Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Twins Stuff

The reason I'm not posting as much this Twins' season is not because they suck.  They are a far more interesting team this season than last and I'm actually enjoying this more than any season in a while.  The reason I'm not posting as much is some combination of laziness and apathy and alcoholism.  I'm not sure those last two seasons make all that much sense together but neither does your face so shut it.  Anyway, here's a bunch of Twins thoughts.  I'll try to make up for low quantity of posting with a sheer overwhelming number of words.  Goal is 2,000.  I've got some Andy Capp Hot Fries, some Jefferson's bourbon, and nothing better to do with my time right now.  I can do this.  I know it.  Let us begin.

-  Since reaching the age of reason I have purchased three Twins "jersey shirts."  Not jerseys, because I'm not a weirdo, but those shirts with the name on number on them.  I've had Denard Span, Jason Kubel, and Oswaldo Arcia.  Granted the Arcia call was risky because he was in his rookie season and could have gone either way, but it's now starting to pay off because he's been white hot since getting recalled.  He's just killing the ball, putting up an ISO of .250 which would put him just outside the Top 10 in the majors if he had enough at-bats.  He's basically just decided to stop hitting groundballs because they're boring.  Arcia only puts the ball on the ground 32% of the time (4th lowest in the majors) and smacks it into the air knowing that it's more exciting that way.  He's still got a ways to go and it wouldn't kill him to learn the strikezone a little bit, but he's improved his fielding this year and is on his way to developing into a legit power hitter.  Now just stop being hurt all the time.  I'd like to be wearing my Arcia shirt for many more years.  No flame outs please.

-  This Twins signing of Kendrys Morales is weird.  Not that they can't use him.  The offense has started to teeter a bit after starting off hot and he's a career .280/.333/.480 hitter which gives him a career OPS+ of 120 - no doubt the guy's a big bat and he was 5th in the MVP voting in 2009.  It's just for this team to pony up $7.5 million for a guy who is half-year rental and whose defensive "skills" are redundant with a bunch of other guys is so far out of character I had trouble believing the news when I read it.  IF, and this is a giant IF, they're doing this to see if they can contend, and when they realize the Wild Card is a pipe dream this year they figure they'll flip him for a prospect at the deadline, then I'll tip my cap.  That, however, is a decidedly un-Twins like move.  Wait and see.

-  The Twins draft, however, was more Twins-like simply because it was incredibly perplexing.  The first pick was great - SS Nick Gordon - a toolsy high school shortstop with an excellent pedigree (Tom Gordon's son and Dee Gordon's brother) who was no doubt one of the best (potential) players in the draft.  I even saw one writer call Gordon the best pick of the draft.  The next pick was fine - RP Nick Burdi out of Louisville.  Thought to be the best relief pitcher in the draft.  I'm not a huge fan of taking relievers, but he's supposed to be the best, he's a college guy so his track to the bigs could be short, and it gives the Twins something to point to if they decide to deal Glen Perkins when his value is at its highest, something that needs to be explored.  So ok, fine.  But then it gets crazy.

Next they took a college reliever with control issues who doesn't have a secondary pitch.  Then they went with a college reliever with control problems.  Next up was a college reliever who was a complete failure when he was a starter.  Then they took a college reliever who has already had Tommy John surgery and had a rib removed for something something words.  Following that they went with some pitcher who MLB doesn't have a scouting report for so I can't bitch about anything, and then finished up their first 8 picks with another college reliever who led Missouri in both saves and home runs who moved into the rotation at the end of the season and could be a big league starter someday if he learns a change-up.  So that's 1 position player and 7 relievers.

Does that strike anybody else as completely bizarre?  Three of these guys are definite relievers with only Burdi sounding like a big league closer.  I know relievers are important of course, but generally they're failed starters who have failed in the minor or major leagues, not already having failed in college, which is the case with two of their picks.  I know that's a simplistic view, but I can't get over this drafting sequence.  Taking college relievers and converting to starters is also dicey, but it sounds like that will likely be the Twins plan with four of these guys, all of whom either need to learn or master another pitch or two or need help with their command.  Sounds to me like a bunch of guys who are going to be converted to pitch to contact.

I mean, I know the scouting team for the Twins knows a whole lot more than me, I'm not dumb or arrogant enough to suggest differently, it just seems really, really weird to me to use this many early picks and similar types of gambles.  What about a high upside high school arm?  How about mix in a position player somewhere?  I don't know, maybe college relievers are the new market inefficiency and the Twins are playing their own version of Moneyball.  Hey, after the Morales signing we may be off in all new territory here.  I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt, but I am less than confident that we'll look back on this draft and be like, oh damn that was sweet.

-  He probably deserves his own post at this point after spinning another gem today, but how good has Phil Hughes been?  If you want to know nothing else about Hughes this year, just know that he has 72 strikeouts versus 8 walks on the season.  That 9-1 ratio is insane and it's really all you need to know that yes, this Phil Hughes cat is for real.  That ratio is second in the majors behind only David Price and would be the best in any full season since Cliff Lee in 2010.   Seriously impressive.

Hughes refining his control has not come at the expense of his getting pounded, which can sometimes happen when you're throwing more balls over the plate.  His line drive/ground ball/fly ball splits are pretty much identical to his career norms, and as a result his BABIP is about where it's always been.  His LOB % is right where it should be too, so it's unlikely luck is playing a major role here.  One of Hughes's biggest issues has been home runs, and although his HRs allowed per 9 innings pitched has been slashed by nearly half off his 2012-2013 rate.  He's done that because his HR/FB rate is drastically down at about half what it was from 2012-2013.  Considering his ratio so far this year would put him in the top 6 last season he's probably due for some regression, but the combination of better command and control and the move to a more manageable Target Field vs. Yankee Stadium make an improvement here likely.

Advanced metrics (FIP ranks him 11th, XFIP 30th) say Hughes is a legit #1 pitcher (assuming we go with the theory that there are 30 true #1s, just some teams might have more than one).  I'm not ready to go that far, not by a long shot, but something like a #2?  That just might be.

-  Danny Santana and Brian Dozier are staying hot, and perhaps we've got our keystone combo for the next five years or more sitting right in front of us.  Since my post after Santana's call-up he's justified my probably overhype, batting .372/.407/.500, showing the power I hoped/questioned/doubted he'd have with 2 homers and 5 doubles so far for an ISO of .128 which isn't Troy Tulowitzki-like but would rank him in the top half of all MLB shortstops and his overall performance at the plate has been unreal with a weighted on-base average of .400, second in the majors at short.  Of course Eduardo Escobar's breakout (more later) and Aaron Hicks's continued struggles have pushed Santana to center field, though the two positions are pretty much a wash as to offensive expectations (though it seems harder to find a good SS who can hit).  Though Santana has been a meh shortstop so far, he's actually been an excellent center fielder which seems hard to believe considering how little time he spent in the outfield before this year.  Ideally he'll get more time at short and field it credibly enough to play there full-time.  More on this later.

Since my post on Dozier he's put up an OPS of .871 (would be a top 20 number for all positions over the entire season) with 3 homers and 6 doubles in 15 games.  Simply put he's a power monster.  I am absolutely in love with this guy.  See my last post linked above and just the improvements and refinements he's made in his approach and how they've paid off - how can you not love him?  He's sporting the #1 walk rate in the bigs among second basemen and the #4 OBP, #2 SLG, #2 wOBA, #1 ISO, and #2 OPS - that's an all-star.  Of course he's fourth in AL balloting with no hope of closing the gap which means he'll get snubbed by some combination of Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Dustin Pedroia because the Twins will get one rep and it'll be Glen Perkins, but he really should make it - he's that good.  Big, big fan and if I'm right, and I usually am, he should get plenty of other chances.

-  Ok so Escobar.  Total breakout season.  OPS by year:  .571, .537, .628, and .790 this year.  The interesting notes are the natural type progression towards a breakout and that he's already within 10 of his career high in plate appearances so he's got a lot of that whole "never had a chance" thing to him.  The question is, does this pass the smell test and Escobar is the kind of hitter who ranks , or is he a fraud?  In the latter case that's awesome!  Suddenly the Twins have hitters to build around in Dozier, Escobar, Santana, Arcia (hopefully) and maybe Trevor Plouffe (I may be too tired to get to him).  Great.  But if he's a fraud it might be even better as long as the Twins recognize it (I know but let's stick with the new Moneyball thing - for me).  In that case you capitalize on his success and flip him at the trade deadline, move Santana back to your SS of the future (he's going to be moved somewhere once Byron Buxton arrives anyway) and we move on.  So let's investigate like Scooby Doo.

First thing to check is always BABIP, and Escobar is at .383 this year against a career number of .315.  Yikes.  Bad start for the "he's for realsies" crowd.  That number is fourth in the majors.  Hard to believe it's real, but let's check line drive rate.  27.3%!  That's good!  That's 7th best in the majors and a nice improvement over last season!  Even better is that those extra percentage points towards line drives are coming from fly balls, which for a non home run hitter like Escobar is a move in the right direction.  Ok, so more liners, great.  Any reason for this?

Well his walk rate is still horrible and his K rate is up a little - neither of which say fluke but neither of which suggest growth either.  What does suggest some growth is making more contact (and clearly better contact) on balls he swings at in the strikezone.  He's also swinging at more pitches outside the zone, but making less contact, which I'm struggling to interpret (thanks booze.  and obama) but I choose to believe he's taking better swings instead of that weak crap where he used to basically swing just to make contact and hit a shitty ball (the slight uptick in K rate might be evidence of this).  Though the nerd stats are kind of mixed bag of evidence and perhaps luck here, one thing that looks very good is that other than the change-up Escobar is hitting better against every type of pitch this year than in his career, including punishing fastballs.

So the jury is still out on Escobar, but I admit things look better than I thought they would.  No matter what the case he still rates as one of the better defensive shortstops in the game and that has value either way.  Escobar may be the most interesting case on the team, simply because if they decide to move him there's a pretty clear plan in place (if you believe in Santana like I do and if you don't you're probably a terrible person who roots for Europe in the World Cup).  I'll be watching this one with much interest.  Or some interest.  At least a little interest.


John R said...

QUALITY stuff right here. Thank you sir!

They have held my interest far longer than I thought they would this season. I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop (never understood that saying, but I guess it works here). And dare I say... they seem to be getting BETTER as the season goes on... wtf?!

If alcohol is going to keep me from enjoying your posts as often as possible, I implore you to take it down a notch. I had to confront that demon about 20 months ago and I took the high road. It was the best decision I've ever made. Food for thought my friend.

Live Twins Game Blog please.

Uni's Stripper said...

When can I expect a Big 10 football preview?