability that Perkins has ruptured a portion of his supraspinatus resulting in the inflammation of the shoulder (i.e., tendonitis).  This would explain the rather mild-sounding discomfort that Perkins complained of which “felt like I rolled out of bed and went out on the mound."  Perkins explained this sensation the same way every college student starts there day.  A torn labrum, on the other hand, is more frequently described as repeated muscle tearing from bone when the arm is lifted overhead -- hardly a pain experience that one would compare to rising in the morning from their Sleep Number.  The good news is that it is probably not a torn labrum.  While not completely a career-killer, labrum tears and the long road of rehabilitation post-surgery produce a small percentage of pitchers who return successfully.  Far too often pitchers return from the tear repairs to a noticeable decrease to their velocity or are forced to alter their mechanics which leads to a higher re-injury risk and/or less effectiveness (Jesse Crain comes to mind). 

Kelly Theiser highlighted Perkins’s diagnosis from Dr Lewis Yocum after a visit following his one-inning debacle in Oakland in which the specialist ruled it a case of tendonitis.  Dr Yocum, as you may have deduced, is, as it was so eloquently put in Anchorman when describing Ron Burgundy, the balls.  Aside from Perkins, Yocum has welcomed the Indians’ Jake Westbrook, the Mariners’ Erik Bedard, the Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann, the Orioles’ Rich Hill, and the Angels’ Scot Shields since the beginning of the month.  His client list is nearly bottomless.  If you have arm troubles, you see Yocum.   So the verdict was that Perkins was suffering from “slight” tendonitis in his shoulder would appear to be an easily acceptable diagnosis and most likely be treated with rest and prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pills. 

Tendonitis, of course, is a byproduct of overuse.  The easiest fix for shoulder tendonitis would be rest, anti-inflammatory medication and monitoring of a pitcher’s workload once he bounces back.  Combine the fact that he had a history of overexertion (he threw 185 innings in 2008 after tossing just 28 in 2007), it would be reasonable expectation to throttle down on the lefty by skipping a start or two.  Unfortunately, starting pitchers in the midst of a pennant race do not have the luxury of using PTO and are often “cleared” to throw again and pushed back on to the mound.   So instead of withholding Perkins from his next scheduled start the Twins had him throw 102-pitches five days later against the visiting White Sox. 

This raises a whole other concern on a global-level for the organization and it is disturbing in its own right.  In addition to not skipping Perkins, manager Ron Gardenhire tossed out rather skeptical remarks regarding the MRI saying "I'm not going to question [the decision for the MRI]. If that's what they want to do, do it and then see where we're at. I'm all for it if they feel something might be wrong, to make sure it's not. To make sure he's OK and go from there."  Obviously without Kevin Slowey available and Francisco Liriano ineffective, the Twins and their manager were nervous about the possibility of using rookies Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing liberally without having to subtract Perkins.  Nevertheless, pushing him when his shoulder has injury potential is downright dangerous.

The Minnesota Twins have long been painted as a “cheap” and “frugal” organization, however, with the medical bills association with arm injuries to Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, Pat Neshek, Jesse Crain and now Perkins (among others within the system), it would seem that the team could save a few pennies each year by implementing further preventative practices. 

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Pavano Acquisition.

With some reason, there exists a chorus of local media wonks that believe that Carl Pavano was less than a resounding acquisition for the Twins.  They will say that securing another aging, control-wielding pitcher that was passed over by the larger market teams at the trade deadline reeked of a “typical Twins” maneuver.  On the airwaves, KFAN’s Paul Allen recited how uninspiring this move was to a choir of uninformed rubes.   Yes, those that worship at gospel of ERA will be less enthused by the Pavano trade; however, there are plenty of reasons why this acquisition should be met with the same victorious reception as if the Twins landed either Cliff Lee or Jarrod Washburn.  In fact, there could be MORE reasons to be excited about Pavano. 

Littered with a history of more injuries than Wile E. Coyote, Pavano figured out a way to extort $39.95 million from George Steinbrenner while working just 26 days out of four years.   (Good work if you can find it.)  Back when the Yankees signed the then 28-year-old Pavano in December of 2004, they figured they had acquired a potential 20-game winner that had World Series experience and would be another frontline component of a dominating rotation that already boasted Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown.  Little did the Yankees know he would pull an Ocean’s Eleven on Steinbrenner’s money.  Pavano would never give New York a full season of starts in his four years in the Bronx, rather he would cost the organization millions in medical expenses and headaches. 

Though he may not be able to find a cab in NYC any time soon, Pavano rebounded nicely in 2009, appearing to be fully recovered.  In January, the Indians inked the tall righty to a one-year incentive-laden deal that started with a $1.5 million base but could increase by another $5.3 million as various milestones are reached (starts and innings).  Finding themselves as an also-ran in the Central and staring a $16 million dollar operational deficit in the face, the Indians began to jettison anything that could float.  Gone were Lee, Victor Martinez, Mark DeRosa, Rafael Betancourt and Ben Francisco.  Oddly enough, Pavano remained.  As attractive as Roy Halladay, Lee and Washburn were made out to be at the trade deadline, rare were reports of how adding Pavano could upgrade a rotation.  Perhaps it was the gaudy ERA or the looming injury potential, but no deal involving Pavano was made by the July 31st deadline, possibly to a great baseball injustice to the Indians organization and a huge coup for the Twins.   

For teams that evaluates players with advanced statistics (Boston, Tampa and Seattle come to mind), it would be hard to ignore that his xFIP of 4.16 – a stat that normalizes the home run rate along with the infusion of strikeout and walk rates – which was TENTH best in the AL among qualified starters.  Better than Sabathia.  Better than Buerhle, Shields, Washburn, Burnett.   Et cetera.  Et Cetera.   He was pitching better than all of those staff aces.  One xFIP point worse than Lee – one point! – and it took the Phillies four of their top ten prospects to nab Lee from the Indians.

From his perspective, Pavano did everything he could to limit the number of guys on the basepaths.  With 1.7 walks per nine innings, Pavano was second only to the highly-coveted Halladay in walks.  Similarly, Pavano’s 67 percent first-pitch strike trailed only the Blue Jays’ ace as well.  His ERA over-5.00 is reflective of a largely unlucky series of events and the results of what happens once the ball was in play, which was out of his control.  While Washburn’s peripheral numbers are nothing to write home about, the Mariners supplied the flyball-oriented pitcher with some of the best fly-catchers in the game today in the Safeco outfield.  As Washburn’s trade value with inflated by his surroundings and his ERA substantially lowered in 2009 by the aid of his defense, Pavano was wrongly demerited for the sins of his defense.  Over the course of his career Pavano’s use of speed change between his fastball and changeup (10-mph velocity difference) coupled with the downward action of his split-finger tended to incite a higher number of groundballs than average.  Because of the Indians foolish insistence on using Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, it wound up costing the Tribe and Pavano numerous outs – evident by the team’s fourth-worst .770 infield revised zone rating leading to a higher average on those groundballs in play (.275 versus the league average of .233).  A defensive infield unit closer to that of the league average RZR of .783 would have saved the righty a good deal of baserunners.  
Furthermore, Pavano maintained a DER (defensive efficiency ratio) of .673 – the third lowest amount of balls converted to outs among qualified starters.  Because of Cleveland’s inability to exchange balls in play for outs at the going rate of .695, Pavano was forced to throw more pitches, leading to more opportunities for the opposition to drive a pitch. 
This is hardly giving Pavano the tools to succeed.  Whereas Washburn’s defense provided him with additional outs and quicker exits to the inning, this prolonged time on the hill came at the expense of more baserunners crossing the plate.  Pavano’s extra exposure resulted in more runs trickling in as he exercised the AL lowest strand rate of 63.4 percent while the average starting pitcher was able to strand 71.4 percent of all runners.  Part of that low number has to do with who Indians manager Eric Wedge relays the ball to once Pavano is pulled.  With 41 percent of inherited runners scored, Cleveland’s bullpen is the second-worst in the AL.   This is a considerable amount of bad luck interjecting itself into an otherwise solid pitcher. 

But the simplest reason to get behind this transaction is the fact that Pavano has been dominant against the two AL Central teams competing with the Twins.  For seven innings on Saturday night, the right-hander demonstrated exactly why the Twins were interested in his services.  Holding the Tigers to no runs on five hits, Pavano improved his 2009 record against Detroit to 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA in 30.1 innings.  Make that now 6-1 against the Tigers and White Sox combined.  Considering that there are 13 more matches against these opponents, there will be a good chance that Pavano works three to four of those games.  

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


When Bobby Keppel was called up from Rochester on June 24th, the Twins were in need of a reliever that could produce at a sustainable pace.  Luis Ayala, the touted "groundball" pitcher, failed to do so and drew the ire of Ron Gardenhire by leaving too many sliders up in the zone.  As replacement level-type pitcher getting groundballs at a 51 percent clip in AAA, Keppel would be a suitable and inexpensive gamble to supplant Ayala in the bullpen. 
From June 27th to July 19th, Keppel had pitched in seven game, thrown 16 inning while allowing one earned run on just eight hits along with a 0.57 GB/FB rate.  The right-hander appeared every bit the answer.  Yet after July 19th, Keppel would work in seven more games and allowing 12 earned runs on 17 hits with a nasty 7/2 BB/K ratio.  Put simply, Keppel was getting smashed up in the zone, an area he rarely entered in his first seven outings.
Trajectory | Strike Zone Plots
June 27, 2009 versus Cardinals
On June 27th, Gardenhire turned to Keppel to maintain the Twins 5-3 deficit against St Louis to two runs.  Keppel pitched admirably, surrendering a leadoff triple to Joe Thurston in his first MLB appearance since 2007, but held the Cardinals scoreless while pitching the fourth through the seventh.  True to his form, Keppel got seven of his 11 balls in play to be hit on the ground. Location was Keppel's saving grace.  By keeping the ball down in the zone (under the two-foot line on average) and away from the middle of the strike zone, hitters were forced to beat the ball into the dirt.  His fastball's velocity was averaging 94.0-mph on that June 27th game as he peppered in a biting slider as well. 
June 30th, 2009 versus Royals

His next outing in Kansas City on June 30th was much the same.  In his 2 1/3 innings of work, Keppel recorded four groundballs on five in play and struck out three batters.  His fastball had slowed a bit (93.5-mph) but he kept it at the knees or lower to avoid heavy contact: 

July 28th, 2009 versus White Sox
The All Star break interrupted Keppel's feelgood storyline.  When baseball resumed, Keppel struggled mightily as his pitches began to ascend in the zone and his sinking fastball was no longer knee-height (nor was the velocity closer to the mid-90s range).  On July 28th, Keppel was summoned to face the Chicago White Sox in the eighth inning.  His fastball, now averaging out at 93.2, is not thrown in the lower half of the zone but rather is sneaking up towards the middle of the plate -- an area that is more readily driven across the ballpark. 

July 31st, 2009 versus Angels
Following a nine-pitch outing on July 31st against Los Angeles, Keppel returned the following night.  With the Angels ahead six-to-four, Gardenhire turned to Keppel following RA Dickey's 2 2/3 inning effort.  Keppel rewarded his manager's decision by surrendering back-to-back home runs to Juan Riviera and Kendry Morales.  The right-hander would settle in and work 2 2/3 innings himself, allowing the two home runs but would give up six flyballs to his five grounders.  On top of that, his fastball's velocity would drop to an average of 91.7-mph - 2.3-mph slower and an additional .013-seconds to the plate. 

August 4th, 2009 versus Indians
On Tuesday night in Cleveland, with the Twins cruising to a 10-0 victory, Keppel was given the task of escorting Scott Baker's shut-out through the ninth inning.  Although his velocity returned (93-mph plus on average), Keppel labored to keep the ball down.  Jhonny Peralta doubled followed by a Travis Hafner single to end the scoreless drought.  Both pitches were up in the strike zone. 

Release Points

The natural inclination when something is wrong with location is to instinctually look at the release points and see if something has changed.  According to his release plots - arranged oldest to newest - we see that his point of release has shifted above six feet in height. This is an indication that his arm is straighter upon release and potentially causing less downward movement as a result.  The alteration could be related to Keppel attempting to aim the pitches rather than throw with his fluid motion but another hypothesis could envolved this being a product of arm fatigue.  After all, his velocity changed significantly between outings.   

Monday, August 03, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (08.03.09)

In the Los Angeles Angels' farewell tour of the Metrodome, the Twins were outscored 35-15.  LA Times beat writer, Mike DiGiovanna, provides some of his more memorable moments while covering the Halos in the Dome.  Writes DiGiovanna of the facility: "It just has no charm. The grass is plastic, the roof is sometimes impossible to find fly balls in, and the building has no real distinguishing characteristics. It's basically a football stadium the Twins happen to play baseball in. There is nothing aesthetically pleasing about it. About the only thing good you can say about the place is that it's not quite as depressing as the old Kingdome in Seattle."
Following the dismantling of the pitching staff, Joe Christensen suggested a few arms that maybe available in the weeks leading up to the waiver deadline of August 31st.  On the list are Arizona's Jon Garland and Doug Davis, San Deigo's Kevin Correia and Seattle's Miguel Batista.  Batista has little control (5.15 BB/9), Correia has been better with the addition of a slider and, judging by the Cla Meredith trade, the Padres have not figured out what market-value means and Garland has been in steady decline.  Davis is the only one among the group that appears to be the most intriguing. 
Speaking of Meredith, since the Orioles acquired him, he has thrown 5.2 innings, struckout five and walk none while giving up just one earned run during Boston's 18-10 assult on Baltimore.  Are you telling me we did not have a spare utility player lying around?
Sometimes an All Star break can be too relaxing.  Since returning from the hiatus, Bobby Keppel has pitched 10 innings and allowed 11 earned runs (9.90 ERA) on three home runs and an opponant slugging percentage of .619. 
Sid Hartman says that former Twins pitcher and radio broadcaster Jack Morris believes this Twins pitching staff (27.6 avg years old -3rd in AL) needs an infusion of veteran talent if it plans on reaching the next level.  The Twins attempted to bring in Jarrod Washburn at the trade deadline before Detroit acquired him from Seattle but, by Hartman's account, the Mariners requested Glen Perkins in exchange for Washburn and the Twins flat-out refused.  Take that with a grain of salt because, as John Bonnes noted, Hartman essentially fabricated the entire Sanchez-for-Liriano trade rumor a few weeks ago.
Here's an example of the recent acquired Orlando Cabrera providing one of those veteran "intangibles".  During his pregame, welcome-to-the-team interview Cabrera proceeded to answer the first question in his native tongue -- probably to the dismay of the mostly Midwestern born-raised Twins beat writers.   The shortstop smiled and quipped, "They told me you guys speak Spanish." 
Even though Cabrera might not be the long-term answer for short, Tyler Ladendorf represents a prospect that has the raw tools but has yet to demonstrate that he is capable of moving up the organization's ladder at a rapid pace, and in that context, he's not such a hefty ransom.  At 21 years old and still unable to figure out low-A pitching in the Midwest League, shortstop Ladendorf was far from the high caliber prospect the Twins thought they had when they drafted him in the second round in 2008 and signed him to a nearly $700K bonus.  As Baseball America notes "The toolsy Ladendorf, 21, has been a disappointment thus far in his pro career. The righthanded batter was hitting 233/.292/.267 in his first 60 at-bats for low Class A Beloit, having spent most of the season in extended spring training and then tearing up the Appalachian League for 15 games."
In order to clear room for Cabrera, the Twins sent Brian Buscher to AAA Rochester.  Buscher's role as a left-handed pinch hitter never fully materialized, but the 28-year-old did go 3-for-13 (.231) while drawing walks in 6 of 20 pinch hitting plate appearances leading to a .500 on-base percentage.  Despite having his best month of the entire year (9-for-28, .321 BA, .406 OBP), Buscher had options remaining and providing the least flexibility among role player so it seemed obvious that he would be the one demoted.   Rochester still has to make a roster move to make room for the incoming third baseman.
Kelsie Smith notes that the loud noise Justin Morneau made urging the Twins to add an impact player at the trade deadline came at the expense of having Buscher, a close friend of Morneau's, sent to Rochester.  Subtle jab back at the clubhouse from the front office?  According to Smith, Ron Gardenhire said prior to the decision to move Buscher, "Sometimes it's be careful what you ask for with players, though, too, huh? We'll see. We'll see how it all works out." 
La Velle E Neal reports that Francisco Liriano threw in a bullpen session on Sunday.  Feeling fine, Liriano plans to start on Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians.  By the way, Liriano leads the MLB with 16 four-pitch walks.
Bill Smith has seemingly distanced himself from the actual decision-making responsibilities.  Patrick Reusse provides details of Smith's post-trade press conference in which the Twins GM noted the difference between the way he operates and how the former regime did.  "I'm an administrator; Terry's an evaluator," Smith said. "When it was time to make a decision, Terry listened to his assistants but relied on his evaluation. Those decisions are now reached more by consensus."  So, whereas Ryan would accept accountability, Smith is suggesting that the buck stops there, that guy over there and three office door's down the hall as well. 
The 16-year-old German prospect Max Kepler-Rozycki, whom the Twins signed for $800K, suffered a foot injury in the Bavarian championship a few weeks ago and has been on crutches and will not play in the European Championships this month.

Interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal on Dan Okrent who pioneered a new stat in 1979 called IPRAT or "Innings Pitched Ratio".  This would later be known as WHIP, as it is the measurement for walks plus hits divided by the amount of innings pitched.  Okrent, who authored one of the better baseball books on my bookshelf called "9 Innings", came up with this statistic to add to his new creation, 'Rotisserie' baseball, which was a precursor for the millions of fantasy baseball leagues.  Since the proliferation of the WHIP statistic, researchers found a strong correlation to it and future performance of a pitcher.  Despite the predictable parallels, teams, such as the Tampa Bay Rays, shy away from using it as a evaluator.  Says Dan Feinstein, director of baseball operations for the Rays “Once a ball is hit, the pitcher has no control over the outcome of the play, with the exception of the home run. There are too many factors that determine whether or not that ball will be a hit, including ballpark size and dimension, positioning of the defense and ability of his defenders.”
Which is why some put emphasis on another metric: expected FIP or xFIP.  The Royals' statistical minded starting pitcher Brian Bannister tells Bob Dutton that “I think the ultimate stat for a pitcher is xFIP,” Bannister said before pausing and offering a wry grin. “I know that’s getting really technical. It’s fielder independent pitching adjusted for your home-run rate back to the league average. That shows a pitcher’s true level of talent. Baseball doesn’t have a strength-of-schedule element like college football does.”  Using the xFIP metric, the top Twins starters are:



S. Baker


K. Slowey


F. Liriano


G. Perkins


N. Blackburn


A. Swarzak


Josh Johnson has a July review of the organization's minor league system.
Back in March, I did a Player Profile at Baseball Digest on former Twins closer Doug CorbettCharley Walters informs us that Corbett is now a high school guidance counselor in Jacksonville, FL.  
What was Ron Gardenhire like back in Okmulgee High School in Oklahoma?  Mike Baldwin says pretty "low key".