pitching.2.contact

Smart Baseball: Selling High On Suzuki

On Tuesday, the Padres traded third basemen Chase Headley and $1 million cash to the Yankees for shortstop Yangervis Solarte and right-handed pitcher Rafeal De Paula. It was hardly an inspired return for the once highly sought after Headley, with Solarte having regressed back to replacement level after a hot start this season and High-A prospect De Paula projecting as nothing more than a middle reliever down the road. Just two years ago, Headley batted .286 with 31 homeruns and 115 RBIs within the cavernous confines of Petco Park – numbers that led to his first All-Star nod and a top-5 finish in MVP voting. Since that 7.2 fWAR season in 2012, Headley has hit a meager .243/.330/.384 with just 20 homeruns, his value plummeting along with his numbers. If ever there were an example of a team holding on to an asset too long, the Padres and Headley are surely it.

For a small-market team like the Padres, cashing in on players like Headley while they are at peak value is a crucial aspect of building and remaining a competitive team. It’s why the Rays traded Matt Garza to the Cubs in 2011 and James Shields to the Royals two years later, and why they will likely do the same with ace David Price before the end of this season. It’s also why, despite reports of mutual interest in an extension, the Twins should do everything in their power to move catcher Kurt Suzuki before this year’s trade deadline. 

Signed as a stopgap solution at catcher and tasked with replacing Joe Mauer behind the dish, Suzuki’s revival has been one of the few positive stories in yet another disappointing Twins season. Thought by most to be all but finished as a productive major league backstop (myself included), Suzuki is on pace for his best overall season since 2009 (in terms of WAR) and the best offensive season of his career. Aided by a very fortunate .333 BABIP, his .312/.370/.397 line has resulted in a 117 wRC+, fourth among qualified catchers and good enough to earn him his first All-Star Game selection. For all of that production, the Twins are paying him just $2.75 million this season, with zero commitment beyond 2014. Quite simply, Suzuki’s trade value will never be higher than it is today.

Presently, there are at least two contenders with both legitimate playoff aspirations and considerable holes behind the plate. The Cardinals, with star backstop Yadier Molina likely sidelined until September, and the Orioles, without stud Matt Weiters for the remainder of the season, both find themselves in tough division races where one or two wins could mean the difference between a playoff birth and an early offseason. With both teams expecting their franchise stalwarts back healthy next season, adding Suzuki and his expiring contract for the playoff push would appear to be an easy sell. 

Just two years ago, the Twins found themselves in this exact same position with another veteran who was in the midst of a career year. In his first season in Minnesota, outfielder Josh Willingham set career highs with 35 homeruns and 110 RBIs, en route to a 142 wRC+ season that ranked him among the ten best offensive players in all of baseball (ironically, just behind Headley). As a power-hitting corner outfielder on a very affordable contract (three years, $21 million), Willingham was certainly an appealing commodity for any contender looking to add a veteran power bat to the lineup. And yet in the midst of a second consecutive lost season for a team in obvious need of a rebuild, the Twins chose to hold on to Willingham. Since then, he has slashed .209/.347/.381 with just 23 homeruns and 76 RBIs, his 106 wRC+ making him a roughly league average offensive player. That’s to say nothing of his having missed roughly a half-season due to injury, or his cover-your-eyes defense when he has been on the field. Simply put, not trading Willingham in 2012 constitutes an organizational failure that teams like the Twins simply cannot afford to make if they wish to contend. 

The Twins are on pace to lose 90-plus games for the fourth consecutive season, and any hope of being competitive before 2016 is a pipe dream. Kurt Suzuki is not a part of the solution, so you have to trade him for one or two pieces that might be. It’s past time for this team to start learning from the mistakes of the past three seasons. #p2c

The Rundown: Morales and Contending in 2014

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On Sunday, the Twins announced the signing of free agent DH/1B Kendrys Morales to a prorated $12M deal that will pay him roughly $7.5M over the rest of this season. With Morales no longer tied to draft pick compensation following last week’s first-year player draft, the timing of the deal was not a surprise. The fact that he signed with the Twins, however, certainly qualifies as one. For one thing, it was widely assumed that Morales would sign with a contender, with the Yankees, Brewers, and Mariners all thought to be bidding for his services. Then there’s the fact that the Twins have seldom been one to make the flashy in-season move, with low-profile trades for Shannon Stewart and Matt Capps the rare recent exceptions.

On the field, the addition of Morales represents a considerable upgrade at the DH position. Per Dan Szymborski, ZiPS projects Morales to hit .274/.327/.446 with 13 homeruns and 50 RBIs the rest of the season, for an OPS+ of 113 and 1.2 WAR. His arrival means the end of the road for OF Jason Kubel, who was DFA’d to make room for Morales on the 40-man roster. Kubel had struggled mightily this season in his return to Minnesota, slashing .224/.313/.295 with just a single homerun in 176 plate appearances. Morales will likely garner the majority of at-bats at DH once he is ready, and his bat is a welcome addition for a team that ranks in the bottom third in baseball in Isolated Power. Regardless of Morales’ on-field impact, though, his signing is perhaps more significant in terms of the message it sends to fans via the front office – namely, that the team has every intention of competing in 2014. While that is certainly admirable, is it realistic?

After losing two of three at home to the Astros this weekend, the Twins (29-32) find themselves three games under .500 and in last place in the Central Division. That said, they are just 5 games behind the struggling first-place Tigers, and just 3.5 games back in the Wild Card race. As good as that sounds coming off three consecutive 90-loss seasons, it’s still just one win better than last year’s dumpster fire through as many games. Entering Sunday, their PECOTA projected remainder of the season record was 48-54, with just a 9.3% chance of making the playoffs – both numbers factoring in the addition of Morales. This year’s squad is certainly improved, but even with Morales the prospect of competing into September seems pretty unlikely.

Does this make signing Morales a bad move? Certainly not. The Twins took advantage of a chance to improve the team, and as noted by Szymborski, did so without hindering their rebuilding process. Ideally Josmil Pinto would have gotten some of those DH at-bats moving forward, but that seems unlikely given manager Ron Gardenhire’s insane proclivity against starting both Pinto and Kurt Suzuki together without a third catcher on the roster. Further, if the team falters over the next two months, they should be able to flip Morales to a contender at the deadline.

As for the notion of contending in 2014? If that is really management’s belief, then it needs to be pursued with an unwavering eye on the organization’s future. That means promoting Alex Meyer and/or Trevor May in mid-June, cutting bait with the awful Kevin Correia in the process. It means recalling Sam Fuld as soon as he’s deemed healthy and sending Aaron Hicks to Rochester, where he can actually play every day and start adjusting to life as a full-time right-handed hitter. It means platooning Danny Santana at shortstop, since he has zero future in center and at least a chance at solidifying the former position until the anticipated arrival of Nick Gordon in 2017. And it means giving Pinto a majority of starts at catcher over the season’s second half, as Kurt Suzuki steadily falls back to earth.

There is more than one way to execute a rebuild. The team in the visitor’s dugout this past weekend went with the burn-it-to-the-ground approach, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to contend in the midst of an overhaul. That said, there are certain players on this year’s Twins team that will likely be key contributors on the next legitimate contender, and their development must remain paramount as the season progresses. #p2c

The Rundown: Shortstop Shakeup

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On Tuesday, Jason Parks and the Baseball Prospectus prospect staff wrote an article assessing the industry’s views on baseball’s four shortstop uber-prospects: Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, and Addison Russell. That quartet, along with Red Sox rookie Xander Bogarts, comprise the strongest crop of shortstop prospects since the trio of Alex Rodriquez, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra debuted in the mid-90s. If you’re one of the five teams lucky enough to boast one of these up-and-comers, your future at the position is in good hands. Alas, the Twins are not one of those teams.

More than any other position on the diamond in recent years, the Twins have consistently struggled to get adequate production from the six-hole. Over the past decade, they have managed to field an above replacement shortstop in just four seasons, with Jason Bartlett’s 2007 representing the only truly good season of the bunch. In that time, just three teams have gotten worse offensive production from the position. The team’s incumbent, Pedro Florimon, sports a career line of .215/.275/.315 and is off to another blistering start this season (2-for-20), making it clear that the solution does not reside on the current roster.

It should come as no surprise, then, that on Monday the Twins acquired shortstop Eduardo Nunez from the Yankees in exchange for minor league pitcher Miguel Sulbaran. The 20-year-old Sulbaran, acquired last year from the Dodgers in exchange for catcher Drew Butera, had posted solid numbers over three minor league seasons, but had yet to advance past low-A ball. Though a decent get for the no-hit Butera, he failed to make the Twins top-30 prospects list according to Baseball America and was thus deemed disposable. So what do the Twins get in Nunez? Simply put, he is the anti-Florimon.

                      G  AVG  OBP  SLG  BB%  K%  wRC+ E DRS UZR UZR/150

Florimon  188 .215   .275   .315   7.3%  25.1%   62      26    19    0.7       0.6

Nunez        270 .267  .313   .379   6.2%  12.3%   86      30  -39  -30.6   -33.9

Though his career numbers are anything but elite, Nunez clearly rates as an above-average offensive player at the shortstop position. He strikes out half as much as Florimon, gets on base more often, and hits for more power. On the other hand, whereas Florimon has been an above average defender, Nunez has cost the Yankees at least three wins in his brief time at short (though he’s been less awful at third base). Both players have committed an inordinate number of errors, but Florimon’s range has allowed him to compensate for those mistakes in a way that Nunez simply cannot. Essentially, the Twins now possess two flawed alternatives, and the question becomes which skill set the organization values more.

Given that they made no real effort to acquire a replacement for Florimon this offseason (at least that we are aware of), the Twins clearly liked the glove enough last year to overlook his black-hole offense. On the other hand, this is the same team that is actively trying to convert a 34-year-old Bartlett into a backup outfielder and recently started Jason Kubel and Chris Colabello at the corners (in the same game!), so defense is clearly not the organization’s end-all, be-all. With Nunez ticketed for Triple-A, Florimon does not appear to be in imminent danger of losing his hold on the starting gig. However, if the defense slips at all and his average continues to hover around the Mendoza Line, the club would be wise to see what it has in Nunez in what figures to be another lost season.

Lastly, it remains to be seen what effect the acquisition of Nunez will have on Danny Santana, the team’s ninth-rated prospect (via BA) and someone viewed as a possible replacement for Florimon down the road. Santana has proven incapable of drawing a walk and commits an obscene amount of errors, but he has hit at every level and had been starting for Triple-A Rochester to begin the season. If Nunez becomes the team’s new starting shortstop, a demotion to Double-A New Britain is not out of the question for Santana, who at this point in his development needs as many reps in the field as he can get.

The trade for Nunez will likely have little impact on the future of the Twins, but if nothing else it serves as another story to follow in what will likely be another long season in the land of 10,000 lakes. #p2c

Sending the Wrong Message

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It has been 79 days since the last time I wrote about the Twins. There are several reasons for the hiatus, a new job and a move to OKC chief among them. But it also had a lot do with the team itself, and the fact that there is only so much you can say about a team that has racked up 291 losses over the past three seasons (!!!). In a world where seemingly every baseball fan has his own blog, there are only so many articles to write about Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. But on the eve of a ten-hour drive back home to South Dakota for Thanksgiving, I feel compelled to say a few things about the most recent Twins Hot Stove report, one that apparently has them pushing for two more years of Mike Pelfrey.

This past weekend, I found myself defending a tweet about the team’s rumored interest in Bronson Arroyo. For what it’s worth, I could care less whether the team spends a dime on starting pitching this offseason. Next year promises to be another long season in Twins territory regardless, and in today’s MLB landscape where losing is rewarded by larger international bonus pools and higher draft spending allotments, if the team is going to be bad again it might as well be really bad. That logic notwithstanding, the point I was trying to make with Arroyo is that by signing a proven starting pitcher (albeit one who will be 37 years old next season) to a legitimate multiyear contract (one approaching $10M annually), the Twins front office would at least send a message to fans – and more importantly the rest of baseball – that it understands the current free agent market. If nothing else, such a deal would demonstrate an awareness that the only way to sign a reputable free agent starting pitcher in 2013 – one with a better track record than Kevin Correia or Mike Pelfrey – is to pay the going rate. After three straight 90-loss seasons during which I watched more games than I care to admit, that’s all I’m really looking for this offseason – some indication that things will be different going forward.

Which brings me back to Pelfrey. I have nothing against Mike Pelfrey as a person. He was a perfectly adequate fifth starter last year, and I’m sure he will be something similar for whichever team he pitches for in 2014. But that is all he is, and that is all he will ever be. Pelfrey has been a borderline replacement-level starter throughout his entire eight-year career, and if there is one thing the Twins don’t need right now, it is another one of those. Is paying market value for Arroyo, Ricky Nolasco, or any other mid-tier free agent starter going to make the Twins contenders in 2014? Hell no…far from it. But at some point, the symbolism of signing such a player becomes just as important as the name on the back of his jersey.

The next year promises to be a very important one for the Minnesota Twins. A wave of prospects via the best farm system in baseball will soon be arriving in droves, making contention in the not-so-distant future a legitimate possibility. With an estimated $30-$40 million to play with this offseason and just two players under contract in 2015, the free agent decisions made by Terry Ryan and company going forward will ultimately determine how quickly that promise becomes a reality. But the team cannot afford to wait until Buxton is patrolling center and Sano is manning the hot corner to start making good decisions. The time has come for the organization to demonstrate that it is capable of more than just procuring young talent. In my  opinion, signing up for two more years of Mike Pelfrey does not send that message. #p2c

The Rundown: Belated Arizona Fall League Roster Analysis

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Last week, the Twins announced the seven players that will represent the organization in the Arizona Fall League this year. It’s been a busy month for this guy (hence the first blog post in three weeks), but with the end of the minor league seasons upon us, I thought it would be as good a time as any to weigh in on those seven selections.

Notably, this group of Twins prospects is as talented as any team could have sent. As noted by Baseball America’s John Manuel, teams send players to the AFL for a variety of reasons – as a finishing school for their top prospects, to get extra innings or plate appearances for players that have missed time due to injury, or as a way to evaluate players for 40-man roster consideration prior to the Rule 5 draft in December. As highlighted below, each of these justifications is reflected in this year’s Twins selections to some extent.

So without further adieu, I present my highly anticipated 2013 Twins AFL roster rundown. Players are listed in reverse order of prospect status (as determined by industry consensus), with their rank within the organization heading into this season in parentheses.

  • A.J. Achter (NR): Drafted by the Twins in the 46th round of the 2010 draft out of Michigan State, Achter is a 25-year-old right-handed reliever who split this season between AA New Britain and AAA Rochester. Though he posted solid ERAs at both stops (2.21 in 36.2 IP at New Britain, 3.04 in 23.2 IP at Rochester), his peripherals leave much to be desired. Steadily declining strikeout rates combined with relatively high walk rates suggest that he has been outperforming his true talent, as reflected in his FIPs at each level (3.94 and 5.48, respectively). Achter will be entering his fourth full season with the organization, and thus he is likely pitching for a place on the 40-man roster. With a number of good relievers in the majors and several promising power arms in the system, Achter will have another month or so to show that he is worthy of a spot next season.
  • Zach Jones (NR): Like Achter, Jones is a right-handed reliever drafted by the Twins out of college, taken in the 4th round of the 2012 draft out of San Jose State University. Jones spent the entire 2013 season with High-A Fort Myers, registering 14 saves while serving as the team’s dominant shutdown closer. In 48.2 IP, he posted a miniscule 1.85 ERA (2.71 FIP) and racked up an impressive 70 strikeouts compared to just 28 walks. Jones is an interesting choice by the Twins, given that he’s at least a year away from having to be added to the 40-man. Obviously the team has liked what it has seen from Jones this season, enough to want to see how he performs against the more talented bats of the AFL. He will likely open next season at AA New Britain, but before then will have one more chance to impress the organization.
  • Trevor May (#10): May probably has more to prove in Arizona than any other player on this list. Acquired along with Vance Worley from the Phillies last year in the trade for Ben Revere, May’s 2013 has to be considered somewhat of a disappointment. In his second consecutive full season at the AA level, he put up very similar numbers to his 2012 campaign, posting impressive strikeout totals while again struggling with his control. Still, there were some positive signs. May’s strikeout rate actually increased slightly from the previous year (9.08 to 9.44), and though still way too high, he did manage to lower his walk rate (4.69 to 3.98). The 4.51 ERA is less than impressive, but it was likely due in large part to a .329 BABIP, as his 3.79 FIP is solid (especially considering the number of free passes issued). The right-handed May was promoted to AAA Rochester at the end of the season, and he is currently pitching out of the Red Wings bullpen during the playoffs. As a power pitcher, his arm likely profiles well as a late-inning reliever, but in an organization bereft of starting pitching he will be given every opportunity to start. May is already on the 40-man roster, and he will likely open next season as a starter with Rochester. A solid showing in the AFL would be a nice confidence builder heading into next year, and would be a positive end to an otherwise ho-hum season. More importantly, it would be a welcome sign for the pitching-starved Twins, who are counting on May to be part of the rotation solution.
  • Max Kepler (#9): A native of Germany who signed with the Twins as a 17-year-old in 2010, Kepler heads to the AFL needing at bats. After missing the entire first half of the 2013 season due to an elbow injury, Kepler finally debuted at the end of June and spent the entire season at Low-A Cedar Rapids. Not surprisingly, he looked like a player trying to shake off the rust, slashing just .237/.308/.424 over the second half. He did flash impressive power though, hitting nine home runs and 11 doubles while driving in 40 runs in just 61 games. Heading into his fifth professional season, Kepler is a virtual lock to be added to the 40-man roster. Primarily an outfielder throughout most of his career, he is listed as a first baseman on the AFL roster. Given the depth of impressive outfield prospects within the organization and the lack of a clear-cut first baseman of the future, it is worth watching how Kepler handles himself at the corner. His bat profiles well at the position, and he is young and athletic enough that he should be able to make such a transition. If he remains in the outfield, Kepler could also represent a valuable trade chip in the team’s quest to acquire starting pitching. Regardless of which position he plays, how his bat fares against AFL pitching will likely go a long ways in determining where he opens up next season.
  • Eddie Rosario (#7): Rosario has generally been overshadowed by uber prospect Miguel Sano throughout much of his young career, and this year was no different. Still, the 21-year-old has emerged as a top-three second base prospect in all of the minor leagues – primarily thanks to his bat, which continues to hit at every level. After starting the season at High-A Fort Myers, Rosario earned a mid-season promotion by slashing .329/.379/.527 in 52 games. He was not quite as good at AA New Britain, but he still managed to post a solid .284/.330/.412 line over 70 games there (numbers that would have been even better if not for a tough August at the plate). With the surprising emergence of Brian Dozier this season, Rosario’s immediate future is somewhat unclear. If Dozier is able to duplicate his breakout 2013 performance next year, there may not be an immediate opening for Rosario at second base with the Twins. He is a converted outfielder, so there is always the option of moving him back to a corner spot. He has worked hard to become an adequate defender at the keystone, however, and his bat is obviously much more valuable as a second baseman. Assuming he continues to hit, either he or Dozier could be expendable as another asset to be used to acquire pitching. Regardless, it is a problem the organization would surely be glad to have. With a strong AFL, Rosario could be ticketed for AAA Rochester to start next season.
  • Alex Meyer (#6): Meyer is the great white hope, the closest thing the Twins have had to a hard-throwing, top shelf starting pitcher since Johan Santana (apologies to Francisco Liriano). Acquired from the Nationals last year in the trade for Denard Span, the 6-foot-9 right-hander was generally as advertised this season, racking up plenty of strikeouts thanks to one of the best fastballs in the minor leagues. After opening the season in the Gulf Coast League, Meyer was quickly promoted to AA New Britain, where he posted a 3.21 ERA (2.73 FIP) with 84 strikeouts in just 70 IP. Sadly, he missed almost two months of the season with a bout of shoulder soreness (!!!), a quick reminder of the fragility of pitching prospects. Fortunately, Meyer was able to return for two short starts at the end of the season, and he looked every bit his dominant self. Meyer heads to the AFL in search of innings. If he can manage to finish the season healthy, he will likely open next year at AAA Rochester. Given the club’s complete lack of quality rotation pieces, Meyer is likely to get a long look by the coaching staff in spring training, and he is almost certain to debut sometime in 2014. Along with Kyle Gibson, he will be expected to lead a rebuilt starting staff on the next competitive Twins team, one that will hopefully make fans forget about the past three seasons.
  • Byron Buxton (#2): What is there to say? He went .341/.431/.559 with Low-A Cedar Rapids, winning Midwest League MVP despite playing in just 68 games. Following a promotion to High-A Fort Myers, he struggled to the tune of .326/.415/.472 over 57 games. He combined to hit 19 doubles, 18 triples, and 12 homeruns. He drew 76 walks, drove in 77 runs, and scored 109 times. He added 55 stolen bases and gold-glove caliber defense at a premium position. He is just 19-years-old and is already the consensus number one prospect in baseball. All hail Lord Byron.

The Glendale Desert Dogs play their AFL opener in just over a month. There are only 23 games left in this awesome Twins season. And 2014 is right around the corner. #p2c

Brian Dozier: Strongest Man Alive

This morning at Gammons Daily, Peter Gammons posted a table of the top 15 pull hitters in MLB this year in terms of slugging percentage. Without a doubt, the most unlikely name on the list is Brian Dozier, one of just three middle infielders listed.
2013 MLB: Top Sluggers When Pulling the Ball
G PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS HR% BABIP wOBA
Chris Carter (HOU) 70 108 .472 .463 1.019 1.482 15.1% .370 .604
Carlos Gonzalez (COL) 72 110 .436 .436 .991 1.427 12.7% .354 .584
Domonic Brown (PHI) 89 154 .390 .390 .922 1.312 14.9% .282 .536
Paul Goldschmidt (ARI) 83 116 .421 .414 .904 1.317 13.2% .327 .538
Colby Rasmus (TOR) 83 119 .479 .479 .891 1.370 8.4% .431 .574
Dan Uggla (ATL) 76 118 .407 .407 .890 1.297 14.4% .307 .535
Brian Dozier (MIN) 79 128 .452 .452 .889 1.341 8.7% .400 .549
Pedro Alvarez (PIT) 72 110 .345 .345 .882 1.227 16.4% .217 .498
Carlos Gomez (MIL) 83 129 .438 .434 .875 1.309 10.2% .371 .541
Miguel Cabrera (DET) 88 143 .448 .448 .860 1.308 12.6% .368 .547
Mark Trumbo (LAA) 90 133 .394 .391 .856 1.247 13.6% .296 .512
Justin Upton (ATL) 84 127 .433 .433 .843 1.276 11.0% .363 .532
Ian Desmond (WSH) 80 110 .400 .400 .827 1.227 11.8% .320 .509
Marlon Byrd (NYM) 78 131 .469 .466 .823 1.289 8.5% .417 .541
Chris Davis (BAL) 89 132 .400 .394 .823 1.217 10.0% .328 .499

Dozier is in the midst of what has to be considered a breakout year of sorts. After a terrible first two months of the season, he now sits tenth in wRC+ among qualified second basemen, meaning he’s been one of the better offensive players at the position in spite of an uninspiring .243 batting average. As chronicled at Twins Daily, the turnaround is largely the result of a mechanical adjustment in his swing made towards the end of May, one that has since allowed him to turn on inside pitches more effectively and pull the ball with more power. Hence his presence on a list of some of the game’s most prodigious power hitters. Baseball is weird. #p2c

Pumping the Brakes

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On Saturday night, the Twins faced off against White Sox ace Chris Sale, widely regarded as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in just his second season as a full-time starter. They countered with an “ace” of their own in Canadian lefty Andrew Albers, a 27-year-old journeyman who was pitching in the independent Can-Am league as recently as 2010. I refer to Albers as an ace not because I believe that he is one (far from it), but because just two starts into his career he was being hailed as one by fans and the media alike. Fortunately, the matchup served as a great reminder of what a real ace looks like, and he most certainly does not reside in the home team’s dugout.

Albers’ story is truly unique, yet his is an all-too-familiar one for this particular Twins fan. While some take joy in watching him pitch, I am simply reminded of how many times I have seen this narrative play out before. His incredible debut aside, Albers is a fringe major league starter with almost no pedigree and below-average stuff. There is a reason he was not called up before P.J. Walters…or Samuel Deduno…or Kyle Gibson. There is a reason he was still pitching in the minor leagues at the age of 27. There is a reason he is not pitching for a contender.

This is not to take anything away from Albers himself. His journey to the big leagues is an incredible one, and the perseverance he showed throughout that journey is commendable. His story and others like it are what separate baseball from every other sport, and what make it so uniquely special. He is a feel good story, and for his sake I hope he pitches like Cy Young for the rest of this season and beyond. But I am tired of feel good stories.

It is fine to appreciate what Albers is doing, but let us not forget why he is in the position to do so in the first place. He is exactly the type of pitcher that turned the Twins into a perennial 90-loss team, and he is exactly the type of pitcher that they need to let go of in order to get out of their current mess and get back to respectability. As Aaron Gleeman tweeted last week, Andrew Albers is really nothing more than Scott Diamond, the man he replaced in the rotation. And Scott Diamond was really nothing more than Nick Blackburn, the back-end starter that came before him. And on and on it goes.

I hope that people paid attention Saturday night, because after three years of batting practice, it is easy to forget what a good starting pitcher looks like. Chris Sale is an ace. Andrew Albers is not. How about we stop pretending otherwise. #p2c

In Memoriam: Nick Blackburn

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The Twins have announced that starting pitcher Nick Blackburn will have surgery on Friday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, likely ending both his season and his career in Minnesota. This will be Blackburn’s third procedure in the past calendar year, and he has been limited to just six minor league starts this season as a result. With the Twins holding an $8M club option for 2014, this will surely mark the end of his time with the organization.

Blackburn debuted with the Twins in 2007, appearing in six games out of the bullpen as a September call-up that season. He cracked the starting rotation out of spring training the following year, and put together remarkably similar back-to-back solid campaigns in 2008-09.

              W-L   GS   IP       K%    BB%   HR/FB   ERA     FIP     fWAR   rWAR

2008:   11-11   33   193.1   11.7     4.7       10.0           4.05      4.40     2.4         2.3

2009:   11-11   33   205.2   11.1     4.7       9.4            4.03      4.37     2.9         3.2

Blackburn parlayed those two years into a four-year contract worth $14M dollars, a deal that bought out all of his arbitration-eligible seasons with the Twins. Unfortunately for both parties, he was never the same pitcher after 2009 – put another way, he was awful. Over the next three years, Blackburn’s miniscule walk rates regressed, his already terrible strikeout rates got even worse, and his HR/FB rates skyrocketed. Factor in a lost 2013 season, and he has been worth a total of 0.1 WAR over the life of the deal via FanGraphs, and an even sadder -1.7 WAR according to Baseball Reference (!!!).

For the Twins, the Blackburn contract represents one of the worst in a series of bad moves made by then general manager Bill Smith in his four stellar years at the helm (hat tip to Tsuyoshi Nishioka). Though it seemed defensible at the time given his numbers over the previous two seasons, the deal was essentially a premature long-term investment in a starter incapable of striking batters out (Blackburn’s 11.4% strikeout rate was 5th worst in MLB in that span, among a top 25 that also included future Twins fireballers Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia…just wow). It came at a time when smart front offices were increasingly valuing strikeout pitchers, and was a bad harbinger of things to come regarding the team’s approach to targeting and developing starting pitching. Indeed, perhaps no other pitcher epitomizes the “pitching to contact” philosophy that has so haunted the organization in recent years more than Nick Blackburn.

For all of the hate that I have (perhaps wrongfully) directed at Blackburn over the past four seasons, part of me wanted to see him pitch at Target Field one last time this season. I hope that he bounces back from his most recent surgery and gets a chance to start for another organization next year – preferably in the AL Central, for obvious reasons. Regardless, his legend will live on in this blog and elsewhere throughout Twins territory as a symbol of the dark times, and his exit as a sign of better days ahead. Deuces Blackie. #p2c

The Rundown: JC to KC

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The Twins made their second trade in two weeks on Sunday, dealing infielder Jamey Carroll to division rival Kansas City for cash considerations or a PTBNL (i.e. nothing). According to manager Ned Yost, the 39-year-old Carroll will form a platoon with incumbent Chris Getz at second base, while also backing up third base and shortstop for the Royals.

For the Twins, the deal will have little (if any) impact on the team’s future. Carroll was in the second year of a two-year $6.5M contract, and given his age and recent performance the team was unlikely to pick up his option for 2014. The notoriously light-hitting utility man has struggled mightily on offense this season, slashing just .230/.283/.262 in 206 plate appearances over 58 games. In fact, Carroll has been one of the ten worst hitters in MLB this year in terms of wRC+, a league- and park-adjusted measure of total offensive value. The Twins will likely look to the younger and cheaper Eduardo Escobar to replace Carroll going forward, as both are similar in terms of defensive versatility (good) and offensive production (not so much).

As for Carroll, the move means more consistent playing time and the opportunity to join a playoff race, no small thing given that he’s been to the postseason just once in his entire career (with the Rockies in 2007). The Royals have been a black hole at second base all season, and Carroll at worst presents another option at the position. It is also possible that Carroll will be energized by the change of scenery and the chance to play for a contender, with the Royals just 4.5 games back in the Wild Card standings as of Monday.

The biggest void left by Carroll in Minnesota will likely be his veteran presence in the clubhouse. By all accounts, he was very well-regarded by players and coaches alike, as evidenced by tweets from some of his now former teammates upon learning that he had been traded. That value is hard to quantify, but a young group of infielders clearly benefitted from Carroll’s year and a half with the organization.

In another move that will not garner much attention around baseball, the Twins took another small step forward with this deal. The team unloaded an underperforming veteran utility infielder who would have just been bought out during the offseason, and in doing so freed up playing time for the development of other players who may end up contributing to a contender down the road. It’s essentially addition by subtraction, and just the type of trade this organization should be looking to make in the midst of another lost season. #p2c

Tooled Up

The folks at Baseball America just released their annual “best tools” lists for 2013, and a few present and future Twins actually made the cut. The major league list was compiled based on the opinions of big league managers (probably not the best choice of evaluators, but whatevs), and the minor league lists were put together by the BA staff. Without further adieu, the lists.

Major League Baseball:

  • Best Hitter: Joe Mauer (#3)
  • Best Strike-Zone Judgement: Joe Mauer (#2)
  • Best Hit-and-Run Artist: Jamey Carroll (#2)
  • Best Defensive Catcher: Joe Mauer (#3)

AAA (International League):

        …nothing to see here…

AA (Eastern League):

  • Best Power Prospect: Miguel Sano
  • Best Strike-Zone Judgement: Josmil Pinto
  • Best Defensive SS: Danny Santana
  • Best Infield Arm: Miguel Sano

A+ (Florida State League):

  • Best Batting Prospect: Miguel Sano
  • Best Power Prospect: Miguel Sano
  • Fastest Baserunner: Byron Buxton
  • Best Defensive OF: Byron Buxton
  • Most Exciting Player: Miguel Sano

A (Midwest League):

  • Best Batting Prospect: Byron Buxton
  • Best Power Prospect: Adam Brett Walker
  • Best Defensive 2B: Jorge Polanco
  • Best Defensive OF: Byron Buxton
  • Most Exciting Player: Byron Buxton
  • Best Manager Prospect: Jake Mauer

Observations: Jamey Carroll is an artist. Buxton and Sano are good at baseball. There is very little pitching talent in this organization. #p2c

Tweets by @jdotmcmahon



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