Are the Twins Trying To Play Moneyball With Their Pitching Staff?

24 03 2011

The Minnesota Twins have had an odd offseason to say the least. First, they trade away J.J. Hardy for relievers Jim Hoey (34.1 Major League innings and a 5.15 FIP) and Brett Jacobson (no Major League innings).

Then they openly discuss trading Fransisco Liriano. For those of you who do not remember, advanced statistics had Liriano as the third best pitcher in the Majors. Right behind Josh Johnson and Cliff Lee. Fangraphs also had his slider as the best slider in baseball.

They then told Nick Blackburn he will be a starter. Nick Blackburn had a 3.8 K/9, and a FIP of 5.09. You could make a case that he was the worst starting pitcher in baseball. All he had working for him was a 50.8% groundball rate.

They picked up lefty Scott Diamond from the Atlanta Braves. Diamond is a reliever who has a career 7.3 K/9 in the minors with some control issues.

The Twins put Pat Neshek on waivers and he was taken by the Padres. Neshek had an option left. I understand that Pat Neshek had a bad year last year (so did Fransiso Liriano his first year after Tommy John surgery) and not a very good Spring, but it’s Spring Training.  He was still striking out a batter an inning and keeping the ball in the park.

And now, it comes out that the Twins are interested in trading Kevin Slowey for relief pitchers. I’m not going to go into why that itself is stupid (Fangraphs wrote a great article about that.)

They drafted Alex Wimmers. Who throws his fastball at 88 MPH.

What are the Twins doing with their pitching staff? Especially with the bullpen. Last season, the Twins had a bullpen that was worth 18.8 WAR. Good for 6th in the league. Who was better? The White Sox, Rockies, Giants, Braves, and Red Sox. Now, they have blown up the bullpen.

What about the rotation? 5th in the leauge in WAR at 15.8. Who’s in front of them? Rockies, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals. Now, they have discussed trading 2/5th of that rotation.

The move to the bullpen will keep Slowey's innings down, and presumably keep him off the disabled list.

Or have the Twins heard of the Rule of 17? And do they think that the Rule of 17 would be most beneficial to Kevin Slowey?

For those of you who don’t know, the Rule of 17 is the theory that when a starer transitions to the bullpen, his K/9 will increase, his BABIP will decrease, and his HR/9 will decrease. All  by about 17%. So, in the case of Kevin Slowey, his K/9 will rise to 8.1, his HR/9 will fall to 1.2, and his BABIP will fall to .290. Most ERAs fall by about a run.

The move to the bullpen will keep Slowey’s innings down, and presumably keep him off the disabled list. And with the limited free passes he’s issued, and the increased K/9 we can reasonably expect, Kevin Slowey will be one of the more dominant middle relievers in the American League.

Maybe the Twins know what they’re doing with their pitching staff. The trades for Matt Capps, Brian Fuentes, Ron Mahay, and Jon Rauch all worked out pretty well for Bill Smith and company, but it seems that they have been going after every middling Minor League reliever they can acquire, and drafting hordes of Brad Radke clones in the last few years. Every move they’ve made involving pitching has me worried. Except for Slowey to the pen. That is assuming that they don’t trade him for someone like Joba Chamberlain.





Breaking Down The DH Market

8 01 2011

Posted by Brady

This season there are 3 super premium options for the designated hitter role. Two of which will definitely have a job somewhere if they want it, and one….might not. Naturally, I am talking about Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, and Manny Ramirez.  These are three aging future Hall of Fame hitters with limited defensive skills, who can still hit the ball a mile. All three of them have their advantages and their disadvantages. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Jim Thome

Anyone who has read my work on Pine Tar and Pocket Protectors in the past knows that I have always been, and will always be a huge Jim Thome fan. He’s Jim Thome. Who doesn’t love him? In any season where he’s played in 100 games his career LOW in home runs is

His ISO was a ridiculous .282, and at age 39 he just had what you could call a career year.

23.  You know exactly what you’re getting from him every year. Just pencil him in for 25 bombs and let it go. But he does more than just launch baseballs. 1679 walks. That is good for ninth all time and first among active players. He owns a .278/.404/.559 hitting line, and an OPS+ of 147.  His ISO is a ridiculous .282, and at age 39 he just had what you could call a career year.

As far as any issues with Thome, it’s pretty clear. The only man who has been rung up more than Thome is Reggie Jackson. He can’t be nor does he want to be a full time player, and he’s a career .238 against left handed pitchers. He can’t even play an emergency 1B. He hasn’t touched a glove since 2007, and that was only for one game.

Manny Ramirez

His plus side is so ridiculously similar to his former Indian teammate that it’s barely worth talking about. 555 home runs, .998 career OPS, and a 155 OPS+. Everything that Thome can do, Manny Ramirez can do, just a little better. .312/.411/.586 career hitter. The only thing that Manny Ramirez can’t do with a bat better than Jim Thome is pure extra base power. Ramirez only has a .274 ISO. But

The only problem with Manny Ramirez is that he is Manny Ramirez.

over their careers, Manny and Thome have been virtually just as valuable. Thome brings a career 73.5 WAR to to Ramirez’s 72.2

The only problem with Manny Ramirez is that he is Manny Ramirez. Do I really need to recap this? How many problems did he have in Boston? How many problems did he have in Los Angeles? How many problems did he have in Cleveland? I can’t think of many in Cleveland….but that was 10 years ago. Cleveland is his ideal destination. It seems like he wants to finish where he started. Any team looking to sign him better be careful, as he hasn’t had 500 PAs since 2008. He is still a game changer. But only when he wants to be.

Vladimir Guerrrero

How can anybody not what Vladimir Guerrero on their team? Over the course of 162 games he averages 35 home runs.  And while Thome and Ramirez average 40 and 39 respectively, he has one thing that they don’t. An uncanny ability to not strike out. How does

How can anybody not want Vladimir Guerrero on their team?

he do it? He has an uncanny ability to make contact, and good contact, on any pitch in any count, in any situation against any pitcher. The man doesn’t strikeout, but the man doesn’t walk. He his, however a career .320/.383/.563 career hitter. Only Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmy Foxx have a .320 average and 400 or more home runs.  His ISO is lower than Thome and Ramirez, at .243 but his OPS+ is right in line at 143.  Throughout his 15 year career Guerrero has contributed 61.7 WAR to the Expos, the Angels, and the Rangers.

I’ll be honest, I tried to think of any cons to a team trying to sign Guerrero, other than being old, there isn’t a lot. He doesn’t have a significant injury history. He’s reached 600 PAs every year but one since becoming a full time player. And he is a suitable back up outfielder. Teams start a lot worse (Delmon Young) than Guerrero. In my personal opinion, he is the best option at DH this year.





Who is Tsuyoshi Nishioka (西岡剛)?

26 11 2010

Posted by Brady

The Minnesota Twins recently won the bid for switch hitting middle infielder, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. And for many Twins fans, this is a welcome, albeit, unusual surprise. But there it is. All they have to do is sign him, which, should be fairly affordable, seeing as how the the high bid for him was right around 5 million dollars. Now what does this mean for Twins fans?

It means a variety of things. It means that the team has more money than initially thought, it means that the team is likely to keep JJ

The Twins recently won the bid for switch hitting middle infielder, Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Hardy, and it means that Orlando Hudson will not be coming back. The Twins are about to have the best defensive infield in baseball, if Nishioka’s glove is all it’s made out to be. And it is made out to be excellent. It also means that for fans that are clamoring for someone to replace Denard Span in the lead off spot may get what they want.

If Yoshi (which is what Twins fans have already decided to call him) has a downside, it is his injury history. He’s battled injuries to  his neck, wrist, knee, and hamstring. While those injuries are not necessarily Carl Pavano circa 2005-2008esque, they are concerning for a team that has a catcher with his own injury troubles.  But looking at the back of Nishioka’s baseball card, the injuries seem to be more annoying than dangerous. Over the last 6 seasons, Nishioka has played in a career low 115 games, which is 30 games missed. But just this last season, he played in 144 games, which is the whole NPB season. He did not miss an inning all season long. If last season is anything to look at, he seems to have gotten past the injuries and seems ready to play.

But what about Yoshi Nishioka as a player? Well, he is a lead off hitter, and he appears to be a very good one. He’s a career .293 hitter, who just won his first batting title with an average of .346. He posses the same swing as his countryman, Gold Medalist, and two time

Nishioka posses the same swing as his countryman, Gold Medalist, and two time teammate, Ichiro Suzuki.

teammate, Ichiro Suzuki. He also led his league with 206 hits, and 287 total bases. He’ll also steal bases. He has two stolen base crowns. 41 and 33 in 2005 and 2006, respectively. In 2010, he stole a 22. He got on base at a clip of .423, which would’ve been second in MLB, right behind NL MVP, Joey Votto.

It seems that the main concern with Nishioka, apart from the injuries is the potential and likely drop off. Which what they said about Ichiro Suzuki. And while I’m not saying that Nishioka is the next Ichiro, I think that Yoshi Nishioka could  very easily be the next best thing.





In 2011, Vote for Blyleven

6 11 2010

Posted by Brady

“I’m really sad. I took it for granted that Dawson and Blyleven were going to get in.”-Hall of Famer, owner of 8 NL batting titles, and 3141 base hits, Tony Gwynn had to say about Bert Blyleven’s Hall of Fame snub last year. When Robin Yount was a rookie he said “If I have to face guys like Bert Blyleven, I don’t think I’m going to make it at this level.” and after facing Blyleven 114 times, he hit .182 with 1 home run. And Robin Yount was a damn good hitter.

The main knock against Blyleven is the notion that he wasn’t dominant enough. I suppose it all depends on your definition of “dominant.” He falls squarely into the mantra for current Twins pitching. Throw strikes. And he did that. Posting a 1.14 WHIP in his first stint with the Twins, and a 1.2 WHIP through the rest of his career.  Blyleven retired with a 1.198 WHIP.

 

When Robin Yount was a rookie he said "If I have to face guys like Bert Blyleven, I don't think I'm going to make it at this level."

But limiting walks wasn’t the only thing “The Frying Dutchman” could do. He knew how to hold on to the baseball. In his 22 MLB seasons, Bert Blyleven pitched 200 innings 17 times, and 300 innings once. With 242 complete games and 60 shutouts, he ranks second all time in both categories. Second only to the immortal Nolan Ryan. That’s not where the Nolan Ryan comparisons end, either. Ryan is the all-time strikeout leader with 5,714.  Blyleven is fifth with 3,701.  Right after Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Steve Carlton. And while the Anti-Blyleven crowd often expresses admiration for his strikeout total, the very next thing they say is “He was an accumulator. He stuck around to get that lofty total.”  But they never seem to realize that out of every member of the 3,000 strikeout club, that have officially retired, only Tom Seaver, Fergie Jenkins, Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Walter Johnson had shorter careers. They also have less strikeouts. And the only one has a WHIP that is ridiculously higher than Blyleven is Walter Johnson at 1.009. Blyleven is every bit as dominant, from a statistical standpoint than every one of these pitchers.

There are two knocks against Blyleven when it comes to his not being in the Hall of Fame. The lack of a Cy Young Award, falling 12 wins short of 300. Both of these truly confuse me. Bob Gibson has 251 wins, and Nolan Ryan doesn’t have any Cy Young Awards. He has the misfortune to have played in an era when wins were THE way that starting pitchers were evaluated. And when he became eligible for induction, we were still in that era. He also had the misfortune to pitch for a team that had Joe Lis (who?) as the starting first baseman. Hardly Blyeven’s fault. He does, however, have a no-hitter.

September 22, 1977. On Blyleven’s last start of the season. Blyleven hurled 9 no hit innings, striking out 7 California Angels, and coming one walk away from a perfect game. 28 batters faced him, and he retired 27. He and teammate Dock Ellis likely went out to party that night.

When confronted with his lack of baseball immortality, Blyleven handles it with

Having fallen 5 votes short in 2010, Blyleven should be expecting a call in 2011

humor. It was at TwinsFest 2010, when I ran into Bert Blyleven. Andre Dawson had just been elected to the Hall, while Blyleven fell 5 votes short. “**** the Hall of Fame” I said to Bert. He laughed, looked at me and said “Don’t say that loudly. They’re here right now.” But then he whispered, but you’re right. **** them.”

Having fallen 5 votes short in 2010, Blyleven should be expecting a call in 2011. It should be a great early birthday present.





Potential Hall of Famer: Joe Mauer

28 09 2010

This is the third installment of PTPP’s ongoing series about current players, who could one day be enshrined in Cooperstown. The greatest of this generation. We’re not talking about Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter or Ichiro. We’re

Right now, when Joe Mauer comes up to bat at Target Field, they play "What You Know About That?" but they could easily play the theme from "The Natural"

talking about Chase Utley, and Miguel Cabrera. And today, we’re going to focus on the man behind the dish. Four time All-Star, one time Most Valuable Player, who was also drafted number one, overall. Ahead of Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira. The face of the Minnesota Twins franchise Joe Mauer.

Advanced statics, such as WAR, don’t really illustrate a catcher’s value. His career WAR comes solely from his offensive numbers, as there is not yet a reliable defensive metric for catchers. That being said, Mauer could end up being the greatest hitting catcher of all time. Take a guess as to which of the following four catchers is who.

Catcher A: .308/.377/.545

Catcher B: .267/.342/.476

Catcher C: .327/.408/.428

Catcher D: .285/.348/.482

Catcher A is Mike Piazza, B is Johnny Bench, C is Mauer, and D is Yogi Berra. As we can plainly see, Mauer gets on base more than any of them, but he has less power than all of them. But his raw hitting, is superior to all of them. Which makes sense. He does have three batting titles.

Mauer has been said to have the greatest left handed swing since Ken Griffey Jr.'s.

Only 2 catchers in history have a batting title. Bubbles Hargrave in 1926, and Ernie Lombardi won two. One in 1938 and one in 1942.  Mauer has been said to have the greatest left handed swing since Ken Griffey Jr.’s. Sports Illustrated said he’s the best bet to be next player to hit over .400.  His 2009 season proved that he is capable of Roy Hobbs-esque feats.

The only thing that has derailed him are a few injuries, but he’s always come better than before.

Right now, when Joe Mauer comes up to bat at Target Field, they play “What You Know About That?” but they could easily play the theme from “The Natural” like they do in Texas for Josh Hamilton, and I don’t think anyone could blame them.

In Minnesota, you can say to anybody on the street, and say “What did Joe do last night?” And you’ll get one of two responses. It will either be “I don’t watch baseball.” Or “3-4 with a double and 2 RBIs.” He’s truly loved here. Any baseball fan knows how much Twins fans swoon over Kirby Puckett. Kirby has nothing on Joe. He’s just a local St. Paul boy, making good.





Was Jim Thome The Best Off-Season Signing?

16 09 2010

Posted by Brady

In the Twin Cities, Jim Thome has been awarded nicknames. Jimmers. Jim Jam. Tater Masher Extraordinaire. Twins fans have made a Twitter account for him. You can find it @FakeJimThome. He gets teased there, and on most Twins blogs, but, Twins fans have learned to love this man. It’s always nice to see a Twins Killer become a Minnesota Twin.

The White Sox paid $13 MM for his services last year. Last season, just after the trade deadline, the Chicago White Sox sent Thome to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Thome hit 23 home runs for the South Siders, and was a fan favorite. With Los Angeles, Thome had 4 hits in 17 at bats. All singles. No walks. He owned a very tidy line of .235/.235/.235.

After the season, Thome made it well known that his desire was to return to

Jim Thome wanted to hit in the same lineup with MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

Chicago. White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen didn’t want him. They didn’t appreciate his inability to do anything other than hit. They decided to go with Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay, both of whom can field, somewhat. So what did Jim Thome do?.

The rival Twins wanted to sign Jim Thome. And Jim Thome wanted to hit in the same lineup with MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. The only thing that stood in the way was the cash.

The Twins got Thome to sign for $1.5 MM. For Twins fans, it seemed too good to be true. Thome coming off the bench. A bench that last year included Brian Buscher, Mike Redmond, and Brendan Harris. Even if he rarely played, having a future Hall of Famer coming off the bench is the move of a big budget, East Coast team, rather than a small, one and done in the playoffs team.

He was to be used when regular designated hitter Jason Kubel played in the outfield, to either rest Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, or when Cuddyer would play first base to rest perennial All-Star, Justin Morneau. The Twins are not stupid. They know the numbers. They know that Jim Thome hits home runs against them, and they know Jim Thome has to play in the American League due to his allergy to leather.

But Thome’s effect has been more than just on field excellence. He’s worked with Morneau, and helped him alter his swing. How did Morneau respond? By hitting .345 with 18 home runs, and he was well on his way to his second MVP award, before he went down with a concussion in Toronto on July 7th.

According to some, when Theodore Roosevelt said “Speak softly, and carry a big stick", he was talking about Jim Thome.”

But, the big question, as always, was it worth it? The answer to that is a resounding “yes”. So far, in 314 plate apperances, Thome has hit a team leading 23 home runs, and hit .277/.406./631! He’s posted an ISO of .353. The highest mark from a Minnesota Twin since Hall of Famer Harmon Killibrew posted an ISO of .318 in Minnesota’s inaugural season.

Anyway you look at it, home runs, ISO, WAR, and whatever statistic you can think of, Jim Thome has earned his paycheck. At $1.5MM, Thome has earned $65,217.38 per home run. He’s been worth 3.3 WAR so far, earning $454,545.45 per WAR.

Thome has done everything this team as asked him to do. And more. He’s given this team a real veteran leader and teacher. He’s destroyed White Sox pitching. He hit a walk-off home run against Matt Thornton. Hawk Harrelson threw his microphone and left the broadcast booth as soon as Thome hit it. He’s inspired t-shirt slogans (“Thome Is My Homey”). Twins fans have become American history revisionists. According to some, when Theodore Roosevelt said “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”, he was talking about Jim Thome.”

Jim Thome has truly been worth every penny. In terms of money, Thome has

He’s been a player, and a coach. It’s been a fun ride, and the Twins would do well to sign him again, if the price is right.

been the best acquisition the Twins have made in a long time. And I can tell you from watching every Jim Thome plate appearance in a Twins uniform, this has to be the best free agent acquisition in baseball from last offseason. He’s been a player, and a coach. It’s been a fun ride, and the Twins would do well to sign him again, if the price is right.





Francisco Liriano Has A Lesson to Teach Stephen Strasburg

28 08 2010

Posted by Brady

What do Adrian Beltre, Kevin Youkillis, and Andruw Jones have in common? Two things. They’re all right handed hitters, and they are the only hitters to take Fransisco Liriano out of the yard in 2010.

And supressing power from the lefties isn’t the only thing Frankie’s been able to do. He’s been striking out more than a batter an inning, and out of the beastly number of batters faced (666) he’s given up 149 hits, which means that out of every 5 batters he faces, only one gets a hit. And out of those 666 batters faced, only 51 have gotten a free pass. Has he been a little wild? Yes, he has. 9 wild pitches, and 8 hits batsmen. He has been among the best starters in baseball, if not the best starter. In terms of WAR, the one Twins fans call “The Franchise” has put up 5.8. Which puts him behind Roy Halladay (6.4) and Cliff Lee (6.0). He’s leading all of baseball in FIP (2.31) and xFIP (3.01). Name a starter. Any starter, and Liriano has pitched better than them. Now, how has he done it?

Liriano is having the best year of his career, and it's coming the year after being one of the worst pitchers in the game.

The biggest thing, he has kept the ball in the park. He keeps everything very, very simple. Fastball, slider, change-up, and a very rare cutter. He’s found his velocity. His fastball averages 93 MPH, his slider at 86, and his change up at 86. But the biggest thing he’s doing, is he is getting hitters to swing at his stuff. They are swinging at his pitches 47.7% of the time, and making contact on what they swing at 73.2% of the time. And more than half of those pitches are on the ground, and when you have an elite defensive middle infield behind you like JJ Hardy at shortstop  (UZR/150 of 19.7) and Orlando Hudson  (8.8 UZR) nearly all of those will  be turned into outs. But, the  groundballs aren’t even the best  part of Liriano. He’s leading  baseball at in SwStr% (swinging  strikes).

Liriano is having the best year of  his career, and it’s coming the year after being one of the worst pitchers in the game. He’s not trying to strike everybody out, the strikeouts are just coming. He’s letting batters hit balls on the ground and is letting his defense gobble them up for him.

When Stephen Strasburg comes back from Tommy John surgery, he’d do well to pay attention to Fransisco Liriano’s 2010 season.