November 7, 2012

Waiver wire wrap-up: Casilla, Deduno, Roenicke, and Field

Alexi Casilla made $1.375 million this year and was in line for at least $1.5 million in 2013 via his final season of arbitration eligibility, so my assumption was that the Twins would non-tender him by the end of the month. Instead they shopped him around for a trade, predictably found no takers, and placed Casilla on waivers where he was claimed by the Orioles. And so ends one of the more unproductive, frustrating tenures in recent Twins history.

During his first stint as Twins general manager Terry Ryan gained a reputation for plucking unheralded prospects from the low minors of other farm systems in trades and watching them develop into quality big leaguers. Casilla is an oft-cited example, as Ryan acquired him from the Angels in December of 2005 for setup man J.C. Romero, who'd worn out his welcome by struggling to throw strikes and being ineffective versus right-handed hitters.

At the time Casilla was 20 years old and no one's idea of a top prospect, but was coming off a season spent mostly at Single-A hitting .325 with 47 steals in 78 games and--because some things never change--the Twins were short on middle infield talent. I wrote a positive review of the trade on December 12, 2005, crediting Ryan for getting something of value in return for Romero and his undesirable contract while saying the following about Casilla:

Casilla is a switch-hitting middle infielder who has almost zero power, controls the strike zone, gets on base, and has a ton of speed. ... If Casilla develops well, he could step in at second base and the top of the order when [Luis] Castillo's contract is up in two years. If his development stalls a bit, he could turn into a solid utility man.

Well, sort of. Sure enough Casilla ended up replacing Luis Castillo at second base in mid-2007 and during the next six seasons he was given 1,764 plate appearances to show that he could be that speedy top-of-the-order asset. There were occasional flashes of that player, most notably in 2008, but more often than not Casilla was terrible while his age and experience were frequently overlooked by people focusing on his supposed potential.

For the most part Casilla's contact skills carried over from the minors, as he struck out in just 12 percent of his plate appearances, but despite being a ground-ball hitter with excellent speed his batting average on balls in play was a measly .282. He never developed any power and the good plate discipline he showed in the minors vanished, as he drew an average of just 37 walks per 550 trips to the plate.

Casilla's speed was as advertised and he became an extremely efficient basestealer with a career success rate of 89 percent. Unfortunately for whatever reason he never fully put that elite skill to proper use, attempting a grand total of 80 steals in 515 games. Defense proved to be his biggest strength, particularly at second base, and Casilla's glove is good enough that he doesn't have to hit much to be valuable.

Sadly even "doesn't have to hit much" was too high a standard for Casilla, as he cracked a .700 OPS twice in six seasons and hit .250/.305/.344 overall. Among the 320 major leaguers with at least 1,500 plate appearances from 2006-2012 he ranked 295th in on-base percentage, 311th in slugging percentage, and 313th in OPS. And in all of Twins history only Al Newman and Danny Thompson had a lower OPS in more plate appearances than Casilla.

• Two weeks ago I identified 11 "marginal players" on the 40-man roster who could painlessly be dropped to clear space for the offseason and less than 24 hours later the Twins dropped seven of them. They've now dropped an eighth player from that list, passing Samuel Deduno through waivers unclaimed and sending him outright to Triple-A. Deduno had the ability to leave the organization as a free agent, but decided to re-sign on a minor-league deal.

I spent most of Deduno's time with the Twins trying to explain why a poor track record, terrible control, and an awful strikeout-to-walk ratio made his initial success unsustainable. People looking for a reason to believe in Deduno came up with all sorts of theories on why he was different, but in the end he threw 79 innings with a 4.44 ERA that was both worse than the league average and right in line with a 4.73 xFIP based on his terrible 57/53 K/BB ratio.

For a team in desperate need of pitching there was an argument to be made for hanging onto Deduno for a while and that's perhaps why he wasn't among the initial 40-man cuts. On the other hand if the Twins are in position to need meaningful innings from Deduno again that means their attempt to fix the rotation was a flop. They deserve credit for seeing through his smoke-and-mirrors act and for realizing the other 29 teams probably weren't fooled either.

• Along with passing Deduno through waivers unclaimed the Twins also filled two of those 40-man roster spots by claiming Josh Roenicke and Tommy Field off waivers from the Rockies. At first glance Roenicke looks like an excellent pickup. He's a hard-throwing right-handed reliever with a 3.25 ERA in 89 innings this year, which is made more impressive by the fact that he called hitter-friendly Coors Field home.

However, scratch beneath the surface and you'll discover that, not unlike Deduno, his secondary numbers were anything but impressive thanks to a horrible 54-to-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio and nine homers allowed. None of which is to say that Roenicke can't be a useful player. His fastball averaged 93 miles per hour, which by itself would stand out on the Twins' pitching staff, and Roenicke's slider/cutter has been a plus pitch throughout his career.

Combining good fastball velocity and a quality second pitch is often enough to succeed in a role that requires 20 pitches per appearance and 60-80 innings per season. Of course, that truism about relievers doesn't just apply to Roenicke and at age 30 there isn't a lot in his track record to suggest he's particularly promising. His hard throwing has produced 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings, including 5.5 per nine innings this year, which is below average for a reliever.

Roenicke also has abysmal control, throwing just 45 percent of his pitches in the strike zone on the way to 4.6 walks per nine innings. And as his mediocre strikeout rate would suggest it's not as if his wildness has caused batters to chase pitches. In fact, Roenicke has induced a below-average number of swings on pitches outside the strike zone and an average number of swinging strikes, period. He throws hard, but is very wild and not especially tough to hit.

• Field was a 24th-round draft pick out of Texas State University in 2008, has had a couple brief stints with the Rockies, and spent this year as their starting shortstop at Triple-A. He hit just .246/.315/.400 with eight homers in 121 games, which is bad for any 25-year-old at Triple-A and really bad for someone in hitter-friendly Colorado Springs, which as a team hit .291 with a .784 OPS and had a 5.07 ERA.

Field did show some offensive potential in the lower minors, but his numbers were never anything special and he was old for each level. He'll be 26 years old before spring training and has hit a combined .256/.337/.413 in 278 games above Single-A. Reviews of his defense are positive and he has experience at both shortstop and second base, so Field profiles as a utility man and gives the Twins some middle infield depth right after parting ways with Casilla.

June 13, 2011

Twins Notes: Hotness, to and from contact, dizziness, and tough decisions

• They still have the worst record in the league at 26-39, still are on pace to go 65-97, and still would need to go 59-38 from here on out to finish with even 85 wins, but by going 9-3 to start June the Twins have at the very least put off a potential fire sale for a while and made their games fun to watch again. Baby steps, sure, but 26-39 looks a whole lot prettier than 17-37 and as usual the thoroughly mediocre AL Central makes much bigger steps seem possible.

Francisco Liriano had a panic-inducing April, posting a 9.13 ERA with as many walks (18) as strikeouts (18) as the Twins tried to convince him to "pitch to contact" with terrible results. His first May start was a no-hitter versus the White Sox and Liriano flirted with a second no-hitter yesterday against the Rangers, giving him a 1.89 ERA in six starts since May 1. And as Liriano explained after racking up nine strikeouts, his success has come from not following advice:

I've always been the power pitcher, trying to strike out people. I feel more comfortable pitching like that. I'm trying to be me, [the way] I used to pitch last year and the year before. I'm not thinking about contact at all.

Good. It never made much sense that the Twins would try to force Liriano into the same strike-throwing, contact-inducing mold they use for pitchers with inferior raw stuff and less ability to overpower hitters, so thankfully he stayed with the approach that led to so much success last season.  Liriano has allowed two runs or fewer in five of six starts, with the lone outlier coming after throwing 123 pitches in the no-hitter, so hopefully they'll stop trying to fix him for a while.

Carl Pavano has also put together a strong six-start stretch since beginning the season 2-4 with a 6.64 ERA, logging 43 innings with a 2.49 ERA and just two homers allowed. However, his lack of missed bats continues to be worrisome from a 35-year-old pitcher set to earn $8.5 million in 2012. Pavano has just 16 strikeouts in those 43 innings, which is a minuscule rate of 3.3 per nine innings and even lower than his 3.6 per nine innings through seven bad starts.

Pavano can still be effective by limiting walks and homers, but it'll be tough for the Twins to get their money's worth over the next season-and-a-half if he can't get back to at least 5-6 whiffs per nine innings like 2009 and 2010. Not only are his 3.5 strikeouts per nine innings this year the lowest rate in baseball, no other pitcher is below 4.0 and the last pitcher to qualify for the ERA title with a lower strikeout rate was Livan Hernandez at 3.4 in 2008 ... for the Twins.

Denard Span's collision with Royals catcher Brayan Pena didn't look like much at the time. In fact, I was watching on television alongside a handful of other Twins bloggers and a few beat reporters, and no one seemed to think much of it beyond Span not turning Pena into Buster Posey with a bigger collision. Span stayed in the game and even played a few days later, but then complained of dizziness and was put on the new seven-day disabled list for concussions.

Span told reporters that he's "definitely scared" about the situation and it's easy to see why. One reason is that Justin Morneau missed the final three-plus months of last season and was sidelined for a total of nine months following a concussion last July and still hasn't gotten back on track 11 months later. Beyond that, Span described what he's currently going through as "a familiar feeling" to when he missed time with vertigo in 2009:

I feel a little like somebody's kind of pushing me from the back a little bit. I'm not going to fall over, but it's the same exact feeling. I want to get this checked out. I'm frustrated, all those things. There's something wrong. I don't know what it is, so I want to get it taken care of.

Span, who'd bounced back from a disappointing 2010 to be the Twins' best all-around player through 60 games, also revealed that he still experiences symptoms related to the vertigo two years later, saying: "It's calmed down a lot and it's manageable, but it's been something I've dealt with since then." That's news to me and is a glimpse into the type of health information players and teams tend to keep to themselves whenever possible.

Alexi Casilla continues to play very well since escaping from the doghouse thanks to Trevor Plouffe's mistake-filled attempt to replace him and is now batting .337/.401/.421 in 27 games since mid-May. His defense is also improved and Casilla is finally using his elite speed. Despite great stolen base percentages Casilla attempted just 21.5 steals per 600 plate appearances prior to this year. This season Casilla has already tried 12 steals in 198 plate appearances.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka is finally on the verge of returning 10 weeks after an injury expected to last 4-6 weeks and once that happens Casilla seems destined for second base despite starting 10 straight games at shortstop. Nishioka looked shaky at second base before fracturing his fibula thanks in part to incorrect double play positioning, so the Twins presumably wouldn't have him playing shortstop while rehabbing if they planned to bring him back as a second baseman.

Ron Gardenhire has dropped some strong hints recently about being unhappy with Danny Valencia and Nishioka returning provides an opportunity for the Twins to keep Matt Tolbert as the utility man and Luke Hughes as the starting third baseman while demoting Valencia back to Triple-A. Hughes has hit well in a part-time role of late, but hasn't been impressive overall with a .270/.311/.360 mark and 23-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 33 games.

What's funny about Valencia's situation is that his power and plate discipline have been fine, but whereas an unsustainably high .345 batting average on balls in play fueled his better than expected rookie season an unsustainably low .239 batting average on balls in play has him fighting for his job now. Ultimately the "real" Valencia is somewhere in between and his career line of .270/.321/.397 is close to both his minor-league track record and Hughes' likely upside.

• Barring a setback it looks like Joe Mauer will come off the disabled list Thursday, returning to the lineup after missing 57 games with complications following offseason knee surgery. In his absence the Twins have gotten the worst production in baseball from their catchers, as Drew Butera and Rene Rivera (and Steve Holm, briefly) have combined to hit .178 with a .497 OPS. To put that in some context, Al Newman has the lowest OPS in Twins history at .581.

They've both done a good job defensively, particularly when it comes to controlling the running game, but Butera has hit .174/.207/.261 in 40 games and Rivera has hit .196/.262/.304 in 20 games. So naturally in discussing Mauer's impending return yesterday Gardenhire talked about what a "tough decision" it will be choosing which replacement-level catcher gets to avoid a trip back to Triple-A and stick around as the backup:

Oh, absolutely. You want tough decisions though. I don't like it when it's carved out, "this is going to happen." You want tough decisions. That means both of them are doing OK, and when Joe comes back, sure, we're going to have to make a tough decision. And both of them have done their parts and they continue to. But it's not going to be easy no matter which way we go.

"Both of them are doing OK" and "both of them have done their parts" is an interesting way to describe two players who've literally combined for the worst production in baseball. How much worse than a .497 OPS could they get before it no longer qualified as "doing OK"? In reality it's only a "tough decision" because neither Butera nor Rivera have played well enough to warrant sticking around, in which case "stub your toe or get a paper cut?" is also a "tough decision."

• Speaking of Rivera, last night he tweeted this charming picture of Ben Revere at Morneau's annual casino night charity fundraiser:

Is that a better or worse look for Revere than this little number from his rookie hazing?

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota computer repair shop TCPC Services, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your computer problems.

March 8, 2011

Justin Morneau returns to the lineup for the first time in eight months

(Kelly Thesier of MLB.com snapped a picture before his first at-bat.)

Justin Morneau played in a "B" game against the Pirates today, returning to any lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion eight months ago. While it's still premature to say that he's completely out of the woods, this marks the biggest step in his recovery since the collision at second base with John McDonald on July 7 and dramatically increases Morneau's odds of being in the Opening Day lineup three weeks from now. Great news.

Not to be overshadowed by the big Morneau news, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has decided to fight back against the millions and millions of people who confuse him for Al Newman on an hourly basis. You decide: Twins beat reporter or 80s/90s utility infielder?

August 27, 2010

Link-O-Rama

• The good side and bad side of working from home, accurately presented in cartoon form.

• All that money bloggers save by living in their parents' basements is now coming in handy.

• I'm proud to say that Time magazine named Rotoworld one of the 50 best websites of 2010.

Macaulay Culkin turned 30 years old yesterday. I'd normally make some sort of joke, except he's been dating Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Mila Kunis for nearly a decade.

Hawk Harrelson thinks umpire Joe West is conspiring against the White Sox, which sure is fortunate for the Twins.

• If you're not clear exactly what a "shit-eating grin" looks like, see the face Roy Oswalt made while playing left field in the 15th inning Tuesday night.

• Let's just say Jay Mariotti doesn't take the "practice what your preach" approach to life.

• My head exploded while trying to think of the best possible ball-related joke for this story.

Matt Capps feeding Adam Dunn with his hands on Top Chef was pretty hilarious, but Wilson Ramos will probably be better on a future show.

• AMC's upcoming new series The Walking Dead looks amazing.

• Speaking of amazing AMC shows, Christina Hendricks is still spectacular looking without the 1960s wardrobe.

• The greatest broadcaster in baseball history is coming back next year, and Ryan Longwell, Steve Hutchinson, and Jared Allen didn't even have to talk him into it.

• It took some digging, but I've uncovered a worse "specialist" than Randy Flores.

• Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett is also the announcer on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Jimmy Kimmel recently joined the band by playing bass clarinet at a recent show:

At least he picked the one ska band that all wear suits and ties.

• Like father, like son (except for the whole being great at basketball thing).

• Not surprisingly, mainstream media members still treat one of their own a lot different than a blogger in a similar situation.

• The results of this study on baseball teams and access match what's going on locally.

Tom Tango launched his annual "scouting report by the fans for the fans," which is your shot to play a scout by entering in personal observations about the players you watch on a regular basis to become part of the huge collection of scouting reports compiled entirely by fans. Take a look at the instructions and details, and then go to the Twins page to mark down what you think of, say, Delmon Young's "instincts" in the outfield.

• Just in case you thought the stereotype about Polish people was in danger of dying off.

• Last week's Link-O-Rama featured a funny music video by the band Don't Stop or We'll Die. Their drummer, Harris Wittels, left a nice note in the comments section:

Thanks for linking my band's video, Aaron! I know nothing about baseball, but my boss Ken Tremendous seems to like ya!

Ken Tremendous is the pen name Michael Schur went by when he blogged about baseball at Fire Joe Morgan. He's also the co-creator of Parks and Recreation on NBC and Wittels writes for the show. I'm not sure if that qualifies more as "brush with greatness" or "worlds colliding" but either way I enjoyed it.

Jason Whitlock's exit from the Kansas City Star turned into an epic radio appearance that I'm sure makes him an even more polarizing figure than before.

Bert Blyleven is one of just three pitchers to reach 1,000 career strikeouts at a younger age than Felix Hernandez did earlier this week.

• Because my greatest skill in life is growing facial hair, I typically try to hit every data point on the spectrum in a given week.

Al Newman is the new head baseball coach at Apple Valley high school.

• Here are some highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

- White Sox reportedly planning waiver claim on Manny Ramirez
- Albert Pujols and Joey Votto must go through Omar Infante to win Triple Crown
- Behold: The most Jon Heyman tweet in the history of Jon Heyman tweets
- Bobby Jenks comes up big for worn out White Sox bullpen
- Dan Uggla reportedly seeking five-year extension worth at least $55 million
- With contract up season, would Joe Girardi want to replace Lou Piniella in Chicago?
- Billy Butler is closing in on the all-time record for double plays
- Johnny Damon turns down Red Sox, saying: "I'm not going"
- Dusty Baker taking his time deciding on Reds extension offer

• Finally, if you like soul music and don't care about curse words your mind should be blown by this week's AG.com-approved music video, which is Cee-Lo Green singing "F*** You":