August 6, 2014

Oswaldo Arcia, lefties on lefties, and swinging “too hard”

oswaldo arcia twins

After a promising rookie campaign last year Oswaldo Arcia has been a mess for most of this season, hitting .199 with 56 strikeouts in 44 games since homering in back-to-back games in early June. He's been particularly helpless versus left-handed pitching, hitting .180 with 24 strikeouts in 68 plate appearances for the season, and Ron Gardenhire recently got Arcia's struggles against southpaws some media coverage by discussing them with reporters:

Not good. Hasn't been good. He missed some fastballs [Friday] night. He had two to hit. He's just got to put the barrel on them. He's got to hit them. The first one was right there, and he just fouled it off. He's just trying to hit the ball 8,000 miles right now. Every swing he takes, he swings so frickin' hard that I don't know any way possible that your head can be on the ball. ... He's got to get away from that. He's not going to hit at this level if he continues to swing as hard as he possibly can, trying to hit the ball 8,000 miles.

I'm certainly in no position to say whether those criticisms are legitimate and/or helpful, but I will note that the Twins had similar and similarly public "swings too hard" criticisms of Carlos Gomez and, before him, David Ortiz. I'll also note that Arcia is hardly the first young left-handed hitter to flail away against left-handed pitching. Through age 23 he's hit .229 with a .625 OPS versus lefties. Here's how that compares to some other left-handed Twins hitters at the same age:

vs. LHP                PA      AVG      OPS
OSWALDO ARCIA         185     .229     .625
Justin Morneau        110     .218     .630
Joe Mauer             398     .275     .671
Rod Carew             178     .286     .704
David Ortiz            78     .234     .734

Arcia is a rarity in Twins history simply by being in the majors and accumulating regular playing time versus left-handed pitching at age 23. In fact, only 11 left-handed hitters in franchise history have at least 50 plate appearances versus lefties through age 23. I've included four of the most prominent names on that list in the above comparison with Arcia. He has the worst production of the bunch, but Justin Morneau was almost exactly as unproductive and no one was very good.

Joe Mauer and Rod Carew hit for solid batting averages off lefties, because that's just what they were born to do, but they both had modest overall production and extreme platoon splits. And that's simply how it goes with left-handed hitters. Most of them struggle against lefties initially and many of them never really learn to hold their own against them. For instance, Jacque Jones hit .227 with a .616 OPS off lefties for his entire Twins career, totaling 848 plate appearances.

In other words, for his seven Twins seasons Jones was as terrible against lefties as Arcia has been through age 23. Gardenhire used Jones as an everyday player nearly that entire time, refusing to platoon him and often starting him in the leadoff spot versus lefties. Perhaps he didn't "swing too hard," but Jones was helpless versus lefties too and Gardenhire stubbornly never let that change his strategy and the Twins' coaching staff never helped him get any better.

Want more examples? No left-handed hitter in the history of the Twins with more than 200 plate appearances against left-handed pitching has ever topped an .800 OPS off them. And among that group only Carew, Ortiz, Doug Mientkiewicz, Denard Span, Kent Hrbek, and Matt Lawton topped .750. Here are some of the bigger names who struggled against left-handed pitching while in a Twins uniform:

vs. LHP              OPS
Jimmie Hall         .564
Jacque Jones        .616
A.J. Pierzynski     .647
Jason Kubel         .673
Tony Oliva          .690
Justin Morneau      .711
Corey Koskie        .725

Morneau won an MVP award and is one of the best half-dozen hitters in Twins history, but he hit just .251 with a .298 on-base percentage and .414 slugging percentage off lefties. Tony Oliva is a borderline Hall of Famer, but he had a lower OPS against lefties than thoroughly mediocre right-handed hitters like Brendan Harris, Steve Lombardozzi, and Dustan Mohr. Going beyond the Twins, across all of MLB this season lefty hitters have a .649 OPS off lefty pitchers.

My point isn't that Arcia ought to stick with his approach versus lefties. It also didn't work in the minors, where he hit .265 off lefties compared to .330 off righties. He absolutely needs to improve against them in order to fulfill his potential and hopefully Twins coaches can help him. However, the fact that he's struggling with lefties so far isn't necessarily some sort of character flaw and it may not mean anything at all other than he happens to be a left-handed hitter.


For a lot more about Arcia's struggles, plus a review of the Twins' trade deadline moves and non-moves, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

August 4, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #156: Trade Deadline Recap

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included swapping Sam Fuld for Tommy Milone, extending Kurt Suzuki, calling up Kennys Vargas, being a curmudgeon, looking for Alex Meyer and Trevor May, learning new things that sound dirty, overvaluing prospects, claiming Jordan Schafer off waivers, checking in on Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia struggling versus lefties, and moving into the penthouse.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 156

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.


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."

July 30, 2014

Twins Notes: Morales, Pryor, Guerrier, Pressly, Worley, and Buxton

kendrys morales twins

• The money meant nothing to a team $20 million under budget, but signing Kendrys Morales carried more downside for the Twins than commonly believed because his performance was tough to predict after sitting out the first two months of the season and the move meant stalling Josmil Pinto's development in favor of a potentially inferior player. With that said, no one could have expected things to go as badly as it did.

While batting almost exclusively fourth or fifth in the lineup Morales hit .234/.259/.325 with one homer and a 27/6 K/BB ratio in 39 games, posting a lower OPS in a Twins uniform than, among others: Tony Batista, David McCarty, Nick Punto, Mike Lamb, Clete Thomas, Juan Castro, Adam Everett, Rondell White, Terry Tiffee, Denny Hocking, Tommy Herr, Henry Blanco, Matt Tolbert, Luis Rivas, and Aaron Hicks.

To the Twins' (partial) credit they cut bait instead of stubbornly sticking with Morales for the rest of the season and to my surprise they actually got another team to assume the remainder of his contract and give up a potentially useful player in return. By trading Morales to the Mariners the Twins save about $4 million of his $7.4 million contract, but their lack of spending means the money probably won't be re-invested in the team anyway.

Where they could get value is from Stephen Pryor, a 25-year-old reliever whose average fastball clocked in at 96 miles per hour before shoulder surgery. So far Pryor has struggled since coming back, with a big drop in velocity and poor Triple-A numbers, but there's still some potential there. They basically paid $3 million for 39 terrible games from Morales, the motivation to demote Pinto to Triple-A, and a post-surgery version of a once-promising reliever.

Matt Guerrier's decent-looking 3.86 ERA masked a terrible 12/10 K/BB ratio in 28 innings and similarly underwhelming raw stuff. Guerrier is one of the most underrated pitchers in Twins history thanks to a six-year run as a durable, reliable setup man during his first go-around in Minnesota, but the reunion worked out only slightly better than this year's other reunions with Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett.

Ryan Pressly replaces Guerrier in a middle relief role after posting a 2.98 ERA and 63/21 K/BB ratio in 60 innings at Triple-A. Pressly spent all of last season on the Twins' roster as a Rule 5 pick and held his own as a 24-year-old, but his control is shaky and his strikeout rate hasn't matched his fastball velocity. He has a whole lot more upside than Guerrier, however, so the switch makes plenty of sense even if it pained the Twins.

• Here's a list of the starting pitchers the Twins have used this season while refusing to call up 24-year-old prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May from Triple-A:

Phil Hughes
Kevin Correia
Kyle Gibson
Ricky Nolasco
Sam Deduno
Yohan Pino
Mike Pelfrey
Kris Johnson
Anthony Swarzak
Logan Darnell

This season the Twins have used a pitcher younger than 25 years old for a grand total of 12.1 innings, all by reliever Michael Tonkin. Meanwhile, across MLB there have been 447 games started by pitchers younger than Meyer and 504 games started by pitchers younger than May.

Vance Worley, whom the Twins gave away for nothing this spring without needing to for any real reason, tossed a complete-game shutout Monday and is now 4-1 with a 2.54 ERA and 30/8 K/BB ratio in 50 innings for the Pirates. When the Twins acquired Worley from the Phillies as part of the Ben Revere trade he looked like a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter and now at age 26 he looks like that again in Pittsburgh.

• Old friends Danny Valencia and Liam Hendriks were traded for one another Monday, as the Royals and Blue Jays swapped role players. Valencia proved stretched offensively and defensively as an everyday third baseman for the Twins, but has settled into a part-time role mostly facing left-handed pitching. Hendriks continues to thrive at Triple-A and struggle in the majors while frequently finding himself on the waiver wire since the Twins gave up on him in December.

• Because no Twins prospect is ever safe, both Kohl Stewart and Jose Berrios have been shut down with shoulder injuries. That means four of the top five prospects in my preseason rankings have been sidelined by an injury.

Byron Buxton is healthy again after missing nearly half the season with a wrist injury and has hit .378 with a .472 on-base percentage and .622 slugging percentage in his last 10 games at high Single-A.

Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (with the help of Glen Perkins) did a nice job laying out the disconnect between Kurt Suzuki's defensive reputation and defensive numbers.

Oswaldo Arcia smashed his bat over his knee, Bo Jackson-style, after a recent strikeout, but with 183 strikeouts in 151 career games perhaps he shouldn't be blaming the equipment.

• Since signing him last season the Twins have a .346 winning percentage when Correia starts and a .443 winning percentage when anyone else starts.

Brian Dozier is hitting .178 with 29 strikeouts and four walks in 28 games since June 25.

• FOX Sports North showed a great scouting report on Darnell before his first MLB start.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked about realistic options at the trade deadline and wondered how thin the ice is getting under Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan.


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."

July 28, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #155: Ron Gardenhire’s Donut Machine

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included how thin the ice is for Ron Gardenhire and maybe even Terry Ryan, trading Kendrys Morales to Seattle, other potential trades before the July 31 deadline, John Bonnes' rap knowledge, Chuck Knoblauch, Kirby Puckett, and the Twins' Hall of Fame, the August 23 pub crawl, broken clocks being right, cutting Matt Guerrier, and the beauty of mini donuts.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 155

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.


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."

July 23, 2014

What are the Twins’ trade deadline options?

kurt suzuki and ricky nolasco

As the Twins stumble toward a fourth consecutive losing 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.


Kurt Suzuki: Signed for $2.75 million to, in theory, split time behind the plate with Josmil Pinto and mentor the rookie, Suzuki instead immediately became the primary catcher and then decided to have the best season of his career at age 30. If you trust pitch-framing numbers and/or simply look at the pitching staff's overall ineffectiveness his impact hasn't been quite as profound as the Twins would have you believe, but either way Suzuki has been fantastic.

Of course, the reason he was available so cheaply is that Suzuki hit .237/.294/.357 in 477 games from 2010-2013, and in general investing in catchers on the wrong side of 30 is iffy. Signing him to a contract extension would be the Twins' style, but unless Suzuki is willing to accept similarly inexpensive terms on another deal it would make sense to cash him in for a decent prospect if that's a possibility. One good half-season and a useful prospect for $2.75 million would be ideal.


Josh Willingham: I've been suggesting the Twins shop Willingham since the middle of his first season in Minnesota, when he was a 33-year-old having a career-year and seemed to have a decent trade market among contending teams. Two years later he's a struggling 35-year-old impending free agent who's looked so washed up of late that he might not even have a place in the Twins' lineup, let alone anything resembling trade value.

He can still draw walks and smack the occasional homer, but Willingham has zero business seeing the field defensively and has been one of the worst hitters in baseball since mid-June. Going back even further, since the beginning of last season he's hit just .211/.349/.384 in 163 games. He has $3 million left on a three-year, $21 million deal and while the money saved probably wouldn't be re-invested in the team anyway his at-bats could go to someone with a future in Minnesota.


Kendrys Morales: Signed for $7.5 million two months into the season because the Twins thought they were close to contending and assumed he'd be a sizable upgrade over Pinto, but instead their thoughts of relevance quickly vanished and Morales has been terrible. It's possible that once he shakes off more of the rust Morales will be his usual self, but it's also possible that he won't and either way it won't really do the Twins much good.

Pinto looks capable of being as good or better than Morales right now and at age 25 certainly has a brighter future even if the Twins determine he's purely a designated hitter. Why give playing time to a 33-year-old impending free agent when you can give those at-bats to a 25-year-old who might be better anyway? If any of the teams that wanted Morales in June still want him now the Twins should take whatever they can get and chalk the whole experience up to a misguided flier.


Trevor Plouffe: Coming into the season it seemed likely that the Twins would have parted ways with Plouffe by now and handed his job to stud prospect Miguel Sano, but instead Sano is out for the year following Tommy John surgery and Plouffe has been a decent starting third baseman. And because Sano's future at third base is now very much in question, keeping Plouffe around for next season now seems like a reasonable option.

Plus, it's not like Plouffe is going to fetch much in a trade anyway. He's a 28-year-old career .241/.303/.412 hitter who should probably be platooned and is at best not-horrible defensively at third base. He'd be a decent fit for a lot of teams in a part-time role, knocking around lefties at a few different positions, but teams don't give up significant prospects for those types of players and Plouffe could always fill a similar role for the Twins in 2015 if Sano makes a flawless comeback.


Glen Perkins: In theory trading a closer is almost always a good idea if there's good value to be had because they tend to be overrated. This is a much more complicated case, because Perkins has been one of the dozen or so best relievers in baseball since moving to the bullpen full time in 2011, he's a lifelong Minnesotan beloved by the fan base, and he just signed a contract extension through 2018 in which he'll never make more than $7 million in a season.

Would it make sense to trade a really good 70-inning pitcher for a top prospect or two and try to re-start the whole cycle by replacing him in the closer role with a different former starter or setup man? Sure. But the Twins will never do that and Perkins is good enough and cheap enough that moving him for prospects is hardly guaranteed to look smart a few years down the road anyway. This isn't a Matt Capps situation. Perkins is a legitimately elite reliever, closer or otherwise.


Ricky Nolasco: This offseason there was presumably enough interest in Nolasco as a free agent that the Twins had to pay $49 million to sign him. A half-season later the Twins would surely be thrilled to hand the remainder of his contract over to another team and would probably pay a big chunk of the 2015-2017 bill just to wash their hands of the situation. It's a moot point because he's on the disabled list with an elbow injury that's apparently been present since spring training.


Jared Burton: Whatever trade value Burton had peaked in 2012, but much like Willingham the Twins stuck with him and now there isn't really anything left to trade. His velocity, strikeout rate, and walk rate have all declined to the point that Burton now profiles as a run of the mill middle reliever rather than an elite setup man, and at age 33 exercising the $3.6 million team option for 2015 no longer even looks like a no-brainer decision.


Brian Duensing: He stood out as a potential non-tender candidate this offseason, but the Twins brought back Duensing for $2 million via arbitration and he's been his usual self. Which is to say not good enough versus lefties to be a southpaw specialist and far too weak versus righties to be a trustworthy setup man. He has a nice-looking ERA and one more year of team control, so if the Twins can squeeze a mid-level prospect out of some team for Duensing they should jump at it.


Kevin Correia: One of MLB's worst starters since the Twins gave him a two-year contract last offseason, Correia's durability and innings-eating only appear to be strengths because he's on one of the few teams that wouldn't have dumped him from the rotation by now. He's close to being a replacement-level starter and giving that type of player $10 million and two full seasons worth of starts would be replacement-level decision-making. His rotation spot is more valuable than he is.


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."

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