Episode 47 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
For the first time in many moons Cody takes a break and Paul and Eric are forced to go it alone. We talk about Aaron Hick’s demotion to AAA, whether or not the Twins are “rebuilding” and who the winners and losers were at the trade deadline. Adam (AJ) Pettersen is this week’s minor league prospect profile; will he ever get a cup of coffee in the big leagues? Google image search black holes, good summer beers and lots more on this week’s episode of the Talk to Contact podcast.
The Twins, according to legend, are afraid of the Yankees. And you know what, after some quick post-season exits at the hands of the Yankees, that is a pretty easy narrative to build. Add in the fact that the Twins have struggled to beat the Yankees in the regular season, despite the Twins having fairly successful regular season teams for most of the 2000’s, and you begin to see how that narrative continues to grow.
In the 11 years between 2000 and 2010 the Twins compiled a .537 winning percentage, going 957-826. During that same span the Twins went 25-57 against the New York Yankees, a .325 winning percentage. Take out the 77 games against the Yankees and the Twins are 163 games above .500 instead of just 131. That is a significant bump. During that same time period the Twins played the Yankees four times in the post-season, managing to win just two games, while losing 12, swept in 2009 and 2010. That brings the Twins’ 11-year record against the Yankees to 27-69 (.281). That is bad, almost as bad as the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119), the worst team of the last 50 years.
During that same 11-year span the Yankees were 1060-718, only had a losing record against one American League team (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 45-54), and won two World Series titles (and losing in the World Series two other times). So clearly the Yankees were a better team than the Twins over that same time period, but the Yankees’ .596 winning percentage is not so much larger than the Twins’ .537 that you would expect the Twins fail so miserably against the Yankees during the span.
Assuming each team’s regular season winning percentages represented their true talent over those 11 years, the Yankees should have beaten the Twins only about 53% of the time, not the nearly 72% clip they had over that same span. So what gives? Why did the Yankees perform so well against the Minnesota Twins, especially in the post season?
For me, it comes down to roster construction, and specifically the postseason pitching rotations, where teams often turn to only their top three or four pitchers.
The Twins, with a lack of depth in their starting rotation chose to go back to their ace on four days of rest, facing elimination in Game 4. The Yankees, alternatively, felt strong enough to run out David Wells (4.14 ERA, 4.3K/9, essentially a league average pitcher in 2003 despite his 15-7 W/L record) knowing that should they be pushed to a decisive Game 5 they could turn to Mike Mussina, their ace, against Brad Radke (4.49 ERA and a pitch to contact friendly contact rate of 82.2%).
So while you would certainly expect the Twins to score more than 3 runs over their final 3 games in this series, outside of Santana the Twins certainly did not have a rotation that could even dream about keeping up with New York (and remember that the Kyle Lohse of 2003 (4.61 ERA) is a far cry from the pitcher he has been over the past three seasons).
With the Twins likely done making moves this winter, and with Spring Training games just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to put my predictive powers to the test and try and suss-out the Twins’ plan for the Opening Day starter. With the Twins opening the season at home this year, the Opening Day start has a little more significance than it has the past couple of years when the Twins started the season on the road. The Twins have not started the year at home since 2009, and the last Twins pitcher to win the Opening Day game at home was Livan Hernandez in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels. In fact, the Twins haven’t won an Opening Day game since 2008, working on an 0-4 streak losing 6-1 in 2009 against the Mariners, 6-3 against the Angels in 2010, 11-3 in 2011 against the Blue Jays, and 4-2 a year ago in Camden Yards against the Orioles. An Opening Day win would be a nice change of pace.
Since the Twins moved to Minnesota to start the 1961 season, Opening Day starters are just 14-25, with 12 no decisions. Not exactly a great track record on baseball’s biggest day, but with names like Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter has historically been some of the most beloved players in Twins history.
Looking over the current 40-man roster, and some non-roster invites to Spring Training, there are several players who have a shot at being the Opening Day starter. I’ll rank them from least likely to start to most likely to start on Opening Day.
Rafael Perez (1% chance to start Opening Day) – Perez was just signed to a Minor League deal with the club a week ago. He’s spent his entire big league career working out of the bullpen, and has not had a K/9 above 6 since 2008. He has put up strong ERAs every year except 2009, but with the declining strike out rates and a ballooning walk rate, his ERA has been propped up by an above average strand rate. Perez has an uphill battle to even make the team as a left-handed reliever, and an even tougher climb into the starting rotation.
Rich Harden (4%) – Like Perez, Harden is with the Twins on a Minor League deal. Harden has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, and while he has had a consistently above average strike out rate, he has not been an above average pitcher since 2009. There is some question as to whether or not Harden’s shoulder can stand up to the high pitch counts associated with starting, so there is a pretty decent chance that if he makes the team at all, the Twins would prefer that he work out of the bullpen to keep him healthy for the entire season. I like him more than Perez because Harden has a track record as a starting pitcher, and because the Twins are so desperately in need of strike outs, but he is still a long shot to even break camp with the Twins.
Mike Pelfrey (7%) – Pelfrey signed a 1-year deal with the Twins this offseason hoping to rebuild his value coming off of Tommy-John surgery. Pelfrey is still not a ful year removed from surgery, so there are concerns about his ability to be ready to start the season in the rotation. Unlike Harden and Perez, if he is healthy, Pelfrey has a guaranteed spot in the rotation. If I was confident that Pelfrey would be healthy when the Twins break camp I would have him higher, but it is early in camp and I anticipate that he will end up needing an extra few weeks go get all the way up to speed.
Liam Hendriks (10%) – Hendriks is a fringe candidate to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, but with questions about health among several of the arms ahead of him on the pecking order, he is likely to be the next man in if any one of the projected five starters are not ready to start the season. Even a healthy Liam Hendriks is a long shot to take the ball for the Twins on Opening Day as Ron Gardenhire usually likes to reward his veterans.
Kevin Correia (12%) – Poor Kevin Correia has been written off since before the ink was dry on his shiny-new 2-year $10 million dollar contract. Correia certainly is not the type of pitcher that would typically get the ball on baseball’s biggest stage, but the Twins seem to like his veteran leadership and clubhouse presence, something that went a long way for Carl Pavano (who started back-to-back Openers in 2011 and 2012). Pavano had almost a year and a half of starts with the Twins under his belt prior to taking the mound on Opening Day, but with no other experienced veterans on the roster, Correia might end up pitching by default.
Kyle Gibson (13%) – The Twins seem dead set on starting the year with Aaron Hicks in center field field despite not having any Major League experience. If the Twins are trying to build excitement in 2013 and invite fans to buy into the Twins future, Gibson could wind up pitching on Opening Day to help build momentum toward 2014 and beyond. But like Pelfry, Gibson is coming off of Tommy-John surgery, and unlike Pelfrey, Gibson figures heavily into the Twins future plans, so they are likely to treat him with kid gloves. The Twins are looking to limit his inning totals in 2013, so putting him on the mound from Day 1 does not do a lot to aid that effort.
Scott Diamond(15%) – After playing the role of savior for the 2012 Twins, Diamond was the overwhelming favorite to take the ball on Opening Day. If Diamond is healthy he will undoubtedly be pitching on April 1st. But Diamond had surgery in December to remove some bone chips from his throwing elbow and is reported to be progressing through his rehab slower than anticipated. There is still an outside chance that Diamond is healthy when the Twins open 2013, but the Twins want Diamond healthy long-term, so if any question marks remain about his health, expect the Twins to take things nice and slow.
Vance Worley (38%) – Vance Worley seems to have become the Twins de facto Opening Day starter because there really is not anyone else with a real shot at keeping him from it. He has a lot of things working in his favor; he is healthy, he is young and exciting, has a chance to be a long-term part of the Twins ballclub, and he is not Kevin Correia (which is to say he is not old, ineffective, and overpaid).
When the Twins traded away Ben Revere for Worley and Trevor May I would not have though Worley had any shot to pitch on Opening Day, but he seems to be the last man standing.
Most of us have heard, by now, that former Twins starting pitcher Carl Pavano had to undergo surgery for a ruptured spleen this offseason and that it happened as a result of a fall while shoveling snow.
Given Pavano’s history with regard to various injuries, his accident led to the expected ducksnorts via Twitter and other social media exchanges.
Pavano remains an unsigned free agent and it’s hard telling when he’ll be back on the mound, but given what he went through, I’m just glad he’s still around to even consider making another comeback later in the year.
Join me in wishing Pavano the best of luck on his recovery.
The reality is that the other 15 teams are not going to pass up an opportunity to sign starting pitching either, as evidenced by the Nationals’ Day 2 signing of Dan Haren on a one-year $13 million dollar deal.
Unless the Twins are willing to spend dollars andyears (a notion promoted by our own Jim Crikket), they’re going to have trouble finding free agents that want to sign with a ball club that doesn’t have an immediate opportunity to contend for a postseason birth. The Twins likely have an edge on some low-end free agent pitchers looking to rebuild their value on a one year deal, as the Twins play in a pitcher friendly park and generally face lesser offensive opponents (playing each AL Central opponent 18 times) than many of the other teams mentioned in Heyman’s tweet. But low-end free agent pitchers are easily had (Carl Pavano, John Lannan, etc.). With each passing hour it becomes less and less likely that the Twins make a move before the end of the Winter Meetings, but after talking with just about every free agent pitcher with a pulse, they should have at least laid the groundwork for a signing or two later this winter.
After a day of rumors and meetings, this is what Terry Ryan had to say at his end of day presser regarding making a move at the Winter Meetings, “That’s always a tough question. You never know. We could. We may not.” Don’t hold your breath, Twins fans.
The Diamondbacks are fielding trade offers for Justin Upton and Jason Kubel, and teams are asking about D’Backs young pitchers Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs (If the Diamondbacks move one or both of their outfielders, perhaps they’d be interested in dealing with the Twins for a young outfielder?).
And of course, these, any many other, Winter Meetings happenings are all nicely chronicled over at MLB Trade Rumors, should you desire to fully immerse yourself in Winter Meetings maddness.
OVERNIGHT UPDATE: Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports tweeted overnight that Ben Revere’s name is coming up as a possible trade target. He also speculates that, because they traded Denard Span, the Twins may need a CF in return.
First, if indeed CFs are in high demand right now, the Twins have to be willing to listen when teams call. It wouldn’t be ideal for someone like Aaron Hicks to have to skip AAA and be baptized under fire at the Big League level, but if he can’t hack it Darin Mastroianni could probably fill in at CF until Hicks or someone else steps up.
I’ve always figured Revere was probably a short term bridge in CF to get to Hicks or one of the other stud OFs coming up through the organization. If the Twins think the same thing, then you trade Revere whenever you feel his value is at its highest, even if that is one week after you’ve traded Span.
I think the idea of the Twins needing a CF in return is pure speculation on Morosi’s part. That makes no sense at all. You get the best starting pitcher you can and you don’t take a lesser pitcher in order to get a stopgap CF, as well.
In other Twins news, LaVelle E. Neal III of the StarTribune tells us that the team doesn’t see Ian Stewart as a fit to provide the competition at 3B for Trevor Plouffe. I find that odd. To me, that’s exactly the kind of player that would fit that role. Maybe they just want to push Plouffe, not really threaten him.
Stay tuned… maybe Day 3 will be more exciting than the first two days. Then again, because Zack Greinke’s indecision is keeping the rest of the free agent pitching dominoes from falling, I’m not counting on much for excitement today.
There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement. In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres. Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres. Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago. Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko). Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the oldTrevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.
As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing. And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training. If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement. Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs. So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.
After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball. After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year. Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011. Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka. Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007. Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*
*And to some extent, they are. The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).
The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011. They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan. They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009. But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line. The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team. They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price. And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.
Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly. Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.
As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012. Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident. To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm. That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team. Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning. Now the Twins had to start getting creative. They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October. Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April. P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.
The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in. While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.
Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.
On the most recent episode of Gleeman and the Geek they noted that Denard Span has been getting a lot of days off recently. But just how many days has Span had off recently, and is that enough to cause alarm?
Denard Span has played in 87 of 95 games so far in 2012, and started 84 of those games. He played in 28 of the Twins games to start the season, and despite missing 3 more games in the middle of May with a minor injury, he remained the Twins’ everyday center fielder and lead off man, getting just one more day off between May 18 and June 30. However, dating back to the 2nd game of the double-header against the Royals, Denard Span has been out of the line up 3 times, only came in as a pinch runner on July 20 in extra innings, and had to be removed from Saturday’s game with dizzyness (caused by the heat). Now, 4 scheduled off days (ignoring the appearance to pitch run) in an 18 game stretch is not necessarily alarming, and his batting line is virtually unchanged from the .275/.344/.391 it was at before he started getting extra time off (.275/.340.378 going into last night’s game) but carried out over a 162 game season that’s at least the equivalent of two extra trips on the 15 day DL every year.
If the Twins are serious about finding a potential trade partner for Span before the August 31 trade deadline they should be doing everything they can to increase his value. Maybe the Twins are thinking that giving Span a day off every 6th day will allow him to stay healthy and fresh, increasing his offensive and defensive permanence, thus increasing interest in acquiring his services. However, opposing GMs might also wonder what is going on with his playing time, wondering why an everyday player like Denard Span is suddenly out of the lineup more than 15% of the time. Is he injured? Is he having recurring concussion and dizzyness issues that plagued him in parts of 2010 and 2011? Moving him in and out of the lineup is certainly raising a lot of questions.
If Denard Span is nursing some sort of injury, then the Twins are walking a tight rope as they head to the trading deadline. Obviously moving him onto the 15 day Disable List would give him time to recover, but it also takes him out of trade consideration. Instead the Twins would be stuck trying to move him, along with Carl Pavano and Matt Capps, through a waiver trade, severely limiting the leverage of the Twins to field competing offers. I would not expect the Twins to be playing fast and loose with the health of one of their key assets, regardless of trade value, so that makes his current spike in days off all the more intriguing.
Six weeks ago, I put up a post here arguing that it was much too soon to “pull the plug” on the Twins’ 2012 season. I argued that, despite an admittedly dismal start, the Twins were performing fairly well on most fronts, with the glaring exception of their starting pitching, and that they were just about to begin playing their own Division rivals on a regular basis. Feel free to go back and read the whole article, but here was my conclusion:
If the Twins only win 10 of their next 34 games, then I’m on board with everyone else… put up the Yard Sale sign and sell off any asset you can get a fair return for.
But the more I look at the schedule… and what other teams in the AL Central Division have done… the less I feel like there’s any real rush to make drastic and irreversible decisions. The starting pitching needs to be better than it has been… pure and simple. But if that can be accomplished, I see no reason this Twins team shouldn’t still be able to live up to our limited expectations of them before the season started.
We could still have a little fun this summer.
A few days ago, in the comment section of one of our GameChat posts, regular reader/commenter “frightwig” pointed out that, since I authored that post, the Twins had gone 17-17 and had not cut down the number of games they trailed the Division leaders. (Following the series win over the Reds, that record is now 19-18 since May 14.) He asked if my opinion of the Twins’ outlook and what General Manager Terry Ryan should do had changed at this point.
That’s a fair question. The answer is, “no, not really,” and the reason is that the situation really hasn’t changed all that much. In fact, just as was the case on May 14, the Twins are once again about to embark on several intra-divisional series that could be fun to watch and very few games against contenders in other divisions. Between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Twins have 8 games with the White Sox, 7 with the Royals, 4 with the Tigers, 4 with the Orioles, 3 with the Indians, 3 with the Rangers and 3 with the A’s.
On top of that, the Division-leading White Sox have started their annual “trade for big name washed up former All-Stars” exercise, so you know that’s a sign they’re about to tank.
Bear in mind, even six weeks ago, I never argued that Terry Ryan should sit on his hands all year and make no moves, nor did I suggest the Twins were likely to become “good” any time soon. I merely pointed out that the Twins had some things going for them that could make them entertaining to watch and potentially even more than just entertaining if they could do something about the starting rotation. I don’t think that’s changed.
Still, I’ve written a lot about what I DON’T think Terry Ryan should be doing as we enter the “trading season,” but what do I think Ryan SHOULD do?
As I wrote on May 14, Ryan should be listening to any offer. Nobody on this roster is untouchable, though one or two players are likely untradeable.
Any player that does not figure in the team’s plans for 2013 should be traded as soon as decent value of any kind is offered. This would include Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, certainly, as well as Alexi Casilla and Ryan Doumit (unless the rumored extension talks prove fruitful).
Ryan should not be in a hurry to trade any productive player that is under contract for 2013 and beyond. Players like Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham (particularly Willingham) and even Jamie Carroll should only be traded this summer for solid starting pitching that are good bets to be no worse than #3 starters as soon as next season. (Of course, in this rotation, it doesn’t take a lot to be considered a #3 starter.)
I still question whether the Twins will find anyone willing to part with a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher in July, but I could be wrong. For example, with the Twins playing a series against the Pirates last week, I couldn’t help but notice that, for a team sitting at or near the top of their Division as June comes to a close, their offense really isn’t very good after you get past CF Andrew McCutchen. They are where they’re at because of their pitching.
Of course, they aren’t likely to give up anyone in the top half of their rotation at this point and any Twins fans who think they’d consider trading uber-prospect Gerrit Cole are kidding themselves. But guess what… their AAA affiliate, Indianapolis, is also leading THEIR division and they’re likewise doing so because of strong starting pitching. The Pirates appear to have some remarkable depth in the starting pitching department. I’m certainly no expert on the Pirates’ minor league system, but I can’t help but think either Rudy Owens or Jeff Locke, both lefties, would make the Twins’ rotation better as soon as next year and for several years to come (heck, probably THIS year, for that matter).
But why would they trade any of their young pitching now? Do you have any idea how long it has been since the Pirates sniffed the playoffs? No? Me either, but I think it was when Barry Bonds was skinny.
With Cole rising fast up through their organization, there’s going to be a logjam in Pittsburgh’s rotation before long. That’s why they may be more likely to give up some of that pitching for offensive help from one of the few teams without realistic playoff hopes in the coming weeks, rather than wait until the offseason when there will be more potential trade partners and they arguably could get a better return. In other words, they have the potential to be a little stupid with their trades over the next few weeks.
The question is whether the Twins would match up well with the Pirates in a trade discussion. With McCutchen in CF, their need for Denard Span might not be as great as a team that has a need at that position, but Span could certainly play one of the corner OF spots and he would certainly improve their lineup. Then again, just about any position player on the Twins roster, down to and including Drew Butera, could improve the Pirates lineup at this point.
I still don’t think trading players like Willingham or Morneau would be smart, because you’re going to need to replace them in a few months if you let them go. But there’s a case to be made that replacing them would be easier than acquiring starting pitching this winter. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but I’m willing to consider the possibility.
I’m sure the Pirates aren’t the only potential trade partner, but I mention them only by way of acknowledging there may be a stronger market out there than I think there is. The extra Wild Card spots this season and the relative balance of competitiveness in both leagues has the potential to mean a lot more buyers in July and fewer sellers. In any industry, that means a “sellers market,” and if the Twins can capitalize on that market to improve their team as soon as 2013, they’d be foolish not to do so.
Just don’t come at me with salary dump trades for any wannabe prospects. There’s no financial reason for the Twins to pull that kind of crap on their fans when they’re continuing to look at just below 3 million in attendance this season.
The Twins scored plenty of runs to earn a win last night but the Twins’ pitching let them down for the second straight game and the Twins ended up on the wrong side of a 10-6 final. Anthony Swarzak managed just3.2 innings, giving up 6 runs before he was chased from the mound. Francisco Liriano pitched in relief again last night, looking fairly competent until his second time through the Detroit order when they lit him up for 3 runs in the 7th inning. Not encouraging for Liriano’s efforts to return to the starting rotation.
Carl Pavano had an extra day of rest thanks to Swarzak and the off-day this past Monday. Hopefully that extra day helped out his shoulder inflamation and he’s able to pitch 6+ innings so that the bullpen gets some much needed rest of their own.
Still no Ryan Doumit, so he’s likely still nursing the calf injury that had him initially scheduled for the DL, then not on the DL, then resting, then playing a couple games, then resting again. The saga continues.
I’m a little under the weather this afternoon so I’ll just be popping in and out. A Twins win ought to make me feel a little better…
Another game where the Twins starter, this time Carl Pavano, fails to get out of the 5th inning. Pavano’s afternoon was done after 4.1 innings, giving up 6 runs, all earned, off of 10 hits. The bullpen held the Tigers scoreless on just 2 hits the rest of the way but the Twins were not able to climb back into the game with their bats. It seemed like the Twins had a rally going in the bottom of the 6th inning but a 30 minute rain delay drowned their momentum and the Twins threat was over.Denard Span and Justin Morneau each added solo home runs in the losing effort, but overall the Twins managed just 8 hits.
The Twins will attempt to finish the series and salvage a win tomorrow afternoon.
I spent the past weekend visiting friends in Chicago. The drive to and from Chicago gave me an opportunity to indulge in one of my favorite guilty pleasures: Chicago Sports Talk Radio. Neither the Cubs or the White Sox are performing well in 2012, an the hot heads calling into their favorite local radio station had plenty of extra fodder as the White Sox were on the north side for the first three game set of the Crosstown Classic. One caller after the next called in to complain, what Alfonso Soriano is doing wrong, how Robin Ventura is mismanaging Chris Sale, and on and on, about one wrong after another heaped down upon the ever faithful fans of Chicago baseball. That lasted for two hours before the game, and after a brief interruption for a baseball game and a hat tip to Kerry Wood, the fans were back at it for another hour, blasting the Cubs in a loss, and the White Sox even in a win. I suppose it could have went on longer, but the show had to end eventually. If you know anything about sports talk radio in Chicago, you know that the next show picked up right where the last one left off, fans battling for a spot on the air to let listeners know what they would do if they were running the team.
The Twins are off today, but are already in Chicago, enjoying a day away from baseball before a three game series begins Tuesday night. The Twins are scheduled to pitch P.J. Walters, Scott Diamond, and whoever is called up to replace Jason Marquis (assuming his shoulder inflammation is now behind him). Never mind that when the Twins head back home to face Detroit on Thursdy that they’ll have to figure out how to deal with Jason Marquis‘ lack of performance (UPDATE: Designated for Assignment) and a hole in the rotation left from Nick Blackburn‘s current DL stint. Leave the starting pitching alone, it has been terrible, and without Diamond and Walters, it has been even worse than that. Let’s look instead at the bullpen. Below are 8 Chicago-Style thoughts on the current Minnesota Twins bullpen staff:
Alex Burnett – At age 24 Alex Burnett still has plenty of upside, and thought his first 18 appearances of 2012 seems to be finally finding his stride, posting a 2.66 ERA, and a WHIP of just 1.3, both career marks. But the reality is that while Burnett has cut down his walk rate to a career low, his strike out rate is almost HALF of what it was in 2010 (7.0 SO/9) at 3.8, and more than two strike outs per nine innings down from what it was even a year ago at 5.9. Fangraphs FIP is a decent predictor of the pitcher Burnett actually is at 4.36, which is slightly lower than his career average. Burnett is due for a regression, and despite his early success the Twins have remained hesitant to put him into high leverage situations (should the Twins actually have any).
Jared Burton – Jared Burton seems like a guy who should be successful. His BB/9 rate is 1.1 and his SO/9 rate is 9.2, his WHIP is a minuscule .702, and yet he’s sporting a 4.60 ERA, thanks in large part to 3 HRs in just 15.2 IP. Burton is due for some regression to his career numbers as well, and he might even be a better pitcher than he is now, but if he continues to serve up the long ball he will not have a roster spot for long.
Matt Capps – On Saturday I was listening to the Milwaukee Brewers radio broadcast and they announced that Capps had yet to blow a save. I didn’t believe them at the time, but after the game was over, and Capps had picked up another save, I had the chance to look up his stats, and sure enough, despite having an 0-2 W/L record, Capps is a perfect 9/9 in save opportunities. It turns out Capps has not really been that bad, sure giving up 1 run in the top of the 9th in tie games to the Red Sox and the Indians stick out in the minds of fans, but since starting the season with a couple poor performances, Capps has been pretty solid for the Twins, cutting his ERA down from 6.00 to 3.38 while quietly racking up saves in 9 of the Twins’ 14 victories. But here’s the rub, Capps biggest strength in 2012 has been his ability to limit walks, giving up just 1 free pass so far this season. That number is sure to go up, and when it does, Capps will be the same heart-attack inducing 9th inning guy that my brother so astutely refers to as “Cardiac Capps”. Not exactly ideal for a closer, but the Twins do not have a ton of options.
Brian Duensing – Duensing, along with Capps and Burnett is one of the few Twins relievers enjoying a successful start to the 2012 campaign. Duesnsing owns an 0-2 record as a reliever this season, but he’s given up just 4 runs in 21 IP. Duensing could be next in line for an opportunity in the starting rotation, depending on the team’s plans for Marquis and Swarzak, but Duensing has been most successful out of the bullpen over the course of his career, and the Twins need more than their share of bullpen arms capable of pitching 2+ innings to help bail out the starting rotation. Duensing is really excelling at limiting base hits, giving up just 5.6 hits per 9 innings, the lowest rate of his career. Fangraphs’ FIP back’s up Duensing’s performance at 2.59, so he should remain effective going forward, it will just be up to the Twins and Ron Gardenhire to figure out how to get one of their best relievers into games when it matters.
Jeff Gray – Jeff Grey has 3 victories in 2012, two of them coming from just 3 pitches, and he has yet to be charged with a loss, but he certainly has not been a solid performer for the Twins. His 4.50 ERA is the highest of the Twins’ most use relievers (Capps, Perkins, Gray, Duensing, Burnett) and his WHIP, Hits/9, and BB/9 are all the worst on the team among ANY relief pitcher. Gray has 18 appearances already in 2012, and Gardenhire continues to send him out to the mound almost every other day! Part of that has been the failure of the starting pitching staff which routinely forces the bullpen into extended action, but to give Gray the 3rd most appearances on the team is just plain ridiculous! Jeff Gray should not have a spot on this team for much longer.
Francisco Liriano in just 3.2 innings as a reliever Liriano has yet to give up a run, but he has as many strike outs as walks (4), and has been used just three times since being demoted, about every 3rd day. He’s going to have to pitch a lot better, and limit his walks if he is going to become a valuable member of the Twins’ bullpen, and he’ll have to learn to adjust to hitters and his own nerves is he is going to end up back in the starting rotation. At this point the Twins need to find a way to boost his value and flip him for anything they can get before the trade deadline. Liriano is a lost cause in Minnesota and the sooner he realizes that and starts showing value to other teams, the better.
Glen Perkins – Perkins signed a contact extension in Spring Training that makes him a Twin through at least the 2015 season, with a 4.5 million dollar team option for 2016. While Perkins has continued to strike more than one hitter out per inning, his walk rate is crept up to its highest level since 2007, and his ERA is almost 2 runs higher than it was a year ago when Perkins was the most dominant reliever on the team. This year Duensing, Capps, and Burnett all have lower ERAs than Perkins. Despite his elevated ERA, Perkins should regress towards his career numbers, and with a FIP almost a full point lower than his current ERA Perkins can be the dominant reliever the Twins saw in the first half of 2011.
Anthony Swarzak – Swarzak has started 3 games and made 9 relief appearances already this season. His ERA currently sits at 4.73, and could be much worse if it wasn’t for an uncharacteristically low BABIP of just .253 (almost 40 points below his career average, and 30 points below the MLB average for 2012). Swarzak does a great job handling mop-up duty when the Twins starters are blown out of a game, and that’s a fine roll for him as long as they don’t start trying to plug him in for more than the occasional spot start, because Swarzak has shown, in 2009 and 2011 (and most of his Minor League career), that he just is not cut out to be much more than the mop up guy he is now.
And those are the guys the Twins have AFTER the starting staff has made a mess of the game.