GameChat – Minnesota @ San Diego, 9:10pm

ah… the ever so draining west coast road trip… Hope no one has to be anywhere in the morning this week… oh you do? Pretty sure those of us actually make it to the end of these games will be solely responsible for keeping Caribou in business.

Of course, this is also interleague play!! Wonder if we’ll actually get to see any of our pitchers bat…

Minnesota San Diego
Dozier, 2B Denorfia, RF
Mauer, 1B Cabrera, E, SS
Plouffe, 3B Smith, S, LF
Parmelee, RF Headley, 3B
Suzuki, K, C Venable, CF
Kubel, LF Gyorko, 2B
Escobar, E, SS Alonso, 1B
Hicks, CF Grandal, C
Correia, P Kennedy, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 5 7 0
San Diego 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 3 5 0

Lots of interesting performances for the Twins, including Kurt Suzuki’s inside the park home run that left the park.

But Jared Burton entered the game with 2 on and no outs and kept both runners exactly where they were when he took the mound. That was impressive. And he is our BOD.

untitled (2)

Twins’ Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

With one bad first inning on Tuesday night, the Twins fell from a first place tie atop the AL Central Division in to sole possession of next-to-last place.

Such is life in the second week of a six-month-long Major League Baseball season.

The Twins sit at .500 with a 4-4 record after winning their first two series of the season from Detroit and Baltimore, both of which were postseason participants a year ago. The latter series was also on the road. That ain’t bad.

The losses the past two games in Kansas City have been a bit hard to stomach, of course. Blowing a one-run lead and wasting a pretty fair performance by pitcher Kevin Correia (at least through his first seven innings) was galling on Monday and the five-run bottom of the first that the Twins coughed up to the Royals Tuesday night was way too reminiscent of the kind of starts the Twins endured last year from their rotation.

But, on balance, things could be a lot worse, right?

After all, the Twins have put together this .500 start while most of their best hitters have gotten off to what you’d have to be generous to call mediocre starts.

The Twins have three hitters with batting averages above .300 at this point and you’d have to add all of those three players’ plate appearances together to match the number of times the team’s regular position players have come to the plate. When Eduardo Escobar, Pedro Florimon and Wilkin Ramirez are leading your team’s offense, you know you aren’t hitting (in this case, literally) on all cylinders yet.

Josh Willingham

Josh Willingham

Josh Willingham is off to a productive start, however. He’s hitting .280 with a couple of doubles and a couple of dingers. We’ll take that from the Hammer all year long. Chris Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe haven’t been great, but haven’t been awful either. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have not gotten off to great starts, so you have to figure the offense will improve as those two begin to warm up.

So things could be worse, offensively. Don’t believe me? Just imagine if Manager Ron Gardenhire had decided to plug Brian Dozier and his .174 On-base percentage in to the #2 spot of the order.

Then there’s the pitching. We’ve known all along that this team is going to live or die based on what kind of pitching they get.

Glen Perkins

Glen Perkins

Most of the good news is in the bullpen. Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Ryan Pressly and Josh Roenicke, as a group, have not yet surrendered a run, earned or otherwise. They have 14 strikeouts (and seven walks) in 15 innings of combined work. Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing have also contributed positively out of the pen.

The results from the rotation members have been mixed. But, as with most things in life, it’s all relative. Compared to what we grew accustomed to seeing a year ago, maybe it hasn’t been all that bad.

Kevin Correia isn’t striking anyone out, but nobody really thought he would. What he has done is induce 23 ground outs and taken his team through the first seven innings of each of his starts. I think we’d take that all year long if we could get it.

There have been some encouraging innings out of some of the other rotation members, as well, but we need to see improvement there. That improvement could potentially start when Scott Diamond comes off the Disabled List in a couple of days.

Still, considering that the Twins pitchers are sixth in the American League in team ERA and their hitters are 12th in both batting average and OPS, you’d almost have to say it’s the team’s pitching that has them even as high as .500 at this point. Who would have expected that?

– JC

Roster Deconstruction

The 25-man roster is not yet set in stone, but if we take a look at the 40-man roster we can get some kind of idea about where the Twins players closest to the Major Leagues come from.

Drafted out of High School (12, 5 pitchers, 7 position players)

Alex Burnett, 12th round 2005 (375 overall); B.J. Hermsen, 6th round 2008 (186); Tyler Robertson, 3rd round 2006 (96); Anthony Swarzak, 2nd round 2004 (61); Michael Tonkin, 30th round 2008 (906); Joe Mauer, 1st round 2001 (1); Brian Dozier, 8th round 2009 (252); Justin Morneau, 3rd round 1999 (89); Chris Parmelee, 1st round 2006 (20); Trevor Plouffe, 1st round 2004 (20); Joe Benson, 2nd round 2006 (64); Aaron Hicks, 1st round 2008 (14)

Unsurprisingly the Twins largest group of players on the 40-man roster come as high school draftees.  There is a fairly good mix of position players and pitchers, though of the pitchers on the list none of them were drafted in the first round, compared to 4 first round position players*.  This makes sense as the arms on this list are all bullpen guys, not a single player there with really dominant stuff.

*Byron Buxton, the Twins most recent 1st round draft pick was just 5 years old when the Twins drafted Justin Morneau in 1999.  Morny has been with the team a long time, it will be interesting to see if the Twins look to move him later this year.

 

Free Agent (10, 7 pitchers, 3 position players)

Jared Burton, 2011; Kevin Correia, 2012; Cole De Vries, 2006 (undrafted out of University of Minnesota); Casey Fien, 2012; Mike Pelfrey, 2012; Caleb Thielbar, 2011; Tim Wood, 2012; Ryan Doumit, 2011; Jamey Carroll, 2011; Josh Willingham, 2011

Likely because the Twins spent so many high draft picks on position players, the Twins have struggled to develop their own pitching and have turned to the free agent market to balance their roster.  As with the high school draftees, none of the arms on this list are particularly dominant, though Burton was a pleasant surprise in 2012.

Trade (6, 4 pitchers, 2 position players)

Scott Diamond, 2011 (Billy Bullock); Pedro Hernandez, 2012 (Francisco Liriano); Eduardo Escobar, 2012 (Liriano); Trevor May, 2012 (Ben Revere); Vance Worley, 2012 (Revere); Drew Butera, 2007 (Luis Castillo)

I listed Scott Diamond as a player acquired via trade, but he originally joined the Twins through the 2010 Rule 5 draft, but when he failed to make the roster out of Spring Training the Twins completed a trade with the Atlanta Braves in order to keep him with the organization.  Of the other names here, only Butera sticks out, only because with his ties to the organization (his father Sal Butera was with the Twins for parts of 6 Minor League and 4 Major League seasons) I often forget that he was not originally drafted by the Twins.

Drafted out of College (4, 3 pitchers, 1 position player)

Brian Duensing, 3rd round 2005 (84); Kyle Gibson, 1st round 2009 (22); Glen Perkins, 1st round 2004 (22); Chris Herrmann, 6th round 2009 (192)

Again, because the Twins were not drafting and developing high school pitching they have used several early round picks on college pitchers in an effort to balance the system.  Of the two 1st rounders here, only Gibson was the Twins 1st overall pick of the draft, Perkins was selected after Trevor Plouffe, with a compensation pick from the Mariners when they signed Eddie Guardado.  In fact, in the 2004 draft the Twins had 3 first round picks and 2 more supplemental round picks, giving them 5 of the first 39 draft picks and 7 of the first 100.  Of those seven picks, Plouffe, Perkins and Anthony Swarzak are all still with the Twins, 9 years later.

International Free Agent (4, 1 pitcher, 3 position players)

Liam Hendriks, 2007; Josmil Pinto, 2006; Daniel Santana, 2008; Oswaldo Arcia, 2008

Pretty young group of players here, but lots of upside with Santana and Arcia cracking MLB’s list of Top 20 Twins prospects.

Waiver (3, 1 pitcher, 2 position players)

Josh Roenicke, 2012 (Rockies); Pedro Florimon, 2011 (Orioles); Darin Mastroianni, 2012 (Blue Jays)

As you’d expect, no superstars in this trio, but two of these guys could be in the starting lineup on Opening Day.

Rule 5 Draft (1, 1 pitcher, 0 position players)

Ryan Pressly, 2012 (Red Sox)

It remains to be seen if Pressly will make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, though the cards are certainly stacked against him.  If the Twins are going to keep him long term, they’ll need to work out a trade with the Boston Red Sox to keep him in the organization if he is not on the big league roster.

So there you have it, 40 players and their origins within the Twins organization.  With high school draft picks making up the lion’s share of the roster, the Twins amateur scouts seem to know what they’re doing.   That bodes well for the future and  Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd, the Twins’ highest drafted high school players in the past two drafts.

-ERolfPleiss

All player information obtained from Baseball-Reference.  If I’ve listed any player origins incorrectly, please let me know.

What is going on with the bullpen?

Coming off of back-to-back 90+ loss seasons, the Twins, predictably  have a lot of holes in their roster.  Most noticeably, the Twins went into this winter with as many as four holes in their starting rotation, then traded away two center fielders, creating another hole, and there is still no real answer in the middle infield.  With all those other needs to address, the bullpen has become something of an afterthought, but even with a breakout year from Jared Burton and another strong year from Glen Perkins, the Twins still ranked just 9th in the American League in bullpen ERA (3.77).  Of the five teams with worse bullpen ERAs than the Twins in 2012, only the Tigers earned a postseason birth.

So with a below average bullpen in 2012, what will be relieving corps look like in 2013?  Glen Perkins will remain the closer and Jared Burton will be the primary 8th inning set-up guy.  Beyond those two, Brian Duensing is really the only other player with a firm spot in the pen, serving as the team’s primary left-handed specialist.  The Twins commonly work with a seven man bullpen, so that leaves four spots left to fill.  Ryan Pressly was the Twins’ Rule 5 draft pick earlier this winter, so he’ll need to be on the 25-man roster, but I do not think he’s a realistic candidate to stick, so he’ll either need to be returned to the Red Sox or the Twins will need to work out a trade to keep him.  Casey Fien put together a nice season a year ago in 35 innings of relief, so he’s likely to have a leg up on the competition for one of the four remaining spots.  Tyler Robertson is a guy that I really like, and if he can become a little more consistent strike thrower, he could slot in as the Twins’ second left-handed specialist.  That’d give the Twins three left-handers in the bullpen, but with Perkins serving as the closer, I think the Twins would be willing to go that route.  Alex Burnett, while he does not have great peripherals (and outside of 2012 has been a 5+ERA type reliever), probably did enough last year to earn a spot in the bullpen to start the year, but if he struggles, expect him to be one of the first players to go.

Anthony Swarzak gave up 1 run on 6 hits with no walks and 6 Ks in six full innings of work for the Twins

“Big Game Tony Swarz”

That really just leaves the Twins with one additional opening, long relief.  Over the past couple of seasons that role has been filled by Anthony Swarzak.  He’s performed adequately in this position, eating up innings, mopping up blow-outs, and has the arm strength to give the Twins an occasional spot start.  Swarzak is 27 years-old and owns a career 5.03 ERA in more than 200 major league innings, so he is not likely to make any major improvements in 2013, and with the Twins building for the future, they may want to look elsewhere.  Josh Roenicke, Tim Wood, Michael Tonkin and Caleb Thielbar are all other options on the 40-man roster that the Twins may look at during Spring Training.  Roenicke started last year for the Rockies, but because the Rockies limited their starters to about 75 pitches per start, he pitched just over 88 innings last season, and could be a guy the Twins want to have on-hand as a long reliever who can be relied upon to make a spot start, especailly early in the season as Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey are both coming of Tommy John surgery and may not be with the MLB club to start the year. Tim Wood pitched in AAA last season, and had good numbers for the Pirates’ affiliate, so could have a shot here as well and Terry Ryan recently said on a Rochester radio program that Tim Wood will not pitch in Rochester, so he will either be with the Twins or, as he is out of options, waived.  Michael Tonkin hasn’t pitched above A-ball, and the Twins are not likely to jump him all he way to Minneapolis, so while he has a spot on the 40-man roster, Twins fans shouldn’t expect to see him any time soon.  Caleb Thielbar could be an interesting option here, especially if the Twins want to see what Thielbar can do with the Twins.  He split time last season between AA-New Britain and AAA-Rochester, so the Twins have a pretty good idea of what he can do against high-level talent.  I’d still give the edge to Swarzak or Roenicke in this long-relief roll, but if the Twins open the year with a 4-man pitching rotation and an extra bullpen arm, Thielbar could very well be the beneficiary of that extra spot.

Not a lot to be excited about in the bullpen, but there may be some addition by subtraction as the Twins jettisoned Jeff Gray, Matt Capps and Jeff Manship from the bullpen.  There should be a couple of fun battles left for Spring Training and I expect the bullpen to be better as a unit. But if the starters don’t give the bullpen a little more rest in 2013, the relievers will be over used, worn out, and ineffective before the All-Star game.

-ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 16

Episode 16 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Ben Revere rides to Philadelphia!

This week the Pleiss Twins discuss happenings from the winter meetings and are joined by Alex Kienholz of www.BeyondTheBoxscore.com to discuss the Twins/Phillies trade that sent Ben Revere to Philly in exchange for Vance Worley and prospect Trevor May, the Rule 5 draft and about his interested in sabermetrics. After Alex departs Eric and Paul get into the Jared Burton extension, Tom Kelly‘s Twins career, beer, prospects and a whole bunch of questions from the interwebs.

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help us become warlocks.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

A Full Forty – Dissecting the 40-Man Roster (Pitchers)

Last week the Minnesota Twins added eight players to their 40-man roster, maxing out their roster with 40 players.  The Twins will likely remove at least one player prior to the upcoming Rule 5 draft, but for now, the Twins do not have room for any additions.  If Spring Training started tomorrow, here are the 40 players that would be competing for a coveted 25-man roster spot and a place on the 2013 Opening Day roster.  We’ll start with the Pitchers today, and look at the position players later this week.

B.J. Hermsen, recently added to the Twins 40-man roster. PhotoCredit: Knuckleballs

Right Handed Pitchers (Age, Position, Highest 2012 Level)

Alex Burnett - 25, Reliever, MLB – Burnett appeared in 67 games for the Twins in 2012 and posted the best ERA of his career (3.52).  Unfortunately, Burnett struck out batters at the lowest rate in his career (4.5/9), while still walking more than three batters per nine innings and his 2012 success is unlikely to continue in 2013, if he makes the 25-man roster, it will be as a middle-inning, low-leverage, reliever.

Jared Burton – 31, Reliever, MLB – Like Alex Burnett, Burton also posted the best ERA of his career (2.18).  Unlike Burnett, Burton’s success came from an increase in stike out rates and a decrease in walk rates.  Burton is almost a lock for the 25-man roster, and will likely be the eighth inning set up man.

Cole De Vries – 27, Starter, MLB – De Vries was a long shot to make the 25-man roster in 2012, but because of a string of injuries and generally poor play from other Twins starters, De Vries started 16 games en route to a 4.11 ERA.  De Vries is a typical Twins-type pitcher, low walks, low strike outs, and is a long shot to make the 25-man roster again in 2013, but unless the Twins acquire multiple starting pitchers through trades or free agency, the Twins do not have a lot of other competent options.

Casey Fien – Casey Fien, Reliever, MLB – Fien returned to Major League action after spending 2011 in the Minors.  Fien had several surprisingly good appearances toward the end of the year, earning a 2.06 ERA to go along with 32Ks in just 35.0 IP.  Fien’s previous MLB performance and Minor League track record does not indicate that he’s likely to continue to perform at a high level, but he’s gained the trust of Ron Gardenhire and has a farily good chance to make the 25-man roster with a strong performance this spring.

Kyle Gibson – Kyle Gibson, Starter, AAA – Gibson spent all of 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and pitched in four different leagues during his rehab, including the Arizona Fall League where the big right-hander was said to be consistently throwing 93-94 MPH with good control.  If fully healthy, Gibson is in line to be one of the Twins five starters in 2013.

Deolis Guerra – 23, Reliever, AAA – Guerra split time in 2012 between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester and posted a 4.11 ERA in his first full season as a reliever, with high strike out numbers (9.1K/9) and low walk totals (3.3/9).  At 23 Guerra is still fairly young for AAA and I expect him to start the season in Rochester, though he will have a chance to play in Minnesota before the season ends. Edit: Per John Bonnes, Deolis Guerra is out of options, so he’ll need to make the 25-man roster or risk being claimed off of waivers.

Liam Hendriks – 23, Starter, MLB – Hendriks struggled to turn his Minor League success into Major League succes and spent the better part of 2012 searching for his first big league victory.  Hendriks finished the year 1-8 with a 5.59 ERA and only 50 strike outs over 85.1 innings.  Ideally Hendriks would start 2013 in Rochester, working to fine tune his command against lesser hitters before being asked to join the Twins.  If Hendriks makes the Opening Day roster it will likely be because the Twins lack other viable options rather than their belief in Hendriks ability to succeed at a high level.

B.J. Hermsen – 22, Starter, AA – Hermsen is another Twins-type pitcher with low strike out numbers and in Hermsen’s case, extremely low walk rates (1.6/9).  Hermsen is unlikely to merit serious consideration for the starting rotation in 2013 because he has no experience above AA.  Hermsen has continually put up ERAs around 3, and if he can continue to put up good numbers in AAA he should earn himself a September call-up and, if the Twins do not add a couple of free agents on multi-year deals, could be a candidate to start for the Twins in 2014.

Lester Oliveros – 24, Reliever, MLB – Oliveros had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and will spend most, if not all, of 2013 rehabbing his elbow.  He will be moved to the 60-day DL once Spring Training begins, opening up a roster spot.

Josh Roenicke – 30, Reliever, MLB – Claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies, Roenicke is unlikely to start the season in the Twins bullpen and instead the Twins will probably attempt to pass Roenicke through waivers later this spring and use him as roster depth in Rochester.  However, Roenicke did post an impressive 3.25 ERA last season with the Rockies, so the Twins might be willing to give him a longer look in Spring Training before ultimately relegating him to the Minor Leagues.

Anthony Swarzak – 27, Long Man/Spot Starter, MLB – The Twins have seen enough of Swarzak over the past couple of years (198.2 IP) to know what they have out of the 27-year old.  Swarzak has struggled when he’s been asked to start, but as a long man in the bullpen he’s performed moderately well (5.79 ERA as Starter, 4.03 as reliever).  I believe that the Twins will bring Swarzak back in a similar role in 2013, but if they are intent on finding a spot for B.J. Hermsen, this could be somewhere they’d be willing to make a switch.

Michael Tonkin – 23, Reliever/Closer, High-A – While Tonkin has never pitched above High-A Fort Myers, he posted a 12.6 K/9 in 2012 and followed that up with a spectacular Arizona Fall League performance posting a 2.45 ERA over 14.2 innings with a 0.75 WHIP.  Tonkin will likely start 2012 at Double-A New Britain, but he could certainly be in Rochester by the All-Star break.

Tim Wood – 30, Closer, Reliever, MLB – Wood was claimed off of waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates after spending all of 2012 in Triple-A.  As a likely closer, Wood does not have the kind of strike out numbers you would typically expect, but he’s posted a 3.49 and 2.19 ERA each of the last two seasons in Triple-A so he’s doing something right.  You have to wonder why a guy with a 2.19 ERA did not get a September call-up with the Pirates as they were once again spiraling their way to another losing record.  Before his successful 2011 and 2012 seasons, Wood struggled mightily in the PCL, splitting time between the Miami Marlins and Texas Rangers systems.  Do not expect to see Wood on the 25-man roster this spring, as he’s likely to spend most of the season in Rochester.

Left Handed Pitchers
Scott Diamond – 26, Starter, MLB – Diamond is the lone Twins starter to be guaranteed a spot in the 2013 rotation, so as long as he makes it through Spring Training without injury he has a secure spot on the 25-man roster.  Diamond is now 2 years removed from being drafted by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft and while his strike out numbers are dreadfully low (12.6% strike out rate), he manages to keep the base paths clear by limiting walks and inducing ground balls.  If Diamond can repeat his 2012 numbers the Twins will be ecstatic.

Brian Duensing – 29, Reliever/LOOGY/Starter, MLB – With the Twins again searching for answers from their starting rotation Duensing given another chance to win a spot as a starter.  He didn’t fare well.  Overall, Duensing has a 4.57 ERA as a starter compared to just a 3.38 ERA out of the pen.  As a starter Duensing is subject to facing a lot more right handed batters (.302/.358/.473, AGV/OBP/SLG), whereas in the bullpen he can be used selectively against left handed batters (.217/.261/.298).  Hopefully the Twins understand who Duensing is at this point in his career and keep him in the pen.  He’s a lock to be on the 25-man roster and should begin the year as the teams primary LOOGY (Left-handed One Out guY).

Pedro Hernandez – 23, Starter, MLB – Hernandez is one of the players the Twins acquired in the Francisco Liriano deal with the White Sox.  Hernandez has just one disastrous Major League start, and has only 52.1 innings at Triple-A.  The Twins should send Hernandez back to Rochester to start 2013, and unless things go poorly for the Twins rotation again this year, he’s unlikely to put on a big league uniform anytime before September.

Glen Perkins – 29, Reliever/Closer, MLB – After signing a 4 year $11.85 million dollar deal this past winter, Glen Perkins went out and had one of the best years of his career, posting a 2.56 ERA to go along with 78 strike outs and just 16 walks in 70.1 innings.  Perkins will start 2013 as the Twins primary closer, a role he shared at times in 2012 with Matt Capps and Jared Burton.

Tyler Robertson – 24, Reliever/LOOGY, MLB – Making his Major League debut in 2012, Robertson performed poorly, but his Minor League performance in 2012,  prior to his stint with the Twins, show the signs of life you like to see from a big left-hander.  He gets plenty of strike outs (10.4/9 innings), and he doesn’t give up a lot of a home runs.  For Robertson the biggest issue is going to be control, as he walked 14 batters in his 25 innings for the Twins a year ago.  Robertson is great against left-handed batters (.190/.268/.317), but if he cannot learn to get out right-handed hitters (.290/.436/.484) he is not going to stick around for long.  Robertson should start the year as the Twins #2 LOOGY and a middle reliever.

Caleb Thielbar – 25, Reliever, AAA – Thielbar made it as far as AAA in 2012, but at the end of 2011 he had never pitched above High-A.  Thielbar likely needs some additional Minor League seasoning before the Twins are ready to put him on the 25-man roster, especially after a terrible Arizona Fall League permanence in which he posted an 11.05 ERA with 8 walks in just 13.0 innings.

The Twins definitely have plenty of arms on the 40-man roster, but they don’t have a lot of talent in the bunch.  If the Twins start the season with this same group of arms they’ll have Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, and Liam Hendriks as their one-two-three starters, and will be well on their way to another 90 loss season.  It is more likely that the Twins sign at least two free agent pitchers, and bring in another arm via trade, but until anything happens, there is not a lot of hope readily available in Minnesota.

-ERolfPleiss

 

Weird Ideas: the Designated Starter

With the dismissal of Jason Marquis and subsequent promotion of Cole DeVries, the Twins’ rotation is down to one member of the original group projected to come out of Spring Training. Only Carl Pavano remains (and his balky shoulder makes you wonder how much longer he’ll last). And we haven’t reached Memorial Day yet.

So, with the rotation situation as it is, I’m going to put myself in Ron Gardenhire’s and Rick Anderson’s shoes for a moment, today.

The season is off to an absolutely abysmal start, to the point where your team has pretty much been eliminated from any shot at contending with only about 25% of the schedule behind you. The pitching… in particular the starting pitching… has been a disaster. And our grips on our jobs… manager and pitching coach of the Minnesota Twins… is growing just a bit tenuous.

So what do we do?

If ever there was a situation that called for trying unconventional pitching strategies, this is it. After all, what is there to lose? If the weird approaches work, we’re geniuses. If they don’t work, well, at least we get credit for recognizing the status quo had failed and we were willing to try something… anything… to get things turned around.

But what to do? What kind of changes could we make that would be so unheard of among our peers that we’d get credit for trying something totally new AND at least have some remote chance of not blowing up in our faces and costing us whatever little bit of credibility we might otherwise retain at the end of this season?

Ron… Andy… please allow me to introduce you to Joe Posnanski.

This week, Poz wrote one of his “Curiously Long Posts” about one of those off-the-cuff sort of truisms that broadcasters and other baseball “experts” tend to spout off without really checking to see if they’re the least bit true. There are a lot of those, of course, but in this instance it was the cliché that, “the last three outs are the toughest outs to get in baseball.”

Of course, for a variety of reasons, that’s not the least bit true. Statistically, in fact, ninth inning outs turn out to be the easiest three outs to get in baseball. The actual toughest three outs are the first three outs. Yes, hitters have the best stat lines in the first inning and pitchers have their worst stat lines in the first inning. More runs are scored in the first inning than any other single inning. Posnanski hypothesizes that this may be because it’s the one inning when the opposing manager can actually set his batting order the way he wants it. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but it sounds as good as anything, I guess.

He credits, “a couple of radical thinkers inside the game,” with proposing that teams might be better off to have official game “starters” rather than “closers”… guys who start games every other night or so and go just one or two innings, before turning the game over to another pitcher geared up to pitch several innings. The idea, of course, is to use a hard throwing pitcher with, perhaps, a limited arsenal of pitches to get through that dangerous first inning or so when, statistically, more runs are historically scored than any other single inning.

Think about that in terms of the current Twins for a moment.

Francisco Liriano, "designated starter"?

What if Francisco Liriano and, say, Jared Burton, were designated the team’s two “starters”? One lefty and one righty, they would start every other game and pitch just the first inning… maybe two if the first inning turned out to be easy enough. How many starts this year did Liriano breeze through the first inning, only to cough up runs in the second?

Wouldn’t it have been great to let him get through that first inning, then immediately turn the game over to Carl Pavano or another “starting pitcher,” who could then face the bottom of the opposing team’s order in his first inning of work? Wouldn’t  it have been much more likely that the “starting pitcher” in that situation would be able to get through the 7th inning before hitting the magic 100-pitch mark, allowing Glen Perkins and Matt Capps to close things out?

Why not give it a whirl, guys?

What are you afraid of? Is it that the national baseball media would howl? Would it just be too weird to see the same two guys listed the starting pitcher for the Twins on the schedule every other day?

Or are you afraid that the managers and players on the other teams will laugh at you?

Let’s hope that isn’t what stops you, guys. If it is, I’ve got news for you… they’re already laughing at you, because doing things the way they’ve always been done sure isn’t working.

You might as well try something really new.

– JC

Twins Head to the Windy City

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

-ERolfPleiss

Fun Twins Things


(photo: Foxsportsnorth.com)

10-24: The Twins record through their first 34 games, roughly 20% of their season.  Going in to 2012 I thought the Twins would be slightly better than a .500 ballclub, optimistically projecting them to win 83 games.  Yet here they are, 14 games under .500 with little reason to expect the Twins will be much better in the 128 games left on the schedule.  With that in mind, here is a list (of arbitrary length and order) of fun Twins Things from 2012.

  1. Josh Willingham – Willingham is leading the Twins in just about every offensive category you can think of, batting average, RBIs, on-base percentage, home runs, etc.  He’s come to Minnesota and established himself as a fan favorite.  Plus he looks like he’d be right at home chopping down trees in the forest with another Twins newcomer, Ryan Doumit.  Offense and tree chopping, two of my favorite things.
  2. Scott Diamond – Not exactly a success story in 2011, in his two starts since being called up in 2012 he has been perfect.  He’s pitched 14 innings without giving up a run and now has as many Wins in just two starts as any other Twins pitcher.  Also, Dick and Bert think that he looks like Cliff Lee, so take that for what it’s worth.
  3. Jamey Carroll – Before Sunday’s game FSN showed clips of some Twins players wishing their mothers (and sometimes their wives, too) a happy Mother’s Day.  During his segment Jamey Carroll referred to his mom as “the Bomb dot com.”  That was one of the best moments of 2012.  He’s also playing pretty great defense and was even rocking some variant of the Fu Manchu for a couple weeks.  Great stuff.
  4. The Joel Zumaya Saga – It is unfortunate that Zumaya couldn’t stay healthy and wound up heading back to the operating table before Spring Training was even in full swing because Zumaya had an opportunity to be the flame throwing reliever the Twins desperately need in their bullpen.  While the signing ultimately did not work out, there was plenty of fan excitement over the winter, speculating on the health and possible impact of a guy like Zumaya playing for the Twins.  Plus I liked saying, “Zoom-zoom”.
  5. Trevor Plouffe‘s hair – Love it or hate it, Plouffe’s curly locks have provided more humorous commentary in the Knuckleballs GameChat’s than just about any other Twins topic in 2012, follicle related or otherwise.
  6. Brian Dozier – For a while there when Dozier was hitting .400+ in AAA and it seemed like just about everyday some Twins blogger would be pining for the Twins to bring Dozier up to replace Carroll or Casilla.  Carroll and Casilla, in the meantime, managed to play pretty solid defense, but ultimately their lack of success in the batter’s box (and pretty much ever other Twins hitter as well) forced the Twins’ hand and they called up Dozier to be the everyday shortstop and he has not disappointed.  He’s been fun to watch defensively, getting to balls deep in the hole and showing off some pretty decent arm strength.  And he hit a home run yesterday!  Dozier is having fun playing baseball, and he’s even more fun to watch.
  7. Ryan Doumit’s defense – Just kidding.
  8. Lots of Roster Movement – 33 players have made appearances for the Twins this season.  Of those 33 players, 13 made the Twins debut (Jamey Carroll, Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Jeff Gray, Jared Burton, Clete Thomas, Sean Burroughs, Matt Maloney, Erik Komatsu, Brian Dozier, Jason Marquis, Darin Mastroianni and P.J. Walters).  Lots of new faces, lots of action on the waiver wire and plenty of evidence that Terry Ryan and crew realize the on-field product stinks and are looking at ways to make it better (Like when they sent Danny Valencia down to Triple-A, that was my favorite).

So it is not all bad.  There are some fun things to watch and follow every day.  If I missed any, feel free to fill me in.  

Baseball is still fun, even if 10-24 is not.

-ERolfPleiss

159-3 is not so Bad

The Twins were swept out of Baltimore in their first series of the year, three games to zero.  Over those three games the Twins managed just 5 runs, and 15 hits to go along with two errors and 16 strike outs.  As bad as those numbers are, it could have been worse, as the Twins scored late in all three games, with all 5 runs coming in the 8th inning or later.  Eerily similar to 2011, the Twins have found themselves down early, offensively challenged and relying on an inexperienced bullpen.

All of that means that the Twins are going to fight an uphill battle to come out of 2012 with a winning record, but it is only three games.  In2006, the 5th best team in Minnesota’s franchise history, the Twins won 96 games.  That teams started the year just 1-5, and had losing streaks of 3 or more games 8 times.  On May 1 that teams was 9-16 and was just routed 8-2 (giving up 19 hits) by a Mariners team that would go on to lose 86 games.  That team would go on to lose to the Cleveland Indians by a score of 11-0 TWICE and another 18-1 loss at the hands of the Detroit Tigers.  Every team is going to have a couple of bad days.

I am certainly not trying to say that the current version of the Minnesota Twins is going to be 30 games over .500, but I think we can hold on to the doomsday conversations for a couple more weeks, after all, those 3 games represent less than 2% of the 2012 schedule, and three losses are only three losses.

For those fans (and players) that may not remember what it looks like, this is Target Field

There are still a couple of positives to take away from this poor start, and the Twins can build on the things they’re doing well in the home opener later today.

  1.  Justin Morneau continues to hit the ball hard.  He’s hitting .400 with 2 doubles and a walk, and a couple of hard line drives that were hit right at defenders for outs.  Focusing on hitting the ball is working for Morneau, if he continues to hit the ball like this, it will not matter what Parmelee is doing with the bat (assuming he starts hitting better than the .125 he’s showing now).
  2. Brian Duensing has made two appearances out of the bullpen, has yet to give up a run and has recorded 2 strike outs.  With the exception of newcomes Matt Maloney and Jared Burton, the Twins bullpen has yet to give up any runs.  Alex Burnett, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing,  and Jeff Gray have combined to go 5.1 innings with a 0.00 ERA along with 4 strike outs and just 2 hits.  Granted, Maloney and Burton have been bad, but the bullpen is not as bad as it seems, there are plenty of guys going out there and succeeding.
  3. Josh Willingham has a home run, a double, and an outfield assist, throwing out Nick Markakis at home plate in the season opener.  Willingham has not looked great in left field (two errors on Saturday), and he will have to turn that around going forward, but if the rest of the Twins lineup warms up a little bit, this team is going to have an offensive to help mitigate some of the problems with the starting rotation.
  4. Jamey Carroll appears to be a real shortstop.  He is not going to win any Gold Gloves, and he might not be as fresh after 40 games at short, but for the time being Carroll is making all the plays and getting to all the balls in his area.  Outside of J.J. Hardy‘s injury plagued 2010 season the Twins have struggled to find consistent play from their shortstops for the better part of the last decade.  Carroll might just be keeping the spot warm for Brian Dozier, but as long as he’s here, he’s doing everything that’s been asked of him (except hit, despite being a high On Base Percentage guy he has yet to tally a base hit in three games, and has just one walk).

Five runs in three games will not be the norm for this bunch of ball players, unfortunately five runs in three games to start the season takes off a lot of the opening weekend optimism held by fans.  But hang in there, 159-3 is still within reach.

-ERolfPleiss