Just Winging It: The 2012 Minnesota Twins Starting Rotation

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 old Trevor 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.

-ERolfPleiss

Denard Span’s Playing Time

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.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Orioles @ Twins, 7:10pm

“Help us Diamond Won Kinobi! You’re our only hope!”

Sadly, even Bert Blyleven agrees – he tweeted out earlier today: Twins need more innings out of their starting staff. Only Scott Diamond has given them the quality innings needed to save the bullpen.

Given the heat and humidity still existing in Minnesota, something tells me that the balls will be flying high & long if solid contact is made. So I’m REALLY hoping that Scotty is able to work a little newbie magic tonight.

It’s nice to see JJ Hardy though.. welcome back, just hope he doesn’t abuse the hospitality.

Baltimore

@

Minnesota
Markakis, RF Span, CF
Hardy, SS Revere, RF
Jones, Ad, CF Mauer, C
Wieters, C Willingham, LF
Reynolds, Ma, 1B Morneau, 1B
Pearce, LF Plouffe, 3B
Davis, C, DH Doumit, DH
Betemit, 3B Dozier, SS
Tolleson, 2B Carroll, 2B
  Tillman, P   Diamond, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Baltimore 0 1 1 0 3 0 0 0 2 7 13 1
Minnesota 7 1 2 1 0 3 0 5 x 19 20 0

I’m not sure where that offensive outburst came from but it was certainly more fun than being on the receiving end of a butt-kicking. How odd was this game? Well, the Twins knocked the O’s starting pitcher out of the game before the end of the first inning despite the fact that he had given up just one earned run. (The six unearned runs were another matter altogether, I suppose.)

There were plenty of offensive stars from which to select a BOD tonight. Justin Morneau went 4-5 with a pair of doubles and Joe Mauer homered to RF. But tonight’s co-BODs are Denard Span and Ben Revere. Not only did they combine to go 7 for 11 with three doubles and 8 RBI, but they flashed plenty of leg & leather in the outfield, as well!

Denard Span

Ben Revere

Trading Season Opens: Prepare For Disappointment

It seems ridiculous at this point to suggest Twins fans need to be prepared for disappointment. We’ve been getting slapped in the face by disappointment for going on two years, after all, and we’re pretty much resigned to this team continuing to disappoint us at least through the rest of this season. A lot of fans are already accepting disappointment as a near-certainty in 2013.

How much more prepared for disappointment do we need to be?

A bit more, I believe, and soon.

Terry Ryan

Our collective eyes and ears are focused on Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, in anticipation of the deals he’s going to make to improve the future rosters of his team. Fans seem prepared, at this point, to part with pretty much anyone in a Twins uniform as they dream of the top prospects Ryan will extract from his fellow GMs in return. After all, if Ryan could get Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano (not to mention Boof Bonser) for AJ Pierzynski, just imagine the load he should pull in for Denard Span, right?

The Star Tribune put out a good piece a few days ago that gives some insight in to the mind of Terry Ryan. There’s a case to be made that with the extra wild card in each league this year, there should be plenty of interest in the players Ryan has to offer. But while it’s true that there are more teams that consider themselves contenders than there may have been in the past, there are also some factors working against the Twins.

The biggest problem for the Twins is that a lot of contending teams want the same thing they do… good starting pitching. Of course, the difference is that contenders are looking for arms that can help them immediately, while the Twins are happy to take on talent that isn’t quite ready for the big stage yet. Still, top shelf starting pitchers, whatever their age and level, are hoarded like gold by teams these days so it takes some combination of talented front line players and desperation on the part of the trading partner to extract that kind of talent in a trade.

The other thing working against the Twins now is the new collective bargaining agreement. In past years, a team could take on a half-year rental player who is going to be a free agent at the end of the season and, at the very least, the “buying” team might be able to get a draft pick or two in compensation when the player bolts after just a couple of months. Now, not only is it more difficult to get compensation picks, but those picks aren’t available at all unless the player wore your uniform all season.

This means that, for example, if the Twins don’t trade Francisco Liriano, they have to offer him something like $12 million on a one year deal in order to get a compensation pick for him if he turns them down. But if they trade Liriano, his new team doesn’t even have that option. So guys like Liriano and Matt Capps and anyone else not locked up beyond the end of this year are truly just rental players for any team acquiring them. That team is just getting their services for the rest of this season, where in the past they may have received those services PLUS compensation picks. Think about it… how much would YOU give up for 2-3 months of Liriano’s services?

That should temper fans’ expectations for the return that Ryan is likely to get for Liriano and Capps.

Denard Span

It demonstrates why Denard Span and Josh Willingham are likely much better trade chips. For that matter, the contract extension Ryan Doumit recently signed moved him from the “rental player” category and on to the list of players that could return something of more value.

But the Twins can’t just trade away everyone of value on the market. They need to put a team on the field next season and it needs to be a pretty good one.

I agree with Howard Sinker’s view that the Twins can’t just tear this team down and start over. Fans are not going to accept that and they shouldn’t. The everyday line up the Twins put on the field is close to being good enough to compete. What’s missing is exactly what everyone knew was missing last offseason… pitching. Specifically, at the top of the rotation. It should have been addressed last season and it MUST be addressed before Opening Day 2013. Being “penny wise” this off season won’t be “pound foolish”, that foolishness will be measured by the ton.

Since Target Field opened, the Twins have been the hottest ticket in town. For the past year or more, that’s been as much about the Vikings, T’wolves and Wild being less than highly competitive as it has been the quality of the product the Twins put on the field and the remaining luster of their new digs in the Warehouse District.

But that’s about to change. The Wild made blockbuster signings, the Vikings got their new stadium approved and even the Pups look like they may be getting more serious about fielding a real basketball team right next door to Target Field. If Terry Ryan and his bosses don’t want find out just how quickly the Twins can become an afterthought at the bottom of the area’s list of major entertainment options, they need to get this team turned around starting in 2013, not years beyond that.

Francisco Liriano

That process starts now. I believe Francisco Liriano has quite possibly pitched his last game in a Twins uniform. His value will likely not get any higher than it is right now after his 15 K performance Friday night. He won’t bring back anyone likely to be a top of the rotation guy next year, but he should fetch a role player that can improve the roster or a higher pitching prospect that perhaps is still down in the Class A ranks.

I would love to see Denard Span stay a Twin for years to come. I really like the way he goes about the game and he’s a quality individual. But he’s the one guy on this roster that offers the combination of the ability to bring immediate help to the rotation in the form of Big League ready starting pitching AND he plays a role with the team that they arguably have in-house replacements available to step in and play in his absence. Ben Revere can lead off and play centerfield. He’s not Denard Span, but maybe he’s close enough to do the job adequately.

Beyond that, if the Twins can get useful returns for Capps or anyone else not penciled in for a major role in 2013, fine. Just don’t expect to be overjoyed with the return coming back. Willingham and Doumit could get  something of value, but they shouldn’t be dealt unless someone offers an absurdly one-sided deal. Justin Morneau isn’t going to be in great demand unless the Twins agree to eat pretty much all of his remaining contract and honestly, the Twins don’t have a replacement for him yet anyway. All three of these guys fill roles that you would just have to go back on the market to replace over the off season and I guarantee that replacing Willingham’s production and Doumit’s versatility will be more expensive this time.

Of course, if anyone wants any of the remaining pitchers on this roster bad enough to offer anything of real value in return, as unlikely as that may be, TR should probably make the deal before that other GM comes to his senses. There’s nobody on the pitching staff that can’t be replaced. Even Scott Diamond, who’s been incredibly successful, has to be available for the right price. I have a suspicion you might be selling high on him. As much as I like him, I’m still having trouble believing he’s going to maintain this kind of success over time.

Yes, trading season is upon us and it’s almost certain that Terry Ryan is going to be right in the middle of it. Just keep expectations in check. It’s not like he’s the chip leader at the table and the rules have changed enough this year to make everyone just a little less certain about how to play the game.

– JC

 

WWTD? (What Will Terry Do?)

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.

Terry Ryan

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.

Nor do I think things have changed much since I posted my most recent argument against having a full-out fire sale.

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

– JC

Stop With the Premature Trade Talk Already

I know Twins fans aren’t quite accustomed to dealing with having their team be uncompetitive right out of the gate, but that’s no excuse for being rediculously stupid.

It seems like some folks just don’t know how to enjoy the rare good performance when they see one. No, it has to be immediately followed by, “Let’s trade him!”

Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau’s wrist is feeling good and he’s hitting the ball well! Let’s trade him NOW!

Ryan Doumit’s had some clutch hits! He should be traded while he’s hot!

Denard Span is getting on base and playing a decent center field! Trade him for a boatload of pitchers, right now!

Josh Willingham hit a walkoff home run! It’s time to trade him, NOW!

Listen carefully, please… May 30 is never “the time” for a non-contending team to trade productive veteran players for prospects. Why? Because Major League GMs are not idiots… in May. They aren’t going to see one home run in May and think, “Wow. I want that guy and I’ll trade away my best pitching prospect to get him!”  At least not for another several weeks.

Ryan Doumit

Should Twins General Manager Terry Ryan be listening to offers for most of his productive veterans? Absolutely. There’s nobody on this roster that should be “off limits” right now. Some of the contracts may make certain players (that would be you, Mr. Mauer) untradeable for all practical purposes, but that doesn’t mean Ryan shouldn’t listen if a fellow GM thinks he has an idea that would work.

But May 30 is for listening… for determining which teams might have interest in certain players… but not for trading.

Frankly, nobody is desperate (read: stupid) enough to give enough in return, yet.

The Red Sox, Tigers and Angels are off to slow starts, but they are far from being desperate… yet. The Indians and Orioles, although finding themselves in better positions than they perhaps expected heading in to the season, still have some holes to fill. But they are far from desperate… yet.

It’s desperation that makes for unequal trades and we all know that fans… Twins fans in particular, it seems… tend to overvalue their players and thus expect more for them in return for a trade than other teams are likely to be willing to give up. There is simply no trade Ryan could make on May 30 that would make anyone in Twinsville happy, unless it happened to involve a player that a particular fan has some screwy personal grudge against.

First, you have to at least get past the upcoming draft. Until then, neither the Twins nor potential trading partners know for sure what their respective organizatinal needs are, nor where they have sufficient depth to afford the luxury of trading away a decent prospect or two.

Perhaps more than any other professional draft, the MLB draft is a crapshoot. Players can’t be counted on to make an immediate impact at the Major League level and, in fact, they can’t really be counted on to ever play Big League ball. So, despite all the fan chatter about how teams need to draft pitching or power hitting or speed because of the perception that the organization’s current MLB roster is short on that particular talent, teams almost always draft what they believe is the “best player available” when their turn comes around. You simply don’t know with any level of certainty what your organization’s needs will be by the time a particular kid is ready to play Big League baseball.

As a result, it’s only after the draft is over that you can judge with any precision what kind of talents you should be targeting in the trade market… and it’s only after the draft is over that you or potential trade partners can accurately judge which talents they may have a surplus of and can thus afford to send off in a trade.

That’s when phone lines between GMs start to warm up.

Denard Span

Even then, real interest doesn’t often reveal itself until July rolls around and desperation doesn’t kick in until later that month. That’s when teams convince themselves that they need a toolsy lead-off hitting center fielder or a versatile switch-hitting back up catcher with a little pop, especially if they’ve got team-friendly contracts.

For guys with big contracts, the “time” to trade them might not come around until August, after the non-waiver deadline passes. That’s when desperation really sets in and teams become willing to take on big contracts and overpay in prospects, if they think the guy could help them bring home some sort of championship this year.

I think we all understand the reality of 2012. Every GM in baseball will have Terry Ryan on speed dial and Ryan is going to make some deals. I don’t especially like that, but it’s the reality that comes with being an underperforming last place team. But that doesn’t mean I want him giving away every veteran on the ballclub without getting guys who are pretty damn close to being Major League ready in return.

Some people may be willing and even eager to ship current players off for a couple of “organization players” who will never be more than roster fillers for Rochester or New Britain (or whoever next year’s AAA and AA Twins affiliates are). I am not one of those people.

I want… I expect… to see a much better product on the field next season and if Ryan can’t get players in trade that should be expected to contribute to this team being more competitive in 2013, then I’d just as soon see the Spans, Doumits, Morneaus and Willinghams still wearing Twins uniforms next year.

And nobody is offering that level of talent, especially the potential top of the rotation pitching talent the team desperately needs most, on May 30.

So how about we just stop with the, “Twins need to trade so-and-so right now,” crap? No, they don’t.

– JC

(All photos: Jim Crikket, Knuckleballs)

GameChat – Tigers @ Twins #2 1:10pm

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…

 

Detroit Tigers

@

Minnesota Twins
Berry, CF Span, CF
Dirks, LF Revere, RF
Cabrera, Mi, 3B Mauer, DH
Fielder, 1B Willingham, LF
Young, D, DH Morneau, 1B
Boesch, RF Dozier, SS
Peralta, Jh, SS Casilla, A, 2B
Avila, C Butera, C
Santiago, 2B Carroll, 3B
_Scherzer, P _Pavano, P

 

 Detroit Tigers

2

0

0

0

4

0

0

0

0

12

0

 Minnesota Twins

1

1

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

1

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.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins @ Brewers, 7:10pm

And we have arrived at that point of the season we call  INTERLEAGUE PLAY! Ok, there’s a lot of controversy about in-season interleague play but I’m going on the record as loving it. I LIKE that there are two leagues. I LIKE that there are different rules and strategies and that we get to see them during the season.

You are entitled to have your own opinion and I’m ok if it’s different than mine – but it won’t mean that I enjoy the Milwaukee matchups every year any less and admit it, you like it too.

Now we just have to find out if Diamond can bunt… LOL

Minnesota

@

Milwaukee
Span, CF Hart, C, RF
Dozier, SS Aoki, CF
Mauer, C Braun, LF
Willingham, LF Ramirez, Ar, 3B
Morneau, 1B Lucroy, C
Plouffe, RF Weeks, 2B
Casilla, A, 2B Ishikawa, 1B
Carroll, 3B Izturis, C, SS
Diamond, P Estrada, P

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Minnesota

2

0

0

0

2

2

1

4

0

11

16

0

Milwaukee

1

0

1

0

0

1

0

0

0

3

11

4

Are we allowed to just keep saying “wow”??  It’s really hard to believe that boxscore belongs to the same team we’ve been watching all season. Not to mention that tonight officially makes a win STREAK! It’s the first time we’ve hit 3 consecutive wins this season I think. hard to believe that little details like that are so hard to come by sometimes. There was just a ridiculous amount of hitting tonight – from up and down the lineup.

The M&M boys showed up in a big way getting hits & RBI the way we’d expect. Mauer broke up the tie in the 5th inning which basically broke game open. And Scott Diamond not only booked his 3rd Win as a Twins starter, he showed he knows which end of the bat does what too! He got his first big league hit AND a run which is rare enough from our bench much less our pitchers so I say all three of these boys deserve a tall frosty one courtesy of the city of Milwaukee.

Cheers boys!

But of course the real prize of the day was tough to come up with due to the team effort across the board. But Denard Span came in after dealing with some calf tightness and he came back in a BIG way. 4 hits, 3 RBI, 3 Runs and in general doing everything you want your leadoff runner to be doing! For all that, he has earned today’s BOD!

GameChat – Blue Jays @ Twins #4, 1:10 pm

Happy Mothers Day!

The Twins have an opportunity to split the series with the Blue Jays with another strong performance from Scott Diamond.  A little run support would be nice too, as the Twins burned a nice pitching performance, from P.J. Walters, yesterday by scoring just a single run in a 2-1 defeat.  Denard Span is the only Twins player with more than 10 plate appearances against Blue Jays’ starter Ricky Romero and Span has been very successful, posting a 1.088 OPS in 18 plate appearances.

Alexi Casilla is off again today, and since starting back to back games on May 5 and 6, he has not appeared in back-to-back games and has not played at all in 4 of the last 6.  Last night he entered the game late and was o-1 with a strikeout, not exactly giving Gardenhire reasons to pencil him in.

Here are the rest of the line ups:

Toronto Blue Jays

@

Minnesota Twins
 Johnson, K, 2B  Span, CF
 Escobar, Y, SS  Dozier, SS
 Bautista, RF  Mauer, 1B
Encarnacion, 1B  Willingham, LF
 Francisco, B, DH  Doumit, DH
 Lawrie, 3B  Plouffe, 3B
 Rasmus, CF  Komatsu, RF
 Arencibia, C  Butera, C
 Davis, R, LF  Carroll, 2B
  _Romero, R, P   _Diamond, P

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Toronto 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 3 10 1
Minnesota 0 0 1 0 3 0 0 0 x 4 10 1

The bullpen did not do Scott Diamond any favors this afternoon, but the Twins held on to a 4-3 victory thanks to 7 scoreless innings from Scott Diamond.  Diamond scattered just 5 hits throughout his afternoon of work, also picking up 4 strikeouts along the way.  Newcomer Brian Dozier had a solid day defensively and providing some offensive power with a solo homerun into the 2nd deck out in left field.

While Dozier certainly was exciting to watch, he’s only getting a small package of Girl Scout Cookies (his preference) for his work today.

Scott Diamond, Boyfriend of the Day (Credit: ESPN)

Scott Diamond is the BOD for the 2nd time in as many starts.  Congratulations Mr. Diamond, you earned it.

-ERolfPleiss

A Hesitant Denard Span

I mentioned  recently on the Phil Naessens Show that I thought I was slightly more statistically inclined then the rest of the Knuckleballs gang and that I’d be trying out some additional stats-based analysis in the near future.  Here is my first attempt at looking beyond the numbers.

Denard Span will probably never again be the player he was in 2008 and 2009.   When he broke onto the scene as an everyday player with the Minnesota Twins he was hitting the snot out of the ball (with 14 home runs during those first two seasons, and only 5 since then, in just slightly more plate appearances), reaching base almost 40% of the time, and playing spectacular defense.  As a reward for his first two successful years, Span signed a 5-year $16.5 million dollar deal in 2010.  2012 marks the first year that Span will make multiple million dollars (3 million, to be precise) and there are still more than $11 million dollars left on his deal for 2013 and 2014, plus an option year at $9 million.  Span could earn almost $20 million more dollars before his next contract has to be negotiated.

Keiunta Denard Span

Right now, Span is hitting .298 and reaching base at a .351 clip.  Both of those numbers represent improvements over 2010 and 2011, and yet, his .715 OPS is almost exactly league average.  The other night in a GameChat, Thrylos98 wondered if “Keiunta” had been struggling lately.  I started digging around Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com looking for recent splits and performance tables and was able to confirm the suspicion, Denard Span has not been doing much of anything over the past two weeks.  He’s hitting only .205 with 8 hits (all singles) in his last 44 plate appearances.  Despite all of that, he’s hitting .298!  Span could simply jump out of his slump and become the high average, high on-base guy he was when he first joined the club, but looking at some of the underlying statistics, it is far more likely that he’ll hit .260/.310/.350.  He’ll be valuable more for what he does with his glove than his bat and with a line like that, he’s certainly not worth the $20 million dollars that could be headed his way.

In Span’s first two seasons with the Twins he walked in 12.2% and 10.4% of his plate appearances.  That number dropped to about 8.5% over the past two seasons, and in his first 29 games of 2012, his walk percentage sits at a career low 7.6% (MLB average is usually between 8% and 9% so Span has went from well above average to below).  While Span has historically shown above average plate discipline, striking out in just 12.5% of his plate appearances over his career, he’s striking out at the worst rate of his career in 2012, 15.3%.  Obviously a small sample size disclaimer exists here, as Span has only 131 plate appearances this year, but Span hasn’t done anything recently (4 walks and 7 strikeouts in the last two weeks) to make anyone think he’s likely to turn things around quickly.

A decrease in walks and an increase in strikeouts present problems by themselves, but are really symptoms of a larger issue.  In Span’s case, he’s hesitant at the plate.  He’s looking at more pitches than he ever has (61%), and he’s swinging at the first pitch less than ever (14% in 2012 compared to a career rate of 21%).  That’s a shame because Span hits .367 on the first pitch of an at bat over the course of his career!  Part of that could be the way that teams are pitching to him on the first pitch, but he’s hit .357 or better during three of his first four years in the league, and never worse than .329 until 2012, so it is unlikely that teams suddenly realized Denard Span was an excellent first pitch hitter.

And yet, here is Denard Span, hitting just a tick under .300 and he’s on base more than a third of the times he comes up to bat!  One of the biggest reasons why Span is still performing at or near league average is because of an abnormally high BABIP of .356.  A high BABIP means Span is getting luckier than an average player, turning hit baseballs into hits more frequently than 80% of the league.  The league average for BABIP in 2012 is just .290, and Span has been within three percentage points of league average the last two seasons, so he’ll likely regress to a number closer to .300.

My advice to Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the Twins’ front office: Trade Denard Span before his performance really slumps and the $11+ million dollars left on his contract make him a liability on the open market.

-ERolfPleiss