May 28, 2013

Twins Notes: Arcia, Gibson, Benson, Butera, Morneau, Mauer, and Gomez

oswaldo arcia twins

• When the Twins called up Oswaldo Arcia from Triple-A in mid-April they gave him consistent playing time, but as soon as the 22-year-old slumped for the first time those starts dried up. Last week Ron Gardenhire benched Arcia in four straight games, choosing instead to go with Ryan Doumit twice and Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello once apiece in right field. And then after finally starting Arcia again Friday the Twins demoted him back to Rochester.

Even after his recent slump Arcia was hitting .255/.318/.449 in 30 games overall, which is damn good for a 22-year-old rookie who was rushed to the majors and ranks third on the Twins in OPS behind Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham. In talking about the demotion Gardenhire acted upset, suggesting he may not have agreed with the front office's decision, but the manager choosing to start Doumit, Parmelee, and Colabello over Arcia wasn't helping.

For a 22-year-old's development playing regularly in Rochester is better than playing sparingly in Minnesota, but if they wanted to find room in the lineup for Arcia it's not as if benching Parmelee or sending him back to Triple-A would have been a tough call. For all the focus on Arcia slumping for 30 at-bats, Parmelee is 25 years old and has hit .222/.290/.351 with nine homers and an ugly 88-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 106 games since last season.

Arcia was Darin Mastroianni's injury replacement and arrived after just 10 games at Triple-A and 79 total games above Single-A, so his heading back down is hardly a tragedy. His plate discipline still needs work, which isn't surprising given his age, hastened timetable, and poor K/BB ratios in the minors. Sending him down now doesn't really jibe with rushing Arcia to the majors in the first place, but it does ensure that he won't burn through a full season of service time in 2013.

• Speaking of service time, bypassing Kyle Gibson twice in favor of Samuel Deduno and P.J. Walters should save the Twins money down the road. Whether that was a factor in keeping him at Triple-A is tough to say, but Gibson is 25 years old and thriving in his first full season back from elbow surgery. In his last four starts he has two complete-game shutouts and another game of eight shutout innings on the way to a 2.82 ERA and 53/17 K/BB ratio in 61 innings overall.

Deduno and Walters are nothing more than replacement-level filler who made a lot more sense last year as emergency options for an injury wrecked rotation. It doesn't speak well for the front office that they're both already back in the rotation following an offseason spent talking about improving the dreadful starting pitching, which has somehow been even worse. Last year they turned to Deduno and Walters because injuries forced them. This year it's their own doing.

• By calling up non-roster players in Deduno, Walters, and Colabello the Twins needed to open three spots on the 40-man roster. Two of those were created by transferring Mastroianni and Tim Wood to the 60-day disabled list and the third was accomplished by waiving someone. There's no shortage of fungible talent on the 40-man roster, which is why it was surprising when they chose Joe Benson and the Rangers claimed him.

Benson has been equal parts injured and awful since the beginning of last season and his stock has plummeted to the point that the 25-year-old former second-round pick is clearly no longer a top prospect. Just a few weeks ago on a "Gleeman and The Geek" episode I actually wondered if Benson was in danger of being trimmed from the 40-man roster, but I was speculating about an offseason move if he continued to struggle all year.

To cut bait now seems short-sighted, especially when the 40-man roster still holds Drew Butera, Cole De Vries, Wilkin Ramirez, Chris Herrmann, Tyler Robertson, and the aforementioned trio of Colabello, Deduno, and Walters. Butera in particular isn't someone to worry about losing. He hit .183 for the Twins after hitting .216 in the minors, and if some team wants to claim his $700,000 contract another bad-hitting, good-fielding catcher isn't difficult to find.

For some organizations losing a struggling former top prospect like Benson is simply the cost of needing to juggle roster spots to provide big-league reinforcements, but in the Twins' case the 40-man roster is full of spare parts and choosing Deduno and Walters as reinforcements when Gibson was already on the 40-man roster essentially cost them Benson. Benson's upside has rapidly deteriorated, but guys like Butera and De Vries have never had any upside.

• Friday night Mauer singled to end Anibal Sanchez's no-hitter with one out in the ninth inning. Mauer previously broke up ninth-inning no-hitters by Gavin Floyd in 2008 and Neftali Feliz in 2010, and doing it three times ties him with former Yankees second baseman Horace Clarke for the most since 1961. I'm not sure if that says more about the Twins' offense or Mauer's hitting.

• Lost in the near no-hitter Friday night is that Parmelee randomly played an inning in center field after Gardenhire pinch-hit Doumit for Aaron Hicks and apparently didn't want to use Ramirez. All of which got me thinking about the least-qualified center fielders in recent Twins history. They've used 23 different center fielders since Gardenhire became manager in 2002, led by Torii Hunter for 814 games and Denard Span for 448 games. Here's the full list:

Torii Hunter     814     Nick Punto         9
Denard Span      448     Wilkin Ramirez     8
Carlos Gomez     283     Craig Monroe       7
Lew Ford         149     Darin Mastroianni  6
Ben Revere       134     Michael Cuddyer    6
Aaron Hicks       41     Michael Ryan       5          
Jason Tyner       37     Denny Hocking      3
Bobby Kielty      36     Erik Komatsu       2
Dustan Mohr       12     Joe Benson         2
Jacque Jones      12     Clete Thomas       1
Jason Repko       11     Alexi Casilla      1
                         Chris Parmelee     1

Quite a few guys on that list had no business in center field, but it's tough to beat Parmelee. Prior to Friday he'd played eight seasons and 838 games as a pro without spending an inning anywhere but first base or an outfield corner.

• On a related note, after homering twice off Kevin Correia yesterday Carlos Gomez is hitting .331/.376/.611 this season and .300/.343/.540 with 24 homers and 35 steals in 123 games since last year's All-Star break. Toss in what has always been strong defense in center field and Gomez has seemingly developed into one of the best all-around players in baseball at age 27.

• Gardenhire's ejection Saturday afternoon was the 64th of his career, which averages out to one ejection per 28.6 games as manager. Bobby Cox has the all-time record with 158 ejections, so at his current pace Gardenhire would have to manage 17 more seasons to top him.

Justin Morneau has just two homers in 47 games this season and a total of four homers in his last 79 games dating back to last year, with half of them coming in one game. Morneau is hitting .300 and Willingham is hitting .212, but Willingham has a higher OPS by 50 points.

• Mauer has a .433 batting average on balls in play. No other AL hitter is above .400 and Mauer's career mark is .349. Mauer is hitting .339 and the rest of the Twins are hitting a combined .229.

• Since joining the Twins organization Deduno has 88 walks in 143 innings between Triple-A and the majors. In his final three seasons Brad Radke had a total of 81 walks in 583 innings.

Rafael Perez, who was released by the Twins from Triple-A, signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode was jam-packed with good Twins topics. We broke down all the recent roster moves, tried to figure out their plan for Gibson, weighed the pros and cons for demoting Arcia, and got in depth looking at the Twins' draft options with the No. 4 pick.


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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.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Ticket King, a local ticket broker that doesn't charge check-out fees, offers in-store pickup, and specializes in Twins tickets. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

March 28, 2013

Twins Notes: Setting the Opening Day roster

ron gardenhire spring training

• Barring any changes between now and Monday here's what the Twins' roster looks like:

   LINEUP:                    ROTATION:
C  Joe Mauer               RH Vance Worley
1B Justin Morneau          RH Kevin Correia
2B Brian Dozier            RH Mike Pelfrey
SS Pedro Florimon          RH Liam Hendriks
3B Trevor Plouffe          RH Cole De Vries
LF Josh Willingham
CF Aaron Hicks                BULLPEN:
RF Chris Parmelee          LH Glen Perkins
DH Ryan Doumit             RH Jared Burton
                           LH Brian Duensing
   BENCH:                  RH Casey Fien
IF Jamey Carroll           RH Josh Roenicke
IF Eduardo Escobar         RH Ryan Pressly
OF Darin Mastroianni       LH Tyler Robertson
OF Wilkin Ramirez

If the above 25-man roster sticks there will be a total of 11 holdovers from last season's Opening Day roster: Joe Mauer, Justin MorneauJosh WillinghamRyan Doumit, Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe, and Jamey Carroll among position players and Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, and Liam Hendriks among pitchers.

Scott Diamond's elbow problems opened the door for Samuel Deduno to get back into the rotation, but a groin injury suffered during the World Baseball Classic shut that door. Deduno, who was dropped from the 40-man roster and passed through waivers unclaimed four months ago, will head to Triple-A. Cole De Vries, who unlike Deduno is on the 40-man roster, is set to join Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Hendriks in the season-opening rotation.

De Vries held his own in 14 starts as a 27-year-old rookie last season, but he was an emergency call-up when the rotation was wrecked by injuries and has a 4.39 ERA with just 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 156 innings at Triple-A. De Vries throws strikes and as an Eden Prairie native who went undrafted out of the University of Minnesota he's a good story, but he's likely to serve up a ton of homers and turning to him already is a bad sign.

Alex Burnett stuck around in the majors far longer than his performance warranted, spending nearly three full seasons in the Twins' bullpen despite a 4.61 ERA, sub par control, and just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings. On the surface his 3.52 ERA last season may have looked like a big step forward, but it came with a horrible 36-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 72 innings and the Twins smartly didn't let his experience keep them from sending Burnett to Triple-A.

Barring late additions Burnett's demotion to Rochester means that the four bullpen spots after Perkins as closer and Burton and Duensing as his primary setup men will go to Casey Fien, Josh Roenicke, Ryan Pressly, and Tyler Robertson. Pressly is the biggest surprise after the Twins opted not to keep Rule 5 picks in the majors in both 2011 and 2012, but he throws hard and they clearly like how he's looked since shifting from starter to reliever late last season.

I'm glad Fien is getting another shot after looking good in 35 innings last season. He has a solid enough track record in the minors to think he can be a useful middle man. Roenicke was claimed off waivers from the Rockies in November and has shown the durability to soak up innings, but poor control and sub par strikeout rates aren't an encouraging combo. Rafael Perez not being ready yet following shoulder surgery made it pretty easy for Robertson to be the third left-hander.

Perkins and Burton put the Twins in good shape for the eighth and ninth innings, but beyond that duo Fien, Roenicke, and Pressly from the right side and Duensing and Robertson from the left side isn't particularly promising. Anthony Swarzak, who likely would have made the team as a long reliever, and Tim Wood, who was in the mix for one of the final bullpen spots, will both begin the season on the disabled list.

• Last offseason the Twins signed outfielder Wilkin Ramirez to a minor-league deal and sent him to the minors without any fanfare after he hit .214 in 10 spring training games. He played most of the season at Triple-A and did little to distinguish himself, hitting .276/.316/.451 with 15 homers and an ugly 97-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 98 games. He became a free agent and re-signed with the Twins on another minor-league deal. And now Ramirez is on the Opening Day roster.

What changed between then and now to make a 27-year-old journeyman with an underwhelming decade-long track record and awful plate discipline worth a roster spot in the majors? Ramirez has had a good spring, hitting .444 with nine doubles in 16 games. And that's basically it. Last year at this time no one gave him much thought and his play in Rochester didn't warrant a call-up, but 45 good at-bats convinced the Twins he's the man for the job.

It doesn't matter much, because backups on last-place teams aren't exactly of vital importance and the Twins failed to bring in many superior options, but trusting 50 plate appearances in spring training over 4,000 plate appearances in the minors generally isn't a sound approach to decision-making and Ramirez is an odd pick to replace Drew Butera following Ron Gardenhire's call to "beef up" the bench. He's a career .255/.310/.430 hitter at Triple-A.

Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press crunched the numbers and calculates the Twins' payroll at $81 million, which is the lowest since it was $65 million during the final season at the Metrodome in 2009. In their first season at Target Field the Twins spent $98 million and in Year 2 that rose to $113 million, but the payroll dropped to $94 million in Year 3 and now it's well below MLB average. Not quite the pattern fans were hoping for throughout the new ballpark push.

• Friend of AG.com Dan Szymborski predicted the American League standings for ESPN.com based on his excellent ZiPS projection system and not surprisingly the Twins are bringing up the rear in the AL Central at 66-96. Only the Astros have a worse projected record in the AL.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode featured a whole bunch of Aaron Hicks talk.


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February 20, 2013

Twins sign longtime Indians setup man Rafael Perez

rafael perez indians

They've failed to acquire as much rotation help as everyone was led to believe heading into the offseason, but the Twins added a last-minute bullpen option by signing left-hander Rafael Perez to a minor-league contract. Perez spent the past seven seasons in Cleveland, throwing 329 innings with a 3.64 ERA as one of the league's best setup men, but missed nearly all of last year with a shoulder injury that required surgery in September and got him non-tendered in November.

According to the Twins he's already fully recovered from surgery and even if Perez experiences some setbacks along the way he's a worthwhile flier considering the lack of risk. If he makes the team out of spring training Perez will get $1.2 million and in the meantime the Twins have neither committed any upfront money nor given him a 40-man roster spot. He's essentially in the same boat as Rich Harden as a no-risk lottery ticket with a potentially valuable payoff.

However, even before last season's shoulder problems Perez was showing major signs of decline despite maintaining nice-looking ERAs. He was a dominant reliever early on, with 163 strikeouts through his first 149 innings, but from 2009-2011 he managed just 101 strikeouts in 172 innings as his strikeouts per nine innings plummeted from 10.1 to 6.0 to 5.3 to 4.7. Perez's control also suffered, as his walks per nine innings went from 2.7 in 2006-2008 to 3.6 in 2009-2011.

Or, put another way, from 2006-2008 he struck out 27 percent of the batters he faced, compared to 13 percent from 2009-2011, and his swinging strikes rate fell from 14 percent to 9 percent. So how did Perez continue to post good ERAs while half his strikeouts vanished? He allowed just 10 homers in 759 plate appearances, which is due partly to a high ground-ball rate and partly to an unsustainably low rate of homers per fly ball that was half of his previous career norm.

Perez never threw particularly hard in the first place and his velocity basically stayed the same despite the strikeouts drying up, but he relied more and more on his slider to the point that he threw the pitch 60 percent of the time in 2010 and 2011. Perez's slider has always been his best pitch, but there are diminishing returns when the usage gets that high and it's natural to connect the dots between throwing 60 percent sliders and needing shoulder surgery.

All of which is why expectations for Perez should be kept in check. If the shoulder problems are behind him and the Twins decide to keep three lefties in the bullpen Perez has a good chance to beat out Tyler Robertson for the job and he could eventually move past Brian Duensing into the primary southpaw setup role. An added wrinkle is that the Twins are apparently planning to give Perez an opportunity to stretch out as a starter, at least early in camp.

Thinking outside the box is commendable given the sad state of the rotation, and whereas most left-handed relievers have extreme platoon splits Perez has been equally effective against lefties (.256/.323/.355) and righties (.255/.317/.377) during his career. However, he's never started a game in the majors and last started regularly in 2007 at Triple-A. Toss in the shoulder problems and huge decline in strikeouts as a reliever and becoming a starter at age 31 is a long shot.

For a lot more about the Perez signing and the Twins' bullpen as a whole check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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