Friday, July 30, 2010

Twins spend best trading chip on closer Capps

By his own admission, Twins general manager Bill Smith seemed to grasp the absurdity of overpaying at the trade deadline. “There is a fine line between patience and impatience or patience and panic,” He told’s Kelly Thesier, “You don’t want to overreact either way.”  
Nevertheless, Smith ignored this philosophy by shipping his number one trading chip in Wilson Ramos to Washington for closer in Matt Capps. It’s basically like encouraging everyone at a party to behave like responsible adults then jump in to the pool with a lampshade on your head.
With the notion of patience and overreacting at the forefront of their minds, coupled with the market shaping up to favor sellers, Smith and company made a snap decision and relinquished their best trading chip to address one of their looming needs.
In his first two games in Minnesota, Wilson Ramos gave fans a glimpse of his promise, going 7-for-9 with three doubles. This perfromance probably obscured some onlooker’s perspective of his immediate talent. He regressed quickly of course, and went 1-for-18 with three strikeouts in the rest of his tenure at the big league level. On top of that, Ramos’s trade value also took a hit when he stopped getting them in AAA, failed to show power or patience at the higher level and was a repeat-offender when it came to injuries. At the same time, let’s not forget that the 22-year-old Ramos has only had slightly more than 500 plate appearances above the high-A level. At this point in his development, the catching prospect has not had ample time to adapt properly at each level lending credence to the notion that the best is yet to come.
In exchange for Ramos and his high-ceiling, the Twins fortified their bullpen with another version of Jon Rauch.
Admittedly, Capps has much better raw stuff than Rauch. His fastball has three-to-four more miles per hour behind it and can actually miss bats. Whereas Rauch’s heater gets a below average 12% miss rate, Capps’s cheddar gets hitters to miss 20% of the time. Even with that arsenal, he’s still has posted similar results.
In the past three seasons, Capps’s 1.8 BB/9 is lower than all relievers with the exception of Edward Mujica and Mariano Rivera. In his 178.2 innings pitched in that span, Capps had issued just 36 free passes. While his walk rate is unquestionably spectacular - which keeps the bases free of clutter in the late innings - Capps has been dinged for hits at a high clip. In that same timeframe, Capps’s .276 batting average allowed has been the ninth-highest among relievers in baseball and he has allowed 23 home runs to boot. Like Capps, Jon Rauch has managed to keep his walk rate at a respectable level (2.2 BB/9) while turning in a somewhat sub-prime batting average (.261). Not to be outdone by his National League counterpart, Rauch also surrendered a matching 23 home runs in the last three seasons.
On top of this redundancy, there is also a buyer-beware element to the Capps acquisition as well. In his younger days in Pittsburgh, toiling away at the league’s worst bullpen, Capps was massively overexerted, making 161 appearances from 2006 to 2007.  With that sort of mileage, it is no wonder that Capps eventually landed on the DL with shoulder bursitis and elbow swelling.  Although he has not had any bouts with injuries since 2009, the concern exists that something could go awry with the wiring at any point.
Was sacrificing their best available blue-chip trading prospect for essentially a carbon copy of their in-house closer a sage decision?   
Again, as Mr. Smith says, there is fine line between patience and panic. A year ago, the Twins waited until late August when they landed Rauch in exchange for a prospect-turned-suspect in Kevin Mulvey. That inexpensive maneuver supplied the Twins will their now-ousted closer for much of 2010. This year the team moved quickly and decisively at a significant cost. It remains to be seen how the aggressive approach plays out.