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 21, 2013

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

caleb thielbar twins debut

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

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

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

UPDATE: Deduno will get the start Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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May 1, 2013

What has gotten into Kevin Correia?

kevin correia twins

I spent much of the offseason criticizing the Twins for signing Kevin Correia to a two-year, $10 million contract, wondering why a 32-year-old with such an underwhelming track record was their target in the first place and why they felt the need to make him a two-year commitment at a time when similarly mediocre starters were signing one-year deals all over the place. And now a month into the season Correia has a 2.23 ERA while going at least seven innings in all five starts.

On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked at length about the extent to which everyone but the Twins have been wrong about Correia so far and I certainly wouldn't begrudge anyone for piling on further, but I also thought it would be worthwhile to delve a little deeper into exactly how he's out-performed expectations. First, let's take a look at which pitches he's thrown and how often he's thrown them, as classified by PitchFX:

             2013    2012    2011
Fastball      13%     25%     27%
Sinker        24%     24%     25%
Cutter        35%     28%     28%
Curveball     12%     12%     12%
Changeup      16%     12%      8%

Pitch classifications are always tricky and in Correia's case what PitchFX is calling a "changeup" is actually what he calls a split-fingered fastball. And he's throwing that pitch a whole lot more often this season while significantly reducing his four-seam fastball usage. That's a conscious change to his approach and at first glance it's changed his results too, but let's go beyond ERA to examine how his 2013 numbers compare to his 2010-2012 numbers:

            SO%     BB%    BABIP      GB%     LOB%      HR%     xFIP
2013       10.6     3.5     .271     46.7     82.9      4.8     4.17
2010-12    13.8     7.3     .293     48.5     68.7     13.0     4.26

Part of why I disliked the Correia signing so much was that he had one of MLB's lowest strikeout rates from 2010-2012 at 13.8 percent (or 5.4 per nine innings). This year Correia's strikeout rate has actually dipped even lower to 10.6 percent (or 3.7 per nine innings), which is a decrease of 23 percent when broken down per plate appearance. To put that in some context, last year only one MLB starter had a strikeout rate below 11 percent and Max Scherzer led MLB at 29.4 percent.

Correia's strikeout rate has gone from bad to worse, but he's dramatically improved his walk rate. Despite pitching to so much contact he never had particularly good control, walking 3.5 per nine innings from 2010-2012 and never walking fewer than 2.4 per nine innings in a season. This year he's walked 1.2 per nine innings, which is an improvement of 52 percent per plate appearance. For context, strike-throwing machine Brad Radke's career walk rate was 1.6 per nine innings.

My perception of Correia's first five starts was that he induced a ton of ground balls, but in reality his ground-ball rate of 46.7 percent is around league average and below his rate of 48.5 percent from 2010-2012. So if his already awful strikeout rate has declined 23 percent and he's inducing fewer ground balls, how is Correia thriving? Improving his walk rate from mediocre to spectacular shouldn't be overlooked and leaning on the splitter has helped him against left-handed hitters.

Beyond that, however, he's been pretty fortunate/lucky. Correia's batting average on balls in play is .271, which is 22 points below his 2010-2012 mark and 19 points below MLB average. Of the runners he's put on base 82.9 percent have been stranded, compared to his 2010-2012 mark of 68.7 percent and the MLB average of 72.9 percent. And last but definitely not least, Correia has allowed a homer on 4.8 percent of his fly balls, compared to 13.0 percent from 2010-2012.

Giving up just two homers in 36.1 innings goes a long way toward making up for any weaknesses in other areas and Correia has definitely gotten away with some close calls on a handful of deep, well-struck fly balls that were hauled in on the warning track. And close calls or not, 4.8 percent simply isn't a sustainable rate of homers per fly ball. MLB average is 10 percent and his career mark is 10.6 percent, so going forward his home run rate can roughly be expected to double.

Making half his starts at Target Field will certainly help suppress Correia's homers, but he's called pitcher-friendly ballparks home for most of his career--including Petco Park in San Diego, which is the pitcher-friendly ballpark--and still had a typical rate. And despite having Target Field on their side Twins pitchers as a whole had a home run rate of 10.4 percent from 2010-2012, so at some point the ballpark can only do so much.

Advanced metrics like Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) take into account what the norms are for rates like batting average on balls in play, left-on-base percentage, and home runs per fly ball in an effort to show what a pitcher's ERA would look like if luck/good fortunate weren't a factor. Correia had a 4.26 xFIP from 2010-2012, including 4.34 last season. Through five starts this season his xFIP is 4.17.

It's also worth noting that Correia has gotten off to strong starts in past years only to end up with mediocre overall numbers. In fact, if you take his first five starts in each of 2010, 2011, and 2012 he had a 3.59 ERA in 90 innings. From his sixth start on in those three seasons Correia had a 5.04 ERA in 380 innings. That's not meant to show anything about Correia specifically so much as it's meant to say five starts are only five starts and April is only April.

There's no doubt that Correia has looked very good so far and if his improved control is here to stay that would be a big factor in his potential improvement, but for the most part the underlying factors within his performance are much closer to his career-long mediocrity than the nice-looking 2.23 ERA would suggest. None of which means his good fortunate/luck is guaranteed to change for the worse, but given how Correia has pitched things evening out would be bad news.


This week's blog content is sponsored by "Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes" author John Rosengren's upcoming appearance at the Minneapolis Sabes JCC on May 5. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

February 4, 2013

Twins Notes: MLB Network, Capps, Correia, Saunders, and Waldrop

"Clubhouse Confidential" on MLB Network is a really good, sabermetrically inclined show hosted by Brian Kenny and Friday's episode focused on the Twins. They had me on as a guest and then immediately after my segment they interviewed Terry Ryan. You don't see a whole lot of shows that feature a blogger and a general manager, which is why "Clubhouse Confidential" and Kenny are so fun to watch. Here's the opening segment, which includes my appearance:

And here's the interview with Ryan that followed:

I asked them to use the picture of me drinking from Twitter as the headshot, but it was a no-go.

• Two years ago the Twins paid $7.15 million to avoid arbitration with Matt Capps and last year they paid $4.5 million to re-sign him while also forfeiting a draft pick, but after a season in which he was limited to 29 innings by arm problems Capps could manage only a minor-league deal with the Indians. Capps was overpaid and overrated by the Twins at every turn for three years, but as a low-cost middle relief candidate he's a very solid pickup for the Indians.

• Fun facts: Capps has the 10th-most saves in Twins history despite converting just 79 percent of his save chances. Among the 31 pitchers with at least 40 saves from 2010-2012 he was second-to-last in strikeout rate, home run rate, and opponents' batting average. In two-and-a-half years with the Twins he threw 122 total innings, for which they gave up $13 million, Wilson Ramos, and a first-round draft pick. It was a bad trade then and they kept making it even worse.

Kevin Correia has spent his entire career in the National League, posting a 4.54 ERA in 1,066 innings through age 31, which is among the many reasons why it was a bad idea for the Twins to give him a two-year, $10 million contract. Tyler Mason of FOXSportsNorth.com asked Correia about the league switch--which has long been considered unfavorable for pitchers--and got an interesting response:

I think in the National League your innings get cut short because you get pinch-hit for in certain situations. So I'm looking forward to seeing how many innings I can put up in the American League for the first time in my career.

Which sounds good until you think about it. There have no doubt been times when Correia was pulled from a game because his spot in the lineup was due up, but that's hardly an every-start occurrence and is more than balanced out by getting to face the opposing pitcher multiple times per game. Last season NL and AL pitchers averaged an identical 5.9 innings per start. For his career Correia has allowed a .400 OPS to opposing pitchers and a .790 OPS to everyone else.

• It sure sounds like the Twins have a one-year offer on the table to free agent left-hander Joe Saunders, but he'd rather return to the Orioles if he can't get a multi-year deal. On last week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode Twins president Dave St. Peter made it pretty clear that they still have plenty of payroll space for 2013 but don't want to commit any additional money for 2014 or 2015, so while I'm hardly a Saunders fan overpaying him for one season would make sense.

Kyle Waldrop signed a minor-league deal with the Pirates after the Twins dropped him from the 40-man roster in October. He's been in the organization since 2004, when the Twins drafted him 25th overall with the compensatory pick for losing LaTroy Hawkins as a free agent, but injuries forced Waldrop to switch to the bullpen and at age 27 his upside is limited. Waldrop induces tons of ground balls, but managed just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings at Triple-A.

Jeff Sullivan of Fan Graphs wrote an interesting article about Ryan Doumit and the impact of catcher defense on perceived value.

• I usually post the new "Gleeman and The Geek" episode here on Mondays, but we're recording later than usual this week because John Bonnes goes out of town for Super Bowl weekend every year and I didn't want to subject the world to another "Gleeman Without The Geek" episode like last time. When we do record this week's episode I'd like to include a mailbag segment, so if you have any questions post them in the comments section or send them to me via Twitter.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Rotoworld's annual "Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide," which is available in both magazine and online versions. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

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