July 18, 2014

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Pitchers

perkins and suzuki

For all the talk about and money spent on improving their starting pitching the Twins' rotation ranks 28th in ERA among the 30 teams. Last year they ranked 30th. Two years ago they ranked 29th. Three years ago they ranked 26th. And even with some pretty good relief work included the Twins' pitching staff has the fewest strikeouts in baseball for the fourth consecutive season. Before the second half gets underway here's a pitcher-by-pitcher look at the individual performances ...

Phil Hughes: .283/.297/.410 in 501 plate appearances

When the Twins signed Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million contract this offseason the idea was that getting him away from homer-inflating Yankee Stadium would fix his biggest problem of serving up long balls. That's played out exactly as hoped, with Hughes allowing just nine homers in 122 first-half innings after averaging 19 homers per 122 innings from 2010-2013. Beyond that there was also another big but unexpected change: He stopped walking anyone.

Hughes has always had mediocre control, averaging nearly 3.0 walks per nine innings for his Yankees career, but this season under Rick Anderson's coaching his walk rate is a miniscule 0.8 per nine innings. Not only is that the second-lowest rate in all of baseball--sandwiched between Hisashi Iwakuma and Clayton Kershaw--it's the second-lowest walk rate in Twins history behind only Carlos Silva's ridiculous 0.4 per nine innings in 2004.

Hughes' velocity and strikeout rate remain nearly identical to his Yankees days and he's still one of MLB's most extreme fly-ball pitchers, but switching home ballparks has made those fly balls less of a weakness and refusing to walk anyone has turned him into a different pitcher. He walked zero or one batter in 17 of 19 first-half starts (89 percent) after doing so in 61 of 132 starts (46 percent) for the Yankees. He's been a souped-up version of the Twins' long-preferred pitching mold.

Kevin Correia: .292/.335/.439 in 478 plate appearances

Kevin Correia got off to a horrendous start, put together a nice stretch heading into the All-Star break, and just like last year finished the first half as one of baseball's worst starters. Offensive levels dropping across MLB have kept his numbers from being as gag-inducing as bad pitchers from 5-10 years ago, but among the 93 qualified starters this season Correia ranks dead last in strikeout rate, second-to-last in xFIP, and 84th in ERA. He also leads MLB with 11 losses.

Last year when Correia tossed 185 innings with the league's second-worst strikeout rate and seventh-worst ERA the Twins portrayed it as successful, but that was spin and now with several good prospects knocking on the door to the majors there's little value to be had in letting Correia finish out his two-year, $10 million contract. Since the beginning of last season the only two MLB pitchers with more innings and a higher ERA than Correia are Kyle Kendrick and ...

Ricky Nolasco: .330/.368/.538 in 459 plate appearances

Signed to a four-year, $49 million deal this offseason to front the Twins' rotation, Ricky Nolasco was the worst starter in the league for three months and then revealed that he'd been pitching through an elbow injury since spring training. Within his terrible performance was some poor luck on balls in play, even by Nolasco's often "unlucky" standards, but his velocity, strikeout rate, and walk rate were also all worse than the 31-year-old's career norms.

Based on secondary numbers Nolasco performed more like a 4.50 ERA pitcher than a 5.90 ERA pitcher, but that's still awful in a year when the average starter has a 4.05 ERA. Justin Morneau hit .321/.375/.559 in his MVP-winning 2006 season. This year opponents have hit .330/.368/.538 off Nolasco. Thankfully for the Twins adding Hughes to the rotation has worked out well, because the decisions to sign Nolasco and re-sign Mike Pelfrey have gone about as poorly as possible.

Kyle Gibson: .251/.303/.356 in 423 plate appearances

Kyle Gibson returned from Tommy John elbow surgery without bat-missing raw stuff, generating just 4.7 strikeouts per nine innings since going under the knife. That limits his upside and means he'll always be in danger of a rapid collapse, but his ability to induce grounders has remained with the rebuilt elbow and his ground-ball rate of 54.6 percent ranks seventh among all MLB starters. And after some early control problems he issued just nine walks in his final 10 first-half starts.

Throwing strikes and keeping the ball on the ground is a recipe for success, but without strikeouts that success likely tops out in the middle of the rotation. Which is fine, of course. The last Twins starter to log 150 innings with a higher ground-ball rate than Gibson's current mark was ... no one, at least not since 2002 when the data begins. Still, fewer than 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings is Silva, Nick Blackburn, and Scott Diamond territory, which is a dangerous place to be.

Sam Deduno: .260/.344/.370 in 305 plate appearances

Once presumed to be a member of the rotation, Sam Deduno began the season in the bullpen before shifting into starter mode to replace the injured Pelfrey in May. After an ugly June 14 start he moved back to the bullpen, where he finished the first half by throwing 13 scoreless innings. His sample size of relief work is too small to draw any conclusions, but with a 4.51 ERA and 4.5 walks per nine innings in 41 career starts there's no need to see more of Deduno in the rotation.

Anthony Swarzak: .265/.323/.359 in 198 plate appearances

Nearly all of the gains Anthony Swarzak made last season have vanished this year, as his strikeout and walk rates have regressed to the pre-2013 levels that made him look like a marginal big leaguer. His durability has value in a bullpen-saving role, but Swarzak is now 28 years old with a 3.69 ERA and just 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 132 career relief appearances. He doesn't miss enough bats or throw enough strikes.

Glen Perkins: .230/.264/.375 in 163 plate appearances

I'm not sure people fully appreciate just how good Glen Perkins has been since moving to the bullpen full time in 2011. During that four-year span he's posted a 2.54 ERA in 235 appearances, compiling 269 strikeouts compared to 49 non-intentional walks in 234 innings. And since taking over for Matt Capps as closer in mid-2012 he's converted 74 saves at an 89 percent success rate. By comparison, Mariano Rivera converted 89 percent of his career save chances.

Among all MLB relievers with at least 200 innings since 2011 he ranks seventh in strikeout-to-walk ratio, eighth in average fastball velocity, and ninth in Win Probability Added and xFIP. He's been one of the 10 best relievers in baseball since becoming a reliever and Perkins is actually getting better, as this year's 49/7 K/BB ratio in 39 innings represents the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. He's the third-best reliever in Twins history behind Joe Nathan and Rick Aguilera.

Jared Burton: .236/.306/.396 in 160 plate appearances

It'd be easy to point to his 3.34 ERA in 35 appearances since back-to-back ugly April outings as proof that Jared Burton has been his old self of late, but the truth is that a 3.34 ERA isn't even much better than this season's MLB average of 3.60 for relievers and his 24/10 K/BB ratio in 32 innings during that span is hardly vintage Burton. His velocity and strikeouts are down, his walks and fly-ball rate are up, and after a helluva run for the Twins he's in decline mode at age 33.

Casey Fien: .215/.242/.347 in 155 plate appearances

Extreme fly-ball pitchers always make for tricky late-inning relievers and Casey Fien has had a few home run-based blowups, but he's also got a 2.95 ERA and fantastic 137/27 K/BB ratio in 137 innings since the Twins signed him as a minor-league free agent in 2012 and then called him up with zero expectations that July. During that three-year span Fien has been superior to Burton in strikeout rate, walk rate, opponents' average, ERA, and xFIP. He's the Twins' best setup man.

Brian Duensing: .260/.327/.382 in 148 plate appearances

Compared to last season his ERA looks much better, but Brian Duensing's secondary numbers are actually much worse and in particular he's managed a poor 21/13 K/BB ratio in 36 innings. Duensing continues to be decent versus left-handed hitters, but he's walked more righties (10) than he's struck out (9). For his career righties have hit .297/.356/.462 off Duensing and he's not nearly dominant enough against lefties to make up for it.

Mike Pelfrey: .305/.419/.505 in 119 plate appearances

Pelfrey was terrible in 2013, going 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts, but for some reason the Twins felt compelled to give him a two-year, $11 million contract. He went 0-3 with a 7.99 ERA in five starts, got shut down with a dubious groin injury, and later underwent elbow surgery. He's probably done for the season, but Pelfrey will be back in the mix for a rotation spot next season because he's still owed another $5.5 million.

Caleb Thielbar: .231/.271/.413 in 118 plate appearances

Last season Caleb Thielbar came out of nowhere to emerge as the Twins' secondary left-handed setup man and he's filled the same role relatively well this year. At age 27 the former independent leaguer lacks long-term upside, but through 76 innings as a big leaguer he's got a 2.23 ERA and 60/22 K/BB ratio without extreme platoon splits. He's been used in low-leverage situations, but that could change in the second half if the Twins start auditioning him for Duensing's gig.

Matt Guerrier: .245/.295/.324 in 113 plate appearances

Signed to a minor-league deal and then promoted to Minnesota one day before the mid-May opt-out clause in his contract, Matt Guerrier has posted a nice-looking 2.67 ERA with just one homer allowed in 20 appearances. He hasn't quite been his old self, however, with just 12 strikeouts in 27 innings and an average fastball velocity of 89 miles per hour. At age 35 he's a low-leverage reliever, which is exactly how the Twins have used the former setup man.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

April 30, 2014

Twins Notes: Meyer, Pelfrey, Fuld, Mastroianni, Wilson, Pinto, and Morneau

alex meyer twins

Alex Meyer was already the Twins' top pitching prospect and one of the top dozen or so pitching prospects in all of baseball, but now there's some reason to think his upside might be capable of rising a little further. Meyer has abandoned his old changeup grip for a new grip taught to him by Triple-A teammate Deolis Guerra, who was once a top prospect acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade and has always received tons of praise for his changeup.

Meyer got off to a slow start this year, but he's racked up double-digit strikeouts in back-to-back games while throwing 12.2 innings of shutout ball. He's now made 21 total starts as a member of the Twins organization, posting a 2.97 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 103 innings. His control could still use plenty of work, but Meyer is 24 years old and seemingly very close to being MLB ready, assuming the Twins are willing to dump a veteran from their rotation at some point.

• On a related note, dropping Mike Pelfrey from the rotation would be an easy call except for the fact that the Twins re-signed him to a two-year, $11 million contract four months ago. It made little sense then and looks even worse now that Pelfrey has a 7.32 ERA with nearly twice as many walks (15) as strikeouts (8) through four starts. He's now 5-15 with a 5.43 ERA in 33 total starts for the Twins, who got a long look at him in 2013 and decided they needed to see a lot more.

• They had to play short-handed without a true backup center fielder for a while after losing Alex Presley for nothing to the Astros on waivers, but the Twins essentially replaced him by claiming Sam Fuld off waivers from the A's. Presley is a better hitter than Fuld and he's also four years younger, but Fuld is a better defender even if his range has slipped a bit at age 32. Aaron Hicks should be playing just about every day, but it won't be surprising if Fuld steals some starts.

• In adding Fuld to the roster the Twins designated for assignment Darin Mastroianni, who was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays. And then in adding Mastroianni to their roster the Blue Jays designated for assignment Kenny Wilson, who was claimed off waivers by the Twins. Oh, and here's the kicker: Back in 2012 the Twins originally acquired Mastroianni by claiming him off waivers from the Blue Jays.

Mastroianni had a solid 2012 in a part-time role, but injuries wrecked his 2013 and because he's not really an up-the-middle defender despite elite speed his weak bat makes him a marginal bench option. Wilson has an even weaker bat and in fact might be one of the worst hitters on any team's 40-man roster, but he does have 50-steal speed and is a much better center field option than Mastroianni in addition to being four years younger.

Josmil Pinto through 40 career games: .292/.401/.533 with nine homers and 23 walks. Those are basically the same numbers he posted at Double-A and Triple-A, but with more power. It took injuries to Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia for Ron Gardenhire to play Pinto regularly, but hopefully his spot in the lineup is now secure. It might be time to get very excited about what the Twins have in Pinto, whether or not he can be passable enough defensively to catch regularly.

• Twins starting pitchers have a combined 6.04 ERA, which is the worst in the league by more than a full run. They also have a combined strikeout rate of 5.1 per nine innings and no other team in baseball has averaged fewer than 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Justin Morneau hit .256/.319/.406 in 355 games from 2011-2013, so naturally now he's hitting .357/.381/.643 in 26 games for the Rockies. And so far at least it's not all Coors Field-driven.

David Cameron of Fan Graphs wrote a very interesting analysis of how the Twins are scoring tons of runs by not swinging the bat.

• For a lot more about the Twins' no-swing approach and what they should do about the starting rotation, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

April 25, 2014

Link-O-Rama

Chris Colabello hitting a home run while his mom and dad were being interviewed on FOX Sports North was spectacular television:

Baseball can be a helluva thing sometimes.

George Clooney and Steve Wynn got into a fight at dinner and it's hilarious to me that there's an entire newspaper report devoted to recapping what happened.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode Parker Hageman filled in as co-host even though our producer, Kate Butler, was vehemently against his being involved with the show.

• Speaking of which, Hageman has a new podcast of his own called "The No Juice Podcast."

Drake sat courtside at a Raptors playoff game in Toronto and took out a lint roller to clean his pants in the middle of a play:

You can laugh if you want, but he goes home to Rihanna.

Tyler Mason of FOX Sports North wrote a good article talking to various Twins players about their opinions of sabermetrics.

• Wanna buy Brad Radke's house for $6.8 million?

• You can listen to my half-hour chat with Paul Allen from earlier this week on KFAN.

• I mean, sure, Mike Pelfrey is 5-15 with a 5.43 ERA in 33 starts for the Twins, but this makes giving him a two-year contract worth it.

• Combining a comedy club and a taproom seems like a pretty great idea.

John Mayer covered "XO" by Beyonce and of course I loved it:

This is probably considered blasphemy, but I officially like Mayer covering Beyonce more than I like Beyonce.

• This is where I've chosen to live.

• I've been using Uber a lot and it's very easy/pleasant compared to cabs. If you use my promo code you get $20 off your first ride. If you've been thinking of trying it anyway, why not do it.

• Check out The Balgaard Brothers' new album because it's good music and also one of them has a daughter who's among my favorite people.

• There's a new restaurant opening in my neighborhood called Heyday and after looking at these pictures I'm excited to be trying it this weekend.

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

- "When will Byron Buxton be called up?"
- "Byron Buxton long-term extension"
- "Byron Buxton pitching"
- "Minnesota Twins dating site"
- "How to write the DH into the lineup card"
- "Kevin Love naked"
- "Is Trevor Plouffe for real?"
- "Justin Morneau on the Pohlads"
- "How did Meatsauce lose weight?"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Right Above It" by Drake and Lil Wayne:


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

December 18, 2013

Twins Notes: Pelfrey re-signs, Kubel returns, and Hendriks relocates

pelfrey and gardenhire

• My assumption was that the Twins wouldn't want anything to do with Mike Pelfrey again after he posted a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts, but both Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan repeatedly made it clear that they wanted to re-sign him even with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes already added to the rotation. Bringing back Pelfrey at all is odd enough, but bringing back Pelfrey on a two-year contract worth $11 million plus incentives is something I'm really struggling to comprehend.

In addition to the bloated 5.19 ERA and .300 opponents' batting average he managed just 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings to rank 81st out of 91 pitchers with at least 150 innings as starters. His walk rate of 3.1 per nine innings ranked 70th out of 91 and for all the talk about Pelfrey's ability to induce ground balls his actual ground-ball rate of 43 percent ranked 55th. He was a fly-ball pitcher with bad control and very few missed bats and he ranked next-to-last among all starters in xFIP.

Pelfrey was also in his first season back from Tommy John surgery and odds are he'll be stronger in 2014, but the problem is that he was never particularly good before the elbow injury. He was a durable innings-eater for the Mets, but in terms of actually preventing runs Pelfrey had a 4.38 ERA from 2009-2012 despite calling the National League and a pitcher-friendly ballpark home. Here's how his pre-surgery numbers from 2009-2012 compare to his post-surgery numbers in 2013:

              SO/9     BB/9      GB%     xFIP      MPH
2013           6.0      3.1     43.2     4.54     92.3
2009-2012      5.1      3.0     48.3     4.40     92.3

There were certainly some changes within Pelfrey's post-surgery performance, but for the most part he remained the same pitcher relying very heavily on the same fastball thrown at the same speed and his overall results were nearly identical. Which is to say: Not good. Also of note is that Pelfrey has always worked slow, but his pace was excruciatingly lethargic this year. His average of 24.9 seconds between pitches was the ninth-slowest in baseball. He was brutal to watch too.

Clearly the Twins, like their fans, were sick of watching inexperienced starters get their brains beat in, because re-signing Pelfrey and signing Nolasco and Hughes to go with holdover Kevin Correia leaves just one spot in the rotation to be fought for by a group that includes Samuel DedunoKyle GibsonScott DiamondVance WorleyKris Johnson, and Andrew Albers. And soon they'll hopefully need to make room for stud prospect Alex Meyer's arrival.

Gibson and Meyer are the only starters in that group around whom long-term plans should be made and the Twins had plenty of money to spend, so shoving aside various back-of-the-rotation options isn't a big deal. But why Pelfrey? And why lock yourself into a two-year commitment to a mediocre-at-best pitcher coming off a season in which he was one of the very worst starters in all of baseball?

• Jason Kubel left the Twins as a free agent following the 2011 season to sign a two-year, $15 million deal with the Diamondbacks and now, after one good year and one bad year, he returns to Minnesota on a minor-league deal. This year he struggled with injuries and hit just .216/.293/.317 with a 92/29 K/BB ratio in 97 games, so it's possible that he's simply done at age 32, but Kubel was an above-average hitter in each of the previous six seasons and smacked 30 homers in 2012.

He's never been able to hit left-handers and has no business playing defense at this point, but if used correctly in a part-time role Kubel could be a nice addition. And the price is certainly right. Of course, Gardenhire has yet to consistently platoon anyone in a dozen years and there was already a logjam at designated hitter and the outfield corners with Josh Willingham, Oswaldo ArciaRyan DoumitChris ParmeleeChris Colabello, and possibly Josmil Pinto in the mix.

Doumit possibly no longer being an option at catcher means finding a taker for him and his $3.5 million salary would lessen the logjam considerably, but he was almost as bad as Kubel offensively and is every bit as bad defensively in the outfield. Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Kubel will get $2 million in upfront money if he makes the Opening Day roster and could earn another $1 million in potential incentives. Right now I'd bet on him making the team.

UPDATE: Apparently the Twins agreed. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that they're trading Doumit to the Braves for Sean Gilmartin, a soft-tossing lefty who was a first-round pick in 2011.

• Designated for assignment last week to make room on the 40-man roster for the Nolasco and Hughes signings, Liam Hendriks was claimed off waivers by the Cubs. I've already said my piece on the Hendriks decision, but the short version is that despite never being a particularly promising prospect he's still young enough to be useful and the Twins had a handful of better choices to cut loose. There's a decent chance he'll find himself on waivers again before Opening Day, though.

• Fan Graphs published the annual ZiPS projections for the Twins and ... it ain't pretty.

• Thanks to everyone who bought tickets to the event I'm co-hosting with Twins Daily next month during TwinsFest. We sold out all 125 tickets in three hours, so we're trying to find a way to add some more spots. Stay tuned for more details.

• For a lot more discussion about Pelfrey, Kubel, and Hendriks check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by 6300 Steakhouse at the Embassy Suites, an American steakhouse with a Cajun flair that features hand-cut steaks, seafood, sandwiches, burgers, and homemade Jambalaya. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

December 11, 2013

Twins Notes: Hendriks, Pelfrey, Davis, Sano, Jones, and the Rule 5 draft

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins

• To make room on the 40-man roster for Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes the Twins designated Liam Hendriks for assignment, cutting the 24-year-old right-hander loose just two seasons after he was named the organization's minor league pitcher of the year. Of course, last season's minor league pitcher of the year, B.J. Hermsen, has already been removed from the 40-man roster too and this year's winner, Andrew Albers, isn't exactly destined to remain there forever.

Here are the Twins' last 10 minor league pitcher of the year winners:

2013  Andrew Albers
2012  B.J. Hermsen
2011  Liam Hendriks
2010  Kyle Gibson
2009  David Bromberg
2008  Anthony Slama
2007  Kevin Slowey
2006  Matt Garza
2005  Francisco Liriano
2004  Scott Baker

There's obviously a lot more to the story, but that list is a good indicator of when things started to go wrong for the Twins. As for Hendriks, he's been terrible in the majors so far and even when he was putting up nice-looking numbers in the minors I was never a particularly big fan, viewing him as a potential mid-rotation starter long term. Still, considering his age and the replacement-level talent still residing on the 40-man roster letting him go isn't the call I'd have made.

• Even after adding Nolasco and Hughes the Twins are apparently still trying to re-sign Mike Pelfrey, which makes zero sense to me. He was a mess for the Twins and while he'll be another year removed from elbow surgery the problem is that Pelfrey was never much good before the injury with a 4.36 ERA and measly 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings for the Mets. I'd rely on young arms before turning back to Pelfrey and the idea of a two-year deal seems all kinds of misguided.

• Free agent outfielder Rajai Davis signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Tigers and in doing so reportedly turned down a two-year offer from the Twins. Davis is incredibly fast, stealing 60 bases per 600 plate appearances during the past five seasons, but also hit just .271/.317/.382 over that span and is a surprisingly mediocre defender. It's interesting that the Twins made a run at him, because they're certainly not short on outfielders at the moment.

Miguel Sano stopped playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic last month because of an elbow injury and the Twins are still waiting to determine whether Tommy John surgery is needed. That would obviously be a huge blow to Sano considering how close he is to the majors and how much of his ability to remain at third base revolves around arm strength, but position players do recover from Tommy John surgery more quickly than pitchers. Still, not good.

Garrett Jones, who left the Twins as a minor-league free agent way back in 2008, signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract with the Marlins. I'm not sure why the Marlins of all teams need a mediocre 33-year-old first baseman coming off a career-worst season, but good for him. Jones always showed good power in the minors, but his all-around skill set was never very impressive and his hitting .256/.318/.462 in five seasons for the Pirates definitely qualifies as a surprise.

• As of now the 40-man roster is full and Terry Ryan indicated that the Twins don't plan to pick anyone in the Rule 5 draft Thursday. Last year they selected Ryan Pressly from the Red Sox and he stayed in the majors all season as a low-leverage reliever, throwing 77 innings with a 3.87 ERA and 49-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio at age 24.

• Tickets won't go on sale until Friday morning, but here are the details on the next Twins Daily and "Gleeman and The Geek" event. Should be a good one.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked about the Twins missing out on free agent catcher targets A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the new homes for Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan, and Hendriks getting dropped.


This week's blog content is sponsored by 6300 Steakhouse at the Embassy Suites, an American steakhouse with a Cajun flair that features hand-cut steaks, seafood, sandwiches, burgers, and homemade Jambalaya. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

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