Archive for Twins

The Adjustments That Made the All-Stars

Most All-Stars weren’t born into baseball this way. Most of them had to alter their approach, or their mechanics, in order to find that a-ha moment. They threw a pitch differently, or decided to pull the ball more, or changed their swing, and then found a run of sustained success that put them in the All-Star game that’s being played tonight.

So, given fairly fettered access to the All-Stars from both leagues, that was the question I posed: what was the big adjustment, mechanical or approach-wise, that brought you to this podium today?

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Who Will Hate Robot Umps the Most?

Ever since Eric Byrnes used a computer to help umpire an independent-league baseball game last year, and then Brian Kenny took up the mantle of #RobotUmpsNow on the MLB Network, I’ve been fascinated with the idea that robot umpires will soon call strike zones in baseball. The more I talk to players about it, though, the more I doubt that it’s an eventuality. Because the players, well, the players are going to hate it.

I can’t speak for all players, obviously. I haven’t talked to all of them. But I’ve talked to plenty on both sides, even ones I can’t quote here, and the biggest endorsement I could get was a tepid version of “It’s going to happen.”

So instead of asking each player what they thought about robot umpires, I changed the question a bit. Instead, I asked pitchers, catchers, and hitters, “Who will hate robot umps the most?”

The short answer? Everyone. The long answer? Much more interesting.

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Brian Dozier’s Path Out of the Slump

As May came to an end, I made my way cautiously over to Brian Dozier, who was slashing .202/.294/.329 at the time. Approaching a player in the midst of a slump can go one of two ways — you can either get Brandon Moss and complete honesty about what that battle is like, or you get frustrated non-answers tinged with anger.

Dozier was more of the former — even though his numbers at the time were some of the worst of his career, particularly the ones that concerned balls in play. He didn’t mind, though, since he had a simple solution on which he was working that day. The results were immediate.

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Brian Duensing Ponders Opt Outs and Home

Brian Duensing’s baseball future is tenuous. The 33-year-old southpaw is currently an Oriole, but his time in Baltimore could be short. Signed off the scrap heap a few weeks ago, he’s failed to impress in five outings. He could easily be the odd man out the next time a roster move is made.

Duensing was cast aside by his long-time team over the winter. A member of the Minnesota organization since being drafted out of the University of Nebraska in 2005, Duensing hit the open market when the Twins “opted to go in another direction.” It didn’t come as a shock. He’s never been overpowering, and last year he was more underwhelming than ever. His ERA was 4.25 and his 4.4 strikeout rate was a career low.

Free agency didn’t go as he’d hoped. Quality offers weren’t forthcoming, and opt-out clauses have subsequently become a meaningful part of his life. There’s a chance he will remain an Oriole, but he could just as easily be elsewhere in the not-too-distant future. He might be wearing a new uniform in a new city. He might be at his home in Omaha, with his wife at his side and three toddlers in tow.

———

Duensing on first-time free agency and his future: “This was the first time I was a free agent. I was somewhat excited to see what would happen, but it didn’t really pan out like I’d hoped. I ended up signing with Kansas City, a non-roster minor-league deal, and then didn’t make the team out of spring training. I began the season in Omaha. That’s where I’m from, so I was able to live at home with the wife and the kids.

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Talking to the Umpire

“I’ll tell you one thing I don’t like,” Sean Doolittle said as he grabbed his glove and jogged his way out of the clubhouse for stretch. “The hitters get to talk to the umpire and I don’t.”

You see it all the time, even if many hitters don’t want to talk about their conversations with the umpire. Muttering, head-shaking, even outright questions — “where was that?”. Occasionally you’ll even see demonstrative complaints that don’t result in the hitter being tossed, but do result in some aggressive stares and good old baseball posturing.

On the mound, it seems like the stakes are higher. Pitchers might be allowed a stare or aggressive body language, but if it escalates too quickly… Is Doolittle right? Do pitchers do get less leeway before they are warned or ejected? Or get to say less? They definitely don’t get to talk in close quarters with the person determining the balls and strikes, especially in the American League.

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Theory and Implementation with Byron Buxton

Generally, the theory is that even top prospects bust. Byron Buxton is the toppest of top prospects, but even that distinction can’t protect him from failure of one kind or another. Exploring that theory is much more difficult when you’re the player himself. Or the writer asking that player about those expectations and the difficulties he’s been having so far. “You’re going to have a stamp on you wherever you are, but I try to put it to the side,” the struggling Twin said recently before a game with the Athletics. It’s hard not to empathize.

The theory with Buxton is that the tools are there but that he needs to make an adjustment to major-league pitching. It’s looked bad, but the talent is in there.

In 195 major-league plate appearances so far, Buxton has struck out 36% of the time and walked just 4% of the time, for a 32-point differential between his strikeout and walk rates. It’s a toxic combination. And rare. Consider: among 106 top-10 prospects since 1990, only Javier Baez has recorded a worse strikeout- minus walk-rate differential in his first 200 plate appearances.

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Best Final Seasons, Part Two

Yesterday, we tackled the best final seasons for pitchers. Today, let’s tackle the position players, so we can get to the heart of the question of just how good David Ortiz needs to be to crack one of these lists. The rules and breakdowns are the same as before, so I would encourage you to read yesterday’s post to peep those. Once again, big ups to Jeff Zimmerman for data help.

30-39 WAR

Best Final Season, Position Players with 30-39 WAR
Player Final Season Age WAR Career WAR
Roy Cullenbine 1947 33 4.4 33.8
Chick Stahl 1906 33 3.7 33.1
Tony Cuccinello 1945 37 3.0 32.2
Gil McDougald 1960 32 2.8 39.7
Joe Adcock 1966 38 2.5 34.2
Elbie Fletcher 1949 33 2.4 30.7

The guys on this list are definitely not household names, but there are some interesting, if also tragic, stories here. Let’s deal with the tragic first. There are six players here because one of them, Chick Stahl, committed suicide during spring training of the 1907 season. He had been named the Americans’ (Red Sox) player/manager over the winter, and something drove him to take his own life. This was surely a big loss for the team, as they had been counting on him to help lead them. He was the fifth-best hitter in the game just a couple years earlier in 1904.

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Twins Pitcher Jose Berrios Should Be Fun to Watch

Jose Berrios has a 6.75 ERA. His FIP is 5.63. He’s walked 16% of the batters he’s faced this season. He’s averaging more than 20 pitches per inning, and in two starts he has completed just 9.1 innings. He also has three good, major league-quality pitches with the potential for a fourth. He’s struck out more than 30% of the batters he’s faced. He could win Rookie of the Year, and — with arguments to come from Lucas Giolito, Tyler Glasnow, Alex Reyes, Blake Snell, and Julio Urias — he might be the most exciting pitcher to make his big-league debut this season.

Berrios doesn’t turn 22 until the end of the month, but he has ridden a quick and steady ascent to the majors. In 2014, he dominated High-A and held his own in a handful of starts at Double-A. Kiley McDaniel ranked him the 24th-best prospect in baseball during the 2014-15 preseason before he proceeded to mow down opponents in Double-A and Triple-A, striking out more than 25% of batters at both levels and walking less than 6% of them. Berrios entered Spring Training with an outside shot to win a starting job, but struggled with command in both his major-league and minor-league games.

In three minor-league starts this year, Berrios still produced his share of walks. But also struck out 20 of the 66 batters he faced and allowed just three runs, earning a promotion when Ervin Santana hit the disabled list. His first two starts have been a mixed bag, featuring both flashes of the potential that make him a top prospect with a comp to Pedro Martinez and show how he can be successful in the big leagues, but also an inability to consistently attack hitters in the strike zone, leading to unfavorable counts and walks.

The chart below shows league-average plate-discipline numbers as well as Berrios’ own numbers over his first two starts.

Jose Berrios Plate Discipline After Two Starts
O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
League Average 29.3 % 63.1 % 45.4 % 62.3 % 85.9 % 77.9 % 47.7 %
Jose Berrios 28.3 % 54.2 % 39.7 % 60.0 % 84.4 % 74.7 % 43.9 %

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Saying Nice Things About A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski has played baseball for a very long time. He’s one of the few players to predate not only the PITCHf/x era (2007-present), but also the Baseball Info Solutions era (2002-present). He’s one of just six active players who played in the 1990s — the others are Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Bartolo Colon, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. They are all well celebrated and beloved players. Pierzynski does not fit in that group.

If you’re familiar with Pierzynski, you likely know that his opponents generally have not been all that fond of him. A Google search for “A.J. Pierzynski hate” turns up plenty of results. Rather than focus on that, I thought it would be fun to find some nice to things to say about Pierzynski.

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Trevor May Be Worth Watching

We continue to find ourselves very much within the “it’s too early to care about this statistic” period of the 2016 Major League Baseball season. Does your favorite player have a good WAR? How’s that young starter’s ERA? These are some examples of questions you probably shouldn’t be asking after 25 days. The data isn’t really more or less relevant than any other 20-game stretch; it’s just awfully hard to find meaningful patterns within any set of 20 games.

This is especially true for relief pitchers who have generally thrown seven to 10 innings at this point in the season. Unless a guy’s stuff is noticeably different or they appear injured, you’re simply not going to be able to use this early-season data to update your player evaluations in a significant way. What you can do during the early days of a new season is look for harbingers of change. Basically, is a player trying something new? A few weeks is enough to notice things, even if it isn’t enough time to speak forcefully about their likely impact.

With the appropriate amount of skepticism attached, let’s notice a thing about Minnesota Twins pitcher Trevor May.

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Picking Berrios: Top Prospect Debuts for Twins Tonight

This hasn’t been a particularly fun season for Twins fans. Not only do they have an abysmal 7-14 record, but their young players — who are supposed to usher in a new era of Twins baseball — haven’t been performing. Top prospect Byron Buxton has been all sorts of terrible, minor-league performer Max Kepler hasn’t been much better, and Miguel Sano has underwhelmed (with the exception of a walk-off single last night) due to an alarmingly high strikeout rate.

Things are about to get a bit more fun for Twins fans, however, as top pitching prospect Jose Berrios is set to debut tonight against the Indians. Based on minor-league performance, the Puerto Rican righty looks like he’s more than ready for the show. He’s been carving up minor-league hitters for a few years now, and has been especially dominant since Minnesota promoted him to Triple-A last July. In 15 starts over that span, he’s struck out 28% of opposing hitters and walked just 6%, resulting in a 2.33 ERA and 2.78 FIP. All that and he’s not even 22 yet. Berrios was a consensus top-30 prospect heading into the year. John Sickels (ninth overall) was the high man on Berrios, while Baseball America (28th overall) was the low man.

Unsurprisingly, KATOH loves it some Berrios. With a projected 10.0 WAR over the next six seasons, he appeared 12th overall on KATOH’s top-100 prospect list. Among pitchers, he ranked second behind teenage uber-prospect Julio Urias. With a ~30% strikeout rate, Berrios has missed plenty of bats in the minors. Since minor -eague strikeout rate tends to be very predictive of big-league success, this bodes well for Berrios’ long-term future.

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What Pitchers (and Numbers) Say About Pitching in the Cold

Maybe it was the fact that she spent her formative years in Germany, while I spent most of mine in Jamaica and America’s South, but my mother and I have always disagreed about a fundamental thing when it comes to the weather. For her, she wants the sun. It doesn’t matter if it’s bitter cold and dry; if the sun’s out, she’s fine. I’d rather it was warm. Don’t care if there’s a drizzle or humidity or whatever.

It turns out, when we were disagreeing about these things, we were really talking about pitching. Mostly because life is pitching and pitching is life.

But also because the temperature, and the temperature alone, does not tell the story of pitching in the cold. It’ll make sense, just stick with it.

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The Braves, Twins, and Preparing an Early-Season Grave

Inevitably, after just a week and change’s worth of games, we find players on teams that have gotten off to slow starts saying things about how it’s just April, and win-loss records don’t matter too much. Outward optimism is sort of a prerequisite if you’re a professional athlete — whether you truly feel it or not — but there’s no doubt the majority of players who make these comments most likely believe them. It is early, and there’s plenty of time left in the season. But, as Jeff pointed out this week, the games matter! Playoff odds have changed. For the Braves, they never really had a shot to begin with, so starting 0-8 doesn’t change too much. But for the Minnesota Twins, their longshot campaign to make the playoffs this season has taken a faceplant.

Let’s talk about the Twins first, as they’re the big story here, and the American League Central is likely to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball this season. Though our projections liked (and still like) Cleveland’s team this season, the Royals have declared war on those projections, and the Tigers and White Sox have built interesting teams with upside. That is true to some extent for the Twins as well: they’re building for the future, sure, but they also have some intriguing breakout candidates who could theoretically propel them into contention in a division that doesn’t have a clear-cut top dog. Those are the makings of a potentially great four- or five-way division battle throughout the season! Or else, that was the idea until now, eight games into the season, when the Twins find themselves 0-8. Here’s what that has done to their potential playoff odds (click on the image for a larger version):

AL_Central

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So, About Byung-ho Park’s Strikeouts

It’s funny — a couple months back, Jeff did a little study on the teams about which we’ve written the most and least. At the time of his study, we’d written fewer articles about the Twins than any other team, since 2008. And I’d bet a good chunk of those articles were about the Twins’ pitching staff, and their avoidance of strikeouts, or something similar along those lines. Well, here’s a new Twins article! And, guess what, it’s about strikeouts again!

Except, well:

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 9.15.32 AM

I’m sorry it has to be this way, Minnesota.

In case it’s not clear, those aren’t just the top two names on the strikeout leaderboard of Twins batters with at least 20 plate appearances this season, those are the top two names on the strikeout leaderboard of all batters with at least 20 plate appearances this season. Miguel Sano is sixth. Eddie Rosario is 15th. Things haven’t gone particularly well for the Twins thus far. They’re 0-8.

And I suppose this post could be about Byron Buxton, or collectively all those names I named, but I don’t meant to pile on. Sano will be just fine, and his strikeout rate really isn’t that much higher than we’d expect it to be. Rosario just isn’t particularly interesting. Buxton’s struck out 13 times and walked zero in 25 plate appearances, and actually, that should probably have its own post, but I’ve already done all this research on Park, so this is what you’ve got for now. Someone will get to Buxton soon enough. Let’s talk about Byung-ho Park, who’s struck out exactly as often as he hasn’t.

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Riding the Waves of BABIP Variance with Chris Colabello

When Chris Colabello’s first ball in play this season, a line drive with a recorded exit velocity of 103 mph, went directly into the glove of opposing shortstop Brad Miller, it seemed a cruel yet fitting reminder that nothing is given at the start of a new season.

Not even for Colabello, who appears to have used a strong 2015 season to finally lock down a secure job in the major leagues. He produced offense at a level 42% above league average last year when controlling for park factors, and he did so for a playoff team, eventually forcing his way into more than the short side of a platoon with Justin Smoak. He’s not set to play every day for the Toronto Blue Jays this year, but he should have the larger share of a time-split at first.

He appears to have, at long last, made it. Assuming he can keep it up, that is, which few think is a certainty. For most of his baseball career, people have been looking for reasons why Colabello won’t succeed, even now that he’s doing so.

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Twins Launch Kepler’s Career

With Danny Santana headed to the disabled list, the Twins have recalled outfielder Max Kepler from Triple-A. Kepler figures to slot in as the team’s fourth outfielder, backing up Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Kepler got some love from prospect evaluators last winter, with virtually every outlet ranking him in their various top-100 lists. Baseball America was the highest on the German-born outfielder, ranking him 30th overall. Newcomer 2080 Baseball was the low man on Kepler. They placed him at #100. Other outlets ranked him closer to #30 than to #100.

KATOH loves Kepler, projecting him for 11.9 WAR over the next six years — a figure which placed him seventh among all prospects heading into the 2016 season. KATOH ranked him ahead of several more well-regarded outfield prospects, including Kepler’s teammate Byron Buxton and the recently promoted Nomar Mazara. Although he’s not a consensus top prospect, it isn’t hard to see why KATOH — a stats-based projection system — is all over him. He slashed .332/.416/.531 in Double-A last year, and also kicked in 18 steals. It’s incredibly hard to poke holes in Kepler’s 2015 performance. He made lots of contact, walked more than he struck out (14% versus 13%, respectively), hit for power and stole bases. Simply put, he did it all.

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KATOH Projects: Minnesota Twins Prospects

Previous editions: Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cincinnati  / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Kansas City / Los Angeles (AL) / Miami.

Last week, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth published his excellently in-depth prospect list for the Minnesota Twins. In this companion piece, I look at that same Minnesota farm system through the lens of my recently refined KATOH projection system. The Twins have the sixth-best farm system in baseball according to KATOH.

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Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Minnesota Twins

Other clubs: Astros, Braves, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Indians, Marlins, OriolesRedsRed Sox, Rockies, Royals, Tigers, White Sox.

The Twins have done a tremendous job of stockpiling minor-league talent, and currently deserve consideration for top farm system in the league. Even with Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario graduating to the majors, this collection of players has a crazy diverse mix of floor and upside, polish and potential, offense and pitching… there aren’t many weaknesses you could find within it. The worst thing you could say is they don’t have many power bats in their upper minors, but the addition of Byung-ho Park and the rebound of Byron Buxton will limit issues stemming from a lack of immediate offensive help.

There are a few surprises here that you should notice. One is the inclusion of Park to this list, despite having played professionally in Korea. He’s still a relatively unknown quantity, and obviously he hasn’t exhausted his rookie eligibility, so here he is! If you disagree with the decision to include him, close your eyes and scroll past it, or enjoy the “free” content.

One high rank and one snub may bother some readers. LaMonte Wade had a nice half-season debut after being a relatively unknown college pick out of Maryland, but it came against Rookie-ball competition, where college players are supposed to do well. I like enough of what he brings to the table offensively and defensively to think he’s more than just a guy who was placed too low to start his career. Adam Brett Walker sits at the end of the 40+ FV group here, which was kind of a stretch if you take the likely future 35 hit tool grade literally. I just don’t see him making enough contact for his power to work, but I do recognize he could have a future as a platoon or bench bat with some improvements.

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Tyler Duffey, the Shockingly Interesting Twin

I decided not to write a post about it, but earlier I went into the spreadsheets to compare some of the fan projections for pitchers to some of the Steamer and ZiPS projections. The idea was basically to see if there are guys the fans are particularly high on or particularly low on, and as the former is concerned, the fans are higher on a bunch of relievers. Let me tell you, there are some real believers here in Mychal Givens. And that’s great! I love Givens, too. He’s really interesting, but he’s also a reliever, and I found myself scanning for starters. A name that quickly turned up is Tyler Duffey. Steamer and ZiPS see him good for a 4.37 ERA. The few fans who participated see him good for a 3.58 ERA. That was enough to grab my attention, and now we have an article.

Duffey, despite a strong 2015 debut, remains pretty anonymous. If it weren’t for the headline, I wonder how many of you would’ve known he pitches for the Twins. We’ve been conditioned to mostly ignore the various Twins starters, and for the most part that’s been a pretty sound policy, but Duffey has some unusual things about him. He was also all but guaranteed a rotation slot the other day by Paul Molitor. Consider this, then, a Tyler Duffey introduction, in case you’ve been in need of one. Twins fans know what’s up, but I’m guessing the others are almost all in the dark.

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Previewing the Best and Worst Team Defenses for 2016

Early this morning, the full 2016 ZiPS projections went live on the site. This is probably news to many of you. Surprise! Happy ZiPS day. You can now export the full ZiPS spreadsheet from that link, find individual projections on the player pages, and view our live-updating playoff odds, which are powered by a 50/50 blend of ZiPS and Steamer. This is good news for everyone, including us, the authors, because now we have more information with which to work.

And so here’s a post that I did last year, and one which I was waiting for the full ZiPS rollout to do again: previewing the year’s team defenses. It’s been a few years running now that we’ve marveled over speedy outfielders in blue jerseys zooming about the spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield, and now those speedy outfielders in blue jerseys are all World Series champions. People are thinking and talking about defense more than ever, and you don’t think and talk about defense without thinking and talking about the Kansas City Royals. Defense: it’s so hot right now. Defense.

The methodology here is simple. ZiPS considers past defensive performance and mixes in some scouting report information to give an overall “defensive runs above or below average” projection. Steamer does the same, except rather than searching for keywords from real scouting reports, it regresses towards the data from the Fans Scouting Report project compiled by Tangotiger every year. The final number is an average of these two figures, and can be found in the “Fld” section of the depth charts and player pages. It isn’t exactly Ultimate Zone Rating or Defensive Runs Saved, but it’s the same idea, and the same scale.

Let’s look ahead toward the year in defense.

* * *

The Best

1. Kansas City Royals

This is one of my new favorite fun facts: the Royals outfield defense, just the outfield, is projected for 31 runs saved, which is higher than any other entire team in baseball. And with Alex Rios out of the mix in right field and Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando stepping in full-time, Kansas City’s outfield defense should somehow be even better than it’s been in the past.

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