Sunday’s series finale against the Astros was essentially two hours of my life that I will never get back. I think I
passed out fell asleep on the couch around the fifth inning or so. The Twins had to go with their C-squad lineup since Justin Morneau was out, Jason Kubel got sick in the middle of the game, and Denard Span won’t be back at least until Thursday. I guess one run on two hits is about all that can be expected of a lineup comprised of all the worst hitters on the team. Glen Perkins didn’t have a terrible outing, the Astros got a bunch of lucky breaks in the first inning that scored three runs, but he also walked as many batters as he struck out and benefited from some run-saving catches by Carlos Gomez. So, I guess I should be glad that one of the most boring 4-1 losses I’ve ever witnessed could have easily been more like the most boring 5-or-6-to-1 loss I’ve ever seen.
In an effort to
make moves for the sake of making moves address the bullpen issue, the Twins have called up Bobby Keppel and DFA’d Luis Ayala. Yes, cycling through replacement-level relief pitchers is exactly the sort of bold vision and creative thinking from the front office that will bring us straight to the top of the division.
By the way, it’s been almost a year since Bill Smith said about the dumbest f***ing thing I’ve ever heard a GM in baseball say. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the man in charge of your Minnesota Twins.
Yeah, Harold Reynolds said something dumb about OPS or something, too. I think he was just trying to point out that OPS isn’t perfect and shouldn’t be the decisive factor in determining a player’s worth, albeit in a semi-literate way. He’s actually right about that. I dunno. I guess it doesn’t bother me that much when analysts don’t seem to have a basic knowledge of stats and how they work because HAROLD REYNOLDS ISN’T RUNNING MY FAVORITE BASEBALL TEAM.
Brother, can you spare Brad Pitt $50 million to finance the Moneyball movie? Columbia has suspended production on the project, citing problems with the script. It’s probably just as well. I can’t imagine that a film based on the use of advanced metrics to identify undervalued skills (like drawing walks) and help a small-market team remain competitive in the era of free agency would be compelling to anyone other than baseball nerds.
Don Fehr is stepping down after more than 20 years as president of the MLBPA. I actually have kind of mixed feelings about this. He did play a central role in the whole steroids mess by resisting PED testing for years (and then failing to have the results of the 2003 tests destroyed, as he was supposed to). However, I don’t think there has ever been a stronger advocate for the rights of players, and without his leadership the MLBPA would now be about as powerful as the NFLPA. It was, after all, Fehr who successfully took on the borderline criminal tactics employed by the owners to screw players out of their money, and I’m sure guys like Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabbathia are grateful for that. Unfortunately, it was probably his unwavering opposition to MLB and the owners that kept him from having those initial test results destroyed, and the ensuing PR nightmare has ultimately screwed over the very players he fought so hard to protect.
- Twins hit four homers and lose anyway
ZOMG, this is the most unclutchiest lineup ever!!!11!! I mean, for the most part, clutch hitting has a lot more to do with luck than skill. In general, even the greatest hitters will fail more often than not with runners in scoring position, that’s just how the game works. It sucks, it’s frustrating, but that’s just the way it is. Which is why I find this article in the Star Tribune so irritating. To suggest that the problem is that the Twins are relying too much on the long ball and not speed or sacrifice hits (i.e., Twins baseball) is ridiculous. The power hitters in the lineup have been remarkably productive, with Joe Mauer batting .421/.490/.738, Justin Morneau .324/.398/.524 (which is pretty good, considering that he’s been in a slump recently), Jason Kubel .315/.377/.546, and even Michael Cuddyer is starting to pick things up, hitting .281/.360/.518 with 10 homers. Joe Crede has been kind of an exception since he has a paltry .228 BA and .303 OPB, but he also has a .451 slugging percentage and is on pace to hit 20+ homers this year, so he isn’t really part of the problem, either. The real problem has been the lack of production from the bottom of the order, and it has been all season. The Twins certainly aren’t lacking speed in the lineup, with Carlos Gomez, Matt Tolbert, and even Nick Punto all threats to steal, but the three have struggled to get on base consistently. Delmon Young hasn’t been living up to his potential, either, batting .258/.286/.302 while looking horribly uncomfortable at the plate. The good news is that Gomez, Punto, and Young have all taken huge steps forward this month (Yes, even Gomez. He’s drawing more walks and isn’t swinging at so many pitches outside the strike zone, he just hasn’t had much to show for it in the way of results). The bad news however, is that all three are still barely replacement-level position players.
After tonight’s loss to Houston, the Twins have fallen back to the .500 mark and are three games behind the Tigers. This time, the offense wasn’t the problem, since they hit four homers and scored five runs. No, this time it was the pitching staff, specifically the bullpen that fell down. The Twins had a 3-2 lead in the seventh, until Sean Henn came in to relieve Scott Baker. Henn surrendered three runs in the seventh (one was charged to Baker), including a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Jason Michaels, and was yanked in favor of Luis Ayala after recording only one out. I had written before that the pitching isn’t as bad as fans tend to think, and that’s true. But it hasn’t been that great, either. The starting rotation has started to settle down and pitch effectively, but the bullpen is still an issue. While Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan have been as reliable as ever, and R.A. Dickey is settling into the long relief role, the rest of the ‘pen is simply a disaster waiting to happen. Ayala has been much more effective recently, but he pitches to contact and can’t really be used in close games with runners on base. Jose Mijares hasn’t been too bad, posting a 2.57 ERA in twenty-four appearances, but he’s also been suffering from control issues (his 1.70 K/BB ratio isn’t good) and is bound to get hit hard eventually. The Twins clearly need bullpen help, but so does pretty much everybody else in the league, which will obviously complicate matters at the trade deadline. Still, I guess we should be glad that our bullpen isn’t as bad as the Indians’. Yikes.
- Speaking of homers
Mauer hit his 14th of the season, setting a new career record, and it isn’t even officially summer yet. It was an opposite-field blast (of course) that had given the Twins a 3-1 lead at the time. Someday, opposing pitchers will figure out that it isn’t a good idea to throw him fastballs on the outside corner. Hopefully he’ll hit 20 homers before they do. Obviously, Mauer isn’t going to put up such Pujolsian numbers all season long, since the physical demands of being a catcher will catch up to him eventually. As of right now, though, Mauer is the most valuable player in the league, and it isn’t even close.
Sorry, Jays fans, but you would feel the same way if your team had been so completely and thoroughly embarrassed by one pesky team over the years. I can’t say I expected the Twins to actually win this game, since they have never beaten Roy Halladay. Ever. But things were much, much closer than the final score would indicate. Francisco Liriano has started to pitch like the old Frankie (or at least the one who came up in August last year), giving up one earned run in six innings, though the earned run was sort of questionable as Brendan Harris wasn’t playing deeply enough to catch the relay throw from Denard Span, allowing Jose Bautista to easily advance to third on a deep fly ball by Marco Scutaro and then score on a single. Other than a couple of doubles and a walk, Frankie was nearly spotless and struck out five Blue Jays before exiting the game after the sixth.
Unfortunately, the bullpen brought gas cans to the mound in the seventh. Three different relievers combined for seven runs on six hits in that inning, including a grand slam to Kevin Millar given up by R.A. Dickey (on the very first pitch, nonetheless). Matt Guerrier started things off with a two-run homer to Marco Scutaro. When he gave up a single to Vernon Wells, lefty Craig Breslow was brought in to face Adam Lind. Breslow proceeded to allow another run on a wild pitch and walk two more batters, loading the bases. He was then lifted in favor of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (who had just pitched nearly three innings in relief the night before) who promptly hung a knuckleball, and there went the ballgame.
The pitching staff has been roughed up a bit in the first few weeks of the season, but I still think it’s too early to panic just yet. The starting rotation has at least shown signs that they will recover from their early struggles. Glen Perkins has been the lone bright spot in the rotation so far this season, Francisco Liriano has rebounded nicely from his first two rough starts, and righties Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker will probably bounce back as well. Nick Blackburn, well, he is what he is, though he hasn’t exactly been terrible this season, either. He pitches to contact and will probably always give up a lot of runs (he’s a lot like Carlos Silva), but he should at least pitch a solid 6-7 innings per game. The bullpen, however, gives me cause for concern. The Twins do have a reliable set-up man in Jesse Crain and a decent seventh-inning guy in Matt Guerrier, but the rest of the ‘pen is kind of a mess. Neither Philip Humber nor Luis Ayala have shown much this year, and Ayala will probably be released sometime by June (if not before then). R.A. Dickey was effective as a reliever for the Mariners last year, but a knuckleballer probably isn’t the best choice in tight situations. Lefty Craig Breslow was a pleasant surprise last year, holding lefties to a .183/.230/.323 line and righties to .221/.230/.233, but has struggled to even find the plate in his five relief appearances so far this season. There isn’t a large sample size to draw from, but Breslow hasn’t shown a penchant for wildness thus far in his career, so this might just be a bit of a hiccup.
Update: apparently the Twins have gotten sick of Humber and his penchant for leaving his curveball up over the plate and have designated him for assignment. They have picked up Juan Morillo from Colorado to take Humber’s spot in the bullpen. Morillo hasn’t fared much better than Humber so far (he has an ERA of 11.42 in 8.2 innings), but his 96 mph fastball is very intriguing. He throws very hard, but has issues with his command (he had an 80 walk season in 2006). Maybe pitching coach Rick Anderson will be able to work his magic and get him to throw strikes. At the very least, Morillo will keep a spot warm for either Jose Mijares or Anthony Swarzak.
- Korecky is claimed off waivers by Arizona
In order to make room on the 40-man roster for Luis Ayala (who is now officially a Twin), Bobby Korecky was placed on waivers and subsequently claimed by the Diamondbacks. It’s unfortunate that the Twins had to lose the right-handed reliever without getting anything in return, but obviously they were going to have to trade or release somebody to make room on the roster for Ayala. Even after losing Korecky, the Twins are carrying an ungodly 12 pitchers on the active roster. And they are still looking for bullpen help.
Other than a brief call-up last spring, Korecky has spent his entire career in the minor leagues. He wasn’t terrible during his short stint in the bullpen last season, but he wasn’t exactly brilliant either, surrendering nine runs on nineteen hits in a mere sixteen relief appearances. I realize Diamondbacks fans aren’t going to get excited about a thirty-year old career minor leaguer, but Korecky hasn’t had much of a chance to show what he can do, either. The Twins have always had a lot of bullpen depth, and there just isn’t a lot of room on the roster for a soft-tossing righty. Instead, the guy who was thrown in as an afterthought in the Eric Milton trade spent most of last year as the closer for the Rochester Red Wings. He was a pretty good one at that, posting a 2.91 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 5.28 FIP, and recorded 26 saves for the Twins’ AAA affiliate. At least Wings fans are going to miss him, anyway.
On a more interesting note, Korecky was the first Twins pitcher to get a hit as the DH in an American League game since the rule was implemented in 1973. He hit a single in the Twins’ twelve inning victory over the Texas Rangers on May 19, 2008 (and recorded his first major league win, too).
It was obvious with the signing of Ayala, and the fact that both Boof Bonser and Philip Humber are out of options, that Korecky had little chance of making the team out of spring training. It’s unfortunate, too, as he does have the potential to be a decent middle reliever. Hopefully he’ll find a permanent home with the Diamondbacks.
- Speaking of Boof….
Apparently Bonser is still having problems with his shoulder. He was supposed to start throwing today, but the inflammation in his shoulder still hasn’t subsided and Boof is adamant that he can’t pitch through the pain. An MRI on the shoulder revealed no structural damage, so it looks like the chubby right-hander is suffering from a bad case of tendinitis. The team doctors have decided to keep him on his throwing program for now, hoping that the problem will work itself out. He is scheduled to throw again today, so we will see…
- The Twins are reportedly out of the running in the Joe Crede Sweepstakes
The Twins and third-baseman Joe Crede have apparently reached a stalemate in contract negotiations. The front office refuses to accept Crede’s reportedly $7 million price tag, and Crede is refusing to accept a lesser deal. If he does indeed want that much money, I think the Twins would be wise to pass on him at this point. Although they could really use his bat in the lineup, his injury history is certainly cause for concern. I doubt Crede’s surgically-repaired back would hold up on the Dome’s rock-hard turf, so the Twins are probably better off sticking with the Harris/Buscher platoon for now.
Besides, Justin Morneau doesn’t think the Twins need another third baseman.
- The End of an Era
Touch and Go records is downsizing, according to Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune. Given the current state of the economy, they’ve decided they can do without their distribution services and most of their staff in general. This isn’t entirely unexpected news, since a lot of indie labels are struggling right now, but it makes me sad that the label that produced a lot of my favorite music growing up might shutter its doors completely by the end of the year.
For those unfamiliar with the label, here is some of their best work:
Pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training on Monday, and some players have already showed up at Ft. Myers so I’d like to finish my analysis of the Twins roster this season. Here is a look at the relief corps:
- Luis Ayala, RHP: Obviously the Twins got tired of watching other teams sign quality relief pitchers at bargain prices and decided to get in on the action. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten about the “quality” part and simply went for “cheap” when they inked Ayala to a one-year $1.3 million deal last week. Ayala was once a dominant relief pitcher until he had Tommy John surgery in 2005, since then he’s posted an ERA+ of 77 and a 4.47 FIP. I do actually think that Ayala is a better pitcher than his record indicates, but I don’t think he’s the set-up man the Twins are looking for. Actually, this signing throws the futures of Boof Bonser and Philip Humber with the team into question, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
- Boof Bonser, RHP: The signing of Ayala leaves little room on the roster for Bonser, who is similar to Ayala in that they are both righties who have struggled mightily in their past couple of seasons. I have already written a detailed piece on Bonser here, and unless the Twins are planning on carrying 13 pitchers or trading him, they might just end up losing him for nothing. Which would be a shame, since I think Boof could be a dominant relief pitcher if he could just accept his role in the bullpen.
- Craig Breslow, LHP: Breslow was claimed off waivers from the Indians early last season, and he’s been a steal so far. He put up a stellar 249 ERA+ and 2.96 FIP last season, and has taken over Dennys Reyes’ former role as the situational lefty. He doesn’t throw hard, but he managed to limit lefties to a .183/.230/.232 line last season. Although he has pitched well in some big spots, he doesn’t have enough success against righties to earn the set-up role (though he could probably platoon with Jesse Crain).
Other interesting things about Breslow: he graduated from Yale with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biophysics in 2002. He has his own foundation, the Strike 3 Foundation, dedicated to childhood cancer research (his sister Leslie is a 15 year survivor of thyroid cancer). He’s also nicknamed the “smartest man in baseball” by the local beat writers.
- Jesse Crain, RHP: Crain struggled a bit last season, posting a 113 ERA+ and 3.98 FIP in 66 relief appearances. Considering that he was coming off of shoulder surgery in the offseason, he actually pitched fairly well. I do think Crain will be better this year, and will probably share eighth-inning duties with either Craig Breslow or Jose Mijares.
He kind of looks like an evil elf, too.
- Matt Guerrier, RHP: I have already written about Guerrier here. I think that if Matty G can return to his previous role in the sixth and seventh innings, he will be fine. Fatigue seemed to be a major factor in his decline last season, and the signing of Ayala will at least take some of the pressure off of him.
- Philip Humber, RHP: Humber came over as part of the Johan Santana trade, and so far has been underwhelming. He was once a very promising pitching prospect until he had Tommy John surgery in 2005 and hasn’t been the same pitcher since. Humber pitched 136 innings in AAA Rochester last season, and posted a 4.56 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Needless to say, he didn’t exactly nail his September audition when he gave up 6 earned runs on 11 hits in five appearances with the Twins. The signing of Ayala also puts Humber’s future with the club in jeapordy, since he is out of options the Twins will either have to trade him or simply release him.
- Bobby Korecky, RHP: Korecky has been the closer for the Rochester Red Wings, and hasn’t been too bad in his few appearances with the Twins. Last season he posted an ERA+ of 88 and FIP of 5.28 in 17.7 innings pitched, which is pretty average. However, with the signing of Ayala, there probably won’t be room for Korecky on the roster. He’ll most likely start the season in AAA, and will only be called up in case of injury or should Ayala turn out to be a bust.
- Jose Mijares, LHP: Mijares is the only other left-handed pitcher in the Twins bullpen. He is a very intriguing prospect and posted a sparkling 465 ERA+ and 2.16 FIP in ten appearances with the Twins last season. However, his minor league record certainly doesn’t indicate that he will continue to be as brilliant. More troubling, Mijares seems to lack maturity which could be a problem if he has to pitch himself out of a jam (he didn’t have such a problem during his few relief appearances with the Twins). According to this report, he was kicked off of his Venezuelan winter league team after a disagreement with the manager. It would be a shame for someone who shows so much promise, as Mijares does, to waste his talent simply because he can’t get his temper under control (hmm, shades of Matt Garza?). He is hardly a lock to make the team out of Spring Training and I would expect him to start the season in AAA.
- Joe Nathan, RHP: There isn’t much to say about Joe Nathan, other than that he is one of the best closers in baseball. And I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. Despite having six blown saves last season (three of which were because of defensive miscues) Nathan was his usual, nasty self, posting a 305 ERA+ and a 2.79 FIP. There was a period of a couple of weeks, mostly during that horrendous 14-day road trip during August, in which he really struggled. Nathan was having trouble with his command, and just generally looked lost up there on the mound. Luckily he rediscovered his dominant form and pitched brilliantly down the stretch.
- Pat Neshek, RHP: Neshek has been the Twins’ primary set-up man for the past three seasons, and has been a very a dominant one at that. Unfortunately, he’s going to miss the entire 2009 season with Tommy-John surgery and it’s still unclear who is going to replace him in the meantime (or if he’ll even be back). At least now he’ll have more time to write on his blog, be a vegan, and trade baseball cards.
Like the outfield, the bullpen is hardly set. Although most of the relievers are guaranteed spots, it will be interesting to see what the Twins decide to do with Humber and Bonser. Both are out of options, and I would really hate to lose either one without getting anything in return. The Twins once had the best bullpen in the league, but the ‘pen has struggled mightily as of late. While I would be extremely surprised if this particular group is as dominant as the one in ’06, they should be better than last year’s relief corps(e).
Last in the series: the catchers