Monday, November 21, 2016

Turning Trevor May Into Andrew Miller

Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski, USA Today Sports
Bullpen usage is one of the most scrutinized parts of a managers job. This scrutiny is only heightened the stress of the playoffs. With pitchers like Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, and Aroldis Chapman being used for multiple innings, a new era of bullpens has been thrust on the baseball world.

One of the most important pieces to Cleveland's playoff run was relief pitcher Andrew Miller, the ALCS MVP. He was once a starting pitching prospect before finding his home as a bullpen arm. Now he might be one of the most valuable assets in baseball.

Miller was the sixth overall pick by the Detroit Tigers in 2006. He'd debut with the club later that same season after making only three minor league appearances. His stay in Detroit would be short as he was one of the key prospects sent to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera. He'd bounce around to the Red Sox and Orioles organizations before finding himself in Yankee pinstripes.

After arriving in the Big Apple, he posted a 1.90 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 61.2 IP during the 2015 season,. Opponents hit .151/.237/.239 against him. It was hard to build off that season but the 2016 campaign was even better. He lowered his ERA to 1.45 and increased his SO/9 from 14.6 to 14.9.

As Miller was dominating the American League, Minnesota's bullpen compiled the league's worst ERA while providing a -2.66 win probability added. Ryan Pressly pitched the most relief innings while Brandon Kintzler had the most saves. Trevor May (12.66 K/9) and Michael Tonkin (10.05 K/9) both posted K/9 totals over 10.0. These small positive signs overshadowed by a major injury to Glen Perkins and ineffective play from Kevin Jepsen.

May is an interesting figure in the Twins bullpen. Expectations were high for him heading into last year. He underwhelmed to the tune of a 5.27 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. Under the previous front office, there was talk of turning May back into a starter but another year in the bullpen could give him the chance to adjust to being a full-time reliever.

Miller's first full season as a reliever came in 2012, his age-27 season. May turned 27 in September and is just coming off his first year without making a start. One of May's biggest issues has always been his command. He walked 17 batters in 42.2 innings pitched (3.6 BB/9). Miller walks almost no one as he issued nine walks in 32 more innings than May.

Besides the control issues, May would need to continue to miss bats. Miller strikes out batters at a higher rate than May and he makes it tough for batters to reach base. The Twins are clearly in rebuilding mode so May won't likely be recording any big outs in the playoffs anytime soon. This type of environment can allow bullpen arms to develop as they start to figure out their craft in an environment with less pressure.

Can May be the next Miller? It's a lofty goal and 2017 will be a critical for whatever future role May will fill. What kind of role do you think May should fill? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Five Twins Bounceback Candidates

Photo Credit: Denny Medley, USA Today Sports
Minnesota had lots of issues during the 2016 campaign. Pitchers didn't pitch well, hitters were inconsistent, and there were defensive gaffes. After nearly making the playoffs in 2015, the 2016 season was tough to swallow. The 2015 Twins likely overachieved and the 2016 Twins underachieved. Hopefully, the 2017 Twins find a spot somewhere in a middle.

Here are five candidates that could rebound in 2017 and help the Twins get back to respectability.

Jose Berrios
2016 Stats: 3-7 W-L, 8.02 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, 49 SO, 35 BB, 58.1 IP
Berrios dominated the upper levels of the minor leagues so it was hard to swallow the rough start to his MLB career. One of the biggest problems might have been that Berrios was tipping his pitches. Another issue was his increased walk rate. In the minors, he was touted for his excellent control, 2.5 BB/9, but that number more than doubled (5.4 BB/9) in the majors. Minnesota has been in search of an ace and there's still hope for him to be a front of the rotation hurler.

Kyle Gibson
2016 Stats: 6-11 W-L, 5.07 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 104 SO, 55 BB, 147.1 IP
At the end of the 2015 season, Gibson was named the Twins Daily Pitcher of the Year. He finished that season with a respectable 3.84 ERA and 145 SO in 194.2 IP. Gibson started 2016 with a 0-5 record and a 6.05 ERA over his first seven starts. This included missing a month and a half with shoulder injury. From June 28-August 17, he'd win five of his seven decisions while posting a 4.19 ERA. If he can avoid injury and return to his 2015 form, Gibson should fit back into the middle of the rotation.

Trevor Plouffe
2016 Stats: .260/.303/.420, 12 HR, 13 2B, 60 SO, 19 BB, 84 G
The 2016 season was the first time Plouffe failed to play over 110 MLB games since 2011. He suffered through an oblique strain, a strained intercostal muscle, a cracked rib, a groin strain, some knee soreness, and another intercostal strain. When he was on the field, Plouffe put up some respectable numbers. However, he needs show he can stay healthy since next year will be his age-31 season. Plouffe will be a free agent at the end of the season so it would be nice for the Twins to be able to get something for him before the deadline.

Eddie Rosario
2016 Stats: .269/.295/.421, 10 HR, 17 2B, 91 SO, 12 BB, 92 G
Rosario hit .294/.340/.484 in seven minor league seasons. On his way to the big leagues, his hit tool was praised and many thought it would translate to baseball's highest level. There were some positive signs in his rookie campaign as he combined for 46 extra-base hits including a MLB leading 15 triples. His average and OBP rose this season but his slugging percentage dropped by almost 40 points. If he can continue to mature as a hitter, he could be the Twins breakout player in 2017.

Miguel Sano
2016 Stats: .236/.319/.462, 25 HR, 22 2B, 178 SO, 54 BB, 116 G
In 80 games during the 2015 campaign, Sano hit .269/.385/.530 (146 OPS+) with 17 doubles and 18 home runs. He turned a lot of heads as he hit 13 home runs over his final 48 games. Expectations were high entering 2016 and it was tough for Sano to reach those lofty heights. The year started with the team trying to transition him to the outfield. This experiment failed and it's hard not to think that some of his defensive struggles followed him to the plate. Sano should spend 2017 as a DH and a third baseman and this could be trouble for American League pitchers.

Who will have the biggest bounceback season in 2017? Would you add someone else to the list? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Cody's 2016 Twins Offseason Blueprint

Photo Credit: Noah K. Murray, USA Today Sports
Breaking news... The Twins aren't going to win the World Series in 2017. It's going to take time to turn this organization around. Derek Falvey might have packed up some of Cleveland's magical roster dust but even Theo Epstein didn't turn the Cubs around in a year.

Each offseason starts with a plan. Here's my blueprint to get the organization moving in the right direction.

Arbitration Decisions
Trevor Plouffe might be the toughest decision in the group but it makes sense to keep him around. Sano hasn't proven he can be an everyday third baseman. Plouffe provides some Sano insurance and he can be used at other places in the line-up. His name has been part of the hot stove discussion over the last couple years. It wouldn't be a surprise if Plouffe ended up on another team by the middle of the season.

The Twins Daily blueprint included non-tendering Hector Santiago and Brandon Kintzler. I think it makes sense to keep both of them. Minnesota's roster doesn't have an overload of pitching. It would be easy to get rid of both of them and some of it will depend on the other members traded away in the coming months.

Here's the arbitration player rundown:
-3B Trevor Plouffe – $9 million
-SP Hector Santiago – $9 million
-IF Eduardo Escobar – $3.5 million
-SP Kyle Gibson – $2.5 million
-RP Brandon Kintzler – $2.5 million
-RP Ryan Pressly – $1.5 million
Total: $28 million

Dealing Dozier
Brian Dozier's value is never going to be higher. He is the leader of the team on and off the field but the Twins need pitching. Also, Dozier's not likely going to be part of the next winning team in Minnesota so it makes sense to trade him. The Twins Daily offseason handbook names the Mets as a potential trade partner because of their surplus of young pitching. This is where I deal Dozier.

If the Mets come calling with the right package, the Twins will have to listen. Left-handed pitcher Steven Matz has posted a 3.16 ERA through 28 career starts and he's the main piece of the puzzle. There would likely be other prospect pieces involved but Matz is the center of a Dozier swap.

Free Agent Frenzy... Well Not Really
This might be one of the worst free agent classes of all-time. There's not a lot of talent and the second-tier of players is quite a drop-off.  Teams are going to spend money but it doesn't mean it is going to be wisely spent. 

With the Twins deciding to part ways with Kurt Suzuki, there's need to add a new backstop. Former Twins catcher Wilson Ramos will likely get the biggest free agent deal. The Twins Daily plan and Brandon Warne's plan included signing Jason Castro. He's a cheaper option and could help bridge the gap to some younger catchers in the Twins farm system. 

There are no great options and Falvey will have to decide how close Mitch Garver is to being an everyday catcher. With little depth in the catching market, I think Castro finds a bigger deal with a team that is closer to winning. Minnesota will be left with some of the scraps. I give Alex Avila a one-year deal to platoon with John Ryan Murphy. I think Garver should be getting regular at-bats by mid-season. 

The bullpen also needs an upgrade. Names like Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen are going to sign huge contracts. I offer Scott Feldman a two-year deal with some incentives as he has shown some positive signs since joining the bullpen. Who knows? Maybe he turns into a valuable asset that the Twins can trade in the future.

With Dozier gone, I look to add a veteran infield option to help pick up some of the slack. Stephen Drew has played both shortstop and second base and he showed a little upside in 2016. He'd be cheap and would be easily expendable if other in-house options show they are MLB ready.

Here's the rundown of my 25-man roster. Feel free discuss my plan in the comments section.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Following The Cubs' Blueprint

Photo Credit: Jon Durr, USA Today Sports
Only two short seasons the Cubs were in the midst of five straight seasons of 87 losses or more. This included a 101-loss season in 2012. Flash-forward to the present day and the Cubs have been rebuilt and are four wins away from their first World Series title in over 100 years.

Minnesota is in a similar spot to the Chicago teams from 2010-14. Can the Twins mount a similar turnaround in the years to come? How can Derek Falvey, the Twins new chief of baseball operations, follow the Chicago blueprint?

Find Pitching
One simple message is plastered across the conference room wall for Chicago's baseball operations staff... "FIND PITCHING." Three-fifths of the Cubs rotation was signed as free agents. NLCS co-MVP Jon Lester signed a six-year, $155 million in December 2014. Jason Hammel signed a two-year deal ($32 million)in the same off-season as Lester and John Lackey joined the rotation this past off-season.

Two of Chicago's best starting pitchers joined the team in very favorable trades. Jake Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young winner, was acquired for catcher Steve Clevenger and right-handed pitcher Scott Feldman. Kyle Hendricks, the hero of the NLCS clinching game, came to Chicago for right-handed pitcher Ryan Dempster. A change of scenery and new coaches helped both of these pitchers develop into front of the rotation arms.

Minnesota's recent search for pitching has left plenty to desire. Ricky Nolasco signed a four-year, $49 million deal before the 2014 season. During his three years in Minnesota, he posted a 5.44 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP while being worth a -0.3 WAR. Phil Hughes looked great in his first season in Minnesota so the Twins signed him to a long-term deal. He struggled in 2015 before missing most of 2016 with an injury. Ervin Santana, another free-agent signing, was the team's best pitcher this season but there weren't many options.

Falvey and the team he assembles are going to have a mission and that mission will be to find pitching.

Youth Movement
When a team is playing poorly, it's easy to say let the young prospects play. This isn't always the best strategy as there are plenty of ups-and-downs and sometimes patience can be the key. The Cubs have a young core including Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez. Some patience has been required along the way.

Baez, the NLCS co-MVP, spent most of 2014 and 2015 going back and forth between the minor leagues and the big league roster. Bryant lead the National League in strikeouts a year ago and he will likely win the 2016 NL MVP award. Russell has yet to hit over .242 in a season but raised his OPS from .696 last year to .738 this season. Patience seems to have paid off.

Epstein has even referenced Kansas City's approach with young players to build a World Series roster. Players like Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer took years to develop into solid everyday players. "You experience a lot of valleys along the way, whether it's being demoted or having a difficult month or year," Epstein told Sporting News. "In the end, they were rewarded for their patience."

Minnesota will need to follow a similar strategy with their young core. Miguel Sano finished third in the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year voting before struggling through parts of 2016. Byron Buxton has been demoted multiple times before a strong final month of the season. Jose Berrios has dominated Triple-A but his MLB starts have been disappointing.

Twins fans have waited for this young core to show promising signs. However, fans will need to continue to show patience.

Managerial Switch
When the Twins let Terry Ryan go, ownership made it clear that Paul Molitor would be the Twins manager entering the 2017 season. Molitor surprised many during his rookie managerial season by leading the Twins to the cusp of the playoffs. This ended a streak of four straight 90 loss seasons. Things got worse in 2016 as the Twins lost a team record 103 games which was the worst record in baseball.

Since Epstein joined the Cubs in 2011, Chicago has employed three different managers. Dale Sveum averaged over 98 losses per season. Rick Renteria posted a more respectable 73-89 record but he was only given one season to turn the team around. Joe Maddon, considered by many to be one of baseball's best managers, took the reigns last season. In both seasons, he's had the Cubs in the NLCS with an average of 100 wins per season.

Molitor might be the right man for the job but Falvey could want his own man at the helm. Even if Molitor survives the coming season, it's hard to know what the future will hold. Changing managers worked in Chicago but Maddon isn't going to come knocking in Minnesota.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the blueprint for changing things in Minnesota. Epstein has worked his magic with multiple organizations and his ideas have spread throughout baseball. What do the Twins need to do? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Minnesota's Revolving Door Continues At Shortstop

Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson, Captive Photons
Shortstop has been a revolving door for the Twins organization for more than the last decade. Since the Christian Guzman era ended in 2004, there has only been one time the Twins have used the same shortstop on Opening Day in back-to-back seasons. That player was Pedro Florimon and he wasn't really a long-term solution to the Twins' problems.

Is there finally an end in sight to the Twins long-term shortstop woes?

Eduardo Escobar, Danny Santana, Pedro Florimon, Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, JJ Hardy, Nick Punto, Adam Everett, Jason Bartlett, and Juan Castro have all taken their turn as Minnesota's Opening Day starter. New Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey will try to end this disastrous trend in the years to come. 
Falvey has watched his current team's shortstop, Francisco Lindor, enjoy a coming out party during the 2016 MLB Postseason. Lindor has put the Indians in position to make their first World Series since 1997. Lindor was a top-10 pick back in 2011 and the Twins hope their own top-10 pick will be able to develop in a similar fashion.

Nick Gordon was the fifth overall pick in 2014. This fall the Twins sent him to the Arizona Fall League and the 20-year old shortstop wasted little time making his mark. Baseball American named Gordon as the number one prospect on their AFL Hot Sheet. In the first week of play, he went 6-for-9 with two RBI, a walk, and two steals. BA called him "a smooth-swinging shortstop" and went on to say he "has surprising strength with gap power."

If Gordon is going to end the revolving door, he is still multiple years away from being an everyday play at the MLB level. He spend all of this season in the Florida State League which means he will likely start 2017 in Chattanooga. Some of the Twins' top prospects have made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues but Gordon still has some flaws. 

There have been questions about his defensive ability in the past. He posted a career worst .952 fielding percentage this season while committing 24 errors. Gordon has shown some good signs in the AFL including impressing ESPN's Keith Law by saving an error and completing a double play. The mixed reports on his defensive ability will continue to follow him.

Offensively, he has hit 23 doubles in each of the last two seasons but he's never hit more than three home runs. He has shown the ability to get on base as his OBP has been over .333 in every professional season. He did all of this while being considerably young for each league. This past season, he only had two at-bats against a pitcher that was younger than himself. 

While the Twins continue to wait for Gordon to develop, there will be other players given the opportunity to show they can handle shortstop. Jorge Polanco started 45 games at shortstop in 2016 and he could be in line to be the team's Opening Day starter. Eduardo Escobar is still arbitration eligible and he's played over 70 games at shortstop in each of the last three seasons. 

Major League Baseball is in the midst of a young shortstop revolution. Players like Lindor, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and Xander Bogaerts are showing unbelievable talent at one of baseball's toughest positions. Gordon might not be in the same class as these players but he could still develop into a solid MLB contributor for years to come. 

Will Gordon finally stop the dizzying trend of revolving shortstops? I guess we will all have to wait to find out together.

How plays the most games at shortstop in 2017? When will Gordon take over the shortstop position in Minnesota? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.