Archive for Twins

Elegy for ’18 – Minnesota Twins

It was a rough season for the former No. 1 pick, but the talent remains clear.
(Photo: Andy Witchger)

With nothing expected of the majority of the AL Central teams in 2018, the Twins were the main hope for making Cleveland’s season inconvenient. Like a Star Wars prequel, this new hope failed to materialize in a satisfying way.

The Setup

The Twins were one of the more successful regular-season teams in baseball during the aughts, making the playoffs in six of nine seasons, but also going 6-21 in the actual postseason. With the core of the team fading quickly after 2010, Minnesota spent several years wandering around as one of baseball’s few remaining (relatively) “pure” old-school franchises.

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Willians Astudillo Hasn’t Struck Out in 55 Plate Appearances

The last pitcher to strike out Willians Astudillo was Tyler Olson. With two on and one out in the top of the eighth of a one-run game, Olson put Astudillo away with the sixth pitch of the at-bat, a well-thrown low-away changeup. Astudillo had also struck out ten plate appearances earlier, facing Blake Snell. Snell was the first guy in the majors to get Astudillo to go down on strikes. Olson was the second. There have been only the two strikeouts. Olson’s happened on August 29.

Astudillo appeared again on September 1. He started on September 2. So far in September, Astudillo has come to the plate 55 times, and he hasn’t struck out. He is the only major-leaguer without a strikeout this month, among everyone with at least 50 opportunities. And though Astudillo has also drawn just one September walk, he’s batted .389. Overall, in a small sample in the bigs, he’s batted .350. Ordinarily we don’t cite batting average very often around these parts, but with Astudillo, it can tell most of the story. The weirdest player from the minors is making it work.

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Odorizzi’s No-Hit Bid Didn’t Go Entirely for Naught

When the Mariners’ James Paxton completed his no-hitter against the Blue Jays on May 8, it was the majors’ second in a five-day span. The Dodgers’ Walker Buehler and three relievers had performed the same feat versus the Padres on May 4. It was also the third in 18 days, if we include the A’s Sean Manaea performance against the Red Sox on April 21. We haven’t seen one since, though we’ve certainly seen no shortage of credible bids, including three that made it into the ninth inning, the most recent of which was this past Saturday (care of the Royals’ Jorge Lopez against the Twins). On Wednesday night, the Twins’ own Jake Odorizzi was the latest to give it a go, holding the Yankees hitless for 7.1 innings before yielding an RBI double to Greg Bird.

The hit came on Odorizzi’s 120th pitch, matching a career high set on June 3, 2016, which suggests that he likely wouldn’t have finished the job even if he’d retired Bird. That said, it sounds as though manager Paul Molitor had given him the green light. Via The Athletic’s Dan Hayes:

“I told him, ‘This is one of those rare nights when you get in this type of area,’ in terms of doing something that was magical,” Molitor said. “You just try to do the best you can and trust that he was going to make a good decision for himself and not get too caught up. Sometimes you have to do that for him, but I thought he was in a good place.”

Odorizzi had begun running up his pitch count in the first inning, when he threw 23 pitches via three-ball counts against both Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Andujar sandwiched around an Aaron Hicks plate appearances that featured five straight foul balls. He walked three batters in all. Only in the seventh inning, when he needed just seven pitches to retire Andujar, Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius, did he throw fewer than 14 pitches.

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Ryan Pressly and the Houston Spin Machine

There is a moment during Ryan Pressly’s delivery at which it appears — from certain camera angles and for the briefest of flickering moments — as if he might fall down. He begins his motion by raising himself quickly and powerfully onto his back leg, back slightly hunched and ball only just beginning to separate from glove. As his front leg begins to drop, Pressly moves his center of gravity — and full weight — onto that strong back leg, pitching arm pointing very nearly towards first base and glove out in front on his left hand like a talisman, as if to ward off the batter.

This is the point, in freeze frame, at which it appears ever-so-slightly possible that he might lose his balance and tumble, ass-backwards, off the mound. But then, a split second before the point of no return, the hips fire from their hyper-rotated position, the arm whips toward the batter at 45 degrees, and in the matter of an instant it is Pressly’s chosen victim, rather than the pitcher himself, who begins to look rather foolish.

That strikeout of Jonathan Lucroy, which came in the seventh inning of the Astros’ August 17th encounter with the surging A’s, was Pressly’s 10th for Houston since arriving via trade on July 27th. He has since added eleven more Ks against just one walk, which brings his totals in 16.2 innings pitched in the orange and navy to 23 strikeouts and just one walk. No other reliever has anything approaching that K/BB ratio over that period since Pressly arrived in Houston. Heck, Pressly himself has never really had such a dominant stretch of success. In the 47.2 innings he threw for the Twins before being traded, he struck out 69 and walked 19 — perfectly nice numbers, but nothing close to what he’s done in Texas.

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Byron Buxton and September Service-Time Manipulations

After last year’s long awaited success, Byron Buxton’s 2018 campaign has proven more challenging.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Blue Jays infielder Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who became the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball once Ronald Acuña graduated, has recorded one of the top batting lines at Triple-A since his promotion to that level at the end of July. White Sox outfielder Eloy Jiménez, generally considered one of the game’s top five prospects, has actually been slightly more productive than Vlad Jr. during his own 200-plus plate appearances in the International League. Mets prospect Peter Alonso, meanwhile — who lacks the transcendent talent of the aforementioned players but also rates as a top-100 prospect — leads the minor leagues in homers and plays a position from which the Mets have gotten sub-replacement level production. All three have demonstrated some level of mastery over minor-league competition. None of them are likely to appear in the majors this year.

If the circumstances were different, one could understand. If the Jays or White Sox or Mets were in the midst of a playoff race and were adding veteran talent to complement their rosters, that would be one thing. That’s not the case, though. All three clubs possess sub-.500 records. All three have endured depressed attendance figures (down 24.7% in Toronto, 5.7% in Chicago, 7.4% in New York). All three are looking towards next year.

Despite this emphasis on the future and development, executives have found excuses not to recall any of aforementioned players, ranging from a lack of available playing time to defense (always defense) to checklists to which the public isn’t privy. If the formula holds, not only will Guerrero, Jiménez, and Alonso fail to appear in the majors this year, they also won’t break camp with their respective clubs at the beginning of next season. Instead, their teams will head north from spring training without them and then, a few weeks later in April, summon them to the big club — as soon as they’ve acquired what amounts to another year of control.

What’s happening with this particular group of young players isn’t uncommon, of course. We’ve been here before — with Evan Longoria in 2008, with David Price and Matt Wieters in 2009, with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper (2012), with George Springer (2014), with Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco (2015), and with Gleyber Torres (who at least was returning from a season-ending injury) and Acuña this year.

From a cutthroat, competitive standpoint, it makes sense. Acting in their own self-interest under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, teams want to retain their best young players for longer while paying them as little as possible. The executives’ euphemisms are all the more tiresome, however, because fans have become conditioned to accept (or even defend) them, taking the sides of billionaires (the owners) against millionaires (if, in this case, they got a handsome signing bonus). The teams’ actions may not be illegal (though colleague Sheryl Ring offered a legal argument on their behalf concerning their postponed entry into the union). We’ve become hyperconscious of it in the wake of Bryant’s delayed arrival and subsequent grievance, which three years later remains unresolved.

The problem is, the subject of teams manipulating the service time of young players is diverting attention away from the games themselves and becoming it’s own story. It’s a bad look for the sport, particularly in a year where nearly one-third of the teams are noncompetitive by design, where leaguewide attendance is down 4.6% relative to 2017 and slated to finish below 30,000 per game for the first time since 2003.

Instead of any collective effort to address the problem, however, the sport has recently produced a novel kind of service-time manipulation — in this case, involving former consensus No. 1 prospect Byron Buxton.

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Sunday Notes: Bobby Wilson is a Soldier Who Has Seen Pitching Evolve

Bobby Wilson has caught for 16 seasons — nine of them at the big league level — so he knows pitching like the back of his hand. Particularly on the defensive side of the ball. With a .577 OPS in exactly 1,000 MLB plate appearances, the 35-year-old hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut. But his stick isn’t why the Chicago Cubs acquired him from the Minnesota Twins this past Thursday. They picked him up for his receiving skills and his ability to work with a staff.

The quality and style of pitching he’s seeing today aren’t the same as what they were when he inked his first professional contract in 2002.

“The game is ever evolving, ever changing,” Wilson told me a few weeks ago. “I’ve seen it go from more sinker-slider to elevated fastballs with a curveball off of that. But what really stands out is the spike in velocity. There’s almost no one in this league right now who is a comfortable at bat.”

In his opinion, increased octane has made a marked impact on how hitters are being attacked.

“If you have velocity, you can miss spots a little more frequently, whereas before you had to pitch,” opined Wilson. “You can’t miss spots throwing 88-90. If you’re 95-100 , you can miss your location and still have a chance of missing a barrel. Even without a lot of movement. Because of that, a lot of guys are going to four-seam, straight fastballs that are elevated, instead of a ball that’s sinking.”

But as the veteran catcher said, the game is ever evolving. He’s now starting to see more high heat in the nether regions of the zone, as well. Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes Finale: Arizona Fall League Roster Edition

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Note from Eric: Hey you, this is the last one of these for the year, as the minor-league regular season comes to a close. Thanks for reading. I’ll be taking some time off next week, charging the batteries for the offseason duties that lie ahead for Kiley and me.

D.J. Peters, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 4-for-7, 2 HR, 2B (double header)

Notes
A comparison of DJ Peters’ 2017 season in the Cal League and his 2018 season at Double-A gives us a good idea of what happens to on-paper production when a hitter is facing better pitching and defenses in a more stable offensive environment.

D.J. Peters’ Production
Year AVG OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP wRC+
2017 .276 .372 .514 32.2% 10.9% .385 137
2018 .228 .314 .451 34.0% 8.1% .305 107

Reports of Peters’ physical abilities haven’t changed, nor is his batted-ball profile different in such a way that one would expect a downtick in production. The 2018 line is, I think, a more accurate distillation of Peters’ abilities. He belongs in a talent bucket with swing-and-miss outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Randal Grichuk, Michael A. Taylor, Bradley Zimmer, etc. These are slugging center fielders whose contact skills aren’t particularly great. Players like this are historically volatile from one season to the next but dominant if/when things click. They’re often ~1.5 WAR players who have some years in the three-win range. Sometimes they also turn into George Springer.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/21/2018

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Johan Quezada, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Level: Low-A   Age: Turns 24 on Saturday   Org Rank: 46   FV: 35+
Line: 3.1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 6 K

Notes
This was Johan Quezada’s first career appearance in full-season ball. An imposing mound presence at a towering 6-foot-6, he has recovered from the shoulder surgery that cost him all of 2017, and his velocity has returned. He sits 94-97 with extreme downhill plane created by his height, and he’ll show you an average slider every once in a while. Quezada’s breaking-ball quality and command need to develop as they’re understandably behind due to his limited pro workload. He’s a older-than-usual arm-strength/size lottery ticket. On the surface, he seems like a candidate for extra reps in the Arizona Fall League.

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Sunday Notes: Older and Wiser, Clay Buchholz is Excelling in Arizona

Clay Buchholz has been rejuvenated in Arizona. Signed off the scrap heap in early May — the Royals had released him — the 34-year-old righty is 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 12 starts since joining the Diamondbacks. He twirled a complete-game gem on Thursday, holding the Padres to a lone run.

Health had been holding him back. Buchholz has battled numerous injury bugs over his career, particularly in recent seasons. Cast aside by the Red Sox after a tumultuous 2016 — a 4.78 ERA and a six-week banishment to the bullpen — he made just two appearances for the Phillies last year before landing on the disabled list and staying there for the duration. Frustration was clearly at the fore.

Truth be told, he’d rarely been his old self since a sparkling 2013 that saw him go 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA — and even that season was interrupted by injury. Given his travails, one couldn’t have blamed him had he thrown up his hands and walked away from the game.

That wasn’t in his DNA.

“No, this is what I do,” Buchholz told me earlier this summer. “I wasn’t ready to give it up. And while this offseason I told myself I wasn’t going to go through the whole minor league deal again, I swallowed my pride and did that for a little bit. It was for the best, because it helped me get to where I’m at now. It feels good to be able to go out there and throw without anything going on, mentally or physically.”

Buchholz made five starts in the minors before being called up, and he did so with a glass-is-half-full attitude. Read the rest of this entry »


The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013.

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion among the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing within Longenhagen and McDaniel’s most recent update — and the updates published by Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus and John Sickels at Minor League Ball — have also been excluded from consideration.

*Note: I’ve excluded Baseball America’s list this year not due to any complaints with their coverage, but simply because said list is now behind a paywall.

For those interested in learning how Fringe Five players have fared at the major-league level, this somewhat recent post offers that kind of information. The short answer: better than a reasonable person would have have expected. In the final analysis, though, the basic idea here is to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Brock Burke, LHP, Tampa Bay (Profile)
A third-round selection out of a Colorado high school in 2014, Burke has had the capacity to hit 95 mph for much of his professional career but has struggled to consistently hold his velocity from start to start. “I’d be down to 87-90 at times,” he told FanGraphs’ David Laurila in a post from June. “Now I’m more consistent with ranges, and my velo isn’t dropping at the end of games.”

Burke attributes at least part of his development to a Driveline Baseball program in which he participated with other Rays pitchers. “It was definitely beneficial,” said Burke. “It got me in better body shape, which has helped my accuracy and my velo.”

Whatever the cause, Burke has been excellent of late. Following an early-July promotion to Double-A Montgomery, Burke has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 33.6% and 6.2%, respectively, in 36.2 innings. The differential of 27.4 points between those two figures would represent the highest such mark among qualified Double-A pitchers. Burke was characteristically strong in his most recent start, recording an 8:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 28 batters over 7.0 innings (box).

Burke seemed to have the most success with his fastball in that start earlier this week. Here, though, is footage of the one his better curveballs:

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/16/2018

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Bryse Wilson, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Level: Triple-A   Age: 20   Org Rank: 12   FV: 45+
Line: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 13 K

Notes
Bryse Wilson touched 97 several times last night and sat 93-95 late in the outing. He pounded the zone with his fastball (72 of 98 pitches were for strikes) and blew it past several hitters up above the strike zone. His slider (mostly 83-85, though he lollipops some slower ones into the zone for first-pitch strikes) flashes plus but is mostly average and is only capable of missing bats when it’s out of the zone. Wilson’s changeup is fringey and firm, without much bat-missing movement, but the velocity separation off of the fastball is enough to keep hitters from squaring it up, and it’s going to be an effective pitch. The entire package (Wilson’s physicality and stuff) looks very similar to Michael Fulmer and Wilson’s delivery is much more graceful and fluid than it was when he was in high school, when scouts thought it would impact his ability to command the fastball and possibly move him to the bullpen.

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Willians Astudillo Pulled Off the Hidden-Ball Trick

Outside of the salaries and facilities and attendance and everything, there are two significant differences between the minors and the majors. One big difference is that the players in the majors are a whole lot better. There’s a stark difference in the quality of gameplay. Another big difference is that the players in the majors are first and foremost trying to win. In the minors, players get to be more selfish; they have to be more selfish, because the goal is to draw attention and get promoted. The minors are all about player development, because no one goes into baseball with the dream of topping out in Double-A. Players want to be as good as they can be. If their team wins more than it loses, all the better, but that’s a secondary concern.

So consider the hidden-ball trick. There’s less incentive to try it in the minors, because the idea is to get a cheap out, and, in the minors, players don’t care so much about cheap outs. If anything, a well-executed hidden-ball trick robs the pitcher of a development opportunity. At the same time, there’s more incentive to try it in the minors, because it’s clever and delightful, and you have to pass the time somehow. The stakes are lower, and trick plays are fun to be a part of. This season, the Rochester Red Wings have pulled off the hidden-ball trick two times.

The most recent occasion was made possible by Willians Astudillo. By the terms of my contract with FanGraphs, I can’t allow this to pass without it being remarked upon. So let’s review what happened to the poor, unsuspecting Dawel Lugo.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Derek Shelton on Managerial Philosophy

Derek Shelton is a bit of an outlier in this series. Unlike the 11 subjects who preceded him, he isn’t currently a manager. Shelton is the bench coach in Minnesota, and outside of filling in for two games while Paul Molitor was in Cooperstown last month, he’s never been in that role at the highest level. His only full-time managerial experience is in A-ball, from 2000-2002 in the New York Yankees organization.

That may change. Shelton would like to manage in the big leagues some day, and he’s on a path to do. After serving as the hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians from 2005-2009, and the Tampa Bay Rays from 2010-2016, the 49-year-old former catcher spent last season as the quality control coach for the Toronto Blue Jays. A multi-faceted job, it segued well into the bench coach position that he now holds.

What type of manager will Shelton be if he’s able to take that next step? He did his best to answer that question when the Twins visited Fenway Park a few weeks ago.

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Derek Shelton: “First and foremost, the game is about the players. It’s about communication and how you interact with them. With the way the game has changed, particularly in terms of all the information that’s available, you have to make sure you’re communicating what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to do it. You want an open dialogue with not only your staff, but also with the players.

“I would hope that [having a good understanding of analytics] would be a plus. I worked in Cleveland, at the forefront of analytics, with Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti. Then I had the opportunity to work for the Rays, who are obviously not afraid to look outside the box on anything. And one thing the Rays do a very good job of — especially between their major league coaching staff and the front office — is having a very open dialogue. There’s kind of a no-ego relationship where you’re free to ask questions. Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 20

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the twentieth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Zach Duke, Kyle Gibson, and Trevor Hildenberger — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Zach Duke (Mariners) on His Two-Seamer

“I didn’t start throwing a two-seam fastball until I got to Triple-A. My pitching coach there was a guy named Darold Knowles, an old-time lefty who could manipulate a baseball as well as anyone I’ve met. He said, ‘You know, Zach, have you ever thought about throwing a two-seamer?’ I said, ‘Well yeah; I throw one.’ He goes, ‘No, a real two-seamer.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’

“He told me to move my thumb up a little bit on the ball, and put a little pressure sideways. He said, ‘Throw it. You’ll see.’ Sure enough, I throw it and the bottom drops out of the ball. All of sudden I had a true sinker. I thought to myself, ‘How did I get this far without knowing something like that?’ Read the rest of this entry »


Kyle Gibson on Fastball Efficiency and Pitch-to-Pitch Sequencing

Kyle Gibson turned a corner midway through last season, and an eye-opening email was a big reason why. The 30-year-old right-hander received a valuable piece of information from the Minnesota Twins brain trust, and he’s used it to his full advantage. Gibson went 7-3 with a 3.76 ERA over the second half, and this year he’s been even better. In 22 starts for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine’s ball club, he has career lows in both ERA (3.47) and FIP (3.73), and his 8.80 strikeout rate is also a personal best.

Gibson talked about his career-altering adjustment, and his overall approach to pitching, when the Twins visited Fenway Park this past weekend.

———

Kyle Gibson: “When I got sent down last year, Derek and Thad emailed me, breaking down each of my starts over the past two years. It was the percentage of time I got my fastball in the strike zone, and it was astounding. When my fastball had an in-zone percentage over 50%, I hadn’t been beaten. That really opened my eyes.

“It was at that point when I started to figure out how my four-seamer plays early in the count, and how I can use my fastball to get guys to be more aggressive. My outlook on how I use that pitch has really changed. Before, I’d been thinking about executing fastballs in the right part of the zone. I’d been overcomplicating things. Now I’m simply trying to throw more fastballs in the zone.

“It’s about attacking middle early. You can’t pitch in the middle of the zone, but you can try to pitch to thirds. It started with, ‘Get more fastballs in the zone.’ Like, OK, how can we… my sinker, right? I relied so much on chase my first two years in the league — throwing sinkers in the zone and then just out of the zone. Well, let’s figure out how to keep the sinker in the zone. Let’s figure out how the four-seamer plays, both up and down. From there, let everything else fall into place. My fastball usage hasn’t increased. I’m just more efficient with it, and it’s helped make my offspeed better.

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The Dodgers Finally Get Brian Dozier

The Dodgers have seemingly courted Brian Dozier for years. Last offseason, they seemed to settle for Logan Forsythe to fill their second-base needs. But the desire lingered and, in the final hour leading up to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline, the Dodgers and Dozier finally got together.

The price of Dozier on Tuesday was cheaper than it was two years ago when the Twins refused an offer of Jose De Leon, who was later shipped to the Rays for Forsythe. To acquire Dozier, the Dodgers sent Forsythe and minor-league pitcher Devin Smeltzer and corner bat Luke Raley to the Twins. Neither was ranked by FanGraphs among the Dodgers’ top 21 prospects in the spring.

While the cost came down, Dozier, 31, is nearly two years older and perhaps not the same player. He’s also headed to free agency after the season. Still, this is a trade about today for the Dodgers. Second base is a real need for Los Angeles, and even a subpar Dozier, whose 91 wRC+ represents a six-year low, is a real upgrade.

Dodgers second basemen have produced an anemic .213/.303/.287 slash line to date, ranking 28th in the majors in wRC+ (66) and 27th in second base WAR (-0.3). Forsythe (55 wRC+), Chase Utley (84 wRC+), and company were just not getting the job done, producing a drag effect on the lineup.

The Dodgers have ridden the game’s macro-level trends about as well as any team in recent years. They’ve manipulated the 10-day DL, have employed an opener, limited pitchers’ trips through lineups, and were willing to give more dollars and years than any other club to Rich Hill’s unconventional pitch mix two winters ago. (Hill’s usage is now becoming more and more conventional.) Justin Turner has preached the power of the air ball to teammates like Chris Taylor. In Dozier, they get another hitter with natural loft and pull-side power.

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The Dodgers Acquire Subpar Dozier for More Subpar Forsythe

Brian Dozier is running… into the postseason!
(Photo: Keith Allison)

After arriving in the majors back in 2012 as a relatively unheralded prospect, Twins second baseman Brian Dozier entered the 2018 campaign having produced five consecutive above-average seasons. The All-Star middle infielder’s 2016-17 performance (11.2 WAR) places him second among qualified second basemen during that time, behind none other than Jose Altuve. Even accounting for his 2018 struggles — a relative term, since he is still tracking for league-average performance — Dozier ranks third among all second basemen over the last three calendar years, trailing Altuve by a sizable margin and Robinson Cano by a half-win.

Roughly two-thirds of the way through a season in which the Twins expected to contend — having acquired Lance Lynn, Logan Morrison, Addison Reed (among others) all at market value or less — the Twins haven’t succeeded on that front, having struggled in a very weak AL Central. They find themselves seven games under .500 and trail the Indians by eight full games; as you might expect, they are expected to be less productive than the Indians for the remainder of the season, too.

With that serving as background, the club dealt one of their central pieces today. A combination of ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick and NBC LA’s Michael Duarte reported the deal, as follows.

Dodgers get:

  • 2B Brian Dozier

Twins get:

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The Yankees and Twins Swap Tyler Austin, Lance Lynn

A busy day for the New York Yankees continues! Not long after reports emerged of a trade sending Adam Warren to Seattle, the club arranged a deal to acquire right-handed starting pitcher Lance Lynn from the Minnesota Twins, along with half of the cash for his remaining salary. The return? First baseman-outfielder Tyler Austin and pitcher Luis Rijo.

As I note in the piece to which I’ve linked above, Warren was expendable for the Yankees because he’d been used predominantly in low-leverage innings, a role that pitchers inferior to Warren could handle without much effect on the team’s bottom line. As if to reinforce that point, New York brings in Lance Lynn, a pitcher whom I pegged as likely to be one of the winter’s worst bargains, something that didn’t materialize as free agency ground to a halt and Lynn ended up signing a one-year deal with the Twins. It’s hard to say the league was wrong in hindsight, Lynn’s 4.82 FIP in 2017 being a better predictor of his 5.10 ERA in 2018 than the misleadingly low 3.43 ERA he put up in his final season in St. Louis. It’s unclear at this point if the Yankees intend to use Lynn to possibly boot Sonny Gray from the rotation or simply use him as a low-leverage swingman.

From the Yankee standpoint, I’m not crazy about this move. I think, with Judge’s injury, that outfield depth (in the form of Austin) is a bit more important to the club in the near future, with trades becoming more difficult after another 24 hours. The opportunity to trade Austin over the winter would have come in handy.

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How New Mariner Zach Duke Reinvented Himself

Five years ago, Zach Duke found himself in a sobering situation. The then-30-year-old left-hander had exercised an August 1 opt-out clause — he’d been pitching well for Cincinnati’s Triple-A affiliate — and his next opportunity was seemingly right around the corner. With 200 big-league appearances under his belt, it was only a matter of time until his phone rang and he was fielding offers.

Instead, all he heard was crickets.

“I was on the verge,” Duke admitted this past weekend. “When you make yourself available to every team and none of them want you, that’s a pretty good indicator that the end might be near. To be honest, I thought that might be it.”

After reinventing himself, though, he’s not only still pitching, he’s a wanted man. Earlier today, the Seattle Mariners acquired Duke from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Chase De Jong and Ryan Costello. His appeal to the pennant contenders is apparent in the numbers. In 45 relief appearances covering 37.1 innings, Duke has a 3.62 ERA, a 58.5% ground-ball rate, and has yet to give up a gopher.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 19

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the nineteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Marco Estrada, Brad Hand, and Jake Odorizzi — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Marco Estrada (Blue Jays) on His Changeup

“I never really threw a changeup in high school or college. When I got to High-A, I met a kid named Clint Everts who threw a really good changeup, so I asked him how he held his. It was a pretty simple grip. I grabbed it and threw it a couple of times, and it came out pretty good. I actually took it into a game two or three days after that, and got a lot of swings and misses on it. That’s basically where it began.

“The way I hold it has been the same ever since, although I feel the action on it has been a little different lately — last year and this year. There’s a lot of talk about the balls being different and whatnot, and maybe that’s affecting it a little bit? But I just don’t feel that it’s been what it was. There are days where I throw a good one and kind of tell myself, “What did I do different?’ It felt the exact same, so, is it the ball? I don’t know what it could be.

Marco Estrada’s changeup grip.

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