Monday, December 20, 2010

Brew Crew Lands Greinke

I was a little [read: a lot] surprised to read on Saturday that the Brewers landed Zack Greinke in a 4-for-2 trade that saw Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi go to the Royals in exchange for the right-hander, Yuniesky Betancourt, and $2MM cash. Escobar and Cain both played at the Major League level last year while Jeffress and Odorizzi fall solidly into the prospect category. I can't help but feel a little sad for Royals fans, this is the umpteenth good player to leave the organization in the last 10 years, not many people attend Royals games anyway, but they may have even less reason to now.

In examining the trade, it actually looks pretty good, and even has the potential to benefit the Royals more than the Brewers long-term; let's go player-by-player: 

1.) Alcides Escobar - SS
Escobar was considered a 5-Star prospect (their highest rating) by Baseball Prospectus and was also considered the Brewers top prospect by Baseball America prior to last season. He spent the entire year up with the Major League club after a spot opened up following the JJ Hardy trade. Escobar was underwhelming at the plate with a .235/.288/.326 hitting line. However, he was above-average defensively and he is only 24. Not only that, his Minor League track record (.293/.333/.377) suggests he's likely to become a much more consistent hitter at the plate. If that were to happen and his defense was to continue to be above-average, he would quickly become one of the more valuable shortstops in the game. 

2.) Lorenzo Cain - CF/OF
Cain also got Major League experience last year and showed off quite a bat (.306/.348/.415 in 158PAs). Cain was drafted by the Brewers in the 17th round of the 2004 draft and though he spent parts of 6 years in the Minors, he is still only 24 years old and has not only proven he can hit, he has also flashed some excellent speed and base-stealing abilities. Between 2 minor league levels and the Majors last year, he stole 33 bases while only being caught 4 times. Cain figures to be an everyday CFer for the Royals and if he can keep that hitting up, could be a superstar in a short time. 

3.) Jeremy Jeffress - RP/SP (maybe)
Jeffress was selected by the Brewers with the 16th pick in the 2006 Amateur Draft. To say the Royals are taking a major gamble on Jeffress is an understatement. Jeremy has had numerous substance abuse problems and that resulted in a 100-game suspension in 2009 causing him to miss most of 2009 and half of the 2010 season. When Jeffress has been pitching, he's been great at times, highlighted best by this past season which saw him pitch in 24 games and compile a 2.23ERA and 0.92WHIP in 32.1 innings while striking out batters to the tune of 12.0 per 9-innings pitched. Jeffress' best pitch is his fastball which averaged 96-mph this past year. That is some rare-company, only 2 starting pitchers and 6 relievers averaged a faster fastball this past season. If Jeffress can stay away from drugs and stay on a straight-line, he could be incredibly valuable, but again, considering his track record, it's quite a gamble. 

4.) Jake Odorizzi - SP
Odorizzi was taken in the 1st round (32nd pick) of the 2008 Amateur draft and is easily the most unpolished prospect in the deal having only reached Single-A this past year. That said, he probably has the most upside and is an pretty intriguing prospect having compiled a 3.43ERA, 1.15WHIP and 10.1 K/9 in 120.2 innings as a starter last season. As impressive as those stats is the fact that he's just a kid at 20-years-old. More than a few articles have used the words "sensation" and "phenom" when talking about Jake and considering he was drafted in the 1st round right out of high school, there may be something to that. More than likely we will see Odorizzi pitching in the Majors within the next two years and he has the potential to be the Royals next Greinke.

So I couldn't help but compare the Brewers offer to what the Twins could have offered...let's just say, the comparison isn't much of a comparison at all. Even if the Twins had given up their two best prospects which is generally thought of to be some combination of Revere, Hicks and Gibson it wouldn't really approach the potential of Odorizzi and Jeffress, and then you throw two young talents like Cain and Escobar,, the Brewers really "gave away the farm" to get Greinke and that's no understatement. If they don't win a World Series title within the next couple of years (or this year for that matter), they will toil in mediocrity for awhile because unless they raise payroll substantially they will lose Prince Fielder and possibly Ryan Braun as well leaving them with a tattered infield and outfield and no decent prospects to replace them. Good luck Brewers!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I'm a little surprised that there hasn't been more written about Jesse Crain today, considering that he was signed BY THE WHITE SOX yesterday, getting a 3-year deal worth a reported $13M. When I read it I literally said, out loud, "What the F*#%." Crain's deal represents a pretty good raise (he made $2M last year) and it's probably overall a stupid move on the White Sox part, but what really sucks is that he went to a division opponent...

I really don't see the vision of the Twins front-office this's getting to the point of absurdity. First (not in chronological order) you trade a VALUABLE short-stop in JJ Hardy for 2 minor-league also-rans. Then you make a run at a Japanese League player (Nishioka) who is completely unproven and every bit as injury-prone as the shortstop you had. Then you watch two of your bullpen stalwarts from last year walk, one to a team within the division. Then you give pretty much everyone the impression that you're trying to sign a 35-year-old pitcher with a lengthy injury history to a multi-year deal. And on top of all that you're probably going to overpay a reliever you traded ONE OF YOUR TOP PROSPECTS for last year. Man, when I look at all of that together in one paragraph, my blood starts to boil, who is running this team and what have they done???

Here's how my blueprint for the off-season would have gone, unfortunately it's WAY too late for any of this to play out:

1.) Re-sign JJ Hardy to a two-year deal, $12-$14M
Rationale: Hardy's had a mediocre two year stretch and he's still one of the top 10 at his position. His defense alone almost makes it worth re-signing him and if he had been able to play the next two years at a level similar to his 2010 second-half production, he would have made a very valuable, and very affordable SS. Instead the Twins decided to blow $5M on a posting-fee for an unproven Japanese player and then sign the kid to what will likely be a 3-year, $10M deal...where did you save all that much money in that equation??

2.) Trade Danny Valencia, a prospect Kevin Slowey/Nick Blackburn ($3M) to the Indians for Fausto Carmona
Rationale: I'm not sure how the money works out there, but the Indians are clearly in cost-savings mode considering they recently slashed ticket prices and are set to have one of the more meager payrolls in baseball this coming season. Let's all be honest with ourselves, Danny Valencia is never going to duplicate what he did last season and the Twins need pitching. Say the Indians bite on Blackburn, Valencia and Hick/Revere/Somebody. The Twins starting rotation then looks like Liriano, Carmona, Baker, Slowey, Duensing...not bad. For a mere $28M the Twins could keep Carmona through 2014. Total addition to the payroll this year: ~$3M

3.) Let Carl Pavano walk, let Matt Capps walk
Rationale: I don't care what the argument is, re-signing Pavano is not a good idea in ANY situation I can see, unless you're talking about a one-year deal and let's be honest, some other team out there is going to be willing to give him more than one-year, I just don't want it to be the Twins and CERTAINLY not for $10-$15M per. As for Matt Capps, come on Billy, you f-ed up, just admit it and move on and drop Capps, it's not worth keeping him.

4.) Try and sign Adrian Beltre
Rationale: Sometimes you have to go for it and that, for the Twins, means extending that payroll, maybe even a little beyond what's comfortable...or practical...kinda like what the White Sox are doing right now. Anyway, the consensus seems to be that 5-years and $70M would do it...that's about $14M per, it's steep, but you're getting a very solid defensive 3rd basemen with quite a bat. He wouldn't duplicate his home-run binge from last year if he played at Target Field, but he would certainly hit his share of doubles and be a nice addition to the Mauer/Morneau combo.

5.) I suppose there's no way, given the previous scenarios I've laid out, to re-sign either Crain or Guerrier, but if the Twins hadn't idiotically committed to re-signing Capps, they'd have a nice bit of change to make a run at it. Short of that, as Gleeman pointed out today, there should be a number of serviceable arms left after this initial bullpen feeding frenzy to piece something together.

So it's pie-in-the-sky. Unfortunately Hardy is already gone and the Twins have already managed to bungle up this off-season pretty badly. I'm really trying to be optimistic, but this is some pretty poor decision making. Maybe I'll be wrong, maybe Nishioka turns into an infield version of Ichiro, maybe the Twins call up Gibson and he becomes David Price-esque. Maybe, maybe, maybe. I see all that, but to me, "maybes" don't win championships and when you're this close, I'd rather spend the extra money to have the better bets. Until the Twins front-office can focus more on the talent than the bottom-line, I fear we will continue to be stuck where they're at, decent, but not championship material.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Phillies the new Miami Heat (Lee the new LeBron)?

Something is bound to go wrong. Not since the early '90s with the Braves have we seen this kind of talent assembled in one starting rotation. In case you've been staying in a remote village for the last week, or for some ridiculous reason my blog is your homepage, Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies overnight and joins Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels in what is bar-none the best starting 4 in all of baseball. Two thoughts: 

a) How ironic is it that the very blueprint the Yankees used for success in the late '90s and early '00s is coming back to bite them now? By that I mean, the Yankees used to suck up top-talent after top-talent in free-agency year after year which helped them, to some degree, win 5 world series championships in the last 14 years. Now, teams like the Red Sox and Phillies have adopted a somewhat similar strategy (especially the Red Sox) in acquiring expensive talent to build winning ballclubs. In this case, one of the teams following that blue-print gobbled up a prize free-agent in a last-minute deal. Fear not Yankee fans, the Yankees will find somebody else, it may cost them a little bit, but this will only serve to make them more aggressive on the market. 

b) I couldn't help but think about the somewhat obvious similarities to LeBron's big Decision and the mass of talent that the Miami Heat now have. There are some huge differences between baseball and basketball which will make it worlds easier for the Phillies to hold this much talent together, but still, the whole "buying a championship" thing...I don't know, it seems pretty lame. I can't help but think a little less of Lee for doing what he decided to do. For one thing, he turned down an opportunity to pitch on the biggest stage in baseball, He fled to the weaker and easier National League, and he went to the team packed with talent where he won't even be considered the best pitcher on the staff. You could give Lee props for doing what he wanted to do in going back to a team that traded him away, you could give him a pat on the back for giving his wife's wishes some consideration, but the main thing that separates Lee from LeBron is that he didn't make a big spectacle of it, he just let his agent do the work and kept out of the spotlight. I like that he didn't make a big deal out of it. The media did that for him. He just let the cards fall and it turns out, he got as good of a deal from the Phillies as he would have anywhere else and he gets to pitch in the much more pitcher-friendly National League. In the words of Ethel Merman, "everything's coming up roses"...for Lee that is.

Nothing's for sure, injuries happen, pitchers break down, offenses can go cold, etc, etc. That being said, if everything works out for the Phillies, you have to think that they'll be strong contenders for the World Series, check out this rotation: 

1.) Roy Halladay - 2 Cy Young Awards, 7 All-Star Appearances, 169 Career Wins
2.) Cliff Lee - 1 Cy Young Award, 2 All-Star Appearances, 102 Career Wins
3.) Roy Oswalt - 5 Top Five Cy Young Finishes, 3 All-Star Appearances, 150 Career Wins
4.) Cole Hamels - 1 All-Star Appearance, 60 Career Wins
5.) Who knows. Blanton?

Cliff Lee has the highest career ERA of any of those 4 pitchers at 3.85, between them they have 3 Cy Youngs, 16 Top-10 Cy Young finishes, 481 wins and 13 All-Star Appearances. Lee is now locked up for 5 years, Cole Hamels will be arbitration eligible starting in 2012, Oswalt is signed through next year and has a mutual option for 2012 and Halladay is signed through 2014. In other words, this isn't just a one-year, one-shot thing, this group will be in Philly for at least the next 2 years and possibly longer than that. Wow.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hardy Reaction

I've been reading around the Twins blogs and other blogs for the past hour or so soaking up the various opinions on the JJ Hardy trade the Twins executed today with the Baltimore Orioles. Had I any time to write a post earlier today I might have gone by the numbers and tried to make a case one way or the other, but I'm late to the game so I'll skip that and just give straight up opinion.

Back in October I wrote a piece laying out an argument for bringing back Hardy and claiming that he should be the Twins #1 priority to re-sign in the much for that. The bottomline for my argument was that a) Hardy is way more valuable when compared to other shortstops and what's available than he looks to be standing alone and b) $7M is not too much to pay for a proven defensive commodity with offensive upside. As Nick Nelson highlighted in his opinion of the trade, the Twins now find themselves with a very unstable and highly risky setup at SS and 2nd, relying heavily on a very average Alexi Casilla and an unproven Tsuyoshi Nishioka (provided the Twins do actually sign him). Granted, they did save, by all accounts, about $3-$4M in salary between what Hardy would have gotten and Harris' salary, but I'm not sure that savings justifies the trade.

The most irritating thing I'm reading through all of this is that this trade would somehow be justified if the Twins turn around and re-sign Carl Pavano. Um...NO, IT WOULDN'T. First of all, re-signing a 35-year old pitcher to a 3-year deal and then saying that it somehow justifies trading away a semi-valuable 28-year-old shortstop is idiotic logic. For another thing, I'm sick of hearing about how resigning Pavano is a good idea. It's not a good idea. The guy has a track record of injury and locking him in till he's 38 is just asking to get screwed. One and a half seasons of decent baseball does not a 3-year contract merit. What the Twins outta do is pursue a trade for an arm that other people aren't talking Fausto Carmona or Wandy Rodriguez.

Twins Geek suggested that this move means the Twins payroll will only go up by 10-15% instead of 25%, I'm just not following the logic there. I think the Orioles offered the Twins those two also-ran minor league pitchers and the Twins front-office said (wisely), "why don't you take this flour-sack-of-a-player Brendan Harris off our hands too, ya know, to make the deal resemble something fair." And the Orioles said, "OK." I don't think it's any indication of the payroll situation, but it does work nicely either way in opening up another couple million to spend on pitchers.

David Golebiewski from FanGraphs said it best, "I’d be shocked if Casilla comes anywhere close to Hardy’s production level in 2011. Should Casilla get a starting job, it’s possible that he’s a win-and-a-half to two win downgrade at the position." That's a best-case scenario, and if either Casilla or Nishioka gets hurt, you're looking at the likes of Trevor Plouffe in the starting lineup and frankly, that's scary.

Here's to hoping a) Justin Morneau returns next season and resembles his old self, b) Kubel has a year that more closely resembles 2009, and c) the Twins don't have any injuries to their 2nd basemen or Shortstop. That's a lot to hope for.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Top 10 Signs You May Have Overpaid a Free-Agent...

10.) When people talk about the deal they say things like, "hey, if you can get the money!"

9.) The player (and agent) sign right away when you make the offer.

8.) Your deal single-handedly changes the free-agent pay scales.

7.) The player you just let walk was better but was paid less by his new team.

6.) People wonder if you are high on something and ask where they can get stuff as good as you have.

5.) Other free-agents who weren't interested in your team before suddenly start calling you.

4.) Somebody puts a whoopie cushion on your chair at the Winter Meetings.

3.) When asked to comment on the player, your GM says, ""I've been a fan of his lineage and his family," instead of mentioning anything about his on-field skills. [story]

2.) To those close to him, Scott Boras refers to your organization as his "piggybank."

1.) Jon Heyman tweets about how much he likes the deal.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Random Baseball Thoughts

I took a nice long break from baseball and to be honest, I didn't miss much. I've kept up with the other baseball blogs and sites out there in my absence and people have resorted to writing about some pretty off-the-wall stuff in the absence of real news. HardballTalk is going through the worst uniforms of all time, Gleeman is onto another Top 40 List (which I enjoy, but he only does it during the off-season), and FanGraphs is writing articles about Eric Hinske and Jose Lopez. So here's my take on some of the more interesting happenings over the past two weeks.

I want to start off with Derek Jeter. It seems to me that up until the couple of days, the Yankees' organization have handled the situation poorly. There's been too much talking to the media and the whole, "go and try to find a better deal" thing was a bit ridiculous. That said, I feel like $45M over 3 years is WAY more than Jeter is worth, even despite his status as a Yankee Legend. For a team with seemingly unlimited payroll, I know it doesn't make that much of a difference to them what they pay Jeter, but if I'm Jeter, I'm grateful that I'm getting that much and I'm saying, "yes sir, thank you sir." It's not that simple, I understand that, but I can't help but feel off-put by the situation; it seems like yet another example of a greedy athlete. I don't understand the argument that the Yankees "need" to keep Jeter, it seems to me like that would go against their desire to have the best team possible,...not that Jeter hurts them much, but still, I don't get that argument.

The White Sox are scaring me. First they pick up Adam Dunn which was predictable considering the hard-on Kenny Williams has had for him dating back to the trading deadline last year. But then they re-sign Pierzynski and let Jenks go and now they're talking about re-signing Konerko as well. First of all, Dunn adds some serious left-handed power and about as consistent a bat as you can find out there. If they bring back Pauly, you will see Konerko at first and Dunn in the DH spot with the occasional flip-flop here and there to give Konerko some rest. Dunn will be a excellent fit for them at the plate and U.S. Cellular is a hitters park which Dunn will thrive on. Then you think about their potential rotation with Danks, Floyd, Jackson, Peavy, and Buehrle at their disposal. The back-end of their bullpen will probably be Chris Sale setting up Matt Thornton which is quite fearsome. You put all of that together and you are looking at a pretty solid team top to bottom with power, some speed, good pitching and solid bullpen. Anyway you look at, the White Sox look to be contenders next year, no doubt about it.

I was pretty sad to hear about the passing of Ron Santo. My wife is a HUGE Cubs fan and it hit her particularly hard. Santo was as much a Cubs Legend as Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins or any of the other Cubs Legends was and despite a wide variety of physical ailments, Santo kept with the Cubs and was still doing games for WGN even this past season. The thing I'll always remember about Ron Santo is when listening to Cubs games on the radio, you felt like he was a fan sitting right next to you in the stands. He was always right there was a "YEAH!!!" when something good happened and with a "GALL-LEE!" when something didn't go the Cubs way. Ron Santo was as loved as Harry Carey and I expect the Cubs organization will do something very nice to celebrate his life in the near future. Maybe now he'll finally get a well-deserved nod into the Hall of Fame.

The Cliff Lee speculation has gotten wildly out of control. Now it comes out today that Nolan Ryan thinks it will take awhile. Does anybody really know? Let's just wait and see, enough of the speculation already.

The Twins made a curious move by winning the negotiation bid on Tsuyoshi Nishioka. It's a mistake in my mind, but I guess if doesn't work out it won't cost them anything. It makes me think that their budget is not as tight as many have made it seem. I like that they offered arbitration to JJ Hardy and I really hope things don't work out with Nishioka and we have Hardy as the starting SS come next season. I also hope the Twins don't bring back Jim Thome, though I think I may be alone in that opinion. I hope the Twins make a little bigger splash than simply fighting to bring back the old band, but my hopes are not that high.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who is Tsuyoshi Nishioka?

Oh man, I can just imagine Gordo and Gladden trying to pronounce this guy's name...or Blyleven. Anyway, I saw this little tidbit this morning and thought to myself, "what? who is this guy?" So I did a little digging:


I wouldn't have the slightest clue how success in the Japanese professional baseball league translates to the U.S. Major Leagues, so it's difficult to draw conclusions from this stat sheet, but I suppose there are a couple of things we can note. 

a) He's speedy. It's concerning that since swiping 41 bags as a 20-year-old, he hasn't really come close since, but in 144 games last season he stole 22 bases which is decent.
b) He gets on base. They don't give his strikeout and walk numbers here, but a .364 OBP is pretty good and last season, his best year in professional baseball, he put up Mauer type numbers with a .423 OBP. He'd likely made a decent lead-off hitter in the Majors. I did find some more numbers here and it looks like Nishioka has a good eye, drawing walks at a good rate compared to strikeouts.
c) He's injury-prone. He's never missed a majority of a season -- he's managed to at least play 115 games in every season since becoming a full-time player -- but he's missed time in almost every season of his career for various things (wrist, knee, head, hammy, etc).

Christensen admittedly labeled the Twins chances of landing Nishioka as "slim," and Nishioka himself has said that he prefers the West Coast. I have to wonder why the Twins are even bothering. For one, they have to pay just to negotiate with Nishioka, and if you add the negotiating fee to the cost of signing him, I don't really see how you're getting that much more value than just bringing Hardy back on via arbitration. Nishioka gives you a bit more middle-infield speed, but I can't imagine he is much better than Hardy fielding-wise and it's yet to be seen how much better he would be at the plate since there's no guarantee he would be able to duplicate his Japanese success in the Majors.

I've noticed that between Iwakuma and now Nishioka, the Twins seem to have developed a sudden fascination with Japanese players. I'm not sure what the reason for this is, most of the players that have come over from Japan have not done very well (notable exceptions include Ichiro, Hideo Nomo for a few years, Matsuzaka perhaps, and a small handful of others). I guess we'll see what happens, should know by next week.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"It's all about Pitching."

"It's all about pitching. Pitching, pitching, pitching, [...] Pitching is the key to the kingdom, which is why you try to collect as much of it as you can."

Brian Cashman said these words in his first post-season press conference yesterday and no matter what you think about the Yankees or Mr. Cashman, these words could not be more true when it comes to consistent success in the Major Leagues. Wanna know how true? Here are the regular-season starting rotations for each of the World Series teams for the last 10 years along with their ERA and FIP for that season. 

Year: 2001 
World Champion: Arizona Diamondbacks (4-3) 
Runner-Up: New York Yankees 

Diamondbacks Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Curt Schilling - 2.98/3.11
Randy Johnson (L) - 2.49/2.13
Brian Anderson (L) - 5.20/5.36
Robert Ellis - 5.77/5.09
Albie Lopez - 4.00/3.84 

Yankees Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Mike Mussina - 3.15/2.92
Roger Clemens - 3.51/3.29
Andy Pettite (L) - 3.99/3.02
Ted Lilly (L) - 5.37/4.79
Orlando Hernandez - 4.85/5.52

One odd stat from this series, Randy Johnson won 3 of the 7 games, the last as a reliever in Game 7. This series certainly had it's share of clunkers, but when you have Schilling and Johnson pitching as well as they were and on the same team, you've got a good chance no matter how good the other guys are...and the Yankees had a fearsome bunch of their own. The Diamondbacks won this series because of Johnson and Schilling, no doubt about it.
Year: 2002 
World Champion: Anaheim Angels (4-3) 
Runner-Up: San Francisco Giants 

Angels Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Ramon Ortiz - 3.77/4.87
Jarrod Washburn (L) - 3.15/3.71
Kevin Appier - 3.92/4.28
Aaron Sele - 4.89/4.69
John Lackey - 3.66/3.91 

Giants Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Livan Hernandez - 4.38/3.91
Russ Ortiz - 3.61/3.97
Kirk Rueter (L) - 3.23/4.43
Jason Schmidt - 3.45/3.11
Ryan Jensen - 4.51/4.57

This 7-game series was not particularly well-pitched. Angels pitchers had a 5.75 team-ERA in the series and the Giants had a 5.55 team-ERA. When you look at how these two teams got to the World Series though, you see good pitching on both sides.
Year: 2003 
World Champions: Florida Marlins (4-2) 
Runner-Up: New York Yankees 

Marlins Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Carl Pavano - 4.30/3.77
Brad Penny - 4.13/3.92
Mark Redman (L) - 3.59/3.58
Dontrelle Willis (L) - 3.30/3.45
Josh Beckett -3.04/2.94 

Yankees Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Mike Mussina - 3.40/3.09
David Wells (L) - 4.14/3.94
Roger Clemens - 3.91/3.60
Andy Pettite (L) - 4.02/3.35
Jeff Weaver - 5.99/4.26

This series went 6 games, but it's obvious how good these teams were just by looking at their pitching staffs. Every single Marlins starter had an FIP below 4.00. The Marlins were able to win a World Series because they hoarded pitching talent for a few years until it all came together, their line-up was full of up-and-coming youngsters (Miguel Cabrera was a 20-year-old utility man) with a couple of veteran leaders sprinkled in (Derek Lee & Mike Lowell). Beckett was the series MVP and overall, it was a fairly low scoring series.
Year: 2004 
World Champion: Boston Red Sox (4-0) 
Runner-Up: St. Louis Cardinals 

Red Sox Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Curt Schilling - 3.26/3.11
Pedro Martinez - 3.90/3.58
Tim Wakefield - 4.87/5.08
Derek Lowe - 5.42/4.26
Bronson Arroyo - 4.03/3.82 

Cardinals Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Matt Morris - 4.72/4.93
Jason Marquis - 3.71/4.55
Woody Williams - 4.18/4.10
Jeff Suppan - 4.16/4.77
Chris Carpenter - 3.41/3.85

Looking at the numbers, is it a surprise this series was a 4-game sweep? One thing that really stuck out to me was that there were zero left-handed starting pitchers, for either team, that can't have happened many times in modern baseball history. Again we see that 1-2 punch (Schilling and Martinez in this case) spelling victory...
Year: 2005 
World Champion: Chicago White Sox (4-0) 
Runner-Up: Houston Astros 

White Sox Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Mark Buerhle (L) - 3.12/3.42
Freddy Garcia - 3.87/4.05
Jon Garland - 3.50/4.24
Jose Contreras - 3.61/4.21
Orlando Hernandez - 5.12/4.87 

Astros Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Roy Oswalt - 2.94/3.16
Andy Pettite (L) - 2.39/3.06
Roger Clemens - 1.87/2.87
Brandon Backe (L) - 4.76/4.80
Wandy Rodriguez - 5.53/5.12

This 4-0 sweep in this one was is a little hard to understand considering the arms (and experience) the Astros had, but again, I'm trying to highlight here that pitching gets you to the World Series. Both of these teams were stocked with pitchers who are efficient (White Sox had 4 pitchers with 200+ innings in the regular season) and who could bring it.
Year: 2006 
World Champion: St. Louis Cardinals (4-1) 
Runner-Up: Detroit Tigers 

Cardinals Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Chris Carpenter - 3.09/3.44
Jason Marquis - 6.02/5.90
Jeff Suppan - 4.12/4.70
Anthony Reyes - 5.06/5.49
Adam Wainwright - 3.12/3.31 

Tigers Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Jeremy Bonderman - 4.08/3.29
Nate Robertson (L) - 3.84/4.72
Kenny Rogers (L) - 3.84/4.69
Justin Verlander - 3.63/4.35
Zack Miner - 4.84/4.45

Again, a surprising result (4-1) given that teams appeared even on paper. The bigger story was probably the Detroit offense which only scored 11 runs in the series, but again, that's a testament to the St. Louis pitchers as well. More fun facts: David Eckstein was the WS MVP...
Year: 2007
World Champion: Boston Red Sox (4-0)
Runner-Up: Colorado Rockies 

Red Sox Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Daisuke Matsuzaka - 4.40/4.23
Josh Beckett - 3.27/3.08
Tim Wakefield - 4.76/4.67
Curt Schilling - 3.87/4.21
Jon Lester (L) - 4.57/5.24 

Rockies Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Jeff Francis (L) - 4.22/4.19
Aaron Cook - 4.12/4.58
Josh Fogg - 4.94/5.21
Jason Hirsch - 4.81/5.32
Ubaldo Jimenez - 4.28/4.74

The Rockies had one of the most magical late-season stretches in baseball history to get into the playoffs and continued their red-hot play to get to the World Series,...then they had a few days off before the start of the World Series and everything fell apart. The Red Sox superior pitching took advantage as they held the Rockies to 10 runs in the series en route to a sweep.
Year: 2008 
World Champion: Philadelphia Phillies (4-1) 
Runner-Up: Tampa Bay Rays 

Phillies Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Cole Hamels (L) - 3.09/3.72
Jamie Moyer (L) - 3.71/4.32
Brett Myers - 4.55/4.52
Kyle Kendrick - 5.49/5.55
Joe Blanton - 4.20/5.03 

Rays Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
James Shields - 3.56/3.82
Andy Sonnanstein - 4.38/3.91
Matt Garza - 3.70/4.14
Edwin Jackson - 4.42/4.88
Scott Kazmir (L) - 3.49/4.37

This series probably could had gone either way, but as it was, it went quickly and to the Phillies in 5 games. The Rays followed the Marlins blue-print and managed to assemble some nice young talent, but that talent fell short when it mattered. Getting back to the point though, the pitching for both teams was good and a big reason they got to the World Series.

Year: 2009
World Champions: New York Yankees (4-2)
Runner-Up: Philadelphia Phillies 

Yankees Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
CC Sabathia (L) - 3.37/3.39
AJ Burnett - 4.04/4.33
Andy Pettite (L) - 4.16/4.15
Joba Chamberlain - 4.75/4.82 

Phillies Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Joe Blanton - 4.05/4.55
Cole Hamels (L) - 4.32/3.72
J.A. Happ - 2.93/4.33
Jamie Moyer (L) - 4.94/5.08
Cliff Lee (L) - 3.39/2.83

Not a particularly well-pitched World Series, lots of scoring, but to my point again, it's not a stretch to see why these two teams were here. They both had the offense, of course, but it was the pitching that ultimately brought them to the pinnacle.
Year: 2010
World Champion: San Francisco Giants (4-1)
Runner-Up: Texas Rangers 

Giants Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Tim Lincecum - 3.43/3.15
Matt Cain - 3.14/.365
Madison Bumgarner (L) - 3.00/3.66
Jonathan Sanchez (L) - 3.07/4.00
Barry Zito - 4.15/4.25 

Rangers Starting Rotation (ERA/FIP):
Cliff Lee (L) - 3.98/2.99
CJ Wilson (L) - 3.35/3.56
Colby Lewis - 3.72/3.55
Tommy Hunter - 3.73/4.99
Scott Feldman - 5.48/4.73

The Giants went 11-3 in the playoffs and while some of that success can be chalked up to an uncharacteristically good offense, the pitching was also very good and a big reason why the Giants were able to rise to the top in a hotly contested NL West and eventually win the world series. The Rangers featured quite a rotation themselves but their main man, Cliff Lee, fell apart a little in the World Series which ultimately lead to their demise.

So now we've looked at the regular season starting rotations of the last 10 World Champions and the same chorus rings true for most, if not all of those teams. They had a dominant starter (or two), and good enough 3 and 4 guys which propelled them to post-season success. If we looked even deeper I would wager that many of those teams also had good bullpens and a dominant closer in most cases. Good pitchers truly are the "key to the kingdom" as Brian Cashman put it, and that's why the Twins need to do what they can to bolster their rotation with another reliable starter. I don't know that Greinke is realistic, but there are others out there, chronicled here, that would do a fine job. Adding another pitcher wouldn't guarantee anything, obviously, but having pieces of the puzzle at least gives you a chance. Cashman knows this and that's why he's going after Cliff Lee. The Twins should follow suit.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Profiling Kyle Gibson

Kyle Gibson, a product of the University of Missouri, was drafted by the Twins with the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 draft. The Twins, depending on how you look at it, were fortunate to get him considering he was touted as a Top 5 pick prior to reporting forearm discomfort during his final year at Mizzou. That pain scared a lot of teams away from drafting him and he fell to the Twins. Gibson started his Twins career in the Instructional Fall Leagues and eventually that forearm pain was diagnosed as a stress fracture. The Twins shut him down for the off-season, he healed up, and then started the 2010 season with the Single-A Fort Myers Miracle.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Gibson features a 91-94mph fastball which is decent, but is augmented by plus-plus control of that pitch as well as a plus Slider and above average changeup. At his 1st minor league stop, he started 7 games for the Miracle recording 40Ks in 43.1 IP while giving up 33Hs and 12BB. (Full Minor League stats available here) On the strength of that showing, the Twins promoted Gibson to the Double-A Rock Cats where he spent a majority of last season. With the Rock Cats, Gibson started 16 games with 77Ks in 93.0 IP, pitching to a 3.68 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. That's not bad considering the kid had been pitching for a college team the year before, but the concerning thing about Gibson's 2nd minor league stop was a declining K rate (he was at 10K+/9 in college). He went from 8.3K/9 at Fort Myers to 7.5K/9 a Double-A New Britain. The Twins promoted Gibson again after 16 starts and he finished the season at Triple-A Salt Lake. In 3 starts at Rochester, Gibson pitched 15.2 innings, striking out 9 and walking 5. On the season, he pitched a total of 152.0 innings, striking out 126 and walking 39. It could have been because of fatigue, but Gibson's K rate again declined, down to 5.2K/9 at Rochester.

Gibson's first professional season gives Twins fans a lot to look forward to. In 152 innings, Gibson pitched to a 2.96 ERA and 1.15 WHIP and showed the type of control that the Twins organization demands of it's pitchers. In late September, the Twins awarded Gibson with the Minor League Pitcher of the Year award, a sign that they like what they saw as well. Said Rock Cats manager Jeff Smith,

“Kyle's the type of kid you get excited watching even if he's throwing batting practice to the hitters, and he's a true professional in every sense of the word. [The Twins' front office] did a heck of a job getting Gibson [at 22nd overall]. He fits perfectly into a Twins' role. He's just a great kid.”

 It would probably be premature to expect to see Gibson at the beginning of next season, but a mid-season call-up would not be out of the question, especially if Gibson dominates at the Triple-A level. At the very least he could blossom into a mid-to-front end starter and will be under team control for a number of years to come. I'll leave you with a video of him pitching, at 6' 6" he's got quite a presence on the mound, something that is obvious even in this video which was taken 3 years ago.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Two Cents on Randy Moss

This is a Minnesota Twins blog first and foremost and 99.5% of 276 posts in this blog's history have been baseball related. It shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm a Vikings fan as well and since the Twins were eliminated from the post-season, I have been following the Vikings pretty closely. Imagine my surprise, along with the rest of Minnesota and the NFL, when I read yesterday afternoon that the Vikings are going to waive Randy Moss...after only 3 weeks with the team.


This has got to be the 2nd dumbest move of all time. The dumbest move was bringing him to MN in the 1st place. The Vikings, of all the teams in the NFL, should know Randy Moss the best. He's whiny, he's temperamental, he's impatient, and he's not generally great the for the locker room. It's inexcusable that Childress decided to waste a 3rd round draft pick to bring in a guy who was more likely to do harm than good. The Vikings got played by the Patriots, plain and simple.

Your first clue that things were starting to erode was a couple of games ago when the Vikings inexplicably decided to waste a minute or so of clock time at the end of the 1st half and Moss got visibly got upset. The second clue was against the Patriots when Favre lofted the ball to Moss in the Red Zone, Moss was interfered with, and despite being within range to make the catch anyway, he did not. He didn't even try.

Brad Childress, I gotta ask you man, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Your ability to challenge plays in a game SUCKS. Your play calling SUCKS. Your ability to control the players on your own team SUCKS. And that's not even mentioning your personnel decisions, which SUCK too (i.e. bringing back Favre, trading for Moss, etc). Zygi outta fire your ass. You have shown flashes of ineptitude in previous seasons, but your decisions of late reek of desperation and fear. I'm not usually one to blame coaches for what happens on the field, but in this situation, the shoes fits. You take things way too personally and you are way to reactionary too be an NFL head coach.

Three Observations:
1.) Randy Moss is not a great human being. This isn't new news, but this article kinda puts it into perspective. Have some human decency Randy.

2.) Brad, getting back to you. You have a RUNNING team. Yes, you have Favre (and you're lucky at that), but you also have a 20-something guy named Adrian Peterson who would gladly put this team on his shoulders. Give him the ball 25-30 times a game and you'll probably win more than you lose. Plus, it will take some of the heat off of Brett.

3.) How great would it be if the Bengals picked up Randy Moss? You'd have T.O., Ochocinco and Randy Moss, all of the prima donna wide-receivers from the past decade, all on one cesspool of a team together.

I won't make this a regular thing, but this was too big of a MN sports story not to comment on. This team [Vikings] is in shambles and they don't have a whole lot of time to figure it out.

Yay Giants.

I was trying to think of something clever to put together to congratulate the San Francisco Giants, but I have nothing. I barely watched the Series, I found out the Giants won it on Sportscenter during MNF last night and I don't really care. BUT. Good for the Giants, they have proved that pitching is what matters and it seems like that is the lesson every year. Anyway, on to the off-season...time for some awards and some free-agency. Too early to fire up the hot-stove?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Value vs. Salary: Joe Mauer

I could sing the praises of FanGraphs for days, they are a daily visit of mine and most of the time, they have an answer to my statistical curiosities. Down near the bottom of every player page is a section labeled, "Value." Among the statistics in this section are WAR (wins above replacement) and RAR (runs above replacement) among other value measures of batting, fielding and positional factors. This section is probably missed by most, except for those looking for a WAR value perhaps. Anyway, the columns I want to focus on today are the "Dollars" and "Salary" columns as they relate to Joe Mauer. As every Twins fan knows, Joe Mauer signed a fat contract just before the season started, a $184M, 8-year deal. That new deal starts this coming season and will equal a $23M salary for Mauer, for the next 8 seasons.

What the "Dollars" column attempts to calculate is what a player's value would be if WAR was converted in a dollar figure. The table tell us that to this point, the Twins have clearly gotten the maximum out of Mauer with his value having been $133M over the past 7 season while they've only paid him ~$34M. That's not so much what I want to focus on though because with the salary structures being the way they are for new players, the Twins should have gotten more than their money's worth so far. I want to look at Mauer's last 6 seasons to find out what can be expected of him going forward.

Over the last 6 seasons (we'll throw out 2004 since he only played in 35 games), Mauer has averaged a healthy $21.52M in the "Dollars" column and over the past 3 seasons, only 4 players in the Major Leagues have more valuable, those being: Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, Evan Longoria and Hanley Ramirez. Getting back to that "$21.52M" figure, it basically says that if the Twins had paid Mauer $21.5M per year over that time they would have been getting their money's worth. Next year, his salary bumps up to $23M per, which is going to be a tough number to average in terms of value, especially considering that Mauer has missed an average of 28.5 games/season over the past 6 years.

I've seen other write-ups on how the Mauer deal was a bad one for the Twins. HERE, HERE, and HERE. I'm not going to sit here and say that because the "Mauer Deal" was bigger than Joe Mauer. The Twins had a new stadium opening, Mauer is the face of this young, exciting team, he was a hometown kid, the Twins had watched fan-favorites Torii Hunter and Johan Santana walk within the past 5 years....etc, etc, etc. If the deal hadn't gotten done, there would have been a revolt. Even if the deal is a bad one from the Twins standpoint, they had to make the deal, they didn't have a choice.

Getting back to the numbers, in 2006, Mauer was good for 5.9 WAR which computed to a $22.0M value. For the sake of argument, let's say that in order to be good for the money, he'd have to average a 6.0 WAR which is pretty close to that 2006 season, so what did that look like?

140 Games
608 Plate-Appearances
181 Hits
86 Runs
13 Home Runs
84 RBIs
.347 Batting Average
.936 OPS
79 Walks
54 Ks

At 27, Mauer is in his prime and will be until about age 31-32. There are definite concerns about his continuing role as full-time catcher, but offensively speaking, he should be at his most productive right now, and the statistics show that he is. I think that even if Mauer is hurt for a year out of the next coming 8, Mauer will still be able to produce at a value that matches his contract. Even if he is worth an average of 5.5 WAR, wouldn't that be worth it? No matter what happens, the Twins end up on the winning end because they start next season with a 133M to 34M advantage, a gap that won't be closed (crosses fingers, knocks on wood) over the next 8 seasons.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Examining Kubel's Value

I was spurred to write this piece by two things, one was an article over at Fangraphs and the other was a subsequent conversation I had with SR about that article. I've seen a few things written about Kubes in the last few days including a good piece over at Nick's Twins Blog. I thought I would throw in my two cents.

Jason Kubel was drafted by the Twins in the 12th round of the 2000 amateur draft and spent 4 full seasons in the minors before getting his first chance with the Major League team in 2004. His injury problems are well documented but for the past 3 seasons, he has played fairly regularly with at least 140 games in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Two seasons ago he had his "break out" year hitting .300/.369/.539 with 28HRs, 35 doubles and 103RBIs. At that point everyone thought he had finally turned the corner at the age 25 and the expectations entering this past season were high. Kubel didn't deliver. Sure the RBI numbers were there (93), but the average (.249), on-base% (.323), and slugging% (.427) were all career lows (for seasons in which he played more than 100 games). Not only that, his defense left a lot to be desired, a fact magnified due to Kubel's everyday left-fielder role. Kubel had a .972 fielding% which was much worse than the league-wide average of .986 for outfielders last season. His UZR score of -10.7 was 9th worst among Major League outfielders with at least 800 innings of work.

Kubel has gotten a lot of attention so far this off-season because the Twins are now at a crossroads with Kubel, having the option to either bring him back for another season at $5.25M or buy him out and let him walk. In my conversation with SR, his argument was basically that the Twins should let Kubel walk which would essentially give Jim Thome a full-time (or at least very regular) DH spot which would ultimately benefit the Twins because Thome is a much better hitter. I'm of the opinion that the Twins should pick up the option on Kubes and let Thome walk because a) Kubel has value (albeit negative) as a fielder and b) we cannot expect Thome to replicate his 2010 campaign in 2011.

Kubel is coming off his worst season in the Majors so far. For as "lucky" as he was in 2009, he was just as unlucky in 2010. In 2009 his BABIP was a career best .327 and this past year it was a career-worst .280 (min. 100 games). Kubel's 2010 walk percentage of 9.6 was right there with his 2009 number (9.7) but his K% continued to rise for the 4th straight season, a career-worst 22.4%, an 8% increase from 2009. Kubel remained productive at the plate in 2010 driving in 93 and scoring 68, but that is mostly attributable to those who hit in front of him getting on base. Looking at the power numbers, Kubel's ISO of .178 was the lowest it's been since 2007. I could go on and on, but suffice to say, Kubel had a bad year.

So what can be expected to Kubel going forward? He has now played in 654 Major League games amassing 2,445 plate appearances which is more than enough for a healthy sample-size. Baseball-Reference has a handy line under the stats which averages out a players stats over a full 162-game season. Here's what we get:

Unfortunately, looking at that stat line, it looks like this past season's results more closely resembled "normal" than last year. An .800OPS is not bad, but if you're projecting Kubel as a DH, the Twins may indeed be better off trying to re-up with Thome instead of picking up the option on Kubel. Here's how Thome's last few seasons compare:

As you can see, Thome's 2010 season was the best one he's had in a few years depending on which numbers you look at. His batting average was the highest it's been since 2006, his OBP was the best it's been since 2006 and his slugging% was his best mark in 8 seasons...and this all despite a BABIP (.310) that was below his career average (.321).

What the Twins ultimately decide to do with Kubel will depend on two things and neither of them is money-related because Kubel and Thome will likely cost about the same amount to bring back:

1.) How do they value the flexibility they have with Kubel considering he can play a position is necessary? If you go with Thome and an outfielder is injured, then you are forced to start a less offensively talented player than Kubel and the lineup would suffer as a result.

2.) To what degree do they think Jim Thome can replicate his 2010 numbers? If you think Thome's body can handle a full-time DH role for an entire season, it might be worth it...especially if you can sign him to a deal similar to what he signed this year, laden with playing time and performance incentives. You'd maybe save a couple million dollars upfront which could then be used to resign a bullpen arm.

2a.) Do the Twins think Kubel's potential is more accurately reflected by his 2009 season or his 2010 season?

Thome's WAR (wins above replacement) last season was 3.6. Kubel, if you take out his fielding stats, had a 2.8 WAR, with fielding he had a 0.3. That suggests that most of Kubel's value is zapped if you put him in the field. BUT, for comparison purposes, Kubel and Thome stack up pretty similarly at the plate. So the question becomes, is ~350 at-bats from Thome (he had 340 last season) worth the same amount of money as Kubel with 450-500 at-bats? Will Thome have a similar season in 2011? Can Kubel have a bounce back year? What do you think?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Bringing Back JJ Hardy Should be Priority #1

If you read the Twins blogs, which you must if you found this one, you know the whirlwind of speculation and opinion that is going on regarding what the Twins should do with their free-agents and arbitration-eligibles this off-season. The Twins should re-sign Pavano, no they should let him go, they should non-tender Matt Capps, they need to bring back Jesse Crain, and on and on and on. I'm here to make a case that bringing back JJ Hardy is THE MOST IMPORTANT move the Twins can make this off-season, specifically because of the domino effect that will happen if they do not.

JJ Hardy didn't have a great season, that is well documented. But when you look at his season, both offensively and defensively, in terms of other short-stops in the Majors, a different picture emerges. For instance, if you extrapolated the numbers Hardy put together to a full-season (qualified) of work, his OPS (.714) makes him a top 10 short-stop in terms of offense and his Fielding% (.976) makes him a top 7 short-stop defensively. His UZR score of 8.1 is good for 5th among short-stops with 800+ innings, and his UZR150 of 12.8 would be 1st among short-stops with 800+ innings. I know there are some sample size issues here, but what I'm trying to point out is that even though Hardy didn't have an eye-popping season offensively, his value in terms trying to replace him is very high.

I mentioned earlier "the domino effect" that would occur if the Twins let him go. First off, Alexi Casilla, who would like become an everyday 2nd basemen if Hardy stays, would likely move to Short, leaving a hole a 2nd. Now, Gardenhire could probably push his weight around and get his pet-project Nick Punto re-signed, but the Twins would pay $5M to do that and the Twins lineup would suffer as a result. Hardy is in line to get about $6.5M via arbitration, so why not let Punto walk, pay an extra $1.5M or so and have less problems? Ok, getting back on now you have a hole at 2nd, what are your options on the free-agent market? There are a number of 2nd basemen out there, but in order to make this cost-effective (i.e. less than the cost of picking up Punto's option) the price has to be less than $5M and you would want someone relatively young. So, here is a list of free-agent 2nd basemen that fit those criteria:

Willie Bloomquist (33) - made $1.7M last year
Anderson Hernandez (28) - not a good option, but an option nonetheless
Omar Infante (29) - has a $2.5M club option and the Braves would be stupid not to pick it up
Akinori Iwamura (32) - made $4.85M last year, had a few good season with Tampa, but was terrible last year
Felipe Lopez (31) - Type B free-agent and actually not a bad option, made $1M last year, .960 career Fielding% at short-stop, could be had for cheap
Juan Uribe (31) - Uribe is one of the better options out there as far as 2nd basemen go and thus likely to command attention, he had a good season offensively and has been a star in the post-season, signing him probably wouldn't be very cost-effective for the Twins

And that's about it. You can see how bare the 2nd basemen market is and how difficult to fill a hole at 2nd would be.

Some people out there might say, "what about Trevor Plouffe?" (Triple-A short-stop for the Twins) To that I say, "see here." That link takes you to Plouffe's minor league stat page and though offensively it looks decent for a short-stop, defensively I am left wanting (.947 fielding%). One of the strengths of the Twins this season was infield defense and though it wasn't quite as good as expected, that defense saved runs which led to wins, blah, blah, blah. If the Twins have Casilla at 2nd and Hardy at SS, that defense continues to look good, if they get rid of Hardy and replace him with Plouffe (moving Casilla to 2nd) that defense takes a hit....domino effect.

Letting Hardy go and finding a way to cheaply fill the hole left behind would free up some more money to re-sign some of the bullpen, but as Rauch proved this past season, bullpen pieces are pretty easy to find and the Twins have some arms in the minors that could be tapped to replace the likes of Fuentes, Rauch, etc. Keep in mind too that unlike the 2nd basemen and SS market, the relief pitching market is chock-full of talent and because of that, prices will probably be driven lower.

Yes, re-upping with Hardy eats up a large portion of the off-season money the Twins have to spend, but as I've tried to lay out here, Hardy is the most important one to re-sign given his positional significance coupled with the potential difficulties of replacing him.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Filling the Void: Starting Pitching

There's a lot of talk out there right now, various people speculating on what the Twins will do in the off-season and what the Twins should do in the off-season. In my last piece, I went through each Twins' free-agent and tried to guess at what the Twins might do. One thing seems fairly clear; the Twins will not be bringing back Carl Pavano. To do so would not only be expensive, but would also hamper their ability to re-sign some of the valuable bullpen pieces they stand to lose. So assuming Pavano leaves, that leaves you with a rotation consisting of Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Brian Duensing and Blackburn (?). To me this seems weak. If Liriano duplicated his efforts from this season and Baker and Slowey were able to remain healthy and effective for an entire season, it doesn't look that bad, but I want to argue that the Twins could make their rotation more impressive if they made a trade for a starting pitcher. Here's a list of the more enticing free-agent and non free-agent options out there:

Kevin Correia - SP - San Diego Padres
"Rough" would be a good way to describe this right-handers 2010 season. He ended the year with a 10-10 record to go along with a 5.40 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. The encouraging thing about Correia's 2010 numbers are the 4.71FIP and 4.19 xFIP. Am I arguing he's a lights-out pitcher? No. I do think, however, that pitching in Target field would benefit him AND he's a better pitcher than he showed this season. Not only that,  he only made $3.6M this past year and would fit nicely into the back-end of the rotation. He's only 30 years old so he's got some left in the tank and who knows, a little work with Rick Anderson might turn this guy right around. He's an out-and-out free-agent so the Twins wouldn't have to work a trade for this guy allowing them to keep their current core of pitchers intact.

Hiroki Kuroda - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers
I would love to land Kuroda, but much like re-signing Pavano, signing Kuroda would likely mean losing most of the current bullpen (unless the Twins front-office decides they can go with a payroll around $120M). In 3 seasons with the Dodgers, Kuroda compiled almost 500 innings, a 3.60ERA and 1.16WHIP. His career FIP sits at 3.57 which means this guy is legit. He's 35 which is getting up there and he made north of $15M last season, but he probably has 2-3 good years left in him and would make a nice right-handed compliment to Liriano. He's not a high strikeout guy (career 6.6 K/9) but he has impeccable control (career 2.1 BB/9) and induces ground-balls at a high rate (career 55.3%).

Cliff Lee - SP - Texas Rangers
Oh how one can dream right? I can't help but wonder how things might have turned out if the Twins had landed Lee instead of Capps. I would put the Twins odds of landing Lee this off-season at about 0.5% so it's probably not worth talking about. Lee will probably command upwards of $20M per year in a new contract which is solidly out of range for the Twins.

Erik Bedard - SP - Seattle Mariners
This lefty hasn't played a full season since 2007, but presents a low-cost, high potential for the Twins, much like Thome last off-season. Bedard has a mutual option with the Mariners for next season (no word on the price of that option) but considering he didn't throw a pitch in 2010, I doubt the Mariners would pick it up...who knows. If he declines the option, the Twins could take a flyer on this guy, sign him to a 1-year, $2M deal and see what happens. Much like Brandon Webb, Bedard has been sidelined for over a year by a shoulder injury, a torn labrum and inflamed bursa-sac in his case. When Bedard has been on the mound, he's been great posting a career 3.71ERA and career 8.8 K/9. He's a risk to sign for sure, but if he can get healthy, he could be very valuable.

Fausto Carmona - SP - Cleveland Indians (Free-Agent, 2015)
This was a guy I lobbied for earlier this season around the trading deadline. Carmona had solid numbers in 2010, was selected to the all-star and best of all, he has dominated other AL central teams during his career. Camona is set to make $6.288M next season and has club options in his contract for 2012, 13 and 14 so he would be worth trading for given the fact he wouldn't just be a one-year rental. Carmona doesn't exactly fit the Twins' mold for starting pitchers, he is prone to walks, but he is a severe ground-ball pitcher which works in any ballpark. I should also mention that Carmona is entering his prime, turning 27 years old in December. I think the Twins would be wise to make a move for this guy, especially since it appears the Indians will be in rebuilding mode for at least another year or two.

Wandy Rodriquez - SP - Houston Astros (Free-Agent, 2012)
This lefty present another relatively low-cost option for the Twins, though a trade would have to take place in order to get him. Rodriguez has pitched right around 200 innings the past two season with pretty good results. He's not a strikeout artist, but over the last three seasons he has K'ed batters at a rate of higher than 8 per 9. Most importantly, he made $5M last year and is in his last year of arbitration eligibility with the Astros. If you figure around $7M through arbitration, that's a pretty fair price for a guy likely to give you ~32 starts and an ERA around 3.50. You could trade away a prospect or you could trade the salary of one of our starting pitchers (Baker, Blackburn?) to make this deal happen. Rodriguez is 31 years old, he's a ground-ball pitcher, he a lefty, and would make a good fit with the Twins.

Zack Greinke - SP - Kansas City Royals (Free-Agent, 2013)
Personally, I don't think Greinke is worth it. If you look at his stat sheet, he had one good year (2009) and most of the other years have been decent, but nothing special. If the Twins did trade for him, they would likely lose valuable major-league talent and would be on the hook for $13.5M to Greinke in 2011 and 2012. Grienke would make a nice addition to the rotation, I do not doubt this, but I would argue you could get equal production from a guy like Wandy Rodriguez at half the price (in money AND talent). Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune likes the prospect of Greinke in the rotation, but MLBTradeRumors isn't buying his proposal.

Those are the obvious starting pitching targets. There are, of course, a number of free-agents out there but most of them are probably not an upgrade from what the Twins have. I think Carmona and Rodriguez present the most enticing options in terms of cost vs. benefit, though I can see the case for landing true top talent as well. I think if the Twins do choose to let Pavano walk, they should make an effort to being in someone else because the results from our starting pitchers not named Liriano this past season were shaky at best.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Examining Twins' Free Agency

Now that we've taken several days to let the fresh wounds scar over and taken some time away from baseball, it's time to start thinking about the upcoming off-season that will start in about 2 weeks or so. The number one concern the Twins will have is what to do with a bevy of free agents and arbitration-eligible players, namely: Carl Pavano, Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Matt Capps and Jim Thome. With around $90M already committed for next year's team and keeping in mind that a realistic ceiling for next season's payroll is around $100M, the Twins will simply not be keeping all of the aforementioned players. Let's go through each one.

Carl Pavano - SP - Restricted Free Agent (Type A)
Deciding what to do with Pavano will probably be the Twins most difficult choice this off-season, particularly because he has pitched so well here for the past season and a half. Last off-season, Pavano avoided arbitration with the Twins, opting to sign a 1-year, $7M deal. He backed that up with a solid campaign that saw him win 17 games for the Twins while sporting a very respectable 3.75 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 32 starts. What concerns me about Pavano heading into next season is a) his second half and b) the September he had this year. Pre All-Star break, Pavano had a 3.58 ERA, post All-Star break he had a somewhat mediocre 3.97 mark. In Sept/Oct, he had a putrid 5.06 ERA and even worse FIP at 5.86. I'm not saying one month of mediocrity is a bad omen for Pavano, but he was definitely less valuable down the stretch (in a few admittedly meaningless games) and seemed to lose a bit of what he had earlier in the year. Pavano fits the Twins starting pitcher mold perfectly, and I'd personally like to see him back, but ultimately I think the cost will be too high (likely $9M+).

Orlando Hudson - 2B - Restricted Free Agent (Type B)
O-Dogg pretty much gave the Twins what should have been expected this season...good defense, an average bat, and a good attitude. The only problem I have with Hudson is that he was terrible down the stretch. He had one of three decent offensive showings in the playoffs, but the overall body of work (offensively) probably isn't worth a penny more than the $5M they paid him this year. As Gleeman pointed out in his column yesterday, Hudson is not likely to be brought back precisely because, "the Twins may feel they can get 90 percent of the production for 10 percent of the cost in Alexi Casilla." If Hudson's season had been more productive offensively, it might be a no-brainer to re-sign him, but the fact is that he's only marginally better than Casilla and I don't think the Twins will be hurt that much if they let him go. Plus, they have more pressing need for the extra cash to address bullpen free-agents. For more on O-Dogg and his impending free-agency, check out John Bonnes' piece over at Twins Geek.

JJ Hardy - SS - Arbitration Eligible (free agent)
Similar to Hudson, JJ Hardy had an unimpressive season that was interrupted a few times by injury. Unlike Hudson, however, the Twins do not have a replacement player on their roster that is as valuable as Hardy. The Twins could have Punto (who has a club option for next season at $4.5M that I do not expect them to pick up) play shortstop, but he's nowhere near Hardy's potential at the plate and defensively, they're about equal. This past season, Hardy made a tidy sum of $5.1M and depending on what the market for shortstops is this winter, he could probably be re-signed for another season for about $5.5-$7M. I hope the Twins go after Hardy, I think he's a solid player at a position the Twins would struggle to fill otherwise. There's a blurb here on Baseball Prospectus regarding Hardy's free-agency that I disagree with, but anyway, here's the link.

Matt Guerrier - RP - Restricted Free Agent (Type A)
This is where it starts to get tricky. Between Guerrier, Crain and Rauch, half of the Twins bullpen are free agents. As for Matt Guerrier, he had a very up and down year. He was good in April, May and June and then sucked it up for July and August before returning to form for September. This past season Guerrier made $3.15M which was easily his best season money-wise so far. Again, it's hard to put a finger on what type of market to expect for a guy like Guerrier, but I imagine, given his consistency over the past 6 seasons in both durability and performance, that there would be a fairly good market for him. Personally I think it's worth locking him up for a few years, he has been one of the stalwarts of the Twins bullpen during the run of success over the past 8 years and he's only 31 years old. He's pitched over 70 innings in each of the last 6 years and though he leaves something to be desired as far as strikeouts go, he's reliable and effective. For the sake of argument, let's say the Twins offer him a 3-year deal at $4M per...moving on.

Jesse Crain - RP - Restricted Free Agent (Type B)
This is the guy I think the Twins have to resign. Yes he gave up a homer to Tex in the playoffs, but the guy was by far the best bullpen option for most of the season. Crain made only $2M this past season and will likely command a decent raise, which he deserves. He proved this year that his stuff is dominating and he will be much less expensive to re-sign than Brian Fuentes or Matt Capps. Assuming (and that is a hopeful assumption) that Joe Nathan returns next spring, Crain would make a great set-up man if he could repeat his performance from this season.

Jon Rauch - RP - Restricted Free Agent (Type B)
The Twins picked up Rauch's club option last year, but this year he's a free man. He didn't have a particularly great year, but might get some interest as a closer from some teams because he proved himself shaky-yet-competent in the early goings for the Twins this past season. I'd like to see the Twins re-sign him because he'll be a cheaper, yet equally competent, option than Fuentes or Capps, but who knows. What's going against Rauch is a mediocre 2nd half and the fact that the Twins probably have someone down in Triple-A who can do his job. Rauch made $2.9M this past season and will probably be looking at something similar to that on the free agent market, which wouldn't be out of the Twins price-range and hey, sometimes the devil you know is better than the one you don't.

Brian Fuentes/Matt Capps - RP - Restricted Free Agents (Both Type B)
I think these guys fall into the same boat and both are guys unlikely to be re-signed by the Twins. They were brought in for a pennant (and World Series) run that fell short. The only scenario in which I see Fuentes staying here is one in which he's willing to take a lot less money than he was making. He would be a valuable lefty specialist to be sure, but with an optimistic price tag likely in the $5M-$7M range (he made $9M last year). As for Capps, he falls into the category of "replaceable player" as he's not particularly dominant and isn't something the Twins don't pretty much already have. If the Twins didn't think that Nathan was going to be ready for the start of next year, I could see them making a run at Capps, but otherwise, I don't see him with the team come next season.

Jim Thome - DH - Unrestricted Free Agent
I saved the best for last. Thome has been a fan favorite at every stop of his Major-League career and here in Minnesota, it's been no different. Thome helped his own case by having a great year including a walk-off home run for the ages against the White Sox and a memorable mammoth-shot against the Royals. Thome was an absolute steal for what the Twins paid him, a mere $1.5M plus incentives, producing 25HRs and a 1.039OPS from the DH slot, a vast improvement on what has been one of the weaknesses of this team over the past several years. That said, unless the Twins can work a similarly cheap deal with Thome for next season, I hope they don't bring him back. I fear it would be like Favre's season last year vs. his season this can't catch lightening in a bottle twice. The history of 40+ year old power hitters is not very good (except Ted Williams). Hammerin' Hank Aaron hit 40HRs at 39 and then proceeded to hit 20, 12, and 10 in his next three seasons before retiring. Barry Bonds (*) hit 45HRs as a 39-year-old and then hit 5, 26, and 28 before pretty much being forced into retirement. Hell, most power hitters don't even manage to stay on the field till their 40's (Mantle, Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, etc) so Thome's already in rare company there. Anyway, all that to say, I love Thome and I think he's a great locker room presence and really, I wouldn't be disappointed if the Twins did bring him back for one more year, but as far as expectations go, I don't think he will be as productive next season and therefore not worth a higher price to bring back.

So to recap, if the Twins go with my proposal, Pavano, Hudson, Fuentes, Capps and Thome would be gone and they would re-sign Crain, Guerrier, Rauch and Hardy. The total cost for those players would be in the $12M - $17M range putting the Twins overall payroll at ~$102M - $107M, a modest bump up from this past season's $97M total. With my scenario, the Twins would keep their bullpen intact, continue to have solid middle-infield defense (with Casilla taking Hudson's place) and make a spot for Duensing or a trade that would bring in another front-line starter. As an aside, see here for a good description of Type A vs. Type B free agents and see here for a list of all 2011 free agents (players whom are free agents this coming off-season).

**Thanks to Cot's Contracts for all the salary numbers

Monday, October 11, 2010

Post-Season Duds...

Well, that was pathetic. Some of you who have followed this blog for awhile may remember former writer, "SR" who now writes for the YankeeU. He's a good friend of mine and as I watched the Yankees close out another postseason sweep of the Twins I sent him a text that read, "a painful hats off to you sir..." This time around, I didn't find the Twins' quick playoff exit as painful as in previous years. When they lost Game 1 I started to prepare myself and when they lost Game 2, I knew it was all but over. But, it still hurts. Those who follow the Twins on a daily basis, especially us bloggers, suffer the most I think. From Spring Training on I've been analyzing this team, lamenting tough losses, celebrating hot streaks and trying to glean the future from a screen filled with statistics. For 2 straight seasons now I've done this and both of past two have ended in exceedingly disappointing and short-lived playoff appearances. Here's pathetic:

Joe Mauer
Regular Season: .327/.402/.469 - 88Rs - 75RBIs
Post-Season: .250/.308/.250 - 0Rs - 0RBIs

Denard Span
Regular Season: .261/.331/.348 - 85Rs - 58RBIs
Post-Season: .308/.308/.308 - 0Rs - 0RBIs

Jason Kubel
Regular Season: .249/.323/.427 - 68Rs - 92RBIs
Post-Season: .000/.273/.000 - 0Rs - 0RBIs

JJ Hardy
Regular Season: .268/.320/.394 - 44Rs - 38RBIs
Post-Season: .100/.100/.200 - 0Rs - 0RBIs

Jim Thome
Regular Season: .283/.412/.627 - 48Rs - 59RBIs
Post-Season: .100/.308/.100 - 2Rs - 0RBIs

Danny Valencia
Regular Season: .311/.351/.448 - 30Rs - 40RBIs
Post-Season: .222/.273/.333 - 1R - 2RBIs

Everyone knows these numbers and really, they don't come as much of a surprise considering how anemic the offense was in the three games vs. New York. What has me baffled is how these players, particularly Mauer and Thome, can be such consistent performers in the regular season and be absolutely shut-down come the playoffs. I mean yeah, New York threw two lefties in the first two games of the series and we should have expected less output from those two guys, but in reality the Twins got zero production from those two guys and without it, the offense sputtered, to put it mildly.

Us Twins fans can lament all we want, but the simple fact is that 6 out of the 9 guys in the lineup pretty much didn't show up for this series. Your "stars" were Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Orlando Hudson. That's not going to get it done and against the Yankees, Twins pitching can't be expected to hold leads when the offense only scores 4, 2 and 1 runs.

So, where's the hope for next year? The Twins team next season will look very similar to this year's team aside from (hopefully) the return of both Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan. Notable free-agents include Jim Thome, Carl Pavano and Orlando Hudson, but aside from that, the Twins aren't slated to lose any of their key players. I would expect the Twins to at least make an effort to re-sign Hudson and Pavano and I wouldn't be surprised if they let Thome go, the track record of 40-year-old hitters isn't that spectacular.

Plain and simple, the Twins need another shut-down pitcher in the rotation. Pavano started the season nicely, but gave up way to many hits down the stretch. Liriano will be even better next season I think, this year he seemed to wear out as the season went on, more than likely because he'd never been used quite as much to this point in his young career. Baker and Slowey also broke down in the last month or two of the season; hopefully the Twins staff can figure out how to keep them healthy for next year. Duensing was once again impressive over the last month of the year and I expect to see him in the rotation to start next year. All that said, aside from Liriano, none of the other starters are that dominant which is why I think the front-office needs to focus on landing another front-line starter in order for this team to really compete in the post-season.

The lineup will be fine next year, I would like to see the Twins re-sign Hudson because of his good attitude and his excellent defense. If the Twins do that and do not re-sign Thome, you could make Kubel a DH again and your outfield would look much better with Delmon in left, D-Span in center and Cuddyer in right.

I suppose it's a bit too early to start talking about next year and speculating what the Twins will do in the off-season, but well, I need something to hold on to. Thanks, Twins, for a great regular season and those many satisfying victories over the White Sox, I was hoping for a little better showing in the playoffs, but I guess I'll have to wait for a post-season that doesn't feature a first-round matchup with the Yankees.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Behind Enemy Lines: The Bat Shatters on The Yankee U

In preparation for tonight's playoff matchup, our good friend and former TBS contributor Stephen was gracious enough to give us some space to defend the Twins on The Yankee U, a very well-done blog that covers everything Yankees related. Regardless of how you feel about the Yanks, these guys do a nice job and we're grateful for the opportunity. Check it out here and go Twins!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't Panic

With another ugly loss to the Royals last night, the Twins have now dropped five in a row since the minor-league squad finished off the sweep of the Indians a week ago. The offense has been sputtering, the pitching has been fairly putrid, and it's hard to shake the feeling that we'd much rather see the Twins charge instead of limp into the playoffs. As is often the case, a stretch like this can draw the Chicken Littles out of the woodwork (I include myself in this category at times) and leave us with the sense of impending doom of another playoff implosion lurking just around the corner. I feel like this needs to be said though - stop panicking, and here are a few reasons why:

Reason #1: The concept of "momentum" heading into the playoffs is not a strong predictor of results.

Gleeman and others have pointed out that, at least in a limited recent sample size, the number of games won or lost heading into the playoffs hasn't necessarily translated into success or failure. Again, this isn't based on wide-ranging statistical analysis - it just goes to show that even the hottest team heading into the playoffs can lay an egg, and a team that closed out the regular season on a losing streak can be just fine. We've had these moments plenty of times during this season where nothing seems to be clicking, and the Twins have shown an ability to right the ship. In the playoffs, the window of opportunity to turn things around is obviously smaller (and I think the idea of "getting the losses out of the way now" is pretty meaningless) but hopefully the lineup that takes the field for the ALDS will look substantially different than the one we've been watching the past week. Which brings me to...

Reason #2: The Twins have been without a key third of the lineup.

Since the priority (as it should be) has been on getting the team healthy rather than going all-out for the best record in the AL, we haven't seen Mauer, Hardy or Thome lately. This obviously creates significant holes in the lineup both offensively and defensively, and the hope is that all three of these guys will be ready to go come October 6th, if not earlier. Although the latest report sounds encouraging, there's no guarantee that some of the injured crew won't have setbacks, meaning that whoever is in the lineup for Game 1 will have to step up, but the hope is that we'll see a healthy Mauer, Thome and Hardy all back at 100%.

Reason #3: The offensive "regulars" who have been playing haven't been the problem.

Again, small sample size, but in the last five losses the lines for the uninjured members of what we hope will be the starting lineup are as follows:

Denard Span: .412, 4 R, 3 BB
Delmon Young: .304, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Michael Cuddyer: .238, 3 RBI
Jason Kubel: 2 HR, 7 RBI
Danny Valencia: 2 HR, 5 RBI
Orlando Hudson (ok, so he's been struggling): .111, 2 R, 4 BB

Denard and Delmon seem to be seeing the ball fairly well as of late, and Kubel and Valencia have been providing some pop. Hudson and Cuddyer are in a bit of a funk, but they've been much better hitters at Target Field this year. A five-game sample obviously isn't predictive, but there are enough signs of life here that I wouldn't worry too much about an offense that has been missing two of its best hitters.

Reason #4: Part of the ugly run totals allowed have been due to bullpen guys who aren't getting used in the playoffs.

After Liriano's early exit due to illness on Sept 24, Manship and Burnett combined to cough up eight runs against the Tigers. In the first game of the Royals series, Manship gave up three more after Slowey left the game. Glen Perkins has allowed 4 ER in 3.1 IP. Randy Flores served up a game-tying home run to the Royals in a situation he's not going to be put in in the playoffs.

In terms of the guys who will actually see action, Crain has been slightly more hittable in September but is still pitching well, Capps struck out the side last night in his only recent appearance, Guerrier hasn't allowed a run since Sept 15th and fanned two in his inning Monday night, Mijares hasn't given up a hit or walk in his last three appearances, and since an ugly outing versus Texas on Sept 5th, Rauch has posted a 4:1 K/BB rate in 6 IP with no runs allowed.

Reason #5: The starting pitching....

Gulp. If there is one area that is the biggest cause for concern right now, this is it. I don't have the time to do any detailed pitchFX analysis or anything, but the results have not been good. To be fair, Liriano's last outing was shortened due to a stomach problem, and he actually looked pretty good before giving up the home run, with four strikeouts and one walk in three innings. Pavano has struggled (to say the least) in his last few outings, giving up twelve earned runs in only nine innings, including eleven hits and seven earned against the Tigers on Saturday. If there's a bright spot to be found, he's still getting more groundball outs than flyouts, and he struck out two in four innings while not walking anyone. In addition, if he's had a pattern this year, his clunkers have generally been followed up by much stronger outings. The red flag for Duensing lately would be his control, having walked four in each of his last two starts. He's still killing worms at a good clip (15 GB vs 8 FB in his last appearance). He has the ability to be effective if he makes good use of his excellent slider, but needs to cut down on the free passes.

The projected fourth starter, Nick Blackburn, did not have a very good night last night either, getting shelled for seven earned in 4.1 innings and allowing two home runs. In his recent run of success, the key factor for Blackburn (like Duensing) has been keeping the ball on the ground:

5-Sep TEX 1 0 7 6 0 2 2 4 3 5 12
11-Sep @CLE 0 0 8 5 0 0 0 3 2 6 16
17-Sep OAK 0 1 7 8 1 3 3 1 1 5 18
22-Sep CLE 1 0 7 5 0 1 1 2 2 6 12
28-Sep @KCR 0 1 4.1 8 2 8 8 4 2 8 6

One of these things is not like the other. If Blackburn does indeed get a start in Game 4 (which would be a road start) keeping the ball down will be absolutely essential. He's shown that he can step up and pitch well in big games before (see: Game 163, 2008 or Game 2, 2009 ALDS at Yankee Stadium), but can't afford to leave pitches up as a pitch-to-contact guy.

If Scott Baker has a dominant outing tonight, you'd have to figure he may be in the discussion for Game 4, but his elbow has been iffy and I'm not sure how much the Twins (or I) trust him at this point. Regardless of who that pitcher may be, the staff as a whole needs to snap out of their mini-funk and get back their edge before the games matter again. I'm confident they can - if Liriano can set the tone in Game 1, maybe that will give the others something to build on. I don't know if either bad or good pitching are "contagious" per se, but a strong start in front of the home crowd would certainly be a confidence boost. For Twins fans, the sky is certainly not falling, but there are some holes to patch up in the next week. This team has the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs, and here's to hoping for some October magic.