July 11, 2013

Twins Notes: Gardenhire, Gibson, Tonkin, Perkins, Morneau, and Colabello

ron gardenhire ejected

• With the Twins free-falling toward a third straight 90-loss season and Ron Gardenhire's job security becoming a popular topic locally I wondered how many managers in baseball history have avoided being fired after three consecutive 90-loss seasons. I knew there was at least one in Tom Kelly, but Jacob Pomrenke of SABR looked up the data for me and found that it's happened a total of eight times since 1945:

Larry Rothschild     Rays       1998-2000
Felipe Alou          Expos      1998-2000
Tom Kelly            Twins      1997-2000
Joe Torre            Mets       1978-1980
Darrell Johnson      Mariners   1977-1979
Preston Gomez        Padres     1969-1971
Casey Stengel        Mets       1962-1964
Zack Taylor          Browns     1948-1951

Four of the eight managers who kept their jobs after three consecutive 90-loss seasons were from expansion teams, so tons of losing was expected/accepted. And five of the eight managers who stuck around after three straight 90-loss seasons were fired by the middle of the next year. Kelly managed the Twins to four 90-loss seasons in a row from 1997-2000 and then went 85-77 in 2001, at which point he stepped down from the job at age 50 and was replaced by Gardenhire.

• After a solid debut Kyle Gibson has struggled in back-to-back starts, leaving him with a 7.27 ERA and 10-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 innings. Among all pitchers in Twins history through three career starts Gibson allowed the most hits (23) and second-most earned runs (14). LaTroy Hawkins is the only Twins pitcher to allow more earned runs in his first three starts and he's had a 19-year career, although all of his success came after shifting to the bullpen.

It's silly to analyze three starts too much, but Gibson has been done in by a .377 batting average on balls in play and nearly half the runners he's put on base coming around to score. Fortunately neither of those rates are sustainable and the good news is that he's averaged 92.5 miles per hour with his fastball while inducing 54 percent ground balls and has yet to allow a homer. And despite a modest strikeout total his swinging strike percentage is slightly above average.

Caleb Thielbar going on bereavement leave means Michael Tonkin will be getting his first taste of the majors at age 23. Early on Tonkin's biggest claim to fame was being Jason Kubel's brother-in-law, but since shifting to the bullpen in 2011 the 6-foot-7 right-hander has emerged as a high-upside reliever with dominant numbers to match his mid-90s fastball. Dating back to last season Tonkin has a 2.17 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 99 innings.

That includes a 1.85 ERA with zero homers allowed and a 46-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this year, so if Tonkin makes a good first impression the Twins may decide to keep him around at the expense of someone else in the bullpen. Either way, Tonkin is one of the most promising reliever prospects the Twins have had in a long time and it's easy to imagine him setting up for Glen Perkins at some point next season.

• As a follow-up to Perkins encouraging the Twins to use him more often in non-save situations, just 40 percent of his batters faced this season have come in "high leverage" situations compared to 43 percent in "low leverage" situations. By holding him back for save situations that often never materialize the Twins limit Perkins' overall workload, forcing lesser relievers into crucial spots, and end up using him in unimportant spots just to keep him from getting rusty.

But apparently they haven't started listening to Perkins yet. Last night the Twins lost a 13-inning game to the Rays in which they used six different relievers, but not their All-Star closer. Rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly, who's served as a mop-up man for most of the season, took the loss while Perkins went unused because it wasn't a so-called "save situation." Of the seven relievers who've been with the Twins all season Perkins has thrown the fewest innings. Saves are a helluva drug.

Justin Morneau has finally started to show a little power with four homers in 11 games after totaling six homers in his previous 115 games dating back to last year, but his overall production hasn't improved. It's hard to imagine there being much of a trade market for the impending free agent, but getting a compensatory draft pick if he signs elsewhere this winter is also no longer really an option for the Twins because he'd probably just accept the $15 million qualifying offer.

It's possible that Morneau would be willing to take a major pay cut to remain in Minnesota beyond this season, but do the Twins really want to block various young, cheap hitters with a 32-year-old first baseman who's hit just .259 with a .321 on-base percentage and .405 slugging percentage in 285 games since 2011? That's a harsh reality considering his decline began with a concussion, but even at half of his current $14 million salary Morneau just doesn't make much sense to retain.

• If the Twins do trade Morneau before he walks as a free agent Chris Colabello deserves a long look in his place. After a so-so season at Double-A last year Colabello has crushed Triple-A this season, hitting .357/.435/.656 with 23 homers, 22 doubles, and 41 walks in 81 games. Colabello is 29 years old and was signed out of an independent league, so he's hardly a top prospect, but he leads the International League in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, and homers.

Maybe that won't translate to the big leagues, but one of the only benefits to being a bad team is that the Twins are in a position to find out. At worst Colabello struggles and gets written off as a Triple-A player as the Twins continue their march toward another 90-loss season, but he might also prove to be a decent stop-gap first baseman while making just $500,000. And if nothing else he'd give them a right-handed bat to help balance a very left-handed lineup.

Josh Willingham limped around on a bum knee for a month before finally being placed on the disabled list amid reports that he planned to avoid surgery and return after the minimum 15 days. Instead literally the next day it was announced that he'd undergo surgery and miss 4-6 weeks, which is definitely on the optimistic side for a torn meniscus. And sadly all of that has become a pretty standard injury progression for the Twins during the past three seasons.

Willingham hit just .250/.337/.325 in June with even worse defense than usual, making him one of the worst all-around players in baseball. Allowing him to play at what was clearly less than full strength hurt the team, hurt Willingham, and now leaves the Twins with little chance to trade him. We may never know what they could have gotten in exchange for him last July or this offseason, but as someone who implored the Twins to shop Willingham around it's a question that looms.

Aaron Hicks' season totals still look awful, but that's what happens when you start 2-for-48. Since then he's hit .249/.301/.462 with seven homers in 50 games, which is actually pretty damn impressive for a 23-year-old center fielder. He continues to strike out a ton and Hicks has stopped walking, but here's a list of all the 23-year-old center fielders to slug .450 or higher in the last 10 years: Colby Rasmus, Adam Jones, Matt Kemp, Chris Young, Grady Sizemore.

I still think it was a mistake to hand Hicks the Opening Day job without any experience at Triple-A and it's a shame that he's going to burn through an entire season of service time when that wasn't necessary, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that he's turned things around following one of the most brutal starts to a career you'll ever see. Even his defense has graded out much better recently and he's done some nice work as a baserunner.

P.J. Walters is a 28-year-old with a 6.28 ERA in the big leagues and a 4.45 ERA at Triple-A, so he predictably passed through waivers unclaimed after being designated for assignment to make room for Gibson's arrival and Mike Pelfrey's return. Walters accepted the assignment, so he'll stay with the Twins at Triple-A while no longer being on the 40-man roster. This is the second time in two years none of the other 29 teams claimed Walters off waivers.

• Since being called up from Triple-A in July of last year Casey Fien has thrown 71 innings with a 2.67 ERA and 71-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding opponents to a .187 batting average. Last offseason the Twins signed Fien to a minor-league deal and based on his track record in the minors he looked like a potentially useful middle reliever, but the 29-year-old right-hander been a whole lot more than that so far.

• After last night's loss the Twins are 37-51, which puts them on pace to go 68-94. At this same point in the season they were 36-52 in 2012 and 40-48 in 2011, so not much has changed.

Brian Dozier since June 1: .264/.386/.500 with six homers, eight doubles and as many walks (19) as strikeouts (19) in 35 games. Six weeks are six weeks, but it's a sign of life.

• Twins Daily blogger and "Gleeman and The Geek" regular Parker Hageman wrote a good guest column for Baseball Prospectus about how the Twins develop their prospects.

• For a lot more about Willingham's injury situation, Walters' exit, Dozier's nice run, and the many former Twins on the All-Star team check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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November 29, 2012

Offseason outlook: Josh Willingham

In the grand scheme of baseball a three-year, $21 million contract is hardly record-breaking, but Josh Willingham's deal last offseason was the largest free agent signing in Twins history. He was signed to replace Michael Cuddyer's right-handed bat in the middle of the lineup and at the time there was a lot of skepticism from fans when guys like me suggested Willingham was likely to be an upgrade for less money, but his track record of elite power hitting didn't lie.

Willingham got off to an amazing start, hitting .347/.447/.681 in April, and had an OPS above 1.000 as late as May 20. He eventually cooled off and reverted back to his career norms of a low batting average and lots of strikeouts with a ton of power. After the monster April he hit .246 with 126 strikeouts in 125 games, yet still produced an .852 OPS during that time to nearly match his .845 career mark thanks to 30 homers, 23 doubles, and 67 walks.

Even after sitting out the final week of the season with a shoulder injury his 145 games set a career-high and Willingham also established new highs in homers (35), walks (76), slugging percentage (.524), OPS (.890), RBIs (110), and runs (85) at age 33. It was his seventh straight season with an OPS in the .800s and ranks as one of the greatest seasons by a right-handed hitter in Twins history.

In fact, with 35 homers Willingham tied Bob Allison in 1963 for the most by a right-handed Twins hitter not named Harmon Killebrew, who amazingly owns the top eight spots on that list all by himself. Willingham also joined Allison as the only non-Killebrew right-handed hitters with an Isolated Power above .250 and his 144 adjusted OPS+ is the 12th-best in Twins history among right-handed hitters, with Killebrew owning seven of the spots above him.

Willingham had always been one of baseball's premier right-handed sluggers and analysis last offseason showed that his dead-pull power was well-suited for Target Field. Sure enough he almost single-handedly silenced all the talk about Target Field suppressing power too much by hitting .293/.407/.610 with 21 homers in 249 at-bats there. To put that in some context, the Twins got 29 total homers in 1,385 at-bats from right-handed hitters at Target Field in 2011.

Willingham's monster start followed by his usual .850 OPS led to reports of teams pursuing him at the July 31 trade deadline. On one hand that made sense, because he's a really good hitter. On the other hand just six months earlier those same teams apparently weren't willing to offer him more than $21 million. That speaks to how good the signing was for the Twins, but also brought thoughts of trading him to the forefront. Or at least it should have.

There's little indication that the Twins seriously considered dealing Willingham and parting with an immediate fan favorite putting up great numbers would have been hugely unpopular. However, considering Willingham ultimately cost them nothing but money to acquire trading a 33-year-old free agent signing for a package of prospects would have been a nifty/tricky way to add young talent and long-term help. If nothing else hopefully they at least considered it.

None of which is to suggest that Willingham won't be very valuable and worth his remaining contract in 2013 and 2014, but regressing back to his slightly less spectacular career norms can be expected and at age 34 a further decline wouldn't be shocking. Beyond that focusing strictly on Willingham's hitting overstates his all-around value, as his defense in left field was passable at best and often ugly.

Ultimate Zone Rating had Willingham as 7.9 runs below average in his 119 games as a left fielder, which is short of Delmon Young territory but still wipes away a sizable chunk of his hitting value. Willingham's career numbers are similarly bad in the outfield and he certainly looked bad most of the time. Even with defense factored in he was a very valuable all-around player and worth 2-3 times his $7 million salary, but he contributed to the pitching struggles.

If you think the Twins are legitimately on the verge of putting a contending team on the field then Willingham is a near-perfect fit as a righty slugger in the middle of a lefty-heavy lineup who doesn't seem to care that Target Field kills power. If you think the Twins are more than a year or two away then the most value to be extracted from a 34-year-old with two years on his contract might be in what he could fetch via trade. Either way, it was a helluva first season.

Other "offseason outlook" write-ups: Justin Morneau, Trevor Plouffe, Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit

September 19, 2012

Twins Notes: Herrmann, Mauer, Florimon, Dozier, and Cedar Rapids

• As part of September roster expansion the Twins called up just two players, Luis Perdomo and Eduardo Escobar, but injuries to Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit left Drew Butera as the team's only healthy catcher and led to Chris Herrmann being added to the 40-man roster as a third call-up. Herrmann ranked 20th on my list of Twins prospects coming into this season and should hold a similar spot for next year after a solid Double-A campaign.

Herrmann hit .276/.350/.392 in 127 games for New Britain, nearly matching his .264/.357/.382 career line and showing his usual on-base skills, good strike-zone control, and modest power with 58 walks versus 89 strikeouts and 10 homers in 558 plate appearances. His performance at Double-A was nothing special, particularly for a 24-year-old repeating the level after playing 97 games there in 2011, but Herrmann likely has a big-league future beyond this month.

How long and in which role that future will be depends largely on his defense behind the plate, as Herrmann was an outfielder at the University of Miami before moving to catcher at high Single-A in 2010. This season he played 83 games at catcher compared to 43 games between left field and designated hitter. His defense gets mixed reviews, but Herrmann threw out 44 percent of steal attempts this year and 38 percent in 2011.

Another issue for Herrmann is that he's a left-handed hitter hoping to become the third catcher behind a left-handed hitter in Mauer and a switch-hitter who swings better from the left side in Doumit. That makes Herrmann less than an ideal fit, although his ability to play other positions should be handy and it's not as if Butera's offensive ineptitude coming from the right side helps anyway. Herrmann is likely Triple-A bound next year, but he's shooting for Butera's job.

Rene Rivera, a journeyman catcher who played 45 games for the Twins last year, indicated via Twitter that he was upset about being passed over for the call-up in favor of Herrmann:

I guess I should not expect promises to be kept. Best of luck to everyone. #Disappointed #Lies

Rivera later tried to put that toothpaste back in the tube, tweeting that he never mentioned the Twins and various other damage control, but there seemingly isn't a whole lot of nuance or need for interpretation in his original words. I have no idea what was or wasn't promised, but based on performance alone Rivera didn't warrant more time in the majors. He's a 29-year-old career .193 hitter in the majors and hit .226/.307/.385 at Triple-A this year.

• After going 3-for-4 with two walks last night Mauer is now hitting .325 with a league-leading .419 on-base percentage, which is remarkable considering he was hitting .265 on May 18. Here's a list of all the players in Twins history with an on-base percentage of .410 or higher:

                    YEAR      OBP
Joe Mauer           2012     .419
Joe Mauer           2009     .444
Joe Mauer           2008     .413
Joe Mauer           2006     .429
Chuck Knoblauch     1996     .448
Chuck Knoblauch     1995     .424
Rod Carew           1978     .411
Rod Carew           1977     .449
Rod Carew           1975     .421
Rod Carew           1974     .433
Rod Carew           1973     .411
Harmon Killebrew    1970     .411
Harmon Killebrew    1969     .427

And then there's also this: Mauer's current OPS? .877. Mauer's career OPS? .874.

Pedro Florimon looks good defensively at shortstop and can't hit, so Ron Gardenhire has predictably taking a liking to him immediately:

I'm very comfortable with him out there. We're not going to name a starting lineup [for 2013] or anything like right now, or even later, but I really like him out there. I think there are things he can get better at ... but I like him. I like the way he moves, I like the way he watches. He pays attention. He's got great hands.

Assistant general manager Rob Antony agreed about Florimon and also indicated that Brian Dozier's future may no longer be at shortstop:

Florimon has kind of made the plays and shown some of the range that you really like from a shortstop, that Dozier didn't necessarily do. So it might be a situation where we still think Dozier can be a good player, but he may end up being a second baseman instead of a shortstop.

While perhaps a surprise to the people who didn't know any better and bought into the misguided hype surrounding Dozier's arrival, his defense at shortstop has always been in question. Of course, for as bad as Dozier was offensively this year there's at least some reason to believe he's capable of being a decent hitter. The same is not really true of Florimon, who has hit .228/.284/.327 in the majors and .250/.318/.352 between Double-A and Triple-A.

According to Baseball-Reference.com the Twins' attendance is down 4,967 fans per game, which is a drop of 372,000 total fans compared to this same point last season. And that represents tickets sold rather than actual attendance, of course. Only the Astros have seen their attendance drop more than the Twins this year, no other team is down more than 3,400 fans per game, and across baseball overall attendance is up nearly 1,000 fans per game.

• In their last 324 games (two full 162-game seasons, basically) the Twins are 127-197 for a .392 winning percentage.

Josh Willingham became the fourth player in Twins history with 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs in a season, joining Harmon Killebrew (seven times), Justin Morneau (three), and Gary Gaetti (two). Overall the Twins now have 13 of the 665 total instances of a hitter reaching 30-100 since 1961. By comparison, Alex Rodriguez has 14 seasons with 30-100 all by himself.

• After eight years with Beloit as their low Single-A affiliate the Twins have switched their Midwest League team to Cedar Rapids, which offers better facilities in addition to being closer to Minnesota.

Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune does Twins updates for Baseball America and got an interesting quote on Tsuyoshi Nishioka from vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff:

The player we all saw was not the player we scouted in Japan. For whatever reason, we haven't seen that guy. I mean, none of us believed that he wouldn't hit.

When the Twins spent $15 million to acquire Nishioka in December of 2010 he was coming off a batting title in Japan, but a deeper look at his numbers showed that the .346 average was due to unsustainable success on balls in play. However, even projections adjusting for that had Nishioka as a decent all-around hitter. Instead he's hit .215/.267/.236 for the Twins and .260/.318/.327 for Rochester. Radcliff is right, but sadly the Twins were very wrong.

• Twins prospects Miguel Sano and Oswaldo Arcia were both selected for Baseball America's minor league all-star team, which includes a total of 30 players.

• This year eight American League pitchers with at least 50 innings have posted an Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) worse than 5.00. Three of them are Twins: Jeff Gray, Nick Blackburn, Alex Burnett.

• Perdomo, who the Twins called up while leaving Anthony Slama and his consistently great numbers to rot in the minors, now has a 5.06 ERA and 10 walks in 10.2 innings this season.

• Complete list of players in Twins history with more plate appearances and a lower OPS than Alexi Casilla: Al Newman, Danny Thompson.

• Old friend Pat Neshek, who spent most of the past three seasons at Triple-A before being called up by Oakland three weeks ago, now has a 0.63 ERA in 17 appearances for the A's.

• Regarding the Twins' offseason plans John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote that the free agent starting pitcher market "isn't deep." That jibes with some comments general manager Terry Ryan made previously, but on this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode we spent about 45 minutes breaking down the various free agent starters and found that to be anything but true. It's plenty deep, especially in the type of pitchers the Twins usually go after.

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August 9, 2012

Twins’ trade deadline inactivity forces fans to have faith

Last year's July 31 trade deadline came and went without the Twins making a deal, although on August 15 they sent Delmon Young to the Tigers for minor leaguers Lester Oliveros and Cole Nelson. This year they pulled the trigger on trading Francisco Liriano two days before the deadline, acquiring marginal prospects Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez from the White Sox, and then chose not to make further moves (except later dumping Danny Valencia).

Rarely do struggling teams avoid trading any veterans for long-term help, yet in back-to-back seasons the Twins reached the July 31 deadline with one of MLB's worst records and failed to acquire a single quality prospect. Last year's inactivity stemmed from the Twins misguidedly still believing they had a chance to get into contention, plus the knowledge that they were in line for draft pick compensation for impending free agents Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.

This season there were no such illusions of contending, but Liriano was their only impending free agent with any sort of trade value and the Twins felt the time wasn't right to deal players signed beyond 2012. It's unclear whether that means the Twins felt the time wasn't right because those players are part of the team's intended plan to contend in 2013 or because they simply hope to get more value for them this offseason, but either way they stood pat.

Aiming to contend in 2013 or waiting until the offseason to deal veterans lead to the same thing, which is not trading Josh Willingham, Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Jared Burton, and others by July 31, but the long-term impact of those scenarios are very different. If they held onto veterans believing they're close to consistently contending again that's "optimistic" without plans to add lots of free agent rotation help and further delays a much-needed rebuild.

However, if the Twins held onto veterans believing that players signed beyond the current season will have a stronger trade market in November than in July that's a calculated risk and certainly defensible. Morneau and Burton are both under team control for next season, Willingham is signed through 2014, and Span's contract runs through 2015, so not trading them by July 31 doesn't rule out eventually trading them.

Terry Ryan and company need to be right about that, of course, and there's definitely reason to be skeptical of Willingham or Burton ever having more trade value than they do right now. And if any team was offering to absorb Morneau's entire $14 million salary for next season and give the Twins any sort of quality prospect, that's a move worth jumping on immediately. Still, in theory at least there was no rush to part with players under team control past this season.

Ultimately it comes down to having faith in Ryan and the front office, first to realize the focus should be on finding young talent rather than trying to contend in 2013 and then to maximize their returns from trading the few veterans with value to other teams. If you have faith, the Twins' trade deadline inactivity shouldn't be troubling. If you don't have faith, the Twins missed an immediate opportunity to restock the farm system and dive headfirst into rebuilding mode.

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August 7, 2012

Twins Notes: Valencia, Nishioka, Wimmers, Gibson, Plouffe, and Morneau

Trevor Plouffe's thumb injury and the lack of other decent, healthy infielders on the 40-man roster convinced the Twins to turn back to Danny Valencia despite his hitting .250/.289/.399 with a 40-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 69 games at Triple-A following his mid-May demotion. Plouffe remains on the disabled list, but after one week with Valencia the Twins decided they'd seen enough and traded him to the Red Sox for rookie-ball outfielder Jeremias Pineda.

Pineda's lofty .421 batting average looks pretty, but a month of Gulf Coast League action doesn't mean much and his 22-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't particularly impressive from a 21-year-old competing against teenagers. He's fast and might some day develop into a decent prospect, but Pineda is little more than a toss-in right now. Make no mistake about it: Valencia was essentially given away by the Twins. And it's hard to blame them.

Valencia hit .311 with good defense in an 85-game debut in 2010, but his track record showed he was playing over his head on both sides of the ball. He came crashing back down to earth last season and then completely fell apart this year, making him a career .260/.301/.393 hitter in 1,062 plate appearances. Jason Tyner had a higher OPS as a Twin. Toss in poor defense at third base from a soon-to-be 28-year-old and Valencia just isn't a starting-caliber player.

He does potentially have some value as a backup third baseman/first baseman or platoon guy versus left-handers, against whom he's hit .318/.363/.472. Of course, since Plouffe is also a right-handed bat and it's hard to imagine Ron Gardenhire platooning Justin Morneau or even Chris Parmelee with Valencia at first base there wasn't going to be much room for a part-time role in Minnesota. He's a marginal player who wore out his welcome on and off the field.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka was even worse than Valencia in Rochester, hitting .245/.309/.301 in 84 games, yet he was called up to fill the roster spot and immediately thrown into the lineup at second base last night. It took literally one play for the ball to find Nishioka and for Nishioka to commit a brutal error, and then later he made a second error just for good measure, although he did manage to successfully turn a double play without getting his leg broken. Baby steps.

Nishioka has no business being in the majors--he was terrible for the Twins and overmatched at Triple-A--but he's making $3 million this season and is owed another $3 million next season. At some point perhaps they'll decide he's simply a sunk cost and move on, but in the meantime he'll get a chance to show any sort of offensive or defensive ability. It probably won't be pretty, but it's not as if Nishioka is blocking any promising middle infielders from playing time.

• In early May former first-round pick Alex Wimmers was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral elbow ligament and the Twins, as they've often done with injured pitchers, advised him to rest and rehab in attempt to avoid surgery. Rarely, if ever, has that accomplished anything but delaying the inevitable and pushing back the eventual recovery timetable, and sure enough after resting for three months Wimmers had Tommy John surgery last week.

He'll be sidelined for 12 months and because he waited until now to undergo surgery that means Wimmers may not pitch at all next season. Wimmers was said to be one of the most MLB-ready pitchers available when the Twins drafted him out of Ohio State with the 21st pick in 2010, but the combination of last season's extreme control problems and this year's elbow injury means he'll likely see his next game action in 2014 as a 25-year-old with 62 pro innings.

• Wimmers' story is depressingly similar to Kyle Gibson's story, as the 2009 first-round pick injured his elbow last July, was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in August, and underwent Tommy John surgery in September. And because of the delayed surgery Gibson is just now seeing game action again in rookie-ball, where both his raw stuff and results have been very encouraging so far.

When back-to-back first-round picks touted as close to MLB-ready need Tommy John surgery that helps explain how the Twins' pitching situation became so dire. Neither projected as aces, but things would have been much different had Gibson joined the rotation as a No. 3 starter in the middle of last season and Wimmers got the call-up as a No. 4 starter this year. That's bad luck, but as has far too often been the case the Twins' medical staff didn't help matters.

• Speaking of the medical staff, the aforementioned Plouffe is the latest player to miss significant time with a supposed "day-to-day" injury that the Twins initially didn't deem worthy of a DL stint. Plouffe hurt his thumb on July 20, remained on the active roster for a week without actually being available to play, and then finally went on the DL. And now he'll remain on the DL well beyond the minimum 15 days, which is an all-too-familiar story.

To invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the MLB roster and seven-team farm system only to frequently have "day-to-day" injuries turn into month-long absences, terrible performances attributed after the fact to playing through injuries, and surgeries delayed by half a season has to be maddening for ownership and the front office. And yet just like after last season the question is how much more of that needs to take place before substantial changes are made?

• One month ago Morneau was hitting .238/.306/.431. Since then he's hit .368/.413/.611 with five homers and eight doubles in 24 games, including a pair of homers last night. During that time Morneau reduced his strikeout rate from 20 percent to 9 percent and went from hitting under .100 versus lefties to hitting nearly .500 against them. He's up to .275/.335/.481 on the season, which is very close to his .280/.351/.495 career mark.

• FSN showed this stat last night and I had to double-check to make sure it was true. Sure enough Josh Willingham now has the most homers in baseball since July 29 of last season:

JOSH WILLINGHAM       45
Curtis Granderson     42
Ryan Braun            41
Josh Hamilton         41
Jose Bautista         39
Albert Pujols         38

During that year-plus span Willingham has played 161 total games, hitting .260/.365/.555 with 45 homers, 33 doubles, 82 walks, and 129 RBIs. Mercy.

Lester Oliveros, who made one appearance for the Twins in mid-June, will miss the rest of the season following surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Oliveros has a mid-90s fastball and logged 48 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with a 2.42 ERA and 51-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio, so if healthy the right-hander acquired from the Tigers in the Delmon Young trade could be an Opening Day bullpen option for 2013.

• I'm assuming anyone reading this blog understands Samuel Deduno's success isn't sustainable unless he makes major changes, but just in case: Pitchers with more walks than strikeouts don't stay in the majors for long, let alone maintain sub-3.00 ERAs, and as a 28-year-old journeyman with 5.1 walks per nine innings in the minors he's an unlikely candidate for sudden improvement. It sure is interesting to watch while it lasts, though.

• Thursday night Glen Perkins became the first Twins reliever since Craig Breslow in 2008 to pitch two or more innings while recording a save, which has happened a total of 11 times since Gardenhire took over as manager in 2002. On a related note Breslow, who pitched for the Red Sox against the Twins this weekend, has a 3.02 ERA in 235 innings since they misguidedly waived him in favor of Sean Henn in mid-2009.

Pat Neshek was traded from the Orioles to the A's and called up to Oakland after spending all season at Triple-A. Neshek struggled for the past two years following Tommy John surgery, but pitched like his old self in the minors with a 2.66 ERA and 49-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 innings and then struck out the side in his A's debut Friday. Oakland and Baltimore play in September, so a Neshek-Lew Ford matchup that would blow Twins fans' minds is possible.

Matthew Kory of Baseball Prospectus noticed that Francisco Liriano is all but certain to lead the Twins in strikeouts for the season with 109 despite being traded on July 28. Scott Diamond has the second-most with 62. In his 17 starts Liriano averaged 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings and the 10 other pitchers to start a game for the Twins this season have combined for 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings, including none above 6.3.

• While watching Friday night's game I wondered if Darin Mastroianni, Denard Span, and Ben Revere are the fastest (and maybe best defensive) outfield to start multiple games together in Twins history. Impossible to say for sure, but it's hard to imagine a group with more range. Other candidates from my lifetime include the "Soul Patrol" of Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, and Matt Lawton or the World Series trio of Dan Gladden, Kirby Puckett, and Shane Mack.

Jamey Carroll, who's 38 years old and hitting .245 with zero home runs and a .292 slugging percentage, is five RBIs away from a new career-high.

• For a lot more (and some might even say too much) talk about Valencia, Nishioka, and the Twins' medical staff, listen to this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode.

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