Monday, April 14, 2014

Some Early Trends in Twins Territory

-Trevor Plouffe has shown great plate discipline to the tune of a .326/.446/.413 batting line. He's walking (16.1% of PAs) at a rate almost double of his career rate and cut his strikeout rate from 21% to 14%. It appears the change in approach has traded off on-base skills for power as he only has 4 extra base hits on the young season.

It's difficult to say if this trend will continue, but at the very least it's a bright spot for the future of third base with top prospect Miguel Sano sidelined by injury for 2014. If Plouffe can continue to shrink his strikeouts and take walks, he could be an excellent role player for the Twins.

-Dozier's Pop: He's not turning into Robinson Cano, but it looks like Dozier has legit home run power. A lot of people believed that last year's 18 home runs were a fluke and a number in the low teens would be more realistic in the coming seasons.

That said, he will likely see more of his home runs turn to doubles in the coming months. I would tack him as a good bet to repeat a home run count in the high teens with a chance to top 20 bombs.

-Josmil Pinto. It's clear he can hit based on what we've seen so far this season. I still expect him to hit a rough patch in the middle of the season as he's forced to adjust to pitchers who know will have a book on him, but I still love what I see. Additionally, Kurt Suzuki is doing very little to keep Pinto on the bench and we should see Pinto getting more and more time behind the dish.

-I still do not believe in Jason Kubel at all.

-Kyle Gibson has put up a shiny 2-0 record and 1.59 ERA but I'd be shocked if he kept it up. I've been a big Gibson fan in the past, but not right now. He's stranding 87.5% of runners on base and surrendering hits on just 23.5% of balls hitters put in play. I'd expect him to be good at both of these aspects of the game because he is a groundball pitcher, but nowhere near these rates. For now, Gibson is just a back-end guy with the pitching repertoire to be a mid-rotation guy in the future.

-I still really like what I've seen from both Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco. Neither will be aces and both have been frustrating in the past, but they both have really impressive pitching ability.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Opening Day is So Close

We're so close you guys! Like three or four days depending on your team of choice.

Pitcher's Duel will remain active this year. It's kind of sad that I even have to post that but we've been producing nil content over the winter so I feel like it needs to be said.

While you're here... So how about that winter? Those trades and free agent happenings and all the injuries! Right?

See you all very soon. Hopefully.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Scouting Archie Bradley

I haven’t had the opportunity to see Archie Bradley in person yet so I’m relying a lot on YouTube clips and word of mouth.  Here is one clip that the Google machine brought up that shows his mechanics very well.

As an avid Diamondbacks fan, I’m excited to see what Bradley could bring to the table as soon as this spring.  The Diamondbacks rotation, which could change in the coming days with the Winter Meetings tomorrow, looks like it will be Patrick Corbin, Brandon McCarthy, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill as the shoe-ins and there will be a battle between Tyler Skaggs (assuming he isn’t traded), Randall Delgado and Bradley.  

When I look at this rotation, I see a lot of mediocrity and middle-of-the-rotation arms rather than a first-division player who could lead a pitching staff.  With what scouts have said about Bradley, he could be the type of arm to do just that.  

Now, onto the actual scouting of Bradley.  I’ll start from the bottom and make my way to the top.  His high leg kick is what sticks out first when you see him pitch.  His lead knee comes up to his chest level (I’d say the typical pitcher raises his knee to his belly button) and his toe is pointed toward the sky when most pitchers are taught to let the foot relax at the top of balance.  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Replacing the Replacements

It's a busy time for Andy and I, with finals and all, so please excuse the lack of actually posts. It also doesn't help that our favorite has been a train wreck and made baseball as a whole much more dreary. Never the mind, Terry Ryan has spelled our malaise for at least a few weeks by handing out moderate free agent contracts (or by Twins' standards, humongous big contracts) to Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes.

By this time, if you care enough to come to this site, you've probably read a bit about how Nolasco and Hughes will hopefully be average to a touch above that this season. Nothing special, but not awful.

In a vacuum, that's a fine assessment; one I'd expect from the national media. But it's not that easy to remove the signings from their context. That context being the Twins rotation. Nolasco and Hughes will be replacing the two worst starters on by far the worst rotation in baseball. Their bar to hurdle is set so incredibly far in the basement they won't even have to worry about tripping over it.

Twins starters allowed 546 runs in 871 innings, so 0.627 runs per inning.

Nolasco is projected to pitch 198 innings and allow 95 runs by the Oliver projection system: 0.480 runs per inning.

Hughes is projected to pitch 174 innings and allow 94 runs (Oliver): 0.540 runs per inning.

So if we expected the Twins rotation to stand pat and fill those 372 innings with Andrew Alber, Sam Deduno etc. they could be expected to allow 233 runs. Replacing them with Nolasco and Hughes could be expected to allow 189 runs. That's 44 runs saved over the course of the season.

This is a pretty simple analysis, as the average Twins pitcher isn't replaced, it's the worst two pitchers being replaced. For that reason and that Oliver isn't quite as bullish on Hughes as others, this estimate is fairly conservative and I'm inclined to bump my personal estimate up to the 50-55 run range.

So basically those are my thoughts on the signing. Nolasco and Hughes aren't fantastic, but given the no-production hurlers they're replacing, it's a massive upgrade. That's probably why the Twins paid more than any other team for the pair, Nolasco and Hughes offered more value to this team than any other in the league.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Quick thoughts on The Joe Mauer transition

Well, it’s about time.  The Joe Mauer is moving to first base on a permanent basis and I don’t think it could come at a better time.  Justin Morneau is gone and I don’t think anybody actually thinks Chris Parmelee or Chris Colabello are worthy of taking on the role of full-time Major League first baseman.

The offensive production is what everyone is asking about.  He flat out rakes.  But can he match what first baseman are asked to do?  Hit homers and produce runs?  I say yes.  Remember in 2009 when Mauer missed the first month of the season and came out swinging to hit 28 homers?  Could it have been that his body had that extra time to rest?  Possibly.  Maybe he’ll be able to get back to the 18-25 homer range with a fresh body.  

In 2012, The Joe Mauer played in a career-high 147 games.  30 of those games came at first, 42 at designated hitter and just 74 (72 starts) at catcher.  Is it a coincidence that keeping Mauer from behind the plate put him in more games?  Probably not.  He also produced a just a 4.4 WAR, however, his lowest total for a full season since 2007.  

This goes to show that a lot of his value comes from behind the plate but some people in the industry believe he has the athleticism to become a top defensive first baseman that can not only prevent runs by himself but provide a large target for his infielders.

Anywho, instead of rambling, I’ll share my humble opinion.  The Joe Mauer will most likely provide the Twins fair value at his now home.  If he can improve his power numbers, play in at least 150 games and still show that All American smile, Terry Ryan and co. will be happy the transition is finally being made.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Twins Off-Season Primer

2013 was, as expected, another dud in Minnesota. It ended as a near carbon copy of 2012, and for that matter 2011. Three years of utter futility has me and most other Twins die-hards feeling less than optomistic for the upcoming 2014 campaign. And rightfully so, the team is composed of Joe Mauer and a bunch of scrubs. 

Here's the good news: they have bottomed out. They've reached the bottom of the parabola and are beginning the ascent. Unfortunately, and to keep with with the math imagery, the slope is as small as Florimon's batting average (jokes !!). Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel, it comes in the form of 2015 and it rests on the broad shoulders of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. 2014 is just a bridge year. It's a year to build a team that will complement the phenoms when they're ready. This is the goal.

With that goal in mind, what can Terry Ryan and company do in the months leading up Opening Day?

The first step is to make an honest appraisal of the current roster. First let's take a look at the position players:

Opening Day Starter
Joe Mauer
Ryan Doumit, Chris Herrmann, Josmil Pinto (AAA)
Chris Colabello
Chris Parmelee
Brian Dozier
Eduardo Escobar, Eddie Rosario (AAA)
Pedro Florimon Jr.
Trevor Plouffe
Escobar, Miguel Sano (AAA)
Josh Willingham
Darin Mastroianni, Herrmann
Alex Presley
Mastroianni, Aaron Hicks (AAA), Byron Buxton (AA)
Oswaldo Arcia
Mauer, Plouffe, Willingham, Arcia, Parmelee

Starting with catcher, Joe Mauer is the one player in the organization who will be here for the long term, no matter what. That's a good thing, as he just won his fifth silver slugger and isn't showing signs of slowing down. Behind Mauer, Doumit is an abysmal defender who shouldn't be allowed behind the plate but inevitably will see some time there. Herrmann isn't quite as bad defensively but isn't a Molina either. Herrmann might have a future as Doumit type of player if he can hit Major League pitchers the same way he has on the farm. The long-term option will be Josmil Pinto. By mid-season he should be the full-time backup and essentially split time with Mauer behind the plate. He is the best defender of the three backups and could provide an average bat, which is huge behind the plate.

First base is a trainwreck but it's not as complicated as catcher. Colabello is currently slotted in to get the majority of the time with Mauer and Parmelee playing significant time as well. The only potential long-term answer here is Mauer, but hopefully that won't be for a few years.

Brian Dozier was one of the few bright spots on the Twins last year and solidified himself as a legit starter at second base. I wouldn't be surprised if he took a step back, but the Opening Day job is unquestionably his. Eduardo Escobar will back him up but shouldn't be considered more than an emergency back up. Eddie Rosario will push Dozier as he's likely to start in the high minors (AA or AAA), meaning there's a lot of pressure on Dozier to repeat his 2013 to keep his job in the long term.

As a default, Pedro Florimon Jr. will be the shortstop. He's a terrible option who can't hit, but he's the only guy who can play a passable defensive shortstop on the 40-man roster right now so the job is his. Escobar is just a utility-type back up here too, so they're aren't really other options. In the high minors, Danny Santana could get a shot, the Twins hope he can be the future at shortstop. He's very fast and can hit well enough to not be counted as an automatic out.

Third base is actually kind of exciting. No, not because of Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe is an okay stopgap and will make a swell back up going forward. But MIGUEL SANO. He'll be playing in Target Field by the end of May and hopefully won't stop for a decade.

In the outfield, Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia will hold down the corners. They should provide some power in the lineup and LOL's on defense. Alex Presley will likely get a shot at the center field job at least for a few weeks. Darin Mastroianni will reprise his role as an acceptable fourth outfielder (one that Presley should also be in and no doubt will find himself in eventually). But a change is coming, Aaron Hicks should get another shot to claim a spot and we should see Uber prospect Byron Buxton in the majors by season's end. 

That about sums up the offense, two or three consequential starters, a handful of players who would be decent bench options, another handful of incompetent stopgaps and three or four top prospects that should get a shot.

The two positions that should be most urgently pursued are first base and shortstop. Both of these positions are currently filled with slightly above replacement level talents and don't have an obvious future option, depending on your Mauer outlook.

Beyond that, the Twins could sign another backup catcher, a designated hitter type or a third baseman to improve the team. Mauer's not going to catch more than 100 games this year and I doubt the pitching staff would appreciate 62+ games of Herrmann and Doumit. While Pinto is still an option, he needn't be rushed, so I would understand signing a veteran to a one year deal. DH is occupied by Ryan Doumit by default, and will be a space for Willingham and Arcia to rest their legs. That said, signing a veteran bat in the mold of Eric Chavez, Travis Hafner or Luke Scott would add some much needed power and depth to the bench. Lastly, third base. If Plouffe doesn't improve, it's going to be an issue. And while I'll entertain the idea that Sano would be ready to start Day One, there's no reason to put that kind of pressure on him. But in the meantime, Terry Ryan would do well to make this team slightly more watchable with a competent third baseman.

The outfield and second base need not be addressed because of a combination of the incumbents and the nearness of top prospects to the majors. 

Now, on to the pitchers:

Starting Pitcher
Steamer IP
Steamer ERA
Steamer WAR
Kevin Correia
Samuel Deduno
Vance Worley
Andrew Albers
Kyle Gibson
Scott Diamond
Liam Hendriks

Looking through this list, I'm really only interested in seeing what Gibson and Worley have to offer. Both have the chance to develop into good middle of the rotation guys a la Scott Baker or Matt Garza. They're different pitchers, but I think they have the potential to offer that kind of value. All that said, neither has earned a spot in the 2014 rotation and will have to do so in spring training.

A couple guys who have earned spots in the rotation, at least in my best estimation of the Twins' estimation, are Kevin Correia and Sam Deduno. Both elicit emphatic meh's from me (if there is such a thing). But for now, it's fair to pencil them into the rotation.

Beyond those four, I think everyone is on the same page with Albers, Diamond and Hendriks. They're all good pieces to have in the organization, but should never be relied on to hold down a rotation spot.

I envision a spring training battle between these seven, with Correia having a nearly guaranteed spot and Deduno, Worley and Gibson having a slight edge going in.

The number of spots they'll be competing for will be determined by the number of pitchers acquired in the off-season. Right now, I'd set the over/under at two. Especially given the lack of internal options outside of Alex Meyer, it would really surprise me if the team didn't splurge on at least two fresh arms for the rotation.

Now for the least depressing facet of the roster! The bullpen:

Steamer K/9
Steamer BB/9
Glen Perkins
Jared Burton
Casey Fien
Caleb Thielbar
Brian Duensing
Michael Tonkin
Anthony Swarzak
Edgar Ibarra
Ryan Pressly
Duke Welker

Perkins is a premier reliever right now. And he has help: with Burton and Fien holding down the 8th inning, Thielbar and Duensing doing fantastic work on lefties, Swarzak as a very good long man and Tonkin and Welker potentially developing into very good relievers.

Not to say this bullpen is as good as it could be, but it really shouldn't be a concern for the Twins in the coming months. For example, an 8th inning guy with a longer track record of consistency and health would be an asset. 

The marginal increases from adding bullpen pieces is simply dwarfed by any addition to the rotation or the offense.

I'll wrap this up with a ranking of the objectives I would prescribe for the Twins:

1. Good starting pitcher.
2. Competent shortstop.
3. OK innings-eating starting pitcher.
4. Cheap option for first base and DH.

Any thing else is gravy.

I realize that all these objectives are vague and of varying difficulties to actually achieve. Andy and I will get into the nitty gritty of potential real life fits in the coming week. Until then, this is where Minnesota's roster stands and where their investigation should be focused.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Alex Meyer: Fall Stars Game

When I saw Alex Meyer take the mound for the third inning of the annual Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game, I was pretty shocked to be quite honest.  For an exhibition game in a league meant mostly for development, I thought maybe he would go two at most.  But seeing him go for three innings was exciting and actually made me somewhat believe that the Twins could have a top-of-the-rotation starter on their hands.

He threw 45 pitches and for a game in which showing off “stuff” is equally as important as performance, he did just fine in the pitch count department.  As far as the mechanics go, I can see why some scouts thought he’d be destined for a role in the bullpen in pro ball but he repeats it decently well for a big, lanky north paw.  When I look at mechanics, I think the best thing a pitcher can have is good direction to the plate.  It’s easy to watch but the best indicator of direction is where the pitcher misses with his pitches.  

Watching throughout the evening, his pitches were missing more north/south rather than east/west.  If a pitcher is missing inside and outside, it is an indication he is pulling off pitches and when a pitcher misses up and down, it is just a release point issue which is easier to iron out in the middle of a game.