August 15, 2011

Twins Notes: “Psst. It’s Over.”

• To put the Twins' current 11.5-game AL Central deficit into context consider that they're 15.0 games ahead of the Astros for the worst record in baseball. They're also just 3.0 games ahead of the Royals for last place in the AL Central and 5.5 games ahead of the Orioles for the worst record in the AL. There are 43 games remaining and the Twins would have to go 29-14 just to finish .500. In their last 43 games the Twins are 20-23.

Alexi Casilla spent two weeks on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring and then aggravated the injury in the seventh inning of his first game back Friday, immediately returning to the DL. Trevor Plouffe, who was optioned to Triple-A to clear a roster spot for Casilla, was called right back up and will hopefully get more of an opportunity than last time, when he often found himself on the bench in favor of Matt Tolbert.

Plouffe has plenty of flaws and is hardly guaranteed to become a solid big leaguer, but if ever there was a time for the Twins to find out it's when the division title is out of reach and their primary alternative is a 29-year-old career .235/.291/.326 hitter. Using the final six weeks to see if Plouffe can be a part of the team's plans in 2012 and beyond is far more valuable than giving Tolbert more time to cement his status as the definition of a replacement-level player.

Kevin Slowey's long-awaited return to the Twins' rotation technically never happened, as he allowed one run in two innings yesterday before the game was washed away by rain.

Denard Span is 2-for-35 (.057) with nine strikeouts versus three walks since spending two months on the disabled list, telling LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he's still having post-concussion symptoms and is struggling with new medication. Not good.

Justin Morneau returned to the lineup six weeks after surgery to remove a herniated disk fragment from his neck, but told Neal that he still doesn't have feeling in his left index finger because of nerve damage. Despite that Morneau went 11-for-30 (.367) with a homer and four doubles in seven games rehabbing at Triple-A.

Joe Nathan became the Twins' all-time saves leader Wednesday with his 255th since joining the team in 2004, moving past Rick Aguilera. Nathan is definitely the most dominant closer in Twins history--and one of the most dominant in baseball history, for that matter--but his save total and Aguilera's save total isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. Here's an explanation of the differences from my write-up of Aguilera as the 18th-best player in Twins history:

It's important to note that Tom Kelly used Aguilera much differently than Ron Gardenhire has used Nathan. Nathan has inherited a grand total of 54 runners in seven-plus seasons with the Twins, which works out to one per eight innings. Aguilera inherited 38 runners in his first year as closer, and then saw 37 and 40 more in the next two years. In all, Aguilera inherited 207 runners during his time in Minnesota, which works out to one every 2.5 relief innings.

The vast majority of Nathan's saves involved starting an inning with a clean slate, but Aguilera often saved games he entered with runners on base. That goes a long way toward explaining his seemingly mediocre save percentage and Aguilera also deserves credit for stranding more than three-fourths of the runners he inherited.

In addition to being more difficult than Nathan's saves, on average, Aguilera's saves were also longer, as he recorded 55 more outs in his 254 saves than Nathan has in his 255 saves.

Glen Perkins might be wearing down in his first full season as a reliever. He allowed eight runs in 43 innings through August 5, including 37 scoreless appearances in 45 total outings, and never gave up more than one run in a game. And now Perkins has allowed six runs in his last four innings, including four straight outings with a run and multiple runs in two of them. David Ortiz's homer was the first served up by Perkins in 178 plate appearances this year.

Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote an interesting article about the pitcher-catcher relationship and specifically Carl Pavano picking Drew Butera as his personal catcher. Near the end of the article she noted Pavano's respective ERA with different catchers, but it's worth repeating: Pavano has a 4.26 ERA in 35 starts with his preferred catcher, Butera, and a 4.09 ERA in 31 starts with Joe Mauer. And this year's numbers skew further in Mauer's favor.

• MLB suspended Twins minor leaguer Kennys Vargas for 50 games after he violated the drug prevention and treatment program by reportedly testing positive for phentermine, which can be used to speed metabolism for weight loss. Vargas is 6-foot-5 and Seth Stohs notes that his weight has been an issue. Vargas, a 20-year-old first baseman who was signed out of Puerto Rico in 2009, was hitting .322/.377/.489 in 44 games at rookie-level Elizabethton.

Ted Uhlaender is the only outfielder in Twins history to get 200-plus plate appearances in a season with an on-base percentage below .300 and a slugging percentage below .300, hitting .226/.280/.286 in 403 plate appearances in 1966. Ben Revere is hitting .245/.294/.285 in 298 plate appearances. And his noodle arm was in right field Wednesday because Ron Gardenhire refuses to move Delmon Young there. Don't mess with success. Or something. How silly.

Jim Thome has faced three pitchers at least 70 times in his career. One is Tim Wakefield, whom he faced last week, and the other two are Roger Clemens and Brad Radke. Thome has hit just .185 off Wakefield and .225 (with good power) off Radke, but crushed Clemens to the tune of .355/.438/.855 with eight homers and seven doubles in 62 at-bats. Among all hitters Clemens faced at least 50 times Thome is the only one to top a 1.000 OPS. And he's at 1.293.

• Tonight is the deadline for MLB teams to sign draft picks and the Twins' first-rounder, North Carolina junior shortstop Levi Michael, remains unsigned, as do supplemental first-round picks Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd. Their next six picks are all signed.

• While watching Tom Kelly fill in for Bert Blyleven during one of the recent FSN broadcasts I looked up his old minor-league numbers and the former manager hit .272/.406/.436 with more walks (538) than strikeouts (429) in 782 games at Triple-A. Of course, he was a first baseman, which is why Kelly spent 13 seasons in the minors and 47 games in the majors. Offensively at least he was a poor man's Doug Mientkiewicz.

• Why was Chuck Knoblauch a no-show at the 1991 team's reunion last week? Because "he's considerably out of shape," according to Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Which is smart, because Kent Hrbek would have really goofed on him.

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  • Han Joelo

    Thome owned Clemens. Definitely some karmic justice there.

  • Rod

    Thanks for the insights, Aaron. I think you are the voice of reality, and only by reading you do I know how far the franchise has fallen in the last few years.

  • Brian

    Knoblauch’s wife was supposedly due on the Saturday of the reunion weekend.

  • Curt

    I remember watching TK with interest when he came up. His stats were terrible and he didn’t last long but I remember thinking he needed a longer look because everything he hit was a line drive… always at someone. I never understood why he didn’t get another call up. Shortly after that he started managing in the minors. And the rest is history, as they say.

  • Shane

    I wouldn’t say our minor league system is “stacked” so I find it very troubling that our first 3 picks in the draft are not signed yet. That can’t bode well.
    Do you know if we’re close to signing any of them?

  • ML

    They aren’t signed because no one ahead of them is signed either. It’s all relative and I’m betting it will all get done close to the deadline.

  • mike wants wins

    That’s not quite true….the two players in front of Michael are signed, as are the two players two behing him…..check here

    http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2011/06/list-of-first-round-supplemental-draft-picks-to-sign.html

    This minor league system is not stacked at all. If they don’t sign all three of these guys, it will just be another failure of this FO. That said, I definitely expect Michael to sign.

  • mike wants wins

    Good first move, though you have to wonder if they could have gotten more for him in the offseason. This clears up $5-7MM for next year. Hopefully Smith spends it well.

  • Pedro Munoz

    Delmon Young is 2-3 years from being out of baseball. No one is looking to put Delmon Young in their plans. If we get nothing more than Detroit picking up his salary for the rest of the year, we did well.

  • Jeff

    Given that this is the same article that points out how disappointing Ben Revere is, and considering Span’s situation is looking pretty scary… is there a plan here? Seems like we’re short an outfielder.

  • mike wants wins

    Jeff, Young does not solve that problem. DO NOT go to the STrib comments if you value your sanity^ (BS reference there with the ^)

  • Scott

    If they actually play the youngsters, i give this deal my OK. Revere needs to go back to AAA, Tolbert DFA, Plouffe plays everyday.

  • Ben

    As much as Young sucked, which was a lot-at everything it seemed, it seems very stupid to trade him now unless this Nelson kid is better than he currently appears. Young never starts to hit until late, too late to have any impact most years, and is always horrible to start the season. It would have made more sense to hold onto him until after the season just to see if he gets hot in August and September hoping to sucker somebody this winter. As is all they did was save about a million bucks. Now if they’re gonna send that on over to me, great. If they’re just going to stuff it back into their pockets then it’s just another bad move. Bush league even.

    Rene Tosoni has struck out every bit as much in his minor league career as Joe Benson has without hitting nearly as well. I have to hope this means that Benson starts 2012 in right. He actually seems better suited to center than either Span or Revere but they aren’t likely to move Span for a rookie. I’m sure he would move right over if asked though. Right?

  • mrgerbik03

    Only thing that bothers me about DY departure is the irrational fear that he will start mashing and complain that the Twins always asked him to take the ball the other way.

  • Bird

    Is Perkins tiring? It would be hard to believe his future career ERA out of the bullpen would be a miniscule 1.80. He very well may be tiring but quite simply he could also be returning to the mean. A 2.20 ERA is still extremely impressive.