January 31, 2011

Twins Notes: Waivers, trees, hearings, numbers, and scouts

Rob Delaney signed with the Twins in 2006 after going undrafted out of St. John's University and his numbers were always far better than his raw stuff, so they viewed his success in the minors very skeptically and didn't give him a chance in the majors until a week before his 26th birthday. Delaney made just one appearance in a month with the Twins, serving up a homer to Ian Kinsler of the Rangers on September 4, and Thursday he was designated for assignment.

It's no shock that the Twins ditched Delaney before ever giving him an extended opportunity, because he's been sort of like a poor man's Anthony Slama and they haven't seemed all that inclined to give the actual Anthony Slama a lengthy look. It's also no shock that Delaney was claimed off waivers by the Rays, whose front office relies way more on statistical analysis than the Twins' decision-makers.

Delaney's numbers went from amazing in the low minors to merely solid in the high minors. He pitched well in two seasons at Triple-A with a 130-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 innings, but his ERA was an unremarkable 4.65 thanks to serving up 17 homers. He's racked up lots of strikeouts with a repertoire headed by his low-90s fastball and has excellent control with just 1.9 walks per nine innings.

As a fly-ball pitcher with so-so raw stuff Delaney has little margin for error and the Twins were certainly right to view his success skeptically when it comes to translating to the big leagues, but he was worth giving a chance to considering the question mark-filled bullpen. Tampa Bay is in a very similar situation, needing to replace most of what was a fantastic bullpen following free agent departures, and Delaney is capable of being a solid middle reliever for the Rays.

• Delaney was dropped from the 40-man roster because the Twins needed to clear room after claiming Dusty Hughes off waivers from the Royals. He spent most of last year in Kansas City's bullpen, posting a nice-looking 3.83 ERA in 56 innings, but the 29-year-old left-hander also had a terrible 34-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio and wasn't particularly effective against lefties (.260) or righties (.283) while allowing opponents to bat .273/.351/.380 off him overall.

Hughes is left-handed and had a superficially strong ERA last year, but there isn't a whole lot else to like about him. Hughes was even older than Delaney when he debuted in September of 2009 and unlike Delaney his minor-league numbers have never been impressive. In two years at Triple-A he had a 4.10 ERA and 112-to-66 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 143 innings and his raw stuff is hardly special, as Hughes averaged just 90.2 miles per hour with his fastball.

Much like their decision to give a 40-man roster spot to Giants castoff Eric Hacker after signing him to a minor-league deal in November, losing Delaney to add Hughes to the 40-man roster is an odd move that seems predicated on looking at the wrong numbers. Hacker had 16 wins at Triple-A last year, but it came with a 4.51 ERA, sub par secondary numbers, and a track record full of mediocrity from a 28-year-old.

In this case Hughes' nice-looking 3.83 ERA caught the Twins' eye (and being left-handed surely helped too), but he needed an awful lot of smoke and mirrors just to have modest success for 56 innings and brings with him a similarly uninspiring history of mediocrity in the minors at age 29. Delaney isn't a huge loss and would've placed near the bottom of my annual ranking of the Twins' top 40 prospects, but picking Hacker and Hughes over giving him a shot is unfortunate.

• One of the misconceptions about park factors is that the dimensions of the field determine if a ballpark skews pitcher-friendly or hitter-friendly. In reality the dimensions definitely play a big role, but the run-scoring environment is also greatly impacted by other stuff like wind patterns, humidity, playing surfaces, and hitting backgrounds. Target Field was pitcher-friendly in its first year of existence, for a number of reasons, and the Twins have decided to make one change.

Hitters complained that the trees planted behind the wall in center field hurt their ability to see pitches, particularly in day games, so the Twins will remove them and install a new background designed to reduce glare. Obviously not being able to see pitches is something that had to be addressed, but it'll be interesting to find out what the overall impact ends up being considering the Twins went 53-28 at Target Field and actually scored more runs there than on the road.

Matt Capps ($7.15 million), Kevin Slowey ($2.7 million), Alexi Casilla ($865,000), and Glen Perkins ($700,000) have each avoided arbitration with one-year deals, leaving Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano as the unsigned arbitration eligible players. Young filed for $6.25 million, compared to $4.65 million by the Twins. Liriano filed for $5 million, compared to $3.6 million by the Twins. No player has gone to a hearing with the Twins since Kyle Lohse in 2005 and 2006.

• Much has been made about Bert Blyleven needing to wait 14 years before baseball writers voted him into the Hall of Fame, but he's also had to wait those same 14 years for the Twins to retire his number, which they'll officially do on July 16. Blyleven, who has the most strikeouts in Twins history and ranks second to Jim Kaat in wins and innings, will join Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, and Kent Hrbek in the retired numbers club.

Eric Bynum of Baseball Journeyman recently interviewed Cary Broder, a Twins scout based in Asia whose evaluations played a big part in the team bidding on Japanese players Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hisashi Iwakuma this offseason. They signed Nishioka for a total commitment of $15 million and finished runner-up for Iwakuma, who ended up not signing with the A's. Broder is a good guy and it's always interesting to learn about people working behind the scenes.

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com included Michael Cuddyer on his "all-underrated team" and I was preparing to rant about how incredibly misguided that is, but then Nick Nelson did it for me.

• I just put the finishing touches on my annual "Top 40 Twins Prospects" series, so the first of eight installments (covering five prospects apiece) will run later this week.

  • UGH

    I grew up with Cary Broder. He’s one of the most hilarious people ever.

  • http://weareoffthemark.wordpress.com Bryz

    I asked Bill Smith why they chose Hughes and Delaney at the fan Q&A on Friday at TwinsFest. Most of his response was spent explaining the waivers process, but he did say that Hughes had pitched well against the Twins last season in about 10 games (because that’s a large enough sample size…) and all he said about Delaney was that they thought they could get him back to Triple-A unclaimed.

    I also talked to Gardy on Friday with some other people, and when we brought up Delaney had been claimed by the Rays, Gardy admitted that he knew Delaney would be claimed by someone.

    It sounds a bit like a repeat of when Craig Breslow was DFA’d.

  • Kurt

    I am shocked we didn’t keep Delaney. Our staff mainly consist of hit type; average stuff that gives up a lot of homeruns. He would have fit right in!

  • Jake

    The Breslow move was dumb at the time, and looks worse with every left-handed scrub the Twins pick up off the scrap heap (Randy Flores, now Hughes). There must have been something else going on with Breslow, because on the surface he sure seemed like a prototypical Twin.

  • mike wants WINS

    No big shock. The Twins love veterans, and hate rookies. Did anyone believe the BS that they’d actually give their internal candidates the first chance to fill the bullpen? This is a team that kept Cuddeyer at 3B and Valencia in the minors until they HAD to call him up. Bizarre decision to pick up a 29 year old reliever that can’t strike people out. Predictable though.

  • Zach

    Good premise but presenting Hughes’ ERA as fact for why the Twins kept him is just flat out wrong. You don’t make as many correct moves as their track record indicates by arbitrarily using ERA as your barometer for who stays and who goes. That is your assumption, and I’m willing and I believe it is wrong. Plus, I think zeroing in on an end of the bullpen roster move may be taking your critiquing a little too seriously. (Commenting on it may be me doing the same thing though) All in all, I won’t be surprised if I never see Delaney pitch another MLB game, and the Rays are the last place I would have wanted to go if I was him. If they truly do a better job of statistical analysis, and if that does yield superior results and players, than he has even less of a chance at ever receiving…a chance (too many “a chance’s”). Anyway, interesting banter, but I’m not sure why this particular move has caught the ire of so many unless you were close personal friends with Delaney.

  • http://www.knuckleballsblog.com JimCrikket

    Thanks for the link to the Broder interview, Aaron. I’m another one who finds the glimpses at the people who work behind the scenes to be very interesting.

  • Dave T

    Zach – don’t be dense. Delaney’s numbers are better than Hughes. This move was pointless.

  • Matt in SoDak

    Good stuff as per usual.

  • mike wants WINS

    Speaking of veterans I’d take a chance on….would Jeremy Bonderman be willing to be a relief pitcher? Would he sign for not much money? I’d think that it possible that in a limited relief role, the guy could be effective. That would be a flyer I’d take a chance on (thought it’s not my money….).

  • Confused

    “This is a team that kept Cuddeyer at 3B and Valencia in the minors until they HAD to call him up.”

    Huh? Never let facts get in the way of a good rant, Mike.

  • mike wants WINS

    Confused….they didn’t keep playing Cuddeyer at 3B until they moved him to 1B? I must be remembering it wrong…I’ll have to check the interwebs, and will certainly admit if I’m wrong….

  • Confused

    The Twins didn’t ‘keep Cuddyer at 3b and Valencia in the minors.’ Valencia was recalled and played 3b on June 3rd last year. Cuddyer didn’t make his first appearance at third base until June 18th (and his last appearance there came July 6th.)

    Valencia was already in the majors when Cuddyer made his first appearance at 3rd.

    Punto/Harris started the season at third.

  • Zach

    Dave T, comparing two relievers by their ERA is just plain stupid. For ERA comparisons sake, Brian Fuentes had a 2.81 ERA last year, while Jonathan Papelbon had a 3.90. Should we therefore conclude that Brian Fuentes is more valuable than Paps? By your logic, yes. Fact is Paps gets you complete innings against righties and lefties, while Fuentes is very good against lefties and very hittable by righties. While getting lefties out is certainly a commodity, ask any GM who they’d rather start their bullpen with, ERA King Fuentes or Jonathan Papelbon’s diminished, yet still more valuable skills and higher ERA. Looking at 2 relievers ERA and then drawing a conclusion on them based on it is one of the denser and more laughable things I’ve read. Good hustle, though. If comprehension was your strength, you’d also recognize that I said this basically was a lateral move in the sense that their was little risk and will probably be little reward in this move, so why break it down and theorize that the Twins got rid of Delaney based on his ERA. Just a bad guess in my opinion.