July 18, 2012

Twins Notes: Liriano, Santana, Mauer, Blackburn, Capps, and Pavano

• How dominant was Francisco Liriano against the A's on Friday night? Not only were his 15 strikeouts the second-most in Twins history behind Johan Santana with 17 on August 19, 2007, his 30 swings and misses induced were the most by any MLB pitcher since ... Santana had 32 on August 19, 2007. I went back through the AG.com archives to find what I wrote about his incredible performance that day and shockingly it included a Jessica Alba comparison.

Liriano's first start following his brief demotion to the bullpen also came against Oakland and he overpowered the A's then too, giving him a ridiculous 24-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 innings against them since May 30. And it was good timing, as at least a half-dozen teams reportedly sent scouts to evaluate Liriano for a potential trade. Since rejoining the rotation he's thrown 57 innings with a 2.83 ERA, .170 opponents' batting average, and 67 strikeouts.

• Some fun facts from that Santana start on August 19, 2007: He struck out 17 in eight innings and then closer Joe Nathan struck out two more in the ninth inning, as they combined for 19 strikeouts, zero walks, and two hits allowed in a 1-0 shutout of the Rangers. Michael Cuddyer homered for the game's only run, C.J. Wilson pitched in relief for Texas, and the Rangers had a 38-year-old Sammy Sosa batting cleanup. And here was the Twins' lineup:

1. Alexi Casilla, 2B
2. Joe Mauer, DH
3. Torii Hunter, CF
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Mike Redmond, C
7. Rondell White, LF
8. Tommy Watkins, 3B
9. Nick Punto, SS

Oh, and Jason Tyner came in defensively for Rondell White late in the game. One not-so-fun fact about the game: Santana made just seven more starts in a Twins uniform.

• Friday's deadline to sign draft picks came and went without much drama for the Twins, who'd already agreed to deals with their first 11 picks weeks ago. Or so everyone thought. It turns out sixth-round pick Andre Martinez, a high school pitcher from Florida who originally agreed to an over-slot $260,000 bonus, ended up reworking his deal after a pre-signing physical exam revealed shoulder issues. He signed Friday for $80,000 compared to the $200,000 slot.

Another last-minute signing was 20th-round pick Zach Larson, a high school outfielder from Florida who agreed to a $190,000 deal that's nearly twice the slot value for picks after the 10th round. By saving money elsewhere compared to the slot values for various picks the Twins had plenty of extra money to throw Larson's way and in fact overall they spent about $300,000 less than their MLB-high $12.3 million allotment.

Ninth-rounder L.J. Mazzilli is the earliest Twins pick not to sign, as the Connecticut second baseman and son of longtime big leaguer Lee Mazzilli presumably turned down close to the $130,000 slot amount for the No. 280 overall pick. Mazzilli hit .339/.404/.548 with 16 steals in 58 games as a junior, but also committed 20 errors and was no sure thing to stick at second base defensively as a pro. In all the Twins signed 27 of 43 picks, including 14 of their first 15.

Mark Appel, the Stanford pitcher represented by Scott Boras who fell to No. 8 after being an oft-projected No. 1 pick and possible Twins choice at No. 2, ended up as the only first-rounder not to sign. He turned down $3.8 million, which is $900,000 more than slot and the most the Pirates could offer without forfeiting next year's pick. Appel can return to college for his senior year and be drafted again, while the Pirates get the No. 9 pick in 2013 as compensation.

• After going 3-for-4 with a walk (and a great diving catch) last night Joe Mauer is now hitting .333/.420/.462, which is nearly identical to his .324/.404/.470 career line despite offense being down across baseball. He leads the league in on-base percentage and ranks second in batting average, has hit .385 in his last 45 games, and is projected to be worth $26 million this year according to Fan Graphs. He's being paid $23 million.

Nick Blackburn is already back with the Twins after allowing one earned run in two starts at Triple-A following his demotion, but the bad news is that he managed just five strikeouts in 15 innings. He succeeded there by keeping the ball in the ballpark, but his ground-ball rate wasn't exceptional and as usual there's little reason to think pitching to that extreme level of contact is going to get the job done against big-league hitters.

Matt Capps' return from the disabled list lasted all of five days, as he showed decreased velocity and was shut down again with more shoulder problems. That ruins whatever chance the Twins had of trading Capps before July 31, which is a shame because reportedly at least one team was actually showing interest. Suffice it to say that the Twins' decision to forfeit a draft pick in order to re-sign Capps for $5 million has gone about as well as expected.

Carl Pavano isn't close to returning from his own shoulder injury, so the even slimmer odds the Twins had of trading him before the July 31 deadline is officially gone. It's possible that he could return in time to make a few starts before the August 31 waiver trade deadline, but even that's no sure thing and obviously counting on Pavano to be effective enough to draw interest at that point would be wildly optimistic.

David Laurila of Fan Graphs interviewed Terry Ryan and the lengthy transcript is definitely worth reading, but here's one particularly interesting excerpt about the team's oft-questioned involvement with statistical analysis:

We never messed with that too much back in the '70s, but we did in the '80s and the '90s and the 2000s. We've been looking at that forever. ... People don't want to hear that out of the Minnesota Twins. But we've been looking at that forever. Way before some. We're not as deep as some, but we do believe in certainly doing our work, and that stat page is one big piece to the puzzle of putting players together.

Our scouts, and our people, will tell you if I'm looking at a player, and I go down and look at his line, and it doesn't add up, I've got to give him a call quick. I tell him, "This doesn't make any sense." His role, his skills and his statistical history, and you're going to tell me this? How do you get there? I believe in that.

All forms of information are good. I've drilled that into our people. Bring it on. All forms, let me sort it out. ... I read all that stuff, and sometimes it's so much information that I do get paralyzed reading it and taking it all in. You can spend as much time as you want on everything that is available. It's almost mind-boggling how much stuff is out there.

Ryan and other Twins decision-makers have adopted "we're into that even if you don't know it" as their response to those questions. And that's fine, although it's worth noting that, for instance, assistant general manager Rob Antony lacked familiarity with basic aspects of statistical analysis as recently as two years ago and even in the above excerpt Ryan talking about looking at stats isn't really what anyone would consider a new-school approach.

When people wonder if the Twins are involved with statistical analysis the questions aren't about literally looking at a player's stats--that much is assumed, no matter a team's public stance--but rather taking full advantage of new technology and the increasingly in-depth data available. They've recently hired some stat-heads and clearly want to keep things secretive, but what little Ryan and others do say about the issue leaves plenty of room for skepticism.

• Midseason prospect rankings are out and Baseball America moved Miguel Sano from No. 18 to No. 22, whereas ESPN.com moved Sano from No. 28 to No. 26. In other words Sano remains a top-30 talent as an all-around prospect and among hitters who don't play up-the-middle positions only Wil Myers of the Royals, Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals, and Nick Castellanos of the Tigers rank ahead of Sano on both lists.

• As part of their minor-league roster shuffling the Twins released Jairo Perez, who ranked 34th on my preseason list of the team's prospects. He hit .337/.413/.580 at low Single-A last year and .265/.350/.403 at high Single-A this year, which makes cutting Perez in July an odd move. On the other hand at age 24 he was very old for Single-A and didn't really have a clear defensive home. And now he's playing in an independent league.

Matt Maloney parlayed a good spring training into an Opening Day bullpen spot after the Twins claimed him off waivers from the Reds in October, but the soft-tossing left-hander coughed up 10 runs in 11 innings and not surprisingly passed through waivers unclaimed in May. He was even worse at Triple-A, allowing 33 runs in 24 innings, and now he'll be out until mid-2013 following Tommy John elbow surgery.

• Twins castoff Luke Hughes was released by the A's after hitting .223/.316/.338 in 42 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

  • Ron

    Are you going to review the Ballplayer Peletero movie?

  • Jeff O

    According to a certain well-known, super nice Twins blogger, the Perez release was not performance related. That’s all he would say, but claimed whatever it was definitely warranted a release.

  • spoofbonser

    Too bad about Luke Hughes, he could always sure tear the cover off the ball in the spring. He was miscast as a 2nd baseman, should have been a catcher.

  • http://www.mog.com/funoka funoka

    That was one LONG game last night. I went to see Wilco at Wolftrap in VA and got home in time to see the last three innings of Baltimore broadcast. Priceless.

    The Baltimore announcers (Gary Thorne and Mike Bordick) were extremely down on the O’s last night — saying that unless the O’s trade for some starting pitching, they are done in the second half. It was surprising how critical they are of a team that is in the thick of the wild card race, but the O’s sure do need something. That first series in Baltimore when the Twins got swept seems a long time ago.

  • Dave

    Joe Mauer is worth $26 million as a catcher. Unfortunately, he only catches half the games.
    So that figure is terribly misleading – and exactly the reason why Twins fans have jumped off your Mauer bandwagon.

  • http://aarongleeman.com aarongleeman

    Joe Mauer is worth $26 million as a catcher. Unfortunately, he only catches half the games. So that figure is terribly misleading – and exactly the reason why Twins fans have jumped off your Mauer bandwagon.

    Fan Graphs accounts for the positions he’s played this season. He actually has a negative positional adjustment number because of his time at 1B/DH, so it’s doing exactly what you say it should … and he’s still worth $26 million.

    (Note: I’d normally say more, but after thinking about the issue last week this is my new attempt to be kinder and gentler responding to comments.)

  • Dave

    Wow. So the obvious followup: How much would Mauer be worth if he played catcher 90% of the time?

  • ML

    Less, because he’d be less healthy and getting fewer plate appearances.

  • Jeff O

    Less, because he’d be less healthy and getting fewer plate appearances.

    Exactly.

  • D-Luxxx

    It seems like the same fans that were saying that Mauer should switch to 3rd base are now saying that he should be playing more catcher. You can please some of the people all of time, and all of the poeple some of them time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time… Especially if they are Twins fans.

  • NTR

    Mauer has a positional adjustment of -.7 RAR. Ruiz in Phily has played 80 of his 83 games at catcher and has a 5.5 RAR for positional adjustment. If you add 6.2 RAR to Mauer’s total that equates to about .65 more WAR which is worth about $2.92 million through 90 games or on pace for another $5 million or so. So assuming Mauer had played a majority of his games at catcher this year and had the exact same batting numbers and games played he’d be on pace for a season worth $31 million.

    The moral of the story is that position matters, but if you’re gong to have an OPS north of .880 you’re going to be worth some good cash assuming you’re not a complete train wreck defensively

  • Dave

    So there you have it – we’re not getting full value :-)
    By the way, here is the gospel according to Gleeman, circa 08/22/11:

    “A huge portion of Mauer’s value comes from manning a key defensive position at which only a few players can even compete with his hitting, so moving him to an offense-driven position like first base or designated hitter would dramatically decrease the strength of his bat relative to the competition and wipe away nearly all defensive contribution.”

  • James M.

    Mauer’s stats by position:

    C .386/.464/.557 1.021 (181 PA)
    1B .222/.344/.278 .622 (64 PA)
    DH .315/.393/.413 .806 (107 PA)

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in the 1B numbers due to small sample size. But combining them with the DH stats shows that he is a better hitter when he is behind the plate. How valuable would he be if he was a full-time catcher?

  • D-Luxxx

    Mauer’s OPS in 2009 was right around that 1.021 mark (1.031) and Fangraphs had him worth $37.5MM, so somewhere around there? That’s about as close as I can come, but you gotta figure that if he only caught, he would play significantly fewer games, and thus that would affect his value.

  • Sinking Liner

    Joe Mauer is really good and he makes a lot of money. He might be making a couple million too much, or he might be making a couple million less than he should. I can’t figure out why this is still such a hot button issue.

  • doofus

    I am content if Mauer hits over .300 with over 500 AB plus lots of walks and around 50 XBH and catches with good defense 80-100 games. I think he is somewhat overpaid but that is ok. I am more concerned that the team could claim the contract keeps them from signing other players by saying attendance is down so payroll is going down to the 90 or 85 or even 80 million while Mauer gets 23 million of that. With the new stadium payroll needs to be over 100 million.

  • http://fieldoftwins.blogspot.com Shane

    haha, oh my GOD, Gleeman. See Twins Daily for some truly barbaric anti-Fan Graphs garbage about Mauer’s monetary value.

  • Heathcliff

    What is Mike Trout ‘worth’? I’m not sure I buy the ‘positional scarcity’ inflator, but am willing to listen. Regardless of what position one plays, I can’t say I care about that when a hitter comes to the plate.

    Mauer is having a terrific season, but with only 6 HR and an empty .455 SLG, there are several others having better campaigns offensively.

    (Please know I’m not trying to be difficult – I am willing to listen and learn. I also do not believe that Mauer should be traded/released/benched/whatever.)

  • Scott

    I’m not sure if you were aware, but even if someone is having a great season, if another player is having a better season it doesn’t count anymore. It’s why Bert Blyleven will never be in the Hall of Fame.

  • Brian

    I remember at the time that Hughes was released thinking that I wouldn’t be surprised if either Hughes or Plouffe got dropped. So props to the FO for making the right call.

  • Brian

    So tired of the “Mauer contract has the Twins hands tied” discussion. If he’s not a $23M a year player, he’s at least a $16M a year player. Do we really think if the Twins had an extra $7M to spend, they’d be in the playoff picture? They struck gold with Willingham at $7M a year, and even he adds no more than 5-6 wins over what they’d be using if they didn’t have him.