April 2, 2012

Drew Butera loses his scholarship as Twins set Opening Day roster

"No scholarships." That's how Terry Ryan stressed not handing players jobs this year simply because they had jobs last year. Tsuyoshi Nishioka was the first casualty and now Drew Butera joins him in Rochester after two years in Minnesota. Butera's job was in jeopardy as soon as Ryan Doumit signed, but Ron Gardenhire's fear of catching emergencies and the Twins' aversion to ditching marginal guys for whom they develop an affinity had me skeptical.

Actually replacing replacement-level players is a step in the right direction, although Butera remains on the 40-man roster and, considering Joe Mauer's injury history and Doumit's shaky defense, there's a good chance he'll be back. Butera stuck around despite the lowest OPS of any non-pitcher with 300 plate appearances since 1990 because the Twins loved his defense, liked him as a person, and believed he had a big influence as Carl Pavano's personal catcher.

There's no doubt that Butera did a good job controlling the running game despite Pavano barely paying attention to runners, so the pairing may have been a good fit and may have even helped Pavano. However, evaluating catcher defense is very complicated and assuming something is true because a pitcher thinks it's true doesn't always show itself in the results. In terms of preventing runs Butera catching Pavano was the same as Mauer catching Pavano:

Pavano with Butera catching: 294 innings, 4.14 ERA.
Pavano with Mauer catching: 201 innings, 4.08 ERA.

Butera is a good catcher who can't hit. And not just "can't hit" like most bench players "can't hit." He's historically awful, hitting .178/.220/.261 for the Twins after hitting .214/.296/.317 in the minors. There are plenty of good-glove, no-hit players in the majors, and rightfully so in many cases, but good defenders with absolutely zero hitting ability belong in the minors and by sending Butera there the Twins set the position player side of the Opening Day roster:

   LINEUP                     BENCH
 C Joe Mauer               IF Luke Hughes
1B Chris Parmelee          IF Sean Burroughs
2B Alexi Casilla           OF Ben Revere
SS Jamey Carroll           OF Trevor Plouffe
3B Danny Valencia
LF Josh Willingham
CF Denard Span
RF Ryan Doumit
DH Justin Morneau

My assumption is that Doumit will be the primary right fielder because he's one of the team's best hitters, has experience there, and presumably wasn't signed to mostly sit on the bench regardless of his position. However, if demoting Butera means that Gardenhire will use Doumit as more of a true backup catcher then Trevor Plouffe would seemingly be in line for most of the starts in right field or at least a time-share with Ben Revere.

Chris Parmelee parlayed a big September call-up and strong spring training into the starting first base job, with the Twins deciding that the best chance of keeping Justin Morneau in the lineup is at designated hitter. Morneau may prove healthy enough to return to first base and Parmelee may show that his mediocre track record is more telling than his most recent 100 at-bats, in which case the Twins could shift Doumit to DH and use Plouffe/Revere in right field.

They certainly have no shortage of first base/designated hitter/corner outfield options, which should be good for an offense that scored the second-fewest runs in the league last season, but they're also lacking a true backup middle infielder should 38-year-old shortstop Jamey Carroll or oft-injured second baseman Alexi Casilla need time off and it's unclear to me what role there is for Sean Burroughs unless he eats into Danny Valencia's starts at third base.

On an individual basis this is far stronger than the typical Twins bench during the past decade, although that admittedly isn't saying much. Burroughs, Plouffe, and Luke Hughes are each useful hitters and Revere is at the very least a useful fourth outfielder, but in terms of actually putting that collection of individuals into practice as a functioning bench the lack of a quality defensive middle infielder could get tricky. And speaking of tricky, here's the pitching staff:

   ROTATION                   BULLPEN
SP Carl Pavano             RH Matt Capps
SP Francisco Liriano       LH Glen Perkins
SP Liam Hendriks           LH Brian Duensing
SP Nick Blackburn          RH Anthony Swarzak
                           RH Jared Burton
   DISABLED LIST           LH Matt Maloney
SP Scott Baker             RH Alex Burnett
SP Jason Marquis           RH Jeff Gray
RP Kyle Waldrop

Injuries are keeping the Twins from beginning the season with their preferred 12-man pitching staff. Scott Baker is on the disabled list with an elbow injury, so 23-year-old Liam Hendriks will step into his rotation spot. Jason Marquis has been away from the team following his daughter's bicycling accident and the Twins will take advantage of an early off day on the schedule to skip his first turn in the rotation, which means they'll have eight relievers initially.

Kyle Waldrop would have been one of those eight relievers, but he's on the DL with an elbow injury of his own, leaving space in the bullpen for a pair of early offseason waiver claims (Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray), a non-roster invitee on a minor-league contract (Jared Burton), and a 2011 holdover with a 5.40 ERA in 98 career innings (Alex Burnett). Once everyone is healthy one or two of those guys will lose their spot, but that's a very shaky middle relief corps.

And the presumed late-inning options don't inspire a whole lot more confidence aside from Glen Perkins as the primary setup man. Matt Capps has plenty of questions to answer at closer coming off a disastrous season, Anthony Swarzak seemingly lacks the raw stuff and bat-missing ability for a high-leverage role, and Brian Duensing still needs to show that he can consistently get right-handed hitters out after flopping as a starter.

Aside from overpaying Capps it's a bullpen built on the cheap with failed starters, waiver wire pickups, former mid-level prospects, and injury comebacks. Odds are at least one solid reliever will emerge from that group because that's just how relievers work--my money would be on Burton, assuming he's healthy--but in the meantime things could get pretty ugly as Gardenhire searches for someone dependable beyond Perkins.

  • http://jszym2write@yahoo.com jfs

    aaron, nice analysis. think of what this roster might look like, had the team not been mismanaged during 2007-11.

  • Sean

    I really appreciate Gleeman’s analyses on a consistent basis. Just really hits the marke.

    The one hole in his analytic swing is that he really seems to downplay Parmelee’s recent success. He didn’t do that well in the minors and has never even played in triple-a, so he does bear some skepticism. And he only had 88 plate appearances last year.

    That said, his OPS last year was 1.035 and there have been plenty of other hitters that have fared poorly in the majors yet enjoyed a high level of hype/success. James Shields, Han-Ram, Span, and Jesus Montero, just to name a few. And Parmelee’s pedigree suggests he should have more power than what he displayed in the minors, so it wouldn’t be a shock if we saw it happen.

    All in all minor league numbers have their limits in their ability to predict major league success, Parmelee’s experience so far from last year and his spring training so far this year have been nothing short of excellent, and he has won over the best baseball mind in the Twins organization (not saying much, I know), Terry Ryan. I think it’s time to give the kid a bit of a break.

  • Eric

    I dont think you can count on Perkins either. He iad a lousy last six weeks in 2011. And his performance this Spring has not been all that great.

  • eric

    For me, the lineup is based on a lot of one thing: hope. Hope that everyone will stay healthy; that Parmelee’s minor league track record is a fluke and he’ll turn it on like Span; the relievers aren’t as bad as I think they are; the middle infielders can actually field. Not a lot of sure things, and a lot of hope and wishing – but I guess that’s baseball before the season starts for a lot of fans, right?

  • spoof bonser

    It would make sense to me if Mauer caught 2 out of every three games and playd first the other third. Doumit could catch a third and play right a third or more.

    Plouffe could take right field whenever one of those guys needs a day off and could be the primary backup ss. I know his defense was bad, but he could function as a backup, he has played ss his entire career.

  • mariettamouthpiece

    With Butera gone, I wonder who the “emergency” catcher is? Before the concussions, over the years it was mentioned on more than one occasion that Morneau was that guy.

  • pk

    Butera will be a good measuring stick for how the season goes. If he ends the season with more than 150 ML PA’s it won’t be good.
    I sort of feel like he’s the new Nicky Punto and no matter what happens Gardenhire will somehow get him back to the ML and find him playing time.

    That’s just how the world works. Tebow plays QB and Butera starts at catcher in place of Mauer.

  • CF

    I love the analysis, AG. From looking at the opening day roster, I must say I am quite underwhelmed. Call me a pessimist, but I think it will be an achievement for this roster to even win 70 games. They simply have too many wild cards who they are counting on to perform or exceed their peak past performances. All these things having been said, I hope I am proven seriously wrong.

  • CF

    By the way, I meant to say perform ‘at the level of, or exceed, their peak past performances’

  • thegeneral13

    That pitching staff is a tinderbox. It’s really a shame that the FO made such nice moves on the offensive side of the ball and then completely whiffed on the bullpen. If the lineup is based on hope, the pitching staff is based on inebriation.

  • mrgerbik03

    Will be interesting to see if Doumit becomes Pavano’s personal catcher. At one point last year 3/5 of the starting rotation preferred Butera over Mauer. Curious if Butera is that much better, or pitchers just flat out don’t like throwing to Mauer.

  • Brian

    For the most part I generally have the same feelings as you AG. I’m optimistic at the hitting potential of this team but then again I’m camparing this lineup to the patchwork AAA squad we had for much of last season. Still I believe this lineup will produce. A few things:

    1) Alexi Casilla needs to have a strong start to the year. His slow start to a season, we’ve become accustomed to, can not happen this year, we have no other viable options.
    2) Should an infielder struggle or get hurt, Brian Dozier should be the guy we call upon. He’s had a nice spring and I believe he’s our best infield option. Sorry Nishioka, you gotta earn it!
    3) If Parmelee proves a capable bat in this lineup, Twins will have the flexibility they need to deal with injuries to non middle-infield players throughout the year. As you alluded, we look much deeper this season.
    4) I’m scared to death of the Twins pitching starting and relieving. That said, as a twins fan, I’d rather have reservations about pitching than reservations about an everyday lineup.
    5) This year will be an interesting one to watch, this team will have to gel and gel fast because April’s schedule is BRUTAL – rangers, angels, red sox, rays, yankees all in the same month. If we escape this with a .500 record, that’s huge.
    6) After this years MLB Draft, Twins should be positioned to have a top 10 farm system entering next season.

    GO TWINS!

  • toby

    As an inveterate gambler, you need to find someone to take a proposition wager involving Parmelee “show[ing] that his mediocre track record is more telling than his most recent 100 at-bats” and the Twins “shift[ing] Doumit to DH”.

    Regarding Doumit in the outfield, I enjoyed this bit of commentary on Bucsdugout the other day:
    “Doumit in RF for Twinkies. Bucs should try to hit the ball in that direction.”

    Parmelee’s demotion or benchification cannot come soon enough.

  • Sean

    Good call on Parmelee Toby. A 1.043 OPS is not going to cut it on this team. Let’s let him sit in the majors for another few years. That’s the Twins way.

  • toby

    Sure, an OPS (not sure why you want to use that statistic, but whatever) like that would cut it.

    And if Chris Parmelee he has an OPS north of 1.000 in a full season of PAs in MLB at the end of the year, I’ll eat my sweaty little pants.

    I can’t believe an AG reader is seriously extrapolating an 88 PA sample that totally belies thousands of other data points (viz. his minor league track record).

    Perhaps you are not familiar with the concept of regression? What’s the standard deviation for wOBA at 88 PAs? 55, 60 points or so? Given a pool of 1000 hitters with a terrible true talent of a .300 wOBA, do you realize 25 of them will probably, in a sample size of 88 PAs, post Pujolsian numbers well north of .400?

    Given a pool of league average hitters, which Parmelee very well may be (and which will, to be sure, not cut the mustard at first base or in a corner barring SUPERB defense), the number of guys who will rake over 88 PAs increases dramatically.

    But by golly, you’ve seen him rake with your own eyes, so he must be the special exception!

    Studies show it takes 500 PAs for OPS to be reliable (i.e. for skill to likely account for 70% of the measured number [and random variance for the other 30%])? PISH POSH! Parmelee did good!

    AAA exists for a reason? Who cares! Surely there are no holes in his swing to be exploited by pitchers worlds better than the AA guys he hit, y’know, pretty well last year, especially when they have a scouting report to employ!

    I’d LOVE Parmelee to be a significant asset to the Twins over the long term. The best chance for that to happen is letting him develop in AAA. The worst chance for that to happen is for him to end up rotting on the bench for several months when he fails to live up to Prof. Gardenhire’s expectations. (Although that will be best for whatever slim chance the ballclub has to contend.) And it won’t help him either if he struggles and is (despite Gardenhire’s track record) continually ran out until he’s eventually sent down complete with novel problems that have to be dealt with before the normal course of player development can resume.

    (Please note that I am NOT denying there is a non-zero chance he “turned a corner” coincidentally with his September call-up. But I welcome your action if you want to bet all day long on longshots because you’ve personally seen them succeed over extremely SSSs.)

  • Sean

    *minors

  • Pedro Munoz

    88 plate appearances isn’t enough to decide anything, other than that Parmalee deserves more plate appearances to show whether or not he is for real. That isn’t insignificant – a lot of guys come up and stink it up early, and never get a chance to turn it around, so its much better to start hot than not to. History tells us, though, that you can’t count Parmalee sustaining his numbers over a full season.

    If nothing else, shitcanning Butera and Nishioka tells me that the Twins are serious about fixing things. There is only so much Terry Ryan can do in one offseason.

  • TMW

    It all depends on whether or not you believe Parmalee has it ‘figured out’ now. He’s always had a great eye, but we just kept waiting for the contact making abilities to develop. They appear to be here in the small sample. It’s logical to say he’s going to ‘regress to the mean’ and he likely will to an extent.

    As for me, I’m completely uncertain on him. I just don’t believe the Twins are going to be very good this year. So I don’t mind with these circumstances letting guys like Parmalee and Dozier struggle and hopefully adjust to the best level of competition when the alternatives are proven to be marginal or worse.

  • Paul G

    Parmalee is 24…if he hits .275 with 18 HR and 65 rbi over a full season I think that would meet expectations. There are other operatives in play also – Morneau can decide he wants more PT at 1B, Mauer needs more time at 1B, etc.
    If the next 2 top prospects are ready by 2013 – CP could already have a full year of ML under his belt!
    Pedro has it right – they are getting serious and heading in the right direction.

  • Crazy Tom in Rochester

    Let’s make a pact. Let’s every one of us promise to learn, by the end of April, how to spell Chris Parmelee’s name.

  • Bachmann

    If Ryan’s scholarship program was over wouldn’t Alexi Casilla be the utility man behind Brian Dozier?

  • Pedro Munoz

    Brian Dozier has never played above AA, and unlike Butera (-0.8 WAR last year) and Nishioka (-1.4), Casilla (1.4) actually has some value.

  • ewen21

    For his career Casilla had a negative WAR before last season. I’m not trying to make an argument for Dozier, but rather I feel compelled to inject some perspective here.

  • Pedro Munoz

    I thought “actually has some value” was a pretty modest description of Casilla. Its not like I claimed he was good, or that the Twins shouldn’t be looking for an upgrade. He’s just not in the same category as Butera and Nishioka, and as I expect you would concur, is a better bet than giving the job to a guy who never played above AA.