Thursday, January 27, 2011

Too Much Pitching

Twins claim LHP Dusty off waivers from the Royals; designate RHP Rob Delaney for assignment.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn't a big deal. Whether the Twins prefer one middle reliever over another is probably of little consequence, as neither is necessarily going to earn a spot in the Twins' new-look bullpen. Hughes has perhaps a little more to recommend him, in that he's actually pitched 70.1 IP in the Majors with pretty decent results. And he's left-handed, though his platoon splits so far don't show so much disparity that he should be thought of as a LOOGY.

Then again, Delaney showed improvement in some aspects of his game in his 2nd go-around at Rochester. His BB/9 went from 2.8 to 2.6, and he really turned on the strikeouts, going from 7.2 K/9 up to 10.4. His H/9 and HR/9 went the wrong way, though, and he had a particularly poor season with respect to stranding baserunners - his own and those he inherited. Of course, that may have been triggered by the tremendous workload he's shouldered over the last two seasons. He went from 69 IP in 2007 to 65 IP in 2008 (+13 IP in the AFL) to 83 IP in 2009 and 81 IP last year. 68-70 IP is more typical of relievers these days. Give the poor guy a little rest and see what he can do this year.

After all, there are 3 major skills I would look for in a middle relief fireman:
  1. Ability to miss bats. The surest way to keep those inherited RISP from coming home is to keep the batter from putting the ball in play
  2. Ability to throw strikes. You don't want a reliever coming into a men-on situation to make things worse by falling into a hitter's count or giving up free passes.
  3. Ability to induce ground balls. Nothing kills a rally faster than a GIDP.
Delaney isn't much a ground ball guy, but he has the first two qualities in spades. In fact, of all the relievers the Twins currently have on their 40-man roster, the only ones who have a better combination of K/9 and BB/9 than Delaney are working their way back from TJS. Though he wasn't a sure thing to make the opening day roster, I would think he had as good a chance as anyone else the Twins are bringing in. Which brings me to this:

"[Hughes] will just add to the competition for our bullpen spots," Twins General Manager Bill Smith said. "We lost a lot of guys that were with us at the end of the season, so we're adding to the depth."

Um, Bill, how does swapping one reliever for another add to the depth? Delaney has to clear waivers now. If somebody else claims him, the Twins won't have added anything. If the idea was to add bullpen depth, they should have dropped a non-reliever from the 40-man roster to clear space for Hughes.

The present state of the 40-man roster is pretty baffling. Never mind that it only has 2 catchers on it at the moment, and that one of them can't hit. The Twins have just 9 relievers on the roster, competing for spots in what we can assume will be a 7-man bullpen. Personally, I'd like to have at least 2 guys in camp for every question mark. The Twins have at least 4 question marks in the 'pen right now, and that's not including Joe Nathan.

What really puzzles me, though, is that there are presently 12 starters on the 40-man, and it's a case of quantity over quality. There are 6 starters for 5 rotation spots on the 25-man roster: Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing. There are 7 guys for the 5 rotation spots at Rochester: Jeff Manship, Anthony Swarzak, David Bromberg, Eric Hacker and non-roster invitees Kyle Gibson, Chuck James and Yorman Bazardo. The other 2 spots go to former top prospects: Deolis Guerra, who just had a nice little winter in Venezuela but is still likely headed for a repeat at AA, and Glen Perkins, who should have been non-tendered.

Of course, some of those guys, such as Duensing and Perkins, even Manship, could be considered as bullpen guys. Maybe that's the way the organization is looking at them already. That still wouldn't straighten things out in my mind, though. That's because the 40-man roster is for:
  1. Guys on the active roster.
  2. Guys who are ready to fill in when somebody gets hurt.
  3. Prospects you want to protect from the Rule 5 draft.
I think it's extremely likely that 6 of these starters from the 40-man won't make the active roster. Of those, 2 qualify as prospects: Guerra and Bromberg. The other 4 have all reached their ceiling as no better than 5th starters. What good could they be with respect to #2 above?

Imagine that the Twins don't trade any of their top starters, sending Duensing back to the bullpen to start the year. If somebody in the rotation needs to go on the DL for any more than 2-3 starts, Duensing gets stretched out and takes the vacated spot, and needs to be replaced by a reliever. If it's a case where the Twins only need a spot start or two, they could certainly go to Manship, who filled that role ably once or twice last season. Hacker could do the job, too, if they prefer. One of those guys might be needed, but probably not both. And that's only true of the first 2-3 months of the season. After that, Gibson and Bromberg will each have made 15+ career starts at Rochester and, as more talented, higher-upside players, would presumably give the Twins more value in a spot start or two than replacement level filler like the other guys.

I can envision no scenario in which Swarzak contributes in 2011. He made no appearances with the Twins in 2010, mainly because he was routinely getting spanked at AAA. He carried that poor performance into Venezuela this winter. Even if the entire rotation fell apart, I bet the Twins would rush the rookies into service before they used Swarzak. He's just taking up space right now. So why wasn't he the one dropped to make room for Hughes? I doubt anyone would have claimed him. And if someone had, well, shrug.

It will be interesting to see how much the 40-man roster changes by the end of spring training. I wouldn't be surprised to see more than 3 of the NRIs find themselves in the fold, with surplus deadweight like Swarzak and Perkins dismissed to clear room. That day can't come soon enough for me.

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