Archive for the ‘Minnesota Twins’ category

What Happened to Byung-Ho Park?

August 14, 2017

Byung-ho Park still grinding away for the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League, but it’s really looking like he’s never going to be an MLB starter.

I was a big fan of Park’s performance in South Korea’s KBO, and after the success of Jung-ho Kang in MLB, I also thought that Park had what it took to be an MLB regular.  Even last year, when he underwhelmed at the major league level, he still hit with enough power in the Show and at AAA to suggest that with a few minor adjustments, and he might break through in 2017.

Park is currently slashing .260/.317/.424, leaving him with only the 36th highest OPS in the IL, with less than a month left in the regular season.  The batting average is an improvement from last year, but his power output has dropped sharply, as last year’s home runs have been doubles this season.

Park is a mediocre AAA player right now, who wouldn’t deserve even a September call-up, except for the fact that he’s got a guaranteed contract that runs two more seasons.  However, he’s long since been dropped from the Twins’ 40-man roster, so a September call-up seems unlikely, since it would require the Twins to pass someone else through waivers to create a roster space for Park.

Park is owed $3 million on his contract with the Twins for each of 2018 and 2019, and that latest word is that Park still wants to prove he can be a major league player.  It will also be hard for Park to command the same kind of money in the KBO, although with a reasonable buy-out from the Twins, he would probably be just as well off financially returning to South Korea.

While I still think it’s possible that Park can play better at AAA in 2018 and get another shot at the Show, Park is now 31, so his window is closing fast.

Kang’s success in MLB, and Hyun-soo Kim‘s, Dae-ho Lee‘s and Seung-hwan Oh‘s successes  in 2016 have probably caused me to over-estimate the current level of play in the KBO and the ability of the KBO’s best players to successfully jump to MLB.  Aside from Park’s failure so far, now that most of a season is in the books, Eric Thames, after a hot start, has come back down to earth, and looks a lot like the same player with normal age progression that he was before he went to the KBO for three seasons.

Eric Thames’s 2017 batting average is now almost exactly in line with his career batting average after his first two MLB seasons (2011-2012).  The only difference is that Thames walks more now and hits for more power, two skills that you would expect Thames to add as he matures as a hitter.

The main advantage of playing three seasons in the KBO appears to be that Thames got to play consistently in a league at least as good as the American AAA leagues, and he built up a lot of confidence by putting up consistently big numbers.  Thames also claims he made adjustments in South Korea that made him a more patient and disciplined hitter.  At the end of the day, though, he appears to be the same player he was in 2011-2012, only with more maturity and now well-developed old-hitter skills.

The fact that multiple KBO players have had MLB success in the last two seasons means that signing Park was a good risk for the Twins to take, even if Park never does pan out.  Some players will be able to make the necessary adjustments, but others won’t.  MLB teams will have to rely on scouting to determine who the best bets are, but even then in many cases you just don’t know if a player will succeed in MLB until he actually gets an opportunity to play in MLB.

Park’s high-profile failure means that MLB teams are going to be more careful about handing out similar contracts to KBO sluggers in the future, but it would be a mistake for MLB teams to give up on signing the best youngish KBO players in the future.  It is clear that the KBO can produce a least a few players with MLB talent every five or six seasons going forward.

The Demise of the Everyday Player

August 10, 2017

Years and years ago I read a piece by Bill James in which he argued that Cal Ripken‘s decision to keep his consecutive game streak alive was actually detrimental to the Baltimore Orioles’ ultimate goal of winning as many games as possible.  The article made a lot of sense to me: playing every single game, even by the very best players, means that the player plays a lot of games when he’s exhausted and/or has minor injuries, which can’t heal properly because the player is playing six days a week; under those circumstances, even the best major league players aren’t necessarily playing as well as the replacement-level player sitting in the team’s bench would.

[In fairness to Ripken, the Orioles’ true ultimate goal was putting as many cans in the seats as possible.  Being Cal Ripken, playing every game every day for a generation, probably was pretty good for Orioles’ attendance during that streak.]

Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak is a record that probably never will be broken because it seems that MLB teams now agree whole-heartedly with what James argued all those years ago.  In contrast to the Asian leagues, where playing every day in leagues that play shorter schedules and have more rain-outs is still commendable, MLB teams have clearly decided that the occasional day off is more valuable than playing every single game.

Looking at the 17 full seasons from 2000 through 2016, the shift from playing every single game seems to have taken hold after the 2008 season.  In the nine seasons from 2000 through 2008, an average of 6.33 players per season played in all 162 games.  In the eight full seasons since then, only 2.5 players per season have played 162 games in a season.

Even players who manage to play at least 160 games in a season seems in decline.  In the 14 seasons from 2000 through 2013, an average of 13.6 players played at least 160 games per season.  In the last three seasons, that average has dropped almost in half to seven per season. The recent low seasons could be a result of a small sample fluke, but I don’t think so.

Just as teams have learned that using more and more relief pitchers pitching more and more total innings results in fewer runs scored by the opposition, teams have also learned that keeping their stars properly rested and their bench players sharp results in better won-loss results.  The good managers, and I consider the Giants’ Bruce Boche one of them, realize that keeping the stars fresh and the bench players sharp has a lot more value than riding the race horses until they inevitably drop.

For what it’s worth, Justin Morneau is the last player to play 163 games in a season.  Morneau’s 2008 Twins lost their 163rd game to the White Sox, sending the latter team to a brief post season and former team home.  The all-time record for games played in a season is Maury Wills‘ 165: he played all 162 regular season games and all three games to decide the pennant against the Giants.  That was the year Wills set then records for plate appearances and stolen bases in a season.

 

 

Side-Arming Relief Prospect Tyler Rogers

June 22, 2017

A San Francisco Giants’ prospect I am becoming increasingly intrigued with is Tyler Rogers.  He’s a low side-arm pitcher who throws pretty much nothing but ground balls.  Specifically, he has allowed only seven home runs in 315 career minor league innings pitched, and none this year in 42 innings pitched at AAA Sacramento.

Like most extreme ground ball pitchers, Rogers isn’t likely to stike out a lot of batters at the major league level, and he’s likely to need good and rangy infield defense behind him to be a success at the highest level.  Also, he is already 26 years old.

However, extreme ground ball pitchers often develop relatively late, as they learn to command their stuff consistently low in the strike zone, and Rogers’ current 2.36 ERA is extremely impressive pitching in the Pacific Coast League, an extreme hitters’ league.  Rogers currently leads River Cats’ pitchers in ERA among those who have pitched at least 15 innings so far this season.

Rogers’ minor league progression strongly suggests that he needs time to adjust as he moves up the professional ladder: he pitched poorly in his first brief stints at AA in 2015 and AAA last year, but improved dramatically the next season once he had adjusted to the higher level of play.  This would be a good year for the going-nowhere Giants to get Rogers 20 to 40 innings pitched at the major league level, if only to maximize the possibility that he could help the team in future seasons.

On the subject of San Francisco Giants’ ground ball throwing prospects, the team has another one who also looks almost ready.  D.J. Snelton (he’s 25 this season) started the year at AA Richmond, where he made 15 relief appearances with a 1.66 ERA and earned himself a quick promotion to AAA Sacramento.  After ten relief appearances for the River Cats, he’s got a 1.88 ERA in 14.1 IP.

Snelton has allowed 12 HRs in 325.2 career minor league IP to date, with only two dingers in 36 IP this season.  Not quite as impressive as Rogers, but Snelton looks like he’ll be more of a strikeout pitcher when and if he reaches the major league level.

As major league teams and hitters become ever more enamored with launch angles and home run hitting, and as major league defense continues its inexorable improvement over time, pitchers who can keep the ball in the yard and give their defenders a chance to make a play are becoming more and more valuable.  Snelton was a 9th round draft pick, and Rogers was a 10th round draft pick, because teams are almost always going to draft for stuff first.  Even so, teams are going to draft more extreme ground ball pitchers in the future and draft them higher than they have in the past.

It’s also worth noting that Tyler Rogers’ twin brother Taylor Rogers is already a major league pitcher for the Minnesota Twins.  How appropriate is that?  Although they look an awful lot alike, I’m guessing they are fraternal twins, because Taylor is a lefty, while Tyler throws right.  Also, Tyler is listed as two inches taller.  I will be rooting for both of them going forward.

Why Would Anyone Throw Eddie Rosario a Strike?

June 14, 2017

Eddie Rosario can hit.  There wasn’t much doubt of that even before today’s three home run game.  The question is why major league pitchers are still throwing him strikes.

I will admit that not throwing Rosario strikes isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Hitters of this type won’t swing at strikes well out of the strike zone.  But they will swing at pitches just out of the strike zone, particularly once the pitcher gets strike one early in the count.

After tonight’s game, Rosario has walked 36 times in more than 1,000 major league plate appearances.  That’s remarkably bad.

Meanwhile, he has 90 career extra base hits.  Why would you ever risk throwing him even one pitch out over the plate going forward, except to get strike one?

Rosario can be made to chase, and at some point major league pitchers will figure out that they have to force Rosario to prove that he won’t swing at close non-strikes.  Now would obviously be the time to do so.

It’s worth noting that the Twins were batting Rosario 9th in tonight’s game, which is unusual for a left fielder.  The Tws inalso recorded 24 hits not by Rosario in tonight’s game, setting a franchise record going back to 1901 and the days of the original Washington Senators.

Rosario hadn’t played in four of the Twins’ previous nine games, because even after tonight’s performance, his OPS is still only .746.  Not walking even a little bit tends to keep offensive production down, and who needs a left fielder with a .746 OPS unless you really have no one better?

MLB pitchers: the writing is on the wall — force Eddie Rosario to prove he will take a walk if he doesn’t get more than one or maybe two pitches in the strike zone per plate appearance.

Midwest Revival

June 5, 2017

It’s June 5th, and the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers are both still in 1st place in their respective divisions.  The Twins and Brewers have never both made the post-season in the same year, so I wouldn’t exactly get my hopes up that this will finally be the year, particularly with neither team much over .500 or more than one game ahead of the second place team.  Nevertheless, it’s good to see both teams back in the hunt after a string of not-so-successful seasons.

The Twins seem to be owing their success to Miguel Sano‘s and Max Kepler‘s breakout seasons and a strong bullpen.  The emergence of rookie hurlers Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia should certainly give Twin Cities’ fans hope that the Twinkies will continue to compete throughout the summer.  Remember the old adage, though: young pitchers will break your heart.

Obviously, Eric Thames is the big story this year in Milwaukee, but the Brute Crew is also getting strong offensive performances from Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana and their bench.

The Brewers starting rotation has been solid, and while the bullpen has been inconsistent, Corey Knebel‘s breakout has given the team an effective closer.  If Nefali Perez can get his act together or an effective set-up man can be obtained by trade, the Brewers might have enough to hang with the Cubs or Cardinals when either of the latter two teams finally puts it together and makes a run.

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.