April 16, 2014

Twins Notes: Dozier, Plouffe, Buxton, Mauer, Burton, Nunez, and Hughes

brian dozier and trevor plouffe

It doesn't make a lot of sense to attempt any meaningful analysis after just two weeks, but here are some random observations I've had while watching the Twins start 6-7 ...

• Last year Brian Dozier set the Twins' record for homers by a second baseman with 18, which came as a surprise after he totaled just 16 homers in 365 games as a minor leaguer. There was evidence that Dozier changed his approach at the plate to pull the ball more, and he's already gone deep four times in 13 games this year. I'm still not convinced he's a top-of-the-order bat, but 15-20 homers along with a solid glove would make him a long-term solution.

• It took 13 games for Trevor Plouffe to homer, but that might not be a bad thing because he looks like a much different hitter. He came into this season with a lifetime .240 batting average and 289/89 K/BB ratio, but so far he's hit .314 with an 8/8 K/BB ratio. His batting average will obviously go down soon enough, but Plouffe has been much more willing to push pitches to the opposite field and assuming at least some of the power remains that's a positive change.

• I'm not a big Alex Presley fan because he's stretched defensively in center field and stretched offensively in a corner spot, but as backup outfielders go he's a decent one. Losing him on waivers for nothing left the Twins lacking in outfield depth and injuries to Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia quickly made that a problem. When it's still early April and you're starting replacement-level talent like Chris Herrmann in an outfield corner something went wrong in the offseason planning.

• With that said, given their current options the Twins might as well continue to trade defense for offense by using Jason Kubel and Chris Colabello in the outfield corners. For one thing their intended corner duo of Willingham and Arcia is brutal defensively anyway. Beyond that by using Kubel and Colabello somewhere other than designated hitter it also allows Josmil Pinto to get into the lineup and his long-term development could be one of the biggest keys of the season.

• Back when Miguel Sano underwent Tommy John elbow surgery I wrote about how so many of the best Twins prospects of my lifetime have suffered major injuries early in their careers, ruining the chance to see what they were fully capable of becoming without any road blocks along the way. On a sadly related note, Byron Buxton hasn't played since injuring his wrist diving for a ball on March 16 and the Twins announced that he won't see game action until at least May 1.

• I'm curious to see if Joe Mauer is more vocal arguing balls and strikes with umpires as a hitter now that he no longer has to help pitchers get calls from them as a catcher. That certainly seems to be the case so far, although being on the wrong end of a couple incredibly obvious terrible calls could be skewing the small sample size. Thanks in large part to Mauer's patience at the plate, the Twins lead the league in walks.

Jared Burton has had back-to-back brutal appearances despite nearly a week off between outings. Tuesday night he walked three consecutive hitters with two outs and then served up a grand slam, which really should have its own name along the same lines as a "golden sombrero" for hitters. Burton also struggled down the stretch last season, so it might be time to let him get some low-leverage work with plenty of days off mixed in.

Ron Gardenhire and assistant general manager Rob Anthony had some odd quotes about Eduardo Nunez after acquiring him from the Yankees, saying stuff like "we know he can swing the bat" and calling him an "offensive-oriented player." Meanwhile, he's 26 years old and has hit .267/.313/.379 in 270 games as a major leaguer after hitting .272/.315/.366 in 712 games as a minor leaguer.

Phil Hughes' results haven't been very good so far, but he's managed to keep the ball in the ballpark in two of his three starts and a 17/5 K/BB ratio in 15 innings will definitely work over the long haul. On the other hand even with Hughes racking up plenty of strikeouts the Twins' rotation as a whole ranks dead last among MLB teams with 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings. By comparison, four rotations are averaging more than 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

• For anyone going to Target Field: I highly recommend the Butcher and The Boar rib tips. They're new this season in right field around Section 140 and one of the best things I've ever eaten at a baseball game. Plus for $5.50 you can get a shot of Knob Creek bourbon with them.

• For a lot more about Mauer, Nunez, Willingham, Arcia, Dozier, Plouffe, and Buxton--plus the sad story of how I tore my ACL--check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Fan HQ at Ridgedale Mall, which will be hosting an autograph and meet-and-greet session with former Twins closer Joe Nathan on April 26. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

August 16, 2013

Link-O-Rama

Wanna see Jared Burton punch Brian Duensing?

LaTroy Hawkins, who's getting another chance to close again at age 40, got hit in the bollocks. And yet he still won't wear a cup.

• "Doctor offers free plastic surgery in exchange for dream dates" is a story that has me curious about the blogger equivalent.

• And speaking of the blogger equivalent, "burglar left bruised and bleeding by retired 72-year-old boxer" is a pretty great headline.

• How good has Oswaldo Arcia been as a rookie and how good can he become long term?

• While searching for a photo to use for that Arcia post I stumbled across this beauty featuring Arcia, Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, and FSN sideline reporter Jamie Hersch.

Francisco Liriano is so busy throwing complete games for the Pirates that he has neither the time nor the energy to bother with hitting.

• And because he can't be any worse than Liriano in that last video, Parker Hageman of Twins Daily might take an at-bat against Glen Perkins. I want to be there to podcast the magic.

• Happy birthday to Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Mila Kunis, who turned 30 years old. It's all downhill from here, trust me.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we again learn that John Bonnes isn't needed.

• Oh nothing, just Nick Punto hitting a homer and then doing a postgame interview with a Punto jersey-wearing Danny DeVito on the field at Dodger Stadium:

Punto does kind of have a Charlie Day vibe.

• It turns out not all Bar Mitzvah parties are created equal. Way back in 1996 my party featured basketball and swimming rather than a full-scale burlesque show. We did have pizza, though.

• I'm thinking of applying to the Twins' "social media suite" for the free food. And also because the application asks for a count of Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and ... LinkedIn connections.

• During my weekly half-hour chat with Paul Allen he welcomed Cory Cove into the KFAN studio to tag-team mock me for winning a bunch of money playing poker at Canterbury Park. And then I threw Nick Nelson under the bus to save myself.

Jeff Sullivan of Fan Graphs wrote a very good article about the Twins pitching staff's historic inability to generate strikeouts.

Carson Cistulli of Fan Graphs chatted with one of my favorite baseball beat reporters, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

• And speaking of MLB beat reporters, Deadspin's efforts to identify the best and worst covering each team was kind of disappointing in that they left the worst spots blank a lot.

• Congrats to former "Gleeman and The Geek" guest Ben Goessling, who left the St. Paul Pioneer Press to become ESPN's new Vikings beat reporter. Newspapers continue to hemorrhage talent.

• Wanna be the Minneapolis Star Tribune's new Vikings beat reporter?

• According to a University of Georgia study 28 percent of journalism school graduates wish they'd chosen a different field, which actually doesn't sound all that high to this non-graduate.

Jonathan Abrams' article about Jonny Flynn for Grantland is a must-read for Timberwolves fans, David Kahn haters, and people who simply enjoy shaking their head in disbelief.

• St. Paul Central graduate, Ricky Rubio fan club president, stand-up comedian, and "Parks and Recreation" writer Joe Mande is finally doing something with his life.

• I'm almost finished re-watching "The Sopranos" and by far my favorite part has been getting to re-hear Paulie Walnuts pronounce "Baja Fresh" again:

I laughed as hard at that two days ago as I did 10 years ago and can't explain why in either case.

Rickey Henderson's high school yearbook picture from 1976 is spectacular.

• For my fellow insomniacs, Allie Shah wrote about the struggle to sleep for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, including how "young people, in particular, might be setting themselves up for future problems because of their round-the-clock devotion to mobile devices and social media."

• I really hope everyone listened to me and signed up for the light rail pub crawl/Twins game on September 14, because just look at this shirt.

• Mazel tov to the Phillies for releasing Delmon Young, who refused an assignment to Triple-A.

Manny Ramirez is probably done after being released from Triple-A by the Rangers, but don't forget what a monster he was for 15 years.

"Blue Valentine" is one of my 10 favorite movies, so I was incredibly excited for Ryan Gosling and director Derek Cianfrance's second collaboration, but "The Place Beyond The Pines" was underwhelming. Not bad, certainly, but also nothing special overall. Another fairly new release that I rented this week, "Mud" starring Matthew McConaughey, was much better.

• As someone who obsessively watches "Chopped" on Food Network and obsessively listens to podcasts, chef Alex Guarnaschelli's interview with Marc Maron was amazing. She quoted "Bull Durham" and talked about listening to Notorious B.I.G. and is basically a perfect human.

• "Doodie Calls" with Doug Mand and Jack Dolgen is always funny/weird, but Annie Lederman was a particularly great guest.

Alex Rodriguez, as explained by detective Frank Pembleton.

• If you're into supporting worthwhile projects via Kickstarter check out Hunter Weeks' "feature-length film about the oldest people in the world and their lessons for living life right."

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Jim Thome naked"
- "Jim Thome shirtless"
- "Lean Cuisine chicken enchilada suiza makes me sweat"
- "Brendan Harris attitude"
- "Otis Redding baseball cards"
- "Tevin Campbell radio interview"
- "Mae Whitman pornstar lookalike"
- "Who is Dana Wessel?"
- "Bar graph showing pork chops and mutton chops"

• Finally, because I've listened to it about 100 times in two weeks despite not being sure if I love it or hate it this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Reckoning Song" by Asaf Avidan:


Interested in sponsoring a week of AG.com and advertising your product, service, local business, or website directly to thousands of readers each day? Click here for details.

July 25, 2013

What are the Twins’ trade deadline options?

morneau and perkins

As the Twins stumble toward a third consecutive 90-loss season next week's trade deadline is an opportunity to acquire young talent to aid the ongoing rebuilding effort. But will any of the Twins' obvious trade candidates be in enough demand to actually fetch significant long-term help? And does it make sense for the Twins to shop some not-so-obvious veterans in an effort to make a bigger splash? Here's my view of the players they might deal between now and July 31.


Justin Morneau: Sadly, at this point Morneau is little more than a recognizable name with an MVP trophy and a big salary. He hasn't been the same since suffering a concussion in mid-2010, hitting just .258/.319/.401 in 295 games over the past three seasons. This year he's been healthy after dealing with an assortment of major injuries in addition to the concussion, but his power has vanished and his .726 OPS is 50 points below the MLB average for first basemen.

Contending teams looking to add a left-handed veteran bat cheaply may have some interest, but even if the Twins are willing to cover the remaining $6 million on Morneau's contract they aren't going to get much for the 32-year-old impending free agent. He hasn't been an above-average first baseman since the concussion and has played poorly enough that draft pick compensation is no longer a realistic option, so it's either let him walk for nothing or settle for a modest return.


Glen Perkins: Trading relievers when their value is high usually makes sense because their role only involves throwing 60-70 innings per season and they often burn out sooner than expected. Toss in the "proven closer" aspect potentially inflating Perkins' perceived value a la Matt Capps and the Twins would be making a mistake if they didn't listen to offers. With that said, he's not an example of the closer role making a mediocre reliever look like a great one.

Perkins is legitimately great, with a 2.37 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 171 innings since moving to the bullpen full time, and because the Twins signed him before he became a "proven closer" he's priced more like a setup man. He's under team control at reasonable salaries through 2016, so even setting aside the fact that he's a native Minnesotan and fan favorite there's no reason to trade Perkins now unless they get big-time value back.


Jared Burton: Everything about trading relievers with their value high applies to Burton too, but like Perkins he's under team control for reasonable salaries: $3.5 million in 2014 and $3.6 million in 2015. Burton is also two years older than Perkins and has a lengthy injury history that allowed the Twins to acquire him cheaply in the first place, so there should be quite a bit more motivation to shop the 32-year-old around now.

Burton has a 2.71 ERA and 95-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 106 innings for the Twins and even after going through a rough patch recently his overall numbers this season remain late inning-caliber. If the Twins can get a solid position player prospect or a young pitcher with some upside for Burton they should absolutely consider it strongly, but he's cheap enough, good enough, and signed for long enough to hang onto unless the market is a decent one.


Mike Pelfrey: His early work coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery was ugly, but Pelfrey has looked much better recently and more or less resembles his pre-surgery self. Of course, he wasn't all that good before going under the knife, posting a 4.45 ERA and 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings in 97 starts for the Mets from 2009-2011. Since a brutal April he's started 13 games with a 4.38 ERA and 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

Pelfrey was signed in the hopes that he could eat innings for a rebuilt rotation, but he's gone more than six innings just twice in 18 starts and with the Twins already out of contention a 29-year-old back-of-the-rotation starter on a one-year contract carries even less value than before. He's owed about $1.5 million for the rest of the season, so teams that miss out on bigger targets might view him as an inexpensive fallback option.


Kevin Correia: Correia has been as advertised, posting a 4.17 ERA compared to the AL average of 4.05 while striking out just 5.0 batters per nine innings and serving up 18 homers in 19 starts. He hasn't been horrible, but he certainly hasn't been an asset and because the Twins felt the need to give him a two-year contract at age 32 he's owed $2 million for the rest of this season and $5 million next year.

None of their young rotation options have established themselves as quality big leaguers yet, so bringing back Correia for 2014 wouldn't be a terrible idea. However, there was nothing separating him from the various mediocre starters who signed one-year deals this offseason and the same type of starters will be available again this winter, so if the Twins can get a mid-level prospect in return while wiping his salary off the books that sounds pretty good.


Brian Duensing: After repeatedly flopping as a starter the plan was for Duensing to move back into the bullpen and rediscover his previous success as a reliever. Instead he's mostly struggled, against both righties and lefties, although his secondary numbers versus left-handed bats remain promising. Duensing is a decent middle reliever, but the need to be sheltered from right-handed power hitters will always limit his value.

Beyond that he's 30 years old and being paid $1.3 million this season, with the arbitration process all but assuring him a raise for 2014. If the Twins think he can bounce back to his pre-2013 relief work then Duensing would be worth keeping around for next season and they also have him under team control for 2015, but he's no longer a bargain and no longer has any real upside. If a team in need of left-handed bullpen help is willing to part with a decent prospect they should take it.


Ryan Doumit: When the Twins signed Doumit to a two-year, $7 million contract extension in the middle of last season it seemed like a fair price for an above-average hitter with some defensive versatility and one of the talking points was that the deal would make him easy to trade if needed. Instead he's hit just .237/.297/.388 in 87 games for the worst production of his career at age 32 and has struggled defensively as a catcher and corner outfielder.

Doumit is owed about $1.5 million for the rest of this season and $3.5 million next season, so his contract is hardly an albatross. Still, he was never perceived as being especially valuable to begin with thanks to his terrible defensive reputation behind the plate and Doumit's hitting has fallen off enough that trading him would probably be mostly about unloading the salary. He could be useful next season in a similar but reduced role if there's no market for him.


Trevor Plouffe: Plouffe is sort of the wild card in any trade speculation because he's 27 years old, making the minimum salary, and under team control through 2017. However, the Twins rightfully seem less than convinced that Plouffe's good but not great offense makes up for his awful defense at third base and 20-year-old stud prospect Miguel Sano will hopefully be ready to take over the position relatively soon anyway.

Plouffe could always slide across the diamond to first base, where his defense would be less of a negative and maybe even turn into a positive, but his .242/.305/.442 line at the plate since the beginning of last season would be below average among first basemen. On a good team Plouffe fits best as a part-time player who can fill in at a few positions and get most of his playing time versus left-handers, but if another team views him as an everyday asset the Twins should listen.


Josh Willingham: This time last season Willingham was in the middle of a career-year at age 33 and there were some trade rumors swirling, but the Twins opted against dealing him and then decided not to move him during the offseason either. It's impossible to say for certain what they could have gotten for Willingham in July or December, but whatever trade value he had is gone now and he'll be on the disabled list when the July 31 deadline passes.

Willingham had a strong April, but then hit .213/.338/.343 in 50 games from May 1 until the Twins finally shut him down in late June. In addition to the poor production at the plate he was also even worse than usual defensively in left field, limping around on what turned out to be a torn meniscus in his left knee. Willingham is due back in late August and it's possible the Twins could move him during the waiver trade period, but any chance of getting a significant return is long gone.


Jamey Carroll: Carroll went from useful, underrated role player to washed up in the blink of an eye, which is often what happens to 39-year-olds. His contract includes a $2 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option if he gets 401 plate appearances, but there's no chance of that happening. He's a goner anyway and might be headed for retirement, so if the Twins can save money or get a random minor leaguer in return it would make sense.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl/Twins game, where you can join Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, and Seth Stohs for a day of bar-hopping and baseball on September 14. Space is limited, so book your spot.

July 18, 2013

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Pitchers

glen perkins and joe mauer

Last year Twins starters ranked dead last in the league with a 5.40 ERA, but after big talk of fixing the rotation the actual additions were inexpensive and uninspired. This year Twins starters have a 5.23 ERA that ranks dead last in either league and even with surprisingly good work from a largely makeshift bullpen the pitching staff has the league's worst ERA and fewest strikeouts. Before the second half gets underway here's a pitcher-by-pitcher look at the individual performances ...

Kevin Correia: .296/.336/.472 in 472 plate appearances

Signed to a two-year, $10 million contract that didn't make much sense this offseason, Kevin Correia posted a 2.23 ERA in April that had people coming up with all sorts of theories about why he'd turned a corner at age 32. Since the calendar flipped to May he's made 15 starts with a 5.21 ERA, allowing opponents to hit .321 with 15 homers in 74 innings. Since completing at least seven innings in each of his five April starts Correia has done so just once in his last 15 outings.

Overall he has a 4.23 ERA compared to the AL average of 4.08 and across baseball Correia ranks 85th among 89 qualified starters in both strikeout rate and swinging strike percentage, which is some serious pitching to contact. He's been slightly less ineffective than expected thanks to the fast start, but Correia has shown why the multi-year commitment was misguided and if the Twins can trade him before the ERA rises any further they should.

Scott Diamond: .313/.355/.514 in 394 plate appearances

Scott Diamond's miniscule strikeout rate suggested that last year's success would be short-lived and sure enough he unraveled in the first half. His strikeout rate fell even further to 4.2 per nine innings, which is the worst in baseball, and his walk and ground-ball rates declined from excellent to merely good. Toss in a 30-point uptick in Diamond's batting average on balls in play and you end up with an ERA that jumps from 3.54 to 5.32.

Diamond wasn't as good as he looked last season and isn't as bad as he's looked this season, but overall he's a whole lot closer to a left-handed Nick Blackburn than a long-term building block. In fact, through three seasons the comparison between Diamond and Blackburn is eerily close. Diamond has a 4.27 ERA and rates of 4.5 strikeouts, 2.1 walks, and 1.0 homers per nine innings. Blackburn had a 4.14 ERA and rates of 4.4 strikeouts, 1.8 walks, and 1.1 homers per nine innings.

Mike Pelfrey: .313/.359/.478 in 363 plate appearances

All the offseason and early spring training talk of Mike Pelfrey being vastly ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery gave way to his actually having to pitch and it was ugly. Pelfrey had a 6.66 ERA through 11 starts, including a .332 opponents' batting average and 26-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 innings. He then likely saved his rotation spot with a decent five-start stretch to finish the first half, with a two-week disabled list stint mixed in.

Pelfrey wasn't particularly effective before the surgery, serving mostly as an innings-eater for the Mets, and going under the knife didn't fix his inability to miss bats. He relies almost exclusively on a low-90s fastball, which is why Pelfrey is averaging fewer than 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings for the eighth time in eight seasons. That pitch used to at least generate lots of ground balls, but his current rate of 43.8 percent is a career-low and actually qualifies Pelfrey as a fly-ball pitcher.

Samuel Deduno: .262/.327/.371 in 264 plate appearances

Last season Samuel Deduno was relatively successful with a 4.44 ERA in 15 starts despite nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (53) in 79 innings. Even that modest success won't work long term with those secondary numbers and somewhere along the way pitching coach Rick Anderson appears to have hammered that point home to Deduno. Prior to this year Deduno had walk rates of 6.1 per nine innings in the majors and 5.0 per nine innings at Triple-A. This year he's at 2.9.

It's a sample size of 10 starts, but Deduno has three or fewer walks in all 10 of them after doing so just half the time last year. His strikeout rate has actually fallen to 4.5 per nine innings, which is among MLB's worst, but he's made up for the lack of missed bats by nibbling less and letting the movement of his pitches induce an AL-high 61 percent ground balls. Or, put another way: Pitching to contact actually works for Deduno. There's more reason to believe in him now than last year.

Anthony Swarzak: .281/.314/.412 in 237 plate appearances

After three sub par years split between the rotation and bullpen Anthony Swarzak has taken a step forward as full-time long reliever. Compared to his first three seasons Swarzak has upped his strikeouts by 28 percent, reduced his walks by 26 percent, and become less fly-ball prone. He's been one of the most effective pitchers on the entire staff, although that's admittedly not saying much and because most of his work comes in long-relief spots his impact has been minimal.

In fact, the Twins are 6-21 when Swarzak pitches. That should be blamed on his role rather than his performance, which includes a 3.55 ERA and 41-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58 innings. So far they've resisted the urge to put Swarzak back into the rotation and they've also yet to really move him up the bullpen hierarchy. Considering the overall state of the pitching staff if Swarzak keeps pitching this well in the second half he'd warrant some kind of higher-leverage gig.

Vance Worley: .381/.427/.577 in 234 plate appearances

When the Twins acquired 25-year-old Vance Worley from the Phillies in the Ben Revere trade he was supposed to step in as a long-term mid-rotation starter. Worley had thrown 278 innings with a 3.50 ERA for the Phillies and while there were questions about his many called strikeouts being sustainable there was little reason to expect a collapse. And then he went from Opening Day starter to Triple-A in less than two months, allowing 43 runs in 49 innings.

He generated just 15 strikeouts in 10 starts, got a swinging strike on an abysmal 4.5 percent of his pitches, and allowed a .381 opponents' batting average. Worley has been much better since the demotion to Rochester, but it's hard to be very encouraged by a 3.88 ERA at Triple-A when it comes with 34 strikeouts in 58 innings. He'll be back with the Twins at some point, but Worley hasn't been right since last year's elbow issues and was never a high-upside arm to begin with.

Ryan Pressly: .255/.321/.345 in 185 plate appearances

As far as Rule 5 picks go Ryan Pressly has been a big success. Used mostly for mopping up and long relief, he threw 44 innings with a 3.09 ERA and averaged 93 miles per hour with his fastball. Far less impressive than the shiny ERA is a 30-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio and Pressly is unlikely to be as stingy with homers going forward considering his high fly-ball rate, but he's been a useful member of the bullpen and has definitely shown some long-term upside.

Jared Burton: .247/.333/.377 in 184 plate appearances

Jared Burton picked up right where he left off following a fantastic 2012 season with a 2.10 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 26 innings through the end of May. Then he went through a rough patch while dealing with a groin injury, allowing 12 runs in 10 appearances as his ERA ballooned to 4.29 and he was removed from setup duties. Burton recovered to end the first half with six shutout outings in a row, although his usual swing-and-miss stuff still wasn't there.

Last year's .220 batting average on balls in play was always unsustainable and his overall stats remain decent with a 3.67 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 42 innings, but Burton has already walked more batters than all of last year and both his velocity and swinging strike rate are down slightly. Hopefully it's just a blip on the radar, because a healthy Burton can be light outs and he's signed through 2015 at salaries that make him a reasonably priced setup man or good trade bait.

P.J. Walters: .311/.383/.494 in 183 plate appearances

For the second time in two seasons the Twins called up P.J. Walters when their rotation was a mess, got a handful of decent outings from him before things fell apart, and then passed him through waivers unclaimed to keep the 28-year-old right-hander in the organization as Triple-A depth. Meanwhile, he has a 5.79 ERA in 20 starts for the Twins after posting a 4.60 ERA in 133 starts at Triple-A, making Walters the epitome of a replacement-level starter.

Pedro Hernandez: .311/.373/.517 in 169 plate appearances

Acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade, Pedro Hernandez is a soft-tossing, strike-throwing lefty who struggled against right-handed hitters in the minors and not surprisingly big-league righties have crushed him to the tune of .353/.423/.639 with eight homers in 137 plate appearances. He had two first-half stints with the Twins as a rotation fill-in, posting a 6.17 ERA in seven starts, and it's tough to see Hernandez having long-term success as a starter.

Josh Roenicke: .238/.331/.420 in 167 plate appearances

When the Twins claimed Josh Roenicke off waivers in November the story of his career was a big fastball and not much else, including a modest strikeout rate and poor control. His average fastball dipped to 91.2 miles per hour in the first half, but the rest of the story stayed the same with an awful 25-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 innings. And after some initial success he gave up 14 runs in his final 24 innings with as many walks (15) as strikeouts (15).

Brian Duensing: .300/.373/.393 in 159 plate appearances

Brian Duensing flopped as a starter, but has yet to rediscover his previous success as a reliever. Slated to be the primary left-handed setup man, Duensing struggled against lefties and righties while posting a 4.67 ERA and 30-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 innings and spent the final month or so of the first half working mostly in a mop-up role. His inability to handle righties will forever limit Duensing, but the good news is that his trouble with lefties looks like a fluke.

Lefties hit .307 off Duensing in the first half, but that was due to a ridiculously high .408 batting average on balls in play. Delving a little deeper, he posted a great 20-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio versus lefties and held them to just one homer in 82 plate appearances. Despite the rough first half not much has really changed with Duensing, but unfortunately that just means he's still a decent middle reliever who's a bad bet facing righties and a good bet facing lefties.

Casey Fien: .179/.217/.284 in 146 plate appearances

Burton and Duensing struggling as the main setup men pushed Casey Fien into a more prominent late-inning role and he responded by continuing to thrive. Not only did he have a 3.03 ERA and 42-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 first-half innings, dating back to his debut with the Twins last season Fien has a 2.57 ERA and 74-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 74 frames. Not bad for a guy who joined the Twins as a minor-league free agent last offseason at age 28.

He's probably due to come back down to earth at least a little bit and if that does happen it'll likely stem from serving up too many homers, as Fien was an extreme fly-ball pitcher in the minors and has one of the 10 lowest ground-ball rates in the majors since last season. However, his overall track record in the minors showed someone capable of being a quality middle reliever and so far he's allowed just seven homers in 287 plate appearances.

Glen Perkins: .172/.221/.262 in 131 plate appearances

Glen Perkins' first full season as the Twins' closer has been an overwhelming success except for the part about the team failing to find him consistent work. Perkins converted 21 of 23 saves with a 1.82 ERA and 47-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34.2 innings, holding opponents to a .172 batting average. That's about as dominant as a pitcher can be and Perkins was rewarded with his first All-Star selection, yet the Twins used their All-Star closer for just 131 batters in 92 games.

Some of that stems from their lack of late leads, but Ron Gardenhire's refusal to use Perkins in non-save situations is the real culprit. Not only have 100 different relievers thrown more innings than Perkins, six Twins relievers have worked more. It's gotten so bad that Perkins requested more action, but Gardenhire continues to manage the bullpen around the save statistic while calling on lesser relievers in game-changing spots. Perkins is great, but his usage is terrible.

Kyle Gibson: .315/.392/.393 in 102 plate appearances

In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery Kyle Gibson entered spring training in the mix for a rotation spot, but pitched his way out of the immediate plans and then the Twins decided to keep him at Triple-A for three months. He was one of the International League's best pitchers, posting a 3.01 ERA with tons of ground balls and a 79-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 innings, and after going through eight other starters the Twins finally called him up three weeks ago.

Gibson had a very nice debut followed by three mostly poor outings, but looking beyond the ugly 6.45 ERA he induced 51 percent ground balls, generated a decent number of swinging strikes, and averaged 92.3 miles per hour with his fastball. Ultimately the key for Gibson is whether he can get enough strikeouts to be more than a mid-rotation starter who throws strikes and kills worms. At this point the jury is still very much out and his second-half workload may be limited.

Caleb Thielbar: .103/.205/.221 in 78 plate appearances

Twenty straight scoreless innings is an amazing start to anyone's career, let alone a 26-year-old rookie signed out of independent ball in 2011. Caleb Thielbar turned what looked likely to be a short-term call-up into a two-month gig, and while his secondary numbers and inherited runners allowed paint a much less impressive picture than his sparkling ERA he's shown more than enough to stick around with 21 strikeouts in 21 innings and 11 percent swinging strikes.

Note: For a similar first-half review of the Twins' hitters, click here.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl/Twins game, where you can join Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, and Seth Stohs for a day of bar-hopping and baseball on September 14. Space is limited, so book your spot.

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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