Friday, August 28, 2015

Is Eddie Rosario, like, Good?

As you are probably aware, the Twins are fighting for a playoff spot while at the same time showing us a glimpse of their future with a whole lot of younger players up and making contributions.  One of these is Eddie Rosario, who has used a good mix of hitting, fielding, and base running to end up ranked 4th on the team in WAR.  You may now be asking yourself why I would question if he is, like, good in that case.  Well, unfortunately there are some red flags.  They might not necessarily mean much or call him out as a fluke, but there are some things to worry about.

Rosario has put up a slash line of .274/.296/.452 so far this season.  Two of those numbers are respectable, but that awful OBP is bad enough to drag his OPS down to almost exactly the league average.  That's his red flag #1 - horrendous strike zone management.

He has 87 strikeouts this season against just 11 walks, which is pretty staggering.  His walk rate of 3.2% is the 6th worst in baseball among batters with at least 300 plate appearances, while his strikeout rate of 25.1% is the 34th worst.  The spread of nearly 22 percentage points is monstrous.  I could only find a few instances of other players with a similar spread, and they were either slap hitters (Chris Owings) or only ended up with that kind of spread because they strike out an absolute ridiculous amount (Randal Grichuk).  The good news is that both his rates are worse than what he put up in his minor league career so although he's always going to be a free swinger these extremes may just be growing pains.

His swing rate is the worst on the team (outside of Oswaldo Arcia), but his contact rates are ok - not great, but ok.  Interestingly it turns out major league teams aren't dumb, because less than half the pitches he sees are inside the strike zone and his percentage is the lowest on the team other than Kennys Vargas and Jorge Polanco.  Basically teams are throwing him bad pitches, he's swinging at those pitches, and he's missing those pitches.  Until he reigns in his hacking a bit that'll continue, and although you can have success being a free swinger it's much more difficult when you aren't getting anything to hit.  Keep an eye on this.

His second red flag, although not as big of one in my opinion, is his BABIP of .347, a generally unsustainable number.  Unlike last year's fluke Danny Santana, however, it's not that huge of an outlier based on his past.  His minor league BABIPs were almost always over .300 and he put up a few seasons in the .350 range, so though .347 is probably high it's not ridiculously high.  His line drive percentage isn't great and he pops up too much, but he has an excellent hard hit percentage which can help account for a greater than it should be BABIP.

Overall, Rosario is going to be a quality player.  The value he adds with his defense alone makes him a plus player, and advanced metrics (and the eye test) mark him as an excellent fielder both in terms of range and arm.  He's fast and a good base runner (base runs mark him as 2nd on the team behind Brian Dozier at things like taking the extra base) and his stolen base mark should get better with more experience.  How good he's going to be is going to depend on his bat, and that's going to depend on learning a bit more plate discipline.  I think he'll adjust in Year 2+, and he's going to be a fixture in the outfield for a long time.

Or at least I hope.  Wow.  Optimism.  Feels weird.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What the Hell are the Twins gonna do at Shortstop?

The Twins hit the back stretch of the season, somewhat limping and hovering around .500 and 2.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot.  There are two ways to look at this season.  The first is that the team overachieved and could never have sustained their early season success, but a .500ish year and semi-meaningful games with an outside shot at a surprise playoff appearance a year ahead of schedule (a .500 would clear their Vegas over/under on wins by 12 games) is pretty damn neato.  The second is to say that the Twins were running away with the division and collapsed, and the season is a failure.  Obviously, the first way is correct and the second way is for morons.

The other success of this season is you can see the future starting to take shape.  Not so much the pitching side which has too many questions for even me to try to answer, but the position players?  It's happening.

There's little doubt that the opening day outfield next year will be Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks, and Eddie Rosario (and that should be a damn good fielding unit).  Miguel Sano will have third locked down, and Brian Dozier is going to be at second for a while.  1B/DH is going to be some combination of Joe Mauer, because we're stuck with him, Trevor Plouffe, if they keep him around - he has value and they control him for two more years but he's getting spendy, and Kennys Vargas, if he remembers how to hit.  Ideally Oswaldo Arcia does the same and becomes the fourth outfielder with some DH time as well.  Catcher goes to Kurt Suzuki unfortunately for another year, and then the hope is either Josmil Pinto or Chris Herrmann step up.  It's a nice solid start to team.  But what the hell are they gonna do at shortstop?

They have three current options - Danny Santana, Eduardo Escobar, and Eduardo Nunez.  They're all young and under team control so they'll probably get plenty of chances, but I don't see a full time shortstop here anywhere.  Santana flashed a solid rookie year, finishing 7th in AL Rookie of the Year voting, but had all the warning signs of a fluke which came to fruition this year.  In his 256 plate appearances in the majors this year he OPSed just .541, 3rd worst in all the majors, and rocked a 66-5 strikeout to walk ratio.  I covered Escobar here, coming to the conclusion that his upside, last year, was adequate at best, and his downside, this year, is a crappy utility guy.  Nunez seems to have moved into the starters role by default, but there's nothing there to suggest he's anything other than a replacement level utility guy, which he has been for his six big league seasons.

So what's next?  Look at any Twins' top prospect list and you'll see two names, and only two names - Nick Gordon and Jorge Polanco.  Gordon was picked just last year out of high school so he's probably not going to be ready until 2018 at the earliest, so it's Polanco or bust.  And I'm really not sure how to feel about that.

He's certainly looked good in his limited time in the majors, slashing .313/.450/.500 with 4 walks and 3 strikeouts in 20 plate appearances and Fangraphs has him as a better than average defensive shortstop.  All positive signs.  His career line of .288/.349/.406 in the minors is alright, but more impressive is his 269 strikeouts to 182 walks, which shows that unlike a lot of shortstops he's not a complete hacker up there.

So what's the problem?  No power at all.  Zero.  None.  That .406 slugging over his minor league career would be one of the lower numbers in the majors this year, and if you look at his ISO, which strips out a high average influencing from influencing slugging, he's put up Ben Revere type numbers each of the last two seasons, only without the speed.

I'm not saying he's terrible or can't develop into more of an all around player.  He hit very well in rookie and A ball, with some power, and he's only 21 and already at AAA with two flashes in the big leagues and he's pretty much hit for a high average everywhere.  I'm fully rooting for him, it's just amazing to me that all the eggs have to be in this basket, but there's nobody else.  Levi Michael was supposed to be the shortstop of the future, but he was drafted out of college in 2011 and is still stuck at AA so I don't think we can really count on him any more, especially since he has less power than Polanco.

Considering the free agent market looks pretty bare at the position for the next couple years we should all be huge Jorge Polanco fans and hope he gets to the majors, for good, sooner rather than later.  Help us, Jorge Polanco, you're our only hope.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Is Eduardo Escobar, like, good?

I was hoping the Twins would do something at the trade deadline, and they did.  I was hoping they'd get bullpen help, and they did.  So I suppose I'm happy with what they did.  They couldn't really have done much more without gutting the future, and considering their performance since the trade deadline it looks like an every better decision to mostly stand pat.  I was hoping they'd find a way to upgrade shortstop, but the two instant starters who may have been available are both expensive and have question marks (Jose Reyes and Starlin Castro) so whatevs.  With Danny Santana back in the minors, it looks like Eduardo Escobar is the new shortstop, and may be for a while considering there's no readily available replacement unless Santana turns it around.  So is Eduardo Escobar, like, good?

Current slash line:  .239/.270/.380.  Yikes.  Down considerably from last year's decent .275/.315/.406.  His OPS of .651 ranks him 19th in the majors among shortstops with at least 250 plate appearances - better than I would have guessed (and better than Castro).  Considering Santana ranked dead last, that's manageable.  Both his walk and strikeout rates are career worsts this year, and this approach change probably also accounts for his dip in BABIP from a career number .308 to .294 (it was .336 last year) and his line drive rate has plummeted from 24% to 17.8%.  Both numbers are considerably worse than his career numbers, so we can hope he's just having a bad year.

One thing I've always liked about his bat is he's got some pop compared to your average shortstop.  He ranks 8th in ISO (slg-avg) among shortstops with 250+ PAs, and that number has increased each of the last two years.  He's also 16th in extra base hits, despite having a hundred plate appearances fewer than almost every shortstop ahead of him.  Overall, he's a complete free swinger who refuses to walk and has a little bit of pop for his position.  He's only 26, so his bat probably gets a passing grade, though it would be nice if he could revert back to last year's version.

He's a horrendous base stealer.  He's gone 6 for 12 in his career and 2 for 5 this year, and it's probably best for everyone at this point if he just stops doing it.  Though that would probably give Dan Gladden a heart attack.  Seriously you ever listen to this guy on the radio?  He's completely obsessed with the running game.  It's maddening.  Speaking of, Escobar is a pretty good base runner outside of not being able to steal base if a small child was catching.  Well, actually this year he rates dead average, but last year he was slightly goodish.  This is according to UBR at Fangraphs which takes note of such things as going from 1st to 3rd on a single or scoring from 1st on a double and stuff like that.  Makes sense.  Yet another regression from Escobar.

Last season, Escobar's fielding (at shortstop) was above average according to Ultimate Zone Rating.  This year, however, like everything else it's plummeted to terrible.  Granted defensive metrics aren't perfect, but considering he's on pace to make about 40% more errors than last season I can buy it.  This year his UZR ranks 36th out of 40 shortstops with at least 210 innings played at SS (just ahead of Danny Santana).  Last year he ranked 14th.

So what do we have?  A player who would have been a competent starter last season who has been pretty rough this year.  Add it all up and he's gone from 2.5 WAR last year down to -0.7 this year.  Considering Santana is -1.2 he's an upgrade, but a disappointment at the same time.  Last year WAR put him as the #14 shortstop in the majors.  This year he's at the bottom, ahead of only Santana and Castro.  Yuck.

Considering he's 26 years old and under team control through 2018 there's considerable reason for the Twins to hope he can be the new shortstop of the future.  Not to mention the free agent market for shortstops is garbage.  Last year he looked like he had a chance.  This year, however?  No, he's not good.  Hopefully they don't rush Jorge Polanco.

Guest post: Minnesota Vikings 2015 Preview

All things considered, the Minnesota Vikings had a slightly above-average season in 2014. They didn't make the playoffs, but they weren't absolutely embarrassing either. Some wondered if they were going to be able to win games without Adrian Peterson and using a rookie quarterback. Now that Peterson is back and the quarterback is more mature, can they start to think playoffs?

The Green Bay Packers are still the best team in the NFC North, but Minnesota is starting to feel a bit more confident in general. They know that the offense could be the best in quite some time for them, and it all starts with Peterson getting back on the field. People are still drafting him very highly in fantasy football mockdraft set ups despite the fact he played in just one game last year. Many are thinking he will come back refreshed since he was able to get some time off. There are some concerns about distractions and possible hatred shown towards him on the road, but players have to deal with that all the time.

Teddy Bridgewater made very nice strides during the 2014 season. It was unknown just how good he would be as a rookie for Minnesota, but the coaching staff definitely feels like they have their franchise guy for years to come. With Peterson back, that should only open things up for him more.

On defense, this team made great strides last year, so building on that is going to put them in playoff discussion. Mike Zimmer took a team over that gave up a lot of points, especially through the air, and actually made them a slightly above average unit. They aren’t perfect, but the offense won’t be forced to put up 30 points a week to win.

The schedule looks tough on paper, but Minnesota should still improve on 7-9 from a year ago. Winning one more game shows improvement, but winning two or more games puts them in the playoff discussion. They might not be getting a lot of attention right now, but they are a team to watch.