TwinsCentric was formed by Twins super-bloggers Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes. Together they publish at TwinsDaily.com and have authored books, e-books and magazines that provide independent and in-depth coverage of the Minnesota Twins from a fan's perspective. You can contact them at TwinsCentric@gmail.com.
Yes, I know 4/20 was on Monday but believe me, I am not high. There are several reasons why maybe -- just maybe -- he might be able to provide decent innings for the Twins as a starter. For example, he has shown in his first three outings that he can miss a few bats on occasion.
Pelfrey’s 2015 season has seen him hit double-digits in swinging strikes in two of the three starts. That’s mildly impressive since the last time he was healthy -- in 2013 -- he managed to induce double-digit swings-and-misses in just two of his 29 starts. Prior to his Tommy John surgery, he induced double-digit swing-and-misses in three of his 34 starts in 2011. Admittedly, even Pelfrey’s 9% swinging strike rate is still below the league’s average of 10% but it is a vast improvement from where it was.
Missing bats means he is showing opponents a new wrinkle and hitting his spots just off the plate. This was something that he did not do in either of the last two seasons. During those two seasons, while recovering from Tommy John and battling a new injury, he throttled down on his mediocre fastball and opponents pasted it all over the field. In 2013, they posted an .801 OPS against it. Last year, it was at .972.
The reality was that Pelfrey was unable to generate enough velocity to make the pitch effective. Over the last two years that average velocity has been 92.3 and 90.3 respectively. Now, in his first three games, he is averaging 93.4 with the fastball. Not only that, but he’s throwing it less frequently and mixing in more slow curves and introducing a split-finger that he has not used in quite some time. The change in velocity has helped keep hitters off his fastball.
With the Mets, Pelfrey threw the pitch as a split-finger fastball with modest velocity. He abandoned the pitch with the Twins but has since resurrected it as more of a changeup-type offering, slowing it down some in the delivery. This has been a very effective pitch for him against left-handed hitters as he’s held that side to a .162 average.
As you can see in this 2-2 splitter to the Royals’ Eric Hosmer and the 0-2 one to Kendrys Morales, this pitch has the potential to be a genuine swing-and-miss pitch against lefties:
While he’s thrown the pitch in each of his three starts, he threw it 24 times against the Royals which led to three of his strikeouts including Hosmer and Morales. Oh, and the strikeout of the right-handed hitting Paulo Orlando as well.
Keep in mind that although he is missing more bats on the season, he is not necessarily striking more people out. Until the game in Kansas City where he used his splitter more, he really lacked a put away pitch. If he can continue to locate this pitch like he did on Wednesday night, it could become a lethal pitch.
All that is good for the Mike Pelfrey brand but there are also indications that this is all smoke-and-mirrors, such as the fact that Pelfrey has struggled to get ahead of hitters. His 56% first-pitch strike rate is well below the league’s average of 61% meaning that he is pitching from behind in the count more often than his fellow pitchers. From a deficit, it is more likely that bad things happen as he is forced to come into the zone.
What’s more is that Pelfrey has continuously flirted with disaster when he puts runners on. From the stretch he hits the zone at a much lower clip and has ended up adding more base-runners via a walk. It seems like a miracle that he has been able to work out of the situations that he has created and to have a 2.65 ERA. If he cannot stop compounding the problem, at some point those base-runners will start to come home.
The fact is that Pelfrey’s ceiling, based on his track record and pitch mix, is lower than most. Even with the improvements to his velocity and new pitch his upside feels like a fifth-starter in a rotation filled with fifth starters. If these improvements are sustained, the needle would move only slightly. Ultimately, he may serve better as a bullpen replacement for Blaine Boyer or Tim Stauffer.
With Ricky Nolasco’s rehab start pushed to Sunday in Cedar Rapids due to inclement weather, Pelfrey should be allotted at least one more start against the Detroit Tigers to build on what he did to the Royals lineup before the team needs to make a rotation decision.
The Twins will have an interesting decision to make when and if Nolasco is ready to rejoin the team, but there is one thing for certain, Trevor May should not be a casualty.
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On Monday night in Kansas City, Kyle Gibson had made it through five innings with only one run allowed. He opened the sixth by facing Mike Moustakas, who sent a hard-hit but fairly routine line drive to left field. Oswaldo Arcia trotted after it, reached his glove out, and... dropped the ball. Figuratively and literally.
Moustakas reached, as did the next two batters, and by the end of the inning Gibson was long gone and the Royals were up 4-1.
Now, this was on Gibson to some extent. He needs to recover better from that mishap and, in general, you're not going to have much success when you give up four walks and eight hits with no strikeouts in an outing.
But porous defense has been an ongoing theme for this club in the early weeks. They rank last in the American League with negative-12 defensive runs saved. Their defensive efficiency (rate of balls in play turned into outs) is worst in the major leagues at 69.3 percent. Even on a more traditional level, their 11 team errors are second-most in the AL.
This isn't unexpected by any means, but that doesn't exactly make it easy to stomach -- least of all for a new manager who famously preaches fundamentals and steady execution. Paul Molitor undoubtedly cringed at the sight of Arcia flubbing a routine play in left field on Monday, and he has to be aware of the devastating impact that a sub-par fielding unit is having on a pitching staff that allows more contact than any other team in the game by a wide margin. (The Twins have averaged 5.1 K/9; no one else is below 6.3.)
But what can be done about it?
Here are a few ideas for improving the Twins' team defense, some drastic and some less so:
* Swap Oswaldo Arcia and Torii Hunter in the outfield.
This is probably the least dramatic option, as it allows you to keep all the same hitters in the lineup. It's also not exactly a guarantee for improvement, as Hunter is no great shakes in the outfield himself at this point and has barely ever played in left. Still, even at age 39 he appears to be moving around and reacting better than Arcia, and there's more ground to cover on that side. Perhaps Arcia would benefit from returning to right field, where he's spent the majority of his time as a pro.
* Replace Arcia with Eddie Rosario.
Rosario made a late run in spring training, impressing coaches with his athleticism and aggressiveness. He has good speed and range in the outfield corners and would almost certainly represent a substantial defensive upgrade over Arcia. Unfortunately, Rosario is off to a slow start in Triple-A, batting .240 with 15 strikeouts and two walks through his first 12 games.
* Make Eduardo Escobar the starter at shortstop.
This was discussed a little bit on Monday. Santana has slumped at the plate in the early going, but his defensive issues may be more costly. Escobar is considered a steadier glove, and Santana might be best served sharpening his skills at shortstop in the minors after spending minimal time at the position in 2014.
* Call up Aaron Hicks to play center.
You'd have a hard time arguing that Jordan Schafer is at the root of the team's defensive issues, but he's stretched defensively in center and is far better suited as an occasional fill-in at the position rather than a regular starter. Hicks, for all his problems at the plate, is a strong defender capable of making exceptional plays. His bat could hardly be worse than Schafer and Shane Robinson, who have combined for a .424 OPS. Or, if the Twins really want to shake things up, they could...
* Call up Byron Buxton to play center.
He's the best defensive player in the entire system, and several scouts have suggested that he could play a Gold Glove-caliber center field in the major leagues right now. Installing Buxton as the starter in center would be by far the most impactful move the Twins could make to upgrade their defense, but it's not something I would endorse and probably not a notion they would take seriously at this point. Buxton's development outweighs the importance of what's presently happening with the big-league club, and while he might not be THAT far away, there's little evidence that he's prepared to face MLB pitching at this time.
Do you like any of these ideas? Do you have some of your own? Sound off in the comments.
Once you're done here, get caught up at Twins Daily:
* Parker wrote that, despite his struggles mentioned in this article, it appears the Twins will stick with Danny Santana at shortstop for now.
* Seth recapped Tuesday's minor league action, which included starts from Alex Meyer and Kohl Stewart.
* The No-Juice Podcast celebrated its one-year anniversary.
The first time I ever saw Ricky Nolasco pitch live was last March, when I was down in Ft. Myers covering spring training. In his first inning of work, the newly signed righty coughed up a whopping seven runs on six hits as the Mets drilled the ball all over the field.
That was Nolasco's second-to-last spring start -- akin to the third preseason game for an NFL team in terms of maximizing readiness for the season -- but I still put minimal stock into it, as with any exhibition outing. Nonetheless, the drubbing served as a prelude for a disastrous season in which opposing hitters batted .316 and slugged .505 against the righty, both career highs.
Nolasco's struggles in 2014 were magnified by the fact that he was in the first of four years on a free agent contract that was, at the time, the largest in franchise history. A rebound was already going to be imperative to a turnaround for Minnesota's embattled starting corps, and with the fate that has befallen the new holder of the largest ever Twins free agent deal, Nolasco's improvement becomes all the more pivotal.
Now that Ervin Santana has been suspended for 80 games, Nolasco moves up to take his place in the rotation, and will start Wednesday in Detroit. Which early signs should we be looking for as we gauge what to expect from the 32-year-old in his second year as a Twin?
The recipe for strikeouts isn't as simple as "more velocity = more missed bats," but for Nolasco that has been true. His average fastball speed topped out at 91.5 MPH in 2009, the only year in his career that he has averaged more than a strikeout per inning. His lowest readings have come in 2012 (90.0) and 2014 (90.1), and those seasons have featured his two lowest swinging strike rates.
Not only was the fastball velocity down a bit last year, but he also posted the lowest marks for each of his secondary offerings. I'll be curiously watching the radar to see how many of Nolasco's heaters touch 93 or 94 MPH this afternoon, and I'll be especially focused on where the breaking balls register. If his oft-used slider continues to flatten and sag toward the 70s, it won't bode well.
ATTACKING THE KNEES
Nolasco coughed up 22 homers in 27 starts last year, and for anyone who regularly watched him the culprit was obvious: way too many pitches left hanging up in the zone. His ground ball rate reached a career-high 46.6 percent in 2012 but has dropped in each of the last two years. He spoke in spring training about how important it is to him to work in the lower part of the zone and induce grounders, which was a struggle for him at times (he gave up a team-leading five homers in six Grapefruit starts). Can he keep Detroit's powerful lineup from elevating the ball?
Not so much from him, but more so from the players behind him. It'd be nice to see an uptick in strikeouts and grounders, as mentioned above, but realistically Nolasco is a guy who will allow substantial contact, and a fair number of flies and line drives. That puts pressure on the defenders -- particularly those in the outfield -- to make plays and help him out. If his batting average on balls in play is anywhere close to where it was last year (.351) he stands almost no chance of success. We need some signals that an alignment featuring Oswaldo Arcia and Torii Hunter in the corners is going to be less damaging than many fear.
Even after the crushing development that took place just days before the start of the season, I still think there's a realistic chance for the Minnesota rotation to be decent, but the loss of Santana means that a drastic improvement from Nolasco is more of a necessity than a luxury.
Paul Molitor recently shared the characteristics he is looking for in an ideal leadoff hitter: They enjoy long walks on the beach and an on-base percentage that is .370 or higher.
Santana, of course, and Colorado’s Drew Stubbs were the two players joining Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (2012), Jose Hernandez (2002) and Manny Ramirez (2000) to achieve a batting average on balls in play over .400 since the turn of the last century.
To contextualize: Since the 1961 season, there have been 33 occasions when a hitter with a minimum of 400 plate appearances has managed to produce/get blessed with a BABIP over .390 in a season. That is a small pool of players. The pool grows even smaller when you consider that four players managed to reach that milestone twice in their careers (Bobby Abreu, Derek Jeter, Roberto Clemente, and Rod Carew). Only Abreu managed to perform the feat in consecutive seasons (1998 and 1999).
While there are legendary hitters on that list like the aforementioned Jeter, Carew and Clemente, there are plenty of other one-hit wonders that managed to catch lightning in a bottle. There’s Reggie Jefferson who had a breakout year with Boston in 1996. Milwaukee’s Hernandez reached the list by limiting the number of balls he put into play (he struck out 188 times that season). Shane Mack, Mariano Duncan, BJ Upton, Phil Bradley -- there’s no rhyme or reason to this list.
The takeaway is that batting average on balls in play is comprised of some element of luck. You can be a great hitter with amazing speed like Ichiro Suzuki and manage to obtain a .390 BABIP just once in a 14 year career. Or you could be like Jefferson who, in 1996, figured out that if you can bang it off the Monster it won’t get caught and it will stay in play.
This is all to say that repeating the numbers Santana posted 2014 feels virtually impossible -- like finding a place that serves decent unicorn burgers. (So hard to find in the western suburbs.) It takes an uniquely talented hitter with a special level of luck to repeat that sort of action. So the question is: Is Danny Santana a uniquely talented hitter?
Ryan said his evaluators like Santana’s surprising power potential. “I think the one thing that people didn’t realize up here that hadn’t seen him, he’s got strength,” Ryan said after last season. “He can drive the ball. He’s not a banjo hitter, he’s not a singles guy. He can drive the ball from both sides. He can reach the fences so he’s going to keep the defenses honest.”
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When the Boston Red Sox signed Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada with a $31.5 million bonus last month, they were taking advantage of a flawed system that likely won't be in place much longer.
Although it's on a much smaller scale, the Twins appear to be preparing to make a similarly savvy move with 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Wander Javier when the international signing period opens on July 2nd.
Depending on which reports you choose to believe, the Twins either have very serious interest in Javier (La Velle says they are "definitely in on this one"), or they already have a tentative agreement in place (Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs wrote that the shortstop is "widely believed to have a deal with the Twins").
If true, this signals that the Twins are not only on the verge of making their biggest financial splash ever on the international market, but also utilizing what may be one of their last opportunities to do so under the current favorable -- if somewhat ridiculous -- guidelines.
Boston's signing of Moncada stirred up some controversy around a subject that has been touchy for some time, with Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Drew Smyly summarizing the basic conundrum in a tweet: "It's not right that a Cuban 19yr old gets paid 30m and the best 19yr old in the entire USA gets prob 1/6th of that. Everyone should have to go through same process."
Unlike in the MLB amateur draft, there are no restrictions or limits on the bonuses that international players receive; it is an open bidding war among all 30 teams. Each club has a bonus pool that it is penalized for exceeding, but as the Red Sox showed, that tends to be a minor impediment.
This isn't exactly fair for special young baseball talents that happen to be cultivated here in the States and must go through a far more regimented process.
Last year, when the Twins selected 18-year-old shortstop Nick Gordon with the fifth overall pick, they signed him to a $3.85 million bonus, which was the slot-recommended amount. Meanwhile, reports suggest that the Twins are ready to hand Javier around $4 million.
One could argue that Javier (who can be seen here courtesy of FanGraphs) has more upside than Gordon did, but he's two years younger and considerably less seasoned.
Clearly the Twins like this kid, and you certainly can't blame them for making aggressive moves to bring him aboard, especially since the same approach may not be possible after next year. Momentum is building toward the institution of an international draft. New commissioner Rob Manfred has expressed interest in taking this direction, and it might happen when the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2016.
If indeed the Twins make an historical investment to bring Javier aboard, they might be trying to get out in front of this coming development. And while it's extremely difficult to say how the teenaged infielder might develop -- he's got a great athletic build, with the defensive skills to stick at short, but his offensive ability is basically all projection at this point -- the last time the Twins took an international prospect plunge on this level was when they spent $3.15 million in 2009 to bring aboard Miguel Sano, who has transformed into a potentially franchise-altering talent.
There's little doubt that Major League Baseball needs an international draft. But until then, the Twins are wise to take advantage of the open market and outbid all others to get the player they want. It appears that they are committed to doing just that.
For additional coverage of spring training, head over to Twins Daily, where Seth Stohs is filing multiple daily reports live from Ft. Myers this week!
Aaron and John talk about whether the Twins should sign Brian Dozier to an extension, Paul Molitor's quotes about managing philosophies, chatting with Adam Czech of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association about a season ticket package giveaway contest for listeners, 612 Brew's new cans and where to get them, Mike Pelfrey as a starter only, and the difference between live radio and recorded podcasts with a drunk, show-crashing woman. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click the Play button below.
Meanwhile, Twins Daily's spring training coverage starts today. Parker takes a look at "catcher framing" and whether it is fair to Josmil Pinto. Brock brought you the best of the Twins Daily forums, including a potentially very exciting international free agent signing rumor.
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