May 21, 2013

Twins Notes: Thielbar, Gibson, Colabello, Hernandez, Diamond, and Radke

caleb thielbar twins debut

Pedro Hernandez posted a 6.67 ERA with just 10 strikeouts in six starts since replacing Liam Hendriks in the rotation, predictably struggling versus lineups stacked with right-handed hitters. Hernandez, not unlike Brian Duensing, simply isn't capable of handling righties well enough to be a consistent starter. He struggled against righties in the minors and they've clobbered him in the majors, hitting .389 with a .704 slugging percentage and more walks than strikeouts.

Hernandez may still have a big-league future as a reliever, but in the meantime he's headed back to Triple-A and the Twins called up an actual left-handed reliever, Caleb Thielbar, to replace him. That leaves the identity of Friday's starter against Detroit unknown for now, leading to speculation that it might be Kyle Gibson's debut. Gibson threw a complete-game shutout Sunday at Triple-A, his second in his last three starts, and Friday would be his normal turn for Rochester.

Gibson turned in a clunker between the shutouts and his overall Triple-A numbers are good rather than great with a 3.25 ERA and 46-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53 innings. If he doesn't get the nod Friday the other options are Rochester rotation-mates and short-term fixes P.J. Walters and Samuel Deduno, so presumably the choice comes down to whether the Twins believe Gibson is ready to stick in the majors yet.

UPDATE: Deduno will get the start Friday.

• As for Thielbar, he's a helluva story. Originally drafted by the Brewers out of South Dakota State in 2009, the Minnesota native got released before advancing past Single-A and latched on with the independent league St. Paul Saints. Thielbar had a 2.54 ERA and 62-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50 innings for the Saints in 2011, which impressed the Twins enough to sign him. He started out at Single-A and has been at Triple-A since the middle of last season.

Thielbar had a 3.64 ERA and 66/24 K/BB ratio in 67 total innings at Triple-A, which isn't great for a 26-year-old reliever, but he's been unhittable for the past month and the Twins decided to give him a shot. He throws in the low-90s and has enough raw stuff to survive as a middle reliever, but based on Thielbar's track record too many walks and fly balls could get him in trouble. Assuming the Twins demote a reliever to make room for Friday's starter his stay this time may be brief.

Chris Parmelee has regularly been benched in favor of Ryan Doumit since Oswaldo Arcia's arrival created a first base/corner outfield/designated hitter logjam, frequently sitting even against right-handed pitching. Parmelee's main problem is that he hasn't hit since a big September call-up in 2011, batting .219/.285/.352 with an 86-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 100 games, but he's also hurt by everyone competing for playing time being a left-handed hitter or switch-hitter.

And that hurts the Twins too, because Parmelee and Doumit aren't starting-caliber hitters against left-handed pitching and Arcia could certainly use the occasional day off versus tough southpaws. But because the Twins lack a decent right-handed hitter to sub for them what happens is that one of the lefty bats sits versus right-handers when they should start and two of the lefty/switch bats start versus left-handers when they should sit. All of which brings me to Chris Colabello.

Colabello is a 29-year-old non-prospect signed out of an independent league and wasn't all that impressive at Double-A in 2012, hitting .284/.358/.470. He moved up to Triple-A this season and has hit .361/.419/.657 with 12 homers in 45 games. Being stretched defensively anywhere but first base hurts Colabello's cause, but he's a right-handed hitter and would seemingly be more useful to the Twins than Parmelee given their current roster construction.

UPDATE: That was quick. Colabello has been called up to replace Trevor Plouffe, who was put on the seven-day disabled list with post-concussion symptoms.

• At the most basic level a team's best relievers should throw the most relief innings, but because of how most managers' bullpen usage revolves around the save statistic that often isn't the case. Instead, when a setup man becomes a closer his workload almost always decreases and closers frequently throw fewer innings than middle relievers because they're constantly being held back for "save situations" that may never actually arrive.

Glen Perkins is proving to be a prime example, as Ron Gardenhire goes out of his way to avoid using Perkins in non-save situations and has essentially stopped using him to get more than three outs. Perkins has been fantastic for the third consecutive season, posting a 3.07 ERA and 23-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14.2 innings, but take a look at how his workload compares to the rest of the Twins' bullpen:

APPEARANCES                   INNINGS
Casey Fien          21        Anthony Swarzak     26.0
Jared Burton        20        Josh Roenicke       23.1
Brian Duensing      19        Ryan Pressly        21.2
Josh Roenicke       16        Jared Burton        19.0
Glen Perkins        15        Casey Fien          18.1
Ryan Pressly        13        Brian Duensing      17.1
Anthony Swarzak     12        Glen Perkins        14.2

Perkins missed a couple days with a sore left side, so if not for the injury he might have one more appearance, but the point remains. In terms of appearances Perkins' workload is closer to the long man (Anthony Swarzak) and Rule 5 pick (Ryan Pressly) than to the most-used relievers in the bullpen. And in terms of innings Perkins is the least-used reliever in the entire bullpen. How does that make sense? If you're not obsessed with the save statistic, it doesn't.

Scott Diamond has struck out exactly one of the last 54 batters he's faced, during which time he's served up four homers and allowed 12 runs on 23 baserunners. His career strikeout rate of 4.47 per nine innings is now the lowest among all active left-handed pitchers with at least 250 innings. This is Diamond's third season in the majors and take a look at how his career numbers compare to another recent Twins pitcher through three seasons:

               ERA     SO/9     BB/9     OAVG
Diamond       4.01      4.5      2.0     .287
Pitcher X     4.14      4.4      1.8     .293

Pitcher X is Nick Blackburn, about whom the same type of things were once said to explain his initial success despite terrible strikeout rates. Now, in fairness the above comparison is way too simplistic--Diamond gets more ground balls than Blackburn, to name one key difference--but you get the idea. Diamond is walking a very thin line right now as he tries to duplicate his unexpected 2012 success and avoid going further down the Blackburn path.

• After two injury wrecked seasons the Twins have been remarkably healthy so far, but their lone significant injury has provided a glimpse into the same question marks that filled 2011 and 2012. Darin Mastroianni injured his ankle late in spring training, but instead of simply placing him on the disabled list to begin the season the Twins kept him on the active roster. He was too limited to actually do much, but they used him as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.

Then, after appearing in eight games without logging a single plate appearance, the Twins deemed Mastroianni healthy enough to start two games in center field. Shortly after that he was placed on the DL and diagnosed with a stress reaction in his ankle. Initially the Twins said he'd be out three weeks, but that came and went with Mastroianni still in a walking boot and now he's expected to miss the rest of the first half following surgery. I'm no doctor, but that's an awfully familiar story.

Rafael Perez, who signed a minor-league deal with the Twins in February, was released from Triple-A after failing to impress coming back from shoulder surgery. At the time of the signing the Twins indicated that Perez was close to being full strength and they planned to stretch him out as a starter, but within weeks he'd been shut down. Perez pushed back his May 1 opt-out clause to give the Twins more time to evaluate him, but after four appearances they'd seen enough.

Rich Harden, like Perez, signed a minor-league deal with the Twins coming back from shoulder surgery and, like Perez, it hasn't gone well. Harden hasn't been released yet because his opt-out clause isn't until July 31, but he's yet to appear in a game and assistant general manager Rob Antony revealed that his progress is going "slow" and "not very well to be honest." Harden has been hurt for basically his entire career, so he was always a long shot.

• There are eight American League starting pitchers with an opponents' batting average of .310 or higher and four of them (Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Diamond, Hernandez) are Twins. Kevin Correia avoids that list, but his .292 mark isn't exactly pretty and in his last four starts he has a total of seven strikeouts and five homers allowed.

• Twins pitchers have allowed an MLB-high 47 runs in the first inning through 41 games. They've allowed 25 or fewer runs in every other inning. And since that will make everyone curious: Brad Radke had a 5.05 ERA in the first inning and a 4.07 ERA in all other innings.

• For a whole lot more about Gibson and Colabello, plus a bunch of other Twins topics, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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May 15, 2013

Twins Notes: Hicks, Arcia, Parmelee, Dozier, Mauer, and mock drafts

aaron hicks gatorade

Aaron Hicks got off to such a dreadful start that his overall numbers are going to look ugly for a long time--and maybe even the entire season--but there's no doubt he's putting together better plate appearances and getting better results. That all culminated with Monday's two-homer game and Hicks is now hitting .215/.333/.431 with three homers and a 15-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last 22 games. Before that he was 2-for-43 (.047) with 20 strikeouts and three walks.

Since mid-April or so Hicks has been exactly the type of hitter that his minor-league track record suggested he would be, offsetting a low batting average with lots of walks and some power. Much has been made of Oswaldo Arcia's impressive start, and rightfully so, but since being recalled from Triple-A on April 20 he has an .839 OPS and Hicks has a .764 OPS. There are two rookies playing well offensively in the Twins' outfield right now.

Defensively has been another issue, however. Hicks was billed as a very good center fielder and has shown flashes of that, including robbing Adam Dunn of a homer along with hitting two of his own Monday, but overall he's been shaky with lots of bad reads and delayed reactions. Arcia was billed as a very good right fielder and actually played center field 77 times in the minors, which is almost impossible to believe while watching him stumble around struggling to make routine plays.

• Arcia's arrival initially cut into Ryan Doumit's playing time, but now that Doumit has broken out of his early slump Chris Parmelee is the one finding himself on the bench most often. Doumit or Parmelee is an interesting dilemma. Doumit is a switch-hitter, but since he's typically unproductive from the right side they might as well both be left-handed hitters. Doumit has a far superior track record and is signed through next season, but he's also 32 years old and Parmelee is 25.

In theory a team focused on 2013 should play Doumit and a team focused on the future should play Parmelee, but Doumit being signed for 2014 changes that a bit and the jury is very much still out on whether Parmelee is part of the future anyway. Parmelee had a great September debut in 2011 and crushed Triple-A pitching for two months last season, but he's hit .223/.292/.364 with eight homers and an 81-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 96 games for the Twins since 2012.

• In terms of age and lackluster performance Brian Dozier is similar to Parmelee, but the major difference is that the Twins don't have Arcia-caliber alternatives in the infield. I've been impressed by Dozier's defense at second base, but today is his 26th birthday and he's hit .230/.267/.324 with an 85-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 career games. He also hit just .232/.286/.337 in 48 games at Triple-A, so it's been a while since Dozier showed any sort of promise.

At the very least Dozier and his .267 career on-base percentage have no business in the leadoff spot, where the Twins have gotten a grotesque .189/.229/.233 line. That helps explain how Joe Mauer has just 13 RBIs despite batting .340 with 17 extra-base hits in 35 games. Jamey Carroll replacing Dozier at second base would likely improve the leadoff spot, but it's sort of a Parmelee-or-Doumit situation because Carroll is 39.

• Mauer has hit .319 with men on base, including .381 with runners in scoring position, but he's had a grand total of just 76 runners on base in his 157 plate appearances. By comparison Justin Morneau has had 126 runners on base in 149 plate appearances because he's got Mauer (.426 OBP) and Josh Willingham (.377 OBP) back-to-back in front of him. And batting Mauer second isn't really the issue, because in the third spot he'd just have two awful OBPs in front of him.

Mauer hit .366 in his first 17 games, then went into a career-worst 0-for-21 slump, and has now hit .431 with 10 doubles and 11 walks in 13 games since snapping his hitless streak. That works out to a .532 OBP and .628 slugging percentage. On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked about how odd it is for Mauer to be striking out so much, but his overall production is solidly above his career norms and he's also playing much better than last year defensively.

• Saturday night Vance Worley allowed five runs on 11 hits in 5.1 innings against the Orioles and got the win (Mauer, Morneau, and the Twins' lineup really got the win, but old stats die hard). In doing so Worley became just the seventh Twins pitcher in the Ron Gardenhire era (2002-2013) to win a game in which he allowed 11 or more hits:

Vance Worley      5/11/2013     Orioles
Nick Blackburn     5/4/2010     Tigers
Carlos Silva       5/9/2006     Rangers
Carlos Silva      4/29/2005     Angels
Carlos Silva       8/3/2004     Angels
Kyle Lohse         9/2/2003     Angels
Brad Radke        8/24/2002     Royals

Carlos Silva had 47 wins for the Twins and three of them came while allowing 11 or more hits, including a complete-game shutout in 2004. In all there have been 89 wins assigned to pitchers who allowed 11 or more hits in Twins history and Roger Erickson on June 25, 1978 is the only one to get fewer outs than Worley.

• On a related note, Twins pitchers have the fewest strikeouts in baseball with 204. No other team has fewer than 232 strikeouts and 14 teams have more than 300 strikeouts, including the Tigers with an MLB-leading 378. Breaking it down even further, Twins starters have 4.3 strikeouts per nine innings and Twins relievers have 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings, so the bullpen has actually been missing plenty of bats.

Glen Perkins and Jared Burton since the beginning of 2012:

                 IP      ERA     SO     BB     HR     OAVG
Glen Perkins     83     2.71     98     21      9     .216
Jared Burton     79     2.05     74     22      5     .190

I wish Gardenhire would use Perkins a little more in non-save situations, but knowing that duo is looming whenever the Twins have a lead after seven innings is pretty fun.

• With a .500 record through 36 games the Twins have dramatically out-performed expectations so far. Here's how 18-18 compares to their previous records through 36 games under Gardenhire:

2013   18-18
2012   10-26
2011   12-24
2010   22-14
2009   18-18
2008   19-17
2007   17-19
2006   17-19
2005   21-15
2004   22-14
2003   20-16
2002   22-14

During their run of six AL Central titles from 2002-2010 the Twins' average record after 36 games was 20-16 when they made the playoffs and 19-17 when they didn't. Either way, it sure beats the hell out of where they stood after 36 games in 2011 and 2012.

• Last night was the 34th time in 36 games that the Twins have been the gambling underdogs. If you'd have bet $100 on the Twins to win each game so far you'd be up $618, which is on pace for a $2,781 profit over the course of 162 games.

Jim Callis' first mock draft for Baseball America has the Twins taking Texas high school pitcher Kohl Stewart with the No. 4 pick. Callis also writes: "Rumors persist that Minnesota could cut a deal with Washington high school catcher Reese McGuire and spend heavily further down in the draft." Baseball America's current top-100 rankings have Stewart at No. 6 and McGuire at No. 12.

• Baltimore wants Alexi Casilla to give up switch-hitting even though his career numbers don't suggest it makes any sense.

• I love this picture of Hicks robbing Dunn of a homer.

John Bonnes was on vacation, so Parker Hageman stepped in as my co-host for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and we got super-nerdy with the hardcore Twins talk.


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December 5, 2012

Twins Notes: Guerra, Field, Oliveros, Butera, Allen, Appel, and Hendriks

• Last week the Twins filled the 40-man roster by adding eight new players, but they've already created four openings. One came by trading Denard Span to the Nationals for a 22-year-old pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, who doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster for several years, and the other three spots came by designating Deolis Guerra and Tommy Field for assignment and non-tendering Lester Oliveros.

Guerra passed through waivers unclaimed and was sent outright to Rochester, meaning the Twins keep him at Triple-A without taking up a 40-man spot. Once upon a time Guerra was a top prospect and arguably the centerpiece of the haul for Johan Santana, but at this point they'd be happy if he developed into a middle reliever. Field was claimed off waivers from the Rockies last month and when the Twins put him back on waivers the Angels claimed him.

Oliveros was acquired from the Tigers in the Delmon Young trade and the hard-throwing right-hander showed some promise between Double-A and Triple-A this year, logging 48 innings with a 2.42 ERA and 51-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Unfortunately he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in August and won't be at full strength until 2014, but after being non-tendered Oliveros opted to re-sign with the Twins on a minor-league deal.

• As expected the Twins tendered contracts to all three arbitration-eligible players: Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, and Drew Butera. Non-tendering Butera and his .183 career batting average would have made sense, but the Twins have stuck with him for three seasons already. In other words, if they thought he was worth $450,000 then a raise to, say, $600,000 isn't going to sway their opinion. Obviously with Butera money isn't really the main issue.

Chad Allen, who played for the Twins from 1999-2001 after being their fourth-round pick in 1996, is the new hitting coach for Double-A New Britain at age 37. I'll always remember Allen hopping after a hit to the gap in Cleveland after tearing his ACL and somehow keeping speedster Kenny Lofton from an inside-the-park homer by getting the ball back into the infield before collapsing. He never played for the Twins again.

• With the Twins set to pick No. 4 overall in June's draft Baseball America's early player rankings have Stanford right-hander Mark Appel in the top spot, followed by Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea, Arkansas right-hander Ryan Stanek, North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran, and Florida right-hander Jonathan Crawford. They passed on Appel with the No. 2 pick this year and he went back to school rather than signing with the Pirates as the No. 8 pick.

Liam Hendriks underwent minor elbow surgery and won't pitch for Australia in the World Baseball Classic, but should be ready for spring training.

• Old friend Pat Neshek, who spent most of this year at Triple-A before thriving for the A's down the stretch, has signed a one-year, $975,000 deal with Oakland to avoid arbitration.

• Old friends Danny Valencia and Lew Ford might be teammates at Triple-A after the Orioles purchased Valencia from the Red Sox. Neither player is on the 40-man roster.

• As expected, Terry Ryan indicated that Chris Parmelee will be given every opportunity to be the starting right fielder following the Span trade, with Ben Revere shifting to center field.

• It turns out Span was born to play in Washington, D.C.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily analyzed Meyer's pitching mechanics, which are especially important for someone 6-foot-9.

• I'd bet on the Twins signing at least one of the five starting pitchers on this list.

• Target Field was supposed to solve a lot of the Twins' payroll issues, but things haven't gone as planned and the growing local television revenue chasm doesn't bode well for the future.

• For a lengthy discussion of the Span-for-Meyer trade, plus talk about prospects in general and the Twins' next offseason steps, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

September 6, 2012

Twins Notes: September call-ups, Dozier, Slama, Span, Parmelee, and AFL

• As of September 1 rosters can expand from 25 to as many as 40 players, but the Twins waited until September 4 to do so and then called up just two players: Eduardo Escobar and Luis Perdomo. Escobar is a light-hitting 23-year-old middle infielder who was acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade and hit just .217/.259/.304 with a 26-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 games at Triple-A following the deal.

Perdomo is a 28-year-old journeyman reliever who was signed as a minor-league free agent back in November and began this season at Double-A before moving up to Triple-A. Between the two levels he threw 73 innings with a 2.60 ERA and 68-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and Perdomo also got a five-game stint with the Twins earlier this season in which he walked seven in six innings. He throws hard, but has iffy control and a 4.07 career ERA at Triple-A.

• Apparently those are the only planned additions for the entire month, which means players on the 40-man roster not getting call-ups include Brian Dozier, Deolis Guerra, Jeff Manship, Pedro Hernandez, and Oswaldo Arcia. Dozier's lack of a call-up is the most surprising, because when the Twins demoted him to Triple-A last month the assumption was that he'd definitely be back once rosters expanded.

Instead he was a mess in Rochester, hitting just .171 with a 16/3 K/BB ratio in 20 games to continue the troubling lack of strike-zone control he showed in the majors. Combined between Triple-A and the majors Dozier hit .233 with a .276 on-base percentage and .334 slugging percentage while striking out 92 times compared to 30 walks. Plenty of prospects bounce back from a terrible season, but the difference with Dozier is that he's already 25 years old.

• And then there's Anthony Slama, who as usual posted amazing numbers at Triple-A and as usual is ignored by the Twins. Slama finished his fourth consecutive season in Rochester with a 1.24 ERA, .195 opponents' average, and 56 strikeouts in 36 innings, giving him a lifetime 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 154 innings at Triple-A. Slama is 28 years old, so whatever career he was capable of having has been wasted because the Twins wouldn't give him a chance.

For his minor-league career Slama has a 1.99 ERA and 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, racking up more than twice as many strikeouts (446) as hits allowed (213) in 325 innings. Maybe he would have struggled against big-league hitters, but the Twins will never know because they repeatedly left Slama in the minors to rot. This year that involved giving Jeff Gray five months and 50 innings to show that his lengthy track record of mediocrity wasn't a fluke.

Denard Span was finally placed on the disabled list after staying on the Twins' active roster for 18 days with a shoulder injury that allowed him to play just four games during that time. Rather than another rant about the Twins' medical staff I'll focus on the fact that Span's injury opens the door for Chris Parmelee to get an extended opportunity down the stretch after mostly sitting on the bench for a month last time he was in the majors.

Parmelee certainly deserves a chance after hitting .338/.457/.645 with 17 homers, 17 doubles, and a 52-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 games at Triple-A, but as I wrote three weeks ago without a trade or an injury there wasn't anywhere for him to play. It's interesting that the Twins are using Parmelee in right field because he figures to be below average there and played zero innings in the outfield for Rochester.

• This year's Arizona Fall League participants are out and the Twins are sending Kyle Gibson, Michael Tonkin, Logan Darnell, Caleb Thielbar, Chris Herrmann, Nate Roberts, and Evan Bigley. Going to the AFL is a way for Gibson to get some work in after missing most of the season following last year's Tommy John surgery and a strong performance there could give him at least some chance to compete for a spot in the Twins' rotation next spring.

Gibson, Herrmann, and Roberts each cracked my list of the Twins' top 40 prospects heading into the season and Tonkin will definitely be on the 2013 list after breaking out between two levels of Single-A. This will be Herrmann's second trip to the AFL, as he was part of the Twins' contingent there last year along with Dozier, Aaron Hicks, Cole DeVries, Scott Diamond, Dakota Watts, Brett Jacobson, and Bruce Pugh.

Lester Oliveros pitched well enough in the minors this season to emerge as a bullpen option for 2013, but now the hard-throwing right-hander will likely miss all of next year after Tommy John elbow surgery. Acquired from the Tigers in last season's Delmon Young trade, Oliveros threw 48 innings with a 2.42 ERA and 51-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A at age 24 and has (or at least had) a legitimate mid-90s fastball.

• As the Twins appear headed for another top-five draft pick it's worth noting that the 2013 draft class, much like the 2012 draft class, is viewed as lacking elite-level talent. Keith Law's early ESPN rankings include Mark Appel in the top spot after the Stanford right-hander fell to No. 8 and turned down $3.8 million to go back to school, followed by Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek, Stanford outfielder Austin Wilson, and Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea.

• After bludgeoning the White Sox for 18 runs Tuesday night the Twins rank fourth among all MLB teams in games with double-digit runs scored this season, yet they rank just 13th in overall runs per game. When the Twins score double-digit runs they're 13-0. In all other games they're 43-81 while averaging 3.6 runs per game.

Jamey Carroll snapped the majors' longest homerless streak Monday, going deep off White Sox starter Hector Santiago for his first home run in 1,540 plate appearances dating back to August 9, 2009. In between Carroll long balls Jose Bautista led the majors with 134 homers, seven players homered at least 100 times, and 93 players homered at least 50 times.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily used video and numbers to examine Joe Mauer's struggles throwing out runners this season.

Ben Revere is now hitting .300 with a .690 OPS, which would make him the first player since Lenny Randle in 1974 to hit .300 or higher with an OPS below .700. Aside from Revere and Randle no other .300 hitter has posted a sub-.700 OPS since 1943.

• In the comments section of my post last week about Darin Mastroianni's future several people wondered if he could be an option at second base after seeing some time there in the minors, but Ron Gardenhire has already shot that idea down pretty thoroughly.

• For a lot more about September call-ups, Dozier, Slama, and the Twins' medical staff check out this week's episode of Gleeman and The Geek (which is back to being fueled by beer).

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August 21, 2012

Twins Notes: Blackburn, Nishioka, Tosoni, Carson, Parmelee, and Slama

Nick Blackburn's latest start came against the AL's lowest-scoring lineup in one of MLB's most pitcher-friendly ballparks, yet he still allowed five runs in five innings and served up two homers among 11 total hits. Among all MLB pitchers to start more than 15 games this season Blackburn ranks dead last with a 7.39 ERA (no one else is worse than 6.36) and a .340 opponents' batting average (no one else is worse than .316).

And as Twins fans know all too well, Blackburn's extreme struggles date back much further. Since the beginning of 2010 he's now started 71 games and thrown 408 innings with a 5.56 ERA while opponents have hit .313/.359/.507 off him. To put that in some context: Justin Morneau is a career .281/.351/.497 hitter. So for the past three seasons and 408 innings Blackburn has essentially turned every batter he's faced into a better version of Morneau.

Among all MLB pitchers to start more than 60 games since 2010 he ranks dead last in:

- ERA (5.56)
- Opponents' batting average (.313)
- Opponents' on-base percentage (.359)
- Opponents' slugging percentage (.507)
- Homers per nine innings (1.5)
- Baserunners per nine innings (14.1)
- Strikeouts per nine innings (4.1)
- Strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.55)

Quite simply: Blackburn has been the worst pitcher in baseball for the past three seasons and it's not particularly close. If not for the Twins giving him a misguided and totally unnecessary contract extension in March of 2010 he'd have been cut a long time ago, but instead they're paying him $4.75 million this season and owe him another $5.5 million in 2013. They also hold an $8 million team option on Blackburn for 2014, which would be funny if it weren't so sad.

And yet when asked recently about Blackburn's status for 2013, Ron Gardenhire said:

He's going to be one of our pitchers. He'll be one of our pitchers again next year, and we need good outings from him. He's the veteran of this staff now. Hopefully we'll let him finish out here and he'll get on a bit of a roll and get some wins underneath his belt and get him more confidence.

Gardenhire's stance apparently wasn't shared by the front office, because yesterday Blackburn was sent outright to Triple-A. That means he was removed from the 40-man roster and passed through waivers unclaimed, as predictably none of the other 29 teams wanted anything to do with his contract. Blackburn remains in the organization and can be recalled to the majors at any time, but first the Twins would have to re-add him to the 40-man roster.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka was also sent outright to Triple-A after the Twins initially optioned him to Rochester last week. Nishioka, like Blackburn, is no longer on the 40-man roster after passing through waivers unclaimed and will continue to play at Triple-A. I'm not sure why they avoided dropping Nishioka from the 40-man roster immediately last week or when they first sent him to the minors during spring training, but there's obviously no need to waste a spot on him.

• In further 40-man roster housecleaning Rene Tosoni was sent outright to Triple-A to make room for Matt Carson's arrival. Tosoni was once a solid prospect who projected as a potential starting corner outfielder, but he's 26 years old now and has been brutal in the minors for the past two seasons. Not surprisingly he passed through waivers unclaimed, so the Twins were able to retain him in the organization without the 40-man roster spot.

• By calling up Carson as a fill-in for the banged-up outfield the Twins showed they'd rather have Chris Parmelee playing in Rochester than collecting dust on the bench in Minnesota again and perhaps don't view him as a viable outfield option defensively. Based on his great Triple-A performance Parmelee is obviously deserving of another opportunity in the majors, but as I wrote last week there's nowhere for to consistently play him barring a trade or injury.

Carson is a 31-year-old journeyman who joined the organization in November on a minor-league deal. He previously had brief stints in the majors with the A's in 2009 and 2010, but was never a top prospect and has spent 11 seasons in the minors. Carson hit .277/.339/.447 in 110 games for Rochester, which is both nothing special for a corner outfielder and nearly identical to his career .264/.325/.447 line in 4,649 plate appearances as a minor leaguer.

• April elbow surgery knocked Scott Baker out for the year and the Twins will decline his $9.25 million option for next season, making him a free agent. However, with the 2013 rotation wide open and Baker looking for a place to get his career back on track a reunion is possible. Baker is scheduled to begin throwing off a mound in October and indicated to Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that all things being equal he'd like to remain in Minnesota.

• After missing two months with a broken leg Anthony Slama is back to closing out games for Rochester, where he's logged 26 innings with a 0.70 ERA, .183 opponents' batting average, and 44 strikeouts. Slama isn't on the 40-man roster, but as noted above they created multiple new openings and there's no excuse for the Twins not to give a September call-up to the 28-year-old with a 2.25 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 144 innings at Triple-A.

• There are 10 pitchers in the Twins' farm system to throw 100 or more innings this year and all 10 have a strikeout rate below 7.0 per nine innings. Blackburn's likely replacement, Liam Hendriks, has the highest strikeout rate among those 10, whiffing 82 batters in 106 innings at Triple-A for a rate of 6.9 per nine innings that's actually below the International League average of 7.4 per nine innings. Pitching to contact still dominates the farm system.

• Back in 2003 the Twins moved their Triple-A team from Edmonton of the Pacific Coast League to Rochester of the International League, where they've been since. There were some rumblings that Rochester could try to ditch the Twins when their contract expired after this season, which would have left the Twins scrambling for a new Triple-A home and might have even led to returning to the PCL, but the two sides have agreed to a two-year extension.

• Twins rookie-ball catcher Michael Quesada was suspended 50 games for violating the minor league drug prevention and treatment program by testing positive for Methylhexaneamine, a stimulant and dietary supplement. Quesada was a 10th-round draft pick out of Sierra College in 2010, but has hit just .213/.314/.333 with three homers in 62 career games while remaining in rookie-ball as a 22-year-old.

Denard Span injured his shoulder on August 12. Nine days later he remains "day-to-day" and on the active roster despite being unavailable to play for that entire time and finally underwent an MRI exam yesterday. At this point I'm not even sure what to say about the Twins' ongoing pattern of "day-to-day" injuries and disabled list avoidance, other than maybe "sigh."

• Only two MLB hitters with more than 375 plate appearances this season have zero homers: Jamey Carroll and Ben Revere.

• Four hitters in the Twins' entire organization, majors and minors, have drawn 60 or more walks this season: Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Miguel Sano, Aaron Hicks.

• Since becoming the primary closer Glen Perkins has converted 7-of-8 save chances with a 2.66 ERA and 24-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings. Before that he had two career saves.

• For a whole lot more about Blackburn and Hendriks, plus a pretty good puking-in-public story and comparing Sam Deduno to a UFO, check out this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode.

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