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).
According to Jerry Crasnick, the Twins have signed Kevin Correia to a two-year, $10 million dollar contract. The savvy Twins fan might liken this deal to the Jason Marquis signing from a year ago, but with an extra year tacked on, just for fun! Correia has been a below average starter in the National League over the past two years for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2012 the Pirates (not known for the pitching depth) decided that they had better starting options and demoted Correia to the bullpen. On a one-year deal, signing Correia would not seem half as bad, as the Twins are likely in the midst of a serious rebuilding effort after trading Denard Span and Ben Revere over the past couple of weeks. The second year of the deal could be tricky as Correia is not likely to improve coming to the American League for the first time in his career where he’ll have to face the designated hitters instead of pitchers.
Correia joins the Twins and is instantly their third best starting pitching option in 2013 behind Scott Diamond and Vance Worley. That’s how bad the Twins pitching is right now, they are turning to the Pirates’ bullpen for starting pitching help. While the Correia signing gives the Twins a much needed are in 2013, his role in 2014 is less clear. With Kyle Gibson another year removed from Tommy John surgery, and Liam Hendriks with some additional Major League experience (and perhaps some confidence boosting time at Triple-A), Correia’s best option for 2013 is as the Twins fifth starter. But five million dollars for a fifth starter, when guys like Cole De Vries, B.J. Hermsen, Sam Deduno and Esmerling Vasquez are all equally qualified to fill that spot, is harder to stomach.
If you’re a glass half-full type of person, it is possible that the Twins could flip Correia in 2014, maybe even eating some of his salary, in hopes of bringing back a low-level prospect. But it seems more likely to me that he ends up in the bullpen filling the long relief role that Anthony Swarzak currently fills, or becomes the swing-man that Brian Duensing has occupied the past couple of years. All in all, Correia is a Major League veteran that fills a roster spot for 2013, just keep your fingers crossed that he does not turn into another Nick Blackburn.
Day one of baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville is drawing to a close and while the Twins rotation still sucks, there wasn’t a complete lack of Twins-related news coming out of the Gaylord Opryland Resort. OK, calling it Twins “news” might be a stretch, but at least the Twins were mentioned here and there among all the rumors floating out of Nashville.
I spent the better part of my day refreshing various web sites that track the latest rumors and reading Twitter messages being posted by all of the Twins beat reporters representing various media outlets. After all, I had to make sure I didn’t miss anything interesting. I was keeping up pretty well, too, at least until someone with a pretty screwed up set of priorities scheduled me in to back-to-back conference calls starting at 3:00 pm.
Speaking of those hard-working reporters down in Nashville, you really should be following them on Twitter, if you aren’t already: Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com (@RhettBollinger), Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN (@PMac21), Ben Goessling of the Pioneer-Press (@BenGoesslingPP) and LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star-Tribune (@LaVelleNeal). Of course, MLBTradeRumors.com is a must-follow this week (and most weeks), as well.
Anyway, here’s a rundown of what I saw and heard around this here interweb thingy today:
Terry Ryan stated that the Twins have checked in on every available free agent pitcher, but that some are more realistic than others. (Yeah… I bet.)
Ryan also indicated the Twins would almost certainly participate in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. They have the 4th pick so not participating would be pretty stupid.
The Twins remain interested in right-hander Brett Myers. They may or may not have competition for Myers from the Orioles, depending on whose rumor you believe.
Other lesser (and in some cases, much lesser) pitchers that the Twins have been linked to include: Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, John Lannan. Mike Pelfrey and Vicente Padilla. Blanton and Lannan, in particular, are reportedly high on the Twins’ list.
Ryan Dempster is the only pitcher remotely close to being considered a top-half-of-the-rotation option that I’ve seen even mentioned in connection with the Twins today.
While the Twins have indicated they’re likely to be focused on free agents during the winter meetings, other teams have continued to check in with them about the availability of both Ben Revere and Josh Willingham.
Terry Ryan stated that Joe Mauer will not be traded.
In addition to pitching, the Twins are likely to acquire a third baseman to provide competition for Trevor Plouffe during Spring Training. However, it’s unlikely they’ll add more middle infielders, which means Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar are most likely going to be manning SS and 2B, for better or… you know… worse.
Pitcher Liam Hendriks had some elbow surgery to remove bone chips and won’t pitch for Australia during the World Baseball Classic. Nick Blackburn had a similar procedure done at about the same time. Both should be ready to go by Spring Training.
Joe Mauer (USA) and Justin Morneau (Canada) do plan to participate in the WBC for their respective home countries.
Manager Ron Gardenhire commented to media about his time in the Twins’ “War Room” at the hotel: “I’m listening to them all and they’re trading my whole darn team!” He was kidding. (We think.)
Chris Parmelee may be the early contender for the Twins’ RF job, but Darin Mastroianni and Ryan Doumit could compete for the job.
I’m posting this a bit before 8:00 pm CT Monday night and suffice to say I’m pretty disappointed in Day 1, so far. Joe Blanton is the top pitcher the Twins have been connected to in any manner more than just having “checked in on.”
Newsflash for Terry Ryan: Joe Blanton will not solve your problems, sir. Nor will additions of that caliber bring fans back to Target Field. You can do better.
Last night, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout were awarded the Rookie of the Year awards, in the National and American League, respectively. Harper and Trout did amazing things as rookies, and in the case of Mike Trout, had the best season a rookie has ever had. Harper helped the Washington Nationals win their division, and Trout did his part to keep the Los Angeles Angels relevant until the final week of the season. Minnesota Twins, on the other hand, had plenty of rookies suit up for them in 2012, but outside of Scott Diamond, none of them did much of anything to help the Twins win games (in fairness, the rest of the team was not exactly doing a lot to help the Twins win games either).
As a group, those 16 rookies accounted for a grand total of 4.1 Wins Above Replacement. They were led by Scott Diamond with 2.2 WAR, and at the other end was Liam Hendriks, -1.2 WAR. In between the Twins saw surprisingly positive performances from waiver claim Darin Mastroianni(.8 WAR) and defensive specialist Pedro Florimon (.8 WAR). The Twins were also disappointed by break-out candidate Chris Parmelee (-.6 WAR) and would-be lefty-specialist Tyler Robertson.
Here, alphabetically, is a closer look at each of the Twins’ 2012 rookies, including their status heading into 2013, as several players will still retain their rookie eligibility.
Matt Carson – 31, OF, .227/.246/.242 (BA/OBP/SLG) – Carson exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2012, which is pretty impressive for a guy that is 31 years old and had played in parts of two previous seasons. The Twins called Matt Carson up late in the season when they were a little short on outfielders and Ron Gardenhire really seemed to enjoy having him around. He’s unlikely to return to Minneapolis in 2013, as he is off of the 40 man roster, and the Twins have plenty of young outfielders just waiting to break onto the Major League roster.
Cole De Vries – 27, RHP, 87.2/4.11/58/18 (IP/ERA/SO/BB) – Cole De Vries was the right guy in the right place at the right time in 2012. After signing as an undrafted free-agent in 2006 out of the University of Minnesota, De Vries spent the better part of the last six years quietly working his way through the Minnesota’s farm system. De Vries struggled in 2010 (after being converted to a bullpen guy) between AA New Britain and AAA Rochester, but in 2011 he turned things around and despite starting the year back in Double-A, he finished the year in Rochester with a combined 3.40 ERA. De Vries started 2012 in Rochester (once again as a starting pitcher) and when the arms were falling off of every Twins starting pitcher with a hear beat, he was called up to the big leagues and performed better than many had expected. De Vries has lost his rookie eligibility heading into 2013, but he remains on the 40-man roster and has an outside chance of being the Twins’ 5th starter this spring.
Samuel Deduno – 29, RHP, 79.0/4.44/57/53 – Deduno was having himself a very surprising 2012 campaign until a string of bad starts toward the tail end of the season ballooned his ERA over 4. Deduno is a guy that has great movement on his pitches, but unfortunately not even he knows where the ball is likely to end up and as a result, Deduno finished the year with almost as many walks as strike outs. Deduno seemed to get a handle on his wildness about half way through his season, and will need to show increased control this spring but could battle De Vries for that 5th spot in the rotation. Deduno is on the 40-man roster and has exhausted his rookie eligibility.
Scott Diamond – 26, LHP, 173.0/3.54/90/31 – He turned out to be the Twins’ most effective starting pitcher in 2012, leading the team in innings, and providing the Twins with a reliable performance every fifth day. Without Diamond the Twins’ best starter would have been Samuel Deduno, certainly not anyone’s idea of a staff ace. Diamond is the only starting pitcher from the 2012 staff that has been guaranteed a spot in the 2013 rotation, and if the Twins can do enough in free agency, Diamond slots in as a solid number 3. Like Deduno, Diamond remains on the 40-man roster and is no longer eligible as a rookie.
“Like butterflies with hiccups” is our tagline at Knuckleballs and today it’s a pretty appropriate heading for the following post.
I seem to find myself in a “very little to say about several unrelated things” situation a lot lately. Maybe I’ll make this a quasi-regular thing here. Or maybe this will be a one-time thing. Anyway, there are a few things I’ve read here and there that I feel inclined to comment about. Most are baseball related, but not all.
On Monday, the Twins outrighted both Nick Blackburn and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, meaning they both cleared waivers and were removed from the Twins’ 40-man roster. Arguably, they were among the last remaining “scholarship” players on the Twins roster and clearly Terry Ryan finally had seen enough of both of them. I certainly won’t be surprised to see both players invited to Spring Training next year and given opportunities to regain spots with the Twins. Then again, I won’t be surprised NOT to see them in Ft. Myers, either.
With 42 games remaining on their schedule, through Monday night, the Twins are 51-70. That means, in order to improve on their 99-loss record of a year ago, they need to go 13-28 from here on out. A bit more than half of their remaining games are against teams that currently still have some playoff hopes, so winning 1/3 of their remaining games may not be as easy at you’d think it should be. Factor in that the final month’s games will pretty much all include line ups with at least one “September call-up” and the task of avoiding 100 losses gets’ trickier yet.
Still, I’m looking forward to seeing some of the Rochester and New Britain players show us what they can do in a Twins uniform. It will at least give me some reason to pay attention to the games, which I admittedly have struggled to muster much interest in doing lately.
Way before MLB announced its new playoff structure, with 2 wild cards playing a single “play in” game in each league, I was on record here of liking that format. I’ve certainly seen nothing so far this year to change my opinion. I understand that some people (in particular, managers and players) aren’t as enthusiastic about it as I am. But even in expressing their dislike for it, they actually make the exact case FOR the new format. In one of Jayson Stark’s recent pieces over at ESPN.com, he related the following quotes from the Braves’ Chipper Jones:
“I’m not a big advocate of playing 162 games for a one-game playoff,” Jones told Rumblings. “You could easily see two teams in the same division have the two best records in the league, and one of them has the luxury of waiting a couple of days to play a best-three-out-of-five [series], while the other one has that one-game playoff. And I don’t see that as fair.
“It’s basically a Game 7, right off the gut,” Jones went on. “It’s win or go home — and three other teams [in that league] get to sit back and watch it. So that’s why, at least for the guys in this clubhouse, we’re putting the utmost emphasis on every game from here on out. For us, these are must-win games the rest of the way, because we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket, for that one game.”
Winning your division SHOULD mean something. It should give you an advantage over a team that just happens to make the playoffs as a wild card for no other reason than that there happens to be an odd number of divisions in each league.
We’re already seeing writers speculate “what if” scenarios where managers may have to decide whether to use a Justin Verlander or Jared Weaver in the wild card game. Unlike many recent years, we won’t be seeing every playoff manager spend the final two weeks more concerned about setting his rotation than winning baseball games.
I have read that the new format meant there weren’t enough “sellers” at the non-waiver trade deadline for all of the potential playoff teams to pick from to help fortify their rosters. Gosh, I guess more teams will just have to try to win primarily with the players that they had on their rosters during the first four months of the season. Such a shame. #sarcasm
Keith Law on Miguel Sano
ESPN’s Keith Law got the attention of many of us who pay close attention to the Twins’ farm system last week when he Tweeted that he would be in Beloit over the weekend to watch the Twins’ prospects there. We were all anxious to find out what he had to say about Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, et al.
Law’s Monday post requires ESPN Insider membership to read, so we certainly will respect ESPN’s copyright to the material and not paste all of what he had to say here. In a nutshell, however, Law was impressed with Sano’s offensive talent and potential, but called Sano out for what he termed his “obvious disdain” for playing defense. He went on to compare Sano’s enthusiasm for defense to that of his own daughter’s enthusiasm for cleaning her room. Ouch.
Then again, Law admittedly only watched one game on the Friday night of that weekend.
I have nothing against Keith Law and he may be a pretty good judge of baseball talent. That said, I believe if you’re going to call in to question a young player’s work ethic (which he certainly did in this case), you should provide a little more information concerning the basis for doing so. Was it body language? Did he lollygag around the infield? Did Law speak to coaches, team mates, scouts or front office types?
I’ve seen Sano play 6-7 times this year and will see him some more this weekend. His defensive skills are not good at 3B. This is not news. But if there’s cause to question his work ethic and his interest in improving those skills, that IS news… and I’d be interested in knowing the basis for that conclusion (giving Law benefit of the doubt enough to assume it’s not based on seeing Sano play one game).
Joe Poz on JoePa
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a big Joe Posnanski fan. I may have also mentioned at some point that I’ve never been a huge Joe Paterno fan (even before the Sandusky s**t hit the fan).
If you also happen to follow Poz, you are probably aware that at the time of Paterno’s abrupt dismissal as Penn State’s football coach last November, Posnanski had pretty much moved his family to Happy Valley and was spending the better part of a year shadowing Paterno, his family and the Penn State football program as he researched an authorized biography he was writing on JoePa. Talk about finding yourself in the eye of a hurricane!
In the days and weeks that followed Paterno’s dismissal and, ultimately, his death, Posnanski kept almost completely mum on the subject of the coach. Frankly, I wasn’t even sure if the plans for the book were even going forward. However, now we know.
The book, cleverly entitled Paterno, hits bookstores today (August 21) and excerpts have been in GQ (and on GQ.com) in the days ahead of the book’s release.
I can’t help but feel Posnanski’s in a no-win situation in terms of the public’s response. Based on the excerpts I read, I’m pretty sure that Paterno’s family and defenders will object to much of what’s written and will probably feel betrayed for having allowed Posnanski inside their “circle.” I’m even more convinced that the anti-Paterno crowd will accuse Posnanski of going too soft on Paterno.
That’s enough for today. Maybe I’ll post some sort of “review” after I’ve read Paterno. Almost certainly, I’ll be posting something (a bunch of pictures, if nothing else) during or after the Snappers four-game series with my home town Cedar Rapids Kernels this weekend (the series runs Saturday through Tuesday). Until then, someone let me know if the Twins do anything noteworthy, ok?
Yesterday afternoon 32,261 baseball fans were treated to a 4.1 inning performance from Nick Blackburn in which more batters hit home runs (2) than struck out (1). Before he was yanked midway through the 5th inning, Blackburn faced 23 batters, and gave up 10 hits and 8 runs (all earned). Unfortunately for Twins fans, this marked Blackburn’s 8th start of 2012 in which he gave up 5 or more earned runs and failed to get through the 6th inning. In fact, Blackburn has pitched into the 7th inning just once in 2012, just last week when he went 6.2 innings and gave up just a single earned run, his best start since July 15th of 2011 when he was able to go seven full innings without giving up any runs, despite being tagged with a 2-1 loss.
Originally drafted in the 29th round of the 2001 amateur draft out of Seminole State College, Blackburn made his MLB debut as a September call-up in 2007, going 0-2 in 11.2 innings spread out over 6 relief appearances. In 2008 he made the team coming out of Spring Training and has been a perennial fixture in the Twins rotation since then. Blackburn pitched fairly well in 2008 and 2009, posting ERAs just a blip over 4 in back to back seasons, and averaged almost 200 innings a year. Coming off of his 2009 season the Twins inked Blackburn to a 4 year $14 million dollar extension that included an $8 million dollar team option for 2014. Since that time he has struggled to stay healthy and seen his ERA increase, despite playing in the pitcher friendly confines of Target Field for half of his starts.
2010 was a down year for Blackburn as his ERA rose to a career high 5.24 due in large part to career highs in HR/9 and BB/9 and a career low 3.8 SO/9. In 2011 Blackburn rebounded early in the season and had a 3.64 ERA through the end of June and looked like he had finally become the pitcher the Twins had hoped he would be. He was striking out almost 1 more batter per 9 than he was in 2010 and his BB/9 were down to a minuscule .84 walks per nine innings. However, Blackburn fell off significantly after the All-Star break and was shut down at the end of August and never made another appearance in 2011, finishing the year with just 148.1 innings pitched and an ERA of 4.49.
Heading into 2012 the Twins were hopeful that Nick Blackburn would return from the arm issues that cost him the end of the 2011 season and once again be the dependable innings eater he was in 2008, 2009, and even the first half of 2011. Unfortunately things have been anything but smooth for Blackburn in 2012. His ERA is 7.46, he’s giving up more home runs than any other time in his career, and opposing teams are just spraying the ball all over the field against him. Opponents are hitting .327/.368/.566 against him, good enough for an OPS of .934, the same OPS as Melky Cabrera. Definitely not a recipe for success.
The Twins owe Blackburn another $2.9 million for the rest of 2012, and another $5.5 million in 2013, and even if they’re willing to eat a hefty portion of that salary, there are just not a lot of teams looking for a struggling 5th starter who cannot miss bats and hasn’t pitched a full season in two years.
The reality is that Nick Blackburn is a sunk cost. The Twins best option at this point is to simply cut him loose. They are a better team when he is not pitching for them. Pay him the remaining $8.4 million left on his deal and invest the rest of his innings into some other young arms. Is there even another option?
It took a little longer than perhaps it should have, but a win is a win. Darin Mastroianni put the Twins up with a solo shot after taking a brushback pitch and Josh Willingham finally drove Joe Mauer home with the winning run in the 11th inning.
But the Chat’s vote for Boyfriend of the Day goes to starting pitcher Nick Blackburn, who’s return from Rochester was certainly a successful one. He threw 6 2/3 innings of ball and with relief help from Tyler Robertson, Jared Burton, Casey Fien and Glen Perkins, the Twins got a nice W. – JC
The Twins need a win today to salvage a season split with their boarder buddies, the Milwaukee Brewers. The Twins will have their work cut out for them this afternoon facing Milwaukee’s ace, Zack Greinke. To make matters worse, if the Twins do manage to scrape out a couple of runs against Greinke, Minnesota will have to rely on a struggling Nick Blackburn to keep them in the game. In his last two starts opponents have hit Blackburn to a line of .310/.370/.452 (BA/OBP/SLG), turning every hitter into the 2012 version of Angel Pagan. And his line is even worse against current Brewers. Tough to win ball games like that.
Matt Capps is out with a sore shoulder until at least Tuesday, but both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are in the lineup today for a very “unSunday Lineup” Sunday Lineup.
15 innings take a LONG time to play, 4 hours and 50 minutes with a rain delay thrown in for fun.
Nick Blackburn went just 6 innings, giving up 4 runs, all earned while throwing 101 pitches. The Twins we down 4-1 heading into the bottom of the 7th and erupted for 3 runs to tie the game at 4. That’s the way the score remained for 8 more innings before a Denard Span RBI single in the bottom of the 15th scored Brian Dozier from 3B.
For 9 innings of scoreless work, the Minnesota Twins bullpen (Nearly ALL of them, Burnett, Burton, Perkins, Duensing, Gray and Swarzak) falls just short of Father’s Day BOD honors. As a consolation prize, LeCroy24Fan has agreed to mail them $300 to share. Enjoy it.
His 4/8 performance, with a double and game winning RBI earn Denard Span the coveted BOD.
The Twins are off tomorrow to rest their bullpen, and start a 6 game Inter-League road trip against the Pirates on Tuesday night. Remember, no DH in games played in NL parks, so if Mauer’s leg is still a little beat up he’ll likely get a couple extra days rest and his bat will be out of the lineup all together.
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.
When the Twins demoted former General Manager Bill Smith and put Terry Ryan back in charge last fall, one of the first issues the fans and media raised with Ryan was with regard to the medical staff and, in particular, how mismanagement had resulted in some really poor use of the Disabled List. Ryan indicated there would be changes to how things were done, but, in the end, made no staffing changes in that area.
Early on this season, it’s hard to see evidence of improvement. In fact, this past week, we have seen evidence that the Twins are just as capable of screwing up DL decisions as they were a year ago and this time it cost them a ballplayer.
Starting pitcher Nick Blackburn left the game on Saturday, April 14, when he experienced “cramping” in his pitching shoulder during the 6th inning. The next day, Ryan reported that Blackburn had undergone an MRI that was “normal,” and that Blackburn felt, “OK… stiff.”
Jason Marquis was being reactivated so the Twins had the luxury of giving Blackburn an extra day or two of rest. But, of course, that’s not what they did. They wanted to have him throw a bit to make sure the shoulder was “OK.” Then, they wanted him to throw a full bullpen session on Sunday to REALLY make sure he was “OK.”
After all of that, they announced Blackburn would take the mound for a start this Thursday, April 26… twelve days after he left the game during his last start. [CORRECTION: Blackburn will start TUESDAY, 10 days after his last start. The point remains, the Twins will get one more start out of him than they would have had he been put on the DL – JC]
It will be nice to get Nick back, of course. But that’s only part of the story.
When Marquis rejoined the team in New York, the Twins had to make room for him on their roster. They chose not to put Blackburn on the 15-day Disabled List, but instead designated infielder Luke Hughes for assignment, knowing full well it was likely that Hughes had demonstrated enough ability to swing a baseball bat that he’d be claimed by another MLB team.
Ultimately, that’s exactly what happened. Hughes was claimed by the Oakland Athletics over the weekend.
What did the Twins benefit from losing Hughes? Blackburn gets a start on ThursdayTuesday instead of having to wait THREEFIVE more days to make his next start.
Look, Luke Hughes is not likely to become an All Star infielder in Oakland. With Brian Dozier knocking on the door in Rochester, maybe Hughes’ days with the Twins were numbered anyway. But by mismanaging yet another medical issue, the team essentially gave away a Major League level infielder so that Nick Blackburn could pitch after resting his shoulder 1210 days instead of 15 days.
Oh, and by the way, the Twins medics still have no friggin’ clue what caused Blackburn’s shoulder to “cramp” in the first place.
In the mean time, the team has two starting infielders, Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla, who have been completely and utterly lost at the plate (both have an OPS under .520). No, Hughes hadn’t done anything yet to indicate he might do better, but then he’d only gotten to the plate 11 times in the four games in which he’d seen action.
My point isn’t to suggest that Luke Hughes was too good to lose… but he was too good to lose simply because the Twins still haven’t figured out how to manage their medical situation and use the Disabled List appropriately.
Terry Ryan, you still have some work to do on that score.