Friday, October 26, 2012

Reaction to Twins New Coaches

Reaction to Twins New Coaches

Today the Minnesota Twins announced they have filled their three coaching vacancies.  This is a subject that hits home because it has to do with a former coach and friend of mine.  

The Twins hired Terry Steinbach to take over as bench coach on Ron Gardenhire’s on-field staff.  This is Steinbach’s first experience as a professional coach but after knowing Terry for many years, this is a great hire for the Twins.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Detroit Starters in the ALCS

I don't know whether to credit the Tigers pitching or thrash the Yankees hitting, but for now, I'll present you with this:

27.1  Innings Pitched
2       Run Allowed
14     Hits Allowed
9       Walks
25     Strikeouts

That's an average line of 6.1 innings, 0.5 runs, 3.5 hits, 2.25 walks and 6.25 k's per start.

I really just wanted to see that written out.

Pitcher Profiles: Scott Diamond

In a season with few positive notes for the Minnesota Twins, one had to be Scott Diamond's breakout. On April 6th, Diamond was barely an afterthought; he had been selected in the previous year's Rule V draft and stashed in AAA where he failed to impress anybody, pitching himself to a 4-14 record with a 5.56 ERA in 2011.

By May 8th, Diamond had generated some buzz, starting 6 games and allowing just 12 runs in his third season in AAA. His first major league start was a resounding success as he pitched 7 scoreless innings. The rest of 2012 went much the same way, Diamond became the Twins most reliable starter. Wait, that's barely a compliment given the Twins' rotation options, let me rephrase that. Diamond became an above average starter in the American League.

Diamond's success comes with plenty of questions though. For one, how did he do that? Another, what do we know about the pitcher himself? And lastly, what can we expect out of him in the future?

The Numbers

The easiest entryway into this case study is to look at what Diamond accomplished in 2012. He started 27 games netting 173 innings (207.2 including AAA time). In that time, the Canadian lasted at least five innings in all but one start. Diamond recorded a 3.54 ERA, well below the league average of 4.08. His FIP (3.94) and xFIP (3.93) tell slightly stories, though still impressive.

These numbers reflect a few very good underlying skills, namely his control and groundball ability. Diamond led the American League yielding 1.6 unintentional walks per game and never allowing more than 3 in any outing. On top of that, Scott was able to induce 53.4% groundballs when the ball was put in play. For context, that's tenth in all of baseball.

Diamond was able to translate these two elite (and very Twins-pitcher-like) skills into a nice season, despite a 4.7 SO/9 rate (2nd worst in the AL). Few pitchers, if any, are able to have sustainable success with such low K-rates, so his ability to miss bats going forward will be something to watch.

Interestingly, the statistics that are often correlated with luck don't discout Diamond's success in 2012. His babip, .292 is not out of line, especially for a ground ball pitcher and his HR/FB percentage of 11.4 is also right about average as is his strand rate (73.3%). These data suggest Diamond's breakout isn't a total mirage. The extent to which he regresses will be largely a function of his striking out a few more and continuing to avoid giving up free passes.

The Repertoire (almost all data from, great resource)

  • Four-seam fastball (90.00 mph)
  • Slider (81.99 mph)
  • Changeup (84.35 mph)
Scott Diamond relied heavily on his fastball in 2012, throwing it 60% of the time. The pitch rarely got any swings-and-misses (2.79%) but resulted in groundballs 13.42% of the time and was located well as only 36.07% of them went for balls. 

Diamond's slider was primarily an out pitch, used mostly when he was in the count. Surprisingly, the slider was also a deadly accurate weapon, only 28.43% of them resulted in balls. Not so surprising is that the slider produced the most whiffs of any of his pitches (15.05%).

The change-up was used almost exclusively against righties, about 16% in those situations, and only five times all year versus a lefty. The pitch yielded more whiffs than his fastball but didn't get as many grounders. All this leads me to believe that his change-up is more a "show-me" pitch than anything else.

When put all together, Diamond's repertoire is pretty simple: a two pitch mix against lefties and three against right-handed hitters.

A lot of Diamonds success comes from his ability to pound the lower, inside half of the strike zone (as shown below) resulting in a lot of groundballs.


Interestingly, Diamond's fastball actually ticked upwards from 2011 to 2012. He gained about 0.5 mph on his fastball and 1.5 mph on his slider. There are many possible reasons for the uptick: weather or increased stamina and strength to name a few. These are all likely causes of the uptick, however, they cannot be measured. Of factors that can be measured I found one interesting change from 2011 to 2012: his arm angle.

As seen in the chart below, Diamond lowered his arm angle (roughly 3-4" out and 2-3"down). 

My initial feeling on this was a bit of confusion. Usually pitchers with lower arm angles don't throw as hard, at least that's my perception. I e-mailed Andy about his thoughts on the change and corroborated my belief that the change would add movement to his slider, but he also had some other enlightening idas on the subject. Particularly, that lowering the arm angle could free up his motion and actually add velocity to his pitches.

With this knowledge, it's a little easier to accept that Diamond has truly "broken out" to some degree.  Under the basis of changed mechanics, more velocity and increased control, Diamond was able to change (or enhance) his skills as a pitcher

The Future

Predicting the future of a pitcher is impossible, but given what we do know, we can make a fairly good guess. Diamond's basic skills of control and ability to get groundballs are likely here to stay, however, his inability of striking out batters is very troubling and will absolutely limit his upside.

In fact, I think we saw Diamond's upside in 2012. That isn't to disparage his future, Diamond was very good for the Twins last season and could have been #2 or #3 starter on many teams. It is likely that Diamond will regress towards a league average 4.00 ERA predicted by FIP, xFIP and SIERA (all ERA estimators).

Sadly enough for the Twins, a league average pitcher could be their ace in 2013 given the current outlook, making Scott Diamond an invaluable piece to puzzle. However, nobody should expect him to make significant strides from the success of his first full season.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Baseball Prospectus Scouting Scale

Recently I have been reading both Baseball Prospectus books (Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong and Extra Innings) and I came across the scouting chapter and I thought, I wonder what are some examples of players who fit these grades?  Well, some are quite obvious but it's pretty neat to see who's "average." What I find even more interesting is how some of these "average" players make mega bucks, such as Michael Cuddyer.  Grades can change as I'm sure these grades will not be the same next year for some or many of these players.  I couldn't find any speeds to first base but I can tell you one thing, Reds prospect Billy Hamilton is a definite 80 on the runnings scale according to Keith Law who saw him in the AFL recently.  

One last note, many showcases for high school and college players feature a 60-yard dash.  The Major League average 60 is 6.9 seconds, just incase you are wondering.

Fastball Velocity

97+ mph
80: Elite (Aroldis Chapman)
94-96 mph   
70: Well above average (Stephen Strasburg)
92-94 mph
60: Above average (CC Sabathia)
89-91 mph
50: Average (Wade Miley)
87-89 mph
40: Below average (Jered Weaver)
85-87 mph
30: Well below average (Randy Choate)
82-84 mph
20: Poor (Jamie Moyer)

Hit-Tool and Major League Expectations
Batting AVG at MLB Level
80: Elite
.320-plus; perennial batting title contender (Joe Mauer)
70: Well above average  
.300-.320 (Derek Jeter)
60: Above average
.285-.300 (Adrian Gonzalez)
50: Average
.270-.285 (Michael Cuddyer)
40: Below average
.250-.270 (Jay Bruce)
30: Well below average
.225-.250 (Mark Reynolds)
20: Poor
Up to .225 (Brendan Ryan)
Batting Grades and Home Run Expectations
Home Runs at MLB Level
80: Elite
39-plus (Jose Batista)
70: Well above average  
32-38 (David Ortiz)
60: Above average
25-32 (David Wright)
50: Average
17-25 (Robinson Cano)
40: Below average
11-17 (Rafael Furcal)
30: Well below average
5-11 (Starlin Castro)
20: Poor
Up to 5 (Juan Pierre)

Speed and Grade Correlation
Speed (Left/Right)
3.9 (L)/ 4.0 (R)
80: Elite
4.0 (L)/ 4.1(R)
70: Well above average
4.1 (L)/ 4.2(R)
60: Above Average
4.2 (L)/ 4.3(R)
50: Average
4.3 (L)/ 4.4 (R)
40: Below Average
4.4 (L)/ 4.5 (R)
30: Well Below Average
4.5 (L)/ 4.6 (R)
20: Poor

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More Twins in the AFL

Andy highlighted a couple Twins' and Diamondbacks' players participating in the this years' Arizona Fall League the other day. He's pretty geeked about the AFL opener today and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I checked out the night's box scores and decided I should contribute a bit on some of the Twins' guys on the Peoria Javelinas, in case there's any interest in following along.

A quick disclaimer: I'm obviously not a scout and I've only seen one of these guys live (Nate Roberts in Beloit this year) so my opinions are pretty much an amalgamation of reading others' reports and following the box scores religiously (admittedly not a good measure of prospect status).

I'll start with Logan Darnell. Logan was drafted in the sixth round in 2010 out of the University of Kentucky. He's a big, physical lefty with (as I recall) a heavy low-90's fastball and some fringy breaking stuff. Darnell has stalled out a bit in New Britain (AA), so his trip to AZ is likely a tryout for his future with the club. He's a candidate to work at the back end of Rochester's starting rotation in 2013, but I wouldn't count on seeing him up in the majors anytime soon.

Caleb Thielbar has one of the better stories in the Twins' system. Growing up in Northfield, Minnesota he played his college ball at South Dakota State U. Thielbar was drafted into the Brewers' system, but he didn't catch on and found himself back in Minnesota playing for the St Paul Saints in Indy ball to start the 2011 season. Caleb impressed the Twins enough to get a late-season shot with Fort Myers. His three game tryout was enough to convince the Twins to bring him back for 2012 and I'm sure they're happy they did. Thielbar worked his way from Hi-A Ft. Myers to AAA Rochester, putting up impressive strikeout and walk numbers the whole way up. His stuff won't make him a relief ace, but he could be a nice piece in the Twins' bullpen as early as 2013.

Michael Tonkin is another reliever in the Twins' system, but has had a much different journey than Thielbar. Tonkin is a very hard throwing righty standing 6'7". Many around the Twins' blogosphere predicted big things for him in 2012, potentially following the Thielbar track of Hi-A ball to AAA ball. However, while he did dominate both the Midwest (Lo-A) and Florida State (Hi-A) leagues, he didn't move as fast as some may have hoped. Now that he has proven himself ready for the upper minors, 2013 could be the year we see him at Target Field. He has quite a way to go, but he's  entering his sixth year in the organization and will have to put-up or shut-up very soon. This fall could be a springboard to a 2013 mid-season look in the majors.

Evan Bigley has been a polarizing prospect in the Twins' system. I vaguely remember the Twins' front office heaping praise on him this spring and he's hit throughout the minors. To me, he doesn't feel like much of a prospect at all, there's a chance he could begin the 2013 season as a dreaded #26inAA player and is stuck in the corner outfield positions with a marginal bat. I would peg Bigley as an organizational depth player for now, not that there's anything wrong with that. All that said, I also wouldn't be surprised if he went out to Arizona and put up some impressive numbers. A big showing shouldn't change our opinion on him.

Now, for the one guy I actually saw this season! Nate Roberts is a 23 year old outfielder who has spent the last two years in Beloit. On the surface, Roberts doesn't appear to be much of a prospect. However, when the pieces are put together he profiles extremely well as fourth or fifth outfielder on the big league club. He's speedy, can cover all three outfield positions, hits for a decent average and has great plate discipline. I don't see him getting a shot in 2013 or even 2014, but by about 2015 he could be a Darin Mastroianni replacement. Obviously he has a looooong way to go, but he is somebody who could contribute and the team is clearly trying to find out what they have in him this fall.

Quickly, I'll touch on the two guys who Andy wrote about from the Twins' system. Chris Herrmann, catcher, has a good shot at being the third catcher on the Twins as early as next season. Matt Eddy of Baseball America wrote that he could have a long career as a backup catcher who could step up when necessary. Apparently his defense has improved to an acceptable level and shows solid offensive approach and good pop. Eddy compared him to George Kottaras of the Oakland A's. Kyle Gibson is the guy that all Twins' fans will have their eye on this fall. Returning from TJ-surgery, he worked his way up to AAA this year, striking out 10 and walking just 1 in 6.2 innings. With the big league club's lack in starting pitching, there's a good chance he'll see time in the bigs in early 2013. Gibson is in the AFL to get a few innings (he only saw 28.1 innings of action in 2012) and give Minnesota's scouts and coaches a better look at what they'll be seeing come 2013.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Arizona Fall League

It’s that time of the baseball year again.  For many, the season is coming to an end as the playoffs go on but for prospect lovers, the Arizona Fall League provides another 30 games to follow.

As a Twins/D-backs follower, I thought I’d touch on a couple players each team sent to the AFL.

Diamondbacks (Salt River Rafters)
-Evan Marshall: This is a guy who I think could contribute for the Diamondbacks as soon as early next season.  He spent all season in Double-A and posted a solid 3.51 ERA.  He was a reliever in college at Kansas State so he is used to the role.  I don’t think he’ll be a closer like he was in the minors but he could be a solid lefty specialist and get a few righties out as well.  In 48.2 innings he only struck out 27 and walked 16 which isn’t promising but maybe some more experience can get that ratio better.

-Matt Davidson:  After being drafted by the D-backs in the 35th overall as a third baseman (he was actually the second high school third baseman selected by Arizona in the 2009 draft after Bobby Borchering, who was dealt to Houston after his stock in the system dropped) he has made his way across the diamond and has put up solid power numbers.  Like many other hitters who have made their way through the Arizona system, Davidson strikes out at a rate nobody would like to see but he draws his walks and can put the ball in the gap and over the fence.  In the AFL he’s going to put up stellar numbers because the stats are so inflated but it’ll be cool to see how his swing matches up against above-average arms.  And we’ll see if he can keep the hitch in his swing.

Twins (Peoria Javelinas) 
-Kyle Gibson: For Twins fans, this is a guy you may want to follow throughout the spring.  After Tommy John Surgery, Gibson is on his way to Minnesota.  In 2011 he probably would have gotten a September call up but instead he found himself on the operating table.  He was able to throw 28.1 innings across three minor league levels and he showed good control as he had a 33:6 K/BB ratio.  Granted he was facing inferior competition in the GCL and the Florida State League, the AFL will be a great test of not just talent, but health.  Gibson could fill a rotation spot out of spring training but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him start the year in the minors to get more innings under his belt.

-Chris Herrmann: As far as the Twins position player prospects, there isn’t one who gets me really excited.  But Herrmann did get time with the big league team in September so he must be an alright player.  He caught and played some outfield for the Twins so he could be a more valuable (and less expensive) player on their bench than a guy who can’t hit (cough Drew Butera cough).  As far as power goes, there might not be much but throughout the minors he has always had a solid OBP and as long as he can catch, I think he’ll be OK.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Adapting Expectations: Final Tally

I've been harping on how different the run environment is this season for a few months now. It's important in valuing a player's contribution to the game. The primary shift has been towards pitching, making it seem like more pitchers are performing well while hitters are struggling. Here's an easy chart of major statistics to see how some player might stack up.

Hitting                AL               NL              MLB
AVG 0.255 0.254 0.255
OBP 320 0.318 0.319
SLG 0.411 0.4 0.405
OPS 0.731 0.718 0.724
K% (100*K/PA) 19.30 20.20 19.78
BB% (100*BB/PA) 8.01 7.97 7.99
Pitching                  AL                 NL              MLB
SO/9 7.4 7.7 7.6
BB/9 3 3.1 3.1
SO/BB 2.45 2.5 2.48
HR/9 1.1 1 1
H/9 8.7 8.7 8.7
WHIP 1.308 1.311 1.309
ERA 4.08 3.94 4.01
R/G 4.4 4.26 4.32