Archive for Twins

A First for Brian Dozier’s Career

A few weekends ago, I wrote myself a note, reading “Jose Bautista — oppo.” I watched Bautista hit a home run to right field in Yankee Stadium, and I figured that might be the sort of thing worthy of a post. Bautista generally clobbers his dingers to left, and I thought maybe there could be something there. I thought also that maybe, just maybe, Bautista had a history of going out to right field in New York, which has maybe the most forgiving right field in baseball. Ultimately, I didn’t do anything. I mean, I eventually did some research and played with some numbers, but I didn’t have enough for a post. Not a post that anyone would care about.

Stupid me — I was watching the wrong player. Genius me — I at least had a decent general idea. Rare opposite-field home runs? Potentially interesting. And while I didn’t get enough of interest on Bautista, it wasn’t much later that Brian Dozier pulled off a career first. I have to apologize for the lack of timeliness; this is a post about an event from last Wednesday. I don’t know why I didn’t notice sooner. But last Wednesday, facing Corey Kluber of all people, Brian Dozier stepped in and, in a 2-and-1 count, hit a home run down the right-field line.

Read the rest of this entry »

Projecting Twins Outfielder Max Kepler

Shortly after the Chattanooga Lookouts took home the Southern League championship on Monday, the team’s best player packed his bags for the big leagues. That player, of course, was Max Kepler, who will spend the final two weeks of the season in Minnesota following a well-deserved promotion.

Kepler put up crazy good in the minors this year. The 22-year-old spent nearly the entire season at the Double-A level, where he hit an absurd .322/.416/.531 in 112 games, while also kicking in 18 steals in 22 attempts. Kepler also accomplished the rare feat of walking more than he struck out this year, posting walk and strikeout rates of 14% and 13%, respectively. Even more impressively, he complemented this control of the strike zone with a healthy amount of power. Although he hit just nine homers on the year, his 32 doubles and 13 triples at the Double-A level produced an isolated power of .209.

There isn’t much to dislike about Kepler’s minor league performance this year. He drew walks, rarely struck out, clubbed oodles of extra base hits and stole a fair amount of bases. In other words, he did it all; and as a result, KATOH‘s very bullish on him. My system projects him for an impressive 13.2 WAR through age 28, making him one of the highest-ranked prospects in the game. This represents a dramatic improvement over the weak 1.1 WAR yielded by his 2014 campaign.

Read the rest of this entry »

Joey Votto on Aging

“I don’t care about hitting home runs, I don’t care about any of that sort of stuff,” Joey Votto told me when I mentioned the stat. “I care about improving all of the facets of my game that can be repeatable and that age well.” And really, as great as his season has been this year, no quote better sums up the strides he’s made.

One things we know that ages terribly is contact on pitches outside of the zone (O-Contact%). It drops off the table quickly after 29.

Read the rest of this entry »

JABO: Boosting Miguel Sano’s Case for Rookie of the Year

There was a time this season when it looked like Blue Jays infielder Devon Travis would have a serious case for winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. What that is, more than anything else, is a reminder that the regular season is really super long, but you can say this much — a heck of a race has emerged. Though many are understandably more focused on the games at hand than the end-of-season awards, this is a special class, and at the top you’ll find the Indians’ Francisco Lindor, the Astros’ Carlos Correa, and Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins.

There are others. Of course there are others. There have been more than three good rookies in the AL, and I don’t mean to take anything away from anyone, but barring a complete surprise, this is going to come down to that core group. Lindor has helped Cleveland try to make a desperate playoff run. Correa has helped Houston stay in a spot to advance. And Sano has helped keep the improbable Twins alive.

Now, if you take those three, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to take the shortstops, Lindor and Correa, first. A right-thinking person might well rank Sano in third, were the voting to take place today. Most simply, Sano has played in about 20 fewer games. He’s not about to catch up, and that’s an eighth of a whole season, which matters when you’re talking about guys who haven’t been up since Opening Day. Voters tend to prefer a mix of both quality and quantity.

And Sano, for the most part, has been a DH. He’s been a hell of a DH! Really good DH. But it’s a DH against two shortstops, and there’s no more important position than shortstop, save perhaps for catcher, which is a whole other weird thing. Correa’s been a fine defensive shortstop. Lindor’s been an outstanding defensive shortstop. Their bats have been strong, too, so it’s not just an appeal to defense. Lindor and Correa have well-roundedness in their favor. Sano’s more of a one-trick pony.

He’s been phenomenal at that one trick.

Read the rest at Just A Bit Outside.

Miguel Sano’s Making His First Adjustments

There’s a hitting prospect called straight up from Double-A currently blowing away offensive expectations while providing a boost for a surprising potential playoff team. Michael Conforto‘s just 22, and the New York Mets didn’t even really want to have him up so soon, but desperation forced their hand, and now Conforto’s sitting on a 166 wRC+. He homered on Wednesday. No matter what happens from here, Conforto’s already justified the hasty promotion. But then, there’s Miguel Sano. Sano, who’s also just 22. Conforto has been amazing. Sano, somehow, has been even better.

Say what you will about the Twins, but they’re clearly a contender, doing their best to hang with the Rangers in the wild-card race. And while earlier-season versions of the Twins were supported by a lot of really good timing, there’s no question that Sano has been a shot in the arm since he was brought up. Sano helps the current Twins to make a little more sense, and his numbers are absolutely absurd, despite the strikeouts. He doesn’t hit the ball quite as hard as Giancarlo Stanton, but the potential seems there, and the consistency makes up some of the difference. He’s a true slugger, a man with 80-grade power. Anyone with any 80 grade is a remarkable specimen.

What Sano is is a player who’s having a successful rookie season. Whenever a rookie gets off to a hot start, you have to start looking for the league adjustment. When the league learns certain rookies, those rookies have a heck of a time trying to recover. But Sano? For Sano, there are many tests yet to pass. But he’s already making some adjustments.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Home Run That Must Be Discussed

A week and a half ago, there was a remarkable home run, which I like. I’m drawn to those kinds of things, and I almost can’t help myself but write about them. I was floored by the home run itself; it was one of the most obvious subjects ever provided to me. The only problem was then I didn’t write for a week. The moment passed. Usually, these things have to be written right away, or people cease to be interested. It’s been a while since the home run, now. People are thinking about other things. The Mets. The Mets are neat.

I feel like I have to do it, though. I can’t let it fade away — FanGraphs needs to have a post dedicated to this home run. It was sufficiently incredible that we’d be doing you a disservice by not putting something together. While I know the moment is gone, this is a home run with a longer life, a home run for which you needn’t worry about context. Come with me back to Saturday, August 15. We’re going to watch the Indians and the Twins in Minnesota. We’re going to watch them because, in the fifth inning, there was Eddie Rosario.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Talk About Miguel Sano

There are a lot of rookies getting attention this season. And with good reason — it’s been a pretty good year for rookie position players. But while Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Joc Pederson, Jung-Ho Kang, Randal Grichuk are Carlos Correa getting lots of pub, it seems as though Miguel Sano has not generated the same volume of coverage nationally as have his peers. And that’s a shame, because he’s just as deserving of praise.

Read the rest of this entry »

Grading the 58 Prospects Dealt at the Trade Deadline

This breakdown starts with the Scott Kazmir deal on July 23, but there weren’t any trades from the 16th to the 23rd, so this covers the whole second half of the month, trade-wise, up until now. I count 25 total trades with prospects involved in that span that add together to have 58 prospects on the move. Check out the preseason Top 200 List for more details, but I’ve added the range that each Future Value (FV) group fell in last year’s Top 200 to give you an idea of where they will fall in this winter’s list. Also see the preseason team-specific lists to see where the lower-rated prospects may fall within their new organization.

40 FV is the lowest grade that shows up on these numbered team lists, with 35+ and 35 FV prospects mentioned in the “Others of Note” section, so I’ll give blurbs for the 40 FV or better prospects here. I’ve also linked to the post-trade prospect breakdown for the trades I was able to analyze individually, so click there for more information. Alternately, click on the player’s name to see his player page with all his prior articles listed if I didn’t write up his trade.

I opted to not numerically rank these players now, but I will once I’ve made the dozens and dozens of calls necessary this fall and winter to have that level of precision with this many players. Look for the individual team lists to start rolling out in the next month, with the 2016 Top 200 list coming in early 2016. Lastly, the players are not ranked within their tiers, so these aren’t clues for where they will fall on the Top 200.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Near and Less-Near Future of Miguel Sano’s MLB Career

Miguel Sano is off to quite the start to his big-league career. The hulking 22-year-old is hitting .385/.500/.577 through his first eight games with Minnesota, and has reached base in all but one of those contests. His 205 wRC+ is the 11th highest in baseball in the month of July, and he’s provided a significant boost to the middle of the Twins lineup.

Sano’s major-league career may be only a week old, but he’s been in the limelight for years now. He was seen as a generational talent when the Twins signed him as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican back in 2009. And the controversy surrounding his signing inspired Peletero — one of baseball’s best and most well-known documentaries.

Once his signing was finally completed and documented, Sano proceeded to punish minor-league pitching. Between 2010 and 2013, he mashed .279/.372/.567 as an infielder, with most of his reps coming at third base. Sano had some trouble making contact, as evidenced by his 26% strikeout rate, but he more than made up for it with his mammoth power. On the strength of his 80-grade raw power, his isolated-power figures (ISOs) were consistently near or above .300, which frankly doesn’t happen all that often. All in all, Sano was always among the very best hitters in his league, despite being much younger than his competition.

Read the rest of this entry »

Byron Buxton Gets the Call to Minnesota

Believe it or not, the Minnesota Twins kind of look like a playoff contender. Their 34-29 record is tied for 4th best in the American, and puts them just 2.5 games behind the Royals in the AL Central. They also hold a slim lead over the Rangers and the Tigers in the Wild Card chase. The Twins have recorded one of the better records in baseball over the season’s first two and a half months. This is a fact. They have those wins in the bank. But it’s not at all clear they have the talent on their roster to keep winning going forward. Several Twins have outperformed their projections to date, and it remains to be seen if first-half contributors, like Brian Dozier and Mike Pelfrey, will be able to keep up the pace down the stretch.

But the Twins will have some additional help in the form of Byron Buxton — their new centerfielder. The Twins summoned the 21-year-old from Double-A Chattanooga before Sunday night’s game. Buxton’s gone one for seven in the big leagues so far, but that one was a stand-up triple. Typical Buxton. Prior to his call up, he had twice as many three-baggers as any other player in Double-A.

Prospect evaluators have been drooling over Buxton’s tools since he was in high school. The Twins selected the Georgia native second overall in the 2012 amateur draft, and his name immediately started showing up at the tops of prospect lists. Here at FanGraphs, we’ve ranked him 16th, 1st and 2nd the last three pre-seasons. Other outlets have given him similar praise, with some — and Baseball Prospectus — ranking him as the top prospect in baseball this year, ahead of Kris Bryant.

Read the rest of this entry »

Both Sides of the Phil Hughes Argument

So much of the analysis we do in baseball follows a pretty simple formula. We notice a player is getting different results, we look for explanations for the change, and then we speculate about whether the latter caused the former and if it will continue. Baseball includes so much random variation and you have to make decisions all the time about how much information is enough to rule out randomness as an answer. When it came to Phil Hughes in 2014, we didn’t have to worry too much about randomness as an explanation.

Hughes rattled off the best K/BB ratio of all time and was somewhere between very good and excellent for the first time in his career. While we can chalk lots of leaps up to random variation, Hughes seemed immune because he was such a drastically different pitcher in Minnesota compared to New York. It appeared to be quite clear why Hughes was so much better. He stopped issuing walks and pounded the strike zone. He bumped up his strikeouts as a result, and seemingly cut his home runs because he was in better counts and not in Yankee Stadium.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brian Dozier Has Been Key to Twins’ Surge

The first-place Minnesota Twins have 30 wins on the season and sit 11 games above .500 as we enter June. Questioning Minnesota’s sustainability as a first-place team is going to be a topic of discussion for as long as Minnesota remains in the race. Jeff Sullivan detailed the Twins’ performance a few weeks ago and not much has changed since then aside from more Twins’ wins. Dave Cameron warned this morning about being mindful of the future when considering potential mid-season moves. Even mainstream statistics makes it easy to see why there are questions about the Twins. The team is 13th in batting average (excluding pitchers), 24th in on-base percentage, 23rd in slugging percentage, and their ERA for both starters (14th) and relievers (17th) are merely average. While there are questions about the Twins sustainability as a winner, there are fewer questions about the short-term sustainability of the performance of leadoff man Brian Dozier, who has played excellently in May and should have another good year after a five-win 2014 season.

While Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter are the poster boys for non-prospect players who have excelled at the major-league level, Brian Dozier is cut from the same mold. An eighth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi in 2009, Dozier was a senior sign who received just a $30,000 signing bonus. Dozier played well in the minors, but starting his professional career made him older than most of his competition. Dozier performed poorly when called up to the majors in 2012, hitting .234/.271/.332 in 340 plate appearances. That performance carried over into the first two months of 2013, but Dozier rebounded to post a wRC+ of 117 from June through the end of the season.

Dozier’s mini-breakout carried over to 2014 with a five-win season, as he hit 23 home runs with a 13% walk rate that was fifth in the American League. That performance earned him a contract extension for four years and $20 million, buying out his arbitration years but keeping his time to free agency intact. Dozier got off to a slow start this season, hitting just one home run in his first 90 plate appearances despite decent walk and strikeout numbers. Since that time, Dozier has had a run of good play coinciding with the Twins good fortune. He’s hit eight home runs since his slow start and his 170 wRC+ in May is seventh among AL batters.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Traps That the Twins Need to Avoid

It’s June 1st, and the best record in the American League belongs to the Minnesota Twins. As winners of seven of their last eight games — all against teams who expected to contend coming into the season — the Twins now stand at 30-19, a half game ahead of the Royals in the AL Central; they’re also three and a half games ahead of Detroit and six and a half ahead of Cleveland. That’s a pretty great start for a team that we gave basically no chance of contending this year, as our pre-season forecasts had them as a 74 win team, and gave them just a 3% chance of reaching the postseason.

After two months of playing .600 baseball, our projections now expect the Twins to finish with 81 wins, and give them a 27% chance of reaching the postseason. On the one hand, that’s a huge jump, and a roughly one-in-four chance of making the playoffs in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year is quite the accomplishment. On the other hand, those 27% odds still put them behind eight other teams, and those odds are buoyed by their chances of reaching the less-valuable Wild Card game; Minnesota’s estimated 12% chance of winning their division ranks just 10th in the AL.

The Twins strong start is both a blessing and a curse. Watching winning baseball is a lot more fun than losing baseball, and surprising playoff runs can invigorate a fan base, driving significant revenue gains from increased attendance and television ratings. Even just putting a watchable product on the field can help a franchise avoid a financial death spiral, and even if the Twins cool off in the second half, their strong start should help keep people interested in baseball through most of the summer.

But there’s a potential downside here too, because while the Twins front office should absolutely be enjoying their strong start to the season, they need to be realistic about what it does and does not mean. And it does not mean that the 2015 Twins are actually a good baseball team.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Wholly Unfulfilling Explanation for the Twins

A while back, after one of those occasions where someone accused us of writing about the same teams too much, I checked to see which teams had been written about here most and least often. I had to depend on accurate author tagging, which hasn’t always been consistent, but based on the tags, we’ve written the most about the predictable teams — Boston, New York, Oakland, and so on. The other end was interesting, if also predictable. Not as much about the Astros, although more lately. Not as much about the Padres, although more lately. There’s been comparatively little about the Rockies. And, there’s been comparatively little about the Twins. One thing we can say is that, right now, the Rockies suck. But the Twins? The Twins are demanding devoted and focused content.

Not that we thought things were going to be this way. This year’s Twins were projected to be bad, and that was before Ervin Santana got suspended. Seven games into the season, the Twins found themselves six games out of first place, with a run differential almost twice as bad as the next-worst in the American League. But, since then, it’s been a month. Over that month, the Twins have tied for the league’s best record, with twice as many wins as losses. As things stand, the Twins have the eighth-best record in baseball. They have a better record than the Nationals. They’ve closed the gap on the Tigers and Royals.

There’s competitive baseball in Minnesota. It’s the damnedest thing. But now I have to write the kind of post I don’t like to write. The Twins aren’t good. This isn’t keeping up. I want there to be reasons to believe, but the indicators are what the indicators are. I apologize for the statistics. They’re in charge of me, not the other way around.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Far-Too-Early 2015 MLB Mock Draft

I wrote yesterday about the uncertainty surrounding the #1 overall pick, but that doesn’t keep scouts from trying to figure out who will go in the subsequent picks. It’s way too early to have any real idea what’s going to happen beyond the top 10-15 picks, but the buzz is growing in the scouting community about how things will play out and you people are sustained by lists, predictions and mock drafts. You’re welcome.

I’d bet it’s more telling on draft day to make judgments using the buzz and all the names I mention, rather than the one name I project to be picked, but you guys already don’t read the introduction, so I’ll shut up. For reports, video and more on these players, check out my latest 2015 MLB Draft rankings, or, if your team doesn’t pick high this year, look ahead with my 2016 & 2017 MLB Draft rankings.

UPDATE 5/11/15: Notes from this weekend’s college games: Dillon Tate was solid in front of GM’s from Arizona, Houston and Colorado. Dansby Swanson was even better, in front of decision makers from all the top teams, including Houston, who may still be debating whether they’d take Swanson or Rodgers if given the choice (Rodgers’ season is over). Carson Fulmer did what he usually does and probably has a home from picks 7-17 depending on how things fall on draft day, with an evaluation similar to Marcus Stroman and Sonny Gray as previous undersized righties with stellar track records and plus stuff.

Andrew Benintendi went nuts at the plate again (I’ll see him and Fulmer this weekend). And, finally, Jon Harris was excellent, rebounding from a not-so-great start, so, at this point, I would make Harris the 9th pick to the Cubs and slide Trenton Clark down a few picks, but still comfortably in the top 20. I also updated the 2016 MLB Draft Rankings as a few top prospects came off the DL and impressed, further strengthening the top of that draft, which is far and away better than this year’s draft.

1. Diamondbacks – Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt
I wrote about this more in depth yesterday, where I wrote it’s down to CF Garrett Whitley, C Tyler Stephenson and CF Daz Cameron with some chance RHP Dillon Tate is still in the mix and SS Dansby Swanson possibly involved. After writing that, I heard that Arizona is definitely considering those prep players, but teams don’t think they’ll pull the trigger on a way-below-slot prep option and they are leaning college, with Tate and Swanson the targets and SS Alex Bregman also getting some consideration as a long shot.

I’ve heard Arizona wants a hitter here and GM Dave Stewart was in to see Vanderbilt last night. I had heard they were laying in the weeds on Swanson, so, for now, I’ll go with Swanson here. To be clear, Arizona hasn’t made any decisions yet, so this group could still grow or they could change course. One scouting director told me yesterday when asked what he thought Arizona would do that “it sounds like they are going to do something crazy.” Until a few hours before this published, I had Arizona taking Whitley, so this is still very much in flux. There’s also some thought that Tate or Swanson were the targets all along and the rumors of cut-rate high school options have just been a ploy to get the price down–you can pick your own theory at this point.

Read the rest of this entry »

Career Retrospective: Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan has had Tommy John surgery before. Joe Nathan will need to have Tommy John surgery again. He has proclaimed that he intends to come try to return, but the odds are against that — 41-year-old major league pitchers are in short supply (there are just two this season). Whether he does or doesn’t make it all the way back, any subsequent seasons are unlikely to add much to his statistical ledger. And an impressive ledger it is.

A sixth-round pick in the 1995 draft, Nathan has been one of the few players left in the game who saw action back in the 90s, as he debuted for the Giants back in April of 1999. He was a starter back then, though he wasn’t particularly good. He only struck out three more batters than he walked in those 14 debut season starts. He would get another crack at starting the next season, but in his 15 starts in 2000 he struck out four fewer batters than he walked, and that was the end of that chapter.

Well, sort of. He would be a starter for the bulk of the next two seasons, at age 26 and 27, but he would do so in the minor leagues. His 2001 was an unmitigated disaster — he struck out 54 against 70 walks in Double-A and Triple-A — he walked more guys than he struck out at both levels. He was better in 2002 — 117 Ks against 74 walks, all at Triple-A Fresno — but he allowed 20 homers, had a 1.647 WHIP and 5.60 ERA. Better, but not good. He would come back up to San Fran in September for four scoreless relief appearances, and never looked back.

Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Already Happened in the AL Central

Hello! The baseball season just started. We’ve gone from one Sunday to a second Sunday, and we still aren’t allowed to do anything with statistics because nobody cares about them yet. While, in theory, spring training is supposed to get everyone ready for the year, the beginning feels like an extended spring training, a transition period following a transition period, and at this point the standings mean nothing. If you were to ask a player today about the wins and the losses, you’d get laughed out of the clubhouse. It doesn’t just feel like there’s a long way to go — it feels like there’s the whole way to go. Also, the Indians and White Sox are four games back of the Tigers and Royals.

It happened fast. It happened before anyone cared, but the White Sox have been swept by the Royals, and the Indians have been swept by the Tigers. Series conclude every few days, and standings change literally every day, but this is notable because the AL Central has four teams who’ve been thinking about the playoffs. The same four teams are still thinking about the playoffs, but as much as you want to say nothing matters yet, everything matters. This is my most- and least-favorite post to write every season.

Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Audio: Prospects Nick Gordon and Jeff Hoffman

Episode 548
Nick Gordon is the Minnesota shortstop prospect selected fifth overall in the most recent draft. Jeff Hoffman is a right-hander, also among the top-10 selections of the 2014 draft, who’s currently at the end of his recovery from a Tommy John procedure. This edition of FanGraphs Audio features both of them, in conversation with lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel. (Note: Gordon’s interview begins at about the 9:45 mark; Hoffman’s, around the 17:40 mark.)

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 33 min play time.)

Read the rest of this entry »


Division Preview: AL Central

We’re halfway done, with the wests — both NL and the AL — and covered NL Central yesterday. Today, we tackle the AL’s version of the country’s heartland.

The Projected Standings

Team Wins Losses Division Wild Card World Series
Indians 86 76 43% 14% 7%
Tigers 85 77 37% 15% 5%
Royals 79 83 10% 7% 1%
White Sox 78 84 8% 6% 1%
Twins 74 88 3% 3% 0%

With no great teams and only one franchise not really trying to contend this year, this is one of the most up-for-grabs divisions in the sport. Our forecasts suggest that there are two tiers within those going for it, but I think things might be a bit more bunched up than the numbers above suggest. Let’s go team by team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Are Swinging Strikes Better Than Called Strikes?

Everything you know to be true in your heart but hasn’t been proven by stats is worth hanging on to, even if just a little bit, and privately. The stats may catch up some day. This isn’t to say that all conventional wisdom is correct. This is to say that all “statistically-proven” wisdom is not always going to continue to be true.

Take swinging strikes, called strikes, and Vance Worley.

Vance Worley blew up in 2011. He struck out more batters on a rate basis than he ever had in the minor leagues. He did it with one of the worst swinging strike rates among starters that year. He did it with called strikes — he was fifth among starters with at least 2000 pitches that year. He did it with style, as you can see thanks to Zoo With Roy:


As 2012 approached, I was tasked with figuring out his fantasy value for the upcoming season. I had a personal preference for the swinging strike. To me, there’s no cleaner statistical happening in baseball — that the batter swung and missed is irrefutable. And the swinging strike as a moment is both triumphant and despondent, all in at once. It renders a one-nothing August game watchable. It’s beautiful.

Read the rest of this entry »