Archive for Twins

A.J. Achter: An Underdog in the Twin Cities

A.J. Achter made it. He wasn’t supposed to make it. The 26-year-old right-hander lasted until the 46th round of the 2010 draft and was offered bupkis for a signing bonus. Now he’s stepping onto the big stage. The Minnesota Twins called up Achter from Triple-A Rochester when the calender flipped on Sunday night.

Achter enrolled at Michigan State University after going undrafted out of an Oregon, Ohio, high school. He didn’t sparkle with the Spartans. After going 8-13 with a 4.29 ERA over three seasons, he was selected 1,395th overall by the Twins. Knowing he was a long shot, the education major made plans to return for his senior year.

“I was taken in a round that doesn’t even exist anymore,” Achter told me on Sunday, hours before news of his promotion broke. “They didn’t even offer me a signing bonus. It was, ‘Hey, we drafted you, congratulations, but we can’t afford to give you anything right now – unless you’re willing to sign for a plane ticket.’ I wasn’t willing. I was plenty fine with going back to Michigan State.”

Two months later, following a strong performance in the Cape Cod League, he changed his mind. So did the bean counters. Achter’s work out of the bullpen — he’d been a starter at MSU — and was impressive enough that bonus money appeared in Minnesota’s draft-budget coffers. Read the rest of this entry »

Sam Fuld and Completing the A’s

I’m going to tell you something you’re not going to like. You’re going to think this is stupid, and you’re going to want to dismiss this as rubbish, but, I mean, let’s just get right to the point. If nothing else, this is where we’ll start. Early Thursday, the A’s gave up Yoenis Cespedes and more for Jon Lester and more. A little later Thursday, the A’s gave up Tommy Milone for Sam Fuld. Losing Cespedes opened up a spot in the outfield; adding Fuld plugged it. Here is a fun fact:


Cespedes: 2.9 WAR / 600 plate appearances
Fuld: 2.5 WAR / 600 plate appearances

Obviously, Cespedes has a thousand times more natural talent. Obviously, Cespedes has more potential and a higher ceiling. Obviously, Cespedes is younger. Obviously, that’s a little deceptive because Fuld has spent a lot of time as a defensive replacement. Obviously, we can trust the defensive metrics only so much, and obviously, Cespedes is the more marketable player since he has some of the purest right-handed power in the sport. But here is the general message: Sam Fuld is not far and away an inferior overall player, compared to Yoenis Cespedes. At least, they’re somewhat close. And this year, specifically this year, Fuld’s been worth the same WAR in a fraction of the time. So you can see why the A’s are happy to get Fuld back, a few months after designating him for assignment.

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Prospect Watch: Nick Gordon and Post-Draft Expectations

A couple of weeks ago, I broke from the typical Prospect Watch post setup to write this, which still managed to provide thoughts on and evaluations of two players but in a more freeform space than usual. On some occasions such as that one, I find my thoughts on players get encased in larger thoughts about prospecting in general. In this installment, I bring you another, but it concerns a player of far more repute than 25-year-old A-ball pitcher Dario Alvarez or his reliever teammate Akeel Morris–I’m talking about 2014′s fifth overall draft pick, Twins shortstop prospect Nick Gordon.

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Mariners Replace* Rusty Corey Hart with Rusty Kendrys Morales

* Update: kind of. Though Morales will surely take opportunities from Hart, they may coexist on the active roster. It’s complicated, but it shouldn’t change too much about the analysis.

There was never any question that the Mariners liked Kendrys Morales. They traded for him in the first place, and he hit. They offered him a three-year contract. They kept in touch with him during the offseason. If the Mariners had had their druthers, they would’ve locked Morales up to return as the team’s DH. But Morales, see, didn’t really want to go back to Seattle:

“He knew it was going to be tough to look for another offer, or another job, but in his heart he just didn’t really want to come back here and be in the same spot … he was taking his chances to see if something was better.”

When a player is a free agent, he gets to decide where he ends up. When a player belongs to a team, however, he can’t control where he gets traded, barring a full or partial no-trade clause. The Mariners couldn’t sign Morales, so he waited and waited and signed with the Twins. The Twins fell quickly out of the race, and now they’ve traded Morales to the Mariners, for Stephen Pryor and salary relief. The Mariners got Morales the only way they knew how to, and now he’ll serve as the rusty DH, in replacement of a rusty DH.

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Prospect Watch: ’14 Draftee Arms in the Appy

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment of the PW, I’m focusing on three hurlers in the Appalachian League who were just selected in the top three rounds of the 2014 draft.


Foster Griffin, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 18  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 6/3 K/BB, 1.04 ERA, 5.15 FIP

More about projection than current ability, Griffin is nonetheless off to a good start in pro ball.

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Twins Agree to Borrow Kendrys Morales

The surprising part wasn’t that Kendrys Morales signed immediately after he was no longer tied to compensation. The surprising part was that Kendrys Morales signed with the Minnesota Twins, instead of any of the more obvious possibilities. When Morales signed, the Twins were 29-31, and they fancy themselves a surprising potential contender, which tells you something about where the expectations were set a few months ago. The Twins got Morales for about $7.6 million and four months, and the organizational quotes you hear are full of optimism and positivity.

A rundown, courtesy of Rhett Bollinger:

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Trevor Plouffe and the Dangers of Good Results

Trevor Plouffe had a good June 2012 — he hit .327/.391/.735 with 11 home runs — and announced himself to the baseball world in his third season. Unfortunately for him, though, those were good results after a process that didn’t fit him best. It was the slump that came after (.226/.279/.381 with eight home runs) that taught the Minnesota Twins third baseman the tools he needed to become a better player.

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Phil Hughes to the Max

Fact: Phil Hughes has always been a tinkerer. All players are constantly making adjustments, so in that sense all players are tinkerers, but Hughes has been a tinkerer to the extreme. He’s gone back and forth on what pitches he’s wanted to throw, and Ben Lindbergh identified several different versions of Hughes, the pitcher. Adjustments are interesting to investigate, so Hughes hasn’t been dull, although this leads us to the next fact.

Fact: Phil Hughes has seldom been good enough. The former top prospect has a career 12.2 WAR, and for the most part he’s been missing consistency. Because of the inconsistency, there’s been the tinkering, and perhaps because of the tinkering, there’s been additional inconsistency. There’s always been the question of Hughes’ potential. There’s never been a question of whether or not Hughes was a disappointment. Because of his reputation, people were surprised when the Twins handed Hughes a guaranteed three-year contract.

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Prospect Watch: Pitching Behemoths

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.


Jake Johansen, RHP, Washington Nationals (Profile)
Level: Low-A  Age: 23   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 26 IP, 28 H, 20 R, 23/16 K/BB, 5.88 ERA, 3.80 FIP

Johansen has premium size and arm strength, with enough supplemental skills to make him very interesting.

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The Twins New Plan: Don’t Swing

Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Twins lead the major leagues in runs scored per game. The Minnesota Twins — with a line-up featuring the likes of Chris Colabello, Pedro Florimon, Kurt Suzuki, Aaron Hicks, Josmil Pinto, and Trevor Plouffe — are scoring 5.52 runs per game in a month where Joe Mauer has been kind of terrible. On the list of amazing things to happen this April, this has to rank near the very top. And the way they’re scoring runs is perhaps just as surprising.

When you think of organizations that have committed to a patient approach at the plate, you probably think of the Red Sox, Yankees, A’s, and Indians; clubs with long track records of emphasizing on-base percentage and working counts. You probably don’t think of the Twins; over the last three years, Minnesota’s hitters rank just 24th in OBP and are tied for 16th in walk rate. Even with a franchise player like Joe Mauer, taking pitches and getting on base hasn’t really been a point of emphasis for the Twins, and Mauer found himself surrounded by the likes of Ben Revere, Ryan Doumit, Alexi Casilla, and Danny Valencia.

Those four are all gone now, however, and the new Twins don’t look much like the old Twins. Their 12.9% walk rate leads the majors, and their .354 OBP ranks second only to the Colorado Rockies. The Twins are basically walking their way into wins, and it looks like it might very well be be design.

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Phil Hughes is Back to His Old Ways

Everyone is good at something. We may not be great or elite, but we all have something we can do better than anyone we know. Whether it’s whistling, whittling, or wrestling — you can do something better than your friends and family. It could have to do with genetics or just hours of practice, but there’s something. This is not to say that being good at something is actually a good thing. Most talents are pointless at best.

I used to work in a sheet music store/warehouse. Part of my job was pulling sheet music for customers who called the store or came in looking for something. I would look up the thing on my computer, then take to the stacks. Every piece of stock had a nine digit stock number. I started off writing these things down, but eventually just committed everything to memory. Doing this dozens of times a day allowed me to become very proficient at memorizing and then immediately forgetting nine digit numbers. I can still do it pretty well. This is a pretty dumb talent.

On April 9th, Phil Hughes started a game for the Twins. He gave up four runs, striking out three and walking three. This isn’t entirely atypical of Phil Hughes, but he’s certainly done better. He pitched only five innings, however. This, we are learning, is probably more of the norm for him. Read the rest of this entry »

Brian Dozier: When Just OK is Good Enough for the Twins

There’s this town in Wisconsin near where I grew up. To put it bluntly, it stinks. Not in the high school sports “you stink!” sense, the town actually smells bad. It is home to some paper mills, and the byproduct of paper mills is a certain odor. I don’t mean to make it as if the place smells like a garbage dump or sewer, but it’s pungent enough to cause a nose wrinkle. That is, it wrinkles the noses of the outsiders. The people who live there, the people exposed to it every day, they don’t notice it anymore. It’s the phenomenon known as the shifting baseline. When a town has smelled the same way for so long, people tend to shift their perspectives about how towns should smell. This idea, of course, applies to pretty much anything. But for this town in Wisconsin, it’s the smell. For the Minnesota Twins, it’s the middle infield.

The Minnesota Twins have put up some pretty poor seasons as of late. But they were pretty good not that long ago having made the playoffs six times between 2002 and 2010 (what they did in those playoff games is a different story).  They have employed Johan Santana when he was good, Francisco Liriano when he was good the first time, Joe Nathan, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, a pre-concussion Justin Morneau, and even squirreled some late-career heroics out of Jim Thome in the past few years. They were a mid-market team in a fairly week weak division, and some good development and some luck swung in their favor. Their middle infield has been an exception, however.

The middle infield for the Twins has been a veritable wasteland for the past 15 years. Players like Luis Rivas, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert, Luke Hughes, Brendan Harris, Cristian Guzman, Juan Castro, Adam Everett, Eduardo Escobar, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka have been the Twins’ representation up the middle. They traded Carlos Gomez for J.J. Hardy. They then traded J.J. Hardy for two relievers who have yet to make the majors. Nishioka was supposed to be their next big hope, as they paid $5.3 million in posting fees to negotiate bringing him over from Japan. He stunk, broke his leg, came back and continued to stink. They sent him and his $3 million salary to Triple A for 101 games, in fact, to no avail. It’s been a rough going, is the point of this paragraph.

And so when one Brian Dozier provided even the faintest hint of being close to decent, the Twins looked like they may have shaken their no-hit-infielder blues. Dozier was drafted as a college shortstop in the 8th round of the 2009 draft. He played multiple infield positions in the minors, but  got most of his work in at shortstop. When he was called up in 2012, he was deposited at short. It did not go well. He had a dismal 64 wRC+ while being so-so defensively. The Twins were struggling as a team, so they had no problem letting Dozier try and work things out during the season. It never happened. It seemed as if Dozier was destined to succumb to the destiny of Twins infielders past.

In 2013, Minnesota decided to place Pedro Florimon‘s glove at short. Florimon can’t hit either, but the Twins saw his glove as at least some kind of asset at the position. Dozier was moved to second base, and, at least in comparison to past performances, flourished. His defense improved. He started hitting for more power, knocking 18 homers in 623 PA. He nearly doubled his walk rate. Everything was coming up Brian Dozier. By now, you’ve clicked on Brian Dozier’s player page and seen that his 2013 performance ended with a 101 wRC+. This is true. But for Twins fans, he must seem like a godsend. The baseline has shifted a little over the past 15 years.

These are the Twins second baseman since 1998 who have accumulated at least  400 PA in a season.

Season Name OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
2010 Orlando Hudson 0.338 0.372 96 3.1
2013 Brian Dozier 0.312 0.414 101 2.8
2006 Luis Castillo 0.358 0.37 95 2.1
2012 Jamey Carroll 0.343 0.317 87 2
2009 Nick Punto 0.337 0.284 72 1.6
2008 Alexi Casilla 0.333 0.374 90 1.3
2008 Brendan Harris 0.327 0.394 93 1
1998 Todd Walker 0.372 0.473 114 0.9
2005 Nick Punto 0.301 0.335 70 0.8
2000 Denny Hocking 0.373 0.416 101 0.5
2003 Luis Rivas 0.308 0.381 80 -0.1
1999 Todd Walker 0.343 0.397 86 -0.3
2001 Luis Rivas 0.319 0.362 79 -0.6
1999 Denny Hocking 0.307 0.378 69 -0.9

Dozier comes in tied for second in WAR, and tied for second in hitting. I’m going to repeat that for clarity; over the past 15 years of Twins second baseman, the second-best hitting performance came in at 101 wRC+.

So, what changed? What turned Dozier from a failed experiment at shortstop to a viable option at second? He turned 26 near the start of the 2013 season and had three full seasons in the minors, so it’s not as if he was rushed. Though he could just be a late bloomer, that’s not out of the question. He cut down on his overall swing percentage, with a 10% drop in swings at pitches outside of the zone. It could be that he needed more time against major league pitching to figure things out. Another component could come from his switching defensive positions.

While it’s hard to quantify, there are many stories of players turning things around offensively after switching to a position they were more comfortable in. If defensive metrics are telling a true tale, Dozier didn’t seem all that comfortable at short. One of his bigger problems was getting the ball to first. While errors certainly don’t tell the whole story, he committed nine throwing errors at short in 2012 versus just one at second in many more attempts in 2013. It could be that his arm just wasn’t strong enough, or it could be that his lack or range lead to hurried and off-balance throws. He seems to have decent enough range, but could also have been getting help from Florimon in reducing the ground he needs to cover.


It could be that the reduced pressure of playing second helped him at the plate. Perhaps not having to work as hard on defense allowed him more time in the cage, or just a clearer head in the batters box. It could be that these things are mutually exclusive, but it’s probably a safe bet that the defensive move helped his hitting at least a little.

Steamer, Oliver, and ZiPS project Dozier to regress offensively. Oliver sees a big jump in defense, but the others see it staying about the same. He’s only had one season at second, so it becomes hard to project, especially if the uptick in offense thanks to the defensive switch is a real thing. The Twins are on the upswing, but still have a good amount of things to address. Their bullpen was pretty much the only bright spot last season. They have some heavy hitters coming up in the system, and have switched philosophies slightly when it comes to pitching — looking to collect more hard-throwing pitchers rather than their usual low-velocity strike throwers. If Dozier can play well enough to keep his spot, he may be around long enough to see the team’s latest renaissance. If he does, the middle-infield baseline will have shifted for the first time in a long time for Minnesota.

Trying to Understand Bronson Arroyo

Bronson_Arroyo_2011For five years now, Bronson Arroyo has been better than his peripherals. Since 2009, only three pitchers have a bigger gap between their fielding independent numbers and their ERA, and those three didn’t come close to pitching as many innings. It’s tempting to say the free agent 36-year-old has figured something out… but what has he figured out, exactly? How has he become more than the sum of his parts? It has to be more than a whimsical leg kick.

Let’s use some basic peripherals to find comparable pitchers. His fastball struggles to break 90 mph, he doesn’t strike many out, and he doesn’t have great worm-burning stuff — but the control has been elite. Here are a few other pitchers that fit that sort of mold.
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Trading Ryan Doumit and the Possible End of an Era

There was what seems like a relatively unremarkable trade today, that went down between the Braves and the Twins. The Twins sent to the Braves one Ryan Doumit, in the last year of his contract. The Braves sent to the Twins one Sean Gilmartin, 23 years old and still in the minors. Doumit is expected to fill some kind of role on Atlanta’s bench. Gilmartin might be a Twins starting rotation candidate down the road. It’s a competitive team maybe exchanging a little longer-term value for a little shorter-term value, and it’s a rebuilding team doing the opposite of that. Perfectly understandable, ordinary trade that does very little to capture the imagination.

There might be something buried here, though, beneath the immediate layers. Something nothing more than statistical, but then numbers are so much of everything. It depends on how Doumit ends up being utilized by the Braves, but there’s a chance this could mark the end of an era, beyond just the era of Doumit playing for Minnesota. On the surface, the trade is mildly interesting. Below the surface, it’s a little bit more so.

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2014 ZiPS Projections – Minnesota Twins

After having typically appeared in the entirely venerable pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections were released at FanGraphs last year. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Minnesota Twins. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Cleveland / Philadelphia / St. Louis.

“How will Joe Mauer‘s move from catcher to first base affect the Twins?” is likely a question that a number of people have asked this offseason, either aloud or just to themselves. The answer, at least so far as ZiPS is concerned, is probably “Not much.” In either case, that is, Minnesota doesn’t resemble anything much like a club that’ll find itself in playoff contention during the waning months of baseball’s regular season. That’s not to say it won’t affect Mauer’s production, personally. After receiving a projection of four-plus wins from ZiPS last winter and then actually outproducing that figure during 2013, the erstwhile backstop receives here a projection of fewer than three wins as a first baseman.

Part of that appears to be adjustment for BABIP: no player is reasonably forecast to record one above .350, even though Mauer has exceeded that figure each of the last two seasons. Part of that is likely a product of whatever aging curve Dan Szymborski’s math computer utilizes. But a third part of it is due, also, to the positional adjustment for a first basemen relative to a catcher. Whether projected to record a 125 OPS+ (as he was last year) or 121 OPS+ (as with this one), that’s a less formidable number when it’s being produced by a first baseman.

An encouraging development, on the other hand, is the projection for Mauer’s replacement at catcher, Josmil Pinto, about whom Steamer is also rather optimistic.

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Steamer Projects: Minnesota Twins Prospects

Earlier today, polite and Canadian and polite Marc Hulet published his 2014 organizational prospect list for the Minnesota Twins.

It goes without saying that, in composing such a list, Hulet has considered the overall future value those prospects might be expected to provide either to the Twins or whatever other organizations to which they might someday belong.

What this brief post concerns isn’t overall future value, at all, but rather such value as the prospects from Hulet’s list might provide were they to play, more or less, a full major-league season in 2014.

Other prospect projections: Arizona / Chicago AL / Miami / San Francisco / Seattle / Toronto.

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A Farewell to Phil Hughes’ Home-Field Nightmare

Sometimes, baseball analysis can reveal new truths, things that nobody had ever noticed before. Other times, it can simply confirm what’s already obvious. Meander through Phil Hughes‘ FanGraphs player page and you’ll realize that playing in Yankee Stadium did him zero favors. But you don’t need to know anything about FIP or HR/FB% to understand that Hughes could benefit from pitching in a friendlier environment. He’s going to do that in Minnesota, and while I don’t know exactly what the Twins’ thought process is, I presume it’s in the vicinity of, Hughes is talented, and fewer balls should leave the park going forward. Target Field is bigger than Yankee Stadium, so Hughes stands a chance of bouncing back.

Hughes debuted in the majors in 2007. Since then, 151 pitchers have recorded at least 250 innings both at home and on the road. Hughes’ home ERA is 0.86 points higher than his road ERA, the sixth-highest difference in the pool. His home wOBA allowed is .046 points higher than his road wOBA allowed, the first-highest difference in the pool. Driving this, primarily? Hughes’ home HR/FB% is six percentage points higher than his road HR/FB%, also the first-highest difference in the pool. Hughes allowed more than twice as many dingers in New York as in not-New York, and there’s nothing more damaging than a dinger. The Twins clearly believe that Hughes was at least partially sunk by the home-field bandbox.

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How To Shop In the Non-Tender Market… Successfully

I imagine that, for a front office exec, there’s nothing quite like the buzz you get from picking up another team’s non-tender and getting value from that player. Maybe it’s just ‘one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor,’ but in a business where one sector of the market has to continually work to find value in surprising places, it’s an important moment.

But is there much success to be found in the bargain bin? These are players that their own team has given up on — and we have some evidence that teams know more about their own players than the rest of the league, and that players that are re-signed are more successful. What can we learn from the successes and failures that we’ve seen in the past?

To answer that question, I loaded all the non-tendered players since 2007 into a database and looked at their pre- and post-non-tender numbers.

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Twins Remake Rotation With Nolasco And Hughes

While most teams took the opportunity to enjoy a quiet Thanksgiving holiday, the Minnesota Twins instead figured the time was right to hand out the two biggest free agent contracts in team history. On Wednesday, they signed Ricky Nolasco for four years and $49 million; on Saturday night, it was Phil Hughes for three years and $24 million. In the span of four days, Terry Ryan added two pitchers who lost 25 games last year to his 96-loss team, and guaranteed them $73 million in the process.

If you think that’s crazy, know that you’re far from alone. Between the dual questions of “is either pitcher really worth that money?” and “why is a 96-loss team spending this much to maybe get to only 90 losses next year?” it’s easy to question the Minnesota plan here. That being said: these are moves that are still pretty defensible. Read the rest of this entry »

The Twins and More Hints of a Changing Market

While many of you probably spent the long holiday weekend with the family you already had, the Twins spent theirs building a new one, signing Ricky Nolasco for four years before signing Phil Hughes for three. While this post is being published much later than the reports, many haven’t been looking at their computers, and these transactions are too interesting to outright ignore. Without stepping on Mike Petriello’s toes, these moves are notable for a variety of reasons.

(1) The Twins aren’t good. Obviously, the Twins aren’t good, and while the Twins might become good in the near or less-near future, they’re not good now, and their division already has talented teams, and free-agent acquisitions are usually short-term improvements. You don’t usually expect lousy ballclubs to make multi-year commitments on the market. Not like this.

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