Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Did the Real Mitch Garver Stand Up?

 


Suggesting that 2020 was an awful year for Mitch Garver would be putting it lightly. Even with the small sample size, he left plenty to be desired going into the season. But now, where has the dust settled?

In trying to play a season through a global pandemic plenty was made regarding the small sample size even a full slate of games would provide. Offering players just 60 games of runway largely invalidated the length necessary for baseball statistics to normalize. For Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver, the total was just 23 games and his .511 OPS looked like a far cry from his Bomba Squad contributions a year prior.

Shelved for the stretch run, Garver ceded time to rookie Ryan Jeffers. The 2018 draftee was selected for his bat and the .791 OPS through his first 26 games at the big league level made things interesting. It appeared that the Twins would either have a nice tandem if Mitch returned to form, or that their new pick would unseat the veteran.

Fast forward to where we are today, and the roles have reversed. Through 79 games this season Jeffers has just a .666 OPS and was demoted to Triple-A in favor of non-hitting defensive option Ben Rortvedt. Garver meanwhile has rebounded to the tune of an .880 OPS but again has been hampered by injuries and played in just 61 games.

Missing most of his time this season due to an unfortunate foul ball ricochet, it’s fair to suggest that Garver’s injury situation has been fluky at best. Recently a nagging back has kept him out, but a return to the lineup for the final two weeks has now commenced. The production itself has returned, but we’re dealing with a sample that would’ve been considered too small just a season ago.

That leaves Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in an interesting position going into the offseason. 2020 saw the Twins opting for a split with veteran backstop Alex Avila. It’d be unfortunate if the roster needs a player like that given Minnesota’s internal options. What needs to happen however, is that this version of Mitch Garver continues to present itself over the course of a full season in 2022.

The knock on Garver has always been his defensive ability. Ratcheting up his framing prowess and receiving skills took his game to new heights, and the bat that has always been his calling card has stood out since his true emergence on the big league roster. With an electronic strike zone looking more likely than not, the Twins need a thumping version of Garver to remain productive.

At 30-years-old there’s not much reason to worry about the expense side of the equation. Under team control until he’s entering his age-34 season, Garver could be carried through arbitration without ever truly needing a long-term extension. Minnesota certainly could opt to keep Garver around if his production warrants it past his prime, but the incentive to do so will be entirely results based as opposed to necessary projection.

There’s plenty up in the air when it comes to the Twins in 2022. A team that was supposed to compete should have never flopped this hard. It’s been great to see Mitch Garver take back the reigns on his career however, and looking for a full runway of games, the goal will be to replicate the offensive performance once again.

Monday, September 13, 2021

2021 IBWAA Yearly Awards

 


Although the Minnesota Twins had a lackluster showing in 2021 it doesn’t stop the from nearing a completion. As competing teams look towards the postseason, it’s first time to take a look at the individual standouts. Each year I have the privilege of voting through the IBWAA and sharing the selections creates transparency.

This season we saw a return to normalcy following an abbreviated run during a global pandemic a year ago. The treat was a two-way player doing unprecedented things within the sport, and some utterly dominant stars. When handing out the hardware, here’s who I went with:

American League MVP - Shohei Ohtani (Runner Up: Vladimir Guerrero Jr)

In what otherwise would be considered an unmatchable season, the Blue Jays slugger gets trumped by the Angels star that brings something to the sport we will likely never see again. Shohei Ohtani has paced the sport in longballs while being in the middle of a Cy Young conversation. Add his blistering speed to the equation and you’ve got some sort of a robot.

National League MVP - Bryce Harper (Runner Up: Fernando Tatis Jr.)

Maybe the quietest of the star performances this season, Bryce Harper has been a catalyst for the Phillies. His 1.032 OPS leads the league and his 32 longballs have a chance to threaten his previous MVP season with a strong finish. Tatis Jr. looked like he may run away with this award in the early going, but Harper has been steady and gets the nod here.

American League Cy Young - Gerrit Cole (Runner Up: Robbie Ray)

The Yankees ace has had little trouble without the use of sticky substances and being good before seems to have continued with the new set of rules. He’s still dominant, striking everyone out, and keeping runs against to a minimum. Blue Jays free agent acquisition Robbie Ray has made plenty of noise and is a worthy choice, but it’s just not quite enough to unseat the man in pinstripes.

National League Cy Young - Max Scherzer (Runner Up: Corbin Burnes)

Being as dominant as Mad Max has been on two different teams this year is a feat in and of itself. Despite being dealt, the former Nationals ace has relocated and picked up right where he left off. Recently joining the 3,000 strikeout club, Scherzer has earned every bit of his fourth Cy Young. Burnes has been exceptional for the Brewers, and would be a fine choice as well, but I had to side with Scherzer on the coin flip.

American League Rookie of the Year - Randy Arozarena (Runner Up: Adolis Garcia)

After starring in the postseason last year for Tampa Bar, Arozarena continued to be an incredible asset on the American League’s best team. He’s got the ability to contribute in so many different categories and has been consistent in a lineup needing him to produce. Texas saw plenty of power production from Adolis Garcia, and he’ll be fun to watch as his game develops more in years to come.

National League Rookie of the Year - Jonathan India (Runner Up: Patrick Wisdom)

A former 5th overall pick, India debut and hasn’t disappointed. With nearly an .850 OPS his power has been on full display. He’s already got 20 longballs and has a shot to finish with 10 steals. At second base the production is a massive boost for Cincinnati, and he’s rounded into a cornerstone type player. The Cubs Wisdom has been a great story, and the home run production has been off the charts. He too has been very fun to watch.

American League Manager of the Year - Kevin Cash (Runner Up: Dusty Baker)

What more can you say about a man that continues to do more with less? Cash has been given teams requiring managerial talent and positioning. Players needing to develop and be utilized in the correct situations, the man voted as “best looking” continues to push all of the right buttons. What the Astros have returned to is impressive, but they’re still looking up at the Rays.

National League Manager of the Year -Gabe Kapler (Runner Up: Dave Roberts)

Cast off from the Phillies and coming off a near-.500 mark in his first season with the Giants, Kapler took a team with no considerable shot for the postseason and turned them into arguably the National League’s best team. Having added veteran talents at the deadline, he’s continued to massage egos, time, and talents in an effort for the winning to continue. Part of the new wave, he’s fended off the Dodgers and their loaded roster under Dave Roberts.

American League Reliever of the Year - Liam Hendriks (Runner Up: Ryan Pressly)

Signed to a big deal over the winter, Liam Hendriks has delivered for the only competitive team in the AL Central. Working as Tony La Russa’s closer, he’s been used traditionally and has held down the role even past the acquisition of Craig Kimbrel. Hendriks has been elite for some time now, but his 34 saves lead the league, and his 14.0 K/9 is a new career high. The Astros Ryan Pressly has pushed himself up into a similar realm.

National League Reliever of the Year - Josh Hader (Runner Up: Kenley Jansen)

Milwaukee has pitched their way to dominance this season and it’s been in both the rotation and bullpen. Hader has been as good as ever, and Devin Williams was in consideration here as well. The lanky fireballer has racked up 31 saves and complied a whopping 15.3 K/9. Los Angeles has gotten consistent run from Jansen, but it hasn’t quite been a career year.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Did the Twins Fleece Tampa Twice?

Teams are often considered to be on the losing end of trades when dealing with the Tampa Bay Rays. The brass in St. Pete does more with less, and players seem to get better when going to Florida. Did the Twins just get them for a second time though?

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine made a deal with Tampa prior to the 2018 season. They sent infield prospect Jermaine Palacios out in exchange for starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi. After a solid but mediocre debut season, Odorizzi was an All-Star in 2019 and posted a career best 10.1 K/9 bolstering his 3.51 ERA. Palacios had a .575 OPS as a 21-year-old during his debut season in the Tampa organization, and dropped to a .542 OPS as a 22-year-old repeating Double-A. Now back at Double-A for Minnesota, he’s 24 and owns a .745 mark at the level.

Regardless of what happens with Palacios, it’s hard not to see how Odorizzi worked out a win. Could that be happening again in terms of Nelson Cruz and Joe Ryan?

The Twins had to deal their designated hitter. Cruz is 41-years-old and it’s more than evident this season was lost for Minnesota. Despite his .907 OPS here, Cruz needed to be flipped for any semblance of a return at the deadline. Getting a pitcher like Ryan, capable of fitting into the top-half of a rotation, seemed like a coup for the front office.

It’s far too early to make determinations on what Ryan will be, but Tampa has to be underwhelmed in what they received. Cruz just recently surpassed the .700 OPS mark (thanks in part to facing his former club), and has just a .219 average with a .273 on-base percentage. It plays for a team that needed a big bat, but Nelson hasn’t been close to the Boomstick the Twins knew him as.

Minnesota must be pleased with what they’ve seen from Ryan. In 9.0 IP for St. Paul he had a 17/2 K/BB and allowed just two earned runs. After returning from the Olympics as Team USA’s ace, that was enough to earn his first big league promotion. Across five innings he surrendered three runs while punching out five and walking one. The book that was suggested at Triple-A continued to read correctly at the Major League level, and it’s a step away from what has become tradition.

Ryan is not a fireballer. His average fastball velocity for the Twins sat at just 90.8 mph. In a league focused on hitting triple-digits, it’s an uphill battle for a ball like that to play. His four-seam generated an average of 2,100 RPM and is used up in the zone. Twins Daily’s Parker Hagemen broke down the success of locating that pitch, and why it should be believed that the lesser velocity can still have a tremendous effect at the highest level.

One start is entirely too soon to crown Ryan as Minnesota’s next ace. From my vantage point, I’m not even sure his stuff has that type of ceiling. What I do know is that the Twins getting this much control over Ryan in exchange for two month of an aging Cruz on a bad big league team is a steal in every sense of the word. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine don’t have a good track record on the free agent market, and their trades could even be questioned at times. When they’ve dealt with Tampa though, it’s hard not to consider the front office a resounding two-for-two.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Can The Twins Fill a Rotation for 2022?

Right now, the Minnesota Twins starting rotation is completely turned over. The group that started the 2021 season is gone, and the anchors intended for 2022 are no longer realistic options. So where does the team go from here?

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine already had their work cut out for them going into the winter. The bullpen was nothing short of a disaster this season, and the starting rotation has been lackluster in plenty of different instances. Now faced with the reality that Jose Berrios is gone, and Kenta Maeda is injured, the uphill battle has grown substantially.

Of course, dollars have to, and will be, spent. Before considering the options on the open market, and they are relatively plentiful, looking at who can be an option internally on Opening Day is where we should start. Unfortunately, the names are more plentiful than the logical options you’d hope to ink in.

Bailey Ober

If there’s a guy that’s earned a role among the five openings to kick off 2022 it’s Ober. He’s been lights out of late and now has a sub-4.00 ERA. Ober owns a 2.45 ERA over his last seven starts and he’s posted a 9.3 K/9. The home run bit him hard early, and a 1.8 HR/9 still isn’t great, but that only leaves further opportunity for heightened levels of success. He’s not an ace but pitching himself into the top half of a rotation would hardly be a shock.

Joe Ryan

It’s still surprising the Twins got this type of return for Nelson Cruz, but Ryan has seemed every bit as exciting as you’d hope. Across 66.0 IP at Triple-A this season Ryan owns a 3.41 ERA and has punched out 12.5 K/9. He needs to make his next turn in Minnesota, but regardless, you could do a lot worse than this type of arm as a 5th starter to open the next campaign.

Randy Dobnak

Dobnak has put himself in an interesting situation given the lack of effectiveness and injury issues he’s dealt with this season. Still probably a 4th starter at best, the ceiling really isn’t there in comparison to the two aforementioned arms, and the prospects behind him could close the gap quickly. He’s a great depth guy, but Minnesota can’t afford to fill the rotation with options of this caliber.

Lewis Thorpe

There’s probably a decent chance that Thorpe is dropped from the 40-man roster this offseason. The Twins were granted an additional year of control, but the Aussie hasn’t done anything with it. The velocity has continued to be lackluster, and nothing about the upside that was once there has reappeared. It’s been a disappointing fall through health and personal complications. Either way, this isn’t a viable option.

Griffin Jax

A really great story this season, and one worth keeping in the organization, Jax is a rotational depth piece in my mind. He’s shown that there’s a capable level of stuff to get big leaguers out but relying on him for 30 turns a season could expose Minnesota in a bad way. Jax doesn’t have the high end velocity or strikeout stuff to dominate, but he is a big league arm that can eat innings when necessary.

Charlie Barnes

Of the fringe arms to debut this season for Minnesota, Barnes has been the most underwhelming. His strikeout numbers have never really been anything to write home about and that makes the margin for error at the highest level very slight. Barnes is 25 and hasn’t ever had much in the form of prospect status, but that doesn’t negate the fact he could be a nice depth piece. That’s probably still to be determined, but it won’t be realized in an Opening Day rotation.

The Prospects (Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, Matt Canterino, Simeon Woods-Richardson, Drew Strotman, Josh Winder)

Outside of the Ober and Ryan pairing at the top, this is the group the Twins are dreaming on developing some high level arms from. Unfortunately, the majority have either been hurt or are not yet in a place where they’re kicking down the door for a big league promotion. Getting each back to health has to be the chief concern, but beyond that, they’ll need to force their way in. Assuming Minnesota wants to compete, or at the very least be respectable next season, they’ll need to sign a starter for the top of the rotation. Hoping one or more of these arms can then challenge that status sooner rather than later would be the goal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Believing in Ober

 

The Minnesota Twins have slogged through a dismal 2021 in large part due to an inability to find consistent pitching. With a starting rotation now entirely flipped on its head, finding a silver lining may seem difficult, but I encourage you to dream on Bailey Ober.

During his first Major League Baseball draft as the Twins President of Baseball Operations, Derek Falvey’s club selected Ober in the 12th round. Ober was a 21-year-old pitching for the College of Charleston and threw 28 innings for Elizabethton during the summer of 2017. In 2018-19, Ober rose the ranks from Single-A to Double-A and finished with a 0.38 ERA across 24.0 IP for Pensacola. The strikeout numbers were gaudy, and the walk rate was stingy.

At 6’9” Ober has the uncanny ability to get on an opposing batter with quickness. His average fastball velocity this season has been just 92 mph, but with such a long stride the pitch is being delivered much closer to 50 feet from home plate. The year with no minor league action certainly didn’t help a guy needing innings due to injury, but it’s clear that he’s put in work.

Despite the Twins needing to call on Ober sooner than they may have liked; he also forced their hand by owning a 2.81 ERA across his first 16 innings of work for Triple-A St. Paul. What we can easily see in the track record is that there’s never been a point at which Ober wasn’t a dominant force on the farm. The only knock on him thus far has been his availability, or more succinctly, his injury history.

Now over 63 innings into his Major League career, we’re seeing the same type of results that have become the expectation thus far. A 4.38 ERA through 14 starts is hardly anything to scoff at, but it’s an even more impressive 3.46 through his last eight turns (39.0 IP). Ober’s bugaboo thus far has been the longball, giving up 14 in his time with the Twins, and a 2.0 HR/9 that seems certain to normalize. He has maintained the strong strikeout rate (9.2 K/9) and continued to limit free passes (2.3 BB/9).

Understanding that this is Ober’s initial run through a big league gambit, it’s fair to assume we haven’t seen the best of him yet. He’s still learning the opposition, and of course the league will be given a chance to adjust to him as well. Although the Twins have been dealt multiple blows in the rotation this year, allowing Ober to showcase his stuff is something that should provide plenty of excitement for Minnesota fans.

As has been the case over the course of his career to this point, keeping Ober healthy and on the mound is the next must for the organization. Maybe he gets shut down soon having now reached a career high in professional innings pitched during a single season. That isn’t a bad idea given where the season currently stands, and it still allows the heightened hurler plenty to build off of for 2022. It’d be hard to see a scenario where Ober isn’t in the rotation on Opening Day next year, and that should be cause for more excitement than concern.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Can Someone Find Tyler Duffey?


The first few seasons of Tyler Duffey in a Minnesota Twins uniform were not good. The former Rice closer had an undefined role and owned a 5.46 ERA across his first 287 innings. Then it happened, he became one of the best relievers in baseball. But, where did he go?


The Twins have long been working to develop their own internal pitching pipeline. Finding relievers is typically an easier venture given the ability to convert failed starters. Taylor Rogers has become one of the best closers and lefties in baseball, but he was joined by the likes of Trevor May and Tyler Duffey. The past two seasons saw Duffey post a 2.31 ERA in more than 80 innings while punching out 12.5 per nine and walking just 2.2 per nine.


Fast forward to 2021.


This season the starting rotation has not been good.and unfortunately neither has the bullpen. Duffey owns a fine 3.63 ERA but that’s backed by a 4.10 FIP and lackluster peripherals including a 7.7 K/9 and 5.0 BB/9. His strikeout rate has dropped from 33% the past two seasons down to a dismal 19%.


Fortunately for Duffey, the stuff hasn’t resulted in more damage. The batted ball profile remains largely unchanged, and he’s not giving up an additional amount of hard contact. His velocity has held steady at 92 mph, which is down from 2019, but not the worrisome mark that appeared in Spring Training.


The largest issue for Duffey is that he’s no longer forcing batters to play into his hands. As a fastball and curveball pitcher, he thrived off setting batters up for a bender they simply couldn’t touch. This season he’s generating just a 27.7% chase rate which is down 13% from 2020, and 5% below his career average. He’s also halved his whiff rate going from 16% a year ago to just 8% this season. The stuff isn’t generating any desire to expand the zone, and isn’t sharp enough to compile swings and misses.


Derek Falvey decided to pull the plug on Jose Berrios being extended by the Minnesota Twins and flipped him before the trade deadline. For a team needing pitching help, that signifies a belief in internal development and a desire to supplement externally. Whether in the rotation or the bullpen, efforts will need to come from holdovers. Duffey will again be relatively cheap in 2022 and enters his final year of team control. If the Minnesota Twins are going to be competitive, they’ll need him to again contribute at a high level in key spots.


Seeing Duffey emerge as an arm that took time to develop but transformed into an incredible asset, it’s been difficult to watch him take such a stark step backwards this season. We’ve seen the ability play at the highest level, and Rocco Baldelli will need an opportunity to rely on that sort of production once again. It may take an offseason of going back to the drawing board, but for both Duffey and the Twins, each party needs things to revert back to where they were.


Monday, August 9, 2021

Making the Most of Miguel

 


Early on this season Miguel Sano might have been the biggest mess he’s even been during his big league career. There was an inability to time a fastball, and he was a detriment to the Twins lineup. That has changed, and he’s back to being who he’s always been.

Rewind to the Twins slog through April and May to find a slumping Miguel Sano. The team was bad, and Sano owned a .675 OPS at that point. His playing time was reduced as he was splitting reps with Alex Kirilloff at first base. Eventually he’d begin to ride the pine even more often, and there was clamoring from fans to DFA him and pass him down to the St. Paul Saints.

Fast forward to where we are now. Sano isn’t having some sort of revolutionary resurgence, but since June 4 he’s posted an .815 OPS with 22 extra-base hits (including nine home runs) in 47 games. The batting average is respectable (.256) for a power hitter, and while the on-base percentage isn’t where he’d like it (.321) the number is passable.

All season long the problem has been timing more than anything else. His strikeout rate is 35.6%, or below his career average, and substantially below the 43.9% he posted in 2020. Sano’s hard hit rate is above his career average, and basically in line with some of his best seasons. Unfortunately, his barrel rate is at a three-year low, and that again is indicative of point of contact. Sano has dropped his whiff rate back to 2019 levels however, and his CSW% is right below his career norm.

What we’re seeing is the same player that Minnesota paid $30 million over three years for. The problem is that the peaks and valleys have been more pronounced, but at this point you’d have hoped the organization had a better idea as to the player they have. Sano is a former top prospect, but not in the vein of a Guerrero Jr. or even Buxton. Miguel’s tools have always been plus-plus power and a plus-plus arm. Yes, he was a young Dominican shortstop, but it quickly became apparent he wouldn’t stick there. He’s passable at third base, but the frame has always profiled better at first base, a position he’s actually adequate at.

The .923 OPS Sano posted in 2019 is very likely a mirage given his tendency to be inconsistent. His .859 OPS as an All-Star in 2017 makes a lot more sense. The average will always lag behind, but he actually commands the zone well and his hard contact output will always trend towards a slugging outcome. Given the run, he’s a good bet for 25-30 homers a year, and as a guy you can put in the bottom half of a lineup, that seems like a decent asset.

It’s very clear that Miguel Sano isn’t a foundational cornerstone. He can absolutely be worth what the Twins front office decided to pay him though. Committing to him on a regular basis rather than second guessing what he is through slumps doesn’t make a ton of sense. He’s the type of player that isn’t going to benefit from extended time off. Not all prospects pan out the same way, and while this isn’t the 99th percentile of where you’d like development to be, that might not be the worst thing any ways. If Sano was the best version of himself, paying him $30 million might not have happened in order to send him elsewhere for another hopeful return.