Archive for the ‘Minnesota Twins’ category

Why Can’t Joe Mauer Hit for Power?

April 4, 2017

One of the reasons the Twins have been terrible in recent years is Joe Mauer‘s move from catcher to 1B/DH.  He went from being one of the best catchers in baseball to an aging 1Bman who no longer hits .300 and hits for no power.  He hasn’t had a .400 slugging percentage since 2013, and that just kills you from 1B/DH position, even if Mauer still gets on base like a starting IB/DH.

The Twins’ demise (and I well remember when the Twinkies were the-small-market-team-that-could) is hardly entirely Joe’s fault.  He was still performing at a Hall of Fame caliber in 2012 when the team lost 96 games anyway.

Most players of Mauer’s talents add power as they age.  Even if you see the 28 HRs Joe hit in his best season (2009) as a fluke, since he’s never hit more than 13 in any other major league season, Mauer had more than 50 extra base hits in two other seasons during his prime.  Usually, a lot of those doubles and triples turn into home runs as the number of lines on the back of the baseball card gets longer.

For years I advocated that playing a guy of Mauer’s size (6’5″ and 225 lbs) who could hit like a young Joe Mauer at catcher for years and years was going to ruin a perfectly good Hall of Fame career.  I turned out to be right, but not for the reasons (injuries) I expected.

Traditionally, big catchers who hit so well that they play too much burn out right quick, usually because of leg and back problems. However, Mauer still runs surprisingly well for a man his size who has played more than 900 MLB games at catcher.

Mauer’s hit eight triples and stolen seven bases in eight attempts over the last three seasons.  He isn’t going to win any team footraces, but he’s certainly not among ten, or probably even 20, slowest IB/DH types in MLB.  I initially thought that perhaps all that catching had ruined his legs, but it doesn’t match with the speed stats above, or the fact that he still plays pretty regularly for a player with knee and back problems.

Instead, Mauer’s ruin seems to have been the concussion he suffered in August 2013, as the result of foul balls off his mask, something no catcher can avoid. (espn.com’s recap doesn’t even mention it, since Mauer probably toughed it out and finished the game.)  Here’s a source who almost certainly knows more about the Twins than I do from mid-season 2015, which attribute the drop in batting average, and, inferencially, his failure to add power, to his 2013 brain injury.  That off season, Mauer admitted to vision problems as a result of the concussion which lingered through the 2015 season.

I still think that Mauer may yet be an 18-20 HR a year player, at least for one season.  He isn’t that old for a player of his proven ability, he still runs well, and he may eventually get over the concussion that occurred more than three and a half years ago, particularly since he’s never played catcher again.  It’s hard for me to believe that a player of Mauer’s proven offensive ability can’t show a little pop and potentially have one last great offensive season (or at least an OPS over .850) in the two years before his contract expires.

As for Joe Mauer’s long-term contract, what are you gonna do?  The Twins had to sign Mauer to the long-term enormous deal because he was the local boy who made good.  Mauer had earned that contract, because how could the fan base not love him?  It’s just an unfortunate, even if somewhat predictable, bummer, because how could a team not overplay a big catcher of Mauer’s ability?

Byung-ho Park to Start 2017 Season at AAA Rochester

March 31, 2017

I saw that Byung-ho Park didn’t make the Minnesota Twins out of Spring Training and will instead be starting the season at AAA Rochester.  For most of the off-season, I thought that the best thing for Park would probably be to spend 40 to 60 games to start this season in AAA, where he could play every day and quite literally get up to speed on MLB system baseball.  Now, I’m not quite so sure.

In Spring Training, Park hit six home runs and posted a 1.159 OPS, which was the best for any Twins player with at least 25 plate appearances, and Park had more than twice that many.  I’m a strong believer that players who have great Spring Trainings should be rewarded with a roster spot, particularly if they are players who are already damned close to being major league players.

I’ve also heard that the new management team the Twins hired this off-season aren’t particularly enamored with Park and see his signing as a mistake made by the old administration.  To me, that makes no sense, since the commitment to Park at this point ($9.25 million guaranteed over the next three seasons, plus a very affordable $6.5 million option for 2020) is such a bargain in today’s game, particularly for a guy who showed so much power potential (22 HRs in 372 at-bats at the major league and AAA level) in an otherwise forgettable season.

Maybe Park has finally gotten up to speed and is now ready to have a reasonably successful major league career.  That said, in the greater scheme of things 40 to 60 AAA games isn’t a big deal so long as Park doesn’t get discouraged or hurt.  If Park hits well at AAA Rochester, it’s fairly certain that someone in Minneapolis will get hurt or won’t hit on what looks fairly certain to be another well below .500 Twins’ ballclub.

Park’s power is very real, and I’m still convinced he could be a productive player relative to the financial commitment the Twins made to him.  What I would hate to see is Park not get every reasonable opportunity to prove he can be a major league player because the Twins’ new management sees him as a holdover mistake by the management team they replaced.

Since the money has already been spent, why not at least see if you can get something out of your investment no matter how much you might now see the original signing as a mistake?  Even if you don’t like Park’s overall game, if he can prove himself a major league hitter, you might be able to trade him and his affordable contract off for somebody you really want next off-season.

Remember Rotator Cuff Injuries?

March 17, 2017

Today, the injury every pitcher dreads is the torn ulnar collateral ligament.  When I was young, it was the torn rotator cuff.

A couple days ago I wrote about Ed Hobaugh, a pitcher who basically had one real year in the Show and then quickly faded off into oblivion.  Probably my favorite player fitting this description is Bill Dailey.  His career progression was almost identical to Hobaugh, except that Dailey’s one full season was truly a tremendous year.

Dailey was the closer for the Minnesota Twins in 1963.  The Twins finished 3rd in 1963 (91-71) in a ten-team league, in large part due to Dailey’s one out-sized season.  Dailey went 6-3 with 21 saves and 1.99 ERA while throwing 108.2 innings.  His save total was 3rd best in the league, tied with  Hoyt Wilhelm, but behind Stu Miller (27) and Dick Radatz (23).  The Monster was the Junior Circuit’s best closer that year, but Dailey was an impressive second.

Dailey was 28 in 1963.  I’d guess he mastered command of a sharp curveball shortly before that season.  He only stuck out 72 batters in 1963, but he still had a K/BB ratio of 3.8 and a WHIP well under 1.0.

In 1964 Dailey tore his rotator cuff, and his professional career was over at age 29.  That made him the Mark Fidrych of his day, only without the Bird’s youthful promise.  Wayne Garland is another pitcher from Fidrych’s era with the same basic story.

San Francisco Giants’ broadcaster Mike Krukow had a riff about how when he entered professional baseball, teams’ pitching coaches would ask youngsters whether they wanted their shoulders to hurt or their elbows to hurt.  If the former, the pitcher was taught to throw the curveball, and if the latter the slider.

The curveball was a much more popular pitch in the 1960’s and 1970’s than it is now when the slider is the dominant off-speed pitch.  That may in part be due to the fact that pitchers as a group come back better from Tommy John surgery than from rotator cuff surgery, which is now often referred to as the labrum.  Shoulder injuries more often involve cartilage than tendons, which is probably why they are harder to come back from than elbow injuries.

For pitcher after his age of 30 season, shoulder injuries pretty much spell the ends of their careers.  A 30+ year old with a strong enough arm can still come back from an elbow tear, at least so long as the doctors can find a good elbow tendon transplant.

More Thoughts on This Year’s 1B/DH Free Agents

February 13, 2017

Adam Lind signed today with the Washington Nationals on a one year deal with a team option for a second season which guarantees Lind $1.5 million.  The amount of the guarantee is just about the lowest possible on a major league deal for a veteran player like Lind (at least in terms of the unwritten MLB salary scale) and is still something of a surprise considering that Lind hit 20 HRs last season and has a proven track record as a slugger.

I’m not saying that Lind should have received a lot more, but even a $2 million guarantee would have represented 33% more than what he actually got.

In the context of this year’s market for one dimensional 1B/DH players, it ultimately was not surprising that no one claimed Byung-ho Park off waivers.  That was certainly what the Twins were counting on.

However, it is still interesting that not even one MLB team thought that Park was worth a $9.25 million gamble for three years of control for a player whom the Twins valued more than twice as highly a year ago.

For Park, starting the 2017 season at AAA Rochester is probably the best thing that could happen to him.  He’ll get to play every day there, continue to work on his newly shortened swing, and likely earn his way back to the Show in 60 or 70 games.  As fangraphs noted just before Park was designated for assignment, there are plenty of things about Park’s 2016 performance to suggest he still has potential as an MLB player if he can make some more adjustments.

Pedro Alvarez is beginning to look like he might be the odd man out, as there can’t be many more landing places given the recent signings of Mike Napoli, Chris Carter and now Lind.  That said, Alvarez was a more productive hitter than Lind last year, so I expect him to get more than a $1.5 million guarantee, although it certainly looks like he now has little hope of more than a one-year deal.

There always seems to be something of a herd mentality in MLB front offices, and I don’t necessarily think that small contracts for this kind of player this off-season means that these guys won’t get better contracts in future off-seasons.  This year’s deals may have had more to do with the glut of these players on the market — in an off-season where there are fewer of them, they may do better.

Also, if some of these guys on one year deals can do better in 2017, or in Chris Carter’s case, have the same season in 2017 that he had in 2016, they’ll get better deals next off-season.

The Glut of Power-Hitting 1B/DH Free Agents

February 4, 2017

One of the things that has most captured my interest this off-season is the glut of power-hitting 1B/DH free agents, and the long slow dance that has been going on as teams have fully realized they can sign these guys for relative bargains if they just wait long enough.

Early in the off-season, it seemed likely that at least the best of these guys would do well in what was a generally weak free agent class, but it sure hasn’t turned out that way.  Edwin Encarnacion, who was probably the best of the bunch, made a whole lot less than the Blue Jays offered him before the season ended.  Mark Trumbo, MLB’s 2016 home run leader, also notably signed for a whole lot less than anyone expected when the 2016 ended.

The players who signed early did well.  In fact, the contracts that the Blue Jays gave Kendrys Morales and the Rockies gave Ian Desmond now look like wild over-pays with the market playing out the way it has.  Desmond’s deal didn’t make any sense when it was announced, but it looks even worse now, in spite of the fact that Desmond can play a lot of positions other than 1B.

Another of the remaining musical chairs was taken away today when the Tampa Rays signed Logan Morrison for one year at $2.5 million and another million in performance bonuses.  That leaves the Texas Rangers as the only team left virtually certain to sign one these guys.  They seem set on signing Mike Napoli, once Napoli agrees to the one year deal the Rangers want to give him.

That leaves Chris Carter, the NL’s 2016 home run leader, Pedro Alvarez, Adam Lind, Billy Butler, Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard with few obvious landing spots.  I’ve heard of the Mariners, the Marlins and the White Sox as possibilities, but that would still leave at least three of these guys looking at minor league offers at best.

Chris Carter has floated the idea of playing in Asia in 2017, a first for a reigning MLB home run leader.  Another sign of how bad the market for these guys is is that the Minnesota Twins just designated Byung-ho Park for assignment because they don’t think anyone will claim him because he still has three years and a total of $9.25 million left on the deal signed last year that has already cost the Twins more than $15 million when the posting fee is included.  I don’t think the Twins are writing Park off so much as convinced that no one will claim him even at this modest remaining commitment.

A KBO team, most likely the Samsung Lions, reportedly offered Mark Reynolds a $3 million one year deal, but Reynolds decided to re-sign with the Rockies on a minor league deal.  If that KBO team is willing to pony up similar money for another of these guys, I would have to think at least one of them will be playing in South Korea next year, because he sure won’t be getting a better offer in the U.S.

As a final, only tangentially related note, the Rays also signed Rickie Weeks to a minor league deal.  I’m disappointed, because it means the San Francisco Giants could have signed Weeks to a minor league deal also.  Weeks’ left field defense was terrible last year, and he hasn’t played 2B since 2014, but he hit pretty well last year, and I expect his left field defense would get better with more experience.  An experienced right-handed power hitting outfielder was something the Giants sure could have used, particularly on a minor league commitment.

Colby Rasmus on a One-Year Deal?

December 31, 2016

There was an article today on mlbtraderumors.com about the San Francisco Giants’ remaining needs this off-season.  It has me thinking that Colby Rasmus could be an excellent sign for left field if the price is right.

I feel better about Giants’ current options at 3B (Eduardo Nunez and Connor Gallaspie as a platoon with Kelby Tomlinson and either Ehire Adrianza or Jimmy Rollins as the other back-up possibilities) than I do about the team’s third, fourth and fifth outfielders being Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker and Gyorkis Hernandez.

I don’t hate any of these three — I’m confident that Jarrett Parker will be a major league back-up outfielder in 2017, and Hernandez could become the next Glegor Blanco or Andres Torres — but it’s hard for me to imagine that the Giants will go into the 2017 with three mostly LFers who have this little major league experience.  I also can’t see the Gints thinking that Michael Morse who will be 35 next season and hasn’t played since last April is a realistic veteran option.

Thus, Colby Rasmus, who might come very cheap off a season in which he hit only .206.  His 2016 OPS (.641) is more than 100 basis points lower than his career OPS (.744), so he’s a great bounce-back candidate at age 30, particularly given that he still runs pretty well.

Rasmus also plays good D in LF, which would be valuable with a CF in Denard Span who doesn’t cover a lot of ground anymore.

As for right-handed relievers, the Giants did sign one player this off-season which hasn’t received much attention, since it was a minor league deal.  However, this guy has up-side.

The Giants signed Neil Ramirez, who will be 28 next May.  He is a former 1st round draft pick who had a terrific 2014 season for the Cubs, when he had a 1.44 ERA in 50 relief appearances with a pitching line of 43.1 IP,  29 hits, two HRs and 17 walks allowed and 53 Ks.  He had shoulder and left abdominal injuries in 2015, and in brief stints with three different major league teams this past season he had trouble throwing strikes.  However, he was very effective in 16 appearances and 20.1 IP at AAA Rochester at the end of the 2016 season.

Ramirez definitely has up-side if he’s healthy in 2017, and he could be the next in a long line of effective (at least in the short term) right-handed relievers the Giants have signed  to minor league deals in the last two decades.

Mid-November Musings

November 19, 2016

With the World Series long over, but with the off-season signing period not yet hot and heavy, there hasn’t been much I’ve really felt like writing about.  I’ve reached a point in my blogging career where I feel like it’s only worth my writing about something if I have something truly meaningful to say that isn’t being contemporaneously beaten to death by all the hundreds or thousands of other baseball blogs out there.

As such, I write about a lot of obscure topics precisely because you’re not going to find dozens of other sites providing similar infotainment.  It also frees me to write about darker corners of the baseball world that I find interesting, but not a lot of other people care much about.

For example, I am endlessly fascinated about the American players who play in Asian leagues.  Every off-season I follow who the new crop of players moving their careers there and wondering about how Asian teams identify these prospects.  Do Asian teams regularly contact specific players (or their agents) whom Asian teams have identified based on their own research, or do the players and their agents contact Asian teams advising of their interest in playing abroad.  Is it some combination of the two?  Do Asian teams contact the MLB players’ association and MLB organizations at the start of every off-season to get the players informed about the possibilities of playing in Asia?

My guess is that a lot of the border-line MLB players who are most likely to succeed in Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO simply have no interest in playing in Asia unless they get an offer they can’t refuse.  The dream of major league success dies hard for a lot of these guys.  It must, or otherwise the caliber of American players going to Japan or South Korea would be higher than it actually is, since NPB and the KBO certainly pay better than a year mostly spent at AAA.  Also, it’s a big adjustment to live and work in a foreign culture, which is exacerbated if the player has a family in the U.S.  Do you bring the wife and kids to Japan or South Korea once the school year is over, or do you live apart for six months?

The players who make the leap usually have to reach a point where they are convinced that they aren’t going to get even a fair shot at becoming major league players, usually because they’ve aged out, but sometimes because they are guys who were low draft picks who have outperformed expectations but still haven’t necessarily been shown a whole lot of respect or as many opportunities as their on-field performance alone might merit.

Something that got me thinking about this today was the KC Royals’ decision to sign catcher Drew Butera to a two-year $3.8 million contract.  Butera strikes me as a guy more lucky than good, a player who got a major league opportunity when a team (the Twins) was desperate for a catcher who could at least field the position and who then stuck around long enough that other teams began thinking of him as a major league player, even though his performances were generally poor.

Butera, at age 32 in 2016, had the first season of his major league career in which his offensive performance was not dreadful, and he was able to parlay it into a two-year deal, that, while modest by current MLB standards, is still not chump change.  It is worth noting that while fangraphs rated the value of Butera’s 2016 performance at $5.3 million, the site still gives him a negative value for his major league career.

Butera is a good defensive catcher, but not nearly good enough to make up for his typically dreadful hitting.  I strongly suspect his batting will regress toward his mean in 2017.

Anyway, the existence of long-term major leaguers like Butera who aren’t as good as a replacement level player, means that there are guys stuck in the minors who aren’t getting all the opportunities they deserve.  I’m a little surprised that even more of these guys aren’t fighting among themselves to play for major league money in Asia, in large part because the idea of getting paid big money to play baseball and experience a foreign culture for six months sounds so appealing to me.  Also, being in my late forties, it’s a lot easier for me to see the long view of a player’s professional career.