Sunday, June 12, 2011

OtB Twins Notes: Casilla's mechanics, All Star Cuddyer & scouting changes

Heading into Sunday’s game, Alexi Casilla has hit .352/.420/.465 with six doubles and a triple in his past 83 plate appearances dating back to the Arizona series, and he attributes the current streak on some mechanical changes.
Pioneer Press’s columnist Tom Powers recently spoke to Alexi Casilla about his offensive outburst. The middle infielder told him that he and hitting coach Joe Vavra had been studying the tape of his swing and it inspired him to make some changes.

According to Powers, Casilla said that “he discovered that he was standing too straight in the batter's box and that he also was slowing his swing in an attempt to hit almost every pitch to the opposite field.
Last week based on his conversations with 1500ESPN’s Phil Mackey whom Casilla also told that he was crouching more, I dissected his swing from the left-side. Looking over the footage, Casilla’s crouch did not standout. There may be some signs of him getting lower but, to me, the real change is his elimination of the pause in his stride. Now, thanks to Powers, we know that the reason behind implementing the stride pause was to hit more balls to the opposite field.
There is a longstanding Twins tradition of getting hitters to hit the ball to the other way. Some players have thrived, others, like the left-handed slugger David Ortiz, hated being forced to slash pitches to left field. Similar to the “pitch-to-contract” mantra that frustrates Twins fans, the “go the other way” offensive philosophy has also soured many people. Using the entire field is not a bad thing, however, when a player either intentionally changes his approach to fit that mold or is encouraged by staff to make the changes only to have his performance suffer, there may be a need to stop putting square pegs in round holes.

After a truly brutal start to the season, hitting .234/.300/.336 with just 5 runs batted in on May 13, Michael Cuddyer has flipped a switch at the plate. His recent production has made some within the club feel that he could be the team’s All Star representative this year writes Patrick Reusse.
Knowing Ron Gardenhire’s affinity towards the veteran, the statement certainly shouldn’t surprise anyone – it definitely shouldn’t qualify for KFAN’s Preposterous Statement award but it would be hard to justify Cuddyer over the crop of outfielders that the AL has.
Credit Gardy for trying to up-sell the utility angle given that there are plenty of better qualified outfielders in the league both offensively and defensively, but even teammate Denard Span, who can contribute defensively, on the bases and with the stick, has compiled a better season than Cuddyer. If Ron Washington, manager of this year’s AL team, is interested in putting together the best roster for hopes of home field advantage in the World Series, he’d likely want to go with someone like Span rather than Cuddyer.
At the same time, it’s the All Star Game. Who cares?
Nevertheless, let’s not gloss over the fact that Cuddyer is actually hitting the ball extremely well as of late. In his past 12 games, Cuddyer is hitting .318/.420/.618 with 8 of his 14 hits going for extra bases. Always been one to damage left-handed pitching, Cuddyer has posted a 1.142 OPS against southpaws so far this season, a total second in the AL to the manimal known as Jose Bautista. Part of the reason behind his gaudy numbers in recent games is due to the fact that the team has squared off against a good amount of left-handed starters.
As I wrote last month, Cuddyer is also coming off of several offseason ailments that were likely impeding his success at the plate. Combining more at-bats against lefties as well as being close to 100% again, it’s not a surprising to see Cuddyer surging. The Twins will see lefties in Chicago’s Mark Buerhle and Padres’ Clayton Richard over the next four games so it is possible that Cuddyer’s streak could continue for a while long.
Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan offered a pair of interesting Twins insider nuggets in his blog on Sunday.
In his talks with Dave St Peter, the Twins president hinted at “changes in their scouting operation”. Souhan also said the word around the clubhouse was that the players and staff are not interested in getting Joe Mauer back only to have him request to sit every other day.
It sounds like the talk regarding the changes in the scouting operation was driven from Trevor Plouffe’s defensive performance. Souhan says there were other instances but Plouffe has been the memorable. Plouffe, who has been in the Twins system since 2004, demonstrated that even after eight years of development, he still lacked the basic ability to complete accurate throws from short. Pushed along because of his bat and the team’s lack of depth at the shortstop position, Plouffe’s error totals never subsided as he advanced in the system. It is a good question to ask why Plouffe’s issue was never corrected.
In terms of Mauer’s return, it will be interesting to see how it may affect the fabric of the team now that the players seemingly have been building chemistry and winning ballgames without Mauer’s on-going dramas. In discussing his rehab assignment, Gardenhire told reporters that Mauer, who they wanted to send to Rochester for a handful of games prior to a potential return on Thursday, decided that he wanted to stay in Fort Myers – where he has a home.
Gardy provided some insight on the team’s logic to move him to Rochester:"He can count on one hand how many fastballs he's seen since he's been playing down there, and that's kind of one of those reasons you might want to send him to triple-A. He might see some fastballs there. There are some veteran guys who might know how to mix it up there. Those kids, they'll just be winging breaking balls all over the place."
Clearly, that makes sense. Before bringing a player back to the highest level, you’d like to get him some time facing off against the best competition so the transition back to the lineup is smooth.
Since the beginning of June, the Twins boast baseball’s best bullpen, allowing just three runs (1.01 ERA) in 26.2 innings of work.
If you dig inside those numbers, it’s not necessarily pretty. They have walked nine batters while hitting three more and striking out just 13.  Still, compared to the hot mess in April and May, it’s nice to see some progress. The ‘pen could get stronger soon too as according to LaVelle’s blog, Glen Perkins is close to returning this week replacing either Phil Dumatrait or Chuck James. I'd keep James over Dumatrait.