Episode 62: Rule 5 Drafts and other Non-Sense

Episode 62 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Paul's sad Christmas tree.

Paul’s sad Christmas tree.

This week on the podcast we have a full slate of beers and a full tray of Twins news. Christmas comes early this season for Twins fans as Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes are Minnesota Twins; what does it all mean? Seth Stohs joins us to break down Rule-5 Draft possibilities and to talk minor league ball. The Hot Stove is on fire this seasons, listen in for analysis of Twins moves, roster transactions and more.

It’s another long episode this week, but with so much news, and so many beers, it was impossible to keep it any shorter.

Enjoy the podcast!

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

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Santa Came Early for Twins Fans

Yes, Santa Clause showed up early for Twins fans this year – and he brought presents.

Terry Ryan’s reputation among Twins fans has historically been more Ebeneezer Scrooge than Santa Clause over the years. Whether he’s been visited by apparitions who have shown him the errors of his ways or merely by an owner who has grown weary of being blamed by fans for being miserly, Ryan has been doing his holiday shopping early this year and he’s delivered a couple of early gifts to Twins fans.

Terry Ryan (Photo Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs)

Terry Ryan (Photo Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs)

More than a week before the traditional baseball flea market that is the sport’s Winter Meetings, Ryan has signed two of the more in-demand starting pitchers on the market in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes.

Nolasco and Hughes are not “aces,” so of course there’s a certain faction of Twins fans that are not happy with the additions. Some of those fans remind me of kids who, despite finding some cool presents under the tree on Christmas morning, simply pout because they didn’t get the pony they asked Santa for.

There’s absolutely no downside to these additions and plenty to like about them.

First, the obvious: Nothing short of an injury should keep both of these two pitchers from outperforming the 2013 levels of every starting pitcher who toed the rubber in a Twins uniform this past season.

Neither pitcher will cost the Twins a draft choice next June. Nolasco’s mid-season trade to the Dodgers was a blessing for the pitcher and the Twins.

Some have questioned the Twins for giving arguably generous multi-year deals to the two arms. That thinking simply doesn’t take in to account the Twins’ situation. There are teams who rightfully are interested only in signing free agent pitchers to one or two year deals. The Twins are not one of those teams.

Whether or not it was by design, the Twins have an enormous amount of “payroll flexability.” That’s shorthand for, “they have cut payroll to an obscenely low level, so there is literally nobody on the market they can’t afford.”

Almost everyone believes the Twins have no shot at being competitive for the postseason in 2014. (I don’t necessarily agree, but that’s a discussion for another day.) The consensus thinking is that the Twins have hitters either on the roster now or likely to arrive by 2015 or 2016 that will be good enough to score runs. There’s much less confidence concerning the pitching situation.

So, the Twins need veteran starting pitchers that have a likelihood of being at least legitimate middle-of-the-rotation pitchers, not just in 2014, but for a number of seasons beyond that. That is exactly what Nolasco and Hughes are.

Are they sure-things? No. Are they potential aces? Nope, not likely at all. A week ago, the pitcher most likely to become a true ace in a Twins uniform was prospect Alex Meyer. That remains true today.

But here’s something that wasn’t true a week ago: Before the Nolasco and Hughes signings, the agents for next off-season’s top-tier free agents did not see the Twins as players in the free agent market for their clients’ services. Now, as long as the Twins show some notable improvement this season, you can bet they’ll take a call from Terry Ryan next November and they’ll listen closely to what Ryan has to say.

In that way, the Twins demonstrating a willingness to pay what some might argue is above market value for good free agent talent could work in their favor down the road.

In fact, the Twins may not have to wait until next year for this benefit to kick in. Media reports are that the team is still actively looking to add another starting pitcher, as well as a veteran starting catcher. I’d be willing to bet there are players on the market (and their agents) much more interested in talking to the Twins today than they were a week ago.

Terry Ryan has made a statement. The Twins are intent on improving right now, not at some indefinite time in the future. And it’s a statement being made with actions – and money- not words.

I’m certain that current members of the Twins are excited to see indications the club is committed to winning more games in 2014. I am, too.

You could say these are the sorts of moves Ryan should have been making last year or even the year before that. You’d be absolutely right. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appreciate that it’s happening now.

Christmas came early for Twins fans this year. Enjoy it. You’re not going to get the pony – this year. But what you’re getting is a lot better than the chunks of coal Santa left in your stockings last year!

- JC

Don’t Blame “Those Damn Yankees”

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.

Johan Santana

Johan Santana

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.

2003

Game (score, winner) Twins (starting pitcher) Yankees (starting pitcher)
1 (3-1 Twins) Johan Santana Mike Mussina
2 (1-4 Yankees) Brad Radke Andy Pettitte
3 (1-3 Yankees) Kyle Lohse Roger Clemens
4 (1-8 Yankees) Johan Santana David Wells

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).

2004 Continue reading

Yankee Doodle Dandy

After some early season snafus relating to the Twins’ previous post-season failures against the Yankees, the Twins have an opportunity to put some of those demons to bed, starting tonight, as the open a 4-game series in New York tonight at 6:05pm central.

Image from M.T.'s Blog, http://matt7.mlblogs.com/

While some former Twins (Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, etc.) may have indicated that they Twins were mentally beat against the Yankees before their previous post-season collapses, there is a wealth of historical precedence that helped create those mental barriers.  In the past 10 years the Twins are 18-51 against the Yankees, and that does not include the three times the Yankees eliminated the Twins from post-season play.  Add those in and the Twins are an even more embarrassing 20-63 against the Bronx Bombers. A W-L% of  about .241.  To put that in perspective, over a 162 game season, playing ONLY the Yankees, the Twins would win 39 games.

In those 83 games against the Yankees, 42 were in New York, and the Twins won only 7 times, which does not bode well for the Twins as they roll in to Yankee Stadium this evening.

But here is why I think the Twins have a chance to split* this four game series, which would be a resounding victory, historically:

*Let’s just assume that C.C. Sabathia is his regular self, and Francisco Liriano is the disappointing fallen star that we’ve come to know, so the Twins are not going to win tomorrow night.  And while only two Twins have faced Hiroki Kuroda (Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham), both have been unsuccessful and the Yankees have blasted Jason Marquis to the tun of .361/.395/.778 for an OPS of almost 1200! In the other two games, the Twins will face Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes.  Both are beatable and if the Twins can pitch well enough to keep the Yankees to 5 runs per game, they will have a chance to steal a couple of wins from the Yanks.

Hitting:

In addition to hitting 4 home runs and 6 doubles against Garcia in 71 plate appearances, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have combined to walk 10 times compared to just 5 strikeouts.  Of the 114 total plate appearances by current Twins, only Danny Valencia (1/4) has an OBP against Garcia that’s lower than .285.  The Twins have not fared quite as well against Phil Hughes, but still post an OBP of .317, albeit in a sample size limited to just 38 at bats.  Either way, the Twins have an opportunity to get out front of the Yankees early and to allow their starters to work deeper into games, limiting the opportunities for the bullpen to let another close game slip away.

Pitching/Defense:

In addition to hitting well against the Yankees, Carl Pavano (tonight’s starter) and Anthony Swarzak (projected to take Nick Blackburn‘s start on Thursday) have managed to keep the Yankees in check.  Pavano has limited current Yankees to a triple slash of just .229/.252/.359 with just 9/30 hits against him going for extra bases.  Swarzak has faced current Yankees hitters just 39 times, but he has yet to give up a home run to any of the current Yankees, which has been one of their biggest weapons against the Minnesota Twins.  Decent starting pitching will be complemented with a defense that is likely to be near league average with Justin Morneau slotted into first base and either Trevor Plouffe or Clete Thomas taking an outfield spot away from Ryan Doumit.

Winning two games against the Yankees and splitting the series will not get this team any closer to contending for the AL Central, but it will help plant the seed in the minds of this current group of Twins that they can beat the Yankees, something the Twins haven’t really done for a decade.

It starts tonight!

- ERolfPleiss