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The Bat Shatters

On the Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball

Updated: 2018-03-06T14:03:34.956-05:00


The Cubs, The Indians, and The Best Game in 25 Years


Wow. What a flippedy,-friggin',-fraggin' game. In my 33 years of life, there are not many sports moments where I can clearly remember where I was when ___ happened. Being a Minnesota sports fan, most of those moments are bad anyway and involve missed Field Goals. Last night though, is a great memory and will always be one of those "I remember that night" kind of memories.I moved to the Chicago area for college 14 years ago. During my sophomore year, 2003, I got my first introduction to the agony of Cubs fandom. Everyone knows the story now - my friends and I were making plans to hop on a Metra train to go downtown and celebrate a Cubs NLCS win when the Bartman incident happened and everyone knows the rest of the story. What proceeded that season was another 12 years of mostly bad teams with the occasional blip here and there (LDS losses in '07 and '08). In 2009 the Cubs were sold by the Tribune Company to the Ricketts Family and that was the beginning of the turnaround. In 2011, they hired baseball-wizard Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox. Theo turned around and hired Jed Hoyer (as GM) and Jason McLeod (Director of Scouting and Player Development) from the San Diego Padres and then in 2015, Theo hired Joe Maddon from the Tampa Bay Rays.Here are Theo's (and Jed Hoyer's) other moves since becoming President of Baseball Operations:- Acquired Miguel Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks via trade (2014)- Signed free-agent David Ross to a 2-year, $5MM deal (2014)- Acquired Anthony Rizzo from the San Diego Padres via trade (2012)- Signed free-agent Ben Zobrist to a 4-year, $56MM deal (2015)- Acquired Addison Russell from the Oakland Athletics via trade (2015)- Signed free-agent Jason Heyward to an 8-year, $184MM deal (2015) - Acquired Dexter Fowler from the Houston Astros via trade (2015, re-signed 2016)- Acquired Jake Arrieta & Pedro Strop from the Baltimore Orioles via trade (2013)- Acquired Kyle Hendricks from the Texas Rangers via trade (2012)- After trading Jason Hammel for A. Russell, re-signed free-agent Hammel to 2-year deal (2014)- Signed free-agent Jon Lester to a 6-year, $155MM deal (2014)- Acquired Mike Montgomery from the Seattle Mariners via trade (2016)- Signed International free agent Jorge Soler (2012)- Acquired Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees via trade (2016)- Selected Javier Baez with the 9th overall pick in 2011 draft- Selected Kris Bryant with the 2nd overall pick in 2013 draft- Selected Kyle Schwarber with the 4th overall pick in 2014 draft The above is, more or less, the anatomy of a Championship, at least from a player personnel standpoint. The Ricketts Family, specifically Tom Ricketts did what all of us fans of other sports franchises wish that our owner would do...he brought in the absolute best people he could to run the team and those people turned around and hired the best people around them. In basically 4 years, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer built the Chicago Cubs into a World Series Champion.Last season I had a chance to go to NLCS Game 3 at Wrigley Field. My friend Bryan, who has been a season-ticket holder for awhile, offered me a ticket and I didn't hesitate. It will always be one of my best sports memories. I had never been to a playoff game before and aside from the Cubs losing that game and eventually getting swept by The New York Mets, everything else about that experience was great. Sitting there in that game you knew that even if 2015 wasn't the Cubs year, it wasn't going to be far off. They were one or two pieces away from being a truly special team.The 2016 season needs no recap. The Cubs added Zobrist and Heyward in the off-season, lead all of Major League Baseball in wins (103) and clinched the NL Central with two weeks to go in the season. They faced the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS and took care of business, winning the series 3-1 capped off by an improbable and historic 9th inning comeback in Game 4. So they were back to where they left off the previous year - an NLCS match-up with the Los Angeles Dodgers.This time around - we paid secondary-market prices to go[...]

A Vast Improvement (?): Ervin Santana


Ervin Santana is a Twin.  Four-years, $55MM deal.  For the Twins he presents another foray into the free agent market for second tier starting pitching.  I like it!  I like it when it is compared to Edwin Jackson’s four-year $52 million deal last year.   I have been critical of the Twins for some time but it is nice to see them spending some money on decent players with some upside (even if there were other guys I’d rather see wear a Twins uni).  The good:  he immediately improves one of baseball’s worst starting rotations (sort by any metric you want, they all look bad).  If, and it’s a big if, Nolasco can turn into the pitcher they paid for not the pitcher he was, the rotation looks much more palatable.  A Hughes, Santana, Nolasco, Gibson, Meyer/May/Pelfrey combo looks intriguing.  It looks even better when compared to Hughes, Nolasco, Gibson, Pelfrey, Milone… seriously, wow.  Sadly, this still isn’t a very good rotation and the addition of Santana caused me to mention to Adam how sad it is that the addition of Santana simply made the rotation, not terrible. He is a fly ball(ish) pitcher with strikeout numbers trending in the right direction (thank goodness) and a history of giving up the long ball.  You can hope a move to Target Field will help though the defense behind him will continue to be bad.  I am hopeful he can pitch to his recent track record.  Moving to the AL might hurt but the AL Central is not the toughest of divisions.  Now, at 32 (tomorrow), durability has to be somewhat of a question.  Fangraphs pointed out back in October that Santana relies more on the slider than any right-handed starting pitcher.  And we all remember a certain lefty with a high reliance upon a slider.  Speaking of Liriano, would you have been upset if the Twins brought back Franky at three years, $39MM?  That seems about right… same age as Santana, similar pitcher, fewer years for less dollars and most importantly, no draft pick.  It is a contract that seems to fit the recent Twins MO.  Admittedly, I do not know the ins and outs of the Liriano deal nor likelihood he would have left the Pirates for a move back to Twins. The MLB Trade Rumors breakdown of Santana  is great and they basically pegged the contract.   It is a bit interesting to see the Twins target one of the only pitchers on the market that received a qualifying offer.  With the Twins not likely to compete for a few years it stings a little bit giving up a draft pick to sign Santana.   All-in-all I am a happy Twins fan today.  I don’t believe this makes the Twins a contender nor do I think it hamstrings them from making other, productive signings.  Committing $13.5 million per year to Santana is not onerous.  Hopefully, when the Twins get to the back half of this deal, Santana will be a foundational piece of a team stringing together division titles.[...]

The Key to the Jon Lester: Jake Arrieta


One of the great things about this blog revamp is that I'm not longer beholden to only writing about the Twins. Here's my first non-Twins related blogpost.By now, everyone has heard about the Cubs signing of Jon Lester to a 6-year, $155MM contract (with a $30MM signing bonus!) and I've seen numerous Cubs fans on Twitter now talking about how the Cubs are surely World Series bound. I love the optimism. I'm not here to squash those dreams but instead, I'm here to look at the Cubs rotation after Lester which, in my mind, leaves a lot to be desired.One of the things I've been seeing on Twitter is this excitement surrounding a 1-2 punch of Lester and Arrieta. I understand the Lester excitement as he's been one of the best left-handed pitchers in MLB for the last several years. As for Arrieta however, he had a great 2014 campaign, but even a cursory glance at his numbers prior to 2013 makes one pause and perhaps pull back a little on the excitement about the Cubs #2 starter.Arrieta was drafted out of college by the Baltimore Orioles in 2007. He rose fairly quickly with the Orioles and made his Major League debut in 2010 at the age of 24. He had been on the prospect radars but was never very highly ranked (#67 by Baseball America and #52 by Baseball Prospectus) so his arrival at the Big League level was quiet. During his rookie season he started 18 games for the Orioles compiling a 4.66 ERA over 100+ innings and had pretty lackluster peripherals including a 4.7 K/9 ratio, a 4.3 BB/9 ratio, an 89 ERA+, and a 4.76 FIP (5.17 xFIP).Arrieta went on to miss parts of the 2010 and 2011 seasons due to bone spurs in his pitching elbow - a problem that was ultimately corrected via surgery in 2011. In 2012 Arrieta made the Opening Day roster but was mostly horrible through the first 3 months of the season before being demoted back to Triple-A at the beginning of July. In 2013, he again made the Opening Day roster, was again terrible, and was subsequently demoted to Triple-A again in Late April. It was at that point the Orioles decided to bail on Arrieta and they traded him to the Cubs. The Cubs gave Arrieta another shot in August of 2013 and he ended up pitching pretty well, compiling a 3.66 ERA over 9 starts to end the 2013 season.Arrieta developed shoulder inflammation in Spring Training prior to the 2014 season and ended up missing the first 27 games of the year. His first start of the year was May 3rd and from then on, he was nothing short of spectacular for the rest of the season. He ended up giving the Cubs 156+ innings in 2014, had a sparkling 2.53 ERA, 0.98 WHIP (2.26 FIP, 2.73 xFIP) and had a stunning 9.6 K/9 ratio. I say stunning because prior to the 2014 season, Arrieta had a 6.9 K/9 ratio.The biggest question with Arrieta is "was 2014 a fluke or did the Cubs change something in Arrieta's delivery, or arsenal, that contributed to this dramatic turnaround?" A few people in the blogosphere who are much better at explaining these things, have taken a stab at this question. In looking purely at the numbers, there are some indications that Arrieta made some significant changes and that his results from 2014 are something he can sustain into the future. The most significant difference you can see in the numbers is his lowered BB/9 rate. From 2010-2013, he walked an average of 4 batters per 9 innings. In 2014, he walked a mere 2.4 per 9. Another standout change is in the rate at which Arrieta induced ground balls. He has always been a ground ball pitcher, but he went from inducing ground balls about 43% of the time, to up around 49% of the time, or an increase of about 14%.I took a look at Arrieta's PitchFX numbers (pitch speed) and his fastball averaged 93.4mph last seasons which is very typical of his entire career to this a velocity change doesn't explain the different results. If you look at his pitch selection, however, one very interesting thing comes up. In his 3+ seasons prior to joining the Cubs, he threw his fastball roughly 60-65% of the time. In 2014, that nu[...]

The Twins Front Office: More of the Same


I'll admit, when it comes to the White Sox, I have nothing good to say. I will never have anything good to say. I was living in the Chicago area on October 26th, 2005 and it was one of the most depressing days of my life. Watching them land both David Robertson and Jeff Samardzija in the past few days has brought my blood to a near boil when it comes to the Twins. Look, I get it, the Twins aren't going to be a contender this coming season, but there are moves that they could be making in free-agency NOW that would bring a contender back to Minnesota sooner rather than later. Instead, they are essentially sitting on the sidelines and waiting/hoping that their current crop of young talent will put it all together in 2016 and beyond. They are wasting opportunities that are out there now.Let's look at some of the recent free-agent signings and trades that have happened.Jeff Samardzija (SP)The White Sox received Samardzija from the Oakland As for Marcus Semien (SS), Chris Bassitt (potential SP or long reliever) and a PTBNL. Both Semien and Bassitt are pretty decent prospects and the White Sox will only control Samardzija for one year, but still - that is relatively little to give up for a #2 starter like Samardzija. There is this perception that top-flight starters are expensive, but this is a case where I feel the White Sox didn't have to give up much to get one. Samardzija gives the White Sox a potent 1-2-3 in their rotation (along with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana) and along with the acquisition of David Robertson (FA RP), makes them look a whole lot better on paper than they did just a few weeks ago. I think they overpaid for Robertson (4-yrs, $46M) but that's not the point. The point is that the White Sox made themselves relevant and didn't have to make a bunch of moves to do so.Brandon Moss (OF and 1B)The Indians traded a no-name Double-A infielder (Joe Wendle) and landed Moss, who has the chance to be a really nice fit with the Indians. The best thing for both parties is probably that it gets him out of Oakland and the Oakland Coliseum, where he was terrible at the plate. In 70 games at Oakland last year, his triple-slash was .197/.299/.404 and in 77 games on the road it was .265/.364/.467. This is another example of a team that spent very little to get something decent in return. Moss is under team control until 2017 and will add potency to an offense that is already trending up. As for the Twins - Moss doesn't really address any of their needs as the Twins are already log-jammed at 1B and in the Outfield.Josh Donaldson (3B)Donaldson was traded from the Oakland As to the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie, Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin. This trade doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but there had been some mention of Donaldson not seeing eye-to-eye with Billy Beane so maybe there is more to this story. Donaldson has been one of the top 3rd basemen in baseball over the last two seasons whereas as Brett Lawie has been oft-injured and inconsistent so far in his career. Both players have 4-years of team control left and Billy Beane is a well-respected GM, so we'll give the benefit of the doubt to him for making this move. From the Twins standpoint, again, this wouldn't have made much sense for them. If you believe Miguel Sano is your future at 3B and that Sano is close to assuming that role, then there is no need for a guy like Donaldson. And besides, that's a lot to give up in a trade, even for a guy like Donaldson.Yasmany Tomas (OF, possibly 3B)This Cuban outfielder received a lot of hype prior to his signing and has been compared to Jose Abreu, last year's ROY in the American League. A lot of teams were interested in Tomas, but it was the Diamondbacks that ultimately won out, landing Tomas on a 6-year, $68.5MM deal. This one, like the Samardzija deal, really sticks in my craw. To me, landing this guy would have been a great move for the Twins. Granted, it would further muddle their outfield situation, but if they had taken the $10.5MM they are g[...]

Torii Hunter: Then and Now


Well, well, well...look who's back. As has been widely reported at this point, Torii Hunter has signed a 1-year, $10.5MM contract with the Twins for the 2015 season. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I think there is some good value there is he provides some solid, veteran leadership for this young up-and-coming team that the Twins have put together. On the other hand, I don't understand the front-office's obsession with former Twins players. Hunter is one of the first players they've brought back, but the coaching staff is replete with former Twins and I've heard rumors out there that the Twins are interested in potentially bringing back Liriano. Maybe my fears about the nepotism of the front-office are unfounded. Only time will tell I suppose.I thought it would be fun to look at Torii Hunter from a 'then and now' perspective. Hunter spent 9 seasons with the Twins before leaving via free-agency to join the Angels and then after 5 seasons there he left and joined the Tigers for the past 2 seasons. When Hunter left the Twins he was a 31-year-old veteran center-fielder who had been a consistent performer on a playoff team. Now he is a 39-year-old corner-outfielder who is solidly in the twilight of his career.Here is an average season for Hunter during his 9 seasons with the Twins:136 games played.271/.324/.46975 Runs21 HRs79 RBI14 SBsAveraged about 3.0 WAR per season7 Gold Glove Seasons Here is an average season for Hunter during his 7 seasons away from the Twins:143 games played.289/.345/.46080 Runs20 HRs86 RBI10 SBsAveraged 3.3 WAR per season2 Gold Glove SeasonsIn looking at the numbers, I'm actually impressed with Hunter's consistency at the plate. He has been a very offensively consistent player throughout his career and even over the past few seasons, he has stayed mostly healthy (has played at least 140gms each of the last five seasons) and while there has been a slight drop off in his overall power, he has been a consistent producer.I think the one caveat we should put here is that he has played in the middle of some pretty powerhouse lineups. Last season, Hunter was primarily either a 2-hole or a 5-hole hitter with the Tigers. In 2013, Hunter was almost exclusively a 2-hole hitter. This means that for at least the last two seasons, he was hitting directly in front of one of the most feared hitters in baseball in Miguel Cabrera, who has been the 3-hole hitter for the Tigers for the past two years. Last season, the Tigers also had V-Mart hitting 4th. That is one heck of a 2-3-4 and is substantially better than what the Twins will have when Hunter dons the Twins uniform this coming season. I should also mention that Hunter had Ian Kinsler hitting in front of him in the lead-off spot...not too shabby there either. At best, the Twins will have a 2-3-4 of Hunter, Mauer and Arcia/Vargas or some combination thereof. It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers Hunter can put up in the less potent lineup that he will now be a part of.Now let's talk about defense. When Hunter was with the Twins, he was a human highlight reel, regularly making spectacular plays in center field and occasionally robbing Barry Bonds of HRs in the All-Star game. Using defensive metrics that have been created since Hunter was a Twin, let's take a look at Hunter's defense from 2002 to 2007 (his run of 7 consecutive Gold Gloves in CF for the Twins) as compared to other qualified center fielders over that same period of time.6,994 Innings 11.9 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) - ranked 9th out of 14 CF (qualified) over the same period of time2.3 UZR/150 (UZR averaged over 150 games) - ranked 10th of 14 CF over the same period of time13.5 RngR (Range Runs above Average) - ranked 7th of 14 CFers-36 TZ (Total Zone in Runs above Average) - ranked 14th out of 14 CFersTo put that into perspective, here are some of Andruw Jones numbers over that same period:8,062 Innings 119.6 UZR - ranked 1st out of 14 qualified CFers.20.5 UZR/150 - r[...]

The Case for Aaron Hicks


Before my last post, it had been since April 2013 since I had written anything about the Twins. I'm honestly in awe of you bloggers out there who have continued to write about this team despite four straight 90+ loss seasons. Not only does that take dedication, it takes a special kind of stamina to keep going despite the product on the field. My hats off to you. The last thing I wrote about was Aaron Hicks who, at the time, was at the beginning of his rookie season and who had a historically bad opening to his Major League career. I would love to say that he turned it around and is now a fixture in center field for the Twins, but we all know that's not true and, in fact, things haven't gotten much better at all. With that being said, I still think Hicks has a chance to be a decent center fielder for the Twins.At 25, Hicks is still relatively young, and that may be the biggest thing going for him. For comparison, Carlos Gomez was 26 before he really started to put it together after being traded from the Twins to the Brewers. Torii Hunter was 23 when he played his first full season in the Big Leagues and was 25 before he really hit his stride with the Twins. Curtis Granderson was also 25 when he finally put it all together on the Major League level. Puckett was 24-years-old as a rookie with the Twins in 1984. I'm not saying that Hicks is comparable to Gomez, The Puck, Hunter or Granderson, and in fact, those comparisons are almost laughable. Rather I'm trying to make the point that 25-years-old is not too old and it's premature to say that Hicks' career is doomed. Seven years is a long time for someone to play professional baseball and not "make it" but there are other examples of players who were late bloomers.The other thing that Hicks has that is fairly unique at the Major League level (if it can fully translate) is his ability to draw walks. Aside from his stint as a rookie in the Majors, Hicks has always had a decent eye at the plate and owns a career .377 OBP in the Minors. Even this past season, which saw Hicks play in 69 games with the Major League club, Hicks had a 36:56 K:BB ratio and an OPS of .341 (despite a .215 BA). If he could hold a batting average closer to .270-.290 and hit with a little more power (.350-.400 SLG), that would be enough offensive production to make him an every-day center-fielder.One thing that has mysteriously disappeared from Hicks' repertoire over the past couple of seasons is his base-stealing abilities. He was never a prolific base-stealer in the Minors, but from Rookie ball up through Double-A, he had double-digit steals every season and topped out with 32 stolen bases (11 CS) in 2012. Since 2012, he has barely utilized that talent, stealing a total of 17 bases between his time in the Majors AND Minors. Some might look at the stats and see that as a good thing given that Hicks' success rate in stealing isn't great (68% between the Majors and Minors), but he's got speed and, with time, can probably be coached to pick his spots better and bring that number closer to 75%, which would be just fine. For a guy who has the potential to be on-base as much as Hicks, re-discovering his ability to steal bases would increase his value greatly.So where has Hicks gone wrong? I listen to Gleeman and the Geek fairly regularly and many times on their show/podcast, they have talked about how its quite possible that Hicks' development was actually stunted by the Twins and their mis-handling of Hicks over the past couple of seasons. First there was the move straight from Double-A in 2012, to Twins starting center fielder coming out of Spring Training in 2013. After his disastrous first few months as a rookie, the Twins (Gardenhire) publicly questioned Hicks' effort. Last season, the Twins again publicly questioned Hicks' work ethic and on-field production before demoting him to Triple-A in June (after a DL stint). The whole situation, whether merited or not, reminds me[...]

A Small Market Response


Disclaimer: I am more of a football guy.  Now, having said that, I am a passionate Twins fan who lives in the heart of Hawk Harrelson Country™ and that fact has only increased my love for the Twins.  While the past four years have been tough I take solace in the White Sox sucking too…I don’t have MLB Extra Innings, I went to precisely two MLB games last year (both Cubs games), I would rather attend the local Low “A” game than commute to The Northside, and I struggle to recite the past five World Series champions (only half kidding).  However, I religiously check my “Batter’s Box” app every night and every morning during baseball season to check the Twins box score and highlights.  I believe I know a fair amount about the Twins, not as much as Adam, but I feel I can hold my own.  It is because of this knowledge I am apprehensive about the Twins going forward.   So, here it goes… my response to Adam’s Royals and Twins small-market formula.Yes, it is well documented; the Twins have a consensus top five farm system.  They play in a terrible division.  They are in a honeymoon period with a new manager.  The stars are aligning.  My problem, nothing has changed in the one spot that matters the most, the front office.  The fact that Bill Smith still has a job (albeit a made up one) is surprising and associating Terry Ryan with success, at this point, is kind of laughable.  The Twins seem to be successful in spite of management not because of it.  Looking back at the ESPN Transaction page you can see what the Twins have done.  For the sake of time and word count I only went back to 2010.  Since 2010, the Twins do not have a lot of “winners”.  Glen Perkins, Phil Hughes, initial signing of Josh Willingham, Kurt Suzuki all seem like winners with Hughes being a steal.  But a quick rundown of the losers is pretty amazing.  Jason Bartlett, Jason Kubel, Ricky Nolasco, Carl Pavano resigning, Matt Capps trade AND resigning, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, Letting Hardy go, letting Vance Worley go, and the granddaddy of them all… TsuyoshiNishioka.  I am sure I am missing some on both sides and I realize some are minor signings but the fact that the front office even tried to fleece the fans is annoying and par for the course.  The jury is still out on the Denard Span and Ben Revere trades but by trading both the Twins left a void in centerfield that Aaron Hicks hasn’t been able to fill.  That blunder has helped propagate one of the worst defensive outfields in the league.  An outfield which plays its home games in the pitcher friendly Target Field.  I think this furthers the point; they seemed to have lucked into Byron Buxton fitting a huge need, not planned for it.  To their credit, the Twins have seemed to pivot towards “toolsy”, high upside, position players and power arms in the draft and that has helped position them for a possible run at the division in a few years.  However, associating the drafting profile and the 40-man roster management with a blueprint or anything similar to other organizations… I just don’t see it.  And lastly, for a team that moved into a tax payer funded new stadium six years ago and then almost immediately imploded, it is annoying to see Terry Ryan publicly state he is comfortable with where the payroll stands.  There has to be a middle ground between going after Jon Lester or signing Kevin Correia (like Phil Hughes contracts).  Heck, the 2015 opening day roster doesn’t even have that many “holes” they need to fill.  They are set at 1b, 2b, SS (Santana), DH, C, RF with placeholders at 3b and CF.  The Twins have the money for a few, targeted, middle to upper tier free agent signings and the fans have been more than patient.  Based on MLB Trade Rumors 20[...]

Emulating Success: The Royals, Twins and the Small-Market Formula


I'll start off with a house-keeping item...I'd like to officially welcome Bryan Chapman as a writer to this blog. Bryan grew up in Kansas City and has been a Royals fan throughout his life. He'll be writing about mostly Royals and Cubs-related things (he’s a Cubs season-ticket holder) as well as other general baseball topics as we try to get this blog rolling again. We might have a 3rd writer coming on soon (another Twins fan) but Bryan and I are still in the process of applying peer-pressure so we'll let you know what happens.Since this blog is now a Twins/Royals blog, I thought I would start by comparing the two teams and seeing if my beloved Twins might share some things in common with the Royals. Major League Baseball is very much a league of copycats and I think, in many ways, the Twins are following a very similar path to success that the Royals have just completed. The Royals and Dayton Moore, it can be argued, were simply following a formula for small-market MLB success that was pioneered by the Marlins and Rays (and the Twins, to an extent).In 1993 the Florida Marlins were created as part of an expansion move by Major League Baseball. Their first 4 seasons were all losing seasons and then suddenly, in 1997, the Marlins broke through and won it all. After winning the 1997 World Series, they immediately dismantled the team, lost 108 games in 1998 and started building again. All told, they had 5 straight losing seasons before winning it all again in 2003. They never spent a lot of money and created a model based on building from within and then adding key free agent pieces when the homegrown talent started to appear at the Major League level. The Tampa Bay Rays have a very similar story - they were an expansion franchise in 1998, and lost 90+ games for 10 straight seasons before breaking through and making it to the World Series in 2007 (which they lost). The Marlins and the Rays were the modern blueprint of building via the Draft and then making small free agency splashes when the time was right.The Royals are a much more storied franchise than either the Marlins or the Rays - they were an expansion team in 1969 and had a stretch from the mid-70s to the mid-80s where they were perennial contenders. From 1975 to 1985, they finished either 1st or 2nd in their division in 10 out of 11 seasons. The rest of the story has been repeated ad nauseam over the past 6 weeks as the Royals finally broke a 29-year stretch of non-playoff baseball, went on a somewhat miraculous run through the playoffs, and made it all the way to the World Series. The story, however, starts with a change at the GM position in 2006 - when the Royals brought Dayton Moore in to help turn the franchise around.Dayton Moore cut his teeth as a scout for the Atlanta Braves and eventually worked his way up to Director of Player Personnel Development before leaving the Braves for the GM post with the Royals. Since 2006, Moore has become been quite a controversial figure among Royals fans and is seen as a middle-of-the-road GM around the rest of baseball. He doesn't command the respect of a Billy Beane or Theo Epstein as many of his moves over the past several years have been questioned, but he's also put together a fairly young and very exciting team that could be a contender for several years. He's done it using the blueprint that the Marlins and Rays forged in the late-90s and early 2000s. The primary difference between him and his predecessor in Kansas City, Allard Baird, has been in their approach to player development. I wasn't a rabid baseball fan in the early-2000s when Baird was around, but in looking at the moves he made, it appears he viewed young talent as trading pieces to land bigger groups of young-ish talent, most notably trading away budding stars like Damon and Beltran in multi-team, multi-player deals.Moore inherited a team that had some decent pie[...]

Small Ball for All? Not So Fast, My Friend.


During the last week of October, the national conversation included phrases such as “Gas House Gang” and “small ball.”  This was in reference to the Kansas City Royals’ improbable run to a Game 7 of the World Series, and the means by which they did so.  The strengths of the Royals this year was its bullpen, its defense, aggressiveness on the base paths and the fact that they are tough to strike out. (Not necessarily in that order.) But do the last two actually matter?  Well, of course the matter on some level.  But do teams that successfully steal significantly more bases than the rest win more games?  Do teams that make contact at the plate stand a better chance to make the playoffs in the Wild-Card era?  Over at Bill James Online, Dave Fleming has an interesting piece on the relative importance of “contact,” i.e., low strikeout totals and “steals” to the Kansas City Royals season.  It should be noted that Fleming’s piece was written the night the Royals advanced to the ALCS, so Fleming does not take into account the performance of the Royals in their sweep of the Orioles, or the World Series.  Fleming concludes that while the Royals as a team are in fact a rarity with a low strikeout/high stolen base combination, in and of itself, such statistics are not good indicators of regular season success.  Fleming notes that the Royals struck out at lowest rate in the Majors this year, 985 times, while the MLB average was 1246.  The Cubs led the league with 1477 strikeouts.  It turns out the Royals led the league “contact” in 2012 and 2013 as well, with league leading strike out totals of 1032 and 1048, respectively.  In short, the 2014 Royals increased their contact rate in 2014.  Pretty impressive.  But does it matter?  The Royals won 89 games during the regular season, and the Cubs won 73 games.  So yes, clearly contact-prone teams are more likely to win, right?Wrong. According to Fleming, (and his statistics bear this out) during the Wild-Card era, teams with the lowest strikeout totals in season have a winning percentage barely above .500, and that is only due to the amazing Cleveland Indians teams of 1995 and 1996.   In short, the evidence suggests that a team with a low strikeout rate does not stand to win more games as a result.  Ok, well, what about the Royals speed?  “That’s what speed do,” right? Win games?  Well, the Royals stole 153 bases this year, while the MLB average was 92.  But historically, as Fleming points out, the Royals are not exceptional in this regard.  During the Wild-Card era, the Royals are basically middle of the pack when it comes to number of stolen bases vs. the MLB average.   For example, the 2007 Mets stole 200 bases in a year where the MLB average was 97 steals per team.  Remember the 2007 Mets?  Me neither. But here’s where Fleming’s analysis gets interesting (from a Royals fan perspective).  Fleming notes that the 2014 Royals are historic, in that no team in the Wild-Card era “has managed to avoid strikeouts and steal bases to the degree that the 2014 Royals have.”  And, the top eight teams with the highest relative difference (compared to the MLB average) on strikeouts and stolen basis averaged 91 wins a season, with the 2014 Royals leading the way.  In sum, I take from Fleming’s piece that being a high-contact/high stolen base team is not a winning strategy in and of itself.  On average, teams which have excelled in these categories over the last 20 year play a little better than .500 ball, but some lose 90 games.  That said, Fleming’s piece suggests that after a certain point, however, it can matter.  If a team’s combined relative difference in these categories is ex[...]

That's What Speed (Almost) Do


This post was written by my good friend Bryan who is a very avid Royals fan. He approached me last week after the World Series concluded and his perspective on the 9th inning of last week's Game 7 is unique. Without further ado...  By: Bryan Chapman (you can follow him on twitter @bscjd31)"Last Wednesday night the Kansas City Royals lost game seven of the World Series to the San Francisco Giants 3-2.  If you are reading this blog, you already know that Madison Bumgarner took the opportunity that night to vault from merely "dominant postseason pitcher" to perhaps "the best postseason pitcher ever."  Bumgarner pitched five scoreless (and almost flawless) innings Wednesday night after throwing 117 pitches the previous Sunday night, which resulted in a complete game shutout.  For some perspective, Bumgarner pitched over 21 innings in the World Series, and the rest of the Giants' starting rotation combined pitched 17.  Despite throwing 21 innings, Bumgarner's World Series ERA ended up less than 0.50.  Wow.  But while Bumgarner appeared to be cruising towards his third World Series ring in five years, a funny thing happened with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Alex Gordon lined what appeared to be a routine single to centerfield off of Bumgarner, but Gregor Blanco of the Giants misplayed the bounce in centerfield, and the ball rolled all the way to the fence.  Gordon ended up on third with a standup triple. Suddenly, the Royals were 90 feet away from a startling and improbable comeback.  Some, like Nate Silver at the Five-Thirty Eight maintain that Gordon should have tried to score, given the small chance the next batter would have also safely reached base off of Bumgarner.  Others, like Joe Posnanski of NBC Sports, think Gordon would have been out by a ten feet or more.  It's a counterfactual and we'll never know.  What we do know is that the next batter, Royals catcher Salvador Perez, insisted on swinging at multiple pitches out of the strike zone, ending his at bat with a pop-out to Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval in foul territory ending not only the game, but the World Series and my beloved Royals' dream season.  Such is life.If baseball is no longer the national pastime, second guessing Royals manager Ned Yost may have taken its place.  Yost's love of bunting, stolen bases constant lineup maneuvers have frustrated almost all Royals fans at some point, and left Bill Simmons of Grantland, the notorious Red Sox homer to quip last week, "If Ned Yost managed the 2004 Red Sox, I'd be in an insane asylum right now."  Overall, Yost did an okay job in the World Series, save for a couple of tardy pitching changes and a senseless double switch in San Francisco.  Despite an above average managing job in October, Yost's failure to recognize the opportunity to pinch-run for Alex Gordon in the bottom of the ninth in game seven warrants discussion, as I've seen virtually none in all of the Kansas City postmortems.  In a nutshell, Yost should have pinch-run Terrance Gore (or even Jarrod Dyson) for Gordon in the bottom of the ninth in order to give the Royals the best chance of scoring the tying run.  Both Gore and Dyson have blazing speed; with Gore's being unlike any other active player in the majors.  Before we get to the tactical reasons for pinch-running for Gordon, just think about it more generally: It's the bottom of the ninth, two outs, game seven of the World Series, down by one with a runner on third.  If you are the team trailing (like the Royals on Wednesday) this is the ultimate "gonzo" situation in baseball.  The situation is so extreme, so unlikely, that even nine year-old boys invoke it whenever they want an e[...]

Hindsight 20/20: Aaron Hicks


It's easy to second-guess things now right? Aaron Hicks, after lighting things up during Spring Training and landing the starting center-fielder job, is now in about as deep of a funk as a player can have. After last night's game in which Hicks went 0-for-5 with 3 more Ks, there really isn't any direction he can go but up. Wanna see a bad stat line?

2 hits in 35 ABs
16 strikeouts, 2 walks
.165 OPS

To put things into perspective a little bit - Hicks has put 19 baseballs into play so far this season (7 groundballs, 10 flyballs and 2 line drives)...and he's struck out 16 times. According to FanGraphs - Hicks' contact % when he swings at pitches that are in the strike zone is 80.0% and for comparison, Drew Butera had a 89.7% contact rate on pitches in the strike zone during his Twins career (Mauer's lifetime average is 93.2%). When Hicks swings at a pitch that's outside the strike zone, his contact percentage drops to a miserable 55.6%. In over 75% of Aaron Hicks' at-bats this year, he's had a first pitch strike meaning that he's been down 0-1 in most of his at-bats so far this year (7th highest percentage in the Majors right now among qualified hitters).

I point all this out because what's been most surprising to me about Hicks' at-bats is his lack of plate discipline. This is a guy who had a 3:4 BB/K ratio in the Minors and that showed in his career .379 OBP...he has a good eye at the plate, but he's not using it. Even in spring training, Hicks only struck out 16 times in 22 games.

Another thing that baffles me is why Ron Gardenhire continues to bat Hicks at the top of the lineup. Why not drop him down to the bottom of the lineup and see if that takes a little of the pressure off of the 23-year-old rookie?? It can't be because of Hicks' speed -- because that is an asset he isn't able to use unless he starts getting on-base a little bit. Hicks leads the Major Leagues in outs-made (34) for crying out him an extra at-bat per game isn't even what's best for the team.

I realize it's easy to say "I told you so" and "hindsight is 20/20" and all that - but really, this is an experiment the Twins should not have embarked on in the first place. Instead of letting Hicks start the year at Triple-A and continue his development, the organization decided to put Hicks in high-pressure situation where the chances of failure were high. As it stands, they've lost a year of contract control on their young center-fielder and he may end up having to go back to Triple-A anyway. I don't know how much longer the Twins coaches and front-office are going to give this kid, but my guess is that it isn't going to be long, especially after reading today that they might be kicking the tires on Julio Bourbon out of the Rangers organization. I get it that sometimes rookies struggle a bit - but there's a difference between struggling and being vastly over-matched and Aaron Hicks falls into the ladder category.

A .500 Team?


After a pretty good weekend which saw the hometown club win 3 out of 4 against divisional rival Kansas City, the Twins are now 33-45 and 8.5 games behind the division-leading Chicago White Sox. The Twins' record still doesn't look pretty, but I'm here to tell you that it's not as bad as it looks. Since May 1st, the Twins have gone 27-29 thanks in large part to an offensive that has been out-producing some pretty horrible starting pitching.Aside from Joe Mauer, the offensive production has come from a couple of unexpected performers in the likes of Josh "Hammer" Willingham and Trevor "Plouffda" Plouffe who both seem to have made it their mission to lead the team in homeruns this year. In yesterday's game against KC, both Willingham and Plouffe went deep and Trevor managed to have the upper hand at the end of the day, hitting two bombs in a 10-8 Twins' win. On the scorecard, Plouffe leads the team in HRs with 18 and Willingham is one back at 17 (Morneau is a distant 3rd place with 10 homeruns so far this season). In only 59 games so far this season, Plouffe has managed to rack up 31 RBI and 35 Runs and has asserted himself in the middle of what has become a very formidable lineup for the Twins. The 3, 4, 5, and 6 hitters for the Twins are Mauer (.324/.414/.445) and then some combination of Willingham, Morneau, Plouffe and Doumit, all of whom bring some thunder (or at least the potential for it) to the plate with them.Getting back to the pitching; after owning an MLB-worst 5.64 team ERA in April, the staff as a whole has been slowly improving. In May the team ERA dropped to 4.96 and in June it dropped again to a mildly respectable 4.33 mark. Twins' starters have improved quite a bit as well. After posting a miserable 6.75 ERA in April, they posted a 5.74 mark in May and improved again in June with a 5.09 ERA collectively. A 5.00+ ERA is still pretty brutal, but at least they are moving in the right direction. It's possible that the Twins could get Carl Pavano back towards the middle or end of this month and I have a feeling that Nick Blackburn will begin to figure out his issues and start to pitch better as well. It would be hard to get much worse than his current 7.74 ERA...With 4 teams ahead of them in the standings, it's impossible HIGHLY unlikely that the Twins will be contending for anything come September, but I think that over their past 50+ games, the Twins have shown that they are at least capable of competing on a night-in, night-out basis. It's been good to see some of the youngsters like Plouffe, Scott Diamond, Cole DeVries and Ben Revere step up. The result has been much more watchable than last year's 99-loss team and gives me a little more hope going forward. The only thing I hope this recent success doesn't lead to is hesitation on the part of the front-office to make the trades they need to make. Despite being "only" 8.5 games back in the standings, the Twins still need to be sellers and with players like Span, Willingham, and Liriano performing well of late, the team has some decent trade-bait to dangle out there.[...]

Remembering a Good Man: Dark Star


I don't know how the news escaped me, but it wasn't until yesterday that I heard of Dark Star's passing. By now I've had time to process it - I've watched the tribute videos out there, listened to the interviews with people who knew him, and taken time to remember what I liked so much about Dark Star's evening radio program on WCCO back in the day.

My tribute needs a little bit of back story. When I was growing up, my parents decided (rightfully so) that TV had little to offer young they got rid of it. From the time I was 9 or 10 years old, there was no functional TV in the house. So what did I do? I bought myself a little handheld radio and immediately fell in love with the AM dial. It took me no time at all to find The Good Neighbor (WCCO for those of you not familiar with MN radio) which, at the time, was a mostly-sports/news station. They were the home of the Twins, they had radio personalities like Steve Cannon, Dark Star, Tim Russell, Dave Lee (still there), and everyone's favorite weatherman, Mike Lynch. My bedtime as a kid was usually sometime between 7pm and 8pm which afforded me a good amount of time to listen to Dark Star's show.

I liked his irreverence, I liked his optimistic attitude, I liked the way he joked around with everyone. I admired the way he handled people who didn't like him. I liked that he was respectful of those who disagreed with them. I liked it that he knew when to be serious, but never took himself too seriously. I liked that he was unpredictable. There was no doubt that he was a diehard Twins and Vikings fan. Truth be told, he put me to sleep a lot of nights - not in a bad way - and usually I went to bed smiling.

In watching the interviews with people who worked closely with Dark, you can tell he was a well liked guy. Paul Allen broke down when he was interviewed, Reusse wrote a very nice tribute to his fallen friend, hell, even the guy at Canterbury Park was distraught. I guess its in seeing the real emotion in those who knew him that lets me know that his personality wasn't just a radio thing - its a tribute to him that those he knew closely are so affected by his passing. I don't live in Minnesota anymore so I haven't been able to listen to him for awhile, but I will miss tuning in to hear him when I visit. Rest in Peace, Dark Star, and thank you for what you brought to sports talk radio.

Seeing the Future


I had the pleasure, this Memorial Day, to take in a Kane County Cougars game here in the Chicagoland area and was pleasantly surprised to find that their opponent today was the Twins' Single-A affiliate Beloit Snappers of the Midwest League. I had nice seats, 3 rows from the field on the 3rd base side and witnessed a donnybrook of a game; a 41-hit, 24-run affair that featured 2 homeruns, 4 errors and a total of 11 different pitchers.It was a hot one at Fifth-Third Bank Stadium today (95 degrees) but that didn't scare away the fans which included many families out there enjoying some Minor League Baseball. The wind was blowing straight out and the players came to the park with their good bats. It was 5-4 Snappers by end of the 3rd inning and the two teams played see-saw until the bottom of the 9th when Cougar Orlando Calixte hit a 2-run HR to left field which tied the game up at 9 a piece. The two bullpens then pitched a couple of scoreless innings each before the Snappers blew it wide open in the top of the 12th, plating 6 runs, capped off by a monstrous center-field moonshot off the bat of Miguel Sano, his 12th of the season. I'm telling you, this homerun hit off the top of the scoreboards in center, he absolutely mauled it.One cool sidebar from the game: a row in front of us and a few seats down was a kid sitting with his dad. He was wearing a Yankees hat, but as the game went on I noticed that he was rooting for the Snappers. Eventually he and I realized that we were both cheering for the road-team and for the rest of the game I had a cheering buddy. Every time the Snappers would do something good, he would look over and give me a thumbs-up. It was cute. When I left I gave him a high-five and a "Go Twins".Getting back to Sano, he was pretty unimpressive for most of the game. Up until his HR in the 12th he was 0-for-6 and committed an error at 3rd. His body type reminds me of Hanley Ramirez. He has a big athletic figure, but he also has speed evidenced in the game by a close play at 1st when he grounded to the shortstop. I knew that he had been slumping of late at the plate so I didn't have a whole lot of expectations but was very happy to see him hit a homerun. A couple of other players that caught my eye were Eddie Rosario (2B) and Adam Pettersen (SS) who went 3-for-7 in the game with a triple, 3 runs and an RBI. He has good energy and though he is small, he has a quick bat and plays a decent shortstop. In looking at his numbers on Baseball-Reference he doesn't have a very impressive resume and lacks any real power, but he's only 23 years old and has good energy. I know that last remark isn't all that informative but hey, I only saw one game.Pitching-wise there was nothing all that impressive. Snappers starter Matt Summers pitched pretty well (5IP, 4R, 1ER, 7H, 8K, 1BB) but didn't look overpowering or as dominating as those 8Ks would suggest. His fastball looked to be topping out at about 92mph. After having himself a nice season in Rookie ball last year, he has failed to translate that success into the Single-A level, carrying a 4.21 ERA into the game with a paltry 5.1 K/9 ratio.All in all, it was a great time. If you haven't had a chance to see some Minor League baseball, I highly recommend it. It's very family-friendly stuff and it's cool to see players like Sano and Rosario who might make it to the Bigs one day. Kinda like getting a glimpse of the future...or at least the potential that the future may hold.Sano "The Future" in the foreground, Rosario in the background.[...]

A History Lesson: Twins Pitching - Draft Edition


I was scanning through boxscores this morning, pausing on the boxscore of the Twins' latest defeat and suddenly I had a particular curiosity. After writing yesterday about how an organizational change in philosophy is needed, I thought, "besides the Twins current lot of mediocre pitchers, who else is out there that has come through the Minor League system with the club...what have been their results?" As I compiled the list, with the the help of some of my twitter followers (@KirbysLeftEye, @Robert_Short, @trtx84, @thisisbeth, and @SethTweets), another question became rather obvious...what has the Twins farm system really produced in the way of pitching in the last 10-15 years?The list of home-grown Twins pitchers, excluding anyone on the current roster, is actually fairly short...shorter than I thought it would be. I didn't differentiate between starters or relievers, the only requirement was that the pitcher had to have come up (more or less) through the Twins farm system and had to have reached the Majors at some point in their career. Here's the list:*Matt Garza - currently a starting pitcher for the Cubs*Jose Mijares - currently a reliever for the Royals*Kevin Slowey - currently in the Minor League system for the Indians*Jesse Crain - currently a reliever for the White Sox (on the DL)*Pat Neshek - currently in the Minor League system for the Orioles*J.C. Romero - currently a reliever for the Cardinals*LaTroy Hawkins - currently a reliever for the Angels*Kyle Lohse - currently a starting pitcher for the Cardinals*Grant Balfour - currently the closer for the Athletics**Notable names missing from this list include Johan Santana (a Rule 5 selection who only spent one year in the Twins Minor League system), Matt Guerrier (taken off waivers from the Pirates in 2003), and Carlos Silva (came over in the Eric Milton trade).Here's another list - of pitchers the Twins have drafted in the first or second round since 2000 (source):2000 - Adam Johnson, Aaron Heilman, J.D. Durbin2001 - Scott Tyler2002 - Jesse Crain2003 - Scott Baker2004 - Glen Perkins, Kyle Waldrop, Matt Fox, Jay Rainville, Anthony Swarzak2005 - Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey2006 -2007 -2008 - Carlos Gutierrez, Shooter Hunt2009 - Kyle Gibson, Matt Bashore, Billy Bullock2010 - Alex Wimmers2011 - Hudson Boyd, Madison BoerWhen you look at that list, one thing should pop out to you and that is this fact: the Twins have not produced even ONE big-league pitcher drafted within the first two rounds of the draft in the past 6 years. The last couple of draft classes excluded (for obvious reasons) the Twins have only drafted ONE pitcher in the first two rounds who even stands a decent chance to be a Major Leaguer and that is Kyle Gibson who is currently on the DL after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. Since 2006, the Twins have drafted only two pitchers anywhere in the draft who have reached the Majors: Jeff Manship (14th round, 2006) and Anthony Slama (39th round, 2006), both of whom are currently pitching for AAA Rochester.Maybe suggesting that the Twins need an "organizational change in philosophy" is putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps what really is needed is a change in the methods (or the personnel) that this team uses to scout young talent. (Side note: It's interesting when you take a look at the tenures of the current members in the Twins scouting department. Deron Johnson, the Twins current Director of Scouting started in 2007, the same year Bill Smith took over as GM.) To be fair, most other teams in MLB have only had a small handful of pitchers drafted in '06-'11 reach the Majors, but the Twins currently have zero. Another thing to point out h[...]

A Move the Twins Can Make Now


My fandom for this team is wavering - I can admit it. In March I was optimistic that the Twins could put the 2011 disaster behind them and have a respectable season, hell maybe even a winning season. It is now clear that my 'rose-colored glasses' were on and those glasses now lay broken in pieces on the ground. Reality is a bitch sometimes. After watching historic offensive ineptitude over the last 5 games, watching the team get no-hit and swept by the Angels and handled easily by the lowly Mariners, it's getting to the point where I can't follow this team on a daily basis any longer. I'm not going to stop being a fan - it just hurts too much to continue watching day after day. All that said, I think it's time that the Twins front-office took a realistic look at things. This team isn't going to win anything this year...and likely won't be winning anything next year either. The current team in inept on a number of levels with too many holes to address all at once. So, knowing that the mountain lay in front of you, first steps need to be taken and taken soon. The first thing I would do is see what you can get for Matt Capps.There are a number of teams right now with struggling and/or injured Closers. Potential teams that would be looking for a closer include: Yankees, Marlins, Nationals, Blue Jays, Angels, Red Sox, Athletics, Giants, and on and on. Trading for Matt Capps was the beginning of the fall for the Twins and dealing him now could be the beginning of the healing process. I know that not all of the teams I mentioned above are going to be interested in an overweight closer with a suspect history of success in the 'Closer' role, but surely there must be a team or two out there who could be duped into giving up a prospect or two for the 28-year-old right-hander, just as the Twins were 2 years ago. The bottom-line is that the Twins aren't really going to need Capps and there is currently a lot of potential demand for someone with his experience. Not only that, you clear the remainder of his $4.5M salary off the books.There are other players the Twins could trade. Denard Span, Carl Pavano and Josh Willingham come to mind. None are more useless to this team, however, than the portly Capps. The Twins have a strained bullpen already, but with the way the starters have pitched it doesn't really make sense to hold on to a guy like Capps given the closer situations on so many other teams. The Twins have to start turning the ship around by rebuilding their depleted Minor League system and that happens by trading expendable talent like Capps.Beyond trading Capps, this organization needs to take some serious time in thinking about their philosophies towards pitching and hitting. The "pitch-to-contact" philosophy that has now become the punch-line to jokes when referring to the Twins, is obviously flawed. Without good defense to back up these types of pitchers, the results are bound to be disastrous. From an offensive standpoint, the brass seem to put an emphasis on the elusive concept of "team speed" but a) poorly utilize the speed they do have and b) don't understand that "team speed" and winning don't correlate very well. The teams that are successful have a balance between "power" and "finesse". They have the boppers who can hit one out at any moment and they have the scrappy singles and doubles hitters who can pester the opponent with speed. They have power arms and they have control pitchers. They don't get stuck trying to hoard one type of pitcher or hitter. They put a high value on players whose strengths translate into winning matter the particular way in which they go about it.I want to be optimisti[...]

Time for Joe to Go?


I know it's 'in vogue' to call for the head of the hitting coach when things are going badly. I'm hardly the first and if things keep going like this for the Twins (6 runs in 4 games) more and more people will jump on that bandwagon. The fact of the matter is that in each of the past two season, the Twins offense has gotten off to a very slow start and sometimes a change a scenery is needed, even if the old scenery isn't necessarily the problem.

Last year, the circumstances were different, but the outcome was the same. In their first 29 games of 2011, the Twins managed only one game in which the offense scored more than 5 runs. Injuries were to blame more than anything else for the slow start in 2011, but this year the Twins entered and emerged from Spring Training with a fully capable lineup that had been playing well leading up to the beginning of the season.

Their struggles so far this year are no mystery when you look at the data. As a team they seem unable to hit a ball that doesn't hit the ground before it hits a glove. In fact, of all the balls the Twins have put in play so far this season, 67.7% of them have been groundballs which, far and away, leads the Majors. Their GB/FB ratio is 3.35/1 -- almost DOUBLE that of any other team (the next closest is the Giants at 1.87/1 GB/FB ratio). The propensity to hit groundballs has led to an understandably low BABIP (.184) which pretty much explains why the Twins have been unable to score runs. To put it a different way - the Twins have scored 6 runs in 4 games and 3 of those runs have come as a result of HRs hit by Josh Willingham. If not for that, the Twins would have been shutout twice in the first 4 games. [all stats courtesy of]

Joe Vavra's had a good run. He was hired following the 2005 season and in 2006, the Twins scored over 800 runs and won 96 games. After a down year in 2007, the Twins again reached the 800+ runs mark in both 2008 and 2009 and almost reached that mark in 2010 scoring 781 runs. Last year, well, we all know what happened last year - the team only scored 619 runs on it's way to one of the worst years in franchise history.

I'm only half-heartedly calling for a change. I know it's only 4 games and I also know that there are 158 games left this season. The Twins offense could (and probably will) turn it around at any point. I'm saying that if this offensive futility continues, then there needs to be some changes made -- and in this case I think it should start with the hitting coach.

Josh Willingham: What's Not to Like?


Depending on who you trust on Twitter, the Twins may or may not have agreed, in principle, to a deal with outfielder/DH free-agent Josh Willingham. Jerry Crasnick reported earlier this evening that a deal had been reached pending a physical - a report which was contradicted by Rhett Bollinger later in the evening saying that the two sides were close, but that they hadn't yet officially reached a deal...either way, I'm willing to bet that Willingham will become a Twin here within the next 12-24 hours so I thought I'd chime in. On an unrelated note, please forgive my scant postings over the last couple of weeks. I started a new job on Dec. 2nd and, well, it's been non-stop busy-ness since with no end in sight.

There's really not much to dislike about this deal from an outsiders perspective. Michael Cuddyer, whom Willingham is "replacing", is 32-years old, so is Willingham. Their hitting profiles are very similar in that they are both right-handed hitters with some power and good on-base percentages. In watching Cuddyer go to another team, the Twins get two draft picks in return and for a farm system that is somewhat depleted, the picks could not be coming at a better time. In addition, Willingham is likely to save the Twins a little bit of money. All of these things are positive. The only negative, in my opinion, is that you lose a guy in Cuddyer who has been a scrapper and a gamer for the last few seasons, who was clearly a good clubhouse guy and who was somewhat of a fan favorite. That said, none of those are reasons to keep a guy around.

Josh Willingham really didn't start to see regular big-league action until 2006 (age 27) but has been a pretty consistent big-league performer since, compiling a .262/.361/.475 triple-slash in 2,707 big-league at-bats. Since the beginning of the '06 season he has hit 131 homeruns (avg ~ 21/yr) and 155 doubles (avg ~ 26). Defense is where Willingham struggles a bit and where Cuddyer certainly has the upper hand when comparing the two players. Willingham will almost certainly be in left-field for the Twins - a position has spent the majority of his big-league career playing. He also gained some experience as a DH last year with Oakland so if the Twins get him, I would expect we'll see him used in that role as well from time to time.

I really hope the Twins do get Willingham. I was never bitten by the Cuddyer-bug, I respect him as a player and a hard-worker, but I think that the Twins benefit more in the long-run by letting him go. Willingham doesn't have quite the versatility that Cuddyer has defensively, but for a little less coin I'm willing to make the swap.

Remembering Brad Radke


No, he didn't die. I thought about changing the title to make it seem less eulogy-like, but I couldn't think of anything. He didn't die; instead, I found out today that this is Radke's first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and given the other people on this year's ballot, he might actually have a shot...just kidding. I thought it would be fun to revisit Radke's career, first inning struggles and all.Brad William Radke was drafted in the 8th round of the 1991 MLB Amateur Draft at the young age of 18. He was a product of Jesuit High School in Tampa, FL which also produced other Major Leaguers such as Lou Piniella, Al Lopez (HOF), Dave Madagan and Jason Michaels. Radke had early success in the Minors, throwing well in Rookie Ball and A-league ball before a promotion to AA towards the end of the '93 season. Radke spent all of the 1994 season at AA posting a very good 2.66 ERA in 186.1 innings - enough to turn some heads in the Twins front office.Given that '94 was a strike-shortened season, the 1995 season started late and Radke was actually able to make the team out of Spring Training. He made his Major League debut on April 29th, a relief appearance in which he allowed 3 earned runs (4 runs overall) to the Baltimore Orioles in a game the Twins went on to lose 13-7. After that game, the rest of his appearances that year were as a starter and he managed to do OK considering he was on a team that lost 88 games that season (only 144 played that year). He won 11 games against 14 losses, gave up a league-high 32 homeruns, and threw 181 innings for the Twins...not bad for a 22-year-old rookie who's pro-career, to that point, had not extended past AA ball.Even in that first year, Radke began to show a pattern which would plague him for his entire career - he had trouble getting out of the 1st and 2nd innings without giving up runs. In '95, his 1st inning ERA was 6.43, his 2nd inning ERA was 5.53 and after that, it settled in the low-4s. Though subsequent seasons were not nearly as terrible, the trend of early-inning struggles continued for most of Radke's career. He also gave up a TON of homeruns. He led the league in homeruns-allowed in both 1995 and 1996 and finished in the top 5 in that category 4 times during his career. For his career, he allowed 326 home-runs which ranks 35th all-time among MLB pitchers...this despite the fact that Radke had a relatively short 12-year career.Brad Radke's career was not without highlights however. In 1997 he had a pretty lucky season that saw him win 20 games for the hometown club...especially impressive given the fact that the Twins lost almost 100 games that season. In that same year, he also won 12 consecutive games (consecutive starts), becoming only the 3rd pitcher since 1950 to do that (courtesy: wikipedia). Radke's career saddled the Twins transition from perennial loser to perennial contender perfectly; the team has 6 losing seasons and 6 winning seasons during his tenure as a Twin.Radke was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2009, the team's last season in the Metrodome. He the poster child for the pitching "mold" that the Twins have become famous for...low strikeout rate, low walk rate. Radke ranks 32nd all-time in BB/9IP ratio (min 1,000 IP), ranking ahead of other famously walk-stingy pitchers like Roy Halladay and Greg Maddux. Radke will, I think, always be fondly remembered by Twins fans. He was quiet, he wasn't a distraction, he was a work-horse and he was reliable - that's about as much as you can ask of any player. In a way, he was kind of a paradox - he possessed pin-point c[...]

What DO the Twins Have?


With the baseball winter meetings coming up in a week or so - the baseball hot-stove fires are about to be stoked into a blazing inferno here in the next 1-2 weeks. Up to this point I've done my fair share of speculating about what the Twins will do and in looking around other Twins blogs, you'll find no shortage of others who tried their hand at the same thing. With this piece, I want to take a different tact...I want to take a look at the pieces the Twins have right now that we can be assured of seeing on Opening Day (barring pre-season injury of course). All of us have a pretty good idea of what the holes on this team are - but laying out what the team has right now may make it crystal clear where the team should start in addressing their weaknesses.Infield (arbitration eligibles in red, backups in parentheses):C - Joe Mauer (Ryan Doumit/Drew Butera)1B - Justin Morneau2B - OPEN (Alexi Casilla)SS - Jamey Carroll (Tsuyoshi Nishioka)3B - Danny ValenciaDH - Ryan Doumit/ ? This infield situation is complicated by unknowns. In a perfect world, the Twins would bring in a Kelly Johnson or a Aaron Hill type to fill the hole at 2nd base and your infield would be set with Morneau & Valencia on the corners with Carroll and Johnson/Hill up the middle. Reality is far from that though as the Twins have still not addressed second base and only God knows what Justin Morneau's availability will be come Opening Day.Outfield (arbitration eligibles in red, backups in parentheses):RF - OPENCF - Denard Span (Ben Revere)LF - Joe Benson? Trevor Plouffe?To me, the outfield situation is just as dire as the bullpen situation. If the Twins do nothing to address the outfield situation, the Twins will have a couple of guys (Revere and Benson) with less than a full-year of Major League experience as your starting Right and Left fielders. Not only that, Denard Span is coming off a 2nd-half which saw him miss significant time due to a concussion. He has said on Twitter that he's been feeling good lately, but with Morneau's cautionary tale, I don't think there's any counting on Span. I would like to think they'll bring back Jason Kubel, though I view his role as more of a DH if he returns, filling the void left by Jim Thome's departure. Aaron Hicks stands to get a look in Spring Training, but as a 22-year-old who spent all of last year a Fort-Myers (A-ball), I don't know that his chances are all that good. The Twins have announced that they are going to make Trevor Plouffe an outfielder, but even if he makes the transition defensively, I don't know that he has much staying power in the lineup (.697 OPS in 286 PAs last season). In short, the Twins have a lot of outfield question marks and not a lot of answers, though I did discuss a few potential free-agent answers in my last post.Starting Pitching (arbitration eligibles in red):#1 Francisco Liriano#2 Carl Pavano#3 Scott Baker#4 Nick Blackburn#5 Kevin Slowey? Brian Duensing?Some people have seen a lot of question marks here too, but to me the starting rotation is pretty much set with the only question mark being who the Gardenhire and the Twins will decide to install as their 5th starter. As expected, Duensing's permanent move to the rotation last season exposed him and I wouldn't be surprised if they move him back to into the bullpen and give Slowey his old spot back. Then again, Slowey is (and has been) in the dreaded Gardenhire dog-house for awhile, so there are certainly no guarantees there. I would love to see the Twins go out and grab another starting pitcher, b[...]

Looking to the Outfield


Hats-off to Terry Ryan. In his first couple of weeks back on the job he has already addressed two significant areas of weakness on the ballclub using minimal funds. I could take a few minutes and talk about the Ryan Doumit acquisition, but others have already done a good job of that, particularly Nick Nelson  and Parker Hageman - both of them wrote excellent pieces about Doumit and his fit with the Twins, check out both pieces.Because Terry Ryan has been so thrifty so far, he has left himself with a good chunk of funding left to fill other holes on the team, particularly in the outfield, starting rotation and bullpen. I want to look to the outfield to see what the Twins options are. I'm operating from the assumptions that the Twins lose either Cuddyer or Kubel, or they lose both of them. I don't see the Twins being able to keep both and I find a situation in which Kubel stays to be much more likely. If the Twins keep either Cuddyer or Kubel they will likely only "need" to add one outfielder to the mix because I'm also assuming that Ben Revere and/or Joe Benson will make the Major League club out of Spring Training. I put "need" in quotes because if they Twins keep Kubel, they could technically get away with not adding an OFer at all, but unless you're willing to make Kubel and Revere full-time outfielders, they're going to have to add someone. Moving along...**By the way, it has been reported that the new collective bargaining agreement in Major League Baseball does away with compensation for Type-B free agents meaning the teams with Type-Bs will receive nothing if the player signs with another club. I haven't seen any sources confirming that this is set in stone so I'm leaving the designations there for now...just keep in mind that it may be utterly meaningless if it's true that MLB did away with "Type-B" designations.Jason Kubel (Type-B) - 2011 Salary: $5,250,000I've talked about Kubel before, particularly about how I think he has unique value. Kubel, like most other Twins' players, was injured for a large portion of the season, missing a total of 63 games. Through the first two months of last season he was pretty much the only bright spot in the lineup posting a .310/.355/.465 line through the end of May. He was looking like his 2009-self until being sidelined for all of June and most of July with a sprained foot. Anyway, we all know the story. Kubel is unique in the sense that he's a left-handed power hitter. Prior to the 2011 season, he had 3-straight 20+ HR seasons and during those three years he had a .821 OPS. His defense isn't great, but sans-Thome, the Twins could really use a competent hitter in the DH spot, a role Kubel would be able to fill quite competently. Kubel has been a consistent performer when healthy and at 29-years-old, extending him a 2-4 year deal makes sense.Cody Ross (Type-B) - 2011 Salary: $6,300,000Ross is an intriguing option from a few different angles. First, he can (and has) play all three outfield positions. Most of his playing time has been spent in centerfield, but he's also played appreciable time in right and left. With as many interchangeable parts as the Twins have (a catcher that needs frequent breaks from catching, no established DH, etc), having a versatile outfielder could be a major positive for a club that needs to move players around on a regular basis. In addition to that, Ross has some decent power (career .456 slugging %) from the right-side which is lacking in the current Twins lineup.Ross has a couple of downsides as well. [...]

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It


Leave it to the Astros to go and screw everything up. I'm not sure exactly HOW it happened, but the new owner of the Astros (Jim Crane) got Bud Selig and Major League baseball to sign-off on moving the team to the American League as part of his deal to buy the team. In addition to the Astros' move from the NL Central to the AL West, MLB will be adding a second wild-card team to each league and will, most likely, implement a one-game playoff between the two wild card teams in each league (a play-in game, if you will). Oh, and because each league now contains the same odd amount of teams (15), 'Inter-league Play' will now be a regular, every-day part of the baseball schedule.My first reaction to these changes is all negative. Wasn't this past season's September and October evidence enough that what baseball has/had is working? You had two teams make the playoffs on the very final day of the regular season, you had several compelling and interesting playoff series and you had a 7-game World Series for the 2nd consecutive year. I know it's not like this every year, but even in recent memory there has been plenty of similarly exciting stuff happening at the end of the season (back-to-back Game 163s in 2008 and 2009 for the Twins comes immediately to mind). I can't help but feel that one change in particular hasn't been purely media motivated, and the change I'm referring to is the addition of a second wild-card in each league.For years now, the Eastcoast Sports Programming Network (ESPN) talking heads have been bitching about the fact that there are three playoff-worthy teams in the AL East and only two of them can make it into the post-season. Other lesser AL East teams like the Orioles and Jays have publicly stated that they don't feel they can realistically compete with the payrolls in their own division and thus cannot field teams that can compete for precious few playoff spots. In swoops Bud Selig to save the day! Make no mistake, these moves are motivated PURELY by revenue opportunities...not for the betterment of the game of baseball. The game is fine the way it is/was.My second reaction to this news was more rational. It's going to happen, might as well accept it. I do like it in one aspect and one aspect alone. I feel as though the wild-card teams should have a disadvantage of some sort. They didn't win a division and not having home-field advantage is not disadvantage enough. If you have a one-game playoff between the two wild-card teams, then each wild-card team will likely (but not necessarily) be forced to use their respective aces...this will give them a distinct disadvantage, especially in the first round of the playoffs where the series' are only a maximum of 5 games in length. I actually like the change from that perspective, but from every other perspective I think it is a needless change.I also an idea for one further change MLB might as well make to go along with all of the other changes they're talking about. Do away with the Designated Hitter OR do away with pitchers hitting in the National League. Now that you're going to have year-round Interleague Play, why play with two sets of rules? Year-round Interleague Play is already going to further disrupt the precious idea of a "balanced schedule" so why compound the problem by continuing to hold on to separate rules in each league? DH's are already worthless for 10 games of the season as things currently stand and now they're adding several Interleague games to every team's schedule...Like I sa[...]

Crazy Thoughts: Twins Should Pursue Reyes


I've been thinking a lot about the Twins lately, specifically what I think the expectations should be for this off-season and for the 2012 campaign. While I celebrated the re-installation of Terry Ryan as Twins GM, I was equally disappointed to hear that the team plans on dropping it's 2012 payroll to around $100M. Imagine my surprise when I saw many fellow Twins' bloggers support this decision; I figured the reaction would be the opposite. Here's my logic, and I'm going to present a case that the Twins should go after Jose Reyes.Two Aprils ago, on a mild night in Minneapolis, the Twins played their first regular-season game in the new Target Field. That 2010 season was a dream of sorts with the squad tallying 94 wins and easily winning the AL Central crown. The playoffs left a poor taste in all of our mouths, but there was hope for 2011 because a majority of the team was returning...except for the middle-infield and half the bullpen. Things didn't work out the way most of us thought they would. In 2011, the Twins had their worst season in 12 years on their way to losing 99 games and finishing dead-last in the AL Central. Bill Smith was fired. Terry Ryan was re-crowned GM...and now the Twins want to reduce the payroll?? Only 2 seasons after opening their brand-new stadium...a large portion of which was paid for by taxpayers in Minnesota? This may seem crazy, but I think that rather than pulling back, this team should be doing all it can to put a competitive team back on the field next year. The holes are obvious and the potential fixes for those holes are out there in the form of free-agents.In my opinion, when you fight for 10+ years to get a new stadium built and then it gets done, and then in only your 2nd year in said stadium the team has a bad DON'T give up. I think the Twins owe it to the fans to put as good of a product as possible onto the field, even it is means raising the payroll to $120M or $130M. Here are some other reasons why now is a bad time to reduce payroll and "re-build" for a couple of years: a) Joe Mauer isn't getting any younger, neither is Justin Morneau. I realize that both players have had their injuries and that neither is a "sure thing" for the 2012 season, especially Morneau. That said, Mauer is turning 29 shortly after the 2012 season starts and Morneau will turn 31 next May. If you doing the re-building thing for the next season or two, you may be missing out on the last couple of "prime" years from two of your current superstars. Say what you will about Mauer, I know there's a lot of question marks there, but he is going to have a few more great seasons during his career. b) The Twins have nothing in the Minors that inspires much confidence, especially in terms of pitching. As this last season showed, the Twins farm depth is no where near what many of us thought it was. Many of the Triple-A players that were called-up as a result of injuries last year were over-matched or were just not very good. Of particular concern was the lack of middle-infield depth and the lack of capable bullpen arms in the farm system. Nothing has really changed on that front. The Twins have a few decent prospects (Hicks, Sano, etc), but NONE of them are fact the one elite pitching prospect they had (Kyle Gibson) will likely not even pitch in 2012 due to Tommy John surgery. Liam Hendriks, who was thought to be one of the Twins better Minor League arms, took a huge step back in 2011 an[...]

Some Thoughts on Bill Smith


It was one of those rare moments where I was actually on Twitter when some big Twins story broke and I was so surprised I had to read it twice. Bill Smith has been fired as GM by the Twins and has been offered another position within the organization...which I'm guessing is one he will likely turn down. His replacement, at least on an interim basis, is former Twins' GM Terry Ryan who was captain of the Twins ship from 1994 to 2007.

This is some pretty exciting news. Calls for Bill Smith's head have been going around the Twins blogosphere for awhile now and he has been rightfully (IMO anyway) blamed for the current state of the team and for a dreadful 2011 season. Terry Ryan certainly has quite a big job ahead of his for this off-season, but my level of trust in his decision-making abilities is far-higher. When Terry Ryan was the Twins GM, he consistently made good trades and good free-agent pickups using a limited payroll AND he also helped build a powerhouse farm-system that churned out many of the starters on the current Twins roster (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, Span, Valencia, etc). He also executed several trades, some of which are among the best in recent memory (Liriano and Nathan for Pierzynski and he acquired Johan Santana in the Rule 5 draft). He wasn't immune to bad deals (brought Drew Butera to the team in 2007) but more times than not he made good decisions that brought quality players to the Twins organization and ultimately turned the team back into a winner in 2001.

As a fan of the team, this is a great way to start the off-season in my opinion. I feel comfortable knowing that it is Terry Ryan rather than Bill Smith who has $20-$30M to spend this off-season and I think Ryan will make deals that will benefit the Twins both in the short-term and the long-term.

That said....

Terry Ryan is by no means a savior. Let's not forget that Terry Ryan was a Sr. Advisor with the Twins during the entire time that Bill Smith has been the GM. I don't know to what degree he was involved in making decisions, but he was definitely involved and yet the Twins made bad move after bad move during that time. Additionally, the Twins have a number of holes they need to address this off-season and even with $20-$30M to spend, any Twins GM is going to need to be extremely savvy to fill those holes. On top of that are the health concerns with Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, etc that are mostly out of Ryan's hands, but will ultimately go a long way in determining the outcome of the 2012 season and beyond. Oh, and the farm-system is mostly depleted of near-Major-League-ready talent. Make no mistake, it's a big job. Like I said though, I feel better knowing that Terry Ryan is making the final decisions, here's hoping for a good off-season.

The SS/2B Dilemma


Tonight is the night (any Dexter fans out there?). As the clock strikes midnight, MLB free-agents everywhere will be eligible to sign a contract with any club that makes them an offer. Some are Type-A free-agents, others Type-B, but all of them free to go to any team that will have them. If I'm Bill Smith and the Twins, I have a lot of work to do this off-season. I need half of a bullpen, I need a couple of middle-infielders, I might even need a starter...I've gotta get going. Earlier this week I talked about the Twins bullpen needs and now I want to focus on another somewhat pressing need of theirs and that's the middle infield.Tsuyoshi Nishioka was a disaster last year. Alexi Casilla was pretty much who we thought he would be. The others were just minor-league fill-ins in what was a dismal season up the middle. Last year's experiments highlighted just how much of a mistake it was to let JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson go without having a whole lot to fall back on. 5 players saw 15 or more starts at 2nd base. 4 players saw more than 30 starts at SS. 44 errors we committed between the two positions and an overall .970 fielding percentage (league average for the positions combined was .979)...and that's not even counting the 20 errors at 3B. Last year's Twins team was essentially a real-life example of how much of a difference a good (or bad) defensive middle-infield makes.Given that free-agency is literally right around the corner, here are a couple of free-agents that would be a good fit for the Twins. Some of them are more expensive, others not so much - though for a lower salary you often have to compromise on offensive production.#1 Candidate: Kelly Johnson (2B) - Type-AMLBTR thinks that Johnson is headed to the Dodgers, but there's no reason to think that the Twins couldn't get in on this free-agent. I've talked about Johnson here before on this site, but in my opinion he really is the cream of the crop when it comes to free-agent 2nd basemen. Johnson is 29-years-old, he has a career .260/.343/.441 triple-slash, and he's a good 2nd baseman (.981 career fielding % and career 10.9 UZR). While Johnson is perhaps one of the more expensive middle-infield candidates out there, he also is probably looking for a long-term contract which the Twins would be smart to offer him given the lack of middle-infield depth within the organization. Johnson made $5.85M last season and could probably be had for a 3-5 year deal worth about $7-9M per year (worth the picks you'd have to give up due to Johnson's Type-A FA status). Johnson would be an instant upgrade on Alexi Casilla and would allow the Twins to either move Casilla to SS or find someone else to play shortstop and make Casilla a utility option.#2 Candidate: Clint Barmes (SS or 2B) - Type-BI actually wouldn't mind seeing the Twins pursue both of these guys, but my gut tells me that's unrealistic. Barmes in not much to look at offensively, but he is intriguing from a defensive standpoint. Barmes has played more SS in his career than 2B, but has a solid (not spectacular) glove and a little pop in his bat. He made $3.92M last year and if offered some sort of multi-year deal, would probably only command a salary in the $4M-$5M per year range, maybe even less. At 32 years old Barmes is probably only to get slower from here, but as a short-term fix, he's worth a look.#3 Candidate: Aaron Hill (2B best, can play SS) - Type-BHill would most likely[...]