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.

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Posts about Rookies

TwinsCentric: Big year for the manager

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: February 21, 2013 - 7:22 AM

One of the bigger storylines of the offseason was the future of Ron Gardenhire as manager of the Minnesota Twins. Most years throughout his tenure, he signed a two-year extension before he got to the final year of his contract. However, after last season, Gardenhire did not receive an extension, so he is in the last year of his deal.

On its own, that means very little. I mean, Terry Ryan could still choose to extend him any time during the season or following the season. Unfortunately, Gardenhire has been the man in charge on the field where the Twins have lost 195 games over the past two seasons.  As you recall, last year, three of his coaches were not brought back for the 2013 season.

Although Gardenhire is the same manager that won one AL Manager of the Year award and finished second in voting five other times, the on-field results have not been there the past two seasons. He has been at his best as a manager when expectations were low. He is beloved by his players. Unlike his predecessor, Gardenhire is willing to get thrown out of a ball game to back his players. Like his predecessor, he wants the little things to be done right and well, even though his players have frequently not been able to do those things well.

Those who don’t like Gardenhire as manager will choose to bring up several topics as well. Many will tell you that he hasn’t won in the playoffs, an argument that can’t really be disputed at this point. Some will say that he can be tough on rookies, but he isn’t as hard on them as Tom Kelly was. Some will focus on his lineup construction, although that is something that likely every fan base complains about their manager. Some talk about how he uses his bullpen, but most in the industry say that he and Rick Anderson handle their bullpen as well as any.

With Ron Gardenhire in the final year of a contract with a roster that Las Vegas thinks will lose 95 games again in 2013, what does he have to do to maintain his job throughout the season and beyond?

For what it’s worth, Gardenhire says that he isn’t spending much time thinking about it. At Twins Fest, the manager told reporters, “I don’t even worry about that. Really, I don’t. It’s only talked about because that’s the way the business goes. I really manage, what is this 11 going on 12 years? I think my predecessor went one year at a time. I don’t think he ever signed more than a one year deal. You know what, I really don’t have a problem with it at all. It’s just the way it is. I laugh about it. I kid about it. You know what, you should be held accountable year by year. I have no problem with that. I’ll go about my business. It’s not going to change what I do.”

Gardy may not think about it, but unfortunately Terry Ryan likely will. And, we know that Twins fans will as well. So again, what will be the determining factors in the decision to bring back Gardenhire, or not? Here are some ways to look at it. There may be more.

WINS/LOSSES


Some may simply look at the Win-Loss record and determine whether or not he comes back. However, this is not a case of looking for a certain number. As mentioned, the team has lost 195 games over the last two seasons. To expect them to suddenly win 85 to 95 games is just not very realistic. So, is there a win total that would mean you would keep him? Is it 81? Is it 75?

COMPETITIVENESS


I think that it should depend upon many more factors than just the Win-Loss record. Would you be willing to accept a lower number if various players are hurt?  Maybe you just expect them to be competitive until mid-July? At that point, the Twins could decide to trade some veterans and go with younger players. Is it fair to expect that younger team to continue to win at the same level?

How about just being more competitive from game to game? How many times in the last two seasons have the Twins been behind by four or more runs after the first couple of innings? But, depending upon who Gardenhire is able to put on the mound each day, he has little ability to control the results.

IMPROVEMENT


I think it’s important to see improvement from year to year, and even from month to month. A manager can try to motivate young players or struggling players. Of course, the player is the one who has to develop and perform. However, I would like to see guys like Liam Hendriks and Brian Dozier take a step forward in their careers in 2013. Both struggled in 2012, and both do have the talent to be solid big leaguers. That’s not to say that those are the two players who should determine Gardenhire’s future. Others will need to improve as well.

Also, it will be important to see the team as a whole play better from month to month throughout the season. Again, that may or may not be measured by wins.

HANDLING OF YOUNG PLAYERS


It is likely that rookies such as Aaron Hicks, Kyle Gibson, Oswaldo Arcia and maybe others will debut in 2013. How will Gardy deal with them through the good times and the bad?

In speaking out Aaron Hicks at Twins Fest, Gardenhire said, “I think one thing I know how to do is make these guys relax a little. Try to keep it as light as we possibly can. There’s a stress out there that I can’t control, and that’s him trying to make this baseball team. I can control how he handles himself, and I can try to keep him as relaxed as much as I possibly can with the rest of our staff and not put too much pressure on him.”

This speaks beyond rookies though. It speaks to other young players, like Dozier, Hendriks, Darin Mastroianni, Joe Benson, Cole De Vries, Chris Parmelee and even Trevor Plouffe. How will their successes and their adversities be handled, and how will that be judged?

INJURIES


Let’s face it, the Twins roster, particularly the pitching staff, has a lot of question marks tied to health that will affect the 2013 season. Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey are returning from Tommy John surgery. Scot Diamond may not be ready for Opening Day due to removing bone chips from his elbow. Liam Hendriks had the same surgery in October, and Vance Worley had it in August. Other pitchers could get hurt throughout the season. The hitters sound like they are at 100%, but Morneau has missed a lot of time the last couple of years. Josh Willingham played a career high number of games in 2012. Can he stay relatively healthy in 2013? Trevor Plouffe missed a lot of time last year. And there are always unforeseen injuries.

The manager can’t control those things. Players get hurt, unfortunately. How he responds publically and within the locker room to those things is important.

IN-GAME DECISION-MAKING


This is a category that social media have seemed to make more important. Every decision a manager (or GM, or scouting director) makes is scrutinized. If a Manager goes with his gut, rather than the book on occasion, he will be called out by some. If he always does the same thing (even if that is what the book says to do), he will be scrutinized as being too predictable.

Again, every fan base’s manager will make decisions throughout the season that the fans won’t agree with. I think this is a poor reason for firing, but some fans will think it’s important.

There are likely many other reasons to either fire or keep a manager around. Ron Gardenhire is the same manager that won a lot of games for this organization over the past dozen seasons. He has dealt with more injuries and lack of talent the last two seasons than in any of those previous seasons.

It is clear that the Twins are building for 2014 and 2015 and beyond, so the biggest question really needs to be, Is Ron Gardenhire the right guy to have leading a young and developing roster? That’s the most difficult question to answer as well. He has had a lot of successes with young players this century. I’m sure there have been some busts as well. That’s the same with any manager or any team.

It’s a tough question to answer, and at the end of the day, it will be Terry Ryan’s question to answer. Hopefully the players will stay healthy and improve and the Twins will surprise a lot of people which will make Ryan’s decision easy. 

 

After reading all of the great Star Tribune content, please stop by Twins Daily where the Forums are full of discussion of the Twins, spring training, decisions and much, much more!

An Expectations Thought Exercise

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: January 5, 2012 - 12:11 AM

 

Below is the opening day roster (more or less) of the 2011 Twins versus the probable roster for the 2012 Twins (as things stand right now). I want to do a quick comparison of the two but add a twist – I want to compare the 2012 player with

 

what we hoped the 2011 player was going to do

, not what they actually did. Let’s call it the Hope Index. There is a reason I want to go that way, I promise. I’m also not going to do a ton of analysis here - it's late and I'm winging it a bit - so if you want to make your own changes, go ahead. You can put your Hope Index in the comments.

 

 
Hitters
EVEN
Cuddyer for Willingham is a wash.
 
Carroll for Nishioka would be a huge upgrade, except this isn't based on reality, but instead on what we expected from Nishioka. We expected a guy who could get on base from the #2 spot and play average defensively. We’re expecting the same from Carroll. I’m calling those even.
 
I’ll call Doumit and Kubel about even.
 
I expect about the same out of Casilla as I did last year. I’m going to say the same about Valencia, but I was pessimistic about him last year. I expect most Twins fans would say they expect less.
 
Morneau will be a wash – we had a bunch of health concerns and we still do. I’m not sure if they are worse or not than they were.
 
DOWNGRADE
Ben Revere for Delmon Young is a tough comparison because they’re such different players, but Revere is certainly less than what we expected from Delmon. (Comparing those two in more detail might make a fun entry.)
 
Mauer and Span, I think we absolutely need to expect less than we did, given their injury concerns.
 
And the bench as a whole gets a downgrade, too, just because they lose Thome.
 
Hitters Hope Index: six evens and four downgrades.
 
Pitching
EVEN
 
Pavano, Baker and Blackburn are going to be even. They have essentially been the same two years in a row.
 
As much as I hated the Capps signing this year – and I hated it a lot – I’m not sure the Twins look any worse at closer than they did last year. They might have had a little more depth, but everyone was so unsure of Nathan. I’m calling it even.
 
I’ll call the back half of the bullpen even, too. I didn’t know who was going to get innings and I’m not sure it mattered a ton. I feel the same way now. I might have a little less confidence in Gardenhire and Anderson’s ability to piece something together but I also have more confidence in Ryan’s ability to dig up some arms.  
 
DOWNGRADE
Liriano is a downgrade – we absolutely expect less of him this year than we did going into last year.
 
I expect we’ll be happier with Marquis than we were with Duensing last year, but our expectations are probably lower. Duensing entered last year with such solid numbers as a starter, it wasn’t unreasonable to view him as a decent #3 starter. I don’t think many folks expect that from Marquis.
 
UPGRADE
I would argue that the Twins bullpen setup roles look better this year than they did last year. Nobody knew who was going to be setting up and at least this year Perkins seems like a solid bet.
 
Hope Index: five evens, two downgrades and one upgrade.
 
Now, here’s why I wanted to do this: I’m trying to establish reasonable expectations for this team and I wanted to establish a baseline for how much talent this team really has. Usually one starts with how the team did last year. This team lost 99 games, but it really wasn’t this team, was it? With so many injuries, so many rookies, so many meaningless August and September games, I don’t know how to reasonably start to add wins to a 63-win team whose playing time will be so radically altered.
 
So instead, I’m going back to the beginning. Last year going into the season, this felt like an 85-90 win team, especially after winning 95 games the year before. And what I’ve found is that from that team I have eleven even grades, six downgrades and one upgrade.
 
Looking at the downgrades, I can see some hope. Liriano could become what we expected, and so could Mauer and Span. The others I’m not so sure about. That feels like a .500 team, though with a lot more downside than upside.
 
 
 
Seth looks at the Twins Outfield Situation.
 
 
I posted Episode 22 of Gleeman and the Geek where we started talking about Jason Marquis and ended up arguing about whether or not Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame. Here are:

Or click on the image below to listen. Thanks!

TwinsCentric: Offseason Blueprint Contest

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: October 31, 2011 - 12:27 AM

When the World Series came to an end on Friday night, the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook officially became available. If you haven't already ordered a copy, you can purchase and download one immediately from the TwinsCentric website.

One section of the bulky 136-page e-book is called "Offseason Blueprints," wherein all four TwinsCentric writers utilize the information in the Handbook to map out our own suggestions for the Twins' front office.

We're interested in seeing your ideas, too, so we're holding a contest. Using your Handbook, or whatever tools you like, we want you to craft a blueprint of your own -- one that fills the team's needs as you see them and stays within a reasonable budget. Submit it to us at twinscentric@gmail.com, and in a few weeks we'll toss the names of all participants into a hat and draw a random winner. If you're selected, we'll set you up with a free copy of our Twins Annual in the spring, and we'll also dissect your blueprint on the TwinsCentric blog.

To get you started and generate some discussion, here's my offseason blueprint from the Handbook:

 

Hedging Your Bets

The Twins face an extremely challenging paradox this offseason. On the one hand, they are coming off a 99-loss season and their roster is filled with holes, with the majority of their best prospects still several years off. On the other hand, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are in their physical prime and are owed a combined $37 million next year. If both those players return to form, you won’t want to waste the opportunity by fielding a poor roster that can’t support them. At the same time, you don’t want to put all your eggs in the 2012 basket because, realistically, it’s just not that likely that this injury-hampered group can make a 30-game swing in the standings. The best bet is to add cheap, low-risk short-term help while maintaining flexibility down the line. Here’s my attempt:

1) Let Michael Cuddyer walk.

Losing Cuddyer will be tough. Not only is his powerful right-handed bat sorely needed in the Twins’ lineup, he’s also a major asset in the clubhouse and community. Unfortunately, while he’d help a lot in 2012, his contract would likely become a burden in the later years as he ages into his mid-30s. It may be unpopular, but unless he’s willing to take a discount, letting Cuddyer walk and taking the draft picks is the smart call.


2) Re-sign free agent reliever Joe Nathan for two years, $14 million.

Nathan struggled out of the gates and finished with an unimpressive 4.84 ERA in 2011, but by the end of the year he looked very much like the dominant reliever we remember prior to Tommy John surgery. After coming off the disabled list in June, Nathan posted a 3.38 ERA and 28-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 29 1/3 innings. He’s a reliable and familiar closer.


3) Re-sign free agent outfielder Jason Kubel for three years, $21 million.

Kubel’s value is down after an injury-plagued campaign. Once a premier designated hitter, he’s been underwhelming in each of the past two years, so the opportunity is ripe to lock him up with an affordable multi-year deal if you believe the 2010/11 numbers don’t reflect his true offensive ability.


4) Offer arbitration to Alexi Casilla ($2.5M), Jose Mijares ($700K), Kevin Slowey ($3.3M), Glen Perkins ($1.8M) and Francisco Liriano ($6M).

Perkins and Casilla are essentially no-brainers, as they offer relatively inexpensive depth at positions of need. Bringing back Liriano and Slowey might be a somewhat difficult call following frustrating 2011 campaigns, but the Twins need all the rotation help they can get and both are candidates for bounce-back years.


5) Sign free agent catcher Ryan Doumit for two years, $9 million.

With Mauer’s status hanging in the balance, the Twins need to add depth at catcher, preferably in the form of a player who could play somewhat regularly and add offensive punch to the lineup. Doumit has spent his career as a part-time guy with the Pirates, never playing in more than 124 games, but his .271/.334/.442 career hitting line is very solid for a catcher and he’s only 30. He’s not considered a strong defensive backstop, but Drew Butera can be kept around to fill that role and Doumit can also fill in at first base and in right field.


6) Sign free agent starting pitcher Rich Harden for one year, $3 million plus incentives.

Bringing aboard one of the game’s most notoriously injury-prone starters may not sound appealing to Twins fans who watched almost the entire team spend chunks of 2011 on the disabled list, but this club needs high-upside arms and only the risky types like Harden will be affordable. The 29-year-old righty was limited to 82 2/3 innings and posted an ugly 5.12 ERA, but did manage to notch 91 strikeouts. He’s struggled mightily with the long ball over the past two seasons, but Target Field should help alleviate that. To help with his durability and maximize his stuff, it might be worth trying Harden in the bullpen if he’s willing.


7) Sign free agent infielders Nick Punto (one year, $750K) and Ramon Santiago (one year $1.5M).

Neither of these players is generally viewed as a starter, but both are sure-handed, versatile veterans that can at least hold their own at the plate. Let them compete for the starting shortstop job in spring training, with the loser holding down a utility job while Tsuyoshi Nishioka opens the season in the minors.


Summary:

Ideally, you’d like to see Mauer and Morneau return to their previous roles and thrive. Given the circumstances, though, you can’t really plan around that best-case scenario. The above structure gives you some flexibility with those two. I went heavy on free agency additions because I felt the Twins had a lot of needs but don’t have much in the way of tradable assets on the big-league roster; dealing away prospects at this point is the wrong idea. The infield signings don’t add much offense but fans and coaches will welcome some steady veteran reinforcements after watching rookies kick grounders all over the place last year.

In the end, this might not be a terribly exciting blueprint but 2012 is shaping up as a transitional year, where the Twins can try out some different things on the big-league roster while letting their talented young prospects develop. It’s also not inconceivable that this group could compete in the AL Central if the rotation rebounds and the switch to less physically demanding roles rejuvenates the bats of Mauer and Morneau.

TwinsCentric: Greatest. Baseball. Night. Ever.

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: September 29, 2011 - 7:48 AM
Tonight started as a baseball junkie’s dream. It was the first round of the NCAA tournament, except it was rarer, impromptu, a month’s coincidences in the making.
 
And then it got better, making the NCAA buzzer beaters look pedestrian. I got to watch it start to unfold from a distance – from the ballpark – which could not have been a better place.
 
First, the Twins finished up their year from hell with a slice of heaven. The final homestand included some of the best weather of the year, and the final game may have been the nicest night in Target Field this season. The Twins responded with one of the most entertaining games of the year.
 
Carl Pavano pitched a complete game shutout, except that he couldn’t know it was a win until after he had departed from the mound. His bulldog mentality, which dissolved in frustration so many times this year, was on full display in the eighth inning. A leadoff triple put the shutout and game in doubt, but Pavano got the next two batters to ground out weakly to him before a nice fielding play by Valencia shut down that opportunity. 
 
It took 162 games, but the Twins fielders finally looked like they knew what they were doing. There was a spinning play by Trevor Plouffe, two great throws to second base for outs by Drew Butera and a full speed dive by Ben Revere. It was marvelous.
 
Finally, there was Denard Span, who sounds like he’s having a crisis of confidence in his club and possibly his own brain. He gets to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth, gets a double and then is driven in by Plouffe who certainly had his own confidence crises this year. The final scene is a bunch of grown men act like boys, celebrating way too much for a 63rd win. And we loved it.
 
Meanwhile I was trying to keep up with the scoreboard in right center. The Tigers had come back against the Indians, stranding the Tribe under .500 and giving me a win in a friendly season-long wager. But most eyes were on the four games with wild card implications.
 
One was a blowout – the Cardinals would surive to play at least a game 163. The Rays game looked similarly over, as they were down 7-0 to the Yankees. The other two games had just a one-run spread. Boston was winning – but was in a rain delay that could go late into the night. And the Braves were hanging on against the Phillies.
 
Then the baseball gods started playing some crazy dice. First, they made the Rays game infinitely more interesting with some wildness and a bit of thunder from the bat of the Greek hero Longoria. In addition, before I left my seat I was seeing tweets about a meltdown for the Braves which was sending that game into extra innings.
 
Finally, on the walk back to the car, my phone was notifying me that the Rays had ALSO pushed their game into extra innings with a home run with two outs (and two strikes) in the bottom of the ninth. It turns out it was even better than that. Dan Johnson (from Blaine) yanked his home run barely over the fence just inside the right foul pole in a part of Tropicana field that juts inward like a design flaw.
 
And STILL, it got better.
 
As I walk into my bedroom, The Voice of Reason™ is celebrating her Phils win over the Braves in 13 innings. Philadelphia was once voted the most hostile city in the US – and responded with pride. I guaranteed you they took great pleasure in knocking an arch-nemesis out of the playoffs, especially when the Braves had a three game lead with five games to play.
 
Our attention turned to the Yankees and Rays, who battlee with both teams struggling to make the big play. The Red Sox looked like they were going to live to play at least one more day when they had Papelbon on the mound with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the ninth.
 
And then within about four minutes, all hell broke loose. The Rays made a couple of slick defensive plays to get out of a jam, while Papelbon gave up a two doubles to blow the save. (If you’re keeping count, that was the third blown save in the four crucial games.)   Then the Red Sox lost on a line drive that Carl Crawford missed catching by – an inch? A fraction of an inch? By so little you can’t believe he couldn’t catch it.
 
Which sets off a celebration in Tampa Bay (Crawford’s team last year, by the way) – despite them being in the bottom of the 13th of their own game. And I don’t mean just the fans – I mean the players and the coaches, all of whom know that at the very least they’ll be playing Game 163.
 
And within about 30 seconds, Longoria hits his second home run – a line drive that sneaks just over the wall and just inside the LEFT field foul pole in the other part of Tropicana field that juts inward like a design flaw.  
 
My Twitter feed has an orgasm. So, nearly, did Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac on the MLB Network. If you haven’t seen the video of those two analysts freaking out – silently, because they were off camera and didn’t want to interrupt the breaking news – go ye and seek it out.
 
Yes, I went with “ye.” That’s what this night has reduced me to – Olde English. And now we get into four more weeks of baseball where the stakes are raised even higher? Yes. Yes we do. But it can’t get any better.
 
(Can it?)
 

 
If you still can't get enough baseball, you're in luck. TwinsCentric went nuts the last couple days cranking out content elsewhere:
 
Parker wrote about the Twins infield defense on Tuesday and the end of the season yesterday.
 
Nick is impressed (and surprised) by Chris Parmelee.
 
Seth has all kinds of thoughts on Twins rookies and answers some questions.
 
I just published a new episode of the Gleeman and the Geek podcast, where we talk about Bill Smith's future, Rene Tosoni's first year and whether Carl Pavano should (or could) be traded. By the way - we're looking for a bar in which to do those in the offseason. If yours is interested, let us know.
 
And finally, we're all cranking out content for the 2011 GM Handbook, on which your Twins artwork could be published,  since none of us have an artistic bone in our bodies.

A Handful of Predictions for 2011

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: January 3, 2011 - 12:30 AM
Seeing as that this new year is just three days old and we are still a month away from pitchers and catchers flying down to the warmer climate to trot off their holiday weight, it is probably very premature to make these predictions. Even so, in no particular order, here are four things I expect to happen in the 2011 season:
(1) Denard Span will be on base more.
After posting a career low on-base percentage in 2010 (.331), the Twins center fielder should be primed to rejuvenate that mark this year.
When pitchers adjusted to Span’s patient approach by buzzing strikes in on the first pitch more frequently, the left-handed lead-off man was often put in debt in the count. This led to fewer walks overall as his rate decreased for the second straight season, lowering from 10.4% to 8.5%. Nevertheless, because of his keen eye at the plate (his 18.5% out-of-zone chase rate is the fifth-lowest in baseball since 2009) and his ability to make contact (90.9% contract rate since ’09, seventh-highest), Span will continue to exercise judicious decision-making in the batter’s box moving forward.
But that wasn’t the only factor leading to his reduced on-base percentage.
Span, a habitual line drive/groundball hitter, witnessed his batting average on those balls diminish greatly in 2010. Since more of his batted balls went to gloves in 2010, Span had a fair share of hits taken away from his totals and thus decreasing his on-base percentage.

Batting Average on Balls In Play
2009
2010
Career
Groundballs
.287
.223
.254
Line Drives
.763
.677
.701

In all, this led to a 59-point decrease in his batting average on balls in play, significantly influence his overall numbers. Part of this BABIP decline may have to do with his minor yet potentially impactful alteration with his hand position, bringing the bat closer to his body at the beginning of the year. This led to an inordinate amount of grounders in the season’s first-half. Later in the year, it appeared that Span was getting his hands further away from his body, resulting in more line drives as the season progressed.
As noted above, Span maintains terrific plate discipline skills. Likewise, because of his ability to utilize the spacious center field area at Target Field with a high percentage of line drives, Span is poised to be the catalyst at the top of the order that the Twins envisioned when they signed him to a long-term deal.
(2) Danny Valencia will encounter the proverbial “sophomore slump”.
This one isn’t that hard to foresee. After all, his batting average on balls in play was at an inflated .345 – a hearty fifty points higher than the league average. But that’s not the reason that I anticipate some decline in his numbers.
Often, communication and scouting reports move at various speeds throughout the league. Someone who can’t handle breaking pitches might be discovered immediately and word spreads like wildfire. Other times, certain holes and tendencies are not exposed until after the season. Take Denard Span for example. It took nearly two years for teams to pepper the strike zone early in the count in order to put Span at a disadvantage and it kept him off the bases in 2010.  
In Valencia’s case as the 2010 season progressed it became clear that, while demonstrating great plate coverage, he had a soft spot in the zone: down and in.
 
 
via MyInsideEdge.com

via MyInsideEdge.com

Whereas the 2010 season was a dance of trial-and-error for opponents when facing Valencia, as this information gets disseminated through the league, teams will attempt to exploit this weakness while avoiding his strengths in 2011.
Of course, this doesn’t automatically mean Valencia will have a down year, just that he will struggle more this coming season. To be sure, the Twins third baseman has shown that he is a monster when it comes to hitting up and out over the plate. In fact, according to Inside Edge his .203 well-hit average on pitches up in the zone was the second-best in baseball behind teammate Joe Mauer. Unlike some overeager rookies who tend to yank that pitch, Valencia uses the “big part” of the field – hitting 21.3% of balls in play to center field.
Still, opponents will go to work on his weak spots and it is up to Valencia to make his own adjustments.
(3) Jim Hoey will have a Grant Balfour circa-2008 emergence for the Twins.
Okay, this one is not based on anything remotely scientific or data-filled, but bear with me on this.
Both Hoey and Balfour are cut from the power-pitching ilk, born from the same lineage that loves lighting up radar guns. Likewise, both had various arm injuries sidetracking promising careers. Balfour required Tommy John surgery in 2005 at the age of 27 while Hoey had his foray with Tommy John in 2004 at 21 years old. More recently, while attempting to correct his career path, a tear in his labrum required additional surgery for Hoey.
In Balfour’s case, the Twins decided to cut ties with the right-handed Aussie after the 2005 season, shortly after his date with the surgeon. He would sign a minor league deal with the Reds only to be selected off the waivers by the Brewers at the end of the ’06 season and rehab in their system. Before being called to Milwaukee, the Brewers shipped Balfour to Tampa for Seth McClung in the middle of the ’07 season. It was there with the Rays in ’08 that Balfour regained his health. That year, Balfour, tossing a 94.6-mph fastball, carved through opponents, striking out 82 in 58.1 innings of work and leading to a very impressive 1.54 ERA.
The savvy Rays front office targeted a talented yet damaged product and received an amazing value as Balfour has become an integral part of the Tampa bullpen the past three seasons.

Minor League Comp.
K/9
BB/9
HR/9
G. Balfour
10.1
3.4
0.6
J. Hoey
10.3
4.4
0.5

Many skeptics question Hoey’s control, particularly given his walk rate in the last two seasons. Certainly, his 5.9 walks per nine innings is un-Twins-like however this is more likely a byproduct of his recovery from labrum surgery as prior to that Hoey averaged just 2.5 walks per nine innings. Like Tommy John, recovering from labrum surgery can be a long, tedious process. Fans may recall Jesse Crain’s road back after a similar surgery in 2007 in which he didn’t appear fully recovered until the second-half of the 2009 season.
If the Twins coaching staff can help him regain his control this spring, Hoey could be a big contributor in the bullpen this coming season and beyond.
(4) Scott Baker will be the second-best pitcher in the rotation.
I know what you are thinking, “If that is true, the 2011 season ended up being an unmitigated disaster”, but hang on. Scott Baker is actually much better than advertised.
Since 2008, Baker has held one of baseball best strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.39 K/BB, 11th-best), showing both the ability to avoid walking hitters and striking them out when necessary. These are the foundations of a very good starter: No walks, high amount of strikeouts.
Of course, that is just a part of the pitching equation, the other part happens when hitters put the ball into play.
Because he likes to work up in the zone and above it, hitters find it easy to get underneath Baker’s offerings. This is why he is a predominately fly ball-type pitcher (third-most since '08). This is not a problem in and of itself but there were two factors that negatively influenced his season in 2010 and should be improved in 2011.
In 2008 and 2009, Baker had an outfield defense that had both Carlos Gomez and Denard Span behind him. This past year, with Gomez gone, not only did Baker have Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer covering more real estate in Target Field, when Justin Morneau’s season-ending concussion required Cuddyer to relocate to first it was Jason Kubel who was pressed into duties in right field, further diluting the defensive talent.
This means that more balls found grass and shot gaps than in previous seasons:
 
BABIP on Fly Balls
2010
.198
2009
.139
2008
.119
 
To compound the problem, in the middle of the season, Baker revealed that he was having tendonitis issues in his elbow. It was this that likely caused him to drop his release point. With the lowered release point, we see flattening of his fastball and some loss of command in the zone leading to more hard hit balls.
If Morneau returns from the concussion and Cuddyer able to return to his normal position, this should improve Baker’s outfield defense over the assortment at the end of last sesaon. (Of course, platooning in the speedy Jason Repko in Baker’s starts would be an ideal alignment.)  Likewise, since he opted to have a minor procedure in the offseason to correct his elbow issue, Baker will likely return to his pre-tendonitis release point where he had much better command. Together, this should reduce the amount of hits surrendered and leave the 29-year-old righty with his low walk, high strikeout stuff.

 

Twins Thanks

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: November 25, 2010 - 10:14 AM

It’s too damn cold to participate in running the Turkey 5K this morning, which means I find myself with an hour or so to kill before starting the festive holiday gluttoning. So let’s start a new holiday tradition – 10 things I’m thankful for as a Twins fan in 2010:

 
Honorable Mention:
The Dominican Republic
Without the DR, there wouldn’t be a DR Winter League. And without the DR Winter League, we wouldn’t have been able to watch Francisco Liriano regain his velocity, slider and confidence. When I was raving last March about Liriano’s upcoming year, I was told by a writer I respect that “January is Liriano’s best month.” It wasn’t this year, and I couldn’t be more excited about his future.
 
Geek Chorus: And so is Brian Cashman. Because unless the Twins get a long-term deal with him done this offseason, he’ll be a free agent after 2012. Hello, pinstripes!
 
The Bartender at MacKenzie’s
For putting out our beer on ice as we watched the ninth inning of the A’s/White Sox game. The Sox lost, the “Champagne of Beers” was popped, and the Twins won their sixth division title in the last nine years. 
 
Geek Chorus: And the bartender is thankful to the Twins, for forcing 90% of their fans out of the ballpark before the Twins wised up.
 
10. Delmon Young’s Stomach Flu
He showed up to spring training in shape and we wondered if we were watching a new Delmon, with newfound discipline. Then he admitted it was mostly the result of being sick. Whatever – he still ended up having a fantastic 2/3 of the year, which is 2/3 more than he had showed previously. So have at that undercooked turkey today Delmon - I’d like to see you in shape again next February.
 
Geek Chorus: Uh, huh. The only way that happens is if you think “round” is “in.”
 
9. Twins Coverage
Nine years ago, when I started blogging, it was mostly fueled by disappointment in the lack of baseball coverage in this town. I didn’t start writing because I wanted to write about Twins baseball. I wrote because I wanted to read about Twins baseball, and there weren’t a lot of other options.
 
Not any more. Now Twins fans are gulping from a firehose of information, even in the offseason. The dailies have really stepped up their game, the national press loves to cover the Twins, and the bloggers – male, female, whimsical and statistical – are creating five times more quality content than I have time to read.
 
Trust me – I’ve researched who is doing good work blogging for other major league teams. There isn’t any other fan base that has even one-third the number of quality bloggers that Twins fans have.
 
Geek Chorus: So you’re thankful for – you? Savvy. You may want to revisit what this Thanksgiving thing is all about. Or just give in completely and start talking the third person. You’re practically there.
 
8. Twitter
For turning every Twins game into the most prolific discussion board ever, while also fitting into my pocket. Twitter is the next frontier for blogs, and Twins fans have a good start on creating the best community of any major league team. Join us, won’t you? You start this weekend by following John, Seth, Parker and Nick.
 
Geek Chorus: And I’m sure your friends and family who sit face-to-face with you at games are thankful for you being totally engrossed in your fantasy virtual world, too. Instead, you could be telling them about Alexi Casilla’s OPS. Hmm. Maybe they really ARE thankful.
 
7. Brad Childress and Tim Brewster
To Childress, for distracting the heat away from the ridiculous talk about getting rid of Ron Gardenhire. And to Brewster, for reminding us what can happen when you make a change to get to the next level.
 
Geek Chorus: Oh, the Gopher switched levels, all right….
 
6. The Pornstache
For giving us Pavano’s best year since his prime. For it’s cheesy goodness. And for inspiring the Super Mario theme to play before home starts that my kids liked.
 
Geek Chorus: And for the outstanding performance over Roy Halladay to take the series in Philadelphia while you were staying with your in-laws.
 
Right. That, too.
 
5. The Third Base Line Fence at Target Field
But mostly for the Twins players that come over to that third base line fence while they’re warming up and sign autographs for the kids. This year, it was mostly rookies or recent Rochester call-ups and that is absolutely fine with me. I cannot tell you what the means to parents. Thank you guys.
 
Geek Chorus: Even if it means your son becomes a devoted fan of Matt Tolbert? Are you sure that’s worth it?
 
4. Twins Fans
I’ve lamented for years that Minneapolis is a football town, and not a baseball town. Football still ranks first, but this summer we were a baseball town. I’m sure of it. Look at the comments sections here. Look at the pregame and postgame crowds downtown. Look at the TwinsCentric Offseson GM Handbook sales. Look at the rage and disappointment following this year’s postseason. Ten years ago this would have been unimaginable. Thank you all so much for caring about baseball. 
 
Geek Chorus: Now, if we could just get the football crowd to stop The Wave.
 
3. Jim Thome
I loved him. He brought electricity to the plate, leadership to the clubhouse, historical gravity to the ballpark, and full-hearted goodwill to the fan base.
 
Geek Chorus: And a 1 for 10 to the postseason.
 
2. Target Field
It’s outdoors. I know I’m supposed to gush about little details, etc, but I’ve seen all the other new outdoor parks, and honestly, I don’t think it’s a lot better than most of them. But it’s outdoors. And after being trapped in that god-forsaken teflon-coated mausoleum for twenty-five years, that’s enough.
 
Geek Chorus: Now, if they can just get some decent food that I don’t need to wait three innings for.
 
1.      The Oughts
 The decade started with a run by a Tom Kelly coached team that gave us all hope – and then a tremendous collapse and the threat of contraction. But it is hard to imagine that any fan base could hope for more than the Twins provided short of winning a championship. As a low-revenue team, they were competive not just for a couple of years, but for a decade. They provided Gold Gloves, batting titles, Cy Youngs and MVPs. They extended their season for seven of their nine years. The coverage of the team exploded to satisfy even the hungriest fan. They built a fan base that packed their new outdoor park and dominated the media. And they have shown almost no sign of slowing down for the next decade. World Championship or no, we probably just lived through the best decade to be a Twins fan. And I’m thankful for it.
 
Geek Chorus: So am I. And I really treasure each of the six playoff wins. Bring on the next decade.

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