July 4, 2011

Twins Notes: Musical closers, All-Star wars, and main attractions

Ron Gardenhire stuck with Matt Capps as the closer following Saturday's implosion, but then pulled him with two runners on base and one out yesterday rather than let the right-hander blow back-to-back saves. Glen Perkins wriggled out of Capps' mess for his first career save, leading to postgame speculation that there could be a permanent change in the ninth inning, but Gardenhire downplayed that talk by saying Capps "is still our closer."

With a 4.63 ERA and league-leading six blown saves in 19 chances Capps has certainly pitched poorly enough to warrant a demotion and Perkins has been the Twins' best reliever all year, so giving him an opportunity in the bullpen's top role makes sense. However, removing Capps from the ninth inning would likely just mean giving him chances to blow leads in earlier innings and installing Perkins as closer would put him in a far more rigid, potentially less impactful role.

Perkins has been so valuable in large part because Gardenhire has been willing to use him in basically any situation. He's worked every inning from the fifth to the tenth, seeing significant action in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. He's come into games to protect small leads, but also to keep things close with small deficits or keep things tied with the score knotted. And he's been used a ton, appearing in 31 of 59 games while on the active roster.

As a closer that would all change because Perkins would mostly be limited to pitching the ninth inning with a lead of 1-3 runs. No more putting out fires in the seventh frame, no more pitching the eighth inning down a run, and no more working every other day. Decreasing his workload some may not be a bad thing, but moving Perkins into a role with far more rigid usage won't help matters much overall and would likely just mean Capps sliding into a prominent setup gig.

• In terms of Capps-related mistakes trading Wilson Ramos to get him last season and paying $7.15 million to keep him this season were both worse than sticking with him as closer, where he's perfectly capable of converting saves 80 percent of the time just like every other halfway decent reliever. Perhaps demoting Capps would improve things in the ninth inning, but in order to do that the Twins would have to weaken things in the seventh and eighth innings.

And beyond the immediate on-field domino effect, putting Perkins in a role where he can rack up saves will make him significantly more expensive in future seasons even if his actual value stays the same or even decreases. No one has been harder on Capps and the Twins' decision to acquire Capps than me, but any change that simply involves him in a different high-leverage inning isn't as big as the misguided focus on the save statistic would have you believe.

If the Twins feel they have to remove Capps from the ninth inning it makes more sense to give Joe Nathan another crack at closing and see if his impressive outings since returning from the disabled list are a genuine sign of his old stuff gradually coming back. Nathan's future price tag isn't a factor, his current role doesn't involve a heavy workload anyway, and stringing together some solid outings over the next few weeks might resuscitate his trade value.

Capps isn't as terrible as the six blown saves would suggest, but he's also not a good closer. Never has been, never will be. He's basically Jon Rauch, minus eight inches and a bunch of ink, and plus a beer belly. I've hammered that point home before, so I won't get back into it, but I will say that only two active pitchers with 100 saves have fewer than 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings. One is Danys Baez, who has a 5.03 ERA since 41 saves in 2005. The other is Capps.

Michael Cuddyer was chosen for the All-Star team yesterday, following in the grand tradition of previous Twins representatives like Ron Coomer, Tim Laudner, Dave Engle, Leo Cardenas, Gary Ward, Joe Mays, Doug Corbett, and Cristian Guzman. Assuming that Scott Baker isn't a last-minute pitching replacement this will be the Twins' first year with just one All-Star since 2004. In the six seasons since then the Twins averaged 2.67 representatives per year.

• Incidentally, through exactly half of the season here are the Twins' leaders and trailers in the Baseball-Reference.com-calculated Wins Above Replacement (WAR):

LEADERS              WAR          TRAILERS             WAR
Denard Span          3.5          Tsuyoshi Nishioka   -1.5
Scott Baker          2.8          Justin Morneau      -1.0
Michael Cuddyer      1.5          Jim Hoey            -0.8
Glen Perkins         1.1          Matt Tolbert        -0.7
Jason Kubel          0.9          Joe Nathan          -0.7

I have no problem with Cuddyer getting the nod. He's not a great player and isn't even having a great season--ranking 23rd in OPS and 47th in WAR among AL hitters--but the one-player-per-team rule forces the Twins to send someone and Denard Span is hurt, plus the pitching staff is tougher to crack than the bench. Mostly, though, I couldn't care less about the All-Star game and always have a hard time getting worked up about the picks one way or another.

• Like every other Twins injury this year Jason Kubel's sprained left foot has kept him out for significantly longer than the team's initial return timetable. First he hoped to miss just a couple days, then he aimed to avoid the disabled list, then he was optimistic about returning after the minimum 15 days on the shelf, and now he's already missed 35 days and counting following a setback while rehabbing in Fort Myers. "Day-to-day" equals "one month" in Twins speak.

Rick Knapp, who was the Twins' minor-league pitching coordinator for a dozen years before leaving the organization in 2008 to become the Tigers' major-league pitching coach, was fired yesterday after 2.5 seasons on the job. Knapp was often credited with being a key part of the Twins' organization-wide focus on throwing strikes, but under his watch Detroit ranked 12th, 7th, and 12th in walks and 5th, 11th, and 12th in ERA among AL teams.

David Dorsey of the Fort Myers News Press did a feature on Aaron Hicks, who turned things around following a slow start and is now batting .280/.392/.424 with 26 extra-base hits, 46 walks, and 11 steals in 66 games at high Single-A. His power has been slow to develop, but Hicks' plate disciplines continues to stand out for a 21-year-old, his switch-hitting has become more balanced, and his defense in center field consistently draws positive reviews.

• Saturday marked the start of the international signing period and the Twins' highest-profile pickup is Miguel Gonzalez, a 16-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic who signed for $650,000. Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Gonzalez "draws attention for his ability to pound the strike zone with a fastball that reaches the low 90s" and "has feel for pitching beyond his years." He even predicted the Twins would sign him.

• For all his ups and downs this year Alexi Casilla is hitting .244/.312/.346 through 74 games. His combined line during the previous three seasons: .256/.316/.344. Same old, same old.

Kris Humphries sat through a two-hour rain delay before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Friday, was mostly booed by the Target Field crowd, fired low to Rene Rivera, and then went back into a suite to sit with fiancee Kim Kardashian, who was the much bigger attraction among Twins players and media members:

On a related note, when things go wrong at least Capps isn't as scary as the guy he replaced:

And that angle doesn't even display the neck tattoos.

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  • Rich

    Maybe Slowey can follow Perkins and get out of Gardenhires doghouse. It wasn’t that long ago when the Twins were going to give Perkins away.

  • mike wants wins

    I also do not care about all star games….but cuddy seems like a nice guy so I am happy for him.

  • adjacent

    Regarding the Capps argument: I agree in general that putting Perkins as closer would remove him from other high leverage situations, But our bullpen is much weaker from the right side than from the left side. If Perkins becomes closer, he will be replaced either by James or by Duensing back in the pen, while Capps would replace Burnett, I think (or Swarzak, but most likely Burnett). And Capps is not that good, but I think at present is better than Burnett.Not talking upside, talking today. So, I think if Perkins becomes closer, overall things will improve.

  • Pedro Munoz

    We are going to need a closer next year so I would give Perkins a shot this year to see if he can handle it. That is more important than the decline from using Crapps in a setup role.

  • Fasterandfuriouser

    Your analysis of the Capps/Perkins situation is why I keep coming back, Gleeman. Excellent.

  • Pedro Munoz

    Look out, Blackburn has had two awful starts after pitching very well. We have seen this before and the bad start streak isn’t going to stop at two.

  • BR

    I suppose Cuddy is more deserving of an All-Star nod than Ron Coomer was, but seeing national media members describe him as defensively versatile is at best comical, and closer to nauseating.

    As for Perkins, although he’s been very valuable in high leverage innings, I’m also in favor of giving him a shot at closing. If he’s been less vilified than Jesse Crain during his time with the Twins, it’s only because he was forgotten in the minors last year. Watching him ascend to the closer’s spot would be deliciously ironic and fully in line with the Twins’ history of creatively developing closers (Aggie, Guardado, Nathan…).

  • mike wants WINS

    I’d rather Perkins be used in the highest leverage situations, than have Gardy save him for the 9th, with the 7-9 hitters coming up, because he’s the “closer”.

    the Capps trade just keeps getting worse and worse….

  • koop

    I’ve always been a Cuddyer fan – probably the best the Twins have done in the 1st round of the draft (outside of Joe Mauer) since Torii Hunter, and he seems like a good guy. Fans get down on him for what he’s not: he’s not great against right handed pitching, he’s not a great infielder, he doesn’t have great range in the outfield. But he’s been serviceable in those areas, and he has been great against lefties, and he does have (or at least used to have) a great arm. Along with his positive community and clubhouse presence, I think he’s a good value, and I’m glad to see him get an ASG nod.

  • Karl

    Umm…

    So help me understand the logic here.

    Let’s say Casilla suddenly started hitting and fielding at an above average rate for a major league 2nd baseman for a good solid period of time.

    Let’s also say Nishioka continues to struggle.

    So we should displace a suddenly perfectly valuable casilla at second to shore up a spot where we are getting subpar performance?

    Folks – we have been waiting 6 years for Perkins to prove he is a major league talent in any role. So now that he is proving his worth we should jam him into the closer role and expect equal or greater results?

    Seems like a huge leap of faith considering the guy might just finally understand how to fufill a mlb role successfully.

    Why mess with a good thing? Doesn’t giving Nathan the 9th inning again make way more sense? Or am I missing something?

  • http://www.matthewlevitt.net ML

    Why mess with a good thing? Doesn’t giving Nathan the 9th inning again make way more sense? Or am I missing something?

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Pedro Munoz

    Yes, you are missing something and something very obvious, which is that what we have now isn’t even close to a “good thing.” Matt Capps is awful, and before him Joe Nathan was even more awful. People are kidding themselves if they think the Twins are really contenders this year, and neither Capps nor Nathan is going to be closing next year. Perkins might be, if he can prove he can handle it.

  • Karl

    Pedro,

    The “good thing” I was referring to is the 3+ months of well above average production from Perkins.

    I agree that Capps is average to slightly below average as an MLB closer. This is exacerbated by his 7+ Mil salary and the cost to aqcuire him.

    I must disagree with you that we should make Perkins the closer for these reasons.

    1) Comfort level for Glen. He is clearly comfortable in the 7th and 8th. We are finally getting good production out of a guy who projected as a MLB contributor long ago.

    2) Having him rack up saves now means $ in arbitration.

    3) Why stuff your best bullpen asset into the 9th inning only? Closers are fungible. Find someone else to inherit the job at a reasonable price for 2012. It can easily happen.

    These points are not to invalidate your opinion – only to clarify mine.

  • scot

    I don’t believe the Twins ever planned on giving Perkins away, maybe alot of fans wanted him gone but thankfully they are not in charge. Glen actually had a pretty good season in 2008 going 12-4 as a starter.

  • Zach Morris

    Aaron, good content as usual. That picture is maybe the funniest thing I’ve seen all day.

  • Pedro Munoz

    If Capps keeps s***ing the bed every time he pitches Perkins is going to end up being the closer by default. It’s painful to watch.

  • Brian

    Its funny that all the casual fans that loved the Ramos for Capps trade because it gave the Twins a “proven, all-star closer” are now freaking out about Capps as an inadequate closer.

    He is the same mediocre pitcher he always has been, a run of bad luck doesn’t change that fact. And we are paying him $7.15 million this year. Awesome.

  • chris

    lets play capps as 6th or 7th inning guy
    Perkins into 8th inning
    and give nathan his closer role back

    so it is.

  • TMW

    $19 million+ for holds. Even though I love this team, this thought is still funny.

    Kardashian’s pose in that picture is very impressive and the work of a professional. She is definitely a pro at getting the angle to maximize how good she looks. Nothing accidental about it.

    A friend of mine was in a wedding party with Pink once. She said it was amazing how she always knew how to look like a celebrity in each photo based on the way her face was tilted, body angled, etc.

  • http://thebatshatters.blogspot.com AK

    I gotta disagree wrt Capps. Moving him allows you to use the guy less right away so that he can get some confidence back. I think either Nathan or Perkins could assume the closer role and succeed which would mean the Twins could “hide” Capps for awhile in a relief role until he turns things back around. A guy who’s your “closer” defines who he is and thus the manager feel obligated to use the guy when your team as a lead of 3 runs or less going into the 9th inning. If you remove that title from Capps then his role becomes less-defined and you can use him in situations where he has less potential to do damage. To say that moving him makes other parts of the bullpen weaker is, frankly, short-sighted.

  • http://thebatshatters.blogspot.com AK

    Did I miss something or did Perkins not prove over the last two games that he can “handle” pressure-packed situations? What’s more pressure, coming in to close the 9th, or coming with men on base and the game on the line because the guy who’s supposed to be closing can’t get the job done? Perkins can handle the pressure.

  • Karl

    Perkins has proven he is comfortable with his current role.

    My desire to see Perkins stay in the circa 1988 “Firemans” role is his obvious comfort level in how he is currently being used. 7th 8th or 9th in the highest leverage spots possible.

    This is a much harder and valuable commodity to find than a guy who can come in in the 9th only with empty bases.

    My objection to him being pigeon holed into 9th inning only is mainly based on his wild success in his current role. Why mess with his job desciption now when Nathan has a super long track record of handling the 9th inning at a well above average MLB clip.