Tuesday, May 31, 2016

From Walls to the Hall: A Minimalist Masterpiece

Artwork has a way of inserting itself into pop culture, mainstream media, and especially sports. While there's an abundance of offerings in the world of art, it's the pieces in which we truly connect with that not only bring the work, but also the artist to life. There's been few people I've ever come across who embody these notions more than S. Preston, maybe better known as @PootPoot, or the Minimalist Stadium Guy.

Preston's artwork first caught my eye near the entrance to the Metropolitan Club at the newly built Target Field. His Minimalist Stadium series was an undertaking that was so flawlessly executed, it's perfection was displayed in its simplicity. With displays throughout a host of Major League Baseball stadiums, Preston's art has been handed imparted to the masses.

As his popularity has grown, so have his offerings. What started out with stadiums, has now grown to Disney Ballpark Princesses, as well as Minimalist Mascots. The way in which he's been able to connect with fans, through his art, really continues to grow. What's most impressive however, is that it's that connection that has taken things to an entirely new level, even more so than the art itself.
“Create artwork that augments and connects sports fans to their deepest love for the game”- S. Preston
Despite being far from a goal when starting out his Minimalist Ballpark venture, S. Preston has reached the ultimate pinnacle in baseball circles. He, and well maybe more correctly put, his art, are now members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

To understand how he got there however, you must first understand where he's been. Despite being a native Canadian, and now residing in California, Preston's tale begins in Minnesota. Having just been licensed by Major League Baseball, he displayed his Minimalist Ballpark collection at the All Star Game held at Target Field in 2014, and was met by people from all walks of life. Of those attending the show, a group from the Hall of Fame ran into him as well. In talking and understanding his work, those from the committee saw that Preston was as much about the work itself, as he was the connection to the great game of baseball that it provided. The groundwork had been laid.

As time went on, Preston continued to do exactly what he set out to do, use art as a medium to connect with baseball fans. It is in this practice that he's set himself apart and made buying and owning his art as much about the product, as it is about the person. He's social media savvy, connecting with fans throughout the Twitterverse. He uses his Ballpark Princesses as giveaways while at games. He's even made getting mascots behind the minimalist versions of themselves a serious goal. In short, Chuhon sees his art as part of a larger story that he's telling.

“My artwork makes people smile.”- S. Preston

Based on that reality, the Baseball Hall of Fame seems to see the bigger picture as well. Calling up S. Preston shortly after his display at TwinsFest last winter (and imagine the level of excitement he had on that call, he tells the story with such exuberance), it was deemed that his artwork embodied significant parts of baseball history. The Hall of Fame had decided that Preston's Minimalist Ballpark collection needed to be included among the very few pieces of art that the museum now owns. He, err his work, was going into the Hall.

Throughout talks with the Hall of Fame, it was determined that the four oldest Major League Baseball stadiums would be the best pieces to welcome into the archives. Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Dodgers Stadium, and Kauffman Stadium in all their minimalist glory were now providing Chuhon an avenue to sign H.O.F. behind his name.

Unfortunately, S. Preston won't be getting a plaque or a bust of himself in Cooperstown any time soon, but his art's inclusion in the heralded Hall does provide some pretty cool benefits. Not only is he now among the very select few artists that ever see their work get accepted, but he is official a member of the Hall of Fame and it lasts for life. With his lifetime membership, and his work down in the archives, he is also afforded the opportunity to tour the archives, something the general public never sees, at his desire. While on a mission to see his art, the amount of baseball history he walks by and touches along the wall is equally as exciting.

What's great about where S. Preston and his minimalist style, is that it's simply a by-product of where he's come from. A truly genuine person, his path to success is one he should be easily able to continue to replicate. In creating amazing works of art, he's opened a door. Because of how he uses Twitter and other avenues to connect beyond what's printed on a piece of paper, he simply can't be knocked off. As much as you may like his work, you buy equally because of who he is. It was what the Baseball Hall of Fame saw, what I have witnessed, and what you likely have as well.

This chapter is written, and the next one is starting. You can bet @PootPoot will have the next great thing up on his website for purchase soon, and this time, he can sign it "S. Preston H.O.F."

Twins Transition Starting To Begin?

There were to pretty distinct narratives that were expected to play out for the Minnesota Twins over the course of the 2016 Major League Baseball season. Many in the area saw this group as a potential playoff contender, and it was expected that their young stars would begin to emerge. While the playoff picture has been erased, the transition towards youth may now be getting off of the ground.

After putting together an impressive rookie campaign, expectations for Miguel Sano in his sophomore season were through the roof. He was going to strike out a ton (and he has), but he was also going to push the envelope for home runs. Early results were indicative of a guy pressing a bit too hard, but of late, Sano seems to have found his stride.

Fresh off of a stretch in which he homered in four straight games, Sano became the first Twins player to reach double digits in longballs during the 2016 season. Sure, his .237 average through 25 games in May might be a tick lower than desired, but his .851 OPS more than makes up for it. Over the course of the season's second month, he's launched eight homers and contributed 15 runs batted in. Since hitting his first homer of 2016 on April 18, Sano has owned an .875 OPS and has paced the Twins in the power department.

While he continues to acclimate to right field, Sano has turned down the dial on the talk of him being out of position in right field. Sure, he's a defensive liability having been worth -8 defensive runs saved out in right. That mark however is better than Jay Bruce's -11 for the Reds, and nearly on par with sluggers J.D. Martinez (-7) and Jose Bautista (-5). In short, his power has done what should have been expected, in making his defensive game less of a narrative.

Through the first two months of the season, Sano has been worth just 0.8 fWAR, but as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, that number is on the rise. His process suggests the results will come, and the recent stretch of power is indicative of that.

Then there's Byron Buxton...

Recently being recalled from Rochester to replace an injured Danny Santana, this new look Buxton may be the second half of the tandem Sano needs. I outwardly wondered if Buxton's progress at AAA shows that he's turned the corner, and there's plenty of reason to believe he may have.

Down at Rochester this time around, Buxton went back to something the Twins asked him to move on from post being drafted into the organization, a leg kick. His timing has been an issue at the big league level, and while being fooled quite often, he struggled to get his hands to the ball and make contact while driving pitches.

Over the weekend, I checked in with a teammate of Buxton's and questioned about his progress. He told me, "He's playing with some much more confidence. He's on everything. When he gets out, it's because he just misses it. Whatever he changed is really working. We faced a guy a couple of days ago that was throwing 100 and Buck just smashed a ball up the middle like it was nothing." Coming from someone watching up close and personal, it's hard not to take that as more than just a grain of salt.

Buxton leaves Rochester in 2016 with a .336/.403/.603 slash line in 29 games. Over the last month, he's hit safely in all but four games (out of 23) and has slashed .375/.444/.682. His gap power has resulted in seven doubles and a triple, while he's also launched six homers in the month of May. What may be most promising is that Buxton has decreased his strikeout rate to just 20% of his plate appearances at AAA, as opposed to 49% at the big league level.

It's fair to immediately expect Buxton to be a defensive asset for the Twins, and among the best outfielders in all of major league baseball. If his bat travels north with him this time as it seems it may, he'll be ready to provide the two-headed monster that the Twins can ride throughout the rest of the season.

Sure, things haven't worked out the way in which the Twins would have wanted. Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor have both made some pretty significant mistakes. There's guys not performing, and really, the season is all but lost before the summer begins. That all being said, the transition of a youth takeover is something Minnesota has to be excited about, and June could definitely be ushering that in.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is Buxton Ready To Go?

Baseball and the Minnesota Twins, have watched as the number one prospect has scuffled in his first few tastes of the big leagues. Byron Buxton has just 63 major league games under his belt, but they've gone anything but according to plan. Following his latest Triple-A stint though, is a corner about to be turned?

Having won the starting centerfield job out of the gate, Byron Buxton was given the reigns for the Twins. He played a strong centerfield as was expected, but turned in a dismal .156/.208/.289 slash line through 17 games. His 24/2 strikeout to walk ratio was among the worst on the club, and he was struggling to get anything going.

For the mega-prospect, the problem was really just getting that bat to the ball. He owned a 26.3% line drive rate, and was putting the ball on the ground an equal 26.3% of the time through his first 17 games. With the amount of speed at his disposal, that's truly a decent recipe for success. Unlike teammates such as Eddie Rosario, Buxton wasn't chasing bad pitches either. His 28.6% O-Swing suggested he had a fairly decent grasp on the zone. The problem was, actually getting to those pitches he knew to swing at.

Prior to his demotion, Buxton totaled a 13.9% swinging strike percentage, while making contact on just 68.5% of his swings. If he was a big time power guy, those numbers would be far from terrible. The reality is however, that's not his game, and eventually led to his downfall.

Fast forward to where we are now, and Buxton has made adjustments that have him looking like a different hitter. Having incorporated a leg kick at Triple-A Rochester, his timing looks to be much smoother. Through 24 games, he's slashing .333/.394/.576. His average in the month of May is north of .380, and his last 10 games have seen him hit nearly .500. Buxton's new timing mechanism has aided him to the tune of 6 homers in his last 17 games, and he's found extra gap power as well. The transformation that has taken place is Buxton fulfilling the expectations that were laid out for him.

While the offensive numbers are all exciting, it's the adjustment to his strikeouts that create the most reason for promise. Having struck out in 49% of his MLB plate appearances in 2016, he's lowered that percentage to just 22% at Triple-A. He's taking more walks, and Buxton noted that one of his adjustments has been to stop swinging at pitches he doesn't believe he can do anything with.

Considering the outfield that the Twins currently employ, Buxton's emergence is pushing for a role back at the top. Miguel Sano is entrenched in RF, but the LF and CF spots are far from locked down. Danny Santana has been in over his head as a starter in center, and he figures in best when used as a super utility option. Getting Buxton back up to man the middle, while letting the other pieces fall where they may, is in the Twins best interest.

The Georgia native hasn't been on the farm too terribly long, but it would appear he's made significant strides and figured something out. A return to the Twins as they come back home to play the Rays on June 2nd would seem to make a lot of sense. Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor want to see this version of Byron Buxton helping the Twins, and it sure seems like he's got the right approach to make that happen.

It's a rare occasion when a guy comes up and gets it right away. Sometimes the process is a bit slower of a transition than you would hope. In reality though, Buxton is a 22 year old future superstar, and it may very well be that the third time is the charm.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dozier Is The Sellout The Twins Needed

The 2016 Minnesota Twins are an absolute dumpster fire. Through 45 games, they own an 11-34 record, and there's really no reason to believe there will be a significant change any time soon. What seemed possible to be a second straight exciting season for the Twins has turned into nothing short of a nightmare. At the middle of it all is their newly appointed leader, Brian Dozier.

Recently, I touched on the defiance of Dozier's approach at the plate, and how it's there that his leadership has failed the Twins the most. Deciding that everything has to be yanked to left field has not only hurt himself, but has done in his 24 teammates as well. Upon further consideration however, there's significantly more to Dozier's story.

I think Brian Dozier was the sellout that he needed to be, and the one the Twins so desperately wanted.

Minnesota made Dozier an 8th round selection out of Southern Mississippi in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft. He was anything but a slam dunk, but had nice projectables being taken in the top 10 rounds. Without the fanfare that follows first round picks, Dozier's grind started from day one.

From 2009 (his age 22 season) up until 2011 (then 24) Dozier hit for average. He slashed .349/.414/.422 in his pro debut at the Rookie level, then turned in a .275/.350/.349 performance at High and Low A the next season. Upon finishing out at Fort Myers and reaching Double-A New Britain in 2011, he totaled a .320/.399/.491 slash line. His professional career to this point was one of a high average shortstop that got on base and collected plenty of doubles.

After a strong spring training in 2012, and with a Twins team desperate for a breath of fresh air, Dozier saw his opportunity. He started the first 28 games of the 2012 season with Rochester slashing .276/.339/.371. In turn, it led to his MLB promotion for the Twins. During his rookie season, Dozier slashed .234/.271/.322 and played all 83 of his games for Minnesota at shortstop. He made 15 errors, wasn't a fit for the role, and was sent packing.

Now, before we move forward, we have to take a minute to look back again. As a minor leaguer, from 2009 to 2012, Brian Dozier played in 365 games on the farm. Across that action, he hit a total of 16 home runs, and never picked up more than 9 (in 2011 between Fort Myers and New Britain). During his rookie season for the Twins, his total was six, in just 84 games. Something had changed.

As a big leaguer, Dozier worked with an approach that was seemingly the opposite of what he rose through the minors with. No longer a high average guy, and sacrificing some of his on base skills, he'd transitioned his game to play with power. Becoming a dead pull hitter, Dozier saw balls begin to fly over the fence. As his career has gone on, that approach has only become more drastic. Here are his pull percentages in the big leagues:

  • 2012- 39.6%
  • 2013- 42.0%
  • 2014- 53.8%
  • 2015- 60.2%
  • 2016- 50.8%
Starting in 2012, Dozier went from hitting 6 home runs to, 18, 23, and then 28 (he has four through the first 45 games of 2016). What took place was a hitter that went from being ok with something that worked, to an approach that he was determined to make work. In fact, it absolutely did.

In becoming a dead pull hitter, Dozier harvested power he'd never displayed at any point in his career previously. He now looked the part of a 20/20 hitter, and could lay claim to being one of the Twins greatest power threats. Despite the fall in average, he'd elevated himself to be among the best hitters at his new position, second base, in the big leagues. The culmination of his efforts came to a head in the summer of 2014.

Snubbed from the All Star game despite looking like a logical candidate, he was instead selected to participate in the Home Run Derby. Taking place at Target Field, and with 18 homers to his credit, it was far too good of an opportunity to pass up. Unsurprisingly, he didn't hang with the likes of Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier, totaling just two homers in the contest. The event though, brought forth his gain, and the Twins fall.

On March 24, 2015 the Twins signed Brian Dozier to a four-year, $20 million contract extension. They bought out his arbitration years, and did so with a power hitting second basemen almost certainly going to cost them more in the long run. The problem though, was that only would be true if the production continued.

In believing, and making himself out to be a home run hitter, Dozier elevated his career beyond where it may have went, but also likely shortened it significantly. Now still a dead pull hitter seemingly lost on the possibility of using the other field, his ineptitude at the plate has the Twins on the hook for $15 million over the next two years. Pitcher's aren't allowing Dozier to be the hitter he created, and thus far he's failed to adjust.

A one time average and gap power guy, Dozier became enamored with the long ball. It allowed him to land a nice contract, he secured the right side of the Twins infield for the better part of the past four years, and it may have elevated his career to heights he never could have imagined. When things crash though, they do so hard.

At the end of the day, I can't find any reason to fault Dozier for taking the approach at the plate that he has over the past few years. In fact, it's even hard to fault him for failing to adjust as he has in 2016, and may very well continue in the future. If there's fault to be had here, it's on the Twins. While the cost certainty of the contract extension may have looked nice initially, understanding that such a drastic change in approach may not be sustainable was an oversight, and one that could be incredibly costly.

Minnesota could still very easily trade Dozier. He doesn't have no-trade protection, and his contract is relative peanuts in comparison to the going rate of a guy one year removed from an All Star appearance. That said, whether playing at Target Field or not, whoever employs Brian Dozier has to bank significantly on him continuing to get mistake pitches into his thirties, because the days of pitcher's allowing him to sell out and pull pitches into the left field seats appear to be over.

Had things gone differently, Brian Dozier may have had a similar career arc to that of a guy like James Beresford. A good minor league hitter that hits for average but doesn't do anything to an extraordinary level. Instead, Dozier capitalized on his moment; it gave him his rise, and now will likely contribute to his fall as well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dozier Becoming Defiant For Twins

When Torii Hunter decided to retire following the 2015 Major League Baseball season, he did the Twins a favor. Despite losing a solid clubhouse presence, Minnesota wasn't going to be forced into making the mistake of signing an aging replacement level player to another lucrative deal simply because of who he was. What the decision did however, was to force Minnesota to come up with another form of leadership. Brian Dozier quickly jumped at the opportunity, but his defiance has helped him to fall short.

There's no denying Brian Dozier has had a horrible 2016 for the Minnesota Twins. It's May 24, and he's batting below the Mendoza Line. His offensive production has been non-existent, and the 2015 All Star caliber player looks like a thing of the past. In leading however, none of that matters. The only thing that's held Dozier back from being a capable leader is himself.

While scuffling on his own, Dozier could be doing all of the right things, saying all of the right things, and providing the example for an 11-33 team looking to right the ship. Unfortunately, seemingly everything he has done has been of the exact opposite.

Recently, Mike Bernardino of the Pioneer Press caught up with Twins General Manager Terry Ryan. He suggested, “We’ve got to fix him,” the Twins’ general manager said Sunday. “We’ve got to fix Brian Dozier.” In hearing of Ryan's comments, Dozier shook his head and offered this to Bernardino, “To be honest with you, I probably feel better than I have my whole career.” At some point, Brian Dozier has to come to grips with the problem he's created and become.

Back in March of 2015, Fangraphs wrote a piece on the Twins locking up Brian Dozier through his arbitration years. In doing so, there's some pretty damning quotes that have come full circle. In looking at his pull tendencies, the piece states, "Extreme pulling is generally a hallmark of a player harvesting power near the end of a career, when it’s basically all that he has left in his offensive game...Dozier didn’t become an extreme puller to extend his major league career; he did so just to have one, at least as a regular, in the first place."

After not only breaking down his extreme pull tendencies, but trying to equate what it means for his career going forward, the piece then offered up what may be next for the Twins second basemen. "Unfortunately for such hitters, extreme pulling is quite often their last adjustment. Dozier has not shown an ability to hit a ball even reasonably hard the other way in the air, on a line, or on the ground. Pitchers are going to pitch him away, and all Dozier is going to be able to do is draw a walk……for a little while at least, until that skill begins to decline as his ability to inflict damage erodes."

In summary, the Fangraphs piece ends with a good walk away point of where we have seen Brian Dozier at in 2016. "Every club needs Brian Doziers in their system. He is an overachiever who has constantly figured it out as he has advanced, through college, into the minors, and then into the major leagues. To become a starter at that level and have some success, he has had to totally sell out to the short term fruits of extreme pulling. Pitchers are now likely to have the last word." And now, that allows us to look at today.

It's been quite the recipe for disaster when it comes to Dozier in 2016. His 26.6% hard hit rate ranks as the worst mark of his career, save for his rookie season. While his pull percentage rests at just 50.8% (down roughly 10% from 2015) his 12.9% opposite field usage is the lowest total of his career. When we look at the actual placement of things, the numbers become obviously apparent.
As was predicted in the Fangraphs piece, and could have been assumed per Dozier's approach, pitcher's have had their way with the Twins second basemen. His strike zone has been almost exclusively attacked on the outer third, and he's been the one who's failed to adjust.

When considering where the ball is being pitched, Dozier's balls in play should tell a story of a player who finds success going to the right centerfield gap, right field, and occasionally back up the middle. Looking at both his spray chart and his heat map, nearly the exact opposite is true. Opposing pitcher's are begging Brian Dozier to find success in their pitches on the outside half, and he's doing absolutely everything in his power to run from it.

At the end of the day, this is how and where Brian Dozier's leadership is failing the Twins the most. Regardless of the results, his process is broken. He's spoken out publicly about his lack of desire to change his approach, and nothing he's done at the plate suggests he's stepping down from it. It's hard to fault him however, as it is the power and pull tendencies that make him anything more than a replacement level player in the first place, but now with the book out on him, he has to give in and reinvent himself.

Just 29 years old, we may have seen the best of Brian Dozier. Prior to being dictated at the plate, he used his last ditch effort to string together some really nice production for the Twins. The story is not yet over for Dozier and the Twins, but the ending absolutely can't and won't be the same as the beginning. Either the Mississippi native needs to decide he wants to rework things and contribute in some form or fashion for the duration of his contract, or he becomes another player that was and no longer is.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Everyday Joe Hurts Mauer Most

When you look back at a team that has started the Major League Baseball season 10-29 through their first 39 games, there's going to be very few positives. Through the first month for the Twins, one of the brightest spots was the resurgence of Joe Mauer. What is becoming a bit more clear to me though is that it wasn't a resurgence at all, but rather a player being allowed to thrive.

Stick with me here, and let's take a look back at Joe Mauer over the past two seasons.

To start the 2016 campaign, Joe played in all 24 of the Twins games. He started 23 of those, while playing eight innings during an extra inning contest against the Nationals in his lone day off. During that timeframe, he slash .321/.453/.440 while ripping five doubles and owning an impressive 20/9 walk to strikeout ratio.

Through the first month, Mauer's .453 on-base percentage paced the big leagues, and it appeared as though he knew the strike zone better than the men behind the dish dictating it to him. He battled through long at bats and forced pitchers to come to him. Looking at the sum of his results, Mauer appeared to be the ideal leadoff hitter for the Twins.

Then the calendar flipped to May. Minnesota has now played 15 contests in the month, and while Mauer has started 13 of them, he played nine innings in relief in one, while pinch hitting in the other. What essentially equated to 39 straight games, Mauer put together a paltry .182/.262/.255 slash line while owning a 16/6 strikeout to walk ratio. His plate vision has almost reversed, while his gap power has been sapped to the tune of a lone double. What's different? Maybe nothing but time.

We've seen this before with Mauer though, and we don't have to go back far. In April 2015, Mauer owned a .318/.392/.412 slash line along with a 14/11 K/BB ratio while starting each of the Twins first 22 games. He followed that up by starting 16 of 17 games in May from the 1st through the 19, and his line during that time dipped to .234/.269/.297 with a 15/3 K/BB ratio. That looks again like fatigue set in for the Twins local product.

In trying to give the theory a little more legs, I looked through Mauer's splits by month a year ago. Following April, his next best month was July. After owning .240 averages in May and June, Mauer's slash line rebounded to .298/.340/.426 during July. His strikeout to walk ratio still wasn't great at 17/6 but it wasn't in line with his ugly May. During July 2015, Mauer was given two days off starting 23 of 25 games. He was also lifted in the 6th inning once.

So, it would seem to appear that at 33 years old, Mauer isn't the same youthful athlete he may have been at 23. Ok, in all fairness though, there's some credibility to the idea that Mauer's second month decline (and longer at times) could be to the fact that he's not giving his body enough rest throughout the season.

Last season, Mauer played in 158 of the Twins 162 games and owned a career worst .265/.338/.380 slash line. Prior to that 158 game career high, Mauer had never played in more than 147 games for the Twins (2012). In his first season as a full time first basemen, Mauer played just 120 games for the Twins, but he did deal with injuries at times. When he was a perennial MVP candidate and All Star from 2006-10, Mauer solidly averaged 134 games a season (split behind catcher and designated hitter).

I'm not sure there's ever a fair way to quantify a guy being over extended for sure, but one thing is certain, Mauer's slide has come as the season has drawn on. He doesn't strike me as a guy who is going to bow out of action, so the responsibility to protect him while also getting the most out of him should fall on his manager. If Mauer takes a day or two off a month, a production boost could be a welcomed by product.

What Mauer did during the opening salvo of the 2016 season was incredibly impressive. His approach, eye, and results were among the best of his career. I want to see that again, and while it may or may not be fatigue related, experimenting to get a guy to cease from slashing .266/.383/.367 is a worthy cause.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Minnesota Needs To Stop Compounding Mistakes

The slog through the 2016 Major League Baseball season has continued for the Minnesota Twins. After yet another loss, the club sits at 10-27, while being more than 13 games back in the AL Central division. Paul Molitor's club looks as lost as he does at times, and there's plenty of blame to go around. At this point, what the Twins need to do is stop compounding their own mistakes.

Recently hired by Baseball Prospectus, Aaron Gleeman penned a piece that I have to imagine has been a long time coming. Hardball Talk wasn't ever going to be the avenue for such a dissection, but his focus on Terry Ryan and the Twins was a worthy entrant into his new venture. You can the read piece in its entirety here.

While the highlights, err lowlights, of the article touched on the mediocrity that has been Terry Ryan's career, there was a key point that stuck out to me. Gleeman writes, "The question is not whether a Ryan-led organization can successfully rebuild and return to contender status within the next 2-3 years, but rather whether Twins fans should want Ryan and his right-hand men leading the organization when that happens." There probably couldn't be a better summary of where the Twins currently find themselves at.
"...whether Twins fans should want Ryan and his right-hand men leading the organization when that happens."
Through the first month and a half of the big league season, we've looked on as Paul Molitor, Terry Ryan's pick to replace Ron Gardenhire, has looked all but inept in year two. He's stunted prospects at the big league level, afforded oddly long leashes to struggling players, and has been overmatched by his counterparts in picking his spots more often than not. Whatever good graces Molitor created a season ago, have all but come to cease as he's now the owner of a 93-106 record (.467 winning %).

It's a nice concept to suggest that the Twins be afforded the luxury of hope, or benefit of the doubt. It's fair to suggest that Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor could potentially right the ship if given enough time. It's maybe even fair to suggest that we may be a bit premature on suggesting a need for change. The reality is though, can you really make an argument against any of those things?

Ryan has fumbled his was through nearly 20 years as GM of the Twins, yet has virtually nothing to show for it. His heralded farm system is a by-product of his shrewd scouting ability, but that is really where his expertise ends. You'd be hard pressed to find a prospect that turned out as expected not named Joe Mauer, and are we actually going to suggest that Ryan is the man to get the most out of what is to come?

That brings us full circle on Molitor, who's continued to show an inability to understand, relate, and grow his youth. Alex Meyer, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Michael Tonkin, even Byron Buxton at times have been the unfortunate recipients of Molitor's lack of a plan. Considering this roster and team is going to need to be a reflection of the youth performing in a return to relevance, Molitor has done very little to suggest he's capable of fostering that.

Sweeping changes mid season are never easy, and they're rarely suggested. I'm not sure there's any saving 2016, and frankly I don't expect that to be the case. I haven't been on board with moving on from this group quite yet, but that notion is becoming harder than ever to get over. If Minnesota is serious about capitalizing on the talent they've stockpiled, changes sooner rather than later need to be made.

The big league club needs a manager that can relate to its core, a youthful group, while holding them accountable. It's maybe fair to assume that Doug Mientkiewicz, the man that's dealt with many of these kids on the farm, would be capable of the job. He was a runner up to Molitor in the 2015 selection process, and is likely going to be given his due by someone at the highest level. It'd be quite the organizational shift to move on from a "one of us" type in Molitor mid-season, but it's the "Twins Way" that needs to be distanced from.

On the GM front, Ryan makes things a bit trickier. There's a ton of moving pieces when it comes to the head man, and with the season underway, rocking the boat that heavily could cause it to tip. I'm not sure if I'm more for allowing a new GM to pick his guy, or wanting to usher Ryan out at the most immediate moment. Regardless of how any GM change is handled, I firmly believe that Minnesota is not capable of winning with Ryan at the helm, and equally incapable should his replacement come from within.
"Is this really the duo you want to put faith in returning the Twins to relevance?
At the end of the day, it's time for the Twins to begin asking themselves a pretty simple question. Based upon what you've see from a GM and Manager with winning percentages in the .400's and roster moves that make you scratch your head more often than not, is this really the duo you want to put faith in returning the Twins to relevance?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Good Or Bad, Baseball Needs Emotion

Over the weekend, Rougned Odor connected on "The Punch Heard Round The World." A by product of a beanball, a bat flip, a slide, or some other play over the course of the Rangers and Blue Jays recent history, Jose Bautista found himself eating the fist of the Rangers second basemen. Some called the incident good for the game, others didn't, but the lone guarantee here is that baseball needs things like this.

No, I'm not advocating for players to knock each other out to settle on field differences, but the emotion that is so often criticized in America's game is something we should all want a bit more of.

Here's two things I am going to operate in writing this as being absolute truth:

  • Baseball players, and athletes in general, are the result of billions of dollars spent to turn a child's game into a form of entertainment.
  • Baseball players, and athletes in general, are human beings worthy of the same societal freedoms we are granted, as well as being equally flawed.
I believe it's fair, and accurate, to operate in a way that makes both of those statements equally true, at the same time. That brings us to the topic at hand.

Is Jose Bautista wrong for flipping his bat against those Rangers in the playoffs? Is Bryce Harper out of line for telling another equally flawed human being to "F*** off!" in an emotionally charged moment? Heck, is Odor even wrong for throwing a haymaker at a guy that chose him at his target for retaliation? In my application of the above two statements, I'll suggest that none of those instances are wrong, while they all may be less than acceptable.

Making it to the playoffs in any sport, let alone Major League Baseball, is a feat that shouldn't be overlooked. A 162 game regular season culminates in a small tournament where the "have nots" must look on from the outside. Having battle back and forth in a series that had plenty of highlight moments, Bautista earned every ounce of his bat flip. Far from screaming at his opponent, the emotion was that of a player that had just risen to the level of the moment.

Someone who's often criticized, Harper gave us another moment in the Nationals latest walk off victory. Having been ejected from the dugout in a contest where his team may very well have yet needed him, it was Bryce's teammates that exacted his revenge. In walkoff fashion, the Nationals ended the contest and Harper was within shouting distance of the umpire. He chose to share his displeasure in relation to an umpire turning a game into something about himself, rather than the two teams on the field.

Then we have the latest example provided once again by the Blue Jays and Rangers. A hit-by-pitch that turned into a slide, and culminated in a punch, gets us to where we are today. Odor and Bautista likely aren't going to be friends after the incident, and they really don't need to be. What they reminded us of though, is that emotion is what charges and fuels athletics.

That brings us somewhat full circle on the two statements I wrote down above. While each of these incidents play into the drama that we subconsciously expect in paying to enjoy a sporting event, they also bring full circle the human nature that we must consider in the fallout. I have no problem with any of these situations taking place, and there's also no reason to be up in arms about a suspension or disciplinary action following the event either.

Bautista reveled in his moment, Harper stood up for himself, and Odor took offense to what had happened. None of them were wrong, each of them was serving part of the purpose in a fan paying for a ticket, and all three of them once again remind us that they are no different than you and I. While it's a silly practice to compare your workplace environment to that of a competitive venue, it's equally sad to suggest an athlete being on a level of model or idolization. You're price to observe, enjoy, and partake in the drama and action on the field of play does not somehow elevate any athlete to being more than they are, a human being.

With such a broad subject, and one of such wide-reaching opinions, I'd guess that I rambled some. For that I apologize. What I hope you'd take away from this is that in baseball, and sports in general, our purpose should and can be two fold. The level of entertainment should be expected and welcomed. Greet emotion with open arms. Ask far players to make umpires accountable, celebrate great feats, and take issue with problems. On the same token, understand they are simply the same individuals as you and I at their core, and expecting them to be anything but is an unfair standard.

Athletic competition is a breeding ground for emotion, and rather than stifle it, we should be open to releasing it. Just realize, there's always going to be what comes next, and that doesn't necessarily mean the moment wasn't justified.

A Fix Behind The Dish

The Minnesota Twins have had a multitude of issues to start the 2016 Major League Baseball season, and it really shouldn't be lost on anyone that the catcher position is one of them. Between Kurt Suzuki and John Ryan Murphy, neither has done anything to clarify things for Minnesota moving forward. If the club is going to be competitive in 2017, allowing the role to be a black hole can't continue to happen.

Despite the unlikely emergence of Juan Centeno in his brief stint with the big league club, it's pretty unfair to tab him as a future answer. Suzuki is in the final year of his time with the Twins, and would need over 485 plate appearances for his 2017 option to vest (he's currently on pace for 356). Considering Terry Ryan gave the Hawaiian an extension after an out-of-nowhere All Star first half in 2014, a fall in production should've been all but expected.

Through the club's first 35 games, Suzuki has played in 23 contests. He owns a horrid .191/.250/.265 slash line and has logged just four extra base hits. His 23% caught stealing rate once again falls well below the 32% league average, and he's rarely been known as a pitcher's friend in the framing department. Playing a position generally acceptable to be heavily an offensive or defensive asset, Suzuki has mastered being neither at this point.

Behind him, John Ryan Murphy has done little for Minnesota as well. The return from the Yankees for former Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks, Murphy played in just 11 games for the Twins prior to being demoted to Triple-A. He owns a .075/.119/.100 slash line on the year and picked up just a lone extra base hit in 44 plate appearances.

It's far from doom and gloom for Murphy however. At just 25 years old, he's got plenty of promise still tied to him. He's a years removed from slashing .277/.327/.406 in 67 games with the Yankees. He's not a huge power threat, but his .734 OPS in 2015 shows he capable of being much more than a guaranteed out in a big league lineup. Expecting him to be back up with the Twins in 2016, and when given some consistent run, produce, seems like a pretty solid bet.

What's hard to suggest however, is asking the Twins to go into the 2017 slate in the same fashion they entered this year. It's probably fair to call Murphy a relative question mark next season regardless of how the year plays out. That would mean Minnesota would likely be carrying John Ryan as their starter, with top catching prospect Stuart Turner in a backup role. As of right now, neither Turner nor Mitch Garver (the Twins second best catching prospect) have played above Double-A. Both have flashed offensively at points, but leave plenty to be desired. Turner is MLB ready defensively, but the Twins probably aren't in position for another Drew Butera at this point.

That turns our focus to free agency, and begs us to wonder what may be a realistic solution. It probably stings a little, but a former Twins prospect could be in the cards.

Enter Wilson Ramos.

Currently playing for $5.35 million with the Nationals, Ramos is set to his the market. He could be brought back to Washington, but if the Twins have an opportunity to give him a look, it's hard to argue against that they should.

Ramos will be 29 years old in August. He's caught just shy of 500 games throughout his seven year major league career to date, and he's had durability issues having played over 100 games just twice in his career. The expectation would be that Ramos would be looking for his payday, but if Minnesota can nab him on a two-year deal and slightly overpay, it's an avenue I'd consider.

With 27 games under his belt in 2016, Ramos owns a .350/.387/.540 slash line for the Nationals. He's clubbed four homers, and has 11 total extra base hits in 100 at bats. His 1.1 fWAR puts him on pace to set a career high easily (currently 2.6 fWAR in 2011), and it would push him into the upper tier among catchers in the big leagues.

I'd absolutely be weary of signing another long term deal for a guy behind the plate if I'm the Twins. Suzuki had plenty of warning signs that Twins management ignored when giving him his extension. Ramos is far from without his own issues, but if you can get him on a deal that makes sense, it's hardly unfair to expect him to allow John Ryan Murphy to blossom on his own time, while giving Turner or Garver a bit more proving time down on the farm.

Looking back at how the Twins have rounded out 25 man rosters, they haven't had an ideal catching option since they lost their superstar to a brain injury, and before that, when Ramos himself was the answer. I'd wager it's far from unfair to suggest he may be that ideal option once again.

Friday, May 13, 2016

How Do You Fix The Twins?

With the Twins having 33 games under their belt, the club has won just eight contests. They've been swept in a series seven times thus far, and the reality of the situation has gone from dire to laughable. While I don't contend that either Paul Molitor or Terry Ryan are the best for the organization going forward, a change there doesn't handle the issues at present. So, how do you fix the Twins?

In an attempt to salvage the most out of the 2016 season, and put a best foot forward for 2017, here's the strategy I'm going with sooner rather than later.

Move 1: Demote Eddie Rosario

I've been telling you this would happen since way back in February. My comments on Eddie Rosario have generally been met with the question as to why I "dislike him." That really couldn't be further from the truth. Rosario was my "Danny Santana" pick in 2015. He was the early call up who was going to force his way into the lineup and stick. It happened, but what also became apparent was that it wasn't sustainable.

Some have tried to categorize Rosario as a "bad ball hitter" but really, he isn't that. He's swung and missed over 19% of the time in 2016, and has chased pitches outside of the zone a staggering 40.6% of the time. His 67.7% contact rate is in line with a guy that hits a lot of balls out of the park. but that's not Rosario's game either. He saw an inflated OPS a season ago due to his MLB leading 15 triples, and that shouldn't have been expected to be repeated. Now also compounding problems is that Rosario has posted a negative Defensive Runs Saved metric and isn't operating as an asset in the outfield.

He's a guy who has long been talked about being bored on the farm. That may be fair, but his head isn't on straight, and he isn't above having to work at being good at this game. He needs to go down and rework his approach, while also figuring out who he wants to be between his ears.

Move 2: Start Oswaldo Arcia, then trade him

Fresh off of his 25th birthday, Oswaldo Arcia is still a part of the crop of youth the Twins employ. Despite being yanked around the last few seasons, and in part because of his lack of production, he's stuck with the Twins due to being out of options. Now drawing more regular starts due to Eddie Rosario's struggles, Arcia should be finding himself in the lineup every day.

Arcia is always going to struggle versus lefties, and his OPS in 2016 is nearly 70 points higher off of righties with all of his four homers coming against those pitchers. He can hit for power though, and despite facing shifts quite often at the plate, he's a capable power bat for a good club. He's just two seasons removed from being worth nearly 1.0 fWAR and remaining under team control until 2020 works to his value as well.

You probably aren't going to get a huge return for him, but opening up some room for Move 3 to happen makes sense.

Move 3: Promote Byron Buxton and Max Kepler

It wasn't expected that Bryon Buxton would struggle so mightily to start off 2016, and it wasn't hoped that Max Kepler would be called up to be to poorly mismanaged by Paul Molitor. That said, both guys are beginning to force the Twins hand, and removing Rosario and Arcia from the picture could help to accommodate that.

Over his last 12 games, Buxton is slashing .374/.423/.625. He's hitting for gap power, as well as putting the ball over the fence, and most importantly, his strikeout rates are reduced below 20%. Now finally getting consistent at bats (something Molitor stunted him of), Kepler is also heating up in Rochester slashing .324/.425/.529 across his last nine. Bring them up together, and make them your starting outfield along with Miguel Sano.

In this scenario, both Buxton and Kepler are able to work towards being cornerstones of the future, while Sano is allowed to continue his transition. While much is made about Sano defensively, he's far from an issue when you look at the landscape of power bats playing right field (Jose Bautista, J.D. Martinez, Nelson Cruz...all are negative defenders). Danny Santana then returns to his super utility role that he's best suited for, and you have the largest amount of talent on the field at one time.

Note that this is move three. I'd look to see what can be done about at least move one or two before going here. I think that both Buxton and Kepler stand to benefit from playing at Rochester at least until early June.

Move 4: Trade Jorge Polanco

This move has been complicated in how Paul Molitor has used Polanco since Eduardo Escobar has landed on the disabled list. Polanco has long been one of the guys the Twins have promoted, gone unused, and then has been sent back down. He'll now be out of options in 2017 because of it, and the big league club has very little idea what he can do at the highest level.

Polanco has not played shortstop at all, at any level, in 2016. He's probably not capable of playing the role at the big league level due to his tendency for errors. That being said, the Twins have a second basemen in Brian Dozier (and no I'm not worried about his slow start). If you aren't going to see what Polanco has while the already struggling Escobar is hurt, then there's no place for him on the Twins roster.

It's pretty widely regarded that Polanco's bat is big league ready. His glove may not be, but playing at second should help to alleviate some of those concerns. I'd be shopping Polanco immediately and if a team would rather give you a decent haul for Brian Dozier, then sure go ahead and pursue that route. If both Polanco and Dozier are in the organization to begin 2017 however, the Twins may have fumbled an opportunity.

Move 5: Promote J.T. Chargois and Alex Meyer

This offseason, I was completely behind the idea of Terry Ryan standing somewhat pat on his pen. Sure, they weren't good a year ago, but it's also one of the organizations areas of strength. Fernando Abad looked like shrewd signing from the get go, and has been absolutely that. Glen Perkins put the Twins in a bind, but they weren't going to be in the market for a closer. What has compounded problems is the lack of follow through on what appeared to be the plan.

Coming into the year, and now 26 years old, the Twins still seem lost as to what Alex Meyer is. He was worked as a starter in Rochester and dominated. Then he was promoted, went unused, was thrown into a start, imploded, and was demoted. Rather than seeing some time in relief, where he appears destined to succeed, the Twins continue to jerk their return for Denard Span around. He should be up in the big league pen generating strikeouts at a 10+ K/9 pace and hoping the command issues stay as they were to start in Rochester (see nonexistent).

Along with Meyer, flame throwing reliever J.T. Chargois could be up helping the Twins. He was dominant to start 2016 with Chattanooga, and appeared to have earned the call. His 10.8 K/9 and 1.54 ERA as the Double-A closer were more than respectable. When healthy, Chargois has been nearly as good as they come in the Twins system. Instead, he was handed a ticket to Triple-A Rochester.

For a floundering team and struggling bullpen, the Twins saw fit to add guys like Pat Dean and Brandon Kintzler to the fold, despite having no real long term viability with the club.

At the end of the day, this club is playing horrible baseball right now. Unlike the Atlanta Braves who are actually bad, the Twins are a average to good collection of players, all playing well below their capabilities (spare Joe, Byung Ho, and one or two others). With the season where it is now, you don't throw in the towel, but if you aren't positioning for 2017 and working in some of the ones above, you're doing it wrong.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Twins Missed Window On Minnesota Man

As the Twins continue their 2016 tailspin, things have gotten to ridiculous measures. Not only are the Twins now officially the worst team in baseball thanks to their 8-25 record, but they don't appear to have any immediate fixes. While the club as as a whole has struggled, one of the lone bright spots has been Minnesota staple Joe Mauer. Considering he's often the unfair punchline, it's worth considering that it's the Minnesota native the Twins might have failed most.

Whether you follow local blogger Aaron Gleeman on Twitter or not, there's no such thing as a peruse through his mentions without seeing distaste for Mauer. Whether it be because he doesn't hit enough home runs, isn't loud enough, or frankly isn't Bryce Harper, the casual Twins fan likes to use him as a punching bag for everything wrong with the organization.

It's become nearly impossible to escape the silly thought that signing Mauer to an 8 year, $184 million contract was a bad decision, but the reality says that may have been the only positive one the Twins have made of late.

Following an MVP season, and then another in which he was in consideration, the Twins gave the hometown hero the lucrative deal. Not only did it make sense from the marketing standpoint, but Mauer was easily among the best catcher's to ever play the game. He was a surefire Hall of Famer, he was one of the best hitters ever at any position, and he stood for everything the Twins wanted to tie themselves to.

Then it happened. A concussion and subsequent injuries sapped Mauer's career arc from becoming what it was destined to be. He sat out much of 2011, and despite going on to be an All Star again in 2013 and 2013, he became a shell of the player he once was. No longer a catcher full time, Mauer had to reinvent himself. He was never the home run hitter the Metrodome made him out to be in 2009, but he had to completely change his approach as a whole. What once was such a certainty became anything but.

That brings us to where we are today. Whether it be the further distance from the brain trauma he suffered, or the successful experiment with sunglasses, Mauer is back to being one of the most productive hitters in the big leagues. He's dictated counts, he's worked the zone, and his .424 on base percentage leads the league (and has also FINALLY gotten the Twins to use him as their leadoff man).

Maker's approach at the plate in 2016 has been nothing short of a revelation. His 37% hard hit rate is the best he's seen since 2013, and ranks in the top echelon of his numbers of the entirety of his career. On the season, he's swung and missed just 3.5% of the time, which ranks second all time among his career numbers. He's near 90% contact rate is truly remarkable, and he's chasing pitches out of the zone just 18.5% of the time (the best we've seen from him since 2008).

If you've watched the Twins at all in 2016, you know that Mauer has been nothing short of great, that's really not the point here. Instead, the issue is that the Twins did what they should have done in locking Mauer up with a mega deal, but then decided to say they were done.

Baseball is not a sport where one guy gets the job done. Mike Trout is arguably the best player on the planet, and his Angels team is a joke. Over the course of his 13 year career with Minnesota, Mauer has been to the playoffs just three times, and not since 2010. He's been paired with internal stars such as Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau, but outside help has been next to nonexistent.

Looking back through the help that Minnesota's front office has paired their superstar with, the lone bright spot is probably in the form of a 39 year old Jim Thome. Brought in for the 2010 season, Thome was worth 3.0 fWAR and clubbed 25 homers for the Twins that year. Despite finishing first in the AL Central and winning 90 games, that team's rotation consisted of Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker. Sure, they all won double digit games, but the average ERA was 4.36. For a playoff run, that's hardly going to get it done.

Considering the course of the relationship between the Twins and Joe Mauer, the highlight for the two was in signing that 8 year mega-deal. It was the right move at the time, and even with the injuries having changed Mauer's career course, has far from hampered the club going forward. Where the Twins let not only themselves, but Joe as well down, was in believing that was enough. Minnesota's management decided that Mauer alone could return a championship to Minneapolis, and in failing to get him help in any significant amount throughout his career, Mauer has been failed most.

As the Twins slog through the 2016 slate and hope that 2017 is a corner turner back to relevancy, it will be Joe who goes about his business and sits idly by again. Top prospects will be promoted and expected to contribute. Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Jose Berrios are this club's future; they should be expected to be. What shouldn't be expected is the Twins going out and making the smart investment on a top tier free agent or two to pair with their internal talent and elevate them to new heights.

We've never seen it before, why start now.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Miguel Sano Mystery

A season ago, Miguel Sano debuted with the Minnesota Twins. After being a long heralded prospect in the system, the hulking slugger from the Dominican Republic had finally arrived. Coinciding with his stature, Sano arrived in a huge way for Minnesota as well.

Playing roughly a half of a season (80 games), Sano was worth 2.0 fWAR on his way to swatting 18 big league home runs. He played almost exclusively as the team's designated hitter, and it didn't take long for him to assert himself as the most dangerous hitter in Paul Molitor's lineup. Fast forward to today, and the narrative is different.

As of May 8, Miguel Sano owns a .234/.338/.369 slash line. His OPS is down over 200 points from where it was a season ago, and he's averaged just 3 home runs per 10 games (over double what he was producing a season ago.) Now playing in right field, Sano's bat has gone from a power producing threat, to being a thought of what once was.

The curious part of the equation is that the numbers suggest it shouldn't look like this.

To date, Sano is putting balls in play with "hard" contact 40.6% of the time. That's a respectable number, and down just under 3% from where he was a year ago. He's increased his "medium" contact rate and made his "soft" contact hits nearly obsolete. In general, there's nothing to see there.

Then if we look at the approach Sano has brought to the plate, it's hard to find much wrong either. A year ago, he swung at just over 25% of pitches outside of the strike zone. His 21.3% in 2016 is an improvement upon that number. He's also swinging and missing 13.2% of the time, which is over a 2% decrease from where he was in 2015. Generating contact 66.2% of the time, a non-ideal number but not at all out of line for a power hitter, is better than the 60.9% he posted in his rookie year.

So, what gives right?

Easily the largest discrepancy in Sano's production this season as opposed to a year ago is by way of the home run. In 2015, over 26% of the fly balls Miguel Sano generated were launched into orbit and left the yard. Hitting a fourth of your fly balls out of the yard is something the great power hitters do, unfortunately that hasn't been replicated this season. To date in 2016, Sano is hitting just 11.1% of his fly balls out of the park. His line drive rates have increased, and his ground ball numbers have decreased, but the fly balls are simply being caught.

On pace for just over 15 doubles through 80 games (as opposed to 17 in 2015) Sano hasn't turned into a more gap or doubles hitter. His power and strength stats suggest the same process is being repeated, if not expanded upon, but he's simply not seeing the results. That brings us to an area of conclusion.

Right now, Sano has played just 31 of the 162 games the Twins have in front of them. Early in the season, his game was largely muddled with thoughts and focus on how to attack a new position in the outfield. At this point, he is what he is out there, and should feel relatively acquainted. As the season draws on, the expectation should be that the process starts to display results we've seen it capable of producing.

David Ortiz noted during spring training that Sano's legs could be abused and hurt his production by placing him in the outfield. It's a fair assessment, but one that doesn't seem to be reflected in Sano's process at this point. The results aren't yet there, but staying the course should eventually turn fruitful for the Twins slugger. With the club struggling as a whole, the hope would be that point comes sooner rather than later.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

An Exciting Turn Of Events For Twins Pitching

Coming into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins had some deficiencies that they had hoped to clear up. While the bullpen went largely unaddressed, it was the internal options that were supposed to raise the bar. Although neither the starting or relief pitching has produced where the club would like, there's a really nice development that has taken place.

Now well through the first month of the season, the Twins have found a handful of throwers that have contributed in a unfamiliar way to the Twins of the past. For an organization that has become synonymous with pitching to contact, the strikeout has actually come into play.

As things stand today (on May 7), Paul Molitor's club has four guys that have gotten significant innings and have totaled more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. A season ago, Minnesota had no player (outside of Alex Meyer's two relief appearances) total more than 10.0 K/9. In a league that has now glorified the strikeout, it's nice to see the Twins playing along.

The group of guys contributing to this stat are largely important as well. Leading the charge is none other than converted starting pitcher, Trevor May. Currently, May owns a 13.76 K/9 and has pushed batters to swing and miss over 15% of the time (a 5% jump for a season ago). While his walk rate has risen, he's kept things in check thus far to the tune of a 2.12 ERA and 2.37 FIP. To say May has been the gold standard in the bullpen would be putting it lightly.

Next on the list is the first starter of the group, and top pitching prospect, Jose Berrios. Having totaled 12.54 K/9, Berrios has generated swinging strikes 10% of the time. His command hasn't been what it needs to be yet, but just 21 years old and two starts into his big league career, it's far from a concern. For a guy who routinely struck out north of 10 batters per nine innings across his minor league stops, it's nice to see the number hanging strong at the big league level.

That brings us to arguably the Twins best offseason acquisition not named Byung Ho Park. Fernando Abad went his first 13 appearances before allowing his first run. Signed as a non-roster guy with the Twins thinking they saw something others didn't, Abad has gone back to his 2014 self and then some. Despite being a lefty, he gets batters out from both sides of the plate, and his dazzling 0.78 ERA is backed by a solid 1.78 FIP. His 10.22 K/9 is a career best, and nearly a two strikeout per nine jump over where he's previously been at. Give it to the Twins, Abad had plenty of reason to work out, but he's looked the part of an All Star.

Rounding out the inclusions is arguably one of the Twins best Rule 5 draft picks ever, Ryan Pressly. Despite faltering some of late, Pressly has picked up largely where he left off 2015 prior to injury. He's hurt himself of late by walking too many batters, but he's struck out 10.06 per 9 on the year. His 13.2% swinging strike rate is a 4% jump over a career best in 2015, and he's giving up contact just 73% of the time (another career best).

There's a few other guys who have topped 10.0 K/9 for the Twins this year without enough innings to give much credit to. Michael Tonkin finds himself on the flip side, registering 9.0 K/9 despite having pitched plenty for Minnesota. He was largely abused a season ago, and has slotted into being a nice piece for this pen. Regardless of the relatively low leverage situations he's been asked to handle, he's fared well and finds himself in the 10% swinging strike group as well.

As things stand currently, there's very few positives for the local nine, but the uptick in strikeouts (for not against) has been one of them. As Berrios takes over a larger role in the rotation, his numbers will become more prevalent. The group of relievers up right now don't include the power arms on the farm, and they should only push this narrative further.

If you're going to have to suffer through losing as the Twins have, you're going to need to dig a bit for the positives. Right now, this is one of them, and it's something we can all get excited about.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Twins Are By Product Of Mismanagement, Nothing Else

With a very much needed, but not incredibly well deserved off day, the Minnesota Twins are guaranteed not to sink further into the loss column today. Fresh off another series loss, this one ending with a 16-4 drubbing by the Houston Astros, things have completely fallen apart for Paul Molitor's squad. The problem isn't what's on his roster though, but rather what has taken place since Opening Day.

Coming into the season, the Minnesota Twins had heightened expectations after an out-of-nowhere season a year ago. Peaking ahead of schedule, Molitor took the club to the brink in his first year as manager. Just narrowly missing the playoffs, many tabbed this club as poised for more.

Deficiencies were present in the bullpen a season ago, and defense was something that could also be looked upon. Despite no clear ace in the starting rotation, pitching was expected to be a relative strength with young arms on the way. Terry Ryan and the Twins did what they thought best positioned them, without blocking too many internal options, over the offseason.

Fernando Abad was a key offseason non-roster guy, and results aside (as great as he's been) it's was a move likely to work. Minnesota believed he was tipping his pitches, and just a year removed from getting everyone out, that seemed like a relative easy fix. Buying Ho Park was brought in to bolster the offense. Sure, he sent Miguel Sano to right field, but there's no denying the Twins run support has been for the better for it.

In summary, the roster construction of this team coming into the 2016 season was hardly problematic.

That leads us to where we find ourselves now. Local writer, Brandon Warne noted on Twitter that he'd be penning a piece in defense of the Twins roster shortly. Where that veers from the issue is that the roster in and of itself is not actually all that problematic.

The results have been nowhere near where this club should be (8-20 is horrible), however, it's been the in season adjustments that have highlighted a much larger issue. There's been an incredibly inept usage of the organizational pieces by both Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan. Promotions and demotions have been head scratching to say the least, and in game usage has questioned Molitor's savvy as a manager in general.

Our latest example for the Twins compounding on their own mistakes came in that drubbing to the Astros. Following a start in which the deck was nearly stacked against him, Alex Meyer was sent back to Triple-A, rather than the Twins bullpen, in favor of J.R. Graham. Graham was promoted having totaled an ERA north of 10.00 on the farm this season. Then, instead of being just a hidden body in the bullpen, he was used in the first game he was with the team. Of course, the Astros teed off on him, and the Twins wind up looking even sillier for it.

As we've now played over a month of the season, Molitor and Ryan have given us plenty of laughable instances to point at. The leash Eddie Rosario has been given is crazy, David Murphy was awarded a 40 man spot despite his intentions to avoid the dumpster fire through retiring. Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler have both been promoted and gone unused, and Molitor continues to be stoic throughout the whole process.

With how things have been handled to this point, it appears the Twins fundamental problem is that both Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor have absolutely zero clue. They have no clue what the identity of this team is, and that's a problem. You can only keep saying that such a small portion of the season has been played for so long. Right now, the Twins have virtually no chance of making the playoffs, yet every roster move is a knee jerk reaction that appears to be made thinking it's the final key to picking up that pivotal win.

There's no sense packing it in, but there's a right and wrong way to handle a losing season in big league baseball. For the Twins, making sure they understand what they have in their youth, and unlocking them as contributors for the season that lies ahead, is absolutely important. That doesn't appear to be the plan, process or goal however, and that underlines the much larger issue that this organization is facing.

How to change the tide is something that's much more of an uphill battle, but nothing Molitor or Ryan have displayed in 2016 suggest they appear capable of being a part of the solution.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Twins Making A Habit Of Bad Roster Moves

Following his first and only start in a Major League Baseball uniform, the Twins couldn't even wait through the night to option prospect Alex Meyer back to Triple-A Rochester. Getting a chance with Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson on the shelf, the Twins had deemed they had seen enough after just 2.2 innings pitched from Meyer. Really though, it seems there's a much large issue at play here.

This morning on Twitter I was thinking back to the guys I can remember the Twins using in an extremely poor fashion. The list is probably longer than I was able to recall, but here's what I came up with:
The reality of the situation is that every single one of the names mentioned has been done a disservice by either Paul Molitor, Terry Ryan, or a collection of the two. I touched on odd roster moves when writing up Ryan a while back, but I think it's probably fair to look a little deeper.

I won't spend much time on Tonkin or Vargas as I've talked about the poor usage they had to endure previously. Tonkin was jerked back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A in 2015. Despite being a good piece for Minnesota this season, it's something they should have previously been aware of. You can read that piece here.

Vargas is a guy that's never been someone I have regarded as in the higher level of prospects. It was nice that he made a showing at the 2014 Future's Game, but that may go down to be the highlight of his career. Regardless of my feelings that he may be a bench bat, Minnesota sent him packing at such a poor time, and it's essentially ruined him. Read more of my thoughts on that here.

That brings us to the guys that Ryan and Molitor have hurt this season. The list starts with Max Kepler. He was up with the Twins for roughly 20 games in 2016 to start the year, and in that time, drew just two starts. Kepler was employed almost solely as a defensive replacement, and was given just 14 plate appearances. For a guy that's regarded pretty highly across MLB in the prospect realm, his development was being stunted, while his ability at the highest level was not at all being understood.

Kepler could have been drawing regular, rotating starts among the Twins outfield. A guy that can play all three positions, he should have been in the lineup at least two times per week. Instead, he was sent back to Triple-A after having been able to show nothing. He's now hitting below the Mendoza Line at Rochester, and is trying to get things going after having the first bit of his season be rendered completely useless.

Of the group, Polanco has probably been the least damaged, despite being a victim previously. He has been called up and sent back now by the Twins twice in 2016. The latest time, April 26, saw him get a single at bat (on April 29) before being sent back to Triple-A. Minnesota has promoted Polanco multiple times over the past three seasons, and yet he's been given a whopping 29 at bats. He's going to be out of options at the end of 2016, and despite being touted to have a big league ready bat, Minnesota really hasn't allowed him an opportunity to showcase it.

I've contended for quite some time that Polanco's greatest asset to the Twins is in his trade value. He can't play short or third efficiently enough, and Minnesota has Brian Dozier at second for the immediate future. The way in which Polanco has been showcased isn't going to drive up his trade value, and it's becoming closer to the time that the Twins lose him for next to nothing.

Now for the most recent example, and maybe the most frustrating one, Alex Meyer. Meyer was acquired for Denard Span from the Washington Nationals prior to the 2013 season. Now 26 years old, Meyer has both started and relieved in the Twins system. Having been a part of the organization for multiple years, it's somewhat sad the club hasn't decided on which is the best route for him to succeed.

In being called up to the big leagues this time, Meyer was given a deck stacked against him, and then was immediately jettisoned to the farm in favor of a reliever with an ERA north of 10.00. Here's the timeline the Twins gave Meyer in 2016:
Instead of scrapping the starting idea, and allowing him to see if he can stick in the pen for a team that's 8-19, Minnesota abandoned him altogether. Meyer goes back to Rochester where he'll likely start. Sure, he probably gets another crack at the big league level in 2016 in some fashion, but he's 26 and the organization still has no idea what the future holds for him.

At some point, the Twins need to understand that if you're going to build from within, you're going to be employing youth. With youth comes inexperience, and therefore you'll have some bumps in the road to work through. For a team that's 8-19, there's little reason to keep acting like you need the quick fix that is going to get you to the playoffs, it's not happening.

Looking to the future, this organization still has plenty of pieces to build a contended from within, and remain that way for a while. What I'm not sure they have is the right people at the top (Ryan and Molitor) to get them to that point.