May 14, 2015

Appreciating the greatness of Glen Perkins

Glen Perkins Twins

Glen Perkins struggling in September before being shut down with forearm and elbow injuries last season was the rotten cherry on top of a rancid Twins sundae, turning one of the team's few bright spots into a question mark at the end of a fourth straight 90-loss season. Perkins had been his usual brilliant self through late August, converting 32 of 36 saves with a 2.44 ERA and 64/9 K/BB ratio in 55 innings. And then things fell apart.

In eight appearances from August 26 to September 16 he allowed 10 runs and struck out just two of the 32 batters he faced. And in the surest sign of something being very wrong, he served up five home runs in 6.1 innings after giving up a grand total of five home runs in his previous 102.1 innings dating back to 2013. Perkins was finally shut down for the final two weeks of the season after allowing runs in four consecutive games.

All offseason Perkins and the Twins insisted he was healthy, but a strained oblique muscle early in spring training further complicated his comeback and left doubts heading into Opening Day. Those doubts have now vanished, to say the least. Perkins has been nearly flawless, converting all 11 of his save chances with a 1.17 ERA and 14/0 K/BB ratio in 15.1 innings while holding opponents to a .193 batting average and zero home runs.

His fastball velocity is back to where it was before the late-season arm issues, he's inducing the least "hard contact" and second-most "soft contact" of his career, and his swinging strike rate is right in line with his career norms as a reliever despite throwing a career-high 60 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. Perkins combines good raw stuff and command with intelligence and an interest in analytics, and the result is pretty close to a perfect pitcher.

He pounds the strike zone and rarely walks anyone, yet still manages to miss plenty of bats and give up very few home runs while being nearly as effective against righties as lefties. Perkins will go through rough patches at some point this season, because that's just how baseball works, but aside from a brutal two-week stretch in which he was clearly playing through an injury he's been an elite reliever since moving to the bullpen full time in 2011.

During that span he has a 2.65 ERA and .227 opponents' batting average in 275 appearances, striking out 300 and walking 68 in 272 innings. He's also been difficult to run on, allowing seven steals compared to seven caught stealings, which is a nice bonus skill to have in the ninth inning. Oh, and Perkins has converted 88 percent of his save chances since replacing Matt Capps as the Twins' closer in mid-2012. By comparison, Mariano Rivera had a career save rate of 89 percent.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching is a metric that attempts to remove defense and luck from the mix to judge pitchers based strictly on what they can control and since 2011 the only relievers with 250 or more innings and an xFIP under 3.00 are Perkins, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, David Robertson, Greg Holland, and Mark Melancon. In five seasons as a full-time reliever his xFIP has never been higher than 3.13.

As for his rank among the best relievers in Twins history, it's important to note Perkins is pitching as well as ever at age 32 and is under team control through 2018. With that disclaimer, he already ranks fourth in Win Probability Added behind Joe Nathan, Eddie Guardado, and Rick Aguilera, and by the end of this year he'll likely trail only Nathan and Aguilera in saves. Here are the Twins' strikeout, walk, and strikeout-to-walk ratio leaders among relievers with at least 200 innings:

                 SO/9                      BB/9                      K/BB
Joe Nathan       10.9     Carl Willis       2.0     GLEN PERKINS      4.3
Tom Hall         10.1     Jeff Reardon      2.2     Joe Nathan        4.2
GLEN PERKINS      9.4     GLEN PERKINS      2.2     Jeff Reardon      3.3
Eddie Guardado    8.6     Bob Wells         2.3     Rick Aguilera     3.2
Juan Rincon       8.5     Rick Aguilera     2.4     Carl Willis       2.8

Perkins ranks third in strikeout rate behind Nathan and Tom Hall, third in walk rate behind Carl Willis and Jeff Reardon, and is the only Twins reliever to crack the top five of both categories. All of which adds up to Perkins boasting the best strikeout-to-walk ratio by a reliever in Twins history at 4.3 whiffs per walk, edging out Nathan, Reardon, and Aguilera. And last but not least Nathan is the only Twins reliever to allow fewer baserunners per nine innings than Perkins.

Perkins was a first-round pick at the University of Minnesota, a top prospect in the Twins' farm system, and a decent starter in the Twins' rotation, but moving to the bullpen enabled him to add 3-4 miles per hour to his fastball and he's complemented that added velocity with an increasingly smart approach to pitching to become an absolute stud. By the time he hangs up his cleats, zips his fly, and shaves his neck beard he'll be one of the 2-3 best relievers in Twins history.

Glen Perkins, Proven Closer.


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."

May 12, 2015

Third time’s a charm? Twins call up Aaron Hicks from Triple-A

Aaron Hicks

Last week, when the Twins needed a fill-in for the injured Oswaldo Arcia, they bypassed Aaron Hicks in favor of Eddie Rosario despite the latter's struggles dating back to last year and vastly inferior Triple-A production in the same Rochester outfield. Now with Shane Robinson having a family emergency the Twins have called up Hicks, who hit .336 with a .415 on-base percentage and .561 slugging percentage in 27 games at Triple-A to lead the International League in OPS.

In both 2013 and 2014 the Twins handed Hicks the Opening Day center field job and he flopped. This time around the deck was stacked against him getting a third crack at the gig. During spring training the prospect getting all the hype was Rosario, not Hicks, and the Twins eventually settled on splitting center field duties between the journeyman duo of Jordan Schafer, a 28-year-old waiver wire claim, and Robinson, a 30-year-old minor-league signing.

It hasn't worked out well, predictably. Robinson has done a quality job in a limited role, playing good defense and hitting some singles while facing mostly left-handed pitching. Schafer has come back down to earth after a good 46-game showing with the Twins last season that stood out from the rest of his sub par track record. Combined the Twins' center fielders have hit .257 with a .284 on-base percentage and .289 slugging percentage in 32 games.

As bad as Hicks has been in the majors his career on-base percentage and slugging percentage for the Twins are both higher than the Schafer/Robinson duo has produced in center field this season. He also has significantly more upside than Schafer or Robinson, although certainly far less so than the Twins hoped when they had him jump from Double-A to the majors as a 23-year-old in 2013. However, at age 25 and after crushing Triple-A pitching he deserves another opportunity.

Hicks is only one year older than the Twins' "young" trio of Arcia, Danny Santana, and Kennys Vargas. He's already shown the ability to be an asset against left-handed pitchers, posting a solid .750 OPS off them for the Twins in 2013/2014. Within his overall struggles last season Hicks drew lots of walks on the way to a .341 on-base percentage in 69 games. And in addition to thriving at Triple-A this season he hit .291/.387/.441 in 67 games at Double-A and Triple-A last season.

It's not a mystery why the Twins were hesitant to give Hicks another chance. He hasn't hit right-handed pitchers, his defense in center field has been very shaky, and the team publicly called into question his work ethic and instincts. Those are facts and I'm not writing this from the perspective of a huge Hicks believer. Even when he was a top prospect I was never particularly high on him, although obviously I expected him to perform a lot better than he has so far.

However, when a 25-year-old former top prospect two seasons removed from being rushed into an Opening Day job shows signs of progress giving him another--and perhaps a final--shot makes sense. At his worst, which is what we've seen so far, Hicks is still as good as the Schafer/Robinson duo. At his best, which is mostly hypothetical, Hicks still has the potential to be a useful regular. Of course, it may be a moot point if Hicks' stay only lasts until Robinson returns in a few days.


For a lot more about the Twins' roster decisions and surprising, emphatic climb above .500 check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

May 11, 2015

Gleeman and The Geek #192: Parade-Planning Edition

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included the Twins' refusal to lose, calling up Eddie Rosario over Aaron Hicks, evaluating Paul Molitor's early managing choices, Ron Gardenhire striking out in Milwaukee, Torii Hunter's crazy streak, Chicago and Cleveland being terrible, hitting .320 with runners in scoring position, buying an Apple Watch, the odds of turning back into a pumpkin, and the next Andre David.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 192

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."

May 5, 2015

Twins bypass Aaron Hicks for Eddie Rosario to replace Oswaldo Arcia

Eddie Rosario Twins

It's common for the Twins to cite a prospect's lack of "consistency" in the minors as an excuse for why they haven't been called up. Most recently they did so with Triple-A reliever Lester Oliveros, who has a 1.65 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 76 innings since last season. Sustained dominance like that makes the notion of Oliveros lacking "consistency" seem absurd, particularly compared to the low standards for "consistency" the Twins so often seem to have for mediocre veterans.

Another problem with the Twins citing a lack of "consistency" whenever it suits them is that when it doesn't suit them they're quick to ignore the concept. Right now, for instance. Needing outfield help with Oswaldo Arcia headed to the disabled list with a hip injury, the Twins called up Eddie Rosario from Triple-A to make his MLB debut at age 23. Rosario was hitting .242/.280/.379 with a 17/5 K/BB ratio in 23 games for Rochester, which is terrible.

And that's nearly identical to his terrible performance last year, when Rosario was suspended for the first 50 games following a positive drug test and returned to hit .237/.277/.396 with a 68/17 K/BB ratio in 79 games at Double-A. In between he was talked up by the Twins throughout spring training only to hit .233 with zero walks in 17 games. In retrospect the spring disconnect between the praise he received and his performance was foreshadowing.

Rosario was suspended 50 games for drug use and hit terribly at two levels of the minors and in spring training since returning, but "consistency" apparently isn't always a must for a call-up. For whatever reason the Twins and especially manager Paul Molitor are infatuated with Rosario and it's also clear they've totally soured on Aaron Hicks, himself a former top prospect who struggled in the majors after being handed an Opening Day job too soon and is still just 25 years old.

Hicks is hitting .289/.375/.494 with a 15/12 K/BB ratio in the same Rochester lineup as Rosario, topping him in every way except being on the Twins' good side. Hicks also hit .291/.387/.441 with a 40/37 K/BB ratio in 67 games between AA/AAA last season, easily out-performing Rosario again. And while Hicks has struggled for the Twins, he posted a .341 on-base percentage over 69 games in the majors last year while Rosario has failed to crack a .300 OBP in the minors since last year.

For the sake of simplicity, here's how their career Double-A and Triple-A numbers compare:

TRIPLE-A      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     K/BB
Hicks        .264     .349     .410     .759     1.58
Rosario      .242     .280     .379     .659     3.40

DOUBLE-A      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     K/BB
Hicks        .289     .389     .461     .850     1.31
Rosario      .260     .302     .403     .705     3.55

Hicks is also considered as good or better defensively than Rosario, who attempted to transition from center field to second base before going back to the outfield full time this season and has always been projected more as a corner outfielder due to limited range. It's hard to blame the Twins too much if they've indeed given up on Hicks, but there's no indication Rosario is ready for the majors and this move makes any "consistency" talk look even sillier than usual.

As for Arcia, this is another setback on his quest to gain the Twins' trust and establish himself as an everyday, middle-of-the-order bat. Molitor's willingness to platoon has put Arcia on the bench frequently versus lefties and both his plate discipline and defense remain huge weaknesses. He's hitting reasonably well at .276/.338/.379 in 19 games, but all four of Arcia's walks have been intentional and he's swung at the second-most pitches outside the strike zone in the league.


For a lot more about the Twins' recent roster moves and call-up timetables, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

May 4, 2015

Gleeman and The Geek #191: Above .500!

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included the Twins clawing their way above .500 after a brutal start, Ricky Nolasco's return and Tommy Milone's departure, Ron Gardenhire looking for a job and the White Sox possibly having an opening, good Mike Pelfrey going away quickly, Byron Buxton catching fire at Double-A, and what to do with Tim Stauffer and Lester Oliveros.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 191

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."

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