Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Next Hurlers For The Twins

Coming into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the Twins roster was expected to be about youth and inexperience. Having welcomed Korean slugger Byung Ho Park into the fold, Minnesota then was expected to turn their attention to internal youth. With top prospects littering the ladnscape for quick call ups, it was the expected narrative to begin the year.

Now through the first month of the season, Paul Molitor has utilized Taylor Rogers, Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Jose Berrios, and will shortly call upon Alex Meyer. That leaves us at a point of wondering what else may be coming. Despite promoting many top prospects to the big league club, the Twins still have one of the best farm systems in the game. On the mound, Minnesota is working to turn a corner, but wondering who's next is where we are currently at.

There's some fun relief options that should see their major league debuts in 2016. Players such as J.T. Chargois, Nick Burdi, and even Jake Reed could all be on the horizon for Minnesota. For the purposes of this dissection however, the focus will remain on starters, and two key individuals to be clear.

First and foremost, Stephen Gonsalves has emerged as what should probably be considered the Twins next best starting pitcher prospect. He began the 2016 where he ended the 2015 season, with the Fort Myers Miracle. Somewhat similar to Jose Berrios before him, Gonsalves has made a habit of hoping levels due to strong performances mid season.

After posting a 2.61 ERA and a 6.2 K/9 at High-A Fort Myers a season ago, his 2016 has started off even better. Through his first four starts, Gonsalves owns a 1.44 ERA and has struck out 8.6 per nine while issuing just 2.2 free passes per nine. He's already given up two home runs in just 25.0 IP (after giving up just 4 in 134.1 IP in 2015) but that's really his only blemish.

Gonsalves is a 21 year old, and won't hit 22 until the middle of the summer. A 4th round pick out of high school in the 2013 draft, he's impressed at virtually every level he's appeared at. With the roster shuffle at the top, a promotion for Gonsalves should be right around the corner. I'd expect him to make the bulk of his starts this season at Double-A Chattanooga, and that could make him an option to reach the Twins in late 2017.

He's probably not going to be a huge strikeout guy at the big league level, but he'll be serviceable at worst, and has the ability to get quality hitters out. His consistency has been a strength of his, and he's a very level headed athlete as well. Gonsalves is no doubt a name to keep an eye on, and a guy who should continue to shoot up prospect ranking boards.

That brings us to number two, and a guy that I've had Jekyl and Hyde type feelings on, Kohl Stewart. Drafted 4th overall by the Twins in 2013, Stewart was expected to be a potential top of the rotation ace for the Twins. The development has taken longer than expected, but for a high school kid, it's not totally out of the ordinary.

After a great professional debut season in 2013, Stewart took a step backwards at Cedar Rapids in 2014, and fell off mightily in 2015. He's a guy that had just begun focusing on baseball full time, and injuries to his arm were a part of his early time with the Twins. What he's done to start out 2016 however has to put him back on the map.

Like Gonsalves, Stewart is starting this season at Fort Myers once again. He made 22 starts for the Miracle in 2015 with pretty mediocre results. This season however, he owns a 1.93 ERA across four starts while striking out 10.0 per nine and issuing just 2.3 free passes per nine. Across 23.1 innings pitched, it's hard to describe Stewart as anything but exceptional.

A Texas native, Stewart continues to have some maturing to do. He's notably not the greatest guy to deal with, but I know that's something the Twins have worked with him on. As he continues to make strides on the mound, the attitude adjustments and maturity will likely follow in kind.

I'm not sure that the Twins will move Stewart as aggressively as Gonsalves considering his struggles the past two seasons. He's also 21, but doesn't turn 22 until October. I want to see Stewart continue this performance for at least half of the year at Fort Myers, and if things go well, give him the promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. That would put Stewart on track to begin in Tennessee for 2017, and push for Triple-A Rochester.

Despite falling off almost all top 100 prospect lists this season, Stewart could do wonders for his stock by putting together a 2016 like he has started out. Regaining the ace status, the Twins could be using him to bolster their rotation sometime in 2018. For Stewart, it's been a tough road thus far, but 2016 has been a very encouraging start.

Minnesota has a handful of other guys that are interesting starting options down the road. 2015 1st round draft pick Tyler Jay is working as a starter for the first time in his career this season. Then there's players such as Felix Jorge and Randy Rosario. They would all seem to be a bit more along the lines of wishful thinking (at least as a starter Jay may be), but the club is far from depleted on the mound.

As the Twins continue to turn over into a new era fueled by blossoming youth, they'll need to continue to rely on internally developed pitching prospects to help pave the way. Thankfully, the next two top tier options seem plenty poised to carry the torch.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kevin Jepsen Off The Rails

The Twins bullpen has been a problem area in the early going this season, and despite being left largely unaddressed this offseason, I expected the minor moves to make some difference. In short, some aspects have played out as expected. Fernando Abad has been about as good as I assumed, and Casey Fien has struggled along the lines I pictured. A guy I worried about though, was Kevin Jepsen, and that's been a bigger issue.

Jepsen appeared a very large regression candidate coming into the 2016 season. After being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays, Jepsen posted a 1.61 ERA for the Twins along with a 2.56 FIP. His 8.0 K/9 was right near his career average, and his 2.3 BB/9 were the best result of his career. Having never seen significant time as a closer previously, he grabbed 10 saves for Minnesota as a replacement for the injured Glen Perkins.

It all added up to a situation that just seemed too good to play out again.

Now around 20 games into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the wheels have essentially fallen off for Jepsen. He owns a 4.15 ERA which probably doesn't highlight how poor he's been. His 7.3 K/9 is fine, but he's striking out just 17% of opposing hitters, the worst mark of his career. He's blown three saves, and has converted just two on the season. Now matter how you break it down, he's far from anything certain in a closer role.

There's a couple of things Jepsen seems to be doing differently early on for the Twins. He's relied on his fastball nearly 75% of the time this season (nearly a 10% bump from 2015), and has all but abandoned his changeup (using it just 2.7% of the time). Combining the usage with the fact that his 94 mph velocity on his fastball is the lowest of his career, it's resulted in less than ideal output.

On top of that, the effectiveness of Jepsen's pitches seems to have waned as well. In 2016, he's gotten batters to chase ptiches out of the zone just 24.1% of the time (lowest mark of his career) and well as generating swinging strikes just 8.7% of the time (lowest mark since 2013). When he throws a ball in the strike zone, opposing hitters are making contact a ridiculous 92.2% of the time (also the worst mark of his career).

Right now, Jepsen's problems are a perfect storm. He's not executing his pitches, and when he is, they simply aren't very good. He's not fooling hitters, and he's generally dancing around trouble rather than attacking and avoiding it. The sum of all parts suggests the regression I expect to set in, but I really didn't see it coming this quickly.

It's more than fair to attribute some of Jepsen's problems to the role he is being forced to play. Thanks to Glen Perkins binding the Twins with a week one DL stay, the former Rays reliever is pitching in a high leverage closer role he has no business occupying. In a pinch, as was the case in 2015, the situation may work for a brief period of time. As a shut down late inning reliever, you'd expect a ballclub to do better than Jepsen however.

For now, it sounds like manager Paul Molitor has issued a vote of confidence to his 9th inning arm. I'd hope the leash isn't too much longer, as the Twins can't continue to cough up leads and are already scarping for every W tally they can get. At some point, it might make sense to give Trevor May a shot, or even call on one of either J.T. Chargois or Nick Burdi to assume the role. The latter two are more drastic measures, while the former is worth a try.

Regardless of what eventually takes place, the path and process Kevin Jepsen is currently travelling down and executing upon can't continue to happen.

When It All Comes Together

I'm not a journalist, or a beat writer; in fact, my employer has nothing to do with the Minnesota Twins. What I am is a 25 year-old IT Recruiter who loves baseball. I am married to a wife that is my best friend (seriously, she's incredible and puts up with significantly too much Twitter). I have created an outlet for sharing my thoughts as they relate to the Twins and baseball as a whole. What happened on April 26, 2016 was a handful of world's colliding however.

While it no doubt may seem an odd paragraph to open this with, it serves a purpose. I have both a Twitter account (@tlschwerz) and this blog for the purpose of an outlet to voice my thoughts on the Twins and all things baseball. Through those mediums, I've crafted some (I think) great stories, solid content, and admittedly some downright stinkers. Twitter has provided an avenue for quick analysis, stat blurbs, and a bit more interaction.

Thanks in part to both mediums, I've had the privilege of interacting with both players and those that do this for real (journalists/beat writers) plenty. Regardless of the interactions, I've generally tried to stay fair. Some haven't been fond of the numbers shared and I've found myself blocked or ignored. Others have been receptive to the coverage and have followed or interacted. At the end of the day, it's all about remaining connected to baseball in a fun and hobbyist way.

One of my favorite relationships came full circle on the 26th however. Jose Berrios, the Minnesota Twins top pitching prospect (and Major League Baseball's second best), was promoted to the big leagues. Not only did he get his shot, but he felt the need to make me one of the first people he shared it with.
I have covered Jose for much of his time in the Twins organization. He's dominated at every level, and I've generally been engrossed in just how good of a pitcher he truly is. Interviewing him at Double-A New Britain, covering bits of the Future's Game, and speaking with him throughout the offseason's, I've learned there's so much more than than just a great pitcher however.

A year ago, I wrote a piece I entitled The Jose Berrios Story. It was as much about baseball, as it was about a man that's a great father, husband, and person. A driven individual who will stop at nothing to achieve his personal goals, and someone that regardless of the situation, puts himself second. I think that in a nutshell explains why this prospect's promotion means so much more than any other.

Jose is going to do great things for the Twins and big league baseball. He's going to do great things for himself at the next level, and he'll be accomplishing many goals as a 21 year old that most grown men would do anything to have the chance to attempt. What's important though, is that if none of it comes together, Jose has lost nothing, as he already has it all. Baseball is what he's great at, but it's not at all what makes him great. That's what made sharing such exciting news fun.

Of course there were detractors to breaking the news. As a lowly blogger, I was met with plenty of distaste from [some of] the established and heralded writers of Twins Territory. There was obvious vitriol, jealousy, or disregard for sensibility, but it's all ok. At the end of the day, I understand. Breaking news isn't my playground, journalism isn't either, and I'm ok with that. It's not my goal to hop in and be a part of the established, but for a day, I enjoyed playing in the same sandbox.

When it comes down to it, there was never anything to be made about breaking news for the sake of notoriety, but instead the culmination of a relationship that will now lend itself to Berrios getting to succeed at the highest level. I couldn't be happier for Jose, his wife, his daughter, and the rest of his family. If there's a young man that deserves everything coming to him, it's La MaKina, and I'm thrilled to sit down and watch the ride.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Terry's Time Looming For Twins

Recently I wrote that the Twins have an absolute slew of problems. They are doing quite a few things poorly, and everything is going negatively all at just about the same time. If we're going to try and attribute things to one place, we're probably running a fool's errand. What is true however, is that Terry Ryan's ineptitude has become more of a focus than ever.

Having taken over for his appointed heir, Bill Smith, Ryan has guided the Twins through some substantial rebuilding. The club had four straight 90 loss seasons, and in turn, drafted some pretty promising prospects. Seemingly close to the top of the mountain once again in 2015, the club just missed the playoffs in Paul Molitor's first year. Now roughly a month into the 2016 season, the head scratching when looking at Terry Ryan's plan has reached an all time high.

Let's be fair here, I have never been one to criticize Ryan. For the better part of his tenure with the Twins, I feel as though he's done a passable job. While you'd no doubt hope for something that pushes the needle a bit further, he's been a guy who is less than deserving of the distaste directed at him. He pulled off a heck of a deal to land Tommy Milone and I still believe that both the Yankees and Twins will benefit from the Aaron Hicks and John Ryan Murphy swap. He moved on from Francisco Liriano when he needed to, and Eduardo Escobar has been more than capable in return.

Outside of a few bright spots over the past few seasons however, Ryan has simply seen the game pass him by.

We can talk at length about whether or not Paul Molitor was a great hire for the manager role of the Twins, but it's far to early to tell how that narrative is going to play out. What we do know, is that Ryan was indebted to former manager Ron Gardenhire to a fault, and while the losing may not have been a result of his direct influence, he did little to change course either.

Coming into the 2016 season, Minnesota made little waves on the open market, and it was expected to be a sign of internal options rising to the top. Now well out of the division race and floundering below the .500 mark, Alex Meyer becomes just the first promotion that we can expect to stay with the big league club (at least as long as he proves capable).

Ryan no doubt had his hand in sending outfielder, and top prospect Max Kepler to the majors. In getting there, he started just two of 17 games, and saw only 14 plate appearances. Whether or not his development was stunted, Kepler saw the early part of his 2016 go to waste. Throw Jorge Polanco in the mix with Kepler, and you have another guy that has now been promoted to the big league level six different times, despite never staying for longer than a four game span. Not expected to have much of a significant impact being more rotational guys to start, the Twins learned next to nothing about either of them while they were up.

A problematic pattern with promotions has followed Ryan for the better part of the past couple seasons. Both Michael Tonkin and Kennys Vargas were mishandled a season ago. One is currently seeing success at for the Twins, while the other is still trying to find the floor after having the rug pulled out from under him.

Then you have what may be considered the breaking point for me. In signing veteran retread David Murphy, the Twins were essentially saying they needed a reason to shake up the roster. Rather than doing so and using a guy like Oswaldo Arcia (who has made his lack of playing time early on look silly), it was Murphy who was supposed to come in and force Minnesota into making a necessary move such as demoting top prospect Byron Buxton.

Murphy went to Triple-A Rochester, and hit .194 like the aged veteran he is. Upon time for his upcoming opt out clause, the Twins first cleared room on their 40 man roster. Catcher John Hicks, who was just claimed from the Mariners this offseason, was jettisoned. Now not only had the Twins lost their third catcher (and a guy with decent future reliability), Murphy made things worse for Minnesota by declining any promotion and chose to retire.

Rather than actually knowing where all parties stood, Ryan and the Twins end up looking silly with egg on their face as the roster handling appears to be above their level of competency. As the dust settled, Minnesota finds themselves now needing to add an otherwise unnecessary player to the 40 man just to fill out their big league bench.

At some point, you have to be ok with asking for more from your leaders. Ryan at his best has been passable if not mediocre. If the Twins are going to take the next step, it's becoming relatively clear that Ryan is probably not the guy capable of pushing the envelope to get them there. Rather than continuing to look internally, and hiring back buddies such as Gardenhire, the Twins best friend could be the one they don't yet know. Ingenuity and innovation generally breeds advancement, but right now that's a foreign concept at Target Field.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Twins Problems Are All Of Them

Here we sit, right around the end of the first month of the 2016 Major League Baseball season, and the Minnesota Twins find themselves as cellar dwellers. Not only are they dead last in the AL Central, but they've found themselves there on account of everything going wrong, at almost always the right moments.

Coming off a season in which they weren't technically eliminated from playoff contention until the final week of the season, the Twins had high hopes for the year ahead. Instead of capitalizing on that in the early going, they've taken multiple steps backwards. A roster with youth, there's been odd decisions, the bullpen has been up and down, and the offense has been near non-existent. What it's really added up to is the Twins having as many problems as they could have possibly envisioned.

First and foremost is the offense. With a lineup that was rounded out using big bats, Paul Molitor's club was expected to hit balls over the fence. A realistic chance for 200 on the season, they appear destined to finish nowhere near that mark. Just 17 to date, the Twins aren't remotely close to where good home run hitting teams have been in previous seasons.

I've done (I believe) a very consistent job of keeping track of what I've coined the Twins Power Index. In measuring strikeouts, as they relate to home runs, Minnesota has often been left empty handed. Striking out per game, more than any other team in baseball not named the Houston Astros, the Twins home run totals have lagged behind. Only a couple of guys are seeing above an acceptable amount of pitches per strikeout, and the problem as a whole hasn't gotten better.

Against the Washington Nationals in D.C. Mollie's club struck out a ridiculous 38 times over the course of two games. I saw a Twins writer or two caution that the way of the K had fallen by the wayside as, they "hardly struck out at all over the last week," and that "the sky's not falling." In a vacuum, that's probably a true sentiment, but considering the power production expected to compliment those strikeouts has not change, the problem is only looming larger.

Then, because of the lack of offense, the Twins have done nothing for what has been a respectable (maybe a little less) pitching staff. In 19 games, Neil Allen's starters have thrown nine quality starts. Of those games, only three of them have been won by the Twins. In six of nine quality starts, Minnesota failed to score more than what amounts to no more than three runs over the course of six innings.

When Minnesota is scoring, they aren't holding leads either. Forget about Glen Perkins who's on the DL after a week one injury. Kevin Jepsen has looked every bit the regression candidate he was poised to be, and despite some decent outings from Trevor May, his command and prowess on the mound has eluded him almost an equal amount. The bullpen was positioned to be improved, if not avoid being a liability once again, should everything break right. Unfortunately, nothing has gone that way for Minnesota.

Rounding out the group of unfortunate-isms (sure, we'll go with it), is the direction this team has seemed to take through it all. With a roster probably one year ahead of real playoff contention, the youth was going to both sink and swim. What has happened however, is confusing roster moves that don't seem to mesh with each other whatsoever.

Early on in 2016, top prospect Max Kepler was given the call to Minnesota. He started just two of 13 games at one point with the Twins, and was given no regular time. The bulk of that was while Byron Buxton was struggling, and Eddie Rosario could get nothing going. Not only was his development being stunted by not playing, but Molitor had no better clue as to what he was capable of at this level.

It took nearly moving a mountain to get Oswaldo Arcia to draw some significant starts, and now the club appears to have opened a 40 man roster spot (and depleting a realistic third catcher in the process) for aging veteran David Murphy. Unlike Kepler, Arcia, or any host of other young players, there's no hurt to having Murphy come up and sit. In needing to sign a veteran retread just to get the oomph to make a roster move though, Terry Ryan should expect to face disdain.

UPDATE: Per Mike Berardino, the Twins did in fact open up the 40 man spot to call up David Murphy. They lost John Hicks in doing so, and Murphy walked away from the organization presumably to retire. That sequence as a whole is a massive dumpster fire and highlights a really poor lack of planning.

At the end of the day, it won't matter whether Jose Berrios joins the rotation, Buxton gets it going in Triple-A, or some combination of Alex Meyer and J.T. Chargois bolster the big league pen. Right now, the Twins are doing everything wrong between the lines, and the stuff taking place outside of them is following suit.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Options Emerging For Twins

Going into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins seemingly had one lone spot open in their starting rotation. Tommy Milone was out of options, and was seemingly guaranteed to be included. That left Ricky Nolasco as the veteran fighting to remain in the group. Now a few weeks into the year, there's a couple more added wrinkles to the mix.

First and foremost, it's worth noting how the Twins fourth and fifth starters have performed. Milone owns a 5.87 ERA having given up 10 earned runs in just 15.1 IP. He's been significantly bitten by the long ball, and has already surrendered four of them in just 3 starts. With strikeout rates up (7.0 K/9) and walk rates on par with his career averages, it's really been just keeping the ball in the yard that has kept Milone from succeeding.

On the other hand, Nolasco has taken steps forward after floundering in his first two seasons with Minnesota. Across three starts, he owns a 2.66 ERA and has given the Twins quality starts in two of his outings. While his strikeout numbers have decreased, he's walking next to no one, and limiting damage. Right now, there's really no reason to look to replace the former Marlins mainstay.

What is on the horizon for the Twins absolutely has to have them looking to improve at the top. Just one rung down in the organization, Triple-A Rochester has at least two guys that look big league ready. First and foremost, Twins top pitching prospect Jose Berrios.

On the season, Berrios has made three starts to the tune of a 1.06 ERA. He's striking out over 10 batters per nine innings, and while his walk numbers are up, they are generally not in line with his career performance. One of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, there's significant reason to believe Berrios would elevate the staff as a whole. I had him being promoted in May, and I still see that happening. Right now, I just don't know for who.

That brings us to arm number two, and somewhat of a curious inclusion. Alex Meyer has been almost equally as impressive at Rochester. He began the year with a scoreless innings streak of 15.1. In three games (two starts) he owns a 1.04 ERA, and he's held his walk rate in check at just 2.1 BB/9. Meyer throws hard, and his stuff could play in either the rotation or bullpen depending on where the Twins want to use him. If it's in relief that the door swings easier right now, I'd be asking him to hop on a plane sooner rather than later.

Not to be forgotten is 2015 standout Tyler Duffey. While he's taking somewhat of a back seat to the two aforementioned pitchers, Duffey's 1.72 ERA is now slouch of its own. He's walking too many batters (4.0 BB/9) but has otherwise pitched well. Having been a contributor for the Twins a season ago, there's plenty of reason to believe he's capable of being just that again.

If you want to take a step even further down the ladder, J.T. Chargois has to have turned some heads. The Double-A Chattanooga closer has pitched 5.0 innings without giving up a base hit. He's walked no one and his nine strikeouts have him rolling at a 16.2 K/9 pace. He throws some electric stuff, and I'd believe in him out of the Twins pen almost immediately.

Minnesota will start to see this problem (if we can call it that) pop up more and more in the coming seasons. As some of their top pitching talent rises to the top levels, room will need to be made. I think both Meyer and Berrios should probably be with the big league team almost immediately, and I'm not exactly sure where I'd put them. At some point, you may have to push out the Milone's or Casey Fien's of the world to advance your squad as a whole.

It's a proposition that Terry Ryan hasn't had to deal with for quite some time, but if the Twins are truly going to bank on their own hard work, it's one they'll need to start looking into.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The (Un)expected Twins Asset

Just a handful of games into the season long journey, the Minnesota twins no doubt got off to a rocky start. Losing their first nine games, and being swept in three consecutive series, the hometown nine had very little to hang their hats on early. What's worth noting though is that the Twins problems have been relatively one-sided, and a past problem area has actually been a place of strength.
Going into this season, I suggested that the Minnesota pitching staff would be better than you think. One of the first things national writers generally want to point out is the Twins lack of a clear ace. While they aren't wrong at all, they are somewhat misguided in the need for one. Looking at the landscape of the AL Central, it was pretty fair to suggest the Twins five had the ability to be no worse than middle of the pack in regards to the competition. So far, things are looking to be on par with that assessment.

In Minnesota's losses thus far, the issues have been related to strikeouts and lack of offensive punch, not in getting behind by a boatload of runs. One and two run leads have seemed insurmountable, and Twins starters have taken more than their fair share of tough luck losses.

As things stand currently, Twins pitching as a whole owns a 3.38 cumulative ERA. This is split between the rotation made up of a sum better than it's parts, and a bullpen that has plenty of reason to succeed. That total ranks them 5th in the American League, and behind only the White Sox and Royals among AL Central competitors.

In the AL looking at just starters, the Twins fall behind just a bit. The group owns a 3.79 ERA, good enough for 8th in the league, but again behind only the Royals and White Sox among division competition. Twins starters have done a great job limiting walks, as their 2.68 BB/9 puts them at 5th in the AL and behind the Indians and White Sox when looking at AL Central foes. Again, without a Chris Sale or Corey Kluber at the top, this Twins group is getting the job done.

Of course, as has generally been the case for Minnesota, the strikeouts aren't there at all. With just 6.58 K/9, the Twins rank dead last in the American League. It's a position they've grown relatively accustomed to, and with no true strikeout pitcher, one they'll remain in at least for the foreseeable future. On the surface though, it's hard to be disappointed in the overall results that the starting staff has produced.

Then there's the bullpen, and this is where things get a bit interesting.

On the season, Minnesota's relievers own a 2.59 ERA (6th best in the American League). That tally includes ugly numbers from Glen Perkins and Casey Fien, as well as mediocrity from Kevin Jepsen. The small sample sizes will aloow those stats to continue to be driven down, but being that low nonetheless is a testament to this group. Where the pen really impresses is in the strikeout category.

For 2016, the Twins relief corps owns a 10.15 K/9, good enough for 5th in the American League, and only .40 K/9 off of the vaunted Royals pen. At the end of 2015, the Twins relievers owned a 6.85 K/9 as well as a 3.95 ERA, significantly worse numbers than where they currently find themselves at.

Any time a big league team is under .500, you're in a less than desirable situation. That being said, if there was one thing the Twins were expected to do, it was produce on offense. This team was going to hit, and hit for power. That hasn't completely shown up yet, but the fact that the pitching is there to support it when it does, is no doubt a great thing.

I'm not sure I'm ready to suggest I saw this coming, it hasn't been much of a sample size thus far. That said, knowing Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey, Nick Burdi, and J.T. Chargois are there to pick up the slack when Minnesota needs them, you have to feel good about who's on the mound for Paul Molitor in 2016.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sano Is Fooling Someone

Prior to the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins made the commitment to Miguel Sano in right field. In keeping Trevor Plouffe, the club kept together what projected to be a strong offense, and forced Sano to learn a new position. There's been some hiccups in the process (as expected), but what's interesting is the belief that this wasn't a possible scenario all along.

Just a handful of games into the season, the Twins tender of the hot corner, Trevor Plouffe, hit the disabled list with an intercostal strain. The club called up infielder Jorge Polanco to replace him on the 25 man roster, but it was Sano and Eddie Rosario who fielded some pre-game grounders for Paul Molitor's squad. Pictures circulated on the interwebs, and the question quickly became whether or not Sano would move back to third base at least in the short term.

The simple answer is almost unquestionably no. Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan have both harped on being committed to the development of Sano in right field. Outside of some extreme set of circumstances, the hulking Dominican is nowhere near their radar to play third base. This seems to draw the ire of some in the fan base, but the problem is, should it?

First of all, let's remember that Sano is a ballplayer pushing 280 pounds. Sure, a lot of that is muscle, but it doesn't negate the fact that he's a very large human being. Now we're all more than well aware that Sano came through the Twins system as a third basemen (after being signed as a shortstop), but there were always significant questions as to whether he'd stick there at the big league level. Comparing him to his peers, it's not hard to see he's an outlier.

Forget looking at the best defensive third basemen, Sano almost assuredly would not be in that category. Comparing the Twin to a group of big league third basemen who posted between 4 and -6 defensive runs saved at third base last season (a total of eight players), not one is heavier than David Freese's 225 pounds. Freese has played third in the big leagues for the entirety of his career, having posted a 2 DRS for a career high, and a -14 DRS as a career low.

Then there's comparing Sano to teammate Trevor Plouffe. Both had the minor league career arc of being shifted from shortstop to third base. Plouffe failed at short and was moved, while Sano was almost immediately deemed too big for the role. Plouffe posted just 13 errors in 78 career minor league games, or a 26.9 per 162 game average. On the other hand, Sano has totaled 112 errors over the course of 326 starts at third base, or a 55.6 per 162 game average. That only begins to highlight where Sano may have experienced some significant struggles at the next level.

Coming off of Tommy John surgery as a position player, Sano's arm was generally expected to respond well. The stress for a third basemen isn't nearly what it is for a pitcher, and Sano has shown he still has a cannon during his time in right field for the Twins. What the question always was for him related to his glove and lateral agility at the hot corner.

At the present time, we're allowed an almost exact level of comparison between Sano in right and at third base in the big leagues. During the 2015 season, he played a total of 77 innings at third turning in a -1 DRS and a 0.7 ultimate zone rating. In right field during 2016, he's played 79.2 innings owning a -4 DRS and a -0.1 UZR. We're really at a place of splitting hairs.

Sano's deficiencies in right field have been generally linked to his uncertainty as to how to attack a batted baseball. Whether it be an ill timed dive, or a poor route, there struggles he's going through are largely related to learning how to adjust to new ball trajectories on the fly (no pun intended). That said, his athleticism has adept enough in allowing him to complete the plays he absolutely should make.

Where we're currently at is a position in which the Twins employed the best case scenario in regards to Sano. It's probably more than false hope to suggest or believe that he was going to be a capable big league third basemen defensively. Almost by body size alone, he's destined for a designated hitter or first base role. The former isn't a sentence you'd like to present to a 22 year old, and the latter is currently occupied by one of the best hitters in baseball.

Long term, Miguel Sano probably shouldn't play right field forever. Expecting him to capably hold down the role while mashing opposing pitching and getting contributions from both Plouffe and Mauer is a sensible approach however. With Plouffe out of the picture for the time being, Sano continues to be a better fit for the greater good of Minnesota in right, and it really doesn't matter that his position on the farm may say otherwise.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mauer Wreaking Havoc At The Plate

With the Twins getting a big sweep over the Angels, they seem to have righted the ship to a certain extent. At the center of the good fortune (and sorry to Oswaldo Arcia who has contributed two game winners), is poster child Joe Mauer. The St. Paul native seems to be the story to write this week (pieces at Twins Daily and MLB Daily Dish), and for good reason.

Over the course of the spring, Twins beat writer Mike Berardino often noted when Mauer was and wasn't wearing sunglasses. Now further removed from his position-change-forcing concussion, Mauer was experimenting with different alternatives to give him an edge at the plate. Minnesota's first basemen said that he had struggled to see the ball at time during 2015, and that probably didn't help him as he scuffled to a career worst .265 batting average.

Going into this season, I thought that the extra distance from his injuries issues would give Mauer an edge. During my bold predictions piece, I suggested that the Twins hometown hero would hit .300 again on the season. So far, he's trending towards making that look like a cakewalk.

Through the Twins first 12 games, Mauer is slashing an incredible .372/.472/.415. Mauer has had good April's before, but the 2016 season is different, and you don't have to look to deep to find out why. Currently, Mauer's numbers supporting his results are staggering.

On the season, Mauer owns a 1.8% swinging strike rate, meaning he almost never swings and misses. He's faced four 0-2 counts in which he has swung, and he's gotten base hits each time. Against full counts, Mauer is slashing .500/.727/.667 with five walks and ZERO strikeouts in 11 plate appearances. When pitches have gotten two strikes on Mauer, he's responded with a .400/.520/.450 line. Also, after going down 0-2, Mauer owns an .833/.889/1.000 line on the year. To say he's seeing the ball well doesn't even begin to explain it.

In his heyday, Mauer dictated what would happen when he stepped into the batters box, and he's doing that once again. Through the first handful of games for the Twins, Mauer has told pitchers where than can and cannot throw the ball to him, and he's punished them for missing their spots. Still taking a pitch or two when stepping into the box, it's actually been a scenario in which Mauer has lulled the opposing pitcher into giving him the advantage.

To suggest what Mauer is doing is incredible is probably selling it somewhat short.

We are plenty removed from the days that Joe Mauer was Major League Baseball's Most Valuable Player. He's no longer a catcher, and his brain injury has caused his game to change the way he's played. He's never going to be the big bopper first basemen, but what we are seeing in the 2016 Mauer is something Twins fans have long since forgotten the St. Paul native capable of.

It's been three seasons since Mauer has eclipsed the .300 mark. He was last an All Star in 2013, and slashed .324/.404/.476 that year. It was the last in which he spent time playing behind the plate. Now a full time first basemen, Mauer and his sunglasses have put him back into the realm of playing the game he has always been synonymous with.

Credit Mauer for working through the ill effects of his injury and finding a way in which his bat can return to its elite level. His work at first base has also taken significant strides, as he's now above league average defensively at the position. Things are seemingly coming full circle for him, and that's a great thing for the Twins.

It wasn't too long ago that Mauer was on a collision course with the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He's still got a ways to go, and I opined that there's reason to believe he gets there, but hitting for average as a first basemen isn't going to do anything but help his cause. If he can continue his current approach at the plate for the Twins, he'll be the most valuable player to this squad and it won't be remotely close.

Forget the average and the raw numbers, when looking at how Joe Mauer is generating production in 2016, opposing pitchers should be looking straight up a mountain when trying to consider their ensuing battle.

Molitor Should Be Making It Work In Minnesota

Just a handful of games into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, and things were trending downwards big time for the Minnesota Twins. Starting 0-9, there was plenty of reason to panic, 162 games aside. While Twins players seemed to stay the course, Terry Ryan and the organization made somewhat of an odd decision a week ago.

With Miguel Sano starting in right field and still getting used to his role, Byron Buxton scuffling at the plate, and Eddie Rosario being lackluster across multiple facets of the game, a shakeup was needed. Instead of going internally though, using the organizational depth, Terry Ryan decided to sign veteran outfielder David Murphy.

In and of itself, the Murphy signing is far from terrible. If he makes the big league roster (which it sounds like he won't have a long stay at Triple-A), he'll make right around $1.5 million. A 10 year vet, Murphy owns a .274/.333/.432 career line. He's significantly more acceptable at the plate against righties, but as a left handed batter, that's not totally unexpected. In the outfield, the only position he's better than league average is left fielder, where he's worth 3 defensive runs saved in just over 4,700 innings.

That brings us to the Twins odd predicament, and it's only been further highlighted over the course of the past few games.

Looking at the youth the Twins employ, Miguel Sano is the least likely to ever go back to the farm. Despite his bat starting out ice cold, the Dominican has seen Minnesota committed to his development in right field. He's been decent despite some minor struggles, and his bat is going to come around. In center, Buxton has given the Twins some pause, and he could go back. Regardless what happens to Byron though, Murphy is not a center fielder, and his -8 career DRS would be ugly there. That brings us to left field.

Considering the options for the Twins to send to the farm when Murphy comes up, Eddie Rosario should be considered the most deserving candidate. His approach at the plate has been largely worse than it was a season ago (which was already ugly). He's been worth -2 DRS in left field this season, and he's given the Twins more head scratching moments than he hasn't. That all being said, I don't see the Twins making that move at all.

The problem however isn't who is sent down, but in that Murphy is probably going to come up to the Twins to play. Oswaldo Arcia was brought north out of spring training because the Twins aren't dumb. Just 24 years old, the Venezuelan had a 100% chance of being claimed on waivers by another team had Minnesota DFA'd him. Having brought him north though, he started just one of the Twins first 8 games.

After being given some leash, Arcia started each of the games in which the Twins faced off against the Angels at Target Field. Minnesota swept the series, and Arcia provided two game winners across the three game span. His .385/.429/.615 slash line is no doubt a product of a small sample size, but his home run and three runs batted in are production areas he should be expected to contribute in.

Sure, this early into the season, the Twins have plenty of other narratives to focus on, and many of them have arguably more weight. That said, in a season in which the Twins seemed committed to having the youth be the backbone of their success or failure, relying on an aging vet seems counter productive. Whether it be Arcia or Max Kepler, there's internal options with far more upside that should have been considered more heavily.

Within the next handful of games, we'll find out how this narrative is going to play out. Twins beat writer LaVelle E. Neal noted that Murphy was told he won't be at Triple-A Rochester long. Given what seems like an assurance he'll bump someone off the big league roster, we'll have to take a wait and see approach. No matter what though. Murphy of the internal candidates is a decision that appears to go against what the Twins were pushing for in the season ahead.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Twins Looking For A Fix

It began as a sweep, then turned into a franchise record, and has now reached less than unfortunate territory. The Twins opening up the season with a handful of losses as they have has been anything but expected. This was a team looking to take the next step forward, and while that could still end up being the case, they've dug themselves a massive hole. I've taken it upon myself to figure out how to fix it thought.

Short of cloning eight more Joe Mauer's, the Twins need to shake things up a bit. Here's a couple things I see as being helpful to getting this club going in 2016:

A lineup shuffle

Speaking of Joe Mauer, bat him in the leadoff spot. It's been something I've contended as making sense for quite some time, and if there's a time to try it, now would make a lot of sense. The Twins have gone with Brian Dozier for the better part of the past two seasons and mostly because they really don't have a legitimate option. Despite being a respectable OBP guy, Dozier's pop is best served elsewhere.

Mauer owns a career .395 on base percentage, and even in his career worst .265 average season of 2015, he still posted a .338 OBP. Through the first handful of games in 2016, Mauer owns a .387/.487/.581 slash line and has walked (6) more times than he's struck out (4). Forget about the idea that a leadoff hitter has to be a speed guy, you can't steal first and Mauer will get there more often than not.

Start a new outfield

No, this isn't a chance to knock the Sano experiment. There's been some lumps (honestly what in the world was that dive), but for the most part it's going just fine. You're keeping Sano in the mix for his bat, and right field is a fine place to do it. That said, his two outfield mates could afford to be swapped out. Give me Oswaldo Arcia in left with Max Kepler in center.

The Twins brought Arcia north because they aren't stupid. There's no way the Venezuelan slugger would pass through waivers unclaimed, and that's because another team will assume he can hit. Through 9 games (of which Minnesota has lost them all), Arcia has drawn just one start and been given only four at bats. He had a horrid 2015 season at the dish, but he's a year removed from a .231/.300/.452 slash line with 20 homers. If the Twins can scoff at that kind of power production given their current situation, I'm unsure how.

With Kepler you're getting a prospect with some serious upside into the field. Of course he'd be taking over for Byron Buxton, but I'll address that shortly. You'll lose a good amount defensively but Kepler's best position in the field is in center. He'll hit eventually, and if his .318/.410/.520 slash line across High-A and Double-A in 2015 is anything of substance, it'll be sooner rather than later.

Buxton rides the bus

For the most part, I diagrammed why I believe Buxton would be best suited for about three weeks at Triple-A in this piece. It's not a death sentence, and it shouldn't change the belief that he's a top end talent long term. Right now though, he needs to shorten up his swing a bit and generate some significant confidence at the plate.

In 13 games at Rochester in 2015, Buxton hit .400 and picked up at least one base hit in every game. Allow him to go down, settle in, and generate that kind of production again. Buxton has had a eerily similar career beginning to Mike Trout, and although he's never going to hit for that kind of power, wanting the immediate return shouldn't trump him getting the opportunity to contribute when he's ready.

With the Twins having signed David Murphy, someone in the outfield is headed back to Rochester. The veteran isn't going to be on the farm long, and the Twins would be best served to make it Buxton. Of course they could have just started their own players (Arcia/Kepler) rather than signing Murphy, but I digress.

Break Sano and Park off

Right now, the two biggest power threats in the Twins lineup couldn't hit a breaking pitch to save their life. Miguel Sano has made watching early fastballs down the gut a habit, and he's routinely guessed and buckled at the vision of a bender coming in. Byung Ho Park has bailed out on pitches, struggled to keep his head through the sing zone, and has flailed at offspeed stuff far too often.

I'm not sure going down to Triple-A would be a good idea for either of them. Big league benders are going to be what they need to compete against, and forcing them to work through the struggles up top seems the best plan of action. We've seen Sano handle it with the impressive 2015 he had, and it was always (yes you were wrong about Park struggling with fastballs) going to be the biggest change for Park in coming over from Korea.

Maybe the two of them need a heavy dose of offspeed live batting practice a couple of times a week. Maybe their swings need some tweaking. I'm not 100% sold on what the answer is, but breaking balls have been the pair's kryptonite and it needs to end sooner rather than later.

Level with Rosario

When looking at how to shuffle the otufield, I have a hard time suggesting Eddie Rosario not having been the worst of the Twins bunch. Following a successful rookie year that saw him put up numbers despite some really concerning offensive flaws, he's been incredibly out of sorts to start 2016. Not only are his offensive problems coming to light (he's swinging at 50.8% of pitches out of the zone and swinging and missing 19.7% of the time, both worse than 2015 numbers), but he's been awful in the field as well (-2 DRS in just 68.1 innings).

There was plenty of reasons thrown out as to why Rosario struggled as he rose through the minors. His on base percentage dipped and he looked like he didn't want to be there. I know that his disinterest has been noted as the biggest culprit. He's often been suggested as a guy that wanted to be in the big leagues and believed he was above that level. He's probably not wrong, but flipping the switch is a hard task and one he hasn't seemed capable of in 2016.

Right now, I think Buxton has more to gain from a development standpoint by going to Triple-A. If it were plausible though, I'd send Rosario out simply to send a message. His head isn't screwed on right, and it's been pretty apparent.

At the end of the day, when things are going as wrong as they are for the Twins, there's no shortage of things Minnesota can try. Paul Molitor has to right the ship sooner rather than later though. With just a small portion of the 162 game slate accounted for, there's plenty of time left, but it's up to the club to make meaningful use of it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Perkins Continues To Bind Twins

This afternoon, things got worse for the 0-7 Twins as closer Glen Perkins was put on the disabled list due to shoulder issues. With an already questionable bullpen coming into the season, and one that has struggled during it, Perkins removal doesn't help the situation. The bigger problem is that the player continues to be more of a concern than just in regards to injury issues.

On the season, which to be fair is just two appearances, Perkins owns a 9.00 ERA through 2.0 IP. He's given up five hits and blown his only save opportunity. After suggesting all spring that "no one had asked me (Perkins) to open it up," his velocity has been nonexistent. He has topped out this season at 92.7 miles per hour, and is down from a 93.7 mph average a year ago. Back in 2013, Perkins was averaging 95.2 mph on his fastball, and the decline since has been stark.

What's problematic is that this could have all been avoided. Scenario one includes some level of transparency.

As noted above, Perkins has insisted all spring that he's healthier than ever, his workouts this offseason were strength focused, and he was ready for the long haul of the season. Now just two appearances in, the 33 year old is breaking down. His radio appearances and print interviews have fallen by the wayside, and once again, he's got egg on his face.

Nick Nelson of Twins Daily noted on Twitter that we've seen this before. Back in 2009, Perkins suggested all was fine, until it wasn't. The revelation wasn't met in kind from then manager Ron Gardenhire, and rightfully so.
Then there's the other part of the equation; what if Perkins wasn't here at all? I wrote a piece over a year ago suggesting that the Twins biggest trade asset was Perkins (check it out here). Minnesota was in the midst of 90 loss campaigns, and having an elite close on a losing team is somewhat unnecessary. Sure, the Twins had recently signed him to a mutually-friendly deal, and he's a Minnesota native, but baseball is a business as well.

The suggestion for dealing Perkins came following the San Diego Padres trading Houston Street. Perkins had posted very similar, if not better, numbers at the time and Los Angeles gave up what seemed like quite a bit. Now with things as they are currently, relying on a strong system of relief prospects and having had the benefit of a nice return from Perkins, it'd be hard to argue the Twins find themselves in a bad spot.

At the end of the day though, we can't change anything with either scenario. Perkins wasn't in the shape he thought he was, and he's still a part of the Twins organization. What can change is how things are handled going forwards however.

It's plenty apparent that Perkins is nowhere close to what he once was, or was even at the beginning of last season. It's time he gets real with himself and understands him limitations. I don't expect him to publicly voice or acknowledge them, but slowing his roll on proposing opposition towards his detractors is also probably a good idea. At some point this season, Perkins will need to be a part of the Twins pen, and getting him to be the most effective includes the reality of him leveling with the organization as to what is actually going on with his body.

Shuffling Twins For Success

To say the 2016 Major League Baseball season has gotten off to less than an ideal start for the Minnesota Twins is a understatement. Despite the possibility for a handful of losses to be overstated, there's no doubt that the Twins futility isn't a good thing. With an offense that has perfected striking out, and a bullpen that has scuffled early, Paul Molitor may not be too far off from making some changes.

One of the most obvious changes could be in relation to uber prospect Byron Buxton. Having won the starting centerfield job out of spring training, Minnesota was no doubt looking for a better showing than his first taste of big league action. So far that hasn't been the case, as Buxton is batting .182/.182/.273 through his first 22 at bats. What's interesting though is that there's a path in which this narrative has played out before.

Buxton is often mentioned in connection with Angels star Mike Trout. Both had the pedigree of being top prospects, and the hope is that the former turns early big league struggles into long term success like the latter. After struggling in his first taste of MLB action, Trout went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year in his true rookie season. The overlooked part is how Trout progressed over that Rookie of the Year winning campaign.

Unlike Buxton, Trout did not start his first big league season with the Angels. Prior to beginning his record winning journey, he played in 20 Triple-A games. Across that action, Trout slashed .403/.467/.623. He was then called up and went on to hit .182/.250/.227 in his first 22 at bats, a very similar (if not worse) line than Buxton. The biggest discrepancy between how each of them got going is in Buxton's ugly 11/0 K/BB ratio (as opposed to Trout's 5/2 K/BB in his first 22 ABs).

At this point, it's pretty clear that Buxton is working to get his feet wet at the big league level. He's seeing just south of 8 pitches per strikeout and has been scuffling at the plate. To his credit, when he's put the ball in play, he's hit it hard. His at bats haven't been terrible, and they've been visibly better than teammate and outfield partner Eddie Rosario. That said, we may be coming to a crossroads.

Should Buxton continue to struggle to get things going for the next week, decision time may be here. If I'm the Twins, I go ahead and send Buxton back to Triple-A. Getting him down sooner rather than later allows him to get things going, and return in a much more meaningful portion of the season. Allow Buxton, who hit .400/.441/.545 in his first taste of Triple-A, to go grab some confidence and head back to the big leagues in about three weeks.

Should Buxton go down, there will obviously be a ripple effect at the top. The Twins will be short and outfielder and depending on who's called up, the replacement is probably already on the big league roster. Assuming Danny Santana isn't immediately back on his 15th day (which would make the swap for Buxton easier) Molitor should go with Max Kepler. Having been called up, it doesn't serve Kepler to sit and watch. He has the ability to play centerfield, and would then be auditioning for the right to stay up with the Twins. As things stand currently, Kepler should be drawing starts over Rosario, Buxton, and Miguel Sano on a rotating basis, but he could be the guy in center until Buxton returns.

Of course it's not the ideal scenario to have to demote Buxton, what's important though is that it's not a death sentence. For the Twins top prospect, the long term game should be the focus. Getting him right with his bat a level down, will help Minnesota win games at the big league level during the summer months. If Buxton doesn't have a turnaround week, I'd put the plan in action.

The changes probably shouldn't stop with the lineup however. There's also some significant question marks in the bullpen. The trio of Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen, and Casey Fien have been unquestionably poor to start the 2016 campaign. If there's a guy feeling the most pressure, it should be the veteran Fien.

Having been gifted a roster spot through an arbitration contract, Fien has turned in a 16.88 ERA with 2 BB in his first 2.2 IP. Getting hit hard, to the tune of seven hits already, Fien has looked extremely ineffective. The most logical move for Fien may be in calling up Alex Meyer.

Yes, Meyer is working out of the Rochester rotation, but it still stands to reason that he makes the Twins this year through the bullpen. He's not ahead of Jose Berrios or Tyler Duffey for starting jobs, and his stuff should play up even better in relief. Taking over for Fien, Meyer can slide into a low-leverage scenario and take his time acclimating to the new level. He was great in his debut outing of 2016, and finished 2015 owning a 0.46 ERA across his final 19.2 IP. There's little room to suggest Meyer would be anything but an upgrade in relief for Minnesota.

As far as the back end of the pen guys, Jepsen and Perkins, a swap is a bit less clear. The former is a major regression candidate for this season, while the latter appears to have fallen off a cliff. Regardless, neither of them is being sent anywhere but the DL should a move be deemed warranted. Perkins has looked ineffective and displayed declining velocity for the last half of 2015, and to start the 2016 campaign. If you're looking for a replacement, J.T. Chargois may hear the call from Double-A Chattanooga.

Chargois has struck out five batters en route to recording his first six outs. He's right there with Nick Burdi in regards to top tier relief talent, and already being on the 40 man roster makes it a smooth transition. Again, getting Chargois up is a tricky maneuver with how you'd need to shuffle some established vets. That said, the relief options are plentiful for Minnesota.

With an early season stumble such as the Twins have had, you'd hate to start making unwarranted wholesale changes. However, you need to do something in order to create a spark, and for a couple different players, a momentary change of scenery could produce benefits throughout the summer. Sure it's unfortunate that Buxton hasn't taken off, or that the pen may have scuffled, but the net result could be the best possible outcome.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Proper Voicing Of Twins Frustration

The Minnesota Twins started their 2016 season out on the road. They were tasked with bearing the Baltimore Orioles, and the defending World Series Champion Kansas City Royals. In a season destined for heightened expectations, they returned home for their opener winless, an 0-6 start. The home cooking didn't change the tide either, on to 0-7. Then it happened, the boos came.

Here's the deal, this isn't intended to be a romp through the Twins misery, and conversely, it's not intended to provide rainbows and butterflies. At the end of the day, the goal should absolutely be perspective. There's some out there that will implore you to look at the bright side, how much time is to come, and try to downplay the desperation of the situation. There's others that have written this team off, thrown in the towel, and have begun looking towards the offseason. What the two factions may have in common, is that the vocal outcry at Target Field during the Twins home opener was incredibly misplaced.

In booing the Twins, a level of frustration has been reached. No matter your reasoning or justification for doing so, it's an odd effort to push for the outcome you actually desire. On the surface, it's more than apparent that the club needs a better effort in the results column. Of course the biggest issues have been with the strikeouts and bullpen. What booing effectively suggests however, is nothing more than a cop out in relation to an actual understanding of the process.

Right now, Paul Molitor's squad has a pretty broken process. I touched above on the strikeouts. The team has struggled to bunt effectively (as most recently witnessed by Kurt Suzuki's latest attempt). Maybe most importantly, productive at bats have become a thing of wonderment. Added together, the sum of the parts is a pretty ugly final set of results. That said though, we're plenty far from being able to call anything final. After all, I don't wait five months for baseball to dismiss a team 4% of the way into the schedule.

It's well out of my realm (or care really) to suggest that booing cease to exist. What may be better placed efforts though are a honing in on the changes desired. Focusing the energy towards tuning into the broken processes advance an understanding of a complex game. Did the bunt get down? Was the runner advanced? Did the at bat produce a productive result? Breaking the greater game down to more intricate scenarios allows for the level of advancement to be more correctly analyzed.

On a game-by-game basis, the margin really is irrelevant. Whether or not a team completes the situations that should produce favorable outcomes are why the schedule is 162 games long. Over the course of the season, completing the process most effectively is what should in turn, produce the desired results.

No doubt I can sympathize with vocalized frustration, booing has become a thing synonymous with sports for as long as anyone can remember. Whether you participate or not however, the reality is that it serves next to no purpose. Regardless of your belief that some millionaire should be outwardly made aware (as if they already aren't) that their job isn't being completed appropriately or not, a more rewarding approach is available.

As things stand, the Twins are in an ugly scenario. The losing streak isn't ideal, but there's no argument to the fact that it's being amplified due to the time it's taking place. Many a playoff team has had seven game losing streaks in a season. The Houston Astros experience it a year ago, and the 1991 World Series winning Twins started 2-9. At this point, we have no more idea as to what the final results of the 2016 season look like as we did before the season kicked off.

What we do know, is that the Twins have quite a few broken processes at this point. The results indicate that, and that's where the focus would be. Choose to boo if you'd like, but focusing on the analysis of the process and the growth or progress that happens could be plenty more insightful as the months draw on.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Tracking The New Twins Way

Earlier I wrote about the Minnesota Twins new shift in thinking. After watching the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros throw strikeout cares to the wind, it appears that's what Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan are deciding to give a go. Utilizing a lineup built with swing and miss hitters, it's going to be boom or bust many nights this season. What we have seen thus far, is way too much of the latter.

Rather than break down everything into much more minute detail, I'd urge you to peruse the linked article above. It goes through the Twins futility in the small sample size provided to us through the first few games. What is worth noting same size aside, it what things may look like over the course of a full season, and what benchmarks there are in regards to actually being successful.

That's where the project I recently completed comes in.

Take a look at the Google Spreadsheet linked below. It's entitled "2016 Twins Strikeout and Power Numbers" but it presents quite a bit more than that.

Google Spreadsheet Click Here

There's a small bit of analysis on the spreadsheet itself, but what I'll be able to provide you over the season, is a live benchmark as to where the Twins are at in comparison to what is taking place this season, and what has previously turned out to be a plausible strategy. Hopefully, and I'd expect them to, the numbers begin to level off sooner rather than later for what is expected to be a competitive 2016 Twins ball club.

When looking at how the Twins have previously done things, this is uncharted territory. It may work, or it may crash and burn, but at least we'll be able to track it along the way.

I'll leave this piece pinned to the top of my Twitter profile for the duration of the season. If you aren't following me yet, please do so @tlschwerz

Friday, April 8, 2016

Twins Toying With Dangerous Territory

The 2016 Minnesota Twins baseball season is plenty fresh. Just a handful of games in, and the season has produced some already fantastic finishes. For the Twins though, those finishes have come as onlookers around the league, and there's one narrative that's most glaring when looking internally. What do we make of all of the strikeouts?

It was pretty apparent from the get go that this collection of players Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan had assembled were going to strike out. The lineup featured power hitters throughout, but many of them have boom or bust potential. When looking at the sheer number of guys being sent back to the bench however, I couldn't help but dig further.

Earlier this week, I spent a good amount of time digging into the underlying numbers of what was going on at the plate for the Twins. Taking to Twitter (follow along @tlschwerz), I dissected quite a few of the percentages that are popping off the page for the Twins. Just a few games in, it's not worth drawing many conclusions off of the 2016 numbers, but in comparison to what has taken place in the past, there's a slippery slope being stared at here.

Through their first two games, the Twins had struck out an astonishing 23 times (or 43% of their recorded outs). Dating all the way back to 1961, when the Twins first became a Minnesota franchise, they had never struck out that many times in their first two games. In fact, across the last five seasons, the Twins have struck out more than 15 times in their first two games just once (22 in 2014). Leaving Baltimore, Minnesota had totaled 35 strikeouts across just 81 outs (holding strong at 43%). Failing to put the ball in play nearly half of the time is a recipe for disaster.

As things currently stand, only three teams in the big leagues average more than ten strikeouts per game. The Cardinals top the list at 12.3, the Blue Jays whiff 11.5 times per contest, and the Twins get sent down 11.7 times a game. Of those teams though, there's really only a cause for concern when looking at two of them. With strikeouts should come power, and the Blue Jays have hit home runs 10.9% of the time for each strikeout. On the flip side, both Minnesota (5.7%) and St. Louis (5.4%) lag behind.

Again, the small sample size is far from fair to extrapolate over the course of a full season. That said, and for the sake of understanding, the Twins find themselves in an odd place. A season ago, Molitor's club totaled 1,349 hits while striking out 1,264 times. In 2016, they are on pace for just 1,134 hits and 1,890 strikeouts. In 2015, the Chicago Cubs led all of baseball (by over 100) with 1,518 strikeouts. Looking at the Cubs, they also launched 171 homers a year ago, or a rate of 11.3% per every strikeout.

There's been multiple articles this offseason written about the Twins reaching the 200 home run plateau on the season. It seems like a lofty goal, but one that I can ultimately get behind. Last year, only four teams were able to reach that mark. They consisted of, the Blue Jays (232), Astros (230), Orioles (217), and Yankees (212).

When looking at the teams that hit 200 homers however, they did so economically. Here's each of those clubs home runs per strikeout percentages: Blue Jays (20.2), Yankees (17.3), Astros (16.5), and Orioles (16.4). That tells us that if you're going to push towards that 200 mark, you have to send balls over the fence nearly 15% of the time per strikeout, something the Twins aren't even close to current sniffing.

Right now, the Twins have six players that have struck out more than four times this season. The list includes Byron Buxton (6), Eddie Rosario (6), Brian Dozier (4), Byung Ho Park (4), Trevor Plouffe (4), and Brian Dozier (4). What's interesting is just how they differ at the plate. Take a look at this breakdown:

  • Buxton 6 strikeouts on 48 pitches = 8 pitches per K
  • Rosario 6 strikeouts on 44 pitches = 7.3 pitches per K
  • Dozier 4 strikeouts on 52 pitches = 13 pitches per K
  • Park 4 strikeouts on 38 pitches = 9.5 pitches per K
  • Plouffe 4 strikeouts on 44 pitches = 11 pitches per K
  • Sano 4 strikeouts on 47 pitches = 11.75 pitches per K
The numbers above tell us that when striking out, generally Dozier, Plouffe, and Sano work the count to the point of battling, while the other three (Buxton, Rosario, and Park) generally go down more easily. Buxton's numbers can be misleading (obviously, the sample size is small) in that his third game saw him see just seven pitches (after seeing 18 and 23 in his first two games respectively). On the other hands, Rosario's seeing barely over seven pitches per strikeout, combined with the fact he swung at pitches out of the strike zone 46% of the time a season ago, isn't a good look. For the Korean, strikeouts are going to mount until he settles into a more comfortable routine in his new situation.

As a whole, there's a lot to sift through here. In its simplest form, the 2016 Minnesota Twins are striking out incredibly too much right now. They aren't hitting for nearly enough power to outweigh the negative effects, and if the trend doesn't slow, the offense will continue to sputter because of it. It's incredibly realistic to assume the whiff rates even out some, and the Twins will eventually complete nine innings without fanning double-digit times (I think). The problem is that these stretches probably aren't going to be limited to the first few games, and will pop up throughout the year as well.

Baseball has long become enamored with the almighty K, and it's understandable as to why. What the Twins need to focus on, is tipping the box score to include more kangaroos on their opponent's stat line instead of theirs.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Deceptive Plate Approach For Twins

The 2016 Major League Baseball season is upon us, and it's still very, very new. What that means is that any analysis at this point is dealing with extremely small sample sizes. For the Twins though, it's pretty apparent there's a new approach at the plate, and the way in which offense is going to be generated. Through the first few games, some things have worked, and others haven't.

Having began the season in Baltimore, the Twins were afforded the benefit of playing in a hitter's park against some less than stellar pitching. Facing Chris Tillman on Opening Day, one could assume that Minnesota would have some opportunities. Secondary starters Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez fall under that same line of thinking as well; none of them would be your proverbial ace types.

In fact, the first two don't really strike anyone out either. Tillman totaled just 6.2 K/9 in 2015 while Gallardo pushed across 5.9 K/9 a season ago. The expectation would be opportunities for Minnesota. Unfortunately, through their first two games against the Orioles, the Twins turned in outs by way of the K for 23 of their 54 outs (43% of the time). To say that's not good is an understatement.

Strikeouts were going to be a higher total this season than in those of the past due to the Twins lineup construction. Brian Dozier set a club record a season ago, and he's now paired with power hitters Miguel Sano and Byung Ho Park for a full season. Trevor Plouffe strikes out his fair share, Eddie Rosario chases everything, and Joe Mauer topped the 100 strikeout plateau for the first time in hs career a season ago. Those power hitters have contributed to the Twins strikeout total while only Plouffe has put a ball in the seats thus far.

As the season goes on, the Twins bats will no doubt catch up. They are going to strike out, and they are going to hit home runs. What needs to shift is the ratio in which the two of them happen. A single home run per every 23 strikeouts isn't going to be conducive to winning a bunch of games, and it's something I'm guessing the Twins are aware of.

The silver lining in all of the strikeouts however, is the guy who has been sent down the most, Byron Buxton. Despite leading the team with five strikeouts, Buxton has spent the most time at the plate this season. Seeing 18 pitches against Tillman, and 23 against Gallardo, the Twins rookie phenom has worked counts and put himself in a position to capitalize. Both of his doubles off of Gallardo in game two were no doubt a by product of understanding his opportunity to swing.

Through his career, Buxton has generally been a slow starter. His .209 average in 2015 through 46 games is indicative of that trend, and it goes back through many of his minor league stops as well. The hit tool is exceptional and is going to continue to rear its head. The more pitches Buxton sees, and the longer he is able to extend at bats, the more expedited you can expect his transition to be.

Right now, it's far too early to blow the strikeout issues the Twins have faced as an epidemic. It's no doubt something to be aware of however. It was obvious that Paul Molitor's club was going to swing and miss this season, but the ratio it is currently happening needs to change drastically. Through the first bit of action, more at bats like the young Buxton may do the Twins some favors.

Disaster is what takes place if the Twins continue to trot back to the dugout without rounding the bases first. As the weeks turn into months, we'll have to hope that shift starts to take hold.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Curious Case Of Michael Tonkin

The 2015 Minnesota Twins returned to relevance for the first time since the 2010 Major League Baseball season. After a rocky first few games, a spring run put Paul Molitor's club in a great position down the stretch. Not being eliminated from playoff contention until the final weekend hampered Minnesota from exploring some less entrenched options, but no one was a by-product of that reality more than Michael Tonkin.

Last season, the Twins jumped down a rabbit hole that has now begun to come full circle. Employing the worst bullpen in the big leagues by multiple statistical measures, they left a lot of things unanswered. One of the biggest misses of those "things" was whether or not Michael Tonkin can be effective at the big league level.

A season ago, Tonkin was a 25 year old pitching at Triple-A Rochester. On the season, he posted a 1.10 ERA along with a 10.1 K/9 and walked just 1.1 batters per nine innings. After a 2.80 ERA in 2014 at Triple-A, it appeared pretty apparent that Tonkin was ready for a new challenge.

In "understanding" that, the Twins called upon him. In fact, they did so five different times. During the 2015 season, Tonkin was promoted to Minnesota on five different occasions (meaning he was demoted as well). Of those five promotions, two of them lasted just one game, while a third was played out over the course of four appearances. In total, Tonkin gave the Twins 23.1 IP to the tune of a 3.47 ERA and a 7.3 K/9. Those numbers were all compiled while the Twins learned little to nothing about what they had, and in turn, Tonkin about himself.

Sure, Minnesota was in the midst of a competitive season that saw them narrowly miss the playoffs, but does that really excuse things? Remember, the Twins owned one of the big leagues worst bullpens a season ago. A.J. Achter, Tim Stauffer, and Aaron Thompson were given a combined total of 60.2 IP despite none of them owning better than a 5.00 ERA. Brian Duensing, owner of a 4.25 ERA and a 4.4 K/9 threw 48.2 IP for the 2015 Twins, and Casey Fien pumped a 5.83 K/9 rate during his 63.1 IP. To summarize, Minnesota chose to give struggling and low ceiling options more run than instead to figure out what they may be sitting on.

That leads us to where we are now. Over the course of spring training, Tonkin did everything he could to not make the club. Despite being what seemed to be a roster lock thanks to being out of options, the 26 year old generated a 7.88 ERA across 8.0 IP. The small sample size makes numerical conclusions difficult, but he gave up earned runs in four of his seven appearances, and had as many games result in multi-hit appearances. A team looking to improve upon a bad bullpen wouldn't have carried Tonkin, but the Twins saw their hands tied as they still don't know what they have.

At the break of spring training, ESPN 1500's Derek Wetmore asked me if I believed Tonkin would be claimed on waivers, and if so, I would be ok with it. I answered that I thought there was better than a 50% chance he would be, and that it wouldn't necessarily bother me. From a roster standpoint, the Twins relief options on the farm are some of the best in all of baseball. There's reason to believe that the pen is overhauled and turned into an area of strength. From the notion of how Tonkin was handled however, it would be troubling.

In selecting Ricky Nolasco for the rotation, Minnesota spared Tonkin a roster spot. It absolutely should be Tyler Duffey pitching among the five, and Nolasco in the pen, but in handling things the way they did, the Twins once again put Tonkin in an odd spot. Now on the roster as a carryover, Tonkin is being asked to pitch in a long relief role.

Thus far in his career (60 MLB games) Tonkin has thrown more than 25 pitches just 10 times. Minnesota elected to stretch him out on the Saturday before Opening Day, he threw 53 pitches. In doing so, Tonkin was not available for the rain delayed (per Derek Wetmore and relayed by Curse Of Punto), and didn't make his debut in his new role.

What things have boiled down to with Michael Tonkin is a really unfortunate narrative. A guy that excelled at the highest level of the farm system the past two years was never given an opportunity to produce, is now being included out of necessity, and is being utilized in a less than favorable role. Sure, things could all work out wonderfully, but could there have been a more backwards way of going about it?

I definitely don't think so.

Escobar Has Become The Future

As the 2016 Major League Baseball season kicked off, there were plenty of different narratives for this version of the Minnesota Twins. Questions about the bullpen and youth were present, but there was one position that was absolutely cemented in. Paul Molitor had no doubts about who his shortstop was going to be this season, Eduardo Escobar had taken care of those questions.

Prior to the 2015 season, Escobar was locked into a competition with Danny Santana as to who would take over as the Twins starting shortstop. There was plenty of reason to believe in Santana's capabilities, and I was among that group. What Escobar did during the 2015 season however, was more than deserving enough on its own, and coupled with how horrid Santana was, it became apparent who the Twins best shortstop was.

What Escobar did was nothing short of eye-opening. From the All Star Break on, Eduardo slashed .269/.330/.486 while clobbering eight homer runs, contributing 19 doubles, and driving in 29 runs. On the year, Escobar slugged .445, which (had he qualified) would have ranked second among all major league shortstops not named Brandon Crawford. His 1.5 fWAR put him on par with the Royals Alcides Escobar, who played in 21 more games than the Twins shortstop. By all of his own measures, Eduardo Escobar had emerged.

Despite contributing a 2.4 fWAR in 2013, Escobar was pushed to a utility type role in favor of Santana out of the gate a season ago. Danny Santana turning in 16 errors and being worth -15 DRS while earning a -8.0 UZR was the perfect storm to open the door for Escobar. As the offensive production poured on, the Venezuelan slammed the door on any questions about who would play short for the Twins going forward.

For most of the 2015 season, Escobar's production was met with some level of hesitation. It had become a wait and see type scenario, in which the bottom could potentially fall out at any point. The resounding fact however, is that the time never came. Instead, Escobar produced on offense while making just four errors in 71 starts at shortstop. He was worth 2 DRS and posted a drastic improvement (2.6 UZR) over Santana in range factor. He had taken his opportunity and run with it.

At just 27 years old, and heading into his third full big league season, Escobar has become the Twins present and their immediate future. Minnesota does not have anything on the near horizon at shortstop (sorry Jorge Polanco, but 28 E in 102 G isn't going to work), and Eduardo has long passed the point of needing to look over his shoulder. Top prospect Nick Gordon will continue his rise through the system, and Wander Javier is not far behind him, but neither are legitimate threats to the Twins guy right now.

Having seen the emergence and production develop, the Twins can be thankful to have their first legitimate shortstop in quite some time. As Minnesota returns to relevancy, Eduardo Escobar will be a big part of the equation. It may be tough to watch Francisco Liriano continue to dominate in his career, but the move was necessary at the time, and is now paying dividends for the home team as well.