June 25, 2014

Twins Notes: Berrios, Vargas, Dozier, Hughes, Hicks, Pino, and Perkins

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox

• Right-hander Jose Berrios and first baseman Kennys Vargas will represent the Twins in the Futures Game, which is MLB's annual prospect showcase as part of the All-Star festivities. Berrios was the Twins' supplemental first-round pick in 2012, going 30 spots after they snagged Byron Buxton. Last season a mediocre ERA hid what was a strong overall performance for a 19-year-old at low Single-A and this season his ERA and secondary numbers are on the same page.

Berrios is one of just two 20-year-olds in the entire Florida State League with at least 50 innings, posting a 2.05 ERA and 98/21 K/BB ratio in 83 innings. His strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings ranks second in the league behind only a 23-year-old and he's held opponents to a .219 batting average with just three homers. Berrios ranked fifth on my list of Twins prospects coming into the season and has upped his stock even further since then.

Vargas placed 23rd in that same ranking, but has also upped his stock considerably by hitting .318/.395/.531 in 70 games at Double-A. At age 23 he's not particularly young for the Eastern League and massive first basemen who'll probably wind up as designated hitters generally aren't a great prospect group on which to bet long term, but the switch-hitter has huge power potential and has made big strides with his strike-zone control.

UPDATE: Triple-A right-hander Trevor May has also been added to the Futures Game roster.

Brian Dozier hasn't slowed down following his surprisingly powerful start to the season and in fact June has been by far his best month with a .310/.449/.549 line that includes four homers and more walks (16) than strikeouts (13) in 21 games. Going back even further, in the past calendar year Dozier ranks as the third-best second baseman in all of baseball according to Wins Above Replacement, behind only Matt Carpenter and Robinson Cano.

During that 365-day span Dozier has hit .252/.340/.444 with 26 homers and 23 steals in 160 games, which along with very good defense adds up to an all-around performance that tops big names like Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Chase Utley. Not only does Dozier rank among the league leaders in walks after showing strong strike-zone control in the minors, his power has come out of nowhere after he hit a grand total of 16 homers in 365 games as a minor leaguer.

Ricky Nolasco has been disappointing, but the Twins' other free agent pitching pickup has outperformed expectations in a big way. Phil Hughes has a 3.40 ERA and 82/9 K/BB ratio in 95 innings after posting a 5.19 ERA for the Yankees last season and a 4.53 ERA in seven seasons for New York overall. He's issued zero walks in nine of 15 starts (60 percent) this season. Prior to this season Hughes had zero walks in 24 of 132 starts (18 percent).

Aaron Hicks giving up switch-hitting to exclusively bat right-handed seemed like a reasonable decision given his struggles from the left side of the plate, but after all of one month and very few at-bats thanks to a shoulder injury he's already gone back to switch-hitting. Hicks is technically in the minors on a rehab assignment, but it's hard to see what's gained by keeping him in the majors at this point. Let him try to thrive versus Triple-A pitching for a while.

UPDATE: Hicks has been activated from the disabled list and demoted to Double-A.

Yohan Pino had the seventh-best "Game Score" by any Twins pitcher in his MLB debut behind Andrew Albers, Bert Blyleven, Anthony Swarzak, Allan Anderson, Eddie Bane, and Brad Havens. Take from that group what you will.

Kendrys Morales has hit .222/.271/.333 in 14 games for the Twins. Josmil Pinto has hit .282/.417/.513 in 12 games at Triple-A since his demotion. And his career OPS in the majors remains higher than Morales' mark since 2012.

• On a related note, Glen Perkins had some pretty damning things to say about Pinto's pitch-framing skills, which puts a dent into his already slim chances of being a catcher long term.

• Perkins' record as a reliever is 13-5, including 8-1 since 2012 and 5-0 since 2013, and the Twins have won five of his last six blown saves. Among all MLB relievers with 30 or more innings this season Perkins ranks fifth in K/BB ratio, seventh in strikeout rate, and ninth in xFIP.

• In the same presented-without-comment vein as the previous versions:

Tony Gwynn: .338 AVG, .388 OBP, .459 SLG, .847 OPS, 132 OPS+
Joe Mauer: .320 AVG, .401 OBP, .461 SLG, .863 OPS, 133 OPS+

• Random thing I noticed while looking up some other stuff: Denard Span had a .390 on-base percentage in his first two seasons. Since then he has a .329 on-base percentage in five seasons, never topping .342 in any year.

Johan Santana was on the verge of completing his multi-year comeback from multiple shoulder surgeries by joining the Orioles' rotation, but now he's done for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon. Just in case anyone forgot:

Clayton Kershaw, 2009-2014: 1,145 innings, 9.4 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 155 ERA+
Johan Santana, 2002-2008: 1,413 innings, 9.5 K/9, 4.2 K/BB, 156 ERA+

• Since the beginning of last season the Twins are 16-10 (.615) against the White Sox and 86-125 (.408) against everyone else.

• For way more on Hicks, Vargas, Morales, and Pino, plus lots of talk about Oswaldo Arcia and Kyle Gibson, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by R.F. Moeller Jeweler's repair department, which is recognized as the premier jewelry repair facility in the Twin Cities. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

June 6, 2014

Link-O-Rama

Steve Neuman broke down the amazing "Uptown living" video like only Randball's Stu can, although honestly I aspire to be a dollar-store Ryan Gosling. Or even a dime-store Ryan Gosling.

Joe Posnanski writing about FSN's ridiculous Derek Jeter "scouting report" is one of the best things I've read this year.

• I loved Dirk Hayhurst's essay/rant about the silliness of baseball's so-called "unwritten rules."

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked a lot about Phil Hughes, Josmil Pinto, Jason Kubel, and Aaron Hicks, plus I outed John Bonnes for having a weird fetish.

Parker Hageman's podcast co-host (and friend of AG.com) Dan Anderson got much-deserved internet fame this week when his wedding party decided to do their photo shoot on a dock:

I'm sure he'll give a detailed breakdown of the incident on the next "No Juice Podcast" episode.

Maureen O'Connor of New York Magazine writing about being shipped to California to date tech guys is fascinating and funny and sad all at the same time.

Headline of the week/weak: "Diet and exercise may help maintain weight loss."

• Old friend Joe Nathan isn't doing so well in Detroit.

• Old friend Johan Santana is back in the majors, sort of.

• I really enjoyed Rob Neyer's article/oral history about the St. Louis Cardinals' great 2009 draft.

• I am apparently a Princess/Hedonist, which sounds about right.

• Baseball press boxes can be a dangerous place, as former Twins beat reporter Mark Sheldon learned all too well thanks to Pablo Sandoval.

Brian Dozier can solve a Rubik's Cube in two minutes:

And he has great hair.

• Presented without comment: Joe Mauer vs. Derek Jeter. Or maybe how about Joe Mauer vs. Kirby Puckett?

• On a related note, the comments on this are amazing.

• I met a lot of people like this in the past few days.

• Apparently the Twins are moving their Double-A team from New Britain to Hartford.

• I'm still sad that Rye Deli in Uptown closed, but at least a potentially interesting restaurant is opening soon in its old spot.

• New restaurant recommendation: Lago Tacos on Lyndale Avenue in Uptown. I went on opening night and ate so much food that I got right home, put on sweatpants, and passed out.

• I'm on Instagram now, posting mostly really dumb pictures.

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

- "Minnesota Twins trade rumors"
- "Maximum amount of fresh garlic to be consumed"
- "When will Byron Buxton be healthy?"
- "How much money do the Twins make?"
- "Glen Perkins he's our closer"
- "Is Keith Law baseball Jewish?"
- "How much is Kevin Correia paid?"
- "Aaron Gleeman possum"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Gun" by Chvrches:


This week's blog content is sponsored by R.F. Moeller Jeweler's repair department, which is recognized as the premier jewelry repair facility in the Twin Cities. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

February 28, 2014

Link-O-Rama

Johan Santana's comeback from multiple shoulder surgeries at age 35 isn't going so well.

• Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com is no longer really a thing, so longtime title-holder Mila Kunis gave up and decided to just marry some loser.

• Those of us who're naturally blessed resent the fact that people can now fake having our gift.

• I did something very similar for about 10 years, except with Chinese food.

• As a college dropout I'm thankful that this is an increasingly prevalent thing, if only so someone can support me in my old age.

• I wrote a White Sox season preview for HardballTalk and for the second straight season they might be even worse than the Twins.

Lydia Loveless put out a new album last week and I've already listened to it several dozen times. Good music with emotional lyrics, an interesting perspective, and a pretty solid Lucinda Williams vibe. She's coming to Minnesota in April to play First Avenue and I'll be there.

• Really good long read: Benjamin Wallace-Wells of New York Magazine on prison gang culture and the craziness of a large-scale hunger strike in solitary confinement.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode I gave John Bonnes a tour of my new place in Uptown and told a lengthy pooping-related story.

• On a related note, the podcast is making tremendous strides in the female listener demographic.

• I stupidly didn't go see Hannibal Buress at Varsity Theater after loving him at Acme Comedy Company last year, but at least his five-minute set on "The Tonight Show" was really good:

Here's hoping that Jimmy Fallon keeps giving good, young stand-up comedians a big stage.

• Big news in the fast food world, as Taco Bell is set to launch a breakfast menu and McDonald's is thinking about serving breakfast all day.

• It never stops: "If you don't know what type of phone this guy has (if it's a BlackBerry, dump him) you should prepare to bring a charger."

• Having just realized that Uber is available on BlackBerry, this Mickey Rapkin article for GQ about a week-in-the-life of an Uber driver was really eye-opening to me.

Mike Minor and his urethra had a rough offseason.

Jason Schwartz of Grantland wrote a really interesting article about the Houston Rockets using their Developmental League team to essentially experiment with extreme strategies ... and win.

"Humanitarians of Tinder" is just perfection.

• It turns out that I could never play for the Vikings.

• Yet another writer/analyst left Baseball Prospectus for a job with an MLB team.

Sarah Silverman and Michael Sheen are a couple now, which seems both random and fun.

Ron Gardenhire looks fit, well-rested, and ready for the challenge of leading the Twins back into contention!

• Old friend Carl Pavano is retiring after 14 seasons, the last three-and-a-half with the Twins.

Marc Maron's chat with Tom Arnold was manic and weird and fascinating.

• You should go vote for Meredith Westin as the Twin Cities' best music photographer.

• "Bad Self Portraits" by Lake Street Dive was the AG.com-approved music video in Link-O-Rama a few weeks ago and now it's the free song of the week on iTunes.

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

- "How much is a Ron Coomer signed baseball worth?"
- "Brian Duensing trade contract"
- "David Ortiz dating"
- "Robin Thicke socks"
- "Is LaVelle Neal married?"
- "When is Aaron Gleeman's wedding?"
- "Aaron Gleeman top tweeters"
- "Paul Lambert on KFAN"
- "Ryan Doumit home run"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Loveless singing "Back On The Bottle":

September 26, 2012

What happened to the Twins’ pitching?

Rick Anderson took over for Dick Such as the Twins' pitching coach when Ron Gardenhire replaced Tom Kelly as manager in 2002 and since then the staff has issued the fewest walks in baseball, leading the league in walk rate six times. However, one common misconception about Twins pitching under Anderson is that their fantastic control has always come attached to terrible strikeout rates.

In reality Anderson's early pitching staffs were often able to combine excellent control with solid strikeout rates, and in fact Twins pitchers led the league in strikeouts as recently as 2006. That was Johan Santana's second-to-last season in Minnesota and his third straight year leading the league in strikeouts, and the Twins also got a ton of missed bats from Francisco Liriano before the 22-year-old rookie blew out his elbow.

They were joined in the 2006 rotation by Brad Radke and Scott Baker, who produced above-average strikeout rates, and the late-inning bullpen trio of Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, and Juan Rincon combined for 220 strikeouts in 219 innings. Overall the pitching staff had a league-high 1,164 strikeouts and a league-low 356 walks in 1,439 innings, and not surprisingly they also had the AL's second-best ERA.

That season marked the fifth time in five years under Anderson that Twins pitchers had an above-average strikeout total and the next year they extended that streak to six consecutive seasons by ranking fourth in the league. Suddenly that all changed in 2008 as the staff's strikeout total plummeted to 10th in the league without Santana or Radke around, and Twins pitchers haven't had an above-average strikeout rate since.

They ranked 10th among the league's 14 teams in 2008, 2009, and 2010 before finishing dead last among all 30 major-league teams last season, producing just 940 strikeouts when every other team had at least 1,000. As bad as that was their strikeout rate has amazingly fallen even further this year, going from 6.0 to 5.9 per nine innings as they once again rank dead last among all 30 major-league teams. And it's not even close.

Twins pitchers have 890 strikeouts in 154 games, which is 14 percent fewer than any other team and 23 percent below the MLB average. Once upon a time Anderson-led staffs threw strikes and missed bats, boasting several starters and relievers with good raw stuff and strong whiff rates. And now? Well, they still throw strikes with a better-than-average walk rate ... and the AL's fewest strikeouts, second-most homers allowed, and second-highest ERA.

Santana was MLB's best, most dominant starting pitcher for Anderson's first six seasons as pitching coach, posting a 2.92 ERA with the most strikeouts and highest strikeout rate in all of baseball. During that same time Nathan racked up a remarkable 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings to go with a 1.94 ERA and five other Twins relievers who saw regular action had at least 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

When you have the best starting pitcher in baseball racking up league-leading strikeout totals, one of the best closers in baseball piling up whiffs at an even higher rate, and multiple setup men capable of missing bats then surrounding them with low-strikeout control artists is a sound strategy. But when you no longer have those elite, high-strikeout pitchers to anchor the staff the same strategy fails.

Santana going from unknown Rule 5 pick to MLB's best pitcher is one of the more remarkable journeys in modern history and Nathan emerging as MLB's best non-Mariano Rivera reliever is similarly astounding, so counting on Anderson and the Twins to duplicate those feats would be silly. Beyond that, considering the Twins' longtime aversion to acquiring hard-throwing pitchers it's unclear how much blame to assign Anderson as opposed to the front office.

With that said, it's very clear that something needs to change. They've failed to develop a front-line starter since Santana left five years ago and there are few power arms in the farm system aside from some 2012 draftees. Talk of succeeding by pitching to contact--or throwing strikes and playing defense--is a nice story with some truth behind it, but that approach doesn't work so well without elite bat-missers like Santana and Nathan leading the way.

In the absence of that front-line talent the Twins have essentially built entire staffs out of the guys who're supposed to be the surrounding pieces. In the five seasons since Santana's departure 37 different Twins pitchers have thrown more than 25 innings and three of them--Nathan, Liriano, and newcomer Casey Fien--have topped 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Of those 37 pitchers 27 had a strikeout rate below 7.0 and eight had a strikeout rate below 5.0.

How much stems from Anderson's well-established preferred pitching mold and teaching methods versus the front office simply not targeting hard-throwing, high-strikeout arms is up for debate, but whatever the case it needs to change and they need to adapt. In addition to having the fewest strikeouts and highest ERA in the AL since the beginning of last season Twins pitchers also have the league's lowest average fastball velocity at 90.9 miles per hour.

At the opposite end of the pitching spectrum are the Nationals, who this season lead the NL in both ERA and average fastball velocity while totaling a remarkable 42 percent more strikeouts than the Twins. Not surprisingly the Nationals have MLB's best record despite an offense that has scored 692 runs compared to 676 runs for the Twins. And when asked why he built a staff of hard-throwing strikeout pitchers, general manager Mike Rizzo replied:

We used to have sinker, pitch-to-contact guys. That's who you get when you're not elite.

Injuries to highly paid veterans like Baker, Carl Pavano, and Matt Capps took a big toll on this year's staff and injuries to prospects like Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers sapped the Twins of reinforcements, but none of those guys are hard-throwing, high-strikeout arms anyway. In fact, the last pitcher they've developed who fits that description is Matt Garza ... and the Twins traded him away for Delmon Young in 2007 at age 23 and after 24 career starts.

At this point even Crash Davis himself would advise the Twins to go looking for a few fascists.

July 18, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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