Terry Ryan Makes Best Twins Move of Year So Far

What is that precisely? Suggesting a commitment to long-term building and a eye for the future by saying today that he is not looking to trade for pitchers to help his team this year or the next. This comes a day after admitting that the offense is mediocre overall, the starting pitching is abysmal and that all players are to be considered for trades.

One key quote is this one:

“You can get a marginal Triple-A guy that might be able to be here next year; are you going to be satisfied if you passed on a high-ceiling guy? I wouldn’t be.”

If I’m reading between the lines, perhaps Ryan is criticizing Bill Smith and trades like the one Smith made for J.J. Hardy, getting two marginal relief prospects who are both now out of the organization. Either way, it is the way that Ryan should be looking at the situation. Not only should the Twins be selling, but this is the primary reason why. The team has to recognize it’s many faults–one of which is historically severe (the starting pitching)–and keep it’s eye a few years down the road, when their best prospects (Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, etc) might be in a position to help.

This has meant admitting to the fanbase that even long time players like Justin Morneau have to be made available in the right deal. That might be hard for many fans to hear, but it’s what Ryan has to do. If the Twins can move Morneau’s salary ($14 million this year an next year) and his decent, but ultimately vastly overpaid bat (105 OPS+, .322 wOBA, 0.1 rWAR, 0.3 fWAR) for worthwhile prospects, they need to do so.

Yes, they might even want to look at selling high on someone like Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe’s been outstanding, but the .364 wOBA/132 OPS+ isn’t overwhelming (hence the 1.3 rWAR/1.6 fWAR, though many would disagree with the advanced stats perspective on his defense, which seems to be improving) though it stands out for the Twins offense. I wouldn’t push to get rid of Plouffe, given that he might finally be the Twins answer at third, but I would indeed like Ryan consider everyone.

On the other hand, some players won’t be moved. Joe Mauer won’t be moved for obvious reason. Josh Willingham is unlikely to be moved and with a .407 wOBA/160 OPS+/3.0 rWAR/3.8 fWAR for $7 million right now, who can blame the Twins. He’s been a incredible deal and I would be happy to keep him. But the Twins could also move a player like Denard Span, who’s had great value (2.6 WAR) but has a solid potential replacement for him in Ben Revere.

Ultimately, the good news here is that Ryan is recognizing the needs of the team long-term. That should make fans happy because if they want to win again, this needs to happen and seeing real commitment to that should be some of the best news yet.

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First Half Awards

I planned to also try and do a mid-season recap/review of the Twins, but that might be a bit of a downer–they are, after all, 11 games back in a very mediocre division with a decent offense, a good enough bullpen, and a historically bad starting rotation. They won’t be contending this year, but for the rest of the league, I’d like to look do what everyone likes to do now–first-half awards. Let’s start with MVPs.

AL MVP: Mike Trout, OF, Angels

Really, I’m not sure this selection is too difficult. Most writers have seemed to quickly comprehend just how insane Trout’s season at the age of 20 is. Outside of Alex Rodriguez in 1996, Trout is on pace for the best season by a 20 year-old ever. Trout is hitting .341/.397/.562 (168 OPS+, .423 wOBA, 172 wRC+, .361 TAv) with 12 HRs and 26 SBs. With his high quality defense in the outfield (mostly center fielder, though he’s started 19 games and played 39 in the corner this year) and his amazing legs, it’s not surprising that he’s leading the AL in fWAR (4.8), WARP (4.3), OPS+ and VORP (37.3). His .361 TAv leads both leagues. His rWAR (4.6) ranks second in the AL to Brett Lawrie (5.0), but most seem certain that rWAR has overrated Lawrie’s defensive contributions (to the tune of 3.6 defensive WAR–side note on baseball-reference: 6 of the Top 10 position players by rWAR did not make the All-Star team, with Lawrie, Austin Jackson, Josh Reddick, Jason Kipnis, Shin-soo Choo, and Edwin Encarnacion the victims)

Trout’s hitting line is buoyed by a .392 BABIP, but with his otherworldly speed suggests that there is little reason Trout can’t maintain a high BABIP. His BA may fall a little, but I’m not sure Trout is in for much regression in the second half. Trout is a pretty easy call for first-half MVP. He’s really been a revelation so far and as much as people want to link him with Bryce Harper, Trout has been the more impressive player–the fact that he is doing it at 20 is mere icing on the cake. Yes, Josh Hamilton had an amazing start and is still hitting .308/.380/.635 (.417 wOBA, 161 OPS+, .337 TAv), good for WAR scores of 3.2 rWAR/3.8 fWAR/3.3 WARP, but he’s just not quite the player Trout has been.

Apologies to: Hamilton, Robinson Cano, Justin Verlander, Austin Jackson

NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates

I’m not being swayed here by the “Pirates are in first, so McCutchen should be MVP” narrative, though I’m sure he’s the best hitter in their lineup by a mile–they have a collective .300 OBP after all. No, I’ve more convinced by the premise that the various WAR statistics have underrated McCutchen’s defense due to his position–something that has occurred over the years with another center fielder that generally passes the “eye test,” Curtis Granderson. The metrics took a liking to McCutchen’s defense last year, but are not as keen on them this year–to the point of suggesting he’s a subpar fielder again.

First, let me get one thing out of the way: Joey Votto is the best hitter in the majors. His .451 wOBA/186 OPS+ and 5.0 fWAR lead everyone, with his 4.5 rWAR second. My honest sense is that by the end of the season, Votto will be the MVP anyways–I think he’s more likely to keep this up (his BABIP is at .408, but it’s .358 for his career). I’m also pretty keen on rewarding someone with a .471 OBP as well as someone who, somehow, has hit a total of zero infield fly balls (pop-ups) this year and just one in three years. Read that again. On the other hand, McCutchen actually leads Votto in VORP (42.1 v. 35.9) and TAv (.359 v. .355) and his 185 OPS+, 4.4 rWAR and .438 wOBA are right there. That’s what you get when you hit .362/.414/.625 and play center field.

But you know he is also right there? David Wright. Somehow he remains underrated (I look at Wright and see a career headed for the Hall of Fame, but I suspect many, many fans and writers disagree), but Wright leads the league in VORP (43.6) and rWAR (4.7) with his .351/.441/.563 line. Wright’s 4.9 fWAR, .418 wOBA, .350 TAv, 4.6 WARP, and 177 OPS+ all sit at the top of the league with Votto and McCutchen. An argument could be easily made for Wright as well–the Mets are a surprise too, though that is once again not a very convincing line of argument.

In the end, I’m going with McCutchen because I believe that the race is currently very close and that the metrics underrate McCutchen’s defensive contributions enough to currently make up the difference. I’m not sure that McCutchen’s average will stay so sky high (.407 current BABIP, .324 career) and his power may regress some too (21.4 % HR/FB ratio right now, 11.7 % career), which could mean Votto, Wright or someone else are deserving of the reward at the end of the season. But the season McCutchen has had so far has been something to witness. The odds are that he slows down, like his surprise team, but why not celebrate his accomplishment so far?

Apologies to: Votto, Wright, Carlos Ruiz, Michael Bourn, Ryan Braun, Zack Greinke

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers

If Verlander leads the league in the various WAR measurements, it’s for a good reason: he’s a extremely effective workhorse. He leads the league in innings pitched (132 2/3 innings) and complete games (5). He, as mentioned, leads in WAR for pitchers too–4.3 rWAR, 3.8 fWAR,  and is just behind Zack Greinke in VORP (26.6, leads AL) and Stephen Strasburg and Greinke in WARP (2.8).

He lags behind Chris Sale and Jered Weaver in ERA+ (159, vs. 194/193) and ERA (2.58, v. 1.96 for Weaver, 2.19 for Sale, 2.43 for C.J. Wilson), but only Wilson is even in the Top 10 for innings pitched. Verlander is second in the league to Colby Lewis in BB/K ratio (4.3), so it’s unsurprising with his 8.68 K/9 rate that his FIP (2.94) and xFIP (3.31) are not disproportionately high compared to his ERA. Yes, the .246 BABIP is low, but he had a .236 BABIP last year, and in fact, he has only allowed in 2009 a BABIP above .300 in a full season’s work. Batters may simply get weak contact off of Verlander–it may be a special skill, like Matt Cain and keeping flyballs in the park.

Even though I don’t think he’s the award winner right now, I would like to point out how good Sale has been for the White Sox. Sale’s 2.19 ERA/2.58 FIP/3.24 xFIP are fantastic numbers, as is his 8.59 K/9 rate, 2.19 BB/9 rate, 4.2 rWAR/3.5 fWAR/2.4 WARP and 22.2 VORP. Given that Sale is just 23, it’s a frightening prospect for Twins fans how good he could be for years. He’s right behind Verlander and in front of Felix Hernandez and Jake Peavy for the Cy Young right now. Oh yeah, Peavy has been pretty good for the Southsiders too.

Apologies to: Sale, Hernandez, Peavy

NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals

Given that I took Verlander over Sale, maybe I’ll be looking like a hypocrite here. After all, due to his innings limit, Strasburg has only 99 innings. And he’s only 9th in ERA, so how effective could he have been? Well, he still leads the league in strikeouts, with 128–the major league lead. That’s a 11.6 K/9 rate. Pair that with his sensational control (4.57 K/BB ratio) and you have a dominant pitcher. It’s not surprising that Strasburg’s FIP (2.50) and xFIP (2.61) sit even lower than his ERA (2.82). His fWAR (3.1) sits third in the NL to Greinke and R.A. Dickey while he leads the league in WARP (3.1) and VORP (29.7). Not surprisingly, those two are Strasburg’s biggest competition.

I believe that I could easily rewrite my answer here to be Dickey–I too love his story and would love to see a knuckleballer win the Cy Young for the first time ever. And it wouldn’t really be a wrong decision. Dickey has more innings (120 2/3), his FIP/xFIP have been outstanding (2.76/2.86, 2.40 ERA), as has his K rate (9.23 K/9) and control (1.95 BB/9), giving him a NL-leading rWAR (3.6) and a fWAR (3.2) just behind Greinke’s. His 2.1 WARP and 17.6 VORP are very good as well. A 126 K/23 BB ratio by a knuckleballer is unheard of.

Greinke is a little harder to make the argument for if you don’t buy all the deeper numbers. His ERA (3.32) is fairly high and he (though it was insane) didn’t even make the All-Star team. His 126 ERA+ isn’t standout either and neither is his rWAR (2.4), though I question rWAR’s reliability with pitchers if Matt Belisle is among the Top 10. On the other hand, his K rate (9.0 K/9) and BB rate (2.11/9) are right up there with his competition, and with the combination of strikeouts and groundballs (53.8% rate), his FIP/xFIP numbers are on top of the league (2.35/2.76). Too bad his BABIP (.335) isn’t cooperating for the second straight year, though one should observe that it’s been a little higher (.311) than average throughout his career. The counter, of course, is that he played with bad defenses all his career, so you can’t really blame that on him.  Hence, Greinke sits first in fWAR (3.6), second in VORP (27.9) and WARP (3.0). He’s not the winner right now, but he is rightfully in the conversation.

Strasburg beats out the competition, albeit narrowly, with his sheer dominance despite more limited innings. It will be interesting to see just how much the Nationals and Davey Johnson limited him in the second half while the Nats go after a playoff spot. If Strasburg reaches 185 innings, this award could be his. Even with a limit on individual starts, he can dominate enough to be the most valuable starter around, but if he’s not in the rotation in September, Dickey, Greinke, and even his teammate Gio Gonzalez might pull in front of him.

Apologies to: Dickey, Greinke, Gonzalez, Johnny Cueto

AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, OF, Angels

Obviously if he’s going to win the MVP, he deserves this award.

Apologies to: No one really, but it is worth noting that Yu Darvish has had a pretty good rookie season, with a 10.3 K/9 rate and solid overall numbers (2.3 rWAR/2.2 fWAR/1.6 WARP, 3.59 ERA/3.68 FIP/3.67 xFIP) in a hitters’ park despite some control issues. Too bad he’s not even close in value to Trout.

NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals

Actually, this award is pretty close, unlike the AL one. Starting pitchers Wade Miley and Lance Lynn have been just as valuable as Harper. Todd Frazier, Zack Cozart, Andrelton Simmons, and Norichika Aoki have been around as valuable as well. Since they are so close right now, I’ll take Harper simply because 19 year-old players don’t play this well–ever.

A .282/.354/.472 line (.360 wOBA) seems good, but not great, but consider the following list:

Player         wOBA           OPS+            TAv             OBP              SLG

Harper          .360             123                .287             .354             .472

Griffey Jr.     .333             108                .281             .329            .420

Rodriguez      .291             73                  .230             .280            .408

Beltre             .288             72                  .238             .278             .369

Mantle            .360            117                 .297             .349             .443

Foxx                .412            130                 ?                  .393             .515

Ott                   .419            139                  ?                  .397             .524

Conigliaro        .385            137                  .299            .354             .530

This is a list of age-19 seasons for several Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers (including Beltre, yes, who is on the cusp now and with a few more very good seasons, he’ll cement it) and a guy like Conigliaro, who’s career was derailed by a horrible freak injury. As Dave Cameron noted at the end of May, Harper could find his season on the Top 10 all-time for 19-year olds, of which only two others played in the modern era (Conigliaro and Ott). Right now, he’s basically hitting like the Commerce Comet at age 19 and that’s a pretty significant thing. In a otherwise close race for this award, there is no reason that can’t play the deciding factor. It’s unclear to what extent Harper will keep this up, but for now, we should celebrate the historic nature of his achievements. This may be the start of a all-time great career.

Apologies to: Wiley, Cozart, Simmons, Lynn, Aoki

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All-Star Mistakes and Snubs

Yesterday, the release of the AL and NL rosters for the 2012 All-Star game in Kansas City led to the inevitable flurry of debate and disgust that I’ll now indulge myself in. Over at Sports Illustrated, Jay Jaffe already has blogged his thoughts on the subject and at ESPN’s SweetSpot, David Schoenfield has done the same. And before the results were announced yesterday, Keith Law at ESPN Insider, Dave Cameron at Fangraphs and other ESPN pundits had given their roster votes.

I’ll start my thoughts with a few general comments before naming the mistakes, the snubs, and my take on the final votes. One thing I’ll note about the roster is that bullpen overkill is a theme. The rules mean the managers of their respective teams have to take relievers, but there seems to always be at least one more than necessary, leaving off a deserving starter for a pitcher with a fraction of the value. Another is that some mistakes are the lingering effect of poor choices by the fans–as we’ll see with players like Derek Jeter. Lastly, it is obvious, but there are of course only so many spots, so there are bound to be some snubs–it is the egregious ones that we really have to care about.

Let’s start with the mistakes. For me, these are the three worst selections on the A.L. Roster:

1) Chris Perez, RP, Cleveland Indians

Somehow, this is his second All-Star selection. Last year, at the All-Star break, Perez had a 2.43 ERA that masked a ugly 22/15 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings. Perez is certainly better this year (32/7 ratio in 30 1/3 innings), but he’s taking a spot away from much more deserving teammates. Asdrubal Cabrera rightly made the team, but his middle infield partner Jason Kipnis should have as well. Perez is simply nothing special for a reliever with 30 1/3 innings so far, though as I’ll mention later, fellow reliever Ryan Cook could be here as well. It’s less about Perez himself and more about overvaluing closers generally. Anyways, what fan wants to see some decent relievers pitch in the All Star game over the likes of exciting starters like Yu Darvish, Zack Greinke, and Jake Peavy? Anyone?

2) Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees

This was a fan selection and it was one that seems to reflect Jeter’s status as a legend and his hot start that seemed to be a late career resurgence. But the luck ran out and Jeter has turned back into a lemon since April. With a groundball percentage of 65.2% and a isolated power of .103, Jeter is continuing a three-year trend of losing his power and becoming a streaky hitter. His defense also needs to be moved off of short at 38, but good luck convincing Jeter, his fans, his teams, and pundits of that. Nonetheless, Jeter’s batting line (.299/.349/.402, 102 OPS+) and his weak defense have his WAR totals low (0.5 rWAR, 0.9 fWAR). Elvis Andrus should be the starting shortstop, with Cabrera his backup spot and Jeter’s spot open so another deserving All-Star (Kipnis, Josh Willingham, Edwin Encarnacion, etc) could join the squad.

3) Billy Butler, DH, Kansas City Royals

Adam Dunn actually wasn’t that great of a All-Star pick either and he could be here just as well–after all, this is more about the absolute lack of necessity for a backup DH for the All-Star game as much as anything else.  But it is also about who should have been representing the host Royals at the All-Star game and there is no question that Butler’s teammates Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon have been much more valuable.

Gordon hasn’t been able to replicate last season’s breakout offensive numbers, but his defensive metrics, if trusted, are quite good and he’s still getting on base. Moustakas is the real breakout player here and a potential future star. He’s hitting .269/.333/.491 and playing excellent at third–giving him WAR scores of 2.5 rWAR/2.8 fWAR/2.2 WARP. Butler’s been fine, but if there was a need for a backup DH, Edwin Encarnacion would be a much better pick, with his .300/.383/.575 (.404 wOBA, .337 TAv, 2.6 fWAR/2.5 WARP) line vs. Butler’s .290/.361/.500 line (.367 wOBA, .295 TAv, 1.2 fWAR/0.8 WARP).

Biggest AL Snubs:

1) Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit Tigers

The Tigers already have a representative who’s among the least deserving at the game–one who could have been on my list–in Prince Fielder. The fans blew that. But Jackson has been among the best players in the AL this year and I’m not sure everyone has noticed. He lost some time to injury, but along with his usually great defense in center, he’s become a legitimately better hitter, cutting down on strikeouts and becoming more patient. The results? A .320/.402/.532 line (153 OPS+, .404 wOBA, .329 TAv, 3.1 refWAR/3.6 fWAR/2.8 WARP). Sure, he has a .396 BABIP, but he’s also a fast player for whom a higher BABIP isn’t as “lucky,” as evidenced by his career .374 BABIP.

For me, Jackson is the AL’s Andrew McCutchen. He’s only 25 and he’s a potential star the game should market. He’s also one of the best players around right now. Without question, a player of his caliber deserves to be at the game over someone like Jeter. To add insult to injury, somehow the MLB has decided that Jonathan Broxton and Ernesto Frieri–all of his 24 innings, though they’ve been quite good–are more deserving of being on the final vote ballot. Insane.

2) Josh Reddick, OF, Oakland A’s

Ryan Cook is the A’s sole representative at the All-Star game and that’s quite sad. It’s sad both because of Cook being undeserving and unnecessary and because Reddick has quite clearly been the A’s best player. In fact, he’s representative of the big win that Billy Beane had over the winter in the Andrew Bailey trade. Cook has pitched 35 innings and sure he’s been quite good–1.54 ERA–but like any 35 inning sample, it’s not that valuable. A .154 BABIP has helped him a ton–hence his 2.92/4.34 FIP/xFIP scores.

As for Reddick, he’s probably being punished for having a lower average and being a A’s player, but with his .258/.338/.520 line in that abysmal concrete dungeon they call a stadium in Oakland, Reddick has produced a 132 OPS+/.367 wOBA/.305 TVa and 2.0 refWAR/3.1 fWAR/1.9 WARP.  Reddick is in this spot as much for who is there in his stead from his team, but his individual case is plenty strong.

3) Josh Willingham, OF, Twins

Yes, Twins fans, Willingham is getting screwed. Joe Mauer is unquestionably a deserving pick (a .320/.420/.464 line, leading the league in OBP makes for a elite player that fans should been more than happy with), but Willingham should be joining him. He’s been killing the ball all season, though like Reddick, he’s probably still losing out due to his low average–managers still value that statistic despite the clear evidence that OBP is a much better measurement of offensive skill.

Willingham has hit .272/.383/.551, good for a 152 OPS+/.398 wOBA/.323 TAv and 2.4 rWAR/2.8 fWAR/3.1 WARP.  He’s been one of the best hitters in the league and, for what’s it is worth, he’s long been underrated. Naturally, Willingham isn’t up for the final vote either. This hurts more as a Twins fan, but this isn’t bias–the guy has been that good.

Apologies to: Jake Peavy, A.J. Pierzynski, Jason Kipnis, Moustakas, Gordon, Brett Lawrie, Encarnacion, Ben Zobrist, Jason Hammels

Now, let’s switch over to the NL, where we have the most egregious oversight–no Greinke returning to Kaufmann. Again, we’ll start with the mistake picks:

1) Bryan LaHair, 1B, Chicago Cubs

This one isn’t too hard to pick out. First base has been a weak position throughout baseball this season outside of baseball’s best hitter, Joey Votto, but LaHair hasn’t been that great regardless. The Cubs already have a representative in shortstop Starlin Castro, so they don’t need LaHair. LaHair, who’s 29 and getting his first real shot as a regular, is a great story–like former Mariners farmhand Michael Morse for the Nats–but that doesn’t make it a better choice.

His .288/.364/.521 line (139 OPS+, .375 wOBA, .304 TAv) is good but hardly overwhelming–hence the 0.8 rWAR/1.1 fWAR/0.2 WARP.  His selection is pretty indefensible, especially given that a backup first baseman isn’t that necessary–it isn’t as if David Wright or some other corner infielder couldn’t do it–and there are better backup first baseman available. One would be Paul Goldschmidt, who is hitting .308/.377/.551 (143 OPS+, .399 wOBA, .328 TAv), good for a 2.2 rWAR/2.3 fWAR/1.9 WARP. Again, Goldschmidt is a up-and-coming star the game should be aiming to display–especially given his light tower power. LaHair is a fine story, but his single hot month of April doesn’t make him an All-Star.

2) Huston Street, RP, San Diego Padres

This is the Ryan Cook problem in the NL, except for it might be worse. Street has a 1.29 ERA, sure, but in a mere 21 innings. You read that correct. It is hard to convince me that is enough to create value worthy of being an All-Star, especially when the Padres have better candidates for All-Stars, particularly Chase Headley. Because he plays in a park that is death to right-handed power (Petco), Headley’s unadjusted numbers (.271/.372/.417) don’t look that impressive, but with speed, solid defense, and on-base ability, his value is among the best for third-basemen in the NL.

Headley’s batting line gives him a 122 OPS+/.349 wOBA/.291 TAv, good for 2.3 rWAR/3.3 fWAR/1.6 WARP. Street isn’t anywhere close to that. Street has had a great 21 innings, but again, it’s the reliever issue. Do we really need another closer at the All-Star game? (Note that Jonathan Palpelbon could go here as well–he’s not even among the best relievers in the NL right now.)

3)  Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds

Dusty Baker is right to be upset about Johnny Cueto’s All Star snub, but one of his players also wrongly was added by Tony LaRussa. Maybe he should see that exchange. Bruce’s power has him getting plenty of love, but his .332 OBP is weak and keeps his value down–hence his WAR scores of 1.4 rWAR/1.4 fWAR/1.9 WARP and a 122 OPS+/.357 wOBA/.294 TAv. Bruce isn’t a terrible pick necessarily, but he certainly is compared to those he’s keeping out of the game in the outfield–particularly Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, and Matt Holliday.

NL All-Star Snubs:

1) Zack Greinke, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

A case for Greinke can be made by either traditional or advanced numbers. After all, it isn’t like he’s not winning games–he has a 9-2 record, 106 Ks and a 3.08 ERA. By the advanced numbers, he has a 2.37 FIP, 2.78 xFIP, 135 ERA+, 2.6 rWAR, 3.5 fWAR, and 2.4 WARP. Greinke’s 106/24 K/BB ratio has been excellent. This is where having someone like Palpelbon (Cole Hamels is on the roster, so the Phillies don’t need another rep) is indefensible if it means Greinke stays home. And, yes, predictably, Greinke isn’t even in the final vote. No, room had to be found for David Freese and his .334 OBP–that’s the guy who’s likely to win. Sigh.

2) Michael Bourn, OF, Atlanta Braves

As noted, the Braves have a trio of deserving All-Stars left off the roster between Bourn, Heyward, and Prado, so you could put any one of them as a snub, but I’ll go with Bourn. Bourn is a above average defensive center fielder who get’s on base, has shown a bit of a power surge this year, and of course, has wheels that give him value on the bases. He’s hit .305/.355/.444 (114 OPS+, .351 wOBA, .285 TAv) this year with a 3.7 rWAR/4.1 fWAR/1.8 WARP.  Bourn has been one of the better players in the NL this year and at least he’s on the final vote ballot. One thing I’ll say is because of that, Heyward maybe should be here–at least because he’s 22 and a up-and-coming star. Either way, having Bruce there over one of these guys is a shame. Holliday has a great case too, which is odd, since his old manager choose Bruce over him. Again, is Dusty sure there is that much vindictive bias going around?

3)  Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Hill is on the final ballot, too, but he’s still a bad snub at least in part due to the presence of Rafael Furcal as the starting shortstop for the NL–a poor choice by the fans. Jose Altuve is the other second baseman on the roster, but he’s got a fine case and he’s the sole representative for the Astros. Also, the D-backs rep is Wade Miley, who’s been good but not great–certainly not better than Greinke or Cueto (though, he’s better as a pick than Lance Lynn, another Cardinal–apparently LaRussa just didn’t know who his best talent was).

Hill has been streaky and inconsistent throughout his career, with .205/.271/.394 and  .246/.299/.356 lines the last few years, but hitting in the desert has resurrected his career. He’s hitting .301/.359/.514 (129 OPS+, .371 wOBA, .293 TAv) with good value in the field and on the bases, given him WAR scores of 2.1 rWAR/2.8 fWAR/2.2 WARP. I continue to consider candidates like Cueto here, but I’d say there are bad snubs.

Apologies to:  Cueto, Prado, Heyward, Holliday, Headley, Madison Bumgarner, James McDonald

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What to do with Liriano

Since returning from his brief banishment to the bullpen, Francisco Liriano has had a outstanding run of success, as he’s struck out 4o in 37 innings while allowing a .160 opponent’s batting average, walking 14, and producing a 2.41 ERA. He’s looked fantastic and like a completely different pitcher from the beginning of the season.

As most fans know, Liriano will be a free agent at the end of the season. The question now becomes should the Twins trade Liriano at his highest value, try and extend him, or wait to try and get compensation picks after the season? One thing to consider first is just how bad the Twins rotation has been overall this season, because that problem almost certainly means that they are unlikely to go to the postseason, even in the weak AL Central.

As Dan Szymborski has written over at ESPN (unfortunately, it’s insider-only), the Twins currently, by ERA+, have the worst rotation since 1950 and they are plenty deserving of that placement at 66.3. There is a reason this is a 30-44 team. Even with the bullpen included, which overall has been solid, their ERA+ is 79. Liriano is their only strikeout pitcher–after him, Liam Hendricks’ K/9 is the best of the starters at 5.8. Wow. Batters have hit .307/.359/.518 off Minnesota starters this year, which makes them all at about a Robinson Cano or Miguel Cabrera level this year. Wednesday’s 12-5 mess against the White Sox is just the latest incarnation–the Twins can score decently enough, but their pitching is simply atrocious. They aren’t a contending team, but this seems to be something Terry Ryan recognizes and he does seem willing to trade Liriano if the right offer comes.

So, if that means they should consider trading Liriano, what would the interest level be? Buster Olney (again, behind the Insider wall) of ESPN has broken down the market for Liriano. Rival talent evaluators have had things like this to say:

“He is very risky to me as a starting pitcher. I wouldn’t have interest — if you are going to trade prospects, you need certainty that the player you are getting is an upgrade, and Liriano’s inconsistency creates uncertainty. Simply put, there will be better alternatives on the market. However, I think he has excellent value — if he were up for it — as a shutdown situational left-handed reliever. This year, left-handed hitters are 9-for-58 (.155 AVG/.436 OPS) with six walks versus 22 strikeouts” This NL evaluator concluded that Liriano was a “major risk.”

A AL scout suggested that Liriano could actually be less risky than someone like former Twin Matt Garza, as the “risk seems really limited with Liriano considering your committment is less than a year. Because of the inconsistent performance, you’d have to think he’d bring significantly less than Garza in a trade, unless he can pitch this way straight through the deadline and continue to build value.” A different AL scout was much more blunt is his assessment, saying that “Liriano is a risk, with some reward. He was someone the Twins would have let go for sure a couple of weeks ago. Garza has much less risk and much more value. I think the Twins really don’t want Liriano back unless he really goes off the rest of the year. Garza has many more suitors, and the Cubs are happy to have him back.”

Liriano has been, by any measure, much better in June. He’s had a 8.9 K/9 rate, a 3.45 BB/9 rate, a 25% K percentage, a 2.84 FIP and a 3.26 xFIP. But here’s probably what those scouts or teams considering Liriano know: last June, he was quite similar. He had a 10.27 K/9 rate, a 2.66 BB/9 rate, a 28.4% K percentage, a 2.18 FIP and a 2.69 xFIP. He was actually better last June. The problem, as Twins fans know, is that he was bad or worst every other month last year and the end of the season results (5.09 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 4.52 xFIP, 7.5 K/9, 5.05 BB/9) reflected it.

Sure, there are other things. His velocity is up from last year (to 92.7 MPH on his average fastball), but that’s not all that meaningful when his fastball is a weak pitch for him regardless of velocity–his slider is what matters. Can Liriano be the pitcher from 2010, who had a 2.66 FIP/2.95 xFIP and 6.0 fWAR? Clearly he still can for months at a time, but that’s precisely why teams will wait or offer less. Thus, if the Twins want real value for Liriano, they probably need to keep letting him pitch and hope for the best results. If he flops in July, they may have to take low value in the trade market for him.

If Liriano has a season as bad as last year, he won’t be worth much on the free agent market. The Twins could offer him arbitration, but there is no guarantee under the new rules of what compensation they will get if he signs with another team, as Type A and B free agent compensation will be abolished in favor of a system based on contract size. If the Twins can’t trade him–either because offers are sufficient or interest is low because Liriano reverts to being out of control–they may want to go ahead and offer him a one-year, incentive-laden deal for 2013. I realize the Twins are unlikely to do so, but I do believe Liriano still possesses value–especially on a team like the Twins who have a historically bad rotation with no one else around able to strike anyone out.

At the end of the day, this should give the Twins as much pause as anything else. Liriano probably isn’t valued that highly around the league right now and he may potentially be worth more to the Twins this year and the next despite his obvious control issues. He’s the only strikeout pitcher they have and though Kyle Gibson might offer that when he returns from Tommy John surgery by next year, it’s no guarantee (and it wasn’t pre-surgery certain he’d strike out many anyways). I don’t know that the Twins need to try and extend him–at least not beyond next year, but if Liriano does give them another month of success, maybe they should consider it more. Unless, of course, they can get a even better strikeout artist on the trade market. I’m not so sure that will be the case.

 

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State of the Twins

When a team is 12 games below .500, it would seem that pessimism would be more in the cards than a steadily brewing excitement. However, for this Twins team, they are on a bit of a roll lately. Over the last month, the offense has been significantly better. All told, they actually are a slightly above-average on the season, hitting .255/.325/.395 for a 100 OPS+. Yes, hitting continues to be down in the league, so that’s pretty solid patience and power overall for the team. This is despite guys like Danny Valencia, Brian Dozier, Alexi Casilla, Clete Thomas, Erik Komatsu, Darin Mastroianni, and Chris Parmelee being disastrous at the plate.

You’ll notice I didn’t include Jamey Carroll in there and that’s because despite his low average and complete lack of power, his OBP currently sits at .336 and his infield defense continues to give him value. Things past that look pretty optimistic actually. Denard Span is hitting .288/.358/.393 (110 OPS+) and contributing his usually above-average defense. Ben Revere’s value is obviously boosted by his average, with a .339/.369/.417 line (119 OPS+) still providing little in the way of patience or power. His .364 BABIP is high, but it’s fully possible with his speed and propensity for ground balls that he can sustain a fairly high BABIP the way a hitter like Ichiro did for years.

Joe Mauer has felt the criticism much of the season, but his .407 OBP ranks 6th in all of baseball and 2nd in the AL behind Paul Konerko’s .441 mark. Yes, the .425 slugging percentage is disappointing and it is hard to not feel Mauer is overpaid, but he remains an elite performer at the plate. I would venture to suggest that when it comes to recent long term contracts, the outcome can be far worse–think Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells. If he is a Wade Boggs-type the rest of his career (.328/.415/.428 hitter, 131 OPS+, around Mauer’s numbers this year–not to start a conversation about Mauer’s Hall of Fame potential or anything), I would not complain.

The real surprise has been Trevor Plouffe, who picked up his 12th homer last night. Plouffe’s hitting .232/.306/.535. Since May 14th, he’s hit .305 with a .768 slugging percentage and as Parker Hageman shows, there is a reason for this power. The OBP remains low, but his .303 isolated slugging percentage is outstanding. It, in fact, would only trail Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Beltran in the majors if Plouffe qualified for the batting title, placing him above the best hitter in baseball (Joey Votto, who currently sports a jaw-dropping .362/.485/.657 line, but seems to get ignored with all the focus on Hamilton) and others like Mark Trumbo, Carlos Gonzalez, and teammate Josh Willingham.

Oh yeah, he’s been pretty good too. Willingham’s .398 OBP ranks 4th in the AL, while his .564 slugging ranks 7th and his .962 OPS ranks 11th. He also ranks 6th in fWAR with 2.3, 4th in wOBA with a .413, wRC+/OPS+ (166/165) and 3rd in offensive rWAR (2.6). And that’s to mention Justin Morneau, who’s OBP is disappointing (.313) but his isolated power (.248) is also quite impressive.

That currently gives the Twins three of the better power hitters in the league–a rare position. Between those three, the Twins have gotten 35 home runs so far. Of course, the problem is that they have little power outside of that and have hit 49 homers as a team, while their pitchers have allowed 79. In fact, opposing hitters are batting .286/.339/.461 against Twins pitching. The offense may be on the brink of being above average, but the pitching staff is still a total mess overall.

It remains a hittable staff that doesn’t miss bats (5.84 K/9) and whose 5.15 team ERA would be the worst in baseball if Coors Field hadn’t turn into a pinball machine again (5.41 team ERA for the Rockies). In the AL, the Indians are next with a 4.43 ERA–that’s how big the gap is.

My real point here is that while the bats have turned alive and there are many positives for Twins fans and the organization in that way, the pitching is such a mess that this remains a team in flux. I still believe that over the course of the year, this is a team unlike to go anywhere. They remain 8 1/2 games out of first in the division. Their -69 run differential remains the worst in baseball. This is not my attempt to be overly cynical, but my fears that the good in the Twins season will lead the organization to make long-term steps backwards by not properly viewing themselves as sellers at the deadline.

I am in agreement with various beat-writers and bloggers that the Twins don’t need to rush to trade Willingham given that he’s on a 3-year, $21 million deal that’s looking like a steal right now. Unless they are blown away with an offer, they don’t need to follow the push of the national media to view him as a trade target. However, they should consider trading other pieces, like Ryan Doumit, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, and yes, Morneau. Even Span should be considered depending on the offer.

I do realize that it actual becomes harder to sell to the fans rebuilding when the team looks to be playing more positively, but Terry Ryan needs to see the long-term picture. With their recent draft, the Twins rightly targeted upside with both #2 overall pick Byron Buxton and the load of pitchers they took with potentially big arms. Along with Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia, these picks could combine to be the future of the franchise that leads the next resurgence–but not for several years.

That means identifying reasonable value right now for the franchise to hold onto. Morneau is 31 and is making $14 million. If he can be moved, it should be considered for two reasons. One is financial flexibility, but the other is Chris Parmalee. Parmalee’s potential and growth continue to be stalled with him sitting idle on the bench for game after game. The Twins need to let him start regularly in AAA or find a way to give him a real shot at the big league level, given how he recently performed at AAA. Trading Doumit, Morneau, or even both would certainly do that. As noted, it would be a tough sell on the fans, but the state of the team remains such that Ryan should remain focused on the future and ready to make difficult decisions–the biggest being a seller and not a buyer. This is a team that can still give some reasons for hope, but they are not a likely winner right now. It’s best to try and make them one as soon as possible and for a sustained period of time again.

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Top Ten Worst Trades in the Last Decade (Part II)

About a week and a half ago, I made the first post in a intended series of posts on the worst trades of the last decade–just as we approach the 10th anniversary of the infamous Bartolo Colon trade. With that, here’s my second installment:

#8: Texas Rangers trade 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF Terrmel Sledge, and SP Chris Young for SP Adam Eaton, RP Akinori Otsuka, and C Billy Killian (2006)

Obviously giving up Gonzalez was quite the mistake, but Chris Young did pretty well for the Padres as well until he got injured. In 550 2/3 innings, Young registered a 110 ERA+, a 3.60 ERA, and 7.6 rWAR/4.9 fWAR. As for Gonzalez, he hit .288/.374/.514 (141 OPS+) in five seasons (2006-10), racking up 19.1 rWAR/21.9 fWAR. The 141 OPS+ reflects the fact that he spent years in the cavernous confines of Petco Park, where he hit .267/.367/.442 in 1410 career at-bats there.

Of course, that’s just the post-trade analysis. What’s really confusing is why Texas gave up a solid starting pitcher in Young for a older, worse one in Eaton while also surrounding a former first-overall pick for a Drew Butera-esque catcher and a good reliever. Eaton had a 4.34 ERA (92 ERA+) in 131 career starts for the Padres, showing enough ability to miss bats (7 K/9), but also control issues (3.2 BB/9) and HR issues (101 HRs in 796 innings). He wasn’t likely to do so hot in Arlington. In fairness to Otsuka, he was a good reliever, posting a 151 ERA+ (2.57) and 9.5 K/9 in 140 innings with the Padres and was successful in two years in Texas, with a 206 ERA+ (2.25 ERA) and 36 saves in 92 innings. But those 92 innings weren’t worth the deal.

Note that when traded, Gonzalez was 23 and killing AAA pitching to the tune of a .338/.399/.561 in 84 games. Gonzalez’s power stroke was finally clicking just as he was traded. However, as bad as the trade was, I can’t place it too much higher given that the Rangers acquired Gonzalez themselves from Florida in 2003 for the price of closer Ugueth Urbina. Urbina gave Florida 38 1/3 regular innings that were quite good (1.41 ERA, 301 ERA+) and was a helpful, but not likely essential, component of a World Series winning club. Quite a silly trade by the Marlins as well and originally a big win for the Rangers.

The Padres have since turned Gonzalez over to the Boston Red Sox for prospects, ultimately ending up with flamethrower Andrew Cashner, starting pitching prospect Casey Kelly, center fielder Reymond Fuentes, and Eric Patterson. The jury is still out on that trade.

#7: Seattle Mariners trade OF Shin-Soo Choo and Shawn Nottingham to Cleveland Indians for 1B Ben Broussard (2006)

The Indians will make this list more than once and some could argue I have the wrong trades on here–but let’s just say they have some dandies. (In fairness, they’ve also had some trades that haven’t worked as well, like the C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee trades) I’ll mention right away the Carlos Santana trade–getting a potential franchise catcher for Casey Blake is a steal, but Blake actually gave the Dodgers some value and one well above-average season. Not so with Broussard.

Talk about a short-sighted trade. Writers often refer to trades like the Jeff Bagwell and John Smoltz trades as standard bearers of bad deadline deals, but at least Doyle Alexander was amazing in the second half and in the few innings he pitched, Larry Anderson was quite good. Broussard was effective at the time of the trade (.321/.361/.519, 126 OPS+), but he was a part-time player who was used primarily against righthanders and had no defensive value. He hit 238/.282/.427 in 164 at-bats post-trade.

On the other hand, Choo was about to turn 24 and was tearing up AAA pitching to the tune of .323/.394/.499 with 13 HRs and 16 steals, displaying the combination of speed and power that would make a valuable player for years to come with the Indians. Since joining the Indians, Choo has hit .292/.385/.470 (133 OPS+) with 70 HRs and 72 SBs (76.6% rate), compiling 18.7 rWAR/15.8 fWAR.

What’s funny is that the Mariners more or less traded for the Indians entire first base platoon that summer and if you combine those trades, things look even worse. The Mariners traded SS Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez, a 36-year old pinch hitter specialist. Actually, this trade might be worse individually in a few years if Cabrera continues his steady improvement, as his plate discipline has made a leap forward this year. Either way, trading a rare speed-power outfielder with elite discipline or a shortstop with power for a part-time player is a mistake that former Mariners GM Bill Bavasi is unlikely to live down anytime soon. And if combined, these trades might be worse than another well-known trade involving the Indians further ahead on this list.

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The Most Important Day of the Year?

June 4th isn’t a obviously vital day for almost any baseball team, whether they are contending or not, but today will be a major day for the Twins franchise. Or, more specifically, the next few days overall will have a significant impact on the future of the team. It is the 2012 draft and the Twins have not only the #2 pick, but six of the Top 100 picks available to them. This leaves a few clear questions to tackle before the decisions are made: who will they likely take at the #2, who should they take, and what should be or will be their strategy for the first six picks?

Let’s start with their options at the #2 spot:

Byron Buxton, OF, Appling County HS

Buxton seems to be the likely pick right now according to several sources and he is, by consensus, the player with most upside in the draft. Let’s just say you stop when you him compared in talent or upside to the likes of the Upton brothers, Matt Kemp, and yes, Willie Mays. Currently, he’s a 80 (80 is the highest score, from 20 to 80) on the scouting scale as a runner and spots a 70 arm. As a pitcher, he’s thrown his fastball from 93-97. His other tools currently do not grade out highly, but rather are about projection. Scouts project him to has 70 grade hitting and 60 grade power. Andrew McCutchen but a better defender or Matt Kemp with less power? That sounds worth the gamble.

There are those who believe that Buxton isn’t quite the best prep talent at the board, as ESPN’s Kiley McDonald has Buxton behid Texas high schooler Albert Almora. McDonald believes Almora is more of a sure thing, whereas Buxton has more of the upside, especially on the defensive end. Even those who do are aware that Buxton is a risk. Minor League Ball’s John Sickels similarly believes that while Buxton has a “cannon arm and grade A tools” while being “blazing fast,” he has long term questions about his bat. Of course, at the same time, Law has him as the #1 prospect on the board, which other major draft writers, like Baseball America andMLB.com’s Jonathon Mayo, agree with. As Law notes, this is the larger consensus–this is the top talent, whatever the risk is.

Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford

Appel appears likely to go to the Houston Astros with the #1 pick. However, if he doesn’t, which could mean Buxton or even Gausman or others are off the board, it could change what the Twins do. Appel sits 94-97 while hitting 99 on the gun with his fastball, which he supplements with a good changeup and a above average curveball. Scouts do wonder if his delivery is so easy and clean that it offers no deception to hitters, making Appel more of a mid-rotation starter than a star ace in the future. Some also wonder if Stanford has a deserved reputation for overworking its starters that should make anyone drafting them nervous.

Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU

Gausman has, according to Keith Law, been rising in the Twins estimation in recent days. Although Appel has dominated the discussion as the best pitcher in the draft, Gausman’s improvements this year have allowed him to rival Appel for that position. Gausman spots a 93-97 MPH fastball that has reached 99 before.  Law notes that one key to Gausman’s improvement had been changing from a below-average curve to a above-average slider as his breaking pitch of choice. He also spots a useful, but inconsistent changeup. His command has been a issue at times, so you have to wonder if that would keep the Twins away.

Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy

Scouts do believe it’s possible that Correa becomes the best player out of this draft, even if he’s not going to be a shortstop long term–the assumption is he’ll grow into a third baseman. Like Buxton and other prep-star talent, he’s about projection as much as anything else. At 17, he’s younger than Buxton. Scouts like him to have plus power in the future, as he has tremendous hand-eye coordination and balance at the plate already.  Although he’s expected to change positions, scouts believe he’s already a good defensive player.

ESPN’s Jason Churchill ranks Correa’s power potential as the best among the prep hitters, with Buxton coming in a number three. That has led some draft experts to have Correa in front of Buxton in their rankings. John Sickels has him #1, remarking that his bat is good enough that even a move to third would not effect it’s elite status.

Kyle Zimmer, RHP, University of San Francisco

It isn’t entirely clear how much interest the Twins have in Zimmer, but some, like Sickels, have Zimmer as the best arm in the draft. Zimmer has had more struggles recently while Appel and Gausman have had the requisite success to keep them on top of the board.  Fastball often sits at 92-94, but can hit 97-99. Has a potentially plus curveball and a average changeup to go along with it. Good mechanics and stuff, but many seem to believe now he’s more of a number two or three than a ace starter. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has him as the third best starter on the board, behind prep arm Lucas Giolito and Appel. (Giolito, for reference, is down on most draft boards due to signability concerns) Goldstein does note that the Twins could be interested, something Law has suggested as well.

So, with those options, what is it the Twins are likely to do and what should they do? It still seems more than likely that they’ll take Buxton and that’s the right call as far as I’m concerned. The Twins are in a position in which they need to go after upside and accept risk. They are a rebuilding franchise, whether they like it or not, that has to be concerned most with where the team will be in four to five years, not in one or two. Someone like Appel or Gausman may be able to help sooner than later, but what good will that ultimately do?

To me, I prefer envisioning having Buxton alongside Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Oswaldo Arcia and hopefully other high upside prospects taken this year being the mainstays of the Twins lineup in five years. With that in mind, that is the goal I hope the Twins have for this draft. I’m not going to analyze individual prospects behind the second pick before the draft starts (I’ll analyze the picks once the first six are in, more than likely), but I do want the Twins to think upside over polish. I want to see signs of maturity as an organization and a understanding of where they are and need to be. I hope that means not only taking chances on high upside players like Buxton, but also not settling for control pitchers and speedy position players who lack power upside. One last thing to keep in mind is that the 2012 draft is one of the weaker ones in terms of talent in recent history–next year’s draft may end up being even more important to the franchise. Nonetheless, let’s hope that they start moving the right direction tonight.

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Top Ten Worst Trades in the Last Decade (Part I)

This idea was given to me by my brother lately in reference to my remarks concerning Tshoyoshi Nishoika’s terrible 2011 season and his worst 2012 season at AAA. So far, he’s hitting .202/.309/.255 in 94 at-bats at AAA. He’s simply been atrocious. Of course, the Twins didn’t actually trade for him, but he was part of a plan–to trade J.J. Hardy, sign Nishioka, and add speed to the Twins middle infield. It was, needless to say, a terrible plan. So, where does that J.J. Hardy trade among bad trades in the last decade? It would be a stretch to call it the worst and it was certainly bad, but looking back, there have been worst trades. As usual, I’ll be splitting up the posts so I can expand on each trade but keep the posts to a modest length. With that, let’s start:

#10: Angels trade Mike Napoli to the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells (January 2011)

This is sort of cheating, because the Toronto Blue Jays turned around and traded Napoli themselves, to the Texas Rangers, for Frank Francisco. That itself wasn’t a very good trade, but considered as a whole (for the Rangers, it’s a mediocre closer for a C/1B with a great bat–a huge win) it’s a awful trade by the Angels. Vernon Wells has had a famously bad contract–he signed a 7-year, $126 million extension from 2008 to 2014 with the Blue Jays. It was one of the contracts you’d never think the team could get out of–who would be insane enough to take on that responsibility? Over that contract, Wells has hit .261/.307/.454 and collected just 6.0 refWAR/6.0 fWAR/7.3 WARP. Wells has actually had a perfectly fine career, given that he’s had overall good power numbers over his career, but he never had any discipline and was a poor defensive center fielder for years before the Angels moved him to the corner.

What about Napoli? Well, I think most people know how well Napoli did last year. He had a monumental breakout season for the Rangers that should have been recognized more by MVP voters, hitting .320/.414/.631 with 30 HRs in 113 games. Napoli is already 30 and a impending free agent, but even getting two standout years from him for the price of a overrated closer made it a great trade for Rangers. The fact that the Angels traded such a valuable commodity for possibly the worst contract in baseball at that time makes it impossible to leave of such a list.

A trade like the one the Cleveland Indians made with the Dodgers in 2008 competes well with this. That July, they got Carlos Santana, current franchise catcher, for Casey Blake. And, of course, the Twins traded Wilson Ramos in the summer of 2010 for mediocre reliever Matt Capps. The reason those aren’t quite as imbalanced, though, is because they didn’t have such a horrible contract to go with it. On the other hand, Napoli is already 30 and isn’t much of a catcher. You could go with any of those trades, but I’ll stick with this major mistake by the Angels.

#9: Twins trade P Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett, and P Eduardo Morlan to Rays for OF Delmon Young, 2B Brendan Harris, and OF Jason Pridie (2007)

Yes, of course the Twins made it on here. This trade was certainly questionable when it was made, but it has only looked far worse in retrospect. At the time, Garza was a 24-year old pitcher with plenty of potential who’s attitude had apparently rubbed certain Twins organizational members the wrong way. Garza had produced lines of 10.0 K/9, 3.93 K/BB, 2.96 ERA, and 1.11 WHIP in 305 minor league innings. In 133 major league innings, he had produced 2.1 fWAR and had shown positive trends in his K and BB rates, lowering his ERA/FIP/xFIP.

Similarly, despite his decent bat, speed, and good glovework at short, the Twins and GM Bill Smith seemed to have few qualms about trading Bartlett. In his Twins career, he had accumulated 8.4 fWAR between three seasons and a cup of coffee in 2004. They apparently desperately needed to replace Bartlett with a poor defensive player with no speed and at best a marginally better bat.

What were they so excited about? Delmon Young had been the number one overall pick in 2003, but there was evidence at the time of the trade he was just not that good. Sure, he had a robust .317 average in 1444 minor league at-bats, but that came with just a .362 OBP. His K/BB ratio over that time was 289/98, often a red flag for prospects which suggests they may not develop into complete hitters. The other was that while he had hit 25 HRs in A-ball and 26 at AA, he had only 8 in 342 AAA at-bats.

In 2007, Young had his first full season. He fooled many, including the Twins apparently, into believing he had a impressive campaign. He finished second in voting for the Rookie of the Year, behind Dustin Pedroia, even managing three 1st place votes, despite playing corner outfielder, having the inferior BA (.316 to .288), OBP (.380 to .316), slugging (.442 to .408), rWAR (3.4 to 0.6), fWAR (3.7 to 0.0), WARP (2.6 to 0.0), TAv (.281 to .245) and wOBA (.365 to .315). The only advantage Young had was in RBI, where he had 93. That was enough for the Twins to believe Delmon’s bat was legit.

As Aaron Gleeman observed at that time, the Twins needed Delmon to be a star for the trade work out in their favor, but given the concerns about his plate discipline, defense, and power, that seemed unlikely to occur.  And it did not. Delmon had one year, in 2010, where things seemed to come together, but even that was overstated. Once again, RBI played a role. He had 112, so it was assumed he was becoming a star and he even managed to place 10th in MVP voting–a ridiculous outcome. Young still hit .298/.333/.493, much better than his career .286/.320/.424 line, but a .333 OBP is subpar and that isn’t exactly elite power from a bad defensive corner outfielder. Not surprisingly, his WAR totals (1.5 rWAR, 1.8 fWAR, 2.2 WARP) reflected this. This was as good as it got.

Let’s put the imbalance this way. Since the trade, Garza has accumulated 3.8 rWAR/13.1 fWAR/6.7 WARP and Bartlett has 8.3 rWAR/10.0 fWAR/9.6 WARP. And I’m including Bartlett’s awfulness with Padres this year in that count. In four seasons as a Twin, including last year, he had -0.1 rWAR/0.7 fWAR/2.3 WARP. More to the point, Garza continues to be a good starter who would be the ace of the current Twins staff–he’s only 28 still. Delmon is hitting .245/.292/.365 this year with continuing laughable defensive play. He is never going to reach the potential he was traded for and the score will only get worse over time.

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Making Rotation Moves

Jason Marquis was given his release by the Twins officially today, something that most Twins bloggers have written is a surprise. Not that his being released is a surprise or unwarranted, but that they did not believe he would fail so spectacularly or be released before June. Not to bask in his failure, but I wrote before the season that Marquis was a “disaster waiting to happen” who would be Sidney Ponson 2.0.

Despite that vaguely accurate prediction, I projected 100 innings from Marquis, with a 5.70 ERA and more strikeouts than walks. Marquis only made it to 34 innings, walking 14, striking out 12 while giving up 52 hits, 32 earned runs, and 9 HRs for a 8.47 ERA. Disastrous yes, but worse than the disaster I imagined. On the other hand, the Ponson reference was fairly spot on. Back in 2007, Ponson made it just 37 2/3 innings, giving up 54 hits, 29 earned runs, and 7 HRs for a 6.93 ERA, striking out 23 while walking 17. His 7.20 FIP/5.09 xFIP/-0.7 fWAR suggest that there isn’t much bad luck here, just the frayed ends of a major league career.

With Marquis mercifully out of the picture, who will and who should replace him in the rotation? Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn have already ceded spots due to injury to P.J. Walters and Scott Diamond. Francisco Liriano has found himself in the bullpen after his own putrid start to the season. Marquis is now out too. The Twins’ staff has given up a 6.67 ERA, 1.7 HR/9, 4.9 K/9 and a .324 BABIP. It has been an abhorrent staff that can’t get outs–and one that, as Jay Jaffe has tweeted, proves that strikeouts kind of matter.

The Twins have chosen to call up former Gopher Cole DeVries today, but they were in the surprising position of having a few options to choose from. They could have called up a starter from AAA or they could move Anthony Swarzak into the rotation and call up a reliever from AAA. Their AAA reinforcements included DeVries, Liam Hendricks (who was sent down after compiling a 9.00 ERA), Anthony Slama, and Deolis Guerra.

Swarzak would not excite me at all. With a 4.32 ERA, 5.5 K/9, and 2.06 K/BB ratio in 268 2/3 AAA innings, I don’t see Swarzak ever becoming anything more than mediocre in his career. This year, he has 0.0 fWAR, a 4.73 ERA/4.54 FIP/4.57 xFIP in 32 1/3 innings of mixed duty, with a 5.29 K/9 and 2.23 BB/9 and he’s been helped some by a lower BABIP (.250). Given that Swarzak has started three games this year, he seemed one of the more likely candidates to enter the rotation for now. He’d be better than Marquis, but that’s a low standard. It would be one thing if they had no other options, but I think there are far more intriguing pitchers available at AAA to give a shot to if possible.

DeVries has the Minnesota angle that should excite the fans. At 27, he’s not a prospect by any means and his overall minor league record leaves a lot to be desired (4.01 ERA, 1.388 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 2.66 K/BB), but he’s definitely shown improvement the last two seasons. In 2011, in 90 innings between AA and AAA (primarily at AAA), he had a 3.40 ERA, 7.5 K/9, and 3.26 K/BB ratio. That includes a 2.77 FIP at AA and a 3.55 FIP at AAA. This year, in 46 2/3 innings, he has a 37/7 K/BB ratio (5.29 K/BB, 7.1 K/9, 3.80 FIP), though the 4.24 ERA likely appears a little high to the casual fan. He isn’t that exciting either, but I’d prefer him to Swarzak. Giving him the opportunity while rebuilding isn’t such a bad idea.

Hendricks, as noted, failed at the major league level so far this year, but obviously 18 innings is a small sample size. His 9 Ks are a worry, but the 4 walks are a positive and the .391 BABIP/60.7 LOB% suggests some clear bad luck–hence the 4.48 xFIP (though the 6.41 FIP is terrible). In 18 2/3 innings back at AAA, he’s produced a 14/6 K/BB ratio and a 1.93, but the 3.36 FIP/.184 BABIP suggest that he’s gotten better luck at AAA. I think Hendricks has a good future, but I’m not entirely convinced there is reason to push him. The control is there, but I’d like to see more strikeouts consistently at the AAA level before moving him up again. In 68 innings there between this year and last, Hendricks has just a 5.8 K/9 and a 3.84–though the 4.89 K/BB is sparkling. He’s still just 23, so I’d wait on him. The Twins say they are keeping him down because he hasn’t made the necessary adjustments–by which they mean “nitpicking the corners.” I agree he needs to adjust, but by that, I mean he needs to strike some hitters out again.

Slama, on the other hand, is 28 and as mentioned in my last post, has still yet to get an real opportunity with the Twins. I remain entirely baffled by the Twins’ complete lack of respect for Slama. Yeah, he walks a lot of hitters (5.4 BB/9 this year, 3.9 over his minor league career), but he also is unhittable (5.0 H/9 this year on a .290 BABIP, 5.8 over his minor league career) and strikes out a unfathomably high amount of hitters (14.4 K/9 this year, 12.3 over his minor league career). In 20 innings this year at AAA, he has a 0.45 ERA/1.80 FIP. Over 306 minor league innings, his ERA is 1.97. I have no idea what he needs to do to get an opportunity or what nefarious pictures Gardy or Terry Ryan hold over his head. He’s not getting the chance now, but while they are clearing house, he could be given the chance (or the next candidate). All the Twins need to do is get rid of a reliever with no future or real value–like Jeff Gray (4.50 ERA/5.47 FIP/4.52 xFIP).

Guerra is interesting as well–he’s also just 23 like Hendricks.  Guerra is the lone holdover from the Johan Santana trade from years ago and for a while, it looked like he’d amount to a overrated, failed prospect–the 4.80 career minor league ERA is not pretty. However, he’s been a revelation as a reliever. Between AA and AAA this year, in 26 2/3 innings, he has a 27/5 K/BB ratio, a 1.01 ERA, and has given up just 13 hits. The BABIPs at the two levels were .219 and .194, so he’s gotten some luck, but he’s also clearly changed as a pitcher to become an intriguing prospect again. I’d still prefer Slama, but, in a dream world, the Twins would rid themselves of Gray and open up a chance for both of them–I’d also take a demotion of Alex Burnett, but the 2.36 ERA has likely fooled the team into thinking he’s performing well (the 3.8 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 4.36 FIP/5.00 xFIP all suggest otherwise).

The Twins move to bring up DeVries isn’t a bad one by itself and dropping Marquis is certainly wise. However, doing so is only necessary because they made the obvious mistake of signing him in the first place, a misguided move that was never likely to bear much fruit. At the same time, bringing up DeVries is not enough. The Twins need to continue to make moves even though they’ve already have almost an entirely different rotation. It is high time to give Slama a shot and similarly, it would be worthwhile to do so for Guerra. He’s young like Hendricks, but as a reliever, he may have more opportunities for low leverage situations to break himself into the majors. Giving Hendricks more time at AAA is sensible, but keeping someone like Gray around doesn’t and continuing to prefer arms like him, or Swarzak and Burnett is not the best move. The Twins continue to make a few good moves, but do not move enough in the right direction.

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Desperation or Rebuilding?

The Twins came out with some news last night following their lost to the Angels 6-2: they were designating Matt Maloney for assignment, sending Danny Valencia to AAA, sending Francisco Liriano to the bullpen, calling up P.J. Walters for a start on Saturday, and adding Darin Mastroianni to the roster.

The question here is what are the Twins really doing. The team is 8-22. Only the Pirates have scored fewer runs than the Twins’ 102 (which ties them with the Nationals and the Padres–the Nats pitching has just been that good, as they’ve only allowed 91 runs). Only the Red Sox have allowed more than the Twins’ 165 runs. Their -63 run differential is by far the worst in the major leagues–the next team is the Royals at -32. What I see here is desperation moves that amount to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Walters is 27 and has a career 4.51 ERA at AAA in 517 1/3 innings there. Sure, the Pacific Coastal League is a hitters’ league and thus, the high ERA has to be taken with a grain of salt, but Walters is a light-tossing right-hander who isn’t exactly a prospect. In fairness, he has shown much better control this year, with a 25/6 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings so far, and over his AAA career, he’s got a 8.3 K/9 ratio, so maybe there is something there. Or perhaps the 7.24 ERA/5.86 FIP/4.40 xFIP he has in 51 major league innings is an indication of his talent level.

Mastroianni is 26 and has hit .290/.365/.395 in 397 AAA at-bats. Overall, in 2159 minor league at-bats, he’s hit .279/.368/.371 with 214 SBs. He has speed–14 steals this year between AA and AAA–but he’s hit overall just .283/.341/.345 between the two levels. He’s produced a .369 OBP in his minor league career, so he may have decent on-base skills, but the Twins already have a prospect (Ben Revere) with no power and lots of speed sitting at AAA. Yes, he’s hitting .346/.393/.423 at AAA, but that’s in 80 PAs boosted by a .435 BABIP. What’s the advantage in playing Mastroianni?

It may be that Mastroianni and Walters are throwaways from other teams that turn out to have value and such a discovery would be a good thing. At the same time, it speaks of a desperation of the organization to continue to try and compete despite ample evidence brewing that a serious rebuilding project is necessary. Certainly, such players can be part of the project, but it does ask larger questions. Similar things could be said about the Twins acquiring and continued play of outfielder Eric Komatsu.

However, Komatsu is actually more intriguing than Mastroianni. Komatsu is younger (24) and his track record, though shorter, in the minors is better. He’s hit .302/.389/.434 in 1290 at-bats, going .277/.367/.382 in 448 AA at-bats so far. It’s unclear how much power he has–it’s probably not much–but he gets on-base and has some speed. He’s a Rule 5 pickup, so he has to stay on the roster all season for the Twins to keep him around. Given what I think is a need for rebuilding to start now, I support giving Komatsu that opportunity. John Sickels wrote after he was traded to the Nationals for Jerry Hairston last year that Komatsu was a C+ prospect who would likely be a reserve outfield–plenty of speed, good plate discipline, but not enough power. That might be Ben Revere’s ceiling as well, so the Twins may as well give someone the shot to prove whether or not they anything more than a backup.

With that, perhaps it is fair to give someone like Mastroianni a chance as well. He’s older and he also clearly has no power, but he’s also shown some plate discipline and plenty of speed. If Revere is the real prospect here and needs time in AAA to sharpen his skills, as he’s still struggling there, why not give players they are less invested in a chance to show some value as well? However, if this is true and this is more about rebuilding over desperation to keep on contending, it leaves a lot to be explained.

For one, why isn’t Anthony Slama up? Maloney was rightfully designated for assignment, but he should have never wasted a spot on the 40-man roster in the first place. Slama is 28 and has never been given anything amounting to a real shot at the majors despite his record. So far this year at AAA, in 15 1/3 innings, he’s struck out 26, walked 10, given up 8 hits, and produced a 0.59 ERA. In 133 1/3 total AAA innings, he’s struck out 161 and walked 66 while giving up just 87 hits, producing a 2.36 ERA on a 10.9 K/9 rate. Yes, his control isn’t great, but the Twins weird control fetish is something they truly need to get over.

It has so enamored the entire organization that it has harmed them far more than it has helped–look no farther than the struggles of starters like Carl Pavano, Jason Marquis, and Nick Blackburn along with relievers like Matt Capps, who also strikes out no one. The Twins need a change in organizational philosophy concerning pitchers and it wouldn’t hurt by starting with giving Slama an actual chance to prove his mettle at the major league level over someone like Jeff Gray, who has his own control issues (5.68 BB/9), no ability to get the ball by anyone (4.97 K/9) and who’s good fortune (.184 BABIP, 98.7% LOB%, 6.03 FIP, 4.72 xFIP) has given him a 2.13 ERA he undoubtedly doesn’t deserve. Clearly, Slama is getting the Pat Neshek treatment–note to Twins minor league pitchers: don’t use a funky delivery or you’ll never get a shot.

Treatment of Slama isn’t the only confusing thing going on in a organization that seemingly can’t decide what it’s goal for the season is. They’ve also sent down Joe Benson recently from AAA to AA on the basis of his batting average. As far as I can tell, this is simply evidence that this front office still doesn’t understand concepts like “small sample size” and BABIP–they are apparently still years behind on the statistical revolution. Yes, Benson was hitting .179/.269/.316 in 108 PAs, but his .224 BABIP was exceedingly low for him given that in previous minor league seasons/levels, he had posted totals of .353, .300, .350, .316, .376, .328, .341, .385 and .303 in varying sample sizes. He has plenty of speed even if he strikes out a lot–that luck was going to change. Additionally, the 10.2 BB% was healthy and the 25 K% was excessive for Benson given his history. The Twins really needed to show more patience with him rather than just suggesting he was struggling with confidence–sometimes it is more complicated and a player simply needs the at-bats to show that.

At the same time, they’ve rushed Chris Parmelee to the majors, skipping AA, only to let him rot on the bench. Parmelee had hit .287/.366/.436 at AA in 610 PAs last year at 23, suggesting that Parmelee was more of a decent prospect than a future star of any sorts. (Note, Benson hit .285/.388/.495 there at the same age, cutting his strikeouts and upping his walk rate) Nonetheless, they let a hot September and good Spring Training fuel their hope and cause them to keep him on the 25-man roster going into the season. Parmelee has a 5% BB rate and a 25% K rate, suggesting that his struggles aren’t down to bad luck–his .278 BABIP isn’t particularly low. His contact rate is down, his outside swing percentage is up, and so is his swinging strike rate. On the other hand, he has a 51.9 FB% and has not hit a single home run yet, so there may be bad luck on the power outage he’s had. Parmelee probably needs more seasoning in AAA, but the Twins seem content to let him sit on the bench. A team serious about rebuilding would not make such a senseless decision.

What about Valencia? If he’s not in their long term plans, it probably isn’t a particularly bad decision. On the other hand, he’s 27. A stint in AAA isn’t likely to be all that meaningful. Valencia is likely the player he is now. That his walk rate was sitting at 1.9% is an indication of serious struggles, as is his 22.3% K rate, a big jump from the last two seasons. On the other hand, the .234 BABIP is pretty low, but it was at .275 last season. His line drive rate is down to 14.1%, his groundball rate up to 50% and even worse, his infield flyball percentage is at a abysmal 25%. He probably isn’t that unlucky and is simply not a very good hitter. On the other hand, the Twins also seem to not know their split–pretty basic stats. Through his career, Valencia has hit .325/.374/.485 against left-handers and .235/.274/.357. Valencia just needs to be platoon and used as a useful role player, but the Twins never seem to know how and when to do that. Platooning has been an issue for years and years and doesn’t seem to be changing now.

As for Liriano, this is a more sensible decision by the Twins. Liriano’s ERA sits at 9.45, with his FIP at 6.55 and xFIP at 5.25 with a declining K rate (7.09/9) and a BB rate rising to terrible proportions (6.41 BB/9). The .365 BABIP and 55.6 LOB% are signs of bad luck, but really just the difference between horrifically awful and truly terrible. He’s a free agent at the end of the year. He’s 28. There is little reason to not see if he has more value at this point as a reliever. He was great as a rookie in 2006 and once again in 2010, but at this point, he seems to have no value as a starter. I endorse this move.

One last thing to note is that at the lower levels of the organization, the Twins moves are equally perplexing often. Super-prospect Miguel Sano, who turns 19 tomorrow, is utterly dominating Single-A pitching right now. In 119 at-bats, he’s hitting .303/.417/.655 with 10 HRs, 8 doubles and two triples, with a 20/40 BB/K ratio. That K rate is still too high, but he’s definitely developing patience.  He’ll need to cut down on the strikeouts, but there is little reason as far as I can tell not to move him from Beloit to High-A Fort Myers and present him with a new challenge. I am not saying to rush him too much–he’ll stay need at least two years before he’s up in the majors more likely than not–but he’s also special and there is little reason to take a overly patient approach on him. Problem is, I doubt the Twins will do and given some of their other maneuvers, it is difficult to understand what overall philosophy they have here.

At the end of the day, while I can endorse and understand several of these moves, what I can’t understand is what the Twins organizational philosophy is right now and what it is they are seeking. This isn’t a team that can compete or is going anytime soon. The starting pitching is bad, the bullpen has a few strong spots (Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Brian Duensing) but isn’t potent enough, and while players like Josh Willingham have hit more than enough, they do not have a good offense either. I’d say it is time to get serious about rebuilding, but I’m not sure the organization can swallow that. It would mean considering trading players like Willingham, Ryan Doumit, and others for they can get while being honest with the fans. It would mean giving players who may or may not turn out, like Komatsu, more chances. It would feel more like 1999 than 2009. Is that something the Twins are ready for?

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