Friday, December 31, 2010

A True Ace

Things I'm Not Worried About, Part 2

The Twins' early exit from the 2010 postseason prompted a lot of fans to jump to conclusions about the reasons they failed to advance (or even win a game). One idea I heard a lot was that the Twins can't compete in the playoffs because they don't have a True Ace, somebody who always shuts down the opposition whenever he gets the ball. (You know, like Cliff Lee was for the Rangers in the World Series. Wait... whoops!)

I have some questions about that supposition. First, is that really a bigger reason the Twins lost than the 8 R they scored in 3 games or the bullpen's inability to put up zeroes? A lot of pitchers will fail to win when the rest of their team performs like that. Second, and more importantly, do the Twins really lack a True Ace? What exactly constitutes a True Ace, anyway?

An Ace is basically a #1 starter, the guy who gets the ball on opening day. Each of the 30 teams has one of those. Of course, some of those guys would be #2 or #3 guys on bigger payroll teams (or #5 on the Phillies). So we're not looking for the best guy on each of the 30 teams, but rather one of the best 30 pitchers in all of baseball.

How do we determine who those guys are? WAR(P) for pitchers is determined in incompatibly different (and flawed) ways depending on which site you reference. Rather than have someone else try to formulate pitcher value for me, I'm more inclined to look for a convergence of desirable qualities: dependability, stuff, command. An ace takes pressure off his teammates by taking his turn every 5th day, pitching deep into the game, limiting baserunners, getting strikeouts and keeping the score close. So I want to find guys who made the top 30 in IP, WHIP, BB/9, K/9 and HR/9.

Cole Hamels came in 30th in IP with 208.2. The 30th best WHIP in the Majors last year was Ian Kennedy's 1.20. Rodrigo Lopez checked in at #30 in BB/9 with 2.52. 30 guys were able to rack up at least 7.68 K/9, ending with Tommy Hanson. And there were 29 guys ahead of Mark Buerhle's 0.73 HR/9.

Anybody who was on all 5 of those lists must be a True Ace, right? Right, but it's an incredibly short list:

Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright

Any criteria by which Roy Halladay doesn't emerge as a True Ace must be a little flawed. So I'll loosen things up just a bit. How about guys who pitched at least 200 IP, with at least 7.5 K/9, WHIPs under 1.25, BB/9 below 3.0 and HR/9 under 0.9? That got me 4 more names:

Halladay, Roy Oswalt (yikes, that's a good Phillies rotation!), Justin Verlander and Hanson.

Several other very worthy guys just missed in one of the categories: CC Sabathia and Zach Greinke came up a little short with 7.4x K/9, Tim Lincecum and Ubaldo Jiminez had a few too many walks, Dan Haren and Hamels (seriously, Philadelphia!) had HR/9 over 1.0, Josh Johnson and Mat Latos didn't have enough IP. It's still exclusive enough - I'm satisfied that anyone who can meet 4 of the 5 criteria is an Ace, and anybody who can hit all 5 is a True Ace.

The Twins didn't have anyone meet 4 out of 5. Carl Pavano wasn't close in K/9, and just missed with 0.98 HR/9. And Francisco Liriano didn't have enough IP (191.2) and came up just short with a 1.26 WHIP.

About that, though. I followed Liriano particularly closely this season. I made him a high pick for my fantasy team, and I made a bold assertion that he would pitch about as well as Jon Lester in 2010 (Lester hit 4/5 lists). My big takeaway from observing his 2010 is that he gave up an absolutely mind-blowing number of crappy hits. Bloopers just over the IF, slow choppers over the mound, swinging bunts, actual bunts. The number of rallies against him that actually came from a series of well-hit balls was pretty tiny.

His BABIP numbers bear that out. The average BABIP of all Major League pitchers in 2010 was .297. Liriano's was .335. That was 3rd worst in all of baseball among qualified starters. That's some exceptionally bad luck. In spite of that, Liriano still managed to finish 31st in MLB in OPS against, 37th in ERA and 43rd in WHIP. He was elite in a couple of important categories: 5th in K/9 with 9.44 and 4th in HR/9 with 0.42 (he was 1st until his final GS of the season). Do you put any stock in DIPS? (I don't think they give a complete picture, but they're certainly useful.) Liriano was 3rd in FIP (2.66), 2nd in xFIP (3.06) and 3rd in SIERA (3.02).

Substituting the league average BABIP into his numbers, it quickly becomes apparent how awesome Liriano was in 2010. He allowed 522 BIP (730 AB - 201 K - 9 HR + 2 SF). A .297 BA for those 522 AB results in 155 H. That's 20 fewer than he actually allowed. Add those together with his 9 HR and 58 BB and his WHIP drops to 1.16, comfortably within the top 30 in that category. But it's actually even better than that, because those 20 fewer hits would have been converted into at least 20 more outs. Assuming no DP, that adds 6.2 IP to bring his season total to 198.1 IP - just 5 outs short of 200. That larger denominator drops his WHIP to 1.12 - good for 12th in baseball.

If you assume that all 20 of those subtracted H were singles (hardly a fair assumption, but let's be conservative), his TB allowed would be reduced to 239. That makes his new SLG% against .327 - 9th overall. His OBP allowed would drop to .290 (14th). His new opponents' OPS would be .617 (9th).

Those adjustments show that Liriano, given ordinary luck, would have been easily one of the the top 30 pitchers in baseball last year, a legitimate Ace. As for his IP total, the only other category in which he comes up just short of True Ace criteria, that can be rather easily accounted for by his position as the Twins' #5 starter at the beginning of the season. There was enough doubt about his ability after 2009 that some were even calling for him to move the bullpen in spring training, particularly after the season-ending injury to Joe Nathan. Had Liriano been given the #1 or #2 spot in the rotation that we now clearly see that he deserved, he would have certainly made at least one more start in 2010, and passed the 200 IP threshold with only 1.2 IP in that 32nd GS.

It would be fair to question at this point whether Liriano really deserves a discount based on his poor BABIP. I'd be the first to admit that DIPS are missing something crucial about pitcher ability. For example, Johan Santana nearly always outperforms his FIP and xFIP (I think this is because he's exceptionally good at getting himself out of jams - as evidenced by his higher than average strand rates). And, for me, Nick Blackburn's summer troubles had less to do with some inevitable regression of BABIP than they did with him simply pitching like ass. Was something like that dogging Liriano last year? Did he deserve to give up all those hits?

Permit me to slice and dice his season. His first 5 GS were stupendous, particularly after the 5 BB grind in his 1st appearance in Chicago. He combined to go 4-0 with 36 IP, 26 H, 6 ER, 0 HR, 13 BB and 36 K while winning the AL Pitcher of the Month award for April despite pitching in just 4 games. His BABIP over that stretch was an only slightly better than league average .289.

From there to the All Star Break, he made 12 starts, totaling 71.1 IP, 81 H, 40 ER, 2 HR, 17 BB and 81 K. Even if you add in his 6 HBP, that's still fewer free passes per 9 IP than in the earlier stretch, and the K/9 is better. Both HR came in the same lousy start in Boston on May 20th. Despite improved peripherals, Liriano's ERA over these 12 GS was more than 3 times worse than his 1st 5 starts, thanks to an absurdly high .391 BABIP, and he went 2-7.

Even so, he delivered QS in 7 of the 12 games. Of the 5 he didn't, 2 (May 20th and July 9th) were bad days - even great pitchers will have a couple of games when they get lit up. The other 3 merit special attention:
  • First there was the May 8th game against Baltimore, in which Liriano gave up a season-high 10 H in 6 IP. All of the 5 ER he allowed came with 2 outs. Does he have trouble finishing off innings? Did he lose his focus? See for yourself. Flip through those O's highlights. You only get to see the RBI hits, but notice how their announcers keep saying things like, "Consistent with their other hits in the inning: a dying quail!" and, "...another hit that did not go out of the infield," and "This is a seeing-eye ball here!" Also notice who's playing SS for the Twins: Brendan Harris. This was the 3rd game after JJ Hardy's wrist injury put him on the shelf for several weeks.
  • Let's look at June 23rd in Milwaukee. Liriano lasted just 5 IP, but that was only because Gardy elected to lift him for a PH in the top of the 6th. Liriano was at just 77 pitches and surely would have come out for the 6th in an AL park. And, as for the 2 RBI hits he allowed, check them out. One is about a 4-hopper up the middle, and the other is a groundball double past Michael Cuddyer at 3rd, which was subsequently butchered in the LF corner by Delmon Young, allowing Rickie Weeks to score easily from 1B. Neither ball looked like it was particularly squared up by the hitter.
  • Liriano's next start was June 28th against the Tigers. The first 6 batters reached on about 15 pitches: a HBP and 5 straight hits (the first of which was a bunt single) led to 4 quick ER. He gave up 2 more hits in the 2nd, including a slow roller to SS that moved the lead runner to 3rd where he could score on the ensuing groundout. A lousy start, yet Liriano lasted into the 7th inning, where he was chased by 2 straight 1st-pitch bunts - one a single, the 2nd a Sac that didn't result in an out when Orlando Hudson dropped Justin Morneau's throw (there's at least one of the 5 outs Liriano needed to get to 200 IP). At the end of the day, Liriano had given up 6 ER on 9 H and 2 BB with 6 K in 6 IP. He wasn't sharp at the beginning of the game, he had a little bad luck, the Tigers were hot. But he still hung around, kept the team in the game (it was 5-4 Tigers when he was pulled) and saved the bullpen until the 7th.

From the 1st series after the All-Star Break to the 3-game sweep in Chicago that effectively sealed the division title for the Twins, Liriano went 8-0 in 11 GS. His combined line was 71 IP, 60 H, 19 ER, 2 HR, 25 BB, 72 K. His BABIP over that stretch was .304, again reasonably close to the league average. He failed to deliver a QS in just 3 of those 11 GS:
  • August 6th in Cleveland. I had a nice rant about this one at the time. Superficially resembled the Tigers game I just described in that he allowed 7 of the first 11 batters to reach, resulting in 4 ER. But it was really more like the Orioles game, because just about all the hits he gave up were on seeing-eye grounders.
  • His next start in Chicago featured another 1st inning jam. 4 straight Sox reached after 2 were out, culminating in this impressive RBI single from AJ Pierzynski. He had to battle in the 5th and 6th, and was pulled 1 out shy of a QS. 7 H, 2 BB, 2 HBP, but only 1 run allowed.
  • The next was also against Chicago on August 18th. Liriano wasn't very good in this one, allowing 5 ER on 6 H (including the first HR he'd allowed in 3 months, a 3-run jack on the heels of 2 BB) and 4 BB in just 5 IP. The only thing I could say in his defense is that the 5th run came home as a result of consecutive missed GIDP opportunities.
His final 3 GS make their own little section. He lasted just 13.1 IP combined over those 3 games, though the shortest of those was the result of an illness that came on after 3 IP. But what really makes these games stand out is the fact the Liriano allowed 5 HR in them, one more than he'd given up in his previous 28 GS, a span of 178.1 IP. The whole team lost focus after they vanquished the White Sox, and I think he was guilty of that, too. He also was probably worn out after a full season workload that exceeded anything he'd achieved previously, especially if you consider the 48.2 IP he added in winter ball in December and January. Whatever the reason, those last 3 games are so far out of character with the rest of his 2010, I don't think they're terribly indicative of what we can expect from him going forward.

If we add the two stretches in which Liriano was himself and enjoying basically league average BABIP, he went 12-0 over 16 GS (the Twins won 15 of those games). He amassed 107 IP (6.2 IP/GS) with a 2.10 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 0.2 HR/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 9.1 K/9. Definitely an Ace, and only 3 BB from being a True Ace.

If he can more or less repeat his 2010 peripherals next year, I expect Liriano to deliver those kinds of numbers over 33-34 GS. (That's especially since he won't have any winter ball to extend his workload this time around.) 200+ IP of awesome stuff and command, plus merely ordinary luck on balls in play, should easily land him in the discussion of who's the best pitcher in baseball. And if he should enjoy better than average luck, we could be in store for something very special.

Either way, I'd confidently hand him the ball on opening day, and for the 1st game of the postseason if the Twins should make it there again. Liriano pitched well enough last season to belong among the best in the game. Going into his age 27 season in 2011, what should be his prime, I don't see any reason to expect less from him.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Arizona Prospects

Two items of note from just before Thanksgiving: The Arizona Fall League concluded its schedule, and Baseball America posted its annual ranking of the Twins' top 10 prospects. There's plenty of overlap between the two, as 3 of the farmhands on the BA list played in the AFL.

The Twins have tended to send less advanced prospects to the AFL than some other teams, and that was the case again this year. Of the 7 players the organization sent to the Peoria Saguaros, only Kyle Waldrop has played more than half a season above AA. This group was mostly comprised of guys who spent the majority of the year in New Britain, where they accumulated a shockingly bad 44-98 record (.310 winning percentage). It was more of the same for them this fall, as the Saguaros finished 9-22 for an even more dreadful .290 W%.

Individually, they were a mixed bag. Bear in mind that the average AFL batter hit .283/.356/.431, while the average pitcher had a 5.10 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.

Named the Twins' 2010 Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .259/.343/.538 between Fort Myers and New Britain with an organization-leading 27 HR in 123 games. BA rated him as the organization's best athlete. In addition to his power, he has good OF range and speed, especially for a corner guy, and he has a very strong arm. The knock on him right now is his high strikeout rate - he fanned in 30.7% of his AB during the regular season.

The Saguaros didn't give him much of a chance to show off his tools. He appeared in just 17 of the team's 31 games and barely made it to 60 PA. At first glance, his .236/.300/.400 line looks like a huge disappointment. It included just 1 HR, his K-rate remained high at 29%, and he drew only 3 BB. However, there is at least a suggestion that he made an adjustment over the course of the season:

First 9 games: 26 PA, .160/.192/.280, 3 2B, 0 HR, 0 BB, 8 K
Last 8 games: 34 PA, .300/.382/.500, 3 2B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 8 K

Small sample sizes both, but I'll keep my hopes up based on his eventual production. The Twins need Benson to have a good year at Rochester in 2011. Even if his K-rate holds at around 30%, if he can put up another OPS > .850 he'll be someone the they can count on in 2012. He's been added to the 40-man roster, and will be a call-up option should one of the corner guys get hurt. And he's the guy I'm hoping will be ready to take over for Michael Cuddyer after his contract expires next year. Benson has the ability to make us forget about Cuddy pretty quickly.

The Twins' Minor League Player of the Year from 2008 & 2009, Revere was added to the 40-man roster in September and got a cup of coffee with the Twins down the stretch. He has hit .300 or better at every level so far, though this year's .305 was a career low, as was his .371 OBP and .363 SLG%. Those numbers were only incrementally lower than his 2009 numbers from Fort Myers, but they seem to suggest that he's reaching his ceiling as a Juan Pierre-style slapper. His 50-SB speed and weak arm also bring Pierre to mind.

Unlike Benson, Revere got off to a fast start in the AFL. He was hitting .370 with 2 doubles and a triple through his first 18 games. But over his last 10 he went just 6 for 39 without an XBH, dropping his final line to a much less impressive .295/.358/.330. He stole 13 bases without being caught.

Revere strikes me as a poor man's Denard Span. The extra value he gives you in speed and batting average is negated by his lower IsoP and even weaker throwing arm. Add the fact that they're both left-handed, and I just can't see them in the OF together at the same time. Revere should remain at AAA for most of the season in case Span gets injured. Maybe he'll have some utility on the postseason roster as a PR should the Twins get that far again. But they should be looking to move him by this time next year. Somebody needs Revere to be their everyday leadoff man - just not the Twins.

Since making his full-season debut in 2009, Gutierrez has split time as a starter and a reliever. The Twins seem to have plenty of capable young starters and a lot of questions in the bullpen right now, so the bullpen is likely where he'll end up. He's got a tremendous sinker and a more or less average strikeout rate. At the moment, control is his biggest problem, as he's walked over 3.7 batters per 9 innings in each of the last 2 seasons. That all adds up to some rather unimpressive WHIPs and ERAs at the upper levels.

He made 12 appearances in the AFL, all out of the 'pen. The good news: in 11 IP, he struck out 10, and induced 21 groundouts and only 1 fly out. The bad news: he walked 9, leading to an unseemly 2.00 WHIP and 6.55 ERA. He'll have to throw more strikes before the Twins can count on him.

He didn't make BA's list, but Bromberg is in the bottom half of some other top 10 prospects lists. From 2007-2009 he was his league's strikeout leader. That string was broken this year, as he didn't quite make it to 6 K/9 at AA, but he rebounded well with 8.1 K/9 in 9 GS for the Red Wings. As he's moved up the organizational ladder, he's increasingly become a flyball pitcher, but that doesn't seem to be of any concern. He's kept his HR/9 down and would play half his schedule with the Twins at Target Field.

In the AFL, he made 6 starts, maxing out at 4.2 IP. He bookended his season with 2 excellent efforts (combined 8 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 11 K). Sandwiched in between them were 4 rough ones (combined 14.2 IP, 25 H, 15 ER, HR, 6 BB, 14 K). In Bromberg's defense, the H/9 numbers were so lousy for the entire Saguaros staff that one has to conclude that the regular defense was terrible. Overall, his peripherals were quite promising: 0.4 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 9.9 K/9. He'll begin next season back at Rochester, and will make a much more intriguing spot start option than Jeff Manship now that he's on the 40-man roster.

The Twins' 1st-round pick from 2006 has been making a slow climb through the system. He repeated A- in 2008 and was briefly demoted to A+ in the middle of 2010. His game has been improving in some facets, however, as he's raised his BA and lowered his K rate over the last few seasons. What may be of some concern is the sudden drop in power - Parmelee hit half as many HR last season as we would have expected from his career averages.

He was repeating the AFL this year, too. He hit .339/.405/.477 with a 17/12 K/BB ratio, but with no HR, continuing the trends from the regular season. Those numbers are solidly above average for the league, though, so the Twins have to be pleased. Between Fort Myers, New Britain and Peoria, he combined to hit .295/.365/.415 with 38 2B, 5 3B, and 8 HR.

The Saguaros used him at first base, but he's logged a lot of time in the OF corners for the Twins' affiliates. His defense has improved, but it doesn't look as though he's going to be an asset in the field. My guess is that the Twins will start him in Rochester next spring and hope that he'll be able to maintain the high average and OBP while seeing just a few more balls fly over the fence. If Parmelee can pull that off, he'll make a nice minimum-wage replacement for Jason Kubel in 2012.

Everyone was understandably excited about Robertson after 2007. At the age of 19, he picked apart the Midwest League, with a 2.29 ERA, .226 opponents' BA, 1.17 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, 10.8 K/9 and only 3 HR allowed in 102.1 IP. As a 6'5" lefty, there was a lot to dream on. But his velocity hasn't improved as he's filled out, and his numbers in all of the categories I listed above have been steadily eroding, even while he repeated A+ in 2009. I wasn't surprised to see him fall apart in the Eastern League, with a 5.41 ERA, .307 opponents' BA, 1.64 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 5.8 K/9 and 17 HR allowed in 149.2 IP. Of the 4 pitchers the Twins' sent to the AFL, I expected the least from Robertson.

At first glance, his 4.50 ERA gives the impression that he was effective. But he allowed 14 R in his 14 IP, it's just that half of them were unearned. He still had a .327 opponents' BA, 1.71 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9, 5.8 K/9 and 2 HR allowed. Certainly no better than he faired over the summer. If there's anything positive to find in this performance, it's that, used entirely in relief by the Saguaros, Robertson faced a disproportionate number of lefties, and handled them to the tune of a .217 BAA, 1.05 WHIP and 9.4 K/9. So he may have a future as a LOOGY. If he can't figure out a way to contain right-handed hitters, that's the only MLB job he can hope for.

The Twins' 3rd 1st-round selection from 2004 (after Trevor Plouffe and Glen Perkins), Waldrop had his progression delayed by a 2008 shoulder surgery. Since his return, he's been used exclusively in the bullpen, and to good effect. In 178.1 IP as a reliever across 3 levels, he's got a 2.32 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and just 7 HR allowed thanks to a G/F rate over 2.3. His 2nd half at Rochester wasn't as impressive as his spring, but a lot of us were expecting him to have a crack at the Matt Guerrier role in 2011.

His AFL experience was a total disaster. His groundball rate remained excellent, so again, I have to cast some aspersions on what must have been a dreadful Saguaros IF. But still, he allowed 24 H in 12.1 IP, including 4 HR, and he walked 6 while striking out just 5. That resulted in a (gulp!) 16.05 ERA. Was he tired after throwing nearly 90 innings out of the 'pen during the regular season? Let's say he was tired. Anyway, his performance was so uninspiring that the Twins chose not to add him to the 40-man roster and nobody selected him in the Rule 5 draft. So he'll come to spring training with as much chance to earn a back-end bullpen spot as several other folks.

Also of Note:

It was at about this time last year that Francisco Liriano's Dominican Winter League numbers first caught my attention. This year's version (in a more subdued way) might be Deolis Guerra. Supposedly one of the premium pieces of the Johan Santana trade after posting a 2.53 ERA in 19 FSL starts in 2007, Guerra has been a mess since joining the Twins' organization. He's been very hittable, with spotty command, and was torched for 19 HR in 127.1 IP in 2010.

However, in his first 7 appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League, he's allowed just 11 ER on 31 H and only 1 HR in 29.2 IP with a stellar 25/3 K/BB ratio. That's a 3.34 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 0.9 BB/9 and 7.6 K/9. All of those are a huge step up from what he was able to do over the last year and a half at the upper levels, against what I would guess is fairly similar competition. It also comes with a vastly improved GB rate of 2.16/FB.

Guerra is still only 21 - almost 6 months younger than 2010 1st round pick Alex Wimmers - and he's already logged 165 IP at AA and 25 at AAA. I'll keep an eye on him. If he's able to maintain those numbers throughout the VWL, he'll come to spring training with a chance to make Rochester's rotation and reassert his relevance on the prospect lists.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Twins send SS JJ Hardy, IF Brendan Harris and $0.5M to Orioles for RHPs James Hoey and Brett Jacobsen

So much for holding their cards.

I was prepared to have Alexi Casilla get his shot at 2B as a savings over what re-signing Orlando Hudson might have cost. Winning the negotiating rights for Tsuyoshi Nishioka briefly gave the Twins the depth to make Casilla the backup MI, while relegating Matt Tolbert to the edges of the 25-man roster (where he probably belongs). But it didn't likely save any money over Hudson. Then all this talk of pushing to re-sign Carl Pavano. Was the payroll going to get a lot bigger than we expected? Perhaps, but there are clearly limits.

Everyone talks about Hardy as someone who's going to make over $6M this year. It didn't have to be that way - I think the Twins could have used Jhonny Peralta's deal with Detroit as a fair comparison and signed Hardy for a 2-year deal at a nominal raise over last season's $5.1M. A player signed for 2 seasons is worth more in a trade than an impending free agent. There was value there, but I think at that moment the Twins were still on the fence about whether to even tender him a contract. And once Juan Uribe got a 3-year, $21M deal from the Dodgers, all hope of signing Hardy for under $6M went out the window.

It's obvious that Gardy was adamant that the Twins and Hardy part company. There's been a lot of talk since the start of the offseason about improving the team by getting faster up the middle. They stole by far the fewest bases in 2010 of any year since Gardy took over. And they probably looked at the way Texas ran all over the Yankees (and perhaps remembered how the Rays ran all over them) and felt like that was their best chance of slaying that particular dragon. And, with Victor Martinez returning to the division and AJ Pierzynski re-upping for 2 more years in Chicago, it's not a bad idea to have a few more base stealers in the lineup.

Hardy wasn't going to do that - he's successfully stolen just 3 bases in the last 3 years. But he's a rock-solid defender at SS, and even surpassed the league average for the position offensively despite another relatively disappointing year at the plate. Target Field wasn't kind to him, though (.252/.313/.340), and there's no reason to think it would get any easier for him in the future. He also had a negative platoon split (.210/.291/.324 vs. LHP) for the 2nd straight year. He didn't hit that great at home, and he doesn't make the lineup tougher on lefties. I can see the Twins feeling ambivalent about his offensive upside. There were probably some personality things there, too, like there were with Kyle Lohse or Matt Garza. If Gardy doesn't want a guy around, the front office usually finds a way to move him along.

Realizing that he would have some trade value, the Twins did tender Hardy a contract. Their biggest need would be low-cost bullpen help. They may have found a 2011 piece in Hoey, who had plus-plus strikeout numbers last year, but walked waaaaaay too many hitters. He had pretty good control before his 2008 shoulder surgery, though. If Rick Anderson can get him headed back in that direction, the Twins might have a minimum-wage replacement for Jesse Crain. If.

I would have preferred to see the Twins land somebody who was more of a sure thing for next season, even if it meant getting only one guy back instead of two. I bet that if they'd held onto Hardy for awhile, even as late as spring training, they would have found a taker desperate enough to upgrade their IF that they'd have given the Twins a better return. But I think Bill Smith looks at it like they just picked up a couple of hard-throwing relievers for nothing, since Hardy might just as easily have been cut loose. Add in the fact that they were able to rid themselves of Harris, and I can't feel too bad about it. I wouldn't have done it, but it's not a disaster.

That's especially true if Nishioka's spectacular 2010 season represents the breakout of a young player, finally healthy, entering his prime. And if the skills that are sufficient to steal bases and win batting titles and gold gloves in Japan translate to the Majors. If.

As for Casilla, a lot of people have been tossing around his career numbers and poor defense at 2B as an indication of what kind of talent he has (i.e. not much). He was dreadful in 2007 and 2009, but one of those years was his first taste of the big leagues as a 22-year-old. I'll give him a mulligan on 2007. Over the last 3 seasons he's at .256/.316/.344 in 863 PA, with 29 doubles, 7 triples, 8 homers and 24/27 stolen bases. The slash line isn't too far from the average bottom of the order hitter, and the SB numbers are great. In 2008 and 2010, his numbers were pretty comparable to Hardy's last year. As for defense at SS, he hasn't played enough innings there to give a good picture by the defensive metrics, but so far they rate as right around average. By swapping Casilla for Hardy, the Twins probably stand to lose some defensively, gain a lot of speed, and match what they were getting offensively. If Casilla can deliver another season like '08 and '10. If.

I guess that's my biggest problem with these maneuvers. The Twins have a huge pile of question marks heading into 2011, and some of them won't work out. With Hardy in the fold, the Twins had 3 potential starters for 2 positions, giving them a fallback if one of them gets hurt or doesn't work out. Now, the fallback is Tolbert, or perhaps Trevor Plouffe. That doesn't mean that they're doomed next year, or that the team is necessarily weaker than it was. It just means that Smith is more of a gambling man than I thought. He's betting the farm on Casilla and Nishioka. He'd better be right.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tender Moment

With the arbitration and contract tender deadlines behind us and the winter meetings just ahead, let's check in on the Twins' offseason so far...


The Twins exercised their $5.25M option on Jason Kubel, but declined Nick Punto's $5M option with a $0.5M buyout.

Kubel is a good value for that price, especially if he is deployed in such a way that he avoids playing the field and facing LHP. The injury to Justin Morneau made that difficult to accommodate, which may help to account for Kubel's disappointing 2nd half numbers. But even with a down year in 2010, over the last 3 years his .881 OPS vs. RHP is impressive - about 90% of what Adam Dunn has, er, done. And the White Sox will be paying him $14M.

As for Punto, he didn't stack up well next to the other internal options last year:

Punto: 288 PA, .238/.313/.302
Casilla: 170 PA, .276/.331/.395
Tolbert: 100 PA, .230/.293/.379

No sense paying Nick 8-10 times more money to do worse than Casilla and Tolbert. Add in the fact that he's 4 years older than Tolbert and 6 years older than Casilla, and it's a pretty easy decision to let him walk.


The Twins offered arbitration to Type A free agent Carl Pavano, but not to Matt Guerrier. They offered arbitration to Type B free agents Orlando Hudson and Jesse Crain, but not to Brian Fuentes or Jon Rauch. Pavano, Hudson and Crain all declined.

I was hoping the Twins would be bold with the relievers, particularly after Joaquin Benoit signed early with Detroit for 3 years, $16.5M. Certainly Crain feels he's in that league, but why wouldn't Fuentes, too? Arbitration might get him a bigger 2011 salary, but not as much guaranteed money as the 2-3 year deal he and Rauch are surely looking for.

In any event, the front office played it safe, and will likely net 4 extra top 50 picks, which is plenty. I guess.


The Twins won the rights to negotiate with Japanese Pacific League batting champ Tsuyoshi Nishioka with a $5.3M bid.

I've got to hand it to Bill Smith for this. That's thinking about 10,000 miles outside the box on how to replace Orlando Hudson. Nishioka is a switch-hitting MI, with terrific contact skills and a pretty decent OBP. He also likes to steal bases and plays gold-glove caliber defense up the middle - for the JPL, at least. He's the ideal fit for the #2 spot in the order. And he's only 26, so his best years may be just ahead. Just have to sign him now...


The Twins offered 2011 contracts to all unsigned, team controlled players on the 40-man roster.

There were only a couple of question marks here. There was a lot of speculation that JJ Hardy might be non-tendered, especially once the Nishioka news came out. But even if the Twins intend to use Casilla at SS in 2011, the dearth of viable MI free agents makes Hardy a valuable commodity. The Twins should be able to get something pretty nice back if they elect to trade him. But I count myself among those who still hope that they'll hold onto him for awhile. At least until Nishioka signs on the dotted line, and hopefully into spring training. Casilla's doing OK in Winter Ball, but I'm not sold yet...

I would have probably cut Glen Perkins loose at this point. But I don't suppose there's a huge downside in giving him one more chance to show that he can be worth something. There are lots of holes in the bullpen, but I suspect he'll find his way onto the waiver wire at some point next year.

Pretty quiet so far, which is fine with me. However, there are some indications that everyone may have underestimated how much the Twins have to spend this season. If that's the case, we might be in for a few (hopefully welcome) surprises this offseason.