Monday, September 1, 2014

Goodbye, Deduno

Sam Deduno had
 a 16-18, 4.26 record
with the Twins.
The Twins' second-half roster churn continued during the weekend with Sam Deduno going to the Houston Astros on outright waivers.

Deduno spent most of the season in the bullpen and was better in that role (3.21 ERA in 22 outings, 53.1 innings) than in his eight starts (6.52 ERA in just 38.2 innings). It seems safe to infer that the Twins figured they have better choices for the 2015 bullpen, and I think that's true.

Deduno spend bits of the past three seasons with the Twins, and always seemed more interesting as a rotation candidate. He had a couple of stretches in which it seemed he might finally have tamed his self-described "crazy fastball." But those stretches never lasted. His lack of command and injury history meant he wasn't capable of working deep into games.

Aaron Thompson had
an ERA of 3.98 for
Triple A Rochester
this year.
When the Twins waived Deduno, they already had two openings on the 40-man roster. They filled one with Aaron Thompson, a left-handed reliever who entered the organization the same winter Deduno did and in the same manner (as a minor-league free agent). Thompson was added to the 25-man roster Sunday and made his first major-league appearance since 2011, when he worked four games for Pittsburgh.

Thompson's September trial appears to indicate a dissatisfaction with the left-handed set-up men, Brian Duensing and Caleb Thielbar. I don't expect Thompson to be any improvement on them, and I expect the Twins to look for more lefty bullpen alternatives this winter. (Neither Duensing nor Theilbar are eligible for free agency this winter.) Or the Twins could consider giving one or more of the lefties in the upper minors a shot. (Mason Melotakis, headed to the Arizona Fall League, comes promptly to mind.)

One such lefty, Edgar Ibarra, was dropped from the 40 on Sunday, once again creating three openings. So I suspect that the Twins plan to add three players now off the 40-man roster for the season's final month. That fun can begin today, although the call-ups probably won't happen until Rochester and New Britain end their seasons.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pic of the Week

The Padres' Will Venable grounds out in the
first inning Wednesday in San Diego.
Late August, and suddenly the shadows are longer and the light a little thinner.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mike Trout, Alex Gordon and the MVP race

Alex Gordon (4) is pretty clearly the best player on the
first-place Kansas City Royals. Does that make him
the MVP?

Alex Gordon had himself an impressive series this week against the Twins: A game-winning walk-off homer on Tuesday, a run-into-the-fence catch on Wednesday, a game-tying seventh-inning homer on Thursday.

Production and drama make a potent combination. Narrative, for better or worse, tends to drive MVP voting, and the rise of the Royals provides a first-rate narrative.

This led the great Joe Posnanski to compose a pair of blog posts -- here and here -- on the topic of Gordon's MVP candidacy.

(Posnanski was at those games, and I was home with the TV and/or radio broadcasts, but I have to say: I didn't notice the "M-V-P" chants he cites. But I keep the TV turned down now that Bert Blyleven is back on the broadcasts, and the crowds weren't so large as to force me to take notice.)

Pos makes a variety of great points, among them mentioning in the first post how some in the sabermetric community see the WAR stat being used (in the great Vin Scully line) as a drunk uses a lamppost (for support rather than illumination).

Mike Trout's glovework is not as
highly rated these days as it once was.
But it's the theme of the second post -- that Mike Trout, the best player in baseball the past two years but not recognized by the BBWAA vote as the MVP, is morphing from an incredibly broad talent into something closer to a Miggy Cabrera skill set -- that had me nodding my head in agreement.

Trout is an incredible player -- but he doesn't run as well, or at least as often, as he did two years ago, and the defensive metrics aren't as kind to his fielding. This flies in the face of the nearly omnipresent MLB ad that boasts: Mike Trout can do anything. All you have to do is ask. The anything is fading.

Bill James wrote decades ago that players who do a lot of things well tend to be underappreciated, and those who do one thing very well tend to get more recognition than they should. Trout in 2012 and 2013 did everything very well. Miguel Cabrera did a few things even better, and got the awards.

Trout's skill set is narrowing, and now he might finally win the award. There's an irony in that.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Contemplating Tommy Milone

Tommy Milone in the first inning Thursday
night in Kansas City.
Tommy Milone, in some ways, was better Thursday night than his line score, which showed him allowing four runs, all earned, in 5.1 innings.

And in some ways he was just as ineffective as that line score indicated.

The Twins defense didn't help the lefty much. Milone picked Lorenzo Cain off in the fourth inning, but Brian Dozier dropped the throw from first baseman Chris Parmelee. No error was charged, and Cain scored on a following single. Earned run, but it shouldn't have happened,

Oswaldo Arcia played a leadoff single in the fifth into a leadoff triple. One out later, another single, another run.

Take either or both of those runs away, and Milone's line looks better.

On the other hand, he faced 26 hitters and gave up nine hits and two walks (.423 on-base percentage), and he didn't strike out a batter. He did throw strikes (55 strikes in 88 pitches) and get ahead of hitters (20 first-pitch strikes), but he had trouble putting hitters away.

Milone came to the Twins from Oakland with a reputation as a low-velocity pitcher who kept the ball off the sweet spot of the bat. So far we've only seen the lack of velocity.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Contemplating Liam Hendriks

Liam Hendriks threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 25
hitters he faced Wednesday night.
Liam Hendriks made 28 starts for the Twins over a three-year stretch before they cut him loose last winter (to make room on the roster for free-agent signee Phil Hughes). None of those starts were as good as his outting Wednesday night for the Royals against the Twins. He took a perfect game into the fifth inning and he didn't allow a run until the seventh.

Hendriks didn't get the win, but he was very effective.

This gave my (rather Twins-oriented) Twitter feed a theme for the night: How can Liam Freaking Hendriks be shutting out the Twins?

Well, there are a number of reasons. Hendriks (and Hughes) benefited from a generous outside corner, for one thing.

But another factor in why Hendriks appeared so much better in his Kansas City debut than he ever did with the Twins: The Royals put a high-quality defense in the field behind him. The Twins seldom did.

For example: Hendriks' final start for the Twins came on Sept. 16, 2013. He didn't make it out of the first inning: two outs, seven runs allowed.

The Twins outfield for that game: Alex Presley in center, flanked by Oswaldo Arcia in left and Chris Herrmann in right. The infield: Chris Parmelee at first, Eduardo Escobar at second, Trevor Plouffe at third, Pedro Florimon at short. Josmil Pinto caught.

The defense Kansas City put behind Hendriks Wednesday night was, in my estimation, markedly better at every position except first base and maybe second base. I'm not saying Hendriks was good that night against the White Sox; I will say that defense, and particularly the outfielders, wasn't going to do him any favors -- certainly not of the kind that Alex Gordon did with a catch off Kurt Suzuki.

I don't know that Hendriks is going to be an effective major league starter. I do know that his minor league numbers are very good, and I have long believed that the Twins handled him far too impatiently, particularly in 2012.

It's taken four years of sporadic starts, but the Rule of 30 finally applies to Hendriks; Wednesday was his 32nd big-league start. The Rule of 30 says you give a pitcher 30 starts before you decide if he can succeed in the majors. Right or wrong, the Twins were never willing to go more than a month with him in the rotation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Arizona dreaming

Max Kepler in 2013 with Cedar Rapids. The Twins
have a decision to make on the 21-year-old, and his
assignment to the Arizona Fall League figures to
play a role in that decision.
It is a sign of where the Twins are that the most intriguing news of the day Tuesday was the Arizona Fall League assignments.

The highlight of that: Byron Buxton, sidelined now by his post collision concussion, is slated to play for the Salt River Rafters. This is seen as an indication that the Twins expect their top prospect to be ready to roll by October, when the prospect-heavy league gets rolling.

The Twins don't often have players repeat the AzFL, but all three of the position players on this opening list were there last year: Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler. All three have had disappointing seasons, Buxton because of injuries; Rosario with a 50-game suspension and a prolonged behavior-based benching; and Kepler presumably from his rawness.

Kepler is currently on the 40-man roster, but the German hasn't had a particularly strong season at high-A Fort Myers (.257/.330/.386), and the Twins may be considering whether they can risk exposing him to the Rule 5 draft. He remains an intriguing athlete and just turned 21, and the always optimistic Seth Stohs says he's been playing better of late. I expect the Twins will keep him on the 40, but this assignment may be an important test for him.

Rosario is another matter. He had a real opportunity this year to push his way to the majors, and did nothing with it. He's due to be added to the 40 this winter, and the Twins probably will do so, but they can't be pleased with what they've seen from him.

Three pitchers were also assigned to the AzFL: Right-hander Jason Adam (acquired from Kansas City for Josh Willingham) and left-handers Taylor Rogers and Mason Melotakis. All three are currently in Double A.

Adam, shifted this year to the bullpen by Kansas City, is being repositioned by the Twins as a starter, and they presumably want to add innings to his year.

Melotakis, a second-round pick in 2012, may be a dark-horse bullpen candidate for 2015; he certainly figures to have a higher ceiling than Caleb Thielbar.

Rogers has compiled pretty good numbers as a starter the past two years as he climbed from low A to Double A, albeit without imposing strikeout rates. I'm sure the Twins have a reason to send him to the fall league, but I'm not sure what it is. He doesn't appear to need the innings.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Tigers veteran arson squad

Joe Nathan has 27 saves for the Tigers -- and six blown
saves, with an ERA of 5.36. He has one more year
at $10 million left on his contract.
One of my many pet theories is that the bullpen is a measuring stick for an organization's competency. Relief pitching is both fragile and available. Good organizations, my theory holds, are aware of this and constantly re-evaluate their bullpens and seek to rebuild them on the fly. Top-notch managers are usually adept at identifying the failed starters whose strengths lend themselves to relief work and find the proper matchups.

That's the theory, and then there's the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have dominated the AL Central the past three seasons and remain in the hunt this year, but their bullpens have been more hindrance than help. Given how well general manager Dave Dombrowski has done over the years in other aspects of the roster, that's surprising.

This year's Tigers bullpen is an assemblage of "proven closers" unlike almost any I can remember. Between the 40-man roster and the 60-day disabled list, they have

  • Joe Nathan, 368 lifetime saves, six All-Star teams
  • Joakim Soria, 177saves, two All-Star teams
  • Jim Johnson, 124 saves, one All-Star team
  • Joel Hanrahan, 100 saves, two All-Star teams

That's 769 saves and 11 All-Star rosters among the four of them. And we haven't even gotten to Detroit's passel of veteran setup men: Joba Chamberlain (seven saves), Phil Coke (eight saves), Al Alburquerque (one) ...

Nathan's addition (to a two-year, $20 million deal as a free agent) was supposed to put an end to the late-inning collapses, but the former Twins stopper has had a miserable season. Johnson led the majors in saves in 2012 and 2013 with Baltimore; this year he's been released by Oakland and has an ERA of 7.31. He and the currently DL'd Soira, briefly dubbed the "Mexicutioner" in his glory days with the Royals, were midseason additions. Hanrahan hasn't actually thrown a pitch for the Tigers this year and isn't likely to.

All these guys (except Chamberlain and Alburquerque, each 28) are at least 30 years old, and the resulting cluster of aged firemen-turned-arsonists suggests that somebody in the Detroit organization -- perhaps first-year manager Brad Ausmus. perhaps somebody higher in the organization -- is uncomfortable with the idea of identifying the suitable skill set in somebody unproven in the job.

Given the World Series-or-bust mindset in Detroit, that's understandable. It's also an expensive mistake.