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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Gleeman and the Geek, Ep 156: Trade Deadline Recap

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: August 3, 2014 - 8:54 PM

Aaron and John talk about swapping Sam Fuld for Tommy Milone, extending Kurt Suzuki, calling up Kennys Vargas, being a curmudgeon, looking for Alex Meyer and Trevor May, learning new things that sound dirty, overvaluing prospects, claiming Jordan Schafer off waivers, checking in on Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia struggling versus lefties, and moving into the penthouse. You can listen by downloading us from iTunesStitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click on the "play" button below.

Meanwhile at Twins Daily,

- Who is this guy the Twins picked up yesterday?

- Why was Friday a bad day for the Twins minor leagues

- What can we expect from Tommy Milone?

- Should the Twins consider a six-man starting rotation?

TwinsCentric: Will Kurt Suzuki's continue to hit?

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: August 1, 2014 - 9:06 AM

Over a Twins Daily, the discussion regarding what to do with catcher Kurt Suzuki leading up to the trade deadline was a highly debated topic.

 

On one hand, the Twins have a commodity that is having one of the best years of his career and his trade value might never be greater. For an organization trying to rebuild, capitalizing on this value would be beneficial by potentially bringing in new talent with the option of finding a new catcher in free agency again this winter if need be (though, admittedly, the trade market for Suzuki never seemed to materialize after the Cardinals and Orioles appeared uninterested in the backstop). On the other, you have a player who is well-respected on the team and provides a stable presence in a vital position. While not necessarily a defensive whiz, pitchers like Phil Hughes, Glen Perkins and Kyle Gibson have all touted and benefitted from his abilities.

 

Leaving those elements aside, let us simply focus on the question of whether or not Suzuki can sustain his offensive output over the duration of his extension.

 

As far as catchers, Suzuki has been an on-base machine as of late. Dating back to August of last year, he has had the third-highest OBP among American League catchers. That figure is buoyed by the best batting average (.306). At the same time, his power numbers have been awful. His isolated slugging percentage (.085) is the second-lowest in all of baseball in that duration. Nevertheless, with a position that places an emphasis on defense, having a handler who can produce those on-base numbers at the expense of power is a net positive. But can it continue?

 

When a player in the middle of his career suddenly has his best offensive season, there is an immediate tendency to consider it an anomaly. The belief is that because of this single-season spike, regression will often follow. For this reason, Suzuki’s 2014 numbers have rightfully been scrutinized. At 30 years old and in his eighth season in the majors, the Minnesota Twins’ catcher has significantly outperformed his numbers -- specifically the batting average and his on-base percentage.

 

Is he suddenly hitting rockets around the field? Absolutely not. According to ESPN/trumedia Suzuki’s Hard Hit Average (an observation-based metric from Inside Edge’s video scouts that measures if a ball was well-struck or not) has been the lowest since his 2009 season. No one watching would be fooled into thinking he is hitting frozen ropes around the yard but he’s hitting them where they ain’t. While he is in possession of his lowest Hard Hit Average in the past seven years, he has compiled his highest batting average on balls in play -- a gaudy .324 compared to his .274 career average.

 

To summarize, Suzuki's current success if based on the fact that he is hitting pitches softer than ever and is yet somehow finding seams and vacant real estate. That’s not reassuring, is it?

 

Small Changes

 

In spite of these key indicators that would suggest massive regression in his future, Suzuki’s improvement goes beyond luck.

 

At the beginning of the season when Suzuki came out of the gates on fire, I reviewed his video footage and noticed a small yet important change in his swing: He altered his front foot landing.

 

Look at the comparison of the clips below. In the first clip from when he was with the Washington Nationals in 2013, Suzuki swung his leg open slightly and landed toward the pitcher. In the clip from this season, Suzuki’s stride and landing would keep him slightly toward first base.

 

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This has allowed for improved plate coverage for Suzuki. Already a disciplinarian when it comes to the strike zone, he struggled with pitches on the outside portion of the plate.

 

According to ESPN/TruMedia’s data, from 2009 through July 2013, he hit just .230 on pitches away. Since implementing the changes after being traded to Oakland last year, he has batted .297 on pitches outside. No longer would he be pulling away from those pitches but better suited to drive them, as his line drive rate increased along with the changes.

 

Also note the position of his hands. Instead of moving them to load, as he is seen doing while with the Nationals, he keeps his hands back at the onset and has little movement when loading.

 

Along with the firm front side, Suzuki shows less head movement which appears to be resulting in improved contact. Because of this, assigning his offensive performance in 2014 to luck does not seem like the right conclusion.

 

Off The Bat

 

Along with the mechanical tweak, Suzuki’s approach has shifted as well.

 

At one time a marginal power producer, he has seen that decline significantly in 2014. Part of the impetus is the fact that he is no longer hitting fly balls. Instead, he is putting up the highest line drive and ground ball rates of his career -- also a product of his changes as he hits the top-middle of the ball more frequently. This is important to note because line drives and ground balls become hits more often than fly balls but at the expense of power.

 

If he is able to maintain this batted ball distribution -- which based on his mechanical changes seems plausible -- then Suzuki has a better chance of continuing to hit safely and thereby sustaining his on-base percentage.

 

Conclusion


To be sure, Suzuki will likely see some decline in his numbers over the next two seasons because of age and some balls not squeaking through the infield. After all, teams are deploying Tom Verducci's illegal defenses at an alarming rate this year and they may figure out a way to combat Suzuki's ground balls as well. Still, with his mechanical adjustment and his sound approach at the plate, Suzuki has the potential to continue this output at a similar level for the next two years.

TwinsCentric: Five players to watch in the next two months

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: July 29, 2014 - 11:51 PM
On his excellent RandBall blog, Michael Rand wrote Tuesday that despite being out of contention, the Twins' approach at the deadline isn't as cut-and-dry as "trade anyone with a pulse." There is value, Rand argues, in working toward a better finish and changing a culture of losing.

I very much agree with the general sentiment expressed here. The Twins desperately need to show more down the stretch this season than they have over the last three years. Another lifeless August and September would be unacceptable.

However, if that improvement is driven by players like Kurt Suzuki, Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia, who are not part of the long-term solution, what good does it do? At that point, all you're doing is costing yourself valuable draft slots, with no tangible positive takeaways to bring forward.

Maybe Terry Ryan will move those veterans before Thursday's deadline and maybe he won't. But regardless, these are the players we should be focused on here in the final two months, and what we should be looking for:

Oswaldo Arcia: His season has been one of the great disappointments of 2014, as he has taken a significant step backward following his promising rookie campaign. Any time he appears to be getting something going, he falls into another spell where he looks totally lost at the plate. An at-bat on Sunday that ended with him snapping a bat over his knee sums up his season pretty well, but a strong finish with a bunch of home runs would go a long way toward building optimism toward 2015.

Kyle Gibson: He has given us a lot to like this year, most notably an elite ground ball rate (fifth-best in baseball) and control that has improved substantially over the course of the season. But it's hard to get overly excited when he's giving up five-plus runs every other start. If he can eliminate most of the clunkers while staying healthy and working toward 200 innings, we'll be able to feel a lot more comfortable in his ability to help anchor next year's rotation.

Joe Mauer: We need positive signs. He was hitting .362 on a 12-game hitting streak before going down with an oblique injury, and now that he appears close to returning, he needs to pick up where he left off. It's tough to imagine the Twins returning to contention in the next couple years without Mauer being a major contributor. I'll be particularly interested to see if he can start evening out his K/BB ratio, which was still oddly unimpressive even while he was heating up.

Ricky Nolasco: Will the first season of his big new contract be an unmitigated disaster, or can he salvage something here at the tail end? Nolasco pitched hurt for months before landing on the shelf with elbow soreness. If he can't come back and perform for a stretch before the season ends, he's going to be a big question mark during the offseason that will make it difficult for the team to plan out its 2015 starting corps.

Byron Buxton: The top prospect may have positioned himself as the 2015 Opening Day center fielder if he'd remained healthy this season. Maybe he still can. He's finally got it going in Ft. Myers and should be moved up to New Britain very shortly. A good month there could possibly earn him a September call-up. With all their issues in center, the Twins have plenty of reason to want a look at him.

TwinsCentric: Trade Candidate-Brian Duensing

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: July 29, 2014 - 8:24 AM

The Trade Deadline is fast approaching. Teams have until Thursday to make moves without needing to worry about waivers. On these pages, we have looked at the trade candidacies of Kurt Suzuki, Kevin Correia and Josh Willingham. One of our writers was ready to post one on Kendrys Morales, but he was traded to Seattle moments before the article was set to be posted here.

One name that has not been mentioned much is Brian Duensing. The left-hander is in his second consecutive season as a full-time reliever. Previous to that, he had been given a couple of opportunities to start, to mixed results.

Duensing is putting up some terrific numbers this year, maybe even surprisingly so. In 40 games, he has a 2.27 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He has been charged with a run in just five of those outings. He’s been even better of late. He has gone nine consecutive outings without allowing a run. He has given up just one run over his past 16 games (15.1 innings).

One of the reasons he struggled as a starter was because he really struggled against right-handed hitters. This year, right-handers are hitting .244/.330/.397 (.727) off of him. Left-handers are hitting just .231/.268/.292 (.560) against him. You notice more of a split when looking at his strikeout and walk rates. He has struck out 13.6% of right-handed batters and walked 11.3%. Against lefties, he has struck out 19.4% while walking just 4.2%

Relief pitchers tend to be dealt in July to teams looking for one more piece. Though Duensing’s name hasn’t been mentioned in rumors like some others (like Tony Sipp), his production this year could make him an option for some teams.

WHY TRADE HIM

Relief pitchers do get traded at the deadline, and often fetch more at that time than other times in the season. If Terry Ryan is fielding phone calls about Duensing and gets offered a couple of mid-level prospects, he would have to consider it.

The Twins do have other left-handers in the bullpen and more in the minor leagues. Glen Perkins isn’t going anywhere, and Caleb Thielbar has put up very solid numbers in his first two seasons in the big leagues. In Rochester, Edgar Ibarra is pitching well and is on the 40 man roster. Aaron Thompson is a former first-round pick who has pitched a little bit in the big leagues. He’s pitched well the last two seasons in Rochester. And don’t forget that many relief pitchers in the big leagues, including Duensing, were starters in the minor leagues. Logan Darnell and Kris Johnson could fit this role in time as well.

WHY KEEP HIM

He’s only making $2 million. As a left-handed reliever who doesn’t strike out a ton, he likely won’t ever make more than $3 million a season, maybe as early as next year in his final year of arbitration. He’s been good for a while now. That said, there are a lot of left-handed relievers that last a long time. The Twins could also sign him to a contract extension.

He is also one of the guys who has been with the organization a long time. Although he’s not the big name, he is a core guy in the bullpen and in the organization and in the Twins community.

WHO NEEDS HIM

The Braves are looking for a left-handed reliever, but there are always teams looking for lefties, and any bullpen improvement, for the pennant race.

SUMMARY 

Brian Duensing has been very good in his role for the Minnesota Twins this season. He has a year of arbitration left before he becomes a free agent. Relievers often bring back good value at the trade deadline, so it is a move that must be considered.

YOUR TURN

What should the Twins do with Brian Duensing ? Trade him? Sign him to a two-year extension to buy out a year of free agency? Let him play out his contract and see what happens? What do you think?

Head over to TwinsDaily.com for much more Twins content:

Gleeman and the Geek, Ep 155: Ron Gardenhire's Donut Machine

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: July 27, 2014 - 8:53 PM

Aaron and John talk about how thin the ice is for Ron Gardenhire and maybe even Terry Ryan, trading Kendrys Morales to Seattle, other potential trades before the July 31 deadline, John's rap knowledge, Chuck Knoblauch, Kirby Puckett and the Twins' Hall of Fame, broken clocks being right, cutting Matt Guerrier, and the beauty of mini donuts.You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click on the link below.

It's going to be a fun week to obsess about the Twins. Stop by Twins Daily this week for all kind of trade deadline talk and to check out our new redesigned site. 

http://traffic.libsyn.com/gleemangeek/GATG_072714_complete.mp3

TwinsCentric: Alex Meyer's time is almost here

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: July 25, 2014 - 11:23 AM

On Wednesday of this past week, Twins pitching prospect Alex Meyer dismantled the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls, striking out eight over six innings of work while not allowing either a walk or a run. 

With Phil Hughes apparently sidelined for some time after absorbing an Adam Dunn projectile missile in combination with the inconsistent performance from the starting five that now consists of non-prospect arms, it is hard not to ask “When is it Meyer’s time?”

The Twins have been understandably protective of their top pitching prospect based on his injury at the end of last season and the fact that he was limited in innings. Typically, organizations have a progression for how they would like to build a pitcher’s arm strength and he threw less than 100 innings in 2013 between Double-A and the Arizona Fall League. But based on Boston’s Will Middlebrooks’ early season scouting report after facing Meyer in Pawtucket, Meyer has more than enough weaponry to be hurling in the big leagues. 

Admittedly, several comments from the front office made in reference to Meyer’s command and pitch counts (the former is the reason the latter gets so high so quick), that he would have troubles pitching deep in to games. While a fair assessment given his walk rate, Meyer still could be learning at this level.

And here’s another reason why I want to see him dabble here sooner rather than later: His ability to make adjustments. 

On June 2 in Rochester, Meyer surrendered this majestic blast to Gwinnett’s Mark Hamilton, a 29-year-old first baseman who had fewer than a season’s worth of plate appearances at the major league level with the St. Louis Cardinals. The ball, one can presume, was eventually stopped in its flight when it was shot down by the Canadian border guard. 

 


Note the location of of the 0-0 pitch: A fastball thigh-high and inside. Even with Meyer’s impressive velocity, this is a location that plenty of left-handed hitters love to do damage on. 

To be fair, Meyer was falling apart at this juncture of the game. After allowing a double that was considered aided by one of his outfielders, Meyer plunked the batter in front of Hamilton, setting up first-and-third in the fifth inning. Perhaps based on the recent hit batter, the plan was to hopefully reestablish the strike zone or maybe it was that with a fastball that averages mid-to-upper 90s, they figured the could fire it past the aging minor leaguer. Regardless of why, the results were disappointing. 

In his next time through the rotation, five days later Meyer would once again draw the Gwinnett Braves, this time in Georgia. With a three-run lead and two runners on base in the bottom of the sixth, Meyer would face Hamilton. 

It is this match-up, deep in the ballgame, that shows why Meyer is more of a pitcher and less of a thrower. One who, if it were not for the organization’s inning limitations, may already be throwing bullets with the Minnesota Twins. 

Unlike his first pitch in his previous start, Meyer kept his fastball on the other side of the plate, but a little too far for ball one:
 


With his second offering, he is able to command the outer-half of the plate with his fastball. There is little Hamilton can do but watch it blaze by. This, my friends, is a pitcher’s pitch:
 


The count now even at 1-1, Meyer unleashes his knee-buckling knucklecurve which stays up in the zone just enough for Hamilton to yank foul as he is unable to stay back after seeing two very good fastballs. To this point in the count, Meyer has not gone back inside with anything of significant velocity:
 


Now with two-strikes, Meyer attempts to put the lefty away with a backdoor breaking ball. Like the last one, it too stays up just enough for Hamilton to fight off and stay alive:
 


Finally, and here is where it becomes serious business, following two offspeed pitches Meyer rears back and gases a fastball up-and-away that Hamilton is reduced to rubble simply trying to stay alive:
 


The sequence demonstrates why Meyer could be an extremely good pitcher for the Twins. At this point, most prospect-philes project him as a potential number two starter in a strong rotation (not like a Kevin Correia number two starter, mind you). He has some flaws that the Twins are hoping he will work past, including his consistency in his mechanics and location as well as refining a changeup that would give him yet another weapon. 

He clearly has the stuff to make an impact but the Twins do not want to pile too much workload on him -- which is one of the reasons he has not made the jump. Still, seeing his ability to adjust against an opponent is reassuring that he has both the physical and mental makeup for the next big step.

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