Thursday, August 30, 2012

Samuel Deduno: Possibility of Dramatic Pitching Approach Changes

On July 7th, Samuel Deduno made his first major league start for the Minnesota Twins. He lasted 5.1 innings yielding six hits and three runs to the Texas Rangers, a respectable outing to be sure. A little beyond the surface, however, was three walks and three strikeouts, not exactly awe-inspiring.

On August 19th, Deduno would make his eighth start against the Mariners. Once again, he kept the Twins in game - allowing two runs in six innings. Once again, his lackluster peripherals lurked below the surface, walking six and striking out just two.

Over these eight starts, the 29 year old Dominican looked impressive on the surface (4-1 3.33 ERA) but awful if you took a look at the base skills (5.87 K/9, 7.04 BB/9). His success had relied on a depressed babip (.256) and home run rate (0.782 HR/9); all these signs point toward some serious regression and a trip back to the minors.

Deduno's stint up until August 19th showed a few things. First, that he has impressive stuff: a live fastball and a filthy curveball (his 10.67% whiff rate tops that of Clayton Kershaw's curve). The fact Deduno merely throws a show-me change up, points to a potential future in relief work, but that is besides the point for now. The other extremely evident point from the first eight starts is the most significant, his 36 walks. No pitcher has ever had enduring success with a similar rate of walks.

And Sam knew this. Asked after that game in Seattle (after allowing just 2 runs in 6 innings) what he thought of his outing, Deduno responded, "I don't know what to say about the walks. Too many. Too many people. Too many bodies. I have to be better. That's too many." He's responded on the field as well, walking just one batter in his last two starts (12 IP).

The question is, has Deduno found better control of his pitches and can he keep it up? There are a couple responses that are the current dichotomy of baseball analysis.

Response A: Two starts is an extremely small sample size and won't tell us anything about the player in question. In fact, it's downright irresponsible to lend any credence to such a notion. Deduno has a history of poor control and that's what we should expect until he proves otherwise over a period of time. This would usually be my response. We can call this the saber response.

Response B: Clearly, Samuel Deduno is cognizant of his lack of control and has made a change to improve that attribute. Perhaps the major league coaching staff picked up on small mechanical issue or Sam, himself, has become more focused or started chewing gum during his starts. Who knows what the reason, but it is entirely he became a new pitcher overnight.

My response as of now is a mix of the two. But first let me say, I wouldn't bet a stick of gum that Deduno will be in the starting rotation this time next year, I'm not a huge fan for a few reasons that aren't particularly relevant to this post. I also wouldn't bet a stick of gum that this burst of exquisite control from Deduno will continue. However, I also have to accept that pitchers aren't automatons and can change their approaches. He has thrown about two-thirds of his pitches for strikes over the last two weeks. The effects of this change in his approach could have hitters crushing all his pitches in the zone and sending him back to throwing around the zone or possibly fewer walks and more strikeouts. I won't be counting on a massive change of his skill set, however, the early signs are more than interesting and will be well worth keeping an eye on for the rest of the season.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Out Of The Rubble

Is there a good way to lose? Only ten teams will actually have something in the way of a postseason record after this season ends. The other twenty are resigned to disappointment at worst and moral victories at best. This majority of teams, though all short of their pre-season goal of winning enough to make the playoffs, will yield an array of response from fans and analysts.

Take as an example the Astros and Cubs, the two worst teams in baseball by record. Yet, I for one (and there are others, I know this) believe their franchises are going in the right direction. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Philadelphia and Boston. Both are having very disappointing years and are generally as big of a mess as the US banking industry. 

An easier comparison to digest might be the 2011 Twins vs. the 2012 Twins. 2011 was a disappointment for pretty much everyone involved. The team finished with the second worst record in MLB and only real discovery was Glen Perkins as a power lefty. 2012 on the other hand has been somewhat encouraging, seeing the emergence and re-emergence of many players. What factors contribute to either the failure or success (if you could call it that) of a losing season?

The first and most obvious is expectations. Before 2011, the Twins were supposed to contend in the AL Central and prior to the current season both Philadelphia and Boston were considered as close to playoff locks as possible. However, pre-season predictions are largely out of a team's control and therefore this is the one factor that is simply cannot be handled 'well'. In addition, the difference between a prediction of success and a lack thereof usually consists of injury and lack of production from regulars. The management of a franchise can't do much about on-field issues such as these and is forced to react to the fallout.

How teams will handle the fallout is the most interesting and, in the end, most important part of a losing season. Minnesota's consecutive seasons offer case studies of two options losing teams will face.

It's easiest to begin with 2011, for the record this is not the way I would suggest a team operate. Early injuries to Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel along with an utterly punchless pitching staff spelled an early doom for the team. By the end of June 1st, the Twins were 16.5 games off the lead in the Central division. At that point, any rational fan or analyst had the team written off. At which point, a rational front office probably should have began preparing for the next season. Minnesota did not.

Instead of dealing assets like Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Carl Pavano, Joe Nathan or Matt Capps (who were all attached to trade deadline rumors more or less), they stood pat at the deadline. Instead opting to wait until mid-August when the club was even further out of contention to make minor deals of Delmon Young and Jim Thome, receiving nothing of real value in return. I can't say I would have advocated cleaning house completely, the return on some of these players may not have been worth the PR hit. However, none of these players, with the possible exception of Span, figured into the long term plans of the team and any opportunity to return a player or two who could help in the long-term would have been a terrific addition.

The dormancy of the front office not only did nothing for bringing in future contributors but also stunted the growth of home grown options. It's hard to pinpoint fault here, because any player I say could have benefitted from an opportunity, a contrarian could say he needed time in the minors. For example, I would have been interested in seeing Joe Benson get more than the 74 plate appearances he saw last season or maybe some more time to Trevor Plouffe, Liam Hendriks or Anthony Slama (especially Anthony Slama). It's hard to point to players in particular, as surprises are just that, and you won't find any when you have Delmon Young, (an old but lovable) Jim Thome, Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla clogging up space in the lineup. Eventually, Chris Parmelee got an opportunity and seized it, demolishing the American League for all of September.

In contrast, 2012 has been full of opportunity. Eleven different pitchers have started at least four games and eleven more have pitched out of the bullpen - thirteen if you count Les Oliveros' one outing and Drew Butera's shutdown inning. The entire rotation has been turned over since Opening Day, Jason Marquis and Nick Blackburn were removed from the roster due to ineffectiveness, Scott Baker and Carl Pavano had their seasons cut short by injury and Francisco Liriano was traded for good reason. In their place, Scott Diamond, Samuel Deduno, Cole DeVries and Liam Hendriks have seeen significant innings. Diamond has been the one to have a true, walking essentially nobody and establishing himself as a solid mid-rotation starter. Deduno and DeVries have posted polar opposite seasons: Deduno has impressed with his stuff, produced awful peripherals but good results, DeVries has shown pedestrian skills and mediocre results but terrific peripherals. Each of these guys are interesting, but won't be more than fifth starters or bullpen guys. Hendriks is clearly a ways away from a big league rotation, but I'm glad he's getting a shot to work out his problems. In relief, Jared Burton, Casey Fien, Anthony Swarzak  and Tyler Robertson have established themselves as an effective bottom half of a bullpen. Whether any or all of these pitchers can parlay their 2012 opportunity into a career is yet to be seen, but the fact the auditions took place is encouraging and adds a little excitement for the future.

On the other side of the ball, we've seen plenty of breakouts too. Given the full-time opportunity, Ben Revere has been outstanding. He's been top-5 in batting average and been a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight's Web Gems. The signs of the major league grind are starting to show, but no matter what happens over the next month, Revere has earned a spot in the outfield for next season. Joining Revere as a new addition to the daily lineup will be Trevor Plouffe, who filled the black hole at second base flashing real line drive power and a much improved batting eye. He's hitting .242 right now, but that should go up to around .255-.260 as his BABIP is an unsustainably low .247. Not only that, he's played a really solid third base, a huge improvement over Danny Valencia in my opinion. Unfortunately, Brian Dozier didn't work out as well as at least Gardy would have hoped. Consistent fielding lapses, a bad approach at the plate and a weak bat sent him back to the minor leagues.

The starting lineup isn't the only spot holding auditions; the bench is starting to take shape as well. Jamey Carroll has proven to be a terrific addition who can fill in at three positions, get on base and do everything the manager asks. Carroll won't be around past 2013, but with Dozier, Florimon and eventually Esocbar getting shots, the Twins should be able to find his replacement over the next 12 months. After trying out Erik Komatsu and Clete Thomas, Darin Mastroianni has been the ideal 4th/5th outfielder. Showing enough range for all three outfield positions, hitting the ball with authority and being a menace on the base paths. Adding in Drew Butera as the emergency catcher, a role he's actually qualified for, makes the basis of a solid bench for the future.

Terry Ryan's "no scholarships" system in 2012 has been turbulent, though effective. The ineffective players have been shed in a reasonable time allowing surprisingly effective players to rise out of the rubble.

If a team is going to be terrible, they might as well hold auditions for the next season. That might be why the Astros and Cubs seasons have been promising for the future and Phillies has been much less so. Circumstances out of anyone's control dictate what a team's fate will be, however, when dealt a losing fate, a front office should roll with the punches and get as much out of it as possible.

Meth in Bowling Green

This post started out as an e-mail to Andy, but got a little out of control and turned into an open letter for the blog about 3/4's the way through.


Did you see this story about the three players on the Tampa Rays A-ball team in Bowling Green who were suspended for meth use? How crazy is that? I have a few thoughts on it, but you need to see the picture in this story, epic. First of all, kind of funny it happened in the Midwest league. Where else? Maybe in the Cal league (Bakersfield). And this is weird on a few different levels. The only real prospect involved is Ryan Brett, who's two weeks older than me, which is sad and horrifying at the same time. On top of that, he was hitting .285/.348/.393. That's as a twenty year old, in the Midwest League and ON METH. I doubt he got high before games, but the lack of sleep and other effects have to take a toll. The other two players were 23 and 24, each pitchers two years out of college. What kind of environment was around this team? I feel bad for players like Drew Vettleson who are being surrounded by these guys. 

Clearly these guys need help and if any team has experience with players suffering from addiction its Tampa, but it will be interesting to see how these guys are handled. There's the obligatory 50-game suspension from the league, which will carry into next season, then any legal punishment on top of that (I could only find Michigan's law, which is up to a year for methamphetamine use - misdemeanor). But the most interesting will be Tampa's patience with the kids. Will they show the same patience they did with Josh Hamilton? All three are considerably less talented than he and the new front office just barely overlapped with Hamilton, so there's no reason for the organization to react exactly the same. However, this brings a few more questions.

 One, will the players be able to have successful baseball careers? Josh Hamilton proved it is possible. And I don't know if this point has much credibility as other people work past this sort of thing quite often. But on the other hand, their addiction could outlast their young age. 

Two, you have 100's of other ballplayers to worry about, is it prudent to risk having these guys in the clubhouse? On the one (humanistic) hand, I hate to write off people like this. I mean, one mistake shouldn't break a career. On the other (rational) hand, these guys had a slim chance of making The Show as is and likely don't have real production in their future. Beyond that, there is an infinite supply of players who would kill for the chance they squandered.

There are probably a million other factors to be considered and questions to be asked; this story is so unique and fascinating. It will probably have to wait until next year to actual see what the Rays do, until then it's a sad and endlessly fascinating story about the relationship of a business, employees, bad choices and a disease.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Nationals? The NATIONALS?

How weird is it to see the Washington Nationals at #1 overall in Buster Olney's power rankings? The organization that lost 100 games back-to-back years. The organization that has finished last in the NL East every year of it's existence but two. The organization that saw fit to pay Jayson Werth $100+ million.

Although it does feel surreal, anyone paying attention this year will agree Washington should be in the discussion for the top team. Davey Johnson has led the team to 71 wins - the most in all major league baseball. To back up the results, they have outscored their opponents by 96 runs on the season: almost a full run per game. But with the team's most notable player, Bryce Harper, batting just .249/.328/.406, how are they doing it and can they keep it up?

The primary component of Washington's success has been their pitching. I think this graphic from ESPN sums up just how dominant the Nat's staff has been:

That's a lot "1st"s. Click on the picture to get a closer look. A team 3.22 ERA. A team 1.20 WHIP. A team .231 batting average against. For reference, a team of CJ Wilson, CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke 2012 clones wouldn't be close to matching Washington this season.

Washington has been doing it with tremendous depth in the rotation and bullpen. The rotation is anchored by home grown products Jordann Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detwiler. All three have sub-3.00 ERA's and Zimmermann and Strasburg have K/BB ratios well north of 4.25 (only 5 other pitchers can claim that. In addition, off-season additions Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson have pitched as advertised. Gio leads all qualifying pitchers in FIP and trails only Strasburg in the NL leaders in K% at 26.3% of batters. Jackson has provided 137 innings of above average performance, well worth the one year deal for Washington.

The bullpen has been similarily dominant. Drew Storen (2.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) has proven to be just fine after missing the first half for surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Despite a 7-6 K/BB he's avoided giving runs and will be used with caution until he's proven to be fully back to his former self. In Storen's absence, righties Tyler Clippard (3.04, 1.05) and Craig Stammen (2.48, 1.29) have stepped up as dominant late inning relievers beside lefty Sean Burnett (1.81, 0.95) and the Nationals have milked some very good innings from veterans Tom Gorzelanny (3.35, 1.30) and Mike Gonzalez (2.31, 1.37). Unlike the rotation, the bullpen took some time to fall into place. Manager Davey Johnson ran out the likes of Henry Rodriguez, Brad Lidge and Ryan Perry who fell flat before the 'pen came together.

So that's all great, top to bottom an impressive pitching staff doing it's best impression of the '98 Braves. A wrench in that plan, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has made it clear that staff ace Stephen Strasburg will not be finishing the season in the rotation. How can a team vying for their first ever playoff birth bench the best player in their organization's history for the stretch run and playoffs? And replace him with John Lannan? A team could do worse than that, but that's a huge dropoff: going from one of the best in the league to a completely average starter. The importance of the move shouldn't be understated, but if any team could take the hit, it's the Nationals. Their playoff rotation went from Strasburg-Zimmermann-Gonzalez to Zimmermann-Gonzalez-Jackson, which can still match up favorably with any potential playoff opponent in the National League.

The pitching staff was expected to be among the best in baseball, but the offense was supposed to hold it back. This hasn't been the case as the bats have shown up. Ryan Zimmerman has been killing the ball since late June, but even more surprising is his health. He's battled injuries since 2007, netting only one full season. This year, he had a short stint on the DL at the start of the season, but has stayed on the field since. He's the best hitter on this team and the Nationals will need him to stay in the lineup and keep producing to make any noise in October. Alongside Zimmerman have been Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche. Desmond's breakout this season, as one of the top shortstops in the majors, landed him on the All-Star team, but shortly after he tore his oblique. From what I have read, he should be back for the stretch run. Another oft-injured has found success in Adam LaRoche. Batting .264/.339/.500 at first base, LaRoche has been right in line with his career norms but once again, the key is health. Zimmerman, LaRoche and Desmond have gotten Washington this far and only the risk of injury stands in their way of continuing the trend.

Speaking of injuries, both Jayson Werth (75 games missed) and Michael Morse (50 games missed) have recently returned to the outfield from prolonged ailments. Replacing Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadinha in the lineup, the two add some much needed pop to the back of the lineup. Despite the grief Werth receives for not being worth (excuse the pun) his hugely unreasonable contract, he's a valuable player with very good on base skills and above average power. I wasn't sold on Morse even after his breakout last year, but now with about 1500 PA's in the majors, I'll buy it. Morse is a legit threat in the middle of the order. Joining Werth and Morse in the formidable outfield is the most notable National, 19 year old Bryce Harper. The production from Harper has been nothing short of amazing when you factor in age. Consider that as a 19 year old last year, Mike Trout hit .220/.281/.390. Not to say Harper will have the same MVP season next year, but what he has done is nothing short of astonishing. On the other hand, don't let that sway your opinion of him for the rest of this season. He's a good outfielder, who strikes out too much but has solid power and can run. Also notable, as many rookies do, Harper could be wearing down as the workload of a major league season mounts; he's hitting just .183 with 2 home runs since the all-star break. Luckily for Washington, they boast a couple solid backups in Lombardozzi and Bernadinha.

Davey Johnson also has depth in the infield. Even with Ian Desmond on the disabled list, he's been able to bring Danny Espinosa to shortstop from second base and replace him with Lombardozzi (for whom second is his natural position). Behind the plate the Nat's are flipping between the underperforming Jesus Flores and the recently acquired (and underperforming) Kurt Suzuki. They both have some ability and given that Wilson Ramos is done for the year, a team could do worse. Davey rounds out his bench with veterans Chad Tracy and Cesar Izturis who are both generally awful and shouldn't be around for playoff time, ideally.

At this point in the season, it's clear the Nationals have the talent to succeed. The rotation is as good as it gets, the bullpen has some talent at the top and the lineup certainly has potential. The keys to September and October are going to be threefold. First, the bullpen needs to hold up. Clippard, Stammen and Burnett are solid, but they'll need consistent help from the back end and Storen. Second is Strasburg, I'm not sure it will make a huge difference in the regular season (maybe a win or two), but missing him in the postseason will be an issue. How the front office handles him will be a huge story and could decide their ultimate fate. Lastly, that offense has to stay healthy. A middle of the order with a healthy and productive core of Desmond, Harper, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Morse and Werth could do a lot of damage. Whether that's on the medical staff or dumb luck, it will be very important.

My prediction for the Nationals is to hold off the Braves in the regular season and take the number one seed. My playoff prediction is meaningless as at that point it's random, but I'd say they should do well even without Strasburg, given the extra emphasis put on managing, and Davey Johnson is among the best strategists in the game. So there you have it, an exhaustive look at the Nationals!

This could be the beginning of a series of playoff previews. It's way too early to say for sure anyone will make the playoffs, but we'd like to familiarize ourselves and our readers with the contenders for the stretch run.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How Will Joe Mauer Age?

With the eye towards the future, the Twins will need to decide who is going to be a part of it. The decision doesn't apply to Joe Mauer, as his contract is prohibitively expensive and combined with his hometown popularity, he's in Minneapolis for the long haul.

That begs the question of what we should expect from Mauer over the next 6.5 years. An awful lot of the answer to that depends on his health. But, as far as catchers go, Mauer is a pretty safe bet to play 130-140 games a season and behind the plate for a majority of those. Since his first full season he's played an average of 123 games per year, despite missing half of the season in 2011. Interestingly (and predictably) his percentage of games behind the plate has been in decline:

*2012 is trough 111 games.

So going forward I think it's fair to suppose he'll play 140 games, about 70 of them behind the plate. As he's demonstrated this year, the extra time will allow him to stay healthy and in the lineup.

Now, for the matter of how his bat will hold up. His profile as a line drive hitter generally ages more gracefully than those who depend on speed or power. Between the bat and his tremendous plate discipline, I would say he should be an above average hitter at any position for the duration of his contract. But I'm a homer and am able to convince myself of just about anything. So I'll present some tools that can be used to project Mauer's remaining career.

The first tool is a similarity score. compares players to find the 10 other players  from history most similar to any given guy. Here's the top ten list through age 28 (going into this season):

1. Mickey Cochrane (HOF)
2. Bill Dickey (HOF)
3. Jason Kendall
4. Yogi Berra (HOF)
5. Victor Martinez
6. Jose Vidro
7. Cary Carter (HOF)
8. Derek Jeter
9. Charlie Gehringer (HOF)
10. Nomar Garciaparra

Cochrane played 5 seasons after his age-29 season, and he was consistently a very good hitter. His OPS+ was 135 during that span, compared to a 126 OPS+ in his first 8 seasons. Bill Dickey, Gehringer , Berra and Jeter were similarly successful deep into their careers.

#3 on the list, Jason Kendall, is a favorite comparison of baseball writers. He shares a similar profile, good hitter with patience and below average power as well similar eras. Up through his age-29 season, Kendall hit .304/.385/.422. Comparable to Mauer's .323/.404/.468 (although, when one factors in the offensive environments it's not so close). But then Kendall dropped off considerably, .270/.344/.329. Some have forecasted this as a possibility for Mauer, I'm not sure that I buy it.

The others on the list don't compare very well for a number of reasons. Martinez would be good, in that he's moved out from behind the plate, but his career has yet to unfold. Vidro is recent enough where I was able to watch his prime and I don't see any similarity at all. In the same vein, I don't agree with the understand the Nomar comp. He had some pretty severe injury issues that wrecked his career. Not that the same fate isn't possible for Mauer, but we can't predict career ending injuries.

Similarity scores yield some interesting results, with a range of possibilities. The conclusion I draw, is that he's played like an all-time great, who are usually able to maintain their skills into their late 30's. However, the list is also a reminder of the omnipresent possibility of decline (Kendall) and catastrophic injury (Garciaparra).

The other useful tool is Baseball Prospectus PECOTA system. PECOTA is a projection system that actually uses similarity scores to build its forecasts. It's often lauded as the most accurate projection system in sports, so it's not a bad glimpse into the deep future.

Baseball Prospectus "Crystal Ball" projects a steady decline for Mauer, in which he hits between .270 and .311, with some decent power. The production yields True Averages (an amalgamation of offensive worth) of .270-.306 where .260 is the league average and WARPs between 2 and 4.5.

PECOTA is generally fairly conservative, especially on the high end, so it's very possible he outplays those 'ceilings'. In fact, it's rare to see PECOTA project a hitter to have this much success that far into the future.

Both tools point to sustained production from Mauer for the duration of his $23 million a year contract. Considering inflation is essentially zero these days, Joe is going to have to be productive to be worth that kind of coin.

In conclusion, the Twins seem to be in a decent place with Mauer for the next 6 and a half years. The biggest risk will be avoiding injury, if he can do that, we'll be watching a future Hall of Famer for the next half decade.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Do the Twins have a "Playoff Offense"?

During the recent trade deadline, and all other trade deadlines, a lot of talk centers around whether a specific team should opt to be a buyer or a seller. For Minnesota, the decision should have been fairly easy: seller. However, simply choosing to be a seller isn't the only choice to be made. Beyond the initial choice, a front office needs to decide what type of pieces they want in return for the departing players. This can tell us an awful lot about when exactly the front office predicts the team will be contending again.

In the Twins' case, they made significant moves and non-moves that show the organization believes they can compete in 2013. For one, the Twins' held on to all their trade chips that will be under contract for next season: Morneau, Span, Willingham and Perkins. Trading any of them would have signaled a delay in contention. Furthermore, the one trade they did make brought back major-league ready talent. I've already discussed my thoughts on the Liriano trade in which the Twins received useful pieces for a team in the near future. The takeaway should be that the Twins wanted pieces back who will help them win in the next two years. More than anything, the Twins signaled not a lack of decisiveness at the deadline but that they have a plan.

The merits of the plan can be argued, but I am on board with the notion. The core of the team, Mauer, Morneau, Willingham, Doumit, Plouffe and Span, are all at some point in their peak years. These seasons should not be written off as rebuilding years - it would be a complete waste of a lot of talent. In fact, some would suggest the talent of that offense could be playoff caliber. That is, given a competent pitching staff (a topic I'm sure I'll get into soon enough).

But I wonder is the offense really ready for the playoffs next year?

The primary lineup this year has been:

D Span (L)
B Revere (L)
J Mauer (L)
J Willingham (R)
J Morneau (L)
T Plouffe (R)
R Doumit (S)
B Dozier (R)
J Carroll (R)

There's no reason to believe this will change for 2013, everyone is under contract and there are no obvious replacements knocking on the door. 1-7 is solid, and an argument can be made for Dozier and Carroll as the 8-9 hitters. I personally like Carroll and would be surprised if he continued to hit .234 for the rest of the season. His babip is .272 which is about 50 points below his career norm. Meaning he should be closer to a .255-.260 batter ~ league average. On top of that his walk rate of 10% and mortal hate with making baserunning errors make him an ideal #9 hitter. Tangent over.

I would like, however, just to compare this lineup to some contending American League lineups to see how the Twins stack up-

 Tigers       ChiSox        Yankees         Sawx                  LAA          Rangers
                                                                                                           *Torrealba replaced by G Soto.

Given a quick look, all of these teams have solid lineups, at least 1-8. Carroll could stack up with most of the other #9 hitters, especially Beckham or Aviles. At the top of the lineup, Span/Revere compares favorably to the Tigers and ChiSox but can't compete with the AL West teams. The meat of the lineup 3-7 is probably slightly less productive than most of these teams, barring a return to MVP form from Morneau. I'd easily put LAA as the best lineup in the land, despite hitting Callaspo as high as he is. And then I'll also put the BoSox up there too, assuming better health next year they will be adding Ellsbury and Crawford to their already fearsome lineup. But also given that the 5-7 of the Tigers is a vortex of suck, the Sox are generally old and inconsistent, A-Rod and Teixeira may be declining rapidly and with the Rangers going through tough times, the Twins lineup could be in the conversation.

The Twins proved they should be in the conversation during July, matching the Angels for the MLB lead in runs scored (138). Even as a skeptic, I can see the lineup being productive enough to contend in 2013.

The bench could be an issue for the Twins. Darin Mastroianni has proven to be a solid 4th outfielder, playing all 3 positions well and hitting with some pop and plate discipline. Eduardo Escobar could back up 2B, SS and 3B with the impending departure of Alexi Casilla. Ideally, Chris Parmelee could come up and get some time (~400 PA's) at 1B, DH and in the corner outfield positions. The last bench spot will likely go to Drew Butera or another catcher and given the composition of the roster, that works for me.

Terry Ryan was right to protect his core at the trade deadline. This lineup is ready to contend next season. The pitching staff is a whole 'nother story.