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.