September 24, 2014

Twins Notes: Hughes, Perkins, Vargas, Liriano, Worley, and Arcia

Phil Hughes Twins

• With one start remaining Phil Hughes has an incredible 181-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 202 innings. Not only is that by far the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball this season, it's the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history among all pitchers with 150 or more innings:

                    YEAR     SO/BB
PHIL HUGHES         2014     11.31
Bret Saberhagen     1994     11.00
Cliff Lee           2010     10.28
Curt Schilling      2002      9.58
Pedro Martinez      2000      8.88
Greg Maddux         1997      8.85
Pedro Martinez      1999      8.46

That's a helluva list to sit atop.

Hughes is 15-10 with a 3.61 ERA in 31 starts. The rest of the Twins' rotation is 31-58 with a 5.60 ERA in 126 starts.

UPDATE: The good news is Hughes finished his final start with the all-time K/BB ratio record intact. The bad news is thanks to an ill-timed rain delay he might finish one out short of $500,000.

Glen Perkins tried to pitch through what was initially believed to be a minor neck injury, but after several bad outings in which he clearly wasn't right physically the Twins sent him for more testing. He was then shut down after being diagnosed with what they're calling a forearm strain and nerve irritation. It's unfortunate, because not only does Perkins head into the offseason as a question mark, his attempts to pitch through the injury ruined his strong season totals.

As of August 25 he had a 2.44 ERA and 64/9 K/BB ratio in 55 innings, but then Perkins allowed 10 runs in 6.1 innings to inflate his ERA to 3.65. During that span he gave up five home runs in eight games after giving up a total of seven home runs in his previous 116 games since the start of last year. Everyone acts like playing through injury is to be commended, but it usually goes badly for player and team. Perkins says he learned his lesson about "trying to be a tough guy."

Kennys Vargas and Jose Berrios were named the Twins' minor league player and pitcher of the year. Vargas hit .281/.360/.472 with 17 homers in 97 games at Double-A as a 23-year-old before being called up to the majors on August 1. Berrios split his age-20 season between high Single-A and Double-A--with a late cameo at Triple-A--posting a 2.76 ERA and 140/38 K/BB ratio in 140 total innings. Last season's winners were Byron Buxton and Andrew Albers.

• Vargas' early success for the Twins has been hugely fun to watch, although his horrific 58-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 48 games is a massive red flag and surprising considering his solid walk rates in the minors. Vargas was handed the cleanup spot after one week in the majors, which is very rare in Twins history. In fact, here's a list of Twins with the most starts in the cleanup spot through 48 career games:

KENNYS VARGAS     44
Kent Hrbek        20
David Ortiz       19
Justin Morneau    16
Todd Walker       14
Chris Parmelee    13
Tom Brunansky     12

Vargas also has nine homers through 48 games, which is tied with Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, and Josmil Pinto for the third-most behind Marty Cordova and Tom Brunansky with 10 apiece.

Francisco Liriano is in the midst of a 28-inning scoreless streak and now has a 3.32 ERA with 170 strikeouts in 157 innings for the Pirates after posting a 3.02 ERA with 163 strikeouts in 161 innings for the Pirates last season. His rotation-mate, Vance Worley, has a 2.93 ERA and 75/22 K/BB ratio in 104 innings. Add it all up and Pittsburgh has gotten 417 innings of a 3.15 ERA from Liriano and Worley for less than the Twins paid Mike Pelfrey.

Terry Ryan brushed off questions about Worley's turnaround in June, saying:

Give him a little time to see what he does over the course of starts. We'll talk about that in October. See how it goes.

Well, it's almost October. Also, just a reminder: Before selling Worley to the Pirates at the end of spring training the Twins sent him outright to Triple-A, which means they could have stashed him there all season without even taking up a 40-man roster spot. They gave him away for no reason other than they were convinced he had zero value. Worley, still just 26 years old, now has a 3.35 ERA in 382 career innings for non-Twins teams. And even Carlos Gomez is impressed.

Oswaldo Arcia has the seventh-highest Isolated Power in Twins history among all hitters with 750 or more plate appearances:

Harmon Killebrew     .258
Don Mincher          .239
Bob Allison          .225
Josh Willingham      .214
Jimmie Hall          .212
Justin Morneau       .207
OSWALDO ARCIA        .202
Tom Brunansky        .202
Kent Hrbek           .199
Torii Hunter         .198
David Ortiz          .195

Arcia has 33 homers, which is the fourth-most in Twins history through age 23 behind Brunansky (80), Hrbek (40), and Zoilo Versalles (34). He can't control the strike zone, can't hit lefties, and can't catch much in the outfield, but Arcia's power potential is special. And on the subject of his terrible defense, here's a fun little tidbit: Arcia played 77 games in center field as a minor leaguer, including some at Double-A. Think about that.

• Ultimate Zone Rating calculates the Twins' defense has been 85 runs below average since 2011, including -48 for the infield and -37 for the outfield. Obviously the Twins' pitching has been awful, but if you take awful, low-strikeout pitching and put awful defense behind it you have no chance.

• Post-trade performances: Josh Willingham has hit .243/.361/.400 in 23 games for the Royals to almost exactly match his .210/.345/.402 line in 68 games for the Twins. Sam Fuld came back down to earth, hitting .211/.270/.320 in 48 games for the A's. Kendrys Morales has continued to be terrible, hitting .206/.274/.335 in 53 games for the Mariners. Kevin Correia has continued to be Kevin Correia, posting an 8.03 ERA in 25 innings for the Dodgers.

And since the Twins decided not to trade him and gave him a two-year contract extension instead, Kurt Suzuki has hit .256/.291/.383 with a 15/3 K/BB ratio in 37 games.

Pedro Florimon, who began this season as the Opening Day shortstop, was claimed off waivers by the Nationals when the Twins took him off the 40-man roster. He's a good defensive shortstop, but Florimon hit .205/.266/.300 in 210 games for the Twins. The only players in the history of the Twins to log more appearances with a lower OPS than Florimon are Jerry Zimmerman and Jim Kaat. Kaat was a pitcher.

• Across baseball this season there have been more than 1,700 games started by pitchers younger than Kyle Gibson. He might be inexperienced and he might be inconsistent, but he's not young.

• By my calculations the Twins have as many as 19 players on the 40-man roster they could cut, although my guess is that they'll keep half of them.

• It's official now: If the Twins don't fire Ron Gardenhire he'll be just the third manager in the history of baseball to keep his job following four consecutive 90-loss seasons.

• Last time the Twins won 90 games in back-to-back seasons was 2003/2004. Since then they have a 789-828 record for a .488 winning percentage.

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 9, 2014

Twins Notes: Nolasco, Buxton, Sano, Gordon, Parmelee, and Dozier

ricky nolasco and ron gardenhire

• In signing Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract the Twins touted his durability as a major selling point, as the 31-year-old right-hander had started at least 30 games and logged at least 185 innings in five of the previous six seasons. Now, just four months into his Twins career and with an ugly 5.90 ERA in 18 starts, Nolasco has been shut down with elbow soreness that he's apparently been pitching through since spring training.

If everyone involved is to be believed that news came as a surprise to the Twins, which means either Nolasco went out of his way to hide the injury from trainers and coaches or those same trainers and coaches went out of their way not to investigate his season-long struggles. Or maybe a mixture of both. Certainly if he was hiding the elbow injury that has to be very frustrating for the Twins and Nolasco is absolutely at fault.

However, it's also worth noting that the Twins--from the front office to manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff--have created and repeatedly fed into a culture in which acting like a tough guy and playing through pain is considered noble rather than stupid or irresponsible. Even in discussing how Nolasco hid the injury from the team Gardenhire almost couldn't help acting as if there was something positive about the so-called "old school" approach taken by the pitcher.

Meanwhile, seemingly every season one or two key players try to tough their way through injuries with disastrous results and no one ever seems to learn a lesson from it. Who knows whether that played a role in Nolasco pitching through pain, but it certainly didn't play a role in convincing him to do otherwise. When can we end this outdated, shortsighted approach of letting hugely valuable athletes risk their short- and long-term health and productivity in the name of being tough guys?

If you're a player and you're hurt, tell someone in charge. And if you're someone in charge and a player tells you he's hurt, don't let him continue playing. As simple as those two directives sound, they've been sadly lacking for the Twins in recent years. This time around it led to their trotting out an injured pitcher for 18 horrible starts and putting at risk a $48 million investment. If that's "old school" then everyone flunked out.

• Worst single-season adjusted ERA+ in Twins history among pitchers with 100 or more innings:

68 - Jim Deshaies, 1994
66 - Ricky Nolasco, 2014
71 - Boof Bonser, 2008
72 - Ray Corbin, 1974
72 - Joe Mays, 2003
72 - Jim Hughes, 1976

Helluva list.

• MLB starting pitchers have a combined 3.90 ERA. Twins starters have the following ERAs:

3.70 - Phil Hughes
4.17 - Kyle Gibson
4.79 - Kevin Correia
4.98 - Yohan Pino
5.90 - Ricky Nolasco
6.52 - Sam Deduno
7.99 - Mike Pelfrey

As a group Twins starting pitchers rank 29th among MLB teams in ERA, ahead of only the Coors Field-inflated Rockies. Last season they ranked 30th in ERA and in 2012 they ranked 29th in ERA, also ahead of only Colorado.

Byron Buxton finally returned from a wrist injury after sitting out the first three-plus months of the season and despite all the missed time Baseball America's midseason update still ranked him as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. Miguel Sano also ranked No. 9 even though the Twins just announced that he'll miss the entire season following elbow surgery and pitchers Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, and Alex Meyer also cracked Baseball America's updated top 40.

• Meyer looks to be back on track at Triple-A after some struggles last month. He struck out 10 last night and has a 2.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings over his last three starts.

• No. 5 overall draft pick Nick Gordon has hit .359/.408/.500 with five extra-base hits and four stolen bases through his first 15 pro games for rookie-level Elizabethon.

Chris Parmelee is 26 years old and has batted .235 with a .299 on-base percentage and .370 slugging percentage in 677 plate appearances since his big September debut, so it's probably time to stop getting excited whenever he has a decent week.

• His batting average isn't pretty, but Brian Dozier's current 112 adjusted OPS+ is the best by a Twins middle infielder since Todd Walker in 1998 and Chuck Knoblauch in 1994-1996.

• He's a deserving All-Star, but it's odd to hear Kurt Suzuki endlessly praised for "handling" a pitching staff that ranks 28th in ERA, especially when pitch-framing stats show him as poor.

• This offseason the Twins were believed to be deciding between Suzuki and John Buck as their veteran catcher addition. Buck hit .226/.293/.286 for the Mariners and just got released.

• I looked this up after watching him leg out a single Monday evening: Kendrys Morales has 48 career infield hits, including at least 10 in three different years. Imagine that.

Eduardo Escobar was hitting .314/.357/.473 on June 15. Since then he's 9-for-66 (.136) with 17 strikeouts and 2 walks. Track records: Trust 'em.

Hisashi Iwakuma owns the Twins, with a 5-0 record and 0.00 ERA in five starts against them.

Vance Worley has a 2.28 ERA and 18/5 K/BB ratio in four starts for the Pirates, who think they've fixed whatever ailed him with the Twins last season.

Pat Neshek, who has a 2.39 ERA since being waived by the Twins in 2011, made his first All-Star team at age 33.

Lew Ford, now 37 years old, is hitting .372 with a .445 on-base percentage and .568 slugging percentage in the independent Atlantic League. And he's the team's hitting coach too.

• One-time Twins minor leaguer Yangervis Solarte turned back into a pumpkin after a big April and May for the Yankees.


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 18, 2013

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Pitchers

glen perkins and joe mauer

Last year Twins starters ranked dead last in the league with a 5.40 ERA, but after big talk of fixing the rotation the actual additions were inexpensive and uninspired. This year Twins starters have a 5.23 ERA that ranks dead last in either league and even with surprisingly good work from a largely makeshift bullpen the pitching staff has the league's worst ERA and fewest strikeouts. Before the second half gets underway here's a pitcher-by-pitcher look at the individual performances ...

Kevin Correia: .296/.336/.472 in 472 plate appearances

Signed to a two-year, $10 million contract that didn't make much sense this offseason, Kevin Correia posted a 2.23 ERA in April that had people coming up with all sorts of theories about why he'd turned a corner at age 32. Since the calendar flipped to May he's made 15 starts with a 5.21 ERA, allowing opponents to hit .321 with 15 homers in 74 innings. Since completing at least seven innings in each of his five April starts Correia has done so just once in his last 15 outings.

Overall he has a 4.23 ERA compared to the AL average of 4.08 and across baseball Correia ranks 85th among 89 qualified starters in both strikeout rate and swinging strike percentage, which is some serious pitching to contact. He's been slightly less ineffective than expected thanks to the fast start, but Correia has shown why the multi-year commitment was misguided and if the Twins can trade him before the ERA rises any further they should.

Scott Diamond: .313/.355/.514 in 394 plate appearances

Scott Diamond's miniscule strikeout rate suggested that last year's success would be short-lived and sure enough he unraveled in the first half. His strikeout rate fell even further to 4.2 per nine innings, which is the worst in baseball, and his walk and ground-ball rates declined from excellent to merely good. Toss in a 30-point uptick in Diamond's batting average on balls in play and you end up with an ERA that jumps from 3.54 to 5.32.

Diamond wasn't as good as he looked last season and isn't as bad as he's looked this season, but overall he's a whole lot closer to a left-handed Nick Blackburn than a long-term building block. In fact, through three seasons the comparison between Diamond and Blackburn is eerily close. Diamond has a 4.27 ERA and rates of 4.5 strikeouts, 2.1 walks, and 1.0 homers per nine innings. Blackburn had a 4.14 ERA and rates of 4.4 strikeouts, 1.8 walks, and 1.1 homers per nine innings.

Mike Pelfrey: .313/.359/.478 in 363 plate appearances

All the offseason and early spring training talk of Mike Pelfrey being vastly ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery gave way to his actually having to pitch and it was ugly. Pelfrey had a 6.66 ERA through 11 starts, including a .332 opponents' batting average and 26-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 innings. He then likely saved his rotation spot with a decent five-start stretch to finish the first half, with a two-week disabled list stint mixed in.

Pelfrey wasn't particularly effective before the surgery, serving mostly as an innings-eater for the Mets, and going under the knife didn't fix his inability to miss bats. He relies almost exclusively on a low-90s fastball, which is why Pelfrey is averaging fewer than 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings for the eighth time in eight seasons. That pitch used to at least generate lots of ground balls, but his current rate of 43.8 percent is a career-low and actually qualifies Pelfrey as a fly-ball pitcher.

Samuel Deduno: .262/.327/.371 in 264 plate appearances

Last season Samuel Deduno was relatively successful with a 4.44 ERA in 15 starts despite nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (53) in 79 innings. Even that modest success won't work long term with those secondary numbers and somewhere along the way pitching coach Rick Anderson appears to have hammered that point home to Deduno. Prior to this year Deduno had walk rates of 6.1 per nine innings in the majors and 5.0 per nine innings at Triple-A. This year he's at 2.9.

It's a sample size of 10 starts, but Deduno has three or fewer walks in all 10 of them after doing so just half the time last year. His strikeout rate has actually fallen to 4.5 per nine innings, which is among MLB's worst, but he's made up for the lack of missed bats by nibbling less and letting the movement of his pitches induce an AL-high 61 percent ground balls. Or, put another way: Pitching to contact actually works for Deduno. There's more reason to believe in him now than last year.

Anthony Swarzak: .281/.314/.412 in 237 plate appearances

After three sub par years split between the rotation and bullpen Anthony Swarzak has taken a step forward as full-time long reliever. Compared to his first three seasons Swarzak has upped his strikeouts by 28 percent, reduced his walks by 26 percent, and become less fly-ball prone. He's been one of the most effective pitchers on the entire staff, although that's admittedly not saying much and because most of his work comes in long-relief spots his impact has been minimal.

In fact, the Twins are 6-21 when Swarzak pitches. That should be blamed on his role rather than his performance, which includes a 3.55 ERA and 41-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58 innings. So far they've resisted the urge to put Swarzak back into the rotation and they've also yet to really move him up the bullpen hierarchy. Considering the overall state of the pitching staff if Swarzak keeps pitching this well in the second half he'd warrant some kind of higher-leverage gig.

Vance Worley: .381/.427/.577 in 234 plate appearances

When the Twins acquired 25-year-old Vance Worley from the Phillies in the Ben Revere trade he was supposed to step in as a long-term mid-rotation starter. Worley had thrown 278 innings with a 3.50 ERA for the Phillies and while there were questions about his many called strikeouts being sustainable there was little reason to expect a collapse. And then he went from Opening Day starter to Triple-A in less than two months, allowing 43 runs in 49 innings.

He generated just 15 strikeouts in 10 starts, got a swinging strike on an abysmal 4.5 percent of his pitches, and allowed a .381 opponents' batting average. Worley has been much better since the demotion to Rochester, but it's hard to be very encouraged by a 3.88 ERA at Triple-A when it comes with 34 strikeouts in 58 innings. He'll be back with the Twins at some point, but Worley hasn't been right since last year's elbow issues and was never a high-upside arm to begin with.

Ryan Pressly: .255/.321/.345 in 185 plate appearances

As far as Rule 5 picks go Ryan Pressly has been a big success. Used mostly for mopping up and long relief, he threw 44 innings with a 3.09 ERA and averaged 93 miles per hour with his fastball. Far less impressive than the shiny ERA is a 30-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio and Pressly is unlikely to be as stingy with homers going forward considering his high fly-ball rate, but he's been a useful member of the bullpen and has definitely shown some long-term upside.

Jared Burton: .247/.333/.377 in 184 plate appearances

Jared Burton picked up right where he left off following a fantastic 2012 season with a 2.10 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 26 innings through the end of May. Then he went through a rough patch while dealing with a groin injury, allowing 12 runs in 10 appearances as his ERA ballooned to 4.29 and he was removed from setup duties. Burton recovered to end the first half with six shutout outings in a row, although his usual swing-and-miss stuff still wasn't there.

Last year's .220 batting average on balls in play was always unsustainable and his overall stats remain decent with a 3.67 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 42 innings, but Burton has already walked more batters than all of last year and both his velocity and swinging strike rate are down slightly. Hopefully it's just a blip on the radar, because a healthy Burton can be light outs and he's signed through 2015 at salaries that make him a reasonably priced setup man or good trade bait.

P.J. Walters: .311/.383/.494 in 183 plate appearances

For the second time in two seasons the Twins called up P.J. Walters when their rotation was a mess, got a handful of decent outings from him before things fell apart, and then passed him through waivers unclaimed to keep the 28-year-old right-hander in the organization as Triple-A depth. Meanwhile, he has a 5.79 ERA in 20 starts for the Twins after posting a 4.60 ERA in 133 starts at Triple-A, making Walters the epitome of a replacement-level starter.

Pedro Hernandez: .311/.373/.517 in 169 plate appearances

Acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade, Pedro Hernandez is a soft-tossing, strike-throwing lefty who struggled against right-handed hitters in the minors and not surprisingly big-league righties have crushed him to the tune of .353/.423/.639 with eight homers in 137 plate appearances. He had two first-half stints with the Twins as a rotation fill-in, posting a 6.17 ERA in seven starts, and it's tough to see Hernandez having long-term success as a starter.

Josh Roenicke: .238/.331/.420 in 167 plate appearances

When the Twins claimed Josh Roenicke off waivers in November the story of his career was a big fastball and not much else, including a modest strikeout rate and poor control. His average fastball dipped to 91.2 miles per hour in the first half, but the rest of the story stayed the same with an awful 25-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 innings. And after some initial success he gave up 14 runs in his final 24 innings with as many walks (15) as strikeouts (15).

Brian Duensing: .300/.373/.393 in 159 plate appearances

Brian Duensing flopped as a starter, but has yet to rediscover his previous success as a reliever. Slated to be the primary left-handed setup man, Duensing struggled against lefties and righties while posting a 4.67 ERA and 30-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 innings and spent the final month or so of the first half working mostly in a mop-up role. His inability to handle righties will forever limit Duensing, but the good news is that his trouble with lefties looks like a fluke.

Lefties hit .307 off Duensing in the first half, but that was due to a ridiculously high .408 batting average on balls in play. Delving a little deeper, he posted a great 20-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio versus lefties and held them to just one homer in 82 plate appearances. Despite the rough first half not much has really changed with Duensing, but unfortunately that just means he's still a decent middle reliever who's a bad bet facing righties and a good bet facing lefties.

Casey Fien: .179/.217/.284 in 146 plate appearances

Burton and Duensing struggling as the main setup men pushed Casey Fien into a more prominent late-inning role and he responded by continuing to thrive. Not only did he have a 3.03 ERA and 42-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 first-half innings, dating back to his debut with the Twins last season Fien has a 2.57 ERA and 74-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 74 frames. Not bad for a guy who joined the Twins as a minor-league free agent last offseason at age 28.

He's probably due to come back down to earth at least a little bit and if that does happen it'll likely stem from serving up too many homers, as Fien was an extreme fly-ball pitcher in the minors and has one of the 10 lowest ground-ball rates in the majors since last season. However, his overall track record in the minors showed someone capable of being a quality middle reliever and so far he's allowed just seven homers in 287 plate appearances.

Glen Perkins: .172/.221/.262 in 131 plate appearances

Glen Perkins' first full season as the Twins' closer has been an overwhelming success except for the part about the team failing to find him consistent work. Perkins converted 21 of 23 saves with a 1.82 ERA and 47-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34.2 innings, holding opponents to a .172 batting average. That's about as dominant as a pitcher can be and Perkins was rewarded with his first All-Star selection, yet the Twins used their All-Star closer for just 131 batters in 92 games.

Some of that stems from their lack of late leads, but Ron Gardenhire's refusal to use Perkins in non-save situations is the real culprit. Not only have 100 different relievers thrown more innings than Perkins, six Twins relievers have worked more. It's gotten so bad that Perkins requested more action, but Gardenhire continues to manage the bullpen around the save statistic while calling on lesser relievers in game-changing spots. Perkins is great, but his usage is terrible.

Kyle Gibson: .315/.392/.393 in 102 plate appearances

In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery Kyle Gibson entered spring training in the mix for a rotation spot, but pitched his way out of the immediate plans and then the Twins decided to keep him at Triple-A for three months. He was one of the International League's best pitchers, posting a 3.01 ERA with tons of ground balls and a 79-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 innings, and after going through eight other starters the Twins finally called him up three weeks ago.

Gibson had a very nice debut followed by three mostly poor outings, but looking beyond the ugly 6.45 ERA he induced 51 percent ground balls, generated a decent number of swinging strikes, and averaged 92.3 miles per hour with his fastball. Ultimately the key for Gibson is whether he can get enough strikeouts to be more than a mid-rotation starter who throws strikes and kills worms. At this point the jury is still very much out and his second-half workload may be limited.

Caleb Thielbar: .103/.205/.221 in 78 plate appearances

Twenty straight scoreless innings is an amazing start to anyone's career, let alone a 26-year-old rookie signed out of independent ball in 2011. Caleb Thielbar turned what looked likely to be a short-term call-up into a two-month gig, and while his secondary numbers and inherited runners allowed paint a much less impressive picture than his sparkling ERA he's shown more than enough to stick around with 21 strikeouts in 21 innings and 11 percent swinging strikes.

Note: For a similar first-half review of the Twins' hitters, click here.


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May 23, 2013

Twins demote Worley to Triple-A as rotation sinks lower than last season

vance worley twins demotion

Vance Worley got knocked around for eight runs while failing to make it out of the fourth inning against the Braves yesterday and immediately after the game the Twins demoted him to Triple-A. Worley went from Opening Day starter to minor leaguer in two months by starting 10 games with a 7.21 ERA and allowing 43 total runs in 48.2 innings. When a pitcher struggles that much it's often due to terrible control, but Worley walked just 1.5 batters per start.

Instead he struggled because hitters simply teed off on his 89-mile-per-hour fastball and sub par off-speed stuff, clubbing Worley for an MLB-high .381 batting average and .574 slugging percentage. To put that in some context, the last MLB player to hit .381 or higher and slug .574 or higher in a season was George Brett in 1980. And before that it was Ted Williams in 1957. In other words, Worley turned every hitter he faced into a Hall of Famer.

No one expected Worley to be a top-of-the-rotation starter when the Twins acquired him from the Phillies along with prospect Trevor May for Ben Revere and he got the Opening Day nod by default, but with a 3.50 ERA in 278 innings through age 24 he certainly seemed capable of slotting into the middle of the rotation for several years. And that may still prove true if Worley can get back on track at Triple-A, but his ability to generate swinging strikes is in doubt.

Worley averaged 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings for the Phillies, which was above average for NL starters, but a huge percentage of them came on called third strikes. Striking hitters out looking is definitely a skill, but it's awful tough to sustain at the degree to which Worley relied on it. And sure enough this year batters swung at Worley's strikes nearly 20 percent more often and he's the only MLB starter with a swinging strike rate below 4.5 percent.

If you can't get hitters to swing and miss at pitches and they stop taking pitches in the strike zone enough to rack up called third strikes ... well, what happens is your strikeout rate drops from 7.7 per nine innings to 4.6 per nine innings and everyone looks like a Brett/Williams clone. There was also some bad luck mixed in, including a batting average on balls in play above .400, but however you slice it Worley pitched terribly and raised worrisome questions.

Of course, he's hardly alone. Worley's demotion came just two days after the Twins shipped Pedro Hernandez back to Triple-A for posting a 6.67 ERA with a grand total of 10 strikeouts in six starts and for all of the front office's talk of improved starting pitching being the focus of the offseason the rotation has somehow managed to be even worse than last year's mess. Take a look at how the 2012 and 2013 rotations compare:

YEAR    IP/G      ERA    SO/9    BB/9    HR/9      GB%     OAVG
2012     5.4     5.40     5.5     2.9     1.4     45.3     .287
2013     5.2     5.69     4.2     2.2     1.3     45.4     .330

Last season Twins starters averaged 5.4 innings per start with a 5.40 ERA. This season Twins starters have averaged 5.2 innings per start with a 5.69 ERA. And not only are they giving up more runs in fewer innings, the already abysmal strikeout rate is down from 5.5 to 4.2 per nine innings and the opponents' batting average is up from .287 to .330. And even the rotation's supposed strength, inducing ground balls, hasn't led to an actual increase in ground balls.

Numbers that hideous usually mean things can't help but improve, but then again that seemed likely to be true after last year's debacle and yet here we are. More than a quarter of the way through the season Twins starters have recorded 16 outs per game while allowing nearly six runs per nine innings and opponents have hit .330 off them. I'd hate to see how unspeakably bad the rotation would be if improving it hadn't been the supposed focus of the offseason.


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