April 3, 2015

Season preview: Are the Twins ready to stop losing?

Paul Molitor

Nearly everyone involved with the Twins, from players and new manager Paul Molitor to general manager Terry Ryan and owner Jim Pohlad, seems convinced the team is poised to take a big step forward. Nearly everyone not involved with the Twins, from national writers and Las Vegas oddsmakers to numbers-driven projection systems and cranky local bloggers, seems convinced the team is headed for another last-place finish and possibly a fifth straight 90-loss season.

Sports Illustrated picks the Twins for last place and 67 wins. ESPN.com picks the Twins for last place and 68 wins. Baseball Prospectus projects the Twins for last place and 71 wins. Bovada sets the Twins' over/under win total at 72.5. FanGraphs projects the Twins for last place and 74 wins. Grantland picks the Twins for last place and "under 75 wins." CBS Sports picks the Twins for last place. Yahoo Sports picks the Twins for last place. You get the idea.

Last year the Twins were 72-90. Then they fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager, handed out the largest free agent contract in team history to 32-year-old Ervin Santana at $55 million over four years, brought back Torii Hunter for a $10.5 million reunion at age 39, signed 33-year-old reliever Tim Stauffer for $2.2 million, and bypassed young talent in favor of veteran mediocrity for every roster spot up for grabs in spring training.

Those are all the moves of an organization that's sick of losing and also sick of their plummeting fan morale and season ticket sales. They spent big on veterans and further delayed the arrival of prospects, leading to an Opening Day roster with just four players who're 25 years old or younger in shortstop Danny Santana, left fielder Oswaldo Arcia, designated hitter Kennys Vargas, and Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham.

This is a rebuilding team in the sense that the Twins have been very bad and are still attempting to get back on track, but it's anything but a young team. Kyle Gibson is the youngest member of the starting rotation at 27. Graham is the only member of the seven-reliever bullpen under 30. Six of the nine starting position players are at least 28. In terms of their collective average ages, the rotation is 30, the bullpen is 31, and the lineup is 29.

When the reality of the Twins' organizational collapse finally sunk in around mid-2012 or so the idea was that they'd be back to contending by now, but injuries ruined those plans. Joe Mauer's concussion derailed his career and turned him from a Hall of Fame-caliber catcher to a mediocre first baseman. Instead of making their MLB debuts Miguel Sano missed all of last year following elbow surgery and Byron Buxton missed all but 31 games with a wrist injury and a concussion.

Buxton and Sano will begin this season as teammates at Double-A, the Twins sent 25-year-old pitching prospects Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Michael Tonkin back to Triple-A rather than trust them with roster spots that went to Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey, and Blaine Boyer, and after back-to-back Opening Day starts in center field Aaron Hicks is back in Rochester too. Toss in Arcia's development stagnating a bit and it's easy to see where the rebuild sputtered.

The good news is Buxton and Sano remain superstar-caliber prospects, Meyer and May still have enough upside to project as impact pitchers in some role, and there's another wave of prospects coming soon led by Jose Berrios, Jorge Polanco, and Nick Burdi. The bad news is none of that figures to actually help the Twins win many games before the All-Star break. Sadly, being a Twins fan in 2015 is still more about waiting for help to arrive than watching it play at Target Field.

Brian Dozier; Danny Santana

There's a lot of optimism surrounding the Twins' offense after the lineup produced the fifth-most runs in the American League last season, but building on or even duplicating that performance is hardly a sure thing. For starters, Santana was the only hitter on the team to crack an .800 OPS last season, coming out of nowhere to hit .319/.353/.473 as a rookie after batting .273/.314/.388 in the minors while failing to top a .725 OPS at Single-A, Double-A, or Triple-A.

Santana is good enough, young enough, and skilled enough to buy into reevaluating his upside compared to what his minor-league track record suggested, but his rookie success was still driven by an unsustainable .405 batting average on balls in play and came despite an ugly 98/19 K/BB ratio. The combination of a so-so track record, poor plate discipline, and a high batting average on balls in play makes him a prime regression candidate.

Brian Dozier also needs to fight his track record to show his 2014 was for real, albeit to a lesser extent than Santana. He was the Twins' best all-around position player, hitting .245/.345/.416 with 23 homers, 21 steals, 89 walks, and solid defense to rank among the top half-dozen second basemen in MLB. Clearly the Twins buy into Dozier's age-27 breakout, but prior to 2014 he hit just .240/.297/.384 in the majors and .232/.286/.337 at Triple-A.

Kurt Suzuki was another source of unexpectedly strong offense, hitting .288/.345/.383 to make his first All-Star team at age 30. As with Dozier the Twins bought into his resurgence with a new contract, but Suzuki hit .253/.313/.362 in the second half to resemble his measly .237/.294/.357 line from 2010-2013. Jordan Schafer's track record strongly suggests he'll be unable to repeat his 41-game Twins showing and Hunter is fighting father time at age 39.

All of which isn't to say the lineup lacks the ability to improve in spots. Mauer getting back to his usual self would be huge and he hit .300 with a .400 on-base percentage in his final 55 games. Arcia should take a step forward at age 24 and is capable of breaking out with a better approach. But for the most part more hitters are likely to decline than improve, some by wide margins. Of course, Buxton and Sano showing up in May or June ready to thrive could change everything.

Then there's defense, which has played an overlooked part in the Twins' struggles as the focus tends to be on the "pitching" rather than the run prevention of pitching plus defense. Combined from 2011-2014 the Twins ranked 28th in Ultimate Zone Rating at 90 runs below average and 24th in Defensive Runs Saved at 115 runs below average. They've been horrendous, especially in the outfield, which is doubly bad combined with fly-ball, strikeout-phobic pitching staffs.

Infield defense may not be bad because Dozier is solid at second base, Santana has the skills to be a plus shortstop, Trevor Plouffe showed big improvement at third base, and Mauer is fine at first base. However, the outfield is guaranteed to be a major weakness again. Arcia and Hunter were two of MLB's worst defensive corner outfielders last year and it's asking a lot of Schafer (or Hicks) to cover up their mess when he's actually gotten below average marks in center field.

Phil Hughes Twins

Last offseason the Twins gave a four-year, $49 million deal to Ricky Nolasco and a three-year, $24 million contract to Phil Hughes, and this offseason they took the uncharacteristic pursuit of free agent pitching even further by signing Santana for $55 million. Hughes got three years and $42 million tacked on to his previous deal following a breakout 2014 season and the Twins have Pelfrey and Milone under contract for a combined $8.5 million in 2015.

That's a lot of resources devoted to veteran starters and there's also a hidden cost that comes with having pitchers with guaranteed salaries locked into rotation spots that might otherwise be handed over to prospects. Hughes is signed through 2019, Santana is signed through 2018, Nolasco is signed through 2017, and even though Pelfrey and Milone aren't signed beyond this season the Twins were still hesitant to push them aside.

Hughes was a tremendous find on what was a very reasonable free agent contract that the Twins turned into a much bigger commitment. He logged 210 innings and pitched even better than his solid 3.52 ERA, striking out 186 and walking 16 for the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the history of baseball. Asking for a repeat of that performance is wishful thinking, but Hughes seemed like a truly different pitcher last season and enters this year as a clear-cut No. 1 starter.

Santana was signed to take over the No. 2 spot and what he lacks in upside he makes up for in durability, although he's probably more of a No. 3 starter on a contending team. Nolasco looked like a No. 3 starter when the Twins gave him $49 million last offseason, but then pitched horribly for several months before revealing he was hurt and is now a question mark the Twins no doubt regret signing.

Gibson is the lone homegrown pitcher in the rotation and the former top prospect finally broke through last season to throw 179 innings in 31 starts. He was wildly inconsistent, but the end result was a 4.47 ERA in a league where the average starter was below 4.00. Inducing lots of ground balls helps Gibson make up for a lack of missed bats, but at age 27 and with just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings his upside looks limited to the back of the rotation.

Milone beat out Pelfrey and May for the fifth spot and the soft-tossing left-hander will try to show that his awful post-trade performance for the Twins was due to a benign tumor in his neck that required surgery. Milone was a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for the A's, but Oakland's pitcher-friendly ballpark overstated his effectiveness and helped compensate for a mid-80s fastball. He has a 4.80 career ERA in non-Oakland ballparks.

If the goal was to put together a rotation less likely to be a disaster than the 2011-2014 versions the Twins absolutely accomplished that, but the price tags indicate they have much higher hopes and that may be pushing things. This is the worst rotation in the AL Central even if it's assumed Hughes will avoid turning back into a pumpkin and there isn't much upside unless Meyer and/or May hit the ground running soon. And compared to the bullpen the rotation is a strength.

Glen Perkins was one of the elite relievers in baseball for 3.5 seasons before melting down late last year while pitching through an injury. The bullpen desperately needs him to be his pre-injury self or things could get very ugly. Casey Fien is the primary setup man. Brian Duensing, who was a non-tender candidate, is the only lefty. Stauffer and Boyer have prominent roles and the Twins are hoping Pelfrey's one-pitch arsenal fits better in relief. It's an underwhelming group.


This should be the least-awful Twins team since 2010, but that's not saying much and confidence in even that mild statement dropped when they stacked the roster with Pelfrey, Milone, Duensing, Boyer, Schafer, Stauffer, Shane Robinson, Chris Herrmann, and Eduardo Nunez. That's a lot of self-imposed dreck for a team with better, younger options and there's a depressingly strong chance the same "are the Twins ready to stop losing?" question can be asked 365 days from now.

March 31, 2015

Opening Day roster takes shape as Twins choose veterans over upside

aaron hicks september1

Some were expected and some were unexpected, but all of the Twins' slew of roster moves skew toward veteran mediocrity. Jordan Schafer is the starting center fielder and Shane Robinson is his backup, with both Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario sent to Triple-A. Tommy Milone is the fifth starter, Mike Pelfrey stays on the roster as a reliever, and Blaine Boyer also has a bullpen spot, with Trevor May, Alex Meyer, and Michael Tonkin all sent back at Triple-A.

When viewed individually the moves have reasonable explanations, but collectively they signal that despite the switch from Ron Gardenhire to Paul Molitor the Twins still fetishize age and experience even when it comes attached to poor performances and nonexistent upside. This is a team projected to finish in last place following four straight 90-loss seasons and they're still doing whatever they can to delay fully turning the keys over to the prospects they've been stockpiling.

Two years ago the Twins traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere in the same offseason and handed Hicks the center field job at age 23 and with zero experience at Triple-A. He'd played very well that spring to help convince them it was the right move, but flopped once the games counted and was one of the worst rookies in Twins history. Last season, following another strong spring performance, the Twins handed Hicks the center field job again and he again struggled.

This time around it seemed like Hicks had the inside track on a third crack at the Opening Day gig, in part because Molitor seemed at least a little bit less fed up with Hicks than Gardenhire had been and in part because the alternatives were lacking. But when Hicks hit .206 this spring and failed to make some plays defensively they decided not to bother, demoting him back to Rochester while splitting center field between a 28-year-old waiver claim and a 30-year-old minor-league signing.

Schafer will get the bulk of the starts in center field after playing well in 41 games last year when the Twins claimed him off waivers from the Braves. Matching that .285/.345/.362 line while stealing bases and playing decent defense would make Schafer a solid regular, but the problem is that there's nothing in his track record to suggest he's anywhere near that capable offensively and his defensive numbers are sub par in center field.

Schafer has 1,400 plate appearances in the majors and has hit .229/.311/.310 with 360 strikeouts and 142 walks. And he was even worse at Triple-A, hitting .225/.278/.294 with 95 strikeouts and 35 walks in 120 games. He's been particularly helpless against left-handed pitching, hitting .167 off them as a big leaguer. If you're going to play Schafer regularly it should be only versus right-handed pitching, so in theory a platoon with the right-handed-hitting Robinson makes sense.

Robinson can't hit either, unfortunately. He's a .231/.303/.308 hitter in 452 plate appearances in the majors and a .266/.331/.377 hitter in 1,130 plate appearances at Triple-A. Spotting him only versus lefties would help Robinson in the same way that, say, only eating McDonald's twice a week would help a diet. If you're going to use Schafer and Robinson a righty/lefty platoon makes sense, but it's still probably going to be a really bad platoon.

Hicks' remaining window of opportunity with the Twins was narrow to begin with because they've got the best outfield prospect in baseball, Byron Buxton, starting the year at Double-A, but the Twins couldn't even stand to let Hicks keep the position warm until Buxton is ready. That doesn't mean Hicks is a totally lost cause any more than handing him the Opening Day job in 2013 (or 2014) meant he was totally ready to thrive, but it does mean he might be done in Minnesota.

As more and more people jump on the "Hicks just can't hit MLB pitching" bandwagon, it's worth noting that he already has hit MLB pitching as long as it's left-handed. Hicks has a .758 career OPS off lefties, which is higher than, among others, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. And the switch-hitter had similar splits in the minors. If there's any role for which Hicks is actually suited it's platooning against lefties, but instead the Twins will use Robinson in that same role.

For all the talk of Rosario having an impressive spring training he ended up hitting .233/.227/.442 with nine strikeouts and zero walks in 17 games. Spring training numbers aren't worth much and there's certainly plenty he could have done outside of actual games to impress the Twins' coaches, but when your batting average is higher than your on-base percentage and your strikeout-to-walk ratio is infinity that suggests there's some more development needed.

Rosario also struggled at Double-A last season, missing the first 50 games while suspended for marijuana and then hitting just .237/.277/.396 with a 68/17 K/BB ratio in 79 games. Perhaps the spring hype surrounding Rosario was mostly driven by the team's lack of faith in Hicks and their hope that Rosario would step forward as an alternative. Instead they saw what his track record shows, which is a talented 23-year-old with lots of rough edges and zero high-minors success.

Tommy Milone Twins

Milone was horrible for the Twins after they acquired him from the A's for Sam Fuld on July 31, but it was revealed later that he was pitching hurt and needed surgery to remove a benign tumor from his neck. Prior to the trade Milone was a solid back-of-the-rotation starter, albeit one with mid-80s velocity and little upside. He's still relatively young at 28 and still relatively cheap at $3 million, but the Twins have younger, cheaper, higher-upside options in May or Meyer.

Pelfrey made it clear that he's upset about being moved to the bullpen, saying the Twins never intended to make the fifth starter competition a fair fight. He might be right, but certainly there was no bias against Pelfrey when the Twins signed him for $5 million and then re-signed him for $11 million. He's given them plenty of reason for bias during the past two seasons by going 5-16 with a 5.56 ERA and getting hurt.

Pelfrey is a 31-year-old former top-10 draft pick who's spent a decade in the majors without ever making more than two relief appearances in a season, so it's easy to see why he'd be against the idea of full-time bullpen work. However, given his lack of success as a starter, durability concerns following multiple injuries, and career-long inability to develop useful secondary pitches to pair with a hard fastball relief work may suit him best. Or at least less bad.

He throws basically one pitch and that tends not to cut it as a starter, which is why Pelfrey has a 4.56 career ERA with 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings. However, being a one-pitch pitcher can be much less of an issue when you're only working an inning at a time and if Pelfrey can follow in the footsteps of many starters-turned-relievers by adding 2-3 miles per hour to his fastball the Twins might have something. Or he might just be a bad pitcher. You know, Occam's razor and all.

May is 25 years old with 400 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, and amid an awful overall debut he posted a 41/9 K/BB ratio in his final 37 innings. Meyer is also 25 and started 27 games at Triple-A last season, leading the league in strikeouts. Neither is a can't-miss prospects by any means, but they've pitched well in the minors, throw hard while generating strikeouts, and unlike Milone or Pelfrey might actually be part of the next good Twins team.

Tonkin and his mid-90s fastball are going back to Triple-A for a third straight season at age 25 despite being good there with a 3.48 ERA and 82/20 K/BB ratio in 78 innings and being good for the Twins when given a chance with a 3.26 ERA and 26/9 K/BB ratio in 30 innings. They opted to keep Boyer, a 33-year-old journeyman with a 4.63 ERA, poor control, and just 191 strikeouts in 274 innings who was signed to a minor-league deal in January.

Spring training presented the Twins with plenty of opportunities to fill the margins of the roster with younger, unproven, higher-upside players, many of whom already have significant Triple-A experience. May and Meyer were viable fifth starter and long reliever options. Hicks and Rosario each could have started or platooned in center field. Tonkin could have taken his first extended shot at a setup role and there were also several other intriguing bullpen candidates.

Instead they'll all keep waiting, often in Rochester for a second or third go-around, in favor of proven veteran mediocrity like Pelfrey, Milone, Schafer, Eduardo Nunez, Boyer, and Robinson. Barring last-minute changes the Opening Day roster will include a grand total of just four players who're 25 years old or younger: Designated hitter Kennys Vargas, shortstop Danny Santana, left fielder Oswaldo Arcia, and Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham. Twins will have to keep waiting too.


For a lengthy--and surprisingly heated--discussion of the Twins' roster decisions, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

November 26, 2014

Twins’ “new” coaching staff has a very familiar look

Paul Molitor and Joe Vavra

When the Twins fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager the idea of blowing up the coaching staff and rebuilding everything from scratch with outside hires sounded appealing given the organization's struggles, but choosing Paul Molitor over Torey Lovullo as the new manager squashed that notion. Molitor is the epitome of an in-house hire and in filling out his coaching staff the Twins have continued to lean heavily on current and former members of the organization.

Bench coach seemed to be a very important hire considering Molitor's complete lack of managing experience and the overall lack of big-league experience throughout his staff. Instead of stepping outside of the organization for a veteran with previous managing experience the job went to Joe Vavra, a longtime member of Gardenhire's staff who was reassigned from hitting coach to third base coach two years ago and has no professional managing experience above Single-A.

Tom Brunansky, who was on Gardenhire's staff with Molitor and Vavra, stays on as hitting coach after the Twins ranked fifth among AL teams in scoring. Brunansky replaced Vavra as hitting coach in 2013 after working his way up through the minors amid praise for his coaching of Double-A and Triple-A hitters. If any member of the coaching staff deserved to stay it was Brunansky, whose presence was one of the few major coaching changes made under Gardenhire in the first place.

Brunansky's assistant hitting coach is Rudy Hernandez, who was promoted from rookie-league manager after 14 years in the organization. Hernandez is the first assistant hitting coach in Twins history, as teams began adding the position a few years ago. He's coached many players on the current roster as well as many prospects soon to arrive in Minnesota and the 46-year-old's ability to speak Spanish is a welcomed addition that had been severely lacking with Twins coaches.

Gene Glynn joins the staff as third base coach after spending the past three seasons managing the team's Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. He interviewed to replace Gardenhire, but unlike fellow interviewee Doug Mientkiewicz the Twins felt the Minnesota native was worth adding to the staff after passing on him as manager. At age 58 he's definitely paid his dues, managing, coaching, and scouting in the minors and majors for numerous organizations.

Eddie Guardado, who has zero coaching experience since retiring in 2009, takes over as bullpen coach. He's certainly familiar with the Twins' bullpen, spending a dozen seasons there, including back-to-back 40-save seasons as the team's closer in 2002 and 2003. As a player Guardado was boisterous, jovial, quotable, and well-liked, which is probably a decent recipe for success in a role that generally doesn't receive much attention.

With first base coach the lone vacant position, Neil Allen is the only true outside hire, beating out former Twins reliever Carl Willis for the pitching coach job after filling the same role at Triple-A in the Rays organization from 2007-2014. Former pitching coach Rick Anderson was Gardenhire's right-hand man for the entirety of his 13-year tenure and became the target of heavy criticism when the pitching staff ranked 29th, 29th, 28th, and 29th in runs allowed from 2011-2014.

Allen preaches many of the same things Anderson did, chief among them limiting walks, but unlike Anderson he has a long history of helping to develop successful young pitchers that have been the lifeblood of the Rays' low-payroll success. He pitched 11 seasons in the majors as a reliever--and actually had poor control himself, walking 3.8 batters per nine innings--and at age 56 he's been praised for the same open-mindedness, intelligence, and innovation the Rays were built on.

In hiring Molitor the Twins made it clear that they don't view lack of experience as a negative and in filling out his coaching staff they made it equally clear that they continue to view staying in-house and promoting from within as positives despite four straight 90-loss seasons. I have no major issues with any of the individual hires, but I feel silly for believing they might actually go outside of the organization to find a new manager and new coaches. Should have known better.


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November 5, 2014

Twins hire Paul Molitor as manager

Paul Molitor and Ron Gardenhire

It took five weeks and interviews with at least a half-dozen candidates, but in the end the Twins' new manager is the guy everyone always assumed would get the job: Paul Molitor.

Molitor is a Minnesota native with a long history in the organization and spent this season on the coaching staff, so hiring him isn't exactly the massive change many people envisioned when the Twins fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager and 27 seasons in the organization. For a decade fans and media members clamored for Molitor to join Gardenhire's staff and as soon as Gardenhire's job security looked shaky Molitor became the presumed manager-in-waiting.

None of which means he's the wrong choice for the job now. He lacks managing experience at any level and went nearly a decade without being a full-time coach at any level, but during his Hall of Fame playing career and in retirement Molitor has established a reputation for being an incredibly smart baseball mind. He's also earned praise for working with young players, communicating well, and walking the thin line between being likeable and being respected.

Hall of Fame players rarely go into managing, presumably because they're satisfied enough with their legacy, financial standing, and post-career options to stave off whichever competitive juices continue to flow. And when Hall of Fame players have gone into managing the results have been underwhelming to say the least, with the most frequent criticism being that a great, immensely talented player has trouble managing and relating to lesser talents.

Molitor's legacy is a spectacular one, especially in Minnesota, and after earning more than $40 million in salary as a player he could have easily filled his time with various media opportunities and part-time coaching roles. And for years he did just that, filling in for fellow Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven occasionally on television broadcasts and spending spring training in Fort Myers as a roving instructor.

However, something within Molitor clearly kept pulling him back toward baseball in a major way. Outsiders like me could hear it in his voice whenever he talked passionately and expertly about something as potentially mundane as getting a great jump off a pitcher on stolen base attempts and insiders almost without exception raved about his passion, intelligence, and hard work. And they did so often.

For instance, while recording this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode Saturday, shortly after news of Molitor getting the job began making the rounds, we spotted someone a few bar stools down wearing a Yankees World Series ring. It turned out to be Tim McIntosh, who played for the Gophers, was the Brewers' third-round draft pick in 1986, and played parts of five seasons in the majors.

Not only did McIntosh play with Molitor in the big leagues, he also had experience with Molitor the mentor and Molitor the coach. And after being told the news of Molitor's impending hiring by two strangers in a bar McIntosh's eyes lit up. He talked to us for 30 minutes on the microphone and another 20 minutes off the microphone about how thrilled he was for Molitor and how he strongly believed Molitor is a fantastic choice uniquely qualified to thrive despite a lack of experience.

And that's essentially the argument in favor of choosing Molitor. He lacks experience, there are questions about how he'll handle the day-to-day grind of the job on and off the field, and as the favorite in-house candidate the decision seems like more of the same for the Twins in many ways. But you'll be hard-pressed to find people who've seen Molitor in action as a player, as a coach, or as a guy simply hanging out to talk baseball who doesn't rave about his expertise and intelligence.

Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo finished runner-up to Molitor, with speculation he may have gotten the job with more support from ownership, which is interesting given how different their resumes look. Lovullo was a journeyman player with 308 games in the majors and 1,433 games in the minors, plus a season in Japan. He managed nine seasons in the minors, winning division titles at Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, and has coached in the majors in a variety of roles.

Lovullo is also known for being analytical, well versed in modern stats, and genuinely interested in sabermetrics, which along with his vast experience working his way up through the coaching and managing ranks is what intrigued me. Molitor doesn't have quite the stat-head reputation, but it's worth noting that he played a big role in getting Gardenhire's staff to finally dip their toes in the analytical pool this season and was credited with the team's dramatic increase in defensive shifts.

Molitor may not be a full-blown stat-head like Lovullo, but he's smart, intellectually curious about how new-school knowledge can help a team win, and at age 58 showed more of an open mind in one season than the 57-year-old Gardenhire showed in 13 seasons. He's now at the helm of a young team that will likely get younger and almost can't help but get better, so he'll be learning on the job just like many of his key players.

Managers with a decade-plus on the job can be extremely tough and perhaps even impossible to evaluate, with Gardenhire being a prime example of the wide ranges of opinion. Predicting how a first-time manager will fare ... well, that's somewhere between an educated guessing game and a coin flip. Molitor will need to choose his coaches wisely and get help from a front office that has done more harm than good of late, but he seems like a sound choice.


For a lot more about the Twins hiring Molitor, including an impromptu interview with his former teammate, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

October 29, 2014

Twins Notes: Molitor, Maddon, Lovullo, Colabello, Buxton, and chafing

Joe Maddon Rays

• After interviewing a surprising (to me, at least) number of outside candidates to replace Ron Gardenhire the Twins have settled on a final three of Paul Molitor, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Torey Lovullo. Molitor was on Gardenhire's coaching staff, Mientkiewicz managed the Twins' high Single-A team, and they're both longtime members of the organization. Lovullo has no real ties to the Twins and is portrayed as being very stat-head friendly, so I'll be shocked if gets the job.

Because the Twins' manager search is still unresolved Joe Maddon opting out of his contract with the Rays led to some speculation about their chances of hiring him. General manager Terry Ryan then fanned those flames by publicly commenting on Maddon, seemingly making it very clear that he thought highly of and had interest in Maddon. However, according to multiple reports the Twins never even contacted Maddon. Anyone shocked probably isn't much of a Twins fan.

• For a lot more about the Twins' managerial search and why Maddon was never going to happen, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

• Gardenhire has publicly been supportive of Molitor's candidacy to replace him, but this tidbit from Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press was interesting:

Molitor's addition to the staff caused Gardenhire to chafe at times behind the scenes, especially early on, considering their shared expertise when it comes to infield play.

For years fans and media members wondered why Molitor wasn't being added to coaching staff and there was speculation that Gardenhire was against the idea. Molitor was finally added to the staff in October of last year and less than 365 days later he's a finalist to replace Gardenhire, with the assumption that he's been the favorite the entire time.

• On a random note: While looking at his Hall of Fame playing career I thought this comparison of Molitor through age 31 and Joe Mauer through his current age of 31 might interest people:

THROUGH AGE 31          MOLITOR    MAUER
Batting Average          .299      .319
On-Base Percentage       .360      .401
Slugging Percentage      .435      .459
OPS                      .795      .860
Games                   1,282     1,298
Wins Above Replacement   40.8      46.3

Anything portraying Mauer in a positive light angers a lot of people these days, but whatever.

Chris Colabello joins the lengthy list of Twins to play through an injury and perform horribly, admitting that he suffered a thumb injury on April 23 and "still feels numbness and tingling" six months later. At the time of the injury Colabello was hitting .346. He continued to play for the next month, going 8-for-73 (.110) with 28 strikeouts before the Twins demoted him to Triple-A. He returned later and hit .222 in 19 games before being sent down again.

According to Colabello's hometown Worchester Telegram he "glued cotton to his batting gloves and tried a thumb protector" to alleviate the pain and "didn't tell the media in Minnesota" about the injury. Berardino also reports that "a Twins official rejected that notion" of Colabello being injured when asked in June and "suggested it was purely a matter of timing and confidence." As usual the tough-guy culture of playing through it helped neither the player nor the team.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily notes that Twins pitchers combined to throw a grand total of one pitch 97 miles per hour or faster this season. It was by Lester Oliveros, in September. By comparison, every other team in baseball threw at least 75, all but four of the other teams threw at least 150, and half of the teams threw at least 500. Kansas City led MLB with 2,287 pitches of 97 mph or faster. Again, the Twins threw one.

• Last month I examined the 40-man roster and identified 19 players the Twins could potentially drop. So far they've dropped four of them by declining Jared Burton's option for 2015, cutting Doug Bernier and Yohan Pino, and selling Kris Johnson to a team in Japan. Johnson and Alex Presley were the Twins' haul from the Pirates in exchange for Justin Morneau. They combined to play 31 games for the Twins and were both sent packing for nothing in return.

Byron Buxton's injury wrecked season keeps getting worse. Playing in the Arizona Fall League after missing all but 31 games of the regular season with a wrist injury and a concussion, Buxton fractured the middle finger on his left hand while attempting to make a diving catch. In the grand scheme of things a busted finger isn't a big concern, but the missed development time for a 20-year-old is lost forever.

• Wins by American League Central teams from 2011-2014:

Detroit Tigers       366
Cleveland Indians    325
Kansas City Royals   318
Chicago White Sox    300
Minnesota Twins      265

And that's not even counting postseason wins.

• Outfield defense played a huge role in the Royals' success this season and according to Ultimate Zone Rating their outfielders were 60 runs above average. Meanwhile, the Twins' outfielders were 36 runs below average according to UZR. Improving the pitching staff is obviously very important, but don't discount the negative impact defense and specifically outfield defense has had on their runs allowed totals. Oswaldo Arcia's continued presence makes big improvements tough.

• In the 23 years since their last World Series title the Twins have a 1,777-1,908 record for a .482 winning percentage, including 6-21 in the playoffs.


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