Looking Back… and Ahead

I have a poor memory.  I have trouble remembering names and all sorts of other things. I need to be reminded of appointments and family events I’m supposed to show up at. This may well be indicative of some pretty unpleasant final years of my life, but for right now I’m trying to look at the positive side to having a bad memory.

For example, I can tell you I don’t remember predicting before the season started that the Twins would come through with an 86-76 record for 2012.

I can tell you I sure as hell don’t remember predicting Francisco Liriano would be the Twins “pitcher of the year,” before the season got underway or that Liam Hendriks was likely to be the team’s “rookie of the year.”

The problem is that Eric went and made all of those predictions public back in April, so there’s a record of my preseason bout of insanity. Then again, maybe he just made that stuff up?

Scott Diamond

The reality is that the Twins pitcher of the year was probably Glen Perkins and when your best pitcher is a member of your bullpen, that’s probably not good. I suppose Scott Diamond should get some consideration for this award, as well, however. He certainly was the lone bright spot in the rotation (though I suspect he just seems brighter because of how totally dull the rest of the rotation was, by comparison).

Eric and I both apparently thought Justin Morneau was poised for a huge rebound season and predicted he would be the team’s hitter of the year. Justin certainly bounced back well, but Josh Willingham had a huge season and Joe Mauer is once again leading the league in on-base percentage and fighting for the batting title. Either of those two would be legitimate choices for the Twins hitter of the year, but I’d go with Willingham.

I predicted Denard Span would be the team’s defender of the year and I could make a pretty good case for that having turned out to be accurate. But Ben Revere would probably get my vote at this point.

I’m a bit fuzzy on who’s eligible to be considered a rookie and who isn’t, but assuming they’re both eligible, my choices would be Revere and Trevor Plouffe, in that order.

Morneau didn’t turn out to be a bad choice for Twins comeback player of the year, but I’d probably vote for Mauer.

Twins MVP would come down to Willingham and Mauer, but I’d probably go with Mauer because he contributed so much more than Willingham defensively. Then again, does anyone really want to be considered the most valuable player on a 90+ loss team?

I did get one prediction right. I said up front that the Tigers had to be the favorites to win the AL Central Division, but that their defense was going to be bad enough that they’d struggle more than a lot of experts were predicting. I did not, however, expect the White Sox to be the team that challenged them. It does appear that I was slightly overly optimistic about the Twins doing the challenging. (OK, more than slightly.)

But enough about the past, let’s look ahead a bit.

The big question being tossed around these days seems to be whether the Twins will (or should) blow up the roster and rebuild with an eye toward competing in 2016 and beyond or try to improve enough to get competitive again as early as next year.

It’s a fair question. But there’s only one realistic answer.

In a fantasy world where revenue streams are secondary to strategy, you could make an argument that the Twins should blow off the next couple of years and plan for the days when some of their current Class A and AA prospects are arriving at Target Field. But this is the real world and the Twins are a real business.

If they trade away Willingham, Span, Morneau and anyone else with any value who might not be expected to be around in 2016, attendance over the next couple of years will continue to drop even more dramatically, right along with television ratings. That means lower revenues. That means lower payrolls.

Granted, those prospects we’re counting on will be playing for the league minimum for a while, but even by 2016, this team will still be paying $23 million a year to Joe Mauer through the 2018 season. The bottom line is that, regardless of how good prospects look in the Eastern League, Florida State League and Midwest League, the odds are that more than half of them will never become above average MLB ballplayers. That means that blowing the team up now is just as likely to result in bad teams in 2016 and beyond as it is championship caliber teams. Taking that risk might be gutsy to some, but to me it would just be stupid.

Terry Ryan

Building from within with young players is necessary. But it’s not necessary to do so exclusively. Terry Ryan has told media and fans that he and his front office simply need to do better. They need to scout better. They need to trade better. They need to do better at finding the right free agents. He may not have come right out and said it, but he’s certainly hinted that the front office needs to take a very close look at the coaching and training staffs throughout the organization and make better decisions concerning those positions, as well.

Ryan is right. The Twins can’t be satisfied with two or three more seasons of bad baseball while they wait for their top prospects to be ready for prime time. They need to spend the next couple of years improving every. single. year. They need to reinstitute an expectation of competitiveness among their fan base AND in their clubhouse. They obviously need to start that search with their rotation, but whether by trade or free agency, they do need to improve the product on the field immediately.

That may not be the popular approach with some fans, but it is the right approach.

- JC

Minnesota Twins Arizona Fall League Selections

The Minnesota Twins are sending seven players to the Arizona Fall League (AFL).  For those of you that are unfamiliar with the AFL, it is a six team league in (big surprise) Arizona that generally features some of the top prospects from the Minor Leagues.  Of the seven players the Twins sent to the AFL in 2011, three have played a significant role for the MLB club this season, Cole De Vries, Scott Diamond and Brian Dozier.

The crop of youngsters looking to make their mark in 2012 are Evan BigleyLogan Darnell, Kyle Gibson,  Chris HerrmannNate RobertsCaleb Thielbar and Michael Tonkin.  Outside of Gibson, and maybe Herrmann, many of these names are likely unfamiliar to all but the most hardcore Twins fans.  What follows then, will be a brief introduction to some of the Twins’ top Minor League prospects.

Evan Bigley Photo Credit: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily

Evan Bigley, 25, Right Field, Started 2012 at AA New Britain, Currently at AAA Rochester
Evan Bigley was drafted by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2008 draft out of Dallas Baptist University, alma mater of former Minnesota Twin  and current Baltimore Oriole Lew Ford.   Bigley started the year back in Double-A, his third consecutive year in New Britain, and while his batting average was slightly higher than it was in 2011, his on-base skills were exactly the same as they were the year ago (.311 OBP).  However, in 2012 he was hitting the ball with a lot more authority, slugging almost 70 points higher in 2012 before being promoted to Rochester.   Bigley has struggled to adjust to AAA pitching, hitting just .211/.241/.328, the worst batting line of his Minor League career.  As a corner outfielder in the Twins system Bigley is going to need to adjust to high-level pitching or he’ll quickly become an afterthought in an organization filled with high-upside outfield talent like Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, and Joe Benson.

Logan Darnell Photo Credit: North Dakota Twins Fan

Logan Darnell, 23, Left Handed Starting Pitcher, AA New Britain
Logan Darnell was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Kentucky.  Darnell profiled as a reliever coming out of the draft, but the Twins have used him exclusively as a starter the past two seasons.  In 2011, despite mediocre numbers, Darnell moved quickly through the system advancing from Low-A Beloit all the way to AA New Britain.  He’s spent all of 2012 at New Britain and really struggled to find success.  While his ERA is down in 2012 (5.21 from 5.28), his WHIP, HR/9  and BB/9 all went up while his SO/9 and SO/BB rates went the other way.  Darnell is on pace to pitch more than 150 innings for the 2nd consecutive year, so he certainly has the arm strength to remain a starting pitcher, but if he cannot find greater success against talented hitters he’ll need to move to the bullpen to extend his career.

Kyle Gibson

Kyle Gibson, 24, Right Handed Starting Pitcher, Started 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Currently at AAA Rochester
Kyle Gibson was the Twins’ first round draft selection (22 overall) in the 2009 draft out of the University of Missouri and went from High-A Fort Myers to AAA Rochester in his first year in the Minor Leagues in 2011.  In 2011 Gibson pitched fairly well in the first half of the year before being shut down with elbow inflammation before eventually requiring Tommy John surgery.  Gibson rehabbed for the first 2/3 of the 2012 season spending time with the Twins Gulf Coast and High-A squads before returning to Rochester earlier this August.  Reports on Gibson are that he’s throwing the ball as hard, if not harder, than he was before his surgery and his control is as good as it has ever been.  Gibson was rated as high as the number 34 overall prospect by Baseball America before the 2011 season, and if he pitches well in the AFL could have a chance to compete for a spot in the starting rotation when the Twins leave Spring Training in 2013.

Chris Hermann Photo Credit: Jim Crikket

Chris Herrmann, 24, Catcher, AA New Britain
Chris Herrmann was drafted by the Twins in the 6th round of the 2009 draft out of the University of Miami (along with teammate David Gutierrez, who did not sign in 2009,but signed in 2010 when the Twins drafted him again).  Herrmann spent most of 2011 in New Britain and has been there for the entire 2012 season.  Herrmann is probably the Twins best hitting catcher in the system, but he’s also been getting playing time as an outfielder and DH in order to keep his bat in the lineup for the Rock Cats.  He’s hitting .268/.342/.385 with a career high 10 HR and 23 2B.  The Twins will likely be watching how Herrmann calls games in the AFL and how his bat plays against some higher-level pitching.

Nate Roberts Photo Credit: Jim Crikket

Nate Roberts, 23, Corner Outfielder, Low-A Beloit
Nate Roberts was drafted by the Twins in the 5th round of the 2010 draft out of High Point University.  High Point University has only produced 1 Major League Players,  RHP Cody Allen, who made his Major League debut in 2012 for the Cleveland Indians despite being drafted a year after Roberts.  Roberts is repeating Low-A Beloit in 2012 after spending all of 2011 there despite posting a .302/.443/.446 line in his first year above rookie ball.  Roberts has posted another impressive line in 2012, .306/.438/.438, but he’s 23, about a year older than the average player in the Midwest League, so with his success at Low-A he’ll likely be promoted to Fort Myers for the 2013 season, regardless of how he preforms in the AFL.

Caleb Thielbar

Caleb Thielbar, 25, Left Handed Relief Pitcher, Started 2012 at High-A Fort Myers, Currently at AAA Rochester
Caleb Thielbar was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 18th round of the 2009 draft.  Thielbar failed to get past Low-A in the Brewers system and found himself playing Independent Baseball in 2011 for the Saint Paul Saints.  The Twins plucked Thielbar from the Saints at the end of 2011 and he made 3 appearances for the Fort Myers Miracle before the season came to an end.  According to Seth Stohs of TwinsDaily.com, Thielbar throws between 88 and 91 MPH with a good slider/curve.  As a 25 year old starting the 2012 season, Thielbar was two years older than the average High-A Florida State League player.  He’s moved quickly through the season posting SO/9 rates of 11.7 at High-A, 9.4 at AA, and while he is struggling a little bit at AAA, he’s still managing 7.1 SO/9, a strike out rate that would make half of the Twins’ current bullpen green with envy.  Thielbar will likely need another year at AAA before he has a chance to be a realistic option for the Twins, but as a 25 year old with just barley a year in the Twins’ system, the Arizona Fall League gives the Twins additional opportunities to see what Thielbar can really do.

Michael Tonkin Photo Credit: Jim Crikket

Michael Tonkin, 22, Right Handed Relief Pitcher, Started 2012 at Low-A Beloit, Currently at High-A Fort Myers
Michael Tonkin was drafted by the Twins in the 30th round of the 2008 draft.  Tonkin signed quickly and spent the end of 2008 and all of 2009 in the Gulf Coast League.  In 2010 Tonkin split time between the Elixabethton Twins in the Appalachian League, and ended the season with the Low-A Beloit Snappers.   Tonkin was promoted to Fort Myers about midway through the 2012 season and he’s continued to strike out more than 12 batters per 9 innings.  According to Kevin Goldstein, Tonkin has a big fastball that sits in the mid 90s and a low 80s slider that helps him reach those lofty strike out numbers.  It will certainly be worth following Tonkin in the Arizona Fall League against significantly more advanced hitters.  A solid showing in the AFL and Tonkin could start 2012 in AA as a 23 year old.

And that’s about it.  I’m certainly not an expert in the Minor Leagues or scouting, but hopefully this gives you a little bit of information about the Twins 2012 Arizona Fall League participants.

-ERolfPleiss

PS: For those of you interested in listening to another Twins podcast, I recently started one.

Just Winging It: The 2012 Minnesota Twins Starting Rotation

There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement.  In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres.  Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres.  Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago.  Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko).  Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the old Trevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.

As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing.  And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training.  If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement.  Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs.  So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.

After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball.  After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year.  Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011.  Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka.  Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007.  Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*

*And to some extent, they are.  The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).  

The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011.    They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan.  They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009.  But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line.  The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team.  They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price.  And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.

Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly.  Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.

As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012.  Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident.  To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm.  That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team.  Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning.  Now the Twins had to start getting creative.  They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October.  Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April.  P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.

The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in.  While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.

Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Indians @ Twins, 7:10pm

Soooo…  Guess who is a late scratch because his thumb still doesn’t work??  yeah, and headed for the DL after being unavailable to play for 7 days… I gotta say that somewhere (probably the managers office) the air has turned blue from all the cussing. Gardy is likely royally PO’d about this because I got the sense early on that his preference all along would have been the DL but he went along with the info he was given.. which clearly was faulty to begin with. With Plouffe going down, the roulette wheel of replacement players has landed on Danny Valencia. Let’s see what he can do with the opportunity.

note: The irony that no one else would ever know about? The official lineups were actually up sooooo early that I thought perhaps I had the game start time wrong. Of course that would be the day that there is actually a late scratch and they have to fix them.

For all the issues of ‘who is playing what base’, our real issues are always ‘who is throwing the ball’. Tonight, it’s Scott Diamond’s turn and I think all of us have more confidence in him than anyone else in our rotation. Let’s hope he’s able to live up to that.

Cleveland

@

Minnesota
Choo, RF Span, CF
Cabrera, A, SS Revere, RF
Kipnis, 2B Mauer, C
Brantley, CF Willingham, LF
Santana, C, 1B Morneau, 1B
Hafner, DH Doumit, DH
Lopez, Jo, 3B Dozier, SS
Duncan, LF Carroll, 3B
Marson, C Casilla, A, 2B
  Tomlin, P   Diamond, P

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
Minnesota 3 0 0 5 0 3 0 0 x 11 15 0

It was one of “those” weeks for me at work so I spent a lot of time today/tonight in a bar, but I did remember to have them put the Twins game on one of the TVs, so I was witness to Scott Diamond’s outstanding performance tonight. It was, of course, also a lot of fun to watch Justin Morneau launch a ball on to the plaza and Josh Willingham put one in the bullpens. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, whether I was seeing the last bomb off the bat of either of those gentlemen in a Twins uniform.

In the end, a complete game shutout is pretty much a no-brainer for Boyfriend of the Day and I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Diamond was given the opportunity to finish what he started. A perfect game through 4+ innings and, in the end, a three-hitter. Great job, Scott! – JC

Scott Diamond

The 2nd Half

Coming off a disappointing road trip before the All-Star Game in which the Twins lost of couple of heart breakers to the Texas Rangers, the Minnesota Twins are likely to aggressively look for offers for many of their current players. While the Twins are “only” 11.0 games out of first place, they are still 13 games under .500 and would have to go 45-32, playing .582 baseball.  Only the New York Yankees, the Texas Rangers, and the Washington Nationals played .582 baseball or better before the All-Star Break, so the Twins are looking at a monumental climb just to get back to .500.

Sam Deduno
David Goldman, Associated Press

Realistically the Twins would need to approach not just 81 wins to compete in the Central, but something more like 86 wins to win the division (assuming the White Sox Cleveland or Detroit do not play much better in the 2nd half), which would mean going 50-27 in their remaining games.  That simply is not happening with the Twins’ current pitching staff.  Even if the good Francisco Liriano shows up and Scott Diamond continues to impress, Cole De Vries and Samuel Dedunoare still in the starting rotation!

So what would a realistic record look like going down the stretch?  The Twins are 18-17 since June 1, which is a lot closer to the mediocre team many thought the Twins would be heading into the season, than the 18-32 baseball the played before June.  In their remaining 77 games, the Twins have 43 games against the AL Central and just 17 left against the AL East and the AL West.  Even if the Twins’ front office trades off a couple of their more valuable players, the Twins should still have a decent opportunity to play within a game of .500 baseball against the AL Central teams, going 21-22 the rest of the way.  Against the East and West the Twins played very poorly in the first half, posting a winning record only against the Oakland Athletics (3-0).  I do not think they’ll be as bad as they were in the first half, and if they manage to go 15-19 against the rest of the AL I will not be surprised.  Maybe that is a little bit of a rose colored prediction, but this team has shown in the past month+ that they are capable of putting together stretches of competitive baseball.

That would put the Twins at 36-41 in the second half, and a record of 72-90 to finish the season.  That is only 9 games better than the 63-99 the Twins were a year ago, but if the front office is building towards future success, I will be willing to accept the lumps in 2012 in hopes of a brighter future ahead.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Royals @ Twins #2, 12:10pm (make-up)

This is going to be an interesting day.. Two games, HIGH temps, and we used 5 pitchers in last nights trial. In the post game questions, Gardy said that they deliberately didn’t over-use any particular pitcher so they are all theoretically available for today… This is going to be another one of those endurance challenges.

I have a hint for our boys.. lots of offense makes it way easier on everyone. Just saying..

Kansas City

@

Minnesota
Gordon, LF   Span, CF
Betancourt, Y, 2B   Revere, RF
Moustakas, 3B   Mauer, 1B
Butler, DH   Willingham, DH
Francoeur, RF   Plouffe, 3B
Hosmer, 1B   Doumit, C
Pena, B, C   Mastroianni, LF
Bourgeois, CF   Dozier, SS
Escobar, A, SS   Casilla, A, 2B
  Sanchez, J, P     Diamond, P

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Kansas City

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

1

0

2

7

1

Minnesota

0

0

2

0

4

0

0

1

x

7

14

0

well hot damn! look what happens when you hit the ball! Better yet, look what happens when your pitcher actually pitches WELL!! THAT was a fun game to watch! 

And Scott Diamond, you brilliant gem, YOU are BOD!

Scott Diamond (photo: Genevieve Ross/AP)

GameChat – Cubs @ Twins #2, 1:10 pm

It turns out all of the Knuckelballs were AWOL last night, so we didn’t get a GameChat post up. Our apologies to anyone who came around looking to hang out during the game.

Maybe the most unfortunate part of not having a GameChat is that we missed an opportunity to award Josh Willingham a well-deserved BOD designation for his 10th inning walk-off heroics! So, we’ll make up for that right now by passing on that honor to Willy. A day late is better than never, right?

Josh Willingham

Now, on to today’s game.

The good news is that we see the return of Joe Mauer and Denard Span to the line up. Mauer has been out of action for almost a week with a sprained thumb, while Span has missed a couple of games with the flu (although he did make a cameo appearance as a pinch runner in the 9th inning Friday night).

We all know the Twins have been winning more regularly the past couple of weeks and that certainly makes their games more fun to watch. But here’s something you may not realize… the Twins are now 23-34 for a winning percentage of .404. This is the first time that Twins players are waking up to a day where they’ve won at least 40% of their games since the morning of September 14, 2011.

I realize that the reason for this stretch of wins has a lot to do with playing some pretty bad teams. But I’m also a baseball romantic so forgive me if I indulge myself, just for a little while, with the fantasy that it really does have something to do with the ‘M’ caps they’ve been sporting.

And they just beat the Cubs last night. For those of us who have to live amidst way too many Cub fans, that makes today a pretty good day.

CUBS

@

TWINS
Johnson, Re, LF Span, CF
Castro, S, SS Revere, RF
DeJesus, RF Mauer, C
Soriano, A, DH Willingham, LF
Baker, Je, 1B Morneau, 1B
Mather, CF Doumit, DH
Clevenger, C Plouffe, 3B
Barney, 2B Dozier, SS
Stewart, I, 3B Carroll, 2B
  _Samardzija, P   _Diamond, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Chi Cubs 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 3 11 0
Minnesota 0 2 0 6 1 2 0 0 x 11 16 0

I gotta say, Nuke LaLoosh was right when he said, “I love winning. It’s like… better than losing!”

The Twins put another W on the board, this one in far less dramatic fashion than the game Friday night. The built up an 11-0 lead before the Cubs put up some meaningless runs late in the game off of Jeff Gray. Six different Twins had more than one hit, led by Joe Mauer who had three hits, and seven different hitters drove runs in. That’s a pretty balanced offensive attack. Jeff Manship (with his name spelled correctly on his jersey today) pitched a final shutout inning in the 9th.

But Boyfriend of the Day consideration really came down to two players. Scott Diamond threw six scoreless innings, spreading out 7 hits, while striking out five Cubs without issuing a single walk. Trevor Plouffe continued his hot hitting, with a double and a home run, totaling four RBI and scoring a couple of runs himself, and racking up five assists from his 3B position, just for good measure. For those performances, Scott and Trevor, you are our BODs.

Trevor Plouffe

Scott Diamond (photo: Genevieve Ross/AP)

Obligatory MLB Draft Day Post

To a certain small degree (very small, actually), I find the discussions about the MLB draft entertaining. Sure, it will be mildly interesting to see who the Twins draft with the #2 pick overall tonight in the first round of this year’s Amateur Draft and it will be much more entertaining to read the inevitable explosion of comments from the self-anointed “experts” in online Twinsville, all telling us how badly the Twins screwed up with their pick.

But, frankly, I just don’t care that much who they pick. Make that, I just don’t care AT ALL who they pick. Once the pick is made and the young man, whoever it is, signs with the Twins, then I’ll be interested in following his progress within the organization’s minor league system.

But all the people who are going on and on about how this pick is some kind of turning point for the organization or how they need to be drafting the next “face of the franchise” need to just take a chill pill. The MLB draft is a lot like playing roulette. There is absolutely no certainty that any specific draft pick will eventually even play in the Majors, much less become a star.

The first round is comparable to picking red or black on the roulette wheel. At best, you’ve got just below a 50-50 shot at your choice being a winner. After that, it becomes more like putting your money on increasingly smaller groups of numbers, making your odds longer and longer, until you get to the point where your chances of hitting on a late round pick are worse than just putting your hard-earned money on a single number on the wheel.

In fact, despite the draft going 50 rounds prior to this season, when it’s been cut to 40, you seem to see just about as many non-drafted players beating the odds as you do guys who were drafted pretty much anywhere outside the top few rounds.

For a case in point, let’s take a look at a couple of young pitchers that Twins fans may recognize.

Pitcher A was drafted not once, but twice. He was drafted in the 20th round by the Dodgers out of high school in 2006, but opted to pitch for a big-time college program. In 2009, he was drafted in the second round by the Twins.

Pitcher B is a year older than pitcher A, but was never drafted. After pitching for Binghamton University in NY, he signed a contract with Atlanta after his junior year of college in 2008. Just before the opening of the 2011 season, this young pitcher was traded to the Twins for Pitcher A.

Today, Pitcher A is sporting a not-too-nifty 1.714 WHIP for the Braves’ AA team in Mississippi, where he’s giving up 7.7 hits per nine innings and is walking an identical 7.7 batters per 9… which is actually more hitters than he’s striking out in each nine innings of work.

Sunday, Pitcher B pitched seven strong innings for the Twins without giving up any earned runs, dropping his ERA to below two earned runs per nine innings. His WHIP is 1.190 and while he’s giving up a few more hits than we might like to see (9.8 per 9 IP), he’s walking less than one hitter per 9. 

Scott Diamond (Photo: Genevieve Ross/AP)

By now, pretty much everyone still bothering to read this knows I’m writing about Scott Diamond, who the Twins acquired in the Rule 5 draft before the 2011 season and subsequently traded second round draft pick Billy Bullock to the Braves for, in order to be able to send Diamond to the minors before the 2011 season started.

It’s still far too soon to tell what the future holds for these two young pitchers’ careers. Diamond is still 25 for a few weeks and Bullock turned just 24 earlier this year. They’re still young enough for us to debate “ceilings” and “potential” if we want to get in to a discussion about whether the trade was good or bad.

Billy Bullock (Photo: Tim Casey/GatorCountry.com)

It could also be argued that I’ve cherry-picked a bit to make this comparison… that there are just as many examples (and probably many more) available that would demonstrate that high draft picks are much more likely to contribute at the Major League level than players who were never drafted. I’ll plead guilty to the cherry-picking, too.

But my point is simply this… go ahead and follow the MLB draft tonight and over the next few days and feel free to express your views about how the Twins coulda-shoulda-woulda been better off drafting this guy over that guy. But realize that in the grand scheme of things, nobody has a friggin clue who the “right” picks are… and we won’t find out for years.

But hey, if you’re one of those people who really don’t mind watching the little silver ball go round and round the roulette wheel for 3-4 years before it lands, knock yourself out!

- JC

GameChat – Minnesota @ Cleveland #3, 2:05pm

I think it says an awful lot about our young pitchers (ie PJ & Diamond) that I look forward to their starts a whole lot more than I do our veteran guys.. I think it would be great to take another series – this one in the division. Whether or not we really have a chance to be competitive in ANY thing this year, even the weak ass Central Div, I really enjoy the GAMES we play when we win..

So what I think I really mean is – winning is fun, let’s do it.

Minnesota

@

Cleveland
Span, CF Choo, RF
Revere, RF Kipnis, 2B
Mauer, DH Cabrera, A, SS
Willingham, LF Lopez, Jo, 3B
Morneau, 1B Brantley, CF
Doumit, C Duncan, DH
Dozier, SS LaPorta, 1B
Plouffe, 3B Cunningham, LF
Casilla, A, 2B Marson, C
  Diamond, P   Masterson, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 0 1 1 0 0 2 1 0 6 11 3
Cleveland 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 3 9 1

As Babs said above, winning really is fun… so much more fun than losing… and when the wins come against divisional rivals, that’s even better. The Twins won 6-3 and, in the process, took two of three games to claim the road series at Cleveland. I have to say THIS is was the kind of baseball I was hoping to see more of when the season opened. Guys did what it took to get on base, took extra bases, move runners over and drove runs in when the opportunity presented itself to do so.

Yes, there were more errors than we’d like to see and the starting pitcher wasn’t exactly one that many of us expected to be relying upon when the season started, but since pretty much every member of the expected rotation has failed in their roles so far, I’ll take a good start out of pretty much anyone. We will have to hold our breath a little bit to find out how Joe Mauer’s injury is. He reportedly sprained his right thumb late in the game and is “day to day.”

There were several good performances today. Josh Willingham, Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe all had multi-hit games and Glen Perkins & Matt Capps shut out the Tribe for an inning each out of the bullpen. But today’s Boyfriend of the Day is starting pitcher Scott Diamond. He not only gave the Twins a Quality Start by giving up just three runs in seven innings of work, but exactly ZERO of those runs were earned, lowering his ERA to just 1.86. – JC

Scott Diamond

 

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